I always wanted to know what Alaska was really like. I'd seen many great photographs of the 'last frontier' but that's the thing about photography; everyone makes the images that are beautiful while the in-between often gets lost.
When my friend Adam messaged me saying we could get flights at a heavy discount, I figured I'd go experience that in-between for myself. I had no photographic agenda. At best my goal would be to scout things out but the trip was really just a socially-distanced vacation and a chance to leave NYC during COVID-19.
Adam and I have both traveled pretty extensively. One thing you come to realize when doing so is that it's almost always more fulfilling to go deep into a couple places rather than hit as many places as you can. The type of travel I typically enjoy is the travel in which I can have time to build relationships with the local community and learn about daily life.
Since we only had 6 days we decided to limit our trip to the Kenai Peninsula. As we drove down the Seward Highway I was surprised at how the golden yellows and burnt oranges had already taken over most of the trees. We had inadvertently timed it perfectly.
One of the first places we stopped at was the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. It was here where we got our first real look at Alaskan wildlife. The animals were all either injured or orphaned and the AWCC takes them in and provides top-quality animal care and acres of land that allow them to live as normal of a life as possible. I'll never forget the feeling of being so close to such powerful animals. We don't often realize how small we are but I've found a Kodiak bear will certainly help you find mental clarity.
We left the AWCC, eventually taking a turn down State HWY 9, making our way towards Seward. We couldn't drive for 5 minutes without stopping to take a photo. When we arrived it was a bit rainy and was nighttime. We checked into our hotel and got a goodnights sleep.
The next morning we woke early and it was cold and wet and we stumbled to the car and drove to find our morning coffee. The first couple places we went to were still closed but were very unique in that the cafe was situated inside old rail cars, which you can see behind me in the portrait below.
We spent the first half of the day trying to find a captain to take us out on the water. After all but giving up, we got a call back from Seward Ocean Excursions.
It was a nice day to be out there. We saw no less than 50 bald eagles, which I found more majestic and impressive the longer I watched them. We happened to be in a small boat during high tide which allowed us to go up a river. The water was very clear. I could see objects glimmering below. They were almost covering the bottom of the riverbed. As we went further upstream and the water became more shallow, I realized the objects were salmon that had died after spawning. It was quite the sight. Mother Nature can be merciless.
When we got back, we met some fishermen who were standing along the rocks at the base of the canal. They were spotting fish, tossing treble hooks just beyond them and yanking back at just the right time, pulling the fish out of the water. It seemed to take a great deal of skill and a little bit of luck. I would have joined them had we had more time.
The next few days were dreary and rainy but it fit the scene quite well. We hiked up to the glacier, running into a moose that had antlers as wide as I am tall. It certainly enjoyed its space more than our comfort. Better a moose than a brown bear and better a brown bear than a black bear, which was one of the only predators around the area that might actively be hunting you at any time.
During our research for the trip, Adam found a cabin along a river that we stayed at a night before going fishing the next day. It had no power or water but was filled with peace.
We woke early and jumped in a skiff. The air was cold and I didn't have enough clothing on, but the excitement of the day ahead helped me to ignore it. We headed to a nice fishing spot that provided our legal limit of Coho Salmon. We used salmon eggs as bait and I would cast up-current in the slightly deeper water, keeping the bobber upright by holding the rod high in the air and allowing no additional line in the water and letting it float as naturally as possible. When I saw the bobber drop down I would yank hard on the line and reel her in not by pulling the rod upwards but pulling it back with the rod parallel to the shore. By 12PM we were finished and made our way through the mud, passing bear tracks easily larger than my size 10 boot imprint, wandered through tall grass and hopped in the skiff. We caught 50lbs of Coho that day. We took it to a processing center and had it shipped back to my apartment in Brooklyn.
We cleaned up and drove a couple hours down to Homer and explored Homer Spit. The character and ambiance changed drastically from the other cities we had been to. We visited the iconic Salty Dawg Saloon and wandered around an old shipyard. During the COVID-free Summer, you could see how this place might do well in regards to tourism. Lots of quaint little stores far away from the stresses of anywhere else.
After leaving Homer Spit, we drove in some nasty rain storms until we made it to the tunnel before Whittier. We had just missed the the crossing time and waited an additional 45 minutes as the rain pelted the top of the car and the yellow light flashed at a slow pace, lulling you to sleep. Eventually, we were able to enter and see how incredible this tunnel was. It went on for 2.5 miles under the mountain–the longest tunnel in North America. On the other side we discovered a town the was fairly abandoned and quite. We stayed at the Whittier Inn and I have to say, it was one of the most pleasant places. Our room overlooked the fjord and bald eagles feeding and was nice but not pretentious and would certainly be the best place to write a novel. We spent our last day exploring the area, running into Wild Catch Cafe when the rain became too intense.
It was the perfect end to our trip. In-between the highlights we were able to experience the peace that Alaska offered. It is easily one of the most under-rated and overlooked states in the country. As more companies look to move in and benefit from Alaskan land, we need to prioritize it's untouched beauty and wildlife so that our children and grandchildren have a place thats truly raw and untouched to visit and appreciate for themselves. If you have the resources, please consider donating to the Alaskan Conservation Foundation.