Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Homer and the Russian River Bear Encounter

Continuing south on the Sterling Highway we reached the end of the road town of Homer. The arrival into Homer is very dramatic. The road leading to Homer rises steadily until a turn out is reached that provides a scenic view of the Cook Inlet. Scenic turn outs have been plentiful and frequent on all the roads we have traveled since South Dakota. Had we stopped at everyone of them, we would still be in Canada. But, this turnout's view on a day with bright sunshine mandated we stop for a photo opportunity. Except for the spit, Homer was not visible from this turnout so we were unprepared for the view as we began our steep descent into Homer. We could see the entire town plus the Homer Spit that extends out into the inlet. Unfortunately, there was no place to stop to take a picture once we were committed to the road.

Initially we thought we would stay at the city campground on the spit. We set up right next to another Airstream, only the third time we have been in a campground with another Airstream. We paid our fee, disconnected the truck and took off to see the town. We learned that there was a music festival scheduled to begin the next day adjacent to another city campground on the hillside overlooking the town. We cruised through the campground which was nearly full. But, we found two sites that would accommodate Mary Joan. Jennifer and I left Sarah to 'hold' the space while we went back to the spit to fetch the trailer.

Temporary Home on the Homer Spit
The Homer Spit
Campground view

Homer was a must see destination not only because it is a bustling end of the road town, but also because Sarah's sister, Jennifer, has a friend living there. Ann Dixon is the town of Homer Library Director and author of illustrated children's books (  Jennifer got in touch with Ann who was able to join us for dinner at The Chart Room Restaurant far out on the spit. The food and service was excellent and enhanced by the corner table we occupied with panoramic views of the beach and all of the fishing activity there.

Sarah and Jennifer spent Saturday exploring Homer while I caught up with transferring pictures from the cameras and updating this blog all the while enjoying the music from the city park.

The weather we have experienced during our trip since leaving Chicago has felt like one continual New England springtime. Everywhere we have enjoyed lupines and lilacs in bloom. So too, we found lilacs and fresh rhubarb. Sarah returned with a large bunch of rhubarb that she turned into a fabulous pie. And thanks, Aunt Marg for the no fault crust recipe. Hearing about the record temperatures in many parts of the country made us appreciate this adventure all the more.

We toured the Pratt Museum the next day, and we are impressed with the quality of this compact museum. Like the Anchorage Museum of Alaska, it combines fine art, natural history and Alaska history. We were all amazed at the large octopus in the aquarium. Equally fascinating was the monitor showing the images captured by a web camera on Gull Island. We could control the camera with a joystick. We could see thousands of gulls and common murres. The murres are colored like penquins and walk upright like the flightless birds, but the murres are able to fly. Best of all was the ability to zoom in on Sarah's favorite bird, the puffin.  The colorful puffins were floating in the water just off the island.

We retraced our route along the Sterling Highway back towards Anchorage. Our campground for the night was the Kenai River Campground near the confluence of the Kenai and Russian Rivers. We had heard that bears have been seen here on a regular basis. Jennifer had not yet seen any bears on her visit with us, and no visit to Alaska could be complete without a bear siting. We dropped the trailer and drove the short distance into the Russian River Campground and the Kenai River fishing area.

A multi-storied and twisting stairway leads down to a boardwalk that runs parallel to the river. The board walk is intended to minimize impact on the stream bank by the hundreds of anglers that come here for the salmon. Along with a few other couples, we walked the boardwalk on the south side of the river. It wasn't long before we spotted a small black bear about a hundred yardss up river on the grassy bank of the opposite side. It quickly disappeared back into the high ferns. We walked along the boardwalk until we were opposite where we had seen the bear. The ferns were still rustling and we waited and watched. Soon the bear re-appeared. It stood up, looked around then explored the water on its side of the river. Then it entered the river and crossed to the bank just below the boardwalk where we were standing. We quickly, without running, backed away and gave the bear its space.
Looking for dinner

When we returned to the stairs we heard people above calling out 'Go Bear', the call used to alert bears to human presence and to scare them away from humans. In addition to bells that we wore, we used this technique whenever we were hiking on trails to avoid interactions with bears. We hadn't done this on these stairs or the boardwalk because we were hoping to see bears, believing that all the human activity on the south side of the river would have forced the bears onto the north side. However, as we ascended the stairs, we quickly realized that those above us were shooing a bear that was on the stairs below them and above us. It wasn't until we were just one flight below the next turn of the stairs that we saw a black bear descending. We added to the cry of 'Go Bear' and retreated back to the boardwalk where we remained until the bear had moved away.

We returned to our campground satisfied that we had seen two bears. We hadn't intended to get so close, but we were happy that we retreated calmly, giving the bear its space and not threatening it. After all, this was their territory and they needed this river at this time to catch the huge quantity of fish required to gain the fat needed for their winter hibernation.

Stay tuned for our trip to Hope

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