The Kenai Peninsula is known by locals as Alaska's Playground because of the proximity to Anchorage as well as the variety of things to do in search of fun and/or relaxation. There are only about 55,000 people who live on the peninsula but that number is at least tripled during the summer when tourists and Alaskans descend on the area. Many tourists arrive in Southcentral Alaska via cruise ship and most ships dock in Seward - a small town on Resurrection Bay. Our goal was to be in Seward on a day where there wasn't a ship in port. That meant we would head down the western side of the peninsula first and then make our way to Seward the next day.
We continued south down the Seward Highway in search of gas and coffee. There is not much development on this stretch of the highway (yay!) so, around 34 miles after we hit the road, we came across a small cafe on Summit Lake. We grabbed a bakery item and some coffee and were on our way toward Homer.
Shortly after our coffee stop we came to the intersection of the Seward and Sterling Highways. We went west on the Sterling and the first town we came to was Cooper Landing. Two of Alaska's best fishing rivers run through here - the Kenai and the Russian rivers - making this beautiful area all about angling (and drinking by the looks of the number of bars). It was peak season for rainbow trout and dolly varden so the place was hopping.
We turned off the highway onto a gravel road that wound through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. This 25-mile road is very off the beaten path giving us hope that we would see some wildlife and we were not disappointed. We came upon a mother black bear with 3 cubs casually grazing alongside the road. We pulled up slowly and, just as I was getting my camera ready, some a**hole came speeding down the gravel road in a pickup truck pulling an empty boat trailer. He sped past the bears who scampered into the woods. We waited for a little while and were rewarded with one of the little cubs coming back out for a bit.
We hooked back up with the Sterling Highway and continued toward the Cook Inlet side of the peninsula. We passed through the relatively large town (around 4400 people) of Soldotna on our way to our destination for the night - Deep Creek Recreation Area in Ninilchik.
Some confusing signage for the Recreation Area led us to turn down a gravel road. A steep downhill took us into the tiny, historic town of Ninilchik. This did not turn out to be the campground we were looking for but I am really glad we stumbled upon it. The town was settled in 1847 by a couple of men and their Native Alutiiq wives and children, and later, migrants. Russian was widely spoken in the village for years. Due to the community's isolation, this Russian dialect continued much in its mid-19th century form. With some surviving speakers, it has been studied in the 21st century.
We did eventually find our campsite and, wow! We nabbed the last waterfront spot and were right on the beach! The view across the water is of the Alaskan peninsula's volcanoes. This is a spot I may have to come back to once Jeff is gone as we only had one night there.
To help plan the next couple of days before Jeff had to be in Anchorage for his flight home, I double checked his flight time. I knew he was leaving on August 4th but it was good thing I checked - his departure time was 1:10am! I had remembered it being a late night departure (11pm or so) so we now had to rearrange our plans. One of the things Jeff really wanted to see was the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward so we decided to do a quick drive through of Homer in the morning, drive over to Seward for the afternoon, and then head up to Anchorage for Jeff's flight home.