The last time I had set foot in Alaska was 1978. Time flies when you are having fun. To me, nothing had changed. The beauty, the size, the power, the massiveness in combination with 747-sized mosquitoes. Just being there is a different state of mind. It really is “north to the future”. This trip, instead of being wild, young and free (single) as in the summer of 1978, I had my wife and sons along. We had made the decision a couple years prior to be in Alaska during the summer of 2013! Alaska is a special place. To be certain, the Russians got the bad end of the deal at a price of somewhere around two cents an acre back in 1867. The land became our 49th state on January 3, 1959 when I was 6 years old. To give you some scale as to how big Alaska is, consider it twice the size of Texas. It is larger than California, Texas and Montana combined. It is larger than 22 of the smallest states in the U.S. Along with its size, there are few people. Alaska is the least densely populated state at 1.2 residents for every square mile. When I think of Alaskans, the terms tough, resourceful and strong rank near the top. For every 80 residents of the state, one is a pilot. Growing up in my early youth in Minnesota I thought 10,000 lakes was a good number. Alaska has somewhere between 3 million and 4 million lakes if you have another lifetime to count. Another word that best describes Alaska, like New Zealand, is pristine. Absolutely pristine. Hopefully forever.
Flying northwest into the jet stream made for a near 9 hour non-stop flight from Atlanta to Anchorage. Our DELTA (Don’t Ever Leave The Airport) flight departure was delayed an hour as well. Does it really take an extra hour to load potable water onto a big "heavy"? We packed more gear for this trip than on any previous Parisian adventure. It was astounding what we were ready for. In retrospect, thank the Lord for creation of the two most important items, muck boots and head-nets!
During the summer, landing in Anchorage during daylight is hard not to do. There is no shortage of daylight in the summer. Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska and has 40% of the state’s population. The city is also home to plenty of moose. In the summer there are about 250 moose in town. In the winter that number goes to about 1,000. Wolves and bear are common. The Anchorage airport is about 6 miles south of downtown and adjoins the Lake Hood Seaplane Base, the largest Seaplane Base in the world. Upon arrival, I fetched our big Suburban rental rig and the family waited on our luggage.
Because of the time differential it was the middle of the night to us and we had reservations at the Puffin Inn to spend our first night. We put on our eye coverings to get to sleep, as it was near 10 pm and light was still pouring in the room. Somewhere along the middle of the night I was awakened by a large rumble. Having lived in southern California for a decade I knew the sound and feel of earthquakes. This was an earthquake! We were on the top floor of the hotel and I had a quick vision of the entire building going down in a heap. My oldest son, Hunter, was wide awake too and we thought we may be meeting our Maker any second! There were no aftershocks and the rumbler did make the morning news. My wife, Pam, and youngest son, Jordan, slept through the entire shake.Our first day started with a solid breakfast and getting our fishing licenses and vittles for the trip. Our success in this adventure was made all the better with a relationship that started about 50 years prior. Growing up in Minnesota, there was a childhood pal who lived across the street. That pal is now working for the State of Alaska in their Fisheries area and was instrumental in helping us get properly outfitted. We were able to borrow his shotgun (with slugs), fishing gear, coolers and about a hundred other things that we didn’t have to bring along. We are as a family, most grateful to our friend and his lovely family for making our trip so wonderful. I have always stressed to my sons that having the right gear is key in the outdoors and having the right gear that works when you need it is even more important. We had the right gear, with mosquito spray and bear spray being at the top of our list.
With the rig fully loaded we turned the Suburban south down the Seward Highway, headed for Soldotna.
We passed Turnagain Arm which is a massive bay that has the worlds second largest tide action. Using good optics, glassing above timberline we saw plenty of mountain goats, dall sheep and black bear. To see goats and sheep in such rugged, bear-proof terrain with their young was a nice touch on our first day out.
We had planned to fish for King salmon and rainbow trout for a couple of days in the Kenai River before heading further south to Homer to fish Halibut in the ocean. Due to poor numbers of Kings coming into the Kenai it was the decision by Alaska Game and Fish to not only shut down fishing for Kings by catch-and-release but to simply shut down all fishing for Kings entering the Kenai at least until July. The story of the Kenai River King salmon fishery has not been finished. Nor will it be in my lifetime. Money, politics, biology, power, economics all come into play. I hope the fish win. For sure there is enough blame to go around for the past 50 years of pressure on the Kings. For sure the bears still need to eat.
In planning our trip we made the decision to stay in South Central Alaska exclusively. For a state that is roughly 1500 miles north to south it is hard to see it all in a 10-day stint. We decided to travel less and do more. My first trip to Alaska was spent behind hundreds of RV’s traveling maybe 45 mph for days on end. I wanted none of that again.
With the Kenai River shut down for Kings we had to change gear and fish for trout. I will be the first to admit I am not a fisherman. I love to darkhouse spear northern pike through the ice, catch some walleyes in Canada nonstop until I get bored and boat some king mackerel in the Gulf of Mexico but a fisherman I am not.
The Kenai River is a beauty of a river and its color like none other. We got into the fish early and often. My son, Hunter, even put a Sockeye salmon in the boat. My wife is excellent at fishing. Growing up her Dad made her go about every weekend to bass fish and she can reel them in with the best of them!
As many of you know, my favorite color is blaze orange. I like to wear my hunting clothes during the off-season so looking like a pumpkin on the Kenai River in June was par.
Although we caught alot of fish, we could only keep 2 fish per person that met the size limit.
We had a fantastic guide on this outing; a really a top notch guide is a blessing and we finished the day off with some salmon sushi.
The Kenai River has some excellent wildlife viewing as well as viewing the “combat fishing” near the mouth of the Russian River where it runs into the Kenai. There is probably not a place on earth where more fishermen are hooked by other fishermen. Moose are plentiful in most parts of Alaska and we saw plenty of these large critters. I still don’t care to go moose hunting or bear hunting but I may change my mind someday on taking a bear. A Montana spot-and-stalk bear hunt may be the ticket. Bear over a bait site, not for me, just not what I want in a hunt.
Alaska treasures their moose and for good reason. Natives need the meat and hunting is a massive boost to the state’s economy. There is no shortage of signage on the highways telling people to slow down when they see moose near the road. It is dangerous to hit a moose as you can imagine but every year there are between 100 and 300 moose killed on the roads. In the last few years, there have been two deaths reported in Anchorage where moose have stomped people to their death. People seldom realize that deer kill more Americans than any other animal. In fact, falling coconuts kill more people than sharks do every year. Never forget, imagination is much bigger than reality and Shark Week on the tube doesn’t add to the truth! There will never be a Moose Week on the Discovery Channel!
With King salmon off limits we made the decision to go pound on some Red salmon, or sockeye as they are often called. We wanted to catch enough to send the fish home and feed our friends over the winter months so we hopped a plane and headed to a spot where the salmon were stacking up ready to swim up into the shallow waters of a small creek and spawn. We weren’t alone in wanting to catch some fish. We had company. Some rather large and furry company. Here is a primer on bears in Alaska.
It was a nice day with a nice guide and no shortage of fish or scenery. Flying over we saw moose, bear, fur seals and eagles. All the bush pilots in Alaska I met seemed to have a sense of humor about them. Maybe because the weather changes so much so fast. Here is the dash of the first one we flew!
Here we are ready to load up and fly.
The float plane landed here and we hopped off the plane onto a boat and headed out. We caught plenty of fish and had as much fun watching the bears fish.
Here is a sow and her cub looking to feast. That terrain is very steep and we were treated to a great visual of getting to watch this Momma Bear go wide-open straight up that steep face when her cub had taken a small fish and ran up to the top of the ridge. When she “whoofed” I knew all hell was ready to explode and she sprinted like a champion quarter horse straight up to the top of that ridge. The speed and power on display was amazing. What do those big bears feed on you ask? My answer is anything they want.Here is a big sow brown with triplets. Cute. She was extremely cautious at all times, fearing for the life of her cubs from other bears.
Here is a great action photo that Pam took. That bear was hungry. I'll give it a "10" for attitude, form and desire in fishing salmon.
Before returning to the lake via float plane that we had started the day from, the pilot asked if we wanted to check out a glacier. Of course we did, never having been up close and personal with a glacier, being overhead of a huge ice bucket sounded like something we wanted to see. We were not disappointed. The size, color and mystery was only lacking the creaking and groaning of the ice. Imagine the stories that ice could tell. How many years ago did the snow turn to ice? How many hundreds of years?
One night during the trip my son, Hunter turned 21. Legal age he was. We were in a pizza place having supper and we popped into the bar for a cold Alaskan Blonde ale. It was his first legal beer! Happy birthday Hunter! Hunter will be a senior this fall at Georgia Tech on his way to an engineering degree and next summer will become an Officer in the United States Air Force!
I have a good set-up for birdwatching. It's amazing what good optics can do to increase one's enjoyment of a trip whether it's to a college football game, pro tennis match, pro golf tournament, Taylor Swift, Native American pow-wow, rodeo, Super Bowl, nude beach, major league baseball, surfing, pro soccer, youth soccer, high school lacrosse, bird migrations, high school football practice, your kids school concert, The Masters, a polo match, you name it, good optics are a blessing. What is amazing how few people take advantage of good optics. One of the finest investments one can make in life. If you can see it, you can believe it! I have often wondered if people are ashamed to carry binoculars for some reason.
We took another day and headed across Halibut Bay and did some major league kayaking. It was my first time in a kayak for a lengthy stay and the trip was special. Our guide had a great mastery of the plant and animal life and he made a world class lunch out of components found on an island. The kelp tasted great too.
I enjoyed the bird life and there was no shortage of Harlequin ducks, one of the prettiest ducks found in North America. Outside of a small, free-flying population of Mandarin ducks that I watched in Britian, Harlequins are the best looking duck I’ve seen.
We saw plenty of Sea Otters but they were very shy. The big males were beautiful. They dive deep for food and eat and sleep laying in the water on their back.
Two bird species are everywhere in Alaska. Bald eagles and robins. Balds were never on the protected list in Alaska.
We enjoyed the kayak even with a light rain. You get a much different perspective exploring the shore line from the water.
At this stage of the trip we were fired up and on a roll. Things were running smooth and we were in the spirit of adventure. Every day was something new. Our next leg, we were taking a float plane deep into the Kenai River National Wildlife Refuge and going to spend afew days at Snag Lake. Snag Lake without a phone, fax or internet connection. Just us and the loons, swans and ravens croaking with moose and beaver around daily.
We were flying to Snag Lake in a Dehavilland OTTER. This plane looked brand new but was manufactured in 1956. We were loaded and off in no time, headed north across the roadless terrain.
Alaska is not short of water, trees, ice, rock or flying insects.
We made a nice landing on quiet water and were puzzled to find a float plane at our cabin. We thought there had been a mix-up in dates perhaps but found out that the pilot of this plane had to make a forced landing the day before as his engine was having some problems. So we met the pilot who was of German descent, who now lived in Spain and spends his summers in Alaska. He was a retired Captain for Lufthansa Airlines. He flew out with the pilot who dropped us off and they returned a couple hours later with a mechanic who said they could fix it sooner or later after ordering parts. He was happy to see us and appreciative of the candy bars we gave him!
Food always tastes better in the outdoors wearing Carhartts instead of Polo. Here's Pam making sure the 'skeeters were kept at bay while getting some breakfast together!
This is a picture of yours truly watching a big beaver out in front of the cabin. Look close and you can see him out in front of me. Every evening he would make his rounds and check us out. He woke me up a couple of times with the loud "slaps" of that powerful tail.
I had never spent time on muskeg. I now know what it is and how hard it is to traverse. I can' t imagine shooting a big bull moose in such a quagmire and trying to fish it out with big bears around in the dark. There is something about that scenario I don't like.
We had a boat on Snag Lake that was propelled by human effort. The boys caught plenty of rainbows that were mighty tasty. Imagine if food sources in America required some real work and effort besides swiping an EBT card! Just imagine......
The pilot who picked us up was a pig-shooting, deer-killing Texan. Here is Team Parisian upon arrival back into civilization. The Dream Team got-r-dun in the bush. For sure, we killed more mosquitoes than we care to remember!
In Alaska there are alot of characters. Everyone with a story. The one thing that is common to most Alaskans is that they can tell you exactly how many years they have lived in Alaska. To them it is a badge of honor, something they wear with pride and I don't blame them. It takes someone special to live in Alaska year in and year out. This picture is with a fishing guide named Bob. Bob was a special character along our adventure and he owned a fabulous Weatherby shotgun that would be nice to have for bear protection or simply taking out a home invader in style.
Another great character we met along the way was Tom Connor. Tom knows more about gold, gold mining, moose antlers, rocks, gems, wooly mammoths, heck the guy is an expert on about everything Alaska. We really enjoyed his time and we did a nice piece of business with him. What a character!
Alaska hasn't been pimped by the outdoor billboard companies yet. There aren't neon signs flashing. The litter or lack thereof is amazing. Did I mention pristine yet? The one thing I can tell you is that nearly every single road sign has been shot up by either pistols or high powered rifles. I can not even begin to imagine how much ammuntion has been fired at State of Alaska administered road signs. Amazing for sure. The only sign of major significance we saw the whole week was this one and we had the opportunity to meet the owner of this establishment. What a piece of work!
After our Snag Lake wilderness excursion we headed towards Whittier, Alaska. To get to Whittier you have to go under a mountain for 2.5 miles. Yes, you heard right, 2.5 miles and is the second longest highway tunnel, and longest combined rail and highway tunnel, in North America
The population of Whittier is between 150 and 200 people. They were extremely friendly, honest, and helpful. Talk about nice people, especially the folks at the Lazy Otter! The place below is where we stayed. I think it is the only game in town for lodging. Nice digs for sure.
We spent a day in Seward and the boys walked into a Russian store and tried on some different looks that Comrade Boris might be sporting. Or President Putin!
We spent a wet afternoon at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. It was a nice facility, very informative and cheap. I enjoyed the bird sanctuary the most. Here is a King Eider swimming close to my iPhone.
The Center is Alaska’s only public aquarium and ocean wildlife rescue center and sits on the shores of Resurrection Bay. Visitors to this “window on the sea” have close encounters with puffins, octopus, sea lions and other sealife. Here's a little sea lion!
One of the most interesting parts of our trip was a stop at Mitch Seavey's Dog Kennel. I took the following out of Wiki on Mitch to bring you up to speed on one of the toughest cowboys in Alaska. To run dogs about 120 miles per day for 10 days across roadless Alaska is not for fools or fly-by-nights. Mitch has it down and has a wonderful kennel and training operation. Sled dogs are not purebreds. Sled dogs are mutts. There is no better way to describe them. Pure mutt that gives 100%.
Mitch Seavey (born 1959) is an American dog musher, who won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race across the U.S. state of Alaska in 2004 and 2013.
Seavey competed in his first Iditarod in 1982, and in every race since 1995. In the 1995 race, he started in Seward, and completed the entire length of the Iditarod Trail. He won the 2004 Iditarod in 9 days, 12 hours, 20 minutes, and 22 seconds. He has also won the Copper Basin 300 twice, the Klondike 300, the Kusko 300, and the Grand Portage Passage race in the state of Minnesota once. In 2008 he won the historic All Alaska Sweepstakes race with a record-breaking time of 74 hours, 14 minutes and 37 seconds. .
Seavey was born in Minnesota, and grew up in Seward, Alaska. He lives in Sterling, Alaska with his wife Janine and four sons Danny, Tyrell, Dallas, and Conway where they run the Ididaride Sled Dog Tours. Danny has run in the Iditarod, and in the 2005 Iditarod both Tyrell and Dallas competed. Dallas won the 2012 Iditarod, becoming the youngest winner; Mitch became the oldest to win in 2013.
If you ever get the chance to run behind a Seavey sled-dog just do it!
His breeding operation and the geneology data on his dogs is amazing.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the store in Homer called The Time Bandit, named after the crab fishing boat of Deadliest Catch fame. I believe this is the mother of the family that owns and operates the boat with Pam in Homer.
It was a great trip and there is alot more to explore. I hope we can make it back as a family. Maybe there will be wives and grandkids in tow then too. I hope Alaska doesn't change until I get back to it. I will be ready for the mosquitoes and flies again!
As we shut the door on Alaska I want to say thanks to all of the great people we were fortunate to meet along the way. You made it special for us and we thank you.
We are home now and going through all of our pictures somehow doesn't do justice to Alaska. The size, the majesty, the color, the pristine beauty, it's all basically unable to be captured by a camera.
Jordan is back in school and was glad to have a long break from his year-around football regimen. He only has another two years playing free safety at Milton High School.
I still tell my sons to dream big dreams and shoot for mountain tops. You never know where somebody might land! Thanks for coming along on our trip.
My Dad always said that if you do what you love and do it every day you will live a fulfilled life. Remember, it is the sides of the mountains which sustain life, not the mountain tops. The sides are where things grow. But, without the top you can't have any sides. It's the top that defines the sides. I say shoot for the top, you'll grow along the way!
In my short near 60 years I have concluded that people will do whatever they want to do. I have also concluded that people can do whatever they think they can do.
If you want to see Alaska, you won't be disappointed. It's worth the trip!