You might be thinking by now that we have a perverse infatuation with dead-end roads to out-of-the-way places. Ok, maybe we do a little – and we’ve been to some outrageously cool end-of-the-road spots – and sometimes there’s more to it than that. While at the Folk on the Rocks Festival last year in Yellowknife, we chatted with some folks living there who came originally from Inuvik. They loved the town, and they also told us that the Mackenzie Delta was the most beautiful place on earth. That was certainly enough for us to put it on our list.
So, who’s ready to hear about another 1600-km (1000-mile) road trip on a mostly great dirt road that totally rocked? It’s actually quite different from the last one. True, Alaska’s Dalton Highway – which we drove in June – and the Yukon/Northwest Territories’ Dempster Highway both provide overland access north of the Arctic Circle. They both involve about 1600 km (1000 mi) of unpaved roads through the wilderness with spectacular wildlife, and they are both the northernmost roads in their respective countries as well as the first (Dalton) and second (Dempster) northernmost roads in North America. They’re both legendary for broken windshields, flat tires and, oh, yes, you could die. Other than that, everything was different.
If you are driving into or out of interior Alaska, you have go through the town of Tok. Ah, but there are two roads that head east from Tok. We came in on one of them, the Alaska Highway. We had the option of driving out on a road called the Top of the World Highway.
The window is early September. That’s when it’s usually safe to head out of Alaska – see some fall foliage colors yet before snow in the mountains of Canada create challenges for those headed to the lower 48. So, we’re watching the calendar a bit more closely than we have. And we’ve got one more corner of Alaska to explore.
The plan: spend 2 days in greater Anchorage on major provisioning, scheduled maintenance for the truck, no blog posts (who wants to hear about doing laundry?), no pix, head north. Plans never work out.
When I first looked at a map of the Kenai Peninsula, there was a small dot on the northern edge labelled Hope. I looked a bit more closely and, sure enough, there was a road to it. Ok, we have to go there. Hope there’s something to see…
A few weeks ago at Salmonfest, we of course saw a lot of people wearing T-shirts. About 50% of the festival-goers understandably were wearing their t-shirts from prior Salmonfests, but the next largest group had shirts from the Seaview Cafe & Bar and Campground in Hope, AK. Hmm… We asked around and yes, downtown Hope has a cafe and bar with live music daily, there’s a campground, and yes, we should check it out. Then Duncan highly encouraged a visit to Hope. Good advice!
Seward is a small, picturesque city on Resurrection Bay at the base of Marathon Mountain at yet another Alaskan road’s end. It’s totally surrounded by tall, steep mountains wearing a shawl of glaciers that make up Kenai Fjords National Park. Seward is predominantly a commercial fishing town, also a destination and embarkation point for tourists in the summer. It’s the northern terminus of many cruise ship lines as well as the southern terminus (aka Mile 0) of the Seward Highway to Anchorage, the Alaska Railroad to Fairbanks, and the original Iditarod dog sled trail to Nome. Heavily damaged by the 1964 earthquake, the rail yards and fish processing plants directly on the bay were not rebuilt where they’d stood; the land was instead converted to parks with hundreds of campsites, enabling travelers to soak in the views and get to the mountains.
We left Whittier to drive straight through the Kenai Mountains and across the Kenai River Valley to get to Salmonfest on time, which allowed none of our usual poking around to see what there is to see. No worries, though. There’s but one road through central western Kenai Peninsula, and we knew we’d have to drive back that way, so poking around could wait for the return trip.
So we poked our way up the Kenai River. The Kenai River captures the glacial meltwater from the Kenai Mountains in eastern Kenai Peninsula, creating the screaming bright aquamarine colored Kenai Lake. From the lake, the river meanders through lowland lakes and forests which evolve to predominantly flat wetlands, enroute to Cook Inlet and the Pacific Ocean.
D’oh! No, not that Homer – Homer, AK. It’s a small town in a stunning location at the road’s end on the west side of the Kenai Peninsula. It’s situated where the Kachemak Bay empties into Cook Inlet, feeling cozy and protected by the Kenai Mountains interspersed with glaciers to the south and east, and the Alaska Range with its four towering volcanoes to the west. A key geological feature of the town is the Homer Spit, a terminal moraine left by the glacier that filled and carved out the Kachemak Bay 15,000 years ago. The Spit is a long, narrow, natural gravel bar that sticks out 4.5 miles into bay, now dotted with campsites and shops and people fishing.
Après Salmonfest, we needed a chill day. Nonstop music and activity, rock-star hours – we were tired! After the last day of the festival, we decided to drive a whole 20 minutes south from Ninilchik to Anchor Point. This town boasts a campground at the beach and, significantly, the beach is the westernmost point in North America that you can drive to via highway. Cool!
In August 1969, almost exactly fifty years ago, three days of music, peace & love in upstate New York defined a generation and became a legend against which every future music festival would be judged. For us, the Woodstock anniversary thus brings significance to our stay in the tiny Cook Inlet town of Ninilchik, site of the annual Salmonfest music festival – “three days of fish, love & music at the cosmic center of the salmonverse.”
We went to Whittier, AK for only one reason – and a really good one. Stan and Cyndee‘s daughter Carolyn and her husband Jay named their son Whit. As the story goes, the couple first met in Whittier and thought it was one of the prettiest places they’d ever seen. Wouldn’t you check it out, too?
Knowing how much Carolyn and Jay love to hike, we knew better than to just drive into town. We planned to hike the town’s signature trail – Portage Pass.