The panorama from the tiny 19-seater Beechcraft turboprop for the half-hour hop to Homer from Anchorage is magnificent – the wide glaciers and snow-capped summits of the Kenai Peninsula on the left, the gilded craggy cone of 4,134-foot Augustine volcano, a part of the Pacific Rim of Fire, on the suitable, and once again my late-May luck with the weather – brilliant sunshine all around.
A small spread-out town of some 5,000, Homer is in a superb setting amid emerald marshes and deep green spruce forests, with snowy peak after snowy peak and glacier after glacier towering across the waters of Kachemak Bay.
Views of and from Homer
It’s on a significant bird migration route and i’ve just espied a wondrous creature in the marshes with tall spindly legs, an extended neck, a blood red crown on its head and long beautiful golden-brown feathers on its back. No, it is not a drag queen. It is apparently a sandhill crane.
Watch the birdie
One in every of Homer’s major attractions is swanning round Kachemak Bay looking for sea otters, birds and other wild creatures. The harbour, said to be the most important small-boat marina on the planet, spreads along six-mile-long Homer Spit, a greyish strand of gravel extending into the bay like a tongue stuck out on the peaks and glaciers on the opposite side.
Homer Spit from the air
A part of the marina
The spit is honkey-tonk, full of wooden huts and kiosks selling souvenirs, food, bear-sighting plane tours, halibut-fishing boat tours. Ugly RVs are parked everywhere. Commercialism reigns supreme; but again the beauty of off-season travel – there are plenty of individuals but it is not too crowded.
Fishing along the spit
Mother Nature’s not far behind, though: on one side you’ve got tsunami evacuation signs with a curling blue wave crashing down, on the opposite Pacific Ring of Fire volcanoes, and under foot you’ve got got Mother Earth’s potential dyspepsia as evidenced by the good Alaskan Earthquake of 1964, the most powerful in North American history.
Hotel at end of spit
Near the hotel
A trip around Kachemak Bay aboard the Rainbow Connection, one in every of several tour boats, which last week welcomed King Harald V of Norway for a little spin, is anything but royal – more like the Geriatric Express, although there are a couple of children about. Yours Truly is up to his usual animal-spotting tricks, failing to see the sea otters when everybody else does.
Views on Kachemak Bay
Eventually I can hardly miss them, there’s a whole platoon of domed heads bobbing about. But I do fail to photo every last one in all them as I fumble with the frigging camera.
At last even I can’t miss, there are so a lot of them. A number of them go belly up, literally, bobbing along on their backs, paws protruding upwards as they use their bellies to park their babies, then grab them by the scruff of their necks after they dive. If not, the infants would pop back as much as the surface as they’re still very buoyant.
Sea otter carrying baby on belly
Diving with baby in mouth
Sea otters also use their chests as food preparation and picnic tables – placing stones on them, then smashing shells against them for lunch.
They’re amazing creatures; they have as much as a million hairs per square inch and eat 25 percent of their body weight daily – the equivalent of an 180-pound human consuming 45 pounds a day. Of course the fur trade very nearly drove them to extinction.
How sea otters use chest as work station – Baranov Museum, Kodiak
Kachemak is replete with islets carpetted wall to wall with birds – gulls, puffins, black pelagic cormorants, too many for even my fumbling camera fingers to overlook. Miracle of miracles, I also manage to snap a bald eagle at the top of a tree, as well as kayaks and island holiday chalets though, to be fair, the latter two are hardly moving objects.
Island of birds
Kachemak island view
Island holiday home
There’s a lovely forest trail above the tiny village of Seldovia, on the far side of Kachemak, and it should have the longest trail name anywhere – ‘The we worked hard so that you’d better prefer it trail,’ the name chosen by the highschool kids who upgraded it as a part of their studies.
To provide it a less cumbersome title, it’s also known because the Otterbahn, after the school mascot. It’s only a few mile and a half round trip through luxuriant spruce and lighter green trees and it isn’t difficult although it goes up and down a bit.
A board with pictures shows you what you might meet – black bear, wolverine, otter, and Steller’s jay, a very blue bird. After all, I see none of those. True to form I also go left instead of right near the end and need to retrace my steps.
Indigenous people have lived on this corner of Alaska for millennia, as shown by archaeological finds. It was the Russians who brought in the primary foreign invasion as they pushed up the Aleutian chain into the Alaskan peninsula in the ‘fur rush’ of the 1740s.
Later, fur companies pressed indigenous men into virtual slavery for trapping. A smallpox epidemic, against which they’d no antibodies, decimated the indigenous peoples in 1838.
View from the trail
Because the fur trade lagged, fishing and canneries took over, with salmon, herring and halibut foremost. In truth the name Seldovia comes from the Russian for herring.
Then the herring boom died within the 1920s because rotting fish discarded by salters killed the vegetation necessary for spawning. But the name and lots of newcomers stayed on, marrying indigenous women. The 1964 quake finally rang the death knell for the canneries.