A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT AND DRINKING THE KOOLAID – ALASKA PART SEVEN

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Saying goodbye to Seward we head towards our final residence in Homer Spit, but first a stop at a tiny, quaint wilderness town called Cooper Landing, which has a total of 357 fulltime residents. This week’s post  shares our adventures rafting down the Kenai River – a spectacular trip that can range from softly undulating waters to fierce level 3 rapids. In addition, in the peak summertime, a phenomenal sport occurs at the banks of the Kenai and Russian Rivers as you will see in a moment.

First some background.  Cooper Landing was settled in the 19th century and named for Joseph Cooper, a miner who actually discovered gold there in 1884. However, long before Mr Cooper laid his claim, Russians had prospected for gold here as the territory was considered part of “Russian America.”  More on that later, an in a way (can’t believe I am writing this) Sarah Palin wasn’t entirely incorrect about being able to see Russians (not Russia) from her backyard.

Before we could start our journey we had to be outfitted – the water of the rivers are icy cold and can be treacherous in certain areas so proper attire is required.  This is the haute couture:

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Thanks, J for the photobomb.  Lenore and I, beneath the layers of clothes, rubber overalls and boots are snug and dry and ready for action.  There were two rafts for our group and my raft was commandeered by a guide who, with her blond ponytail and maneuvering skills reminded me of Meryl Streep in River Wild:

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Fortunately for us – we didn’t have to run The Gauntlet.  Instead, except for a few sections of mild rapids we had a smooth if sometimes very fast ride. The scenery is beyond        description – perfect in every way as the water changed hues from green to turquoise:

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The rapids as mentioned before, were no more than level 3 in certain areas, but I was very happy we had an expert navigator.  In the more turbulent water, I took care to hold on with both hands but here is a pic of our other raft going through some calmer rapids:

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It was hard to take my eyes off the shining waters, but there was plenty to catch my interest on the land and in the trees, particularly the bald eagles.  The adults as mentioned in previous posts have the iconic white heads, and the juveniles are all brown – so some of the youngsters I photographed may be golden eagles.  It was a bit of a challenge steadying the camera while keeping my body from falling in as we sliced through the racing water:

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raft eagle

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The seagulls were also plentiful taking turns diving for fish or scavenging from the fishermen as you will see in a moment.  At one point I think we were mistaken for fisherman and almost got divebombed:

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There were plenty of bird “rest areas” along the river which also made pretty photo-ops:

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But what I found most astounding was the scene below.  The Kenai and Russian Rivers are world-class salmon fisheries, and the state is extremely protective of their salmon and trout ( there are sockeye, or red, cohoe, or silver salmon and well as rainbow trout).  Only certain bank areas of the river can be used for angling at particular times of the year,  and when the salmon are running high in summer it is quite a sight to behold as fisherman line up shoulder to shoulder flycasting from the banks.  There are so many in such a compact area this is sometimes referred to as “combat fishing:”

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I am not a fisherperson, but I frankly can’t imagine that flycatching so close to others is enjoyable.  Our guide, John Lorec did say there are hidden inlets where anglers who want a quieter more pristine setting can go, as he does often with his sons.

It was difficult to leave the beauty of this (particularly since I wasn’t rowing) but after a few hours we did return to shore and famished, went to find lunch.  A few of us opted for a Hamburger Shack we had passed, but a handful, myself included decided to dine in a slightly more gentile setting:

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Turns out that this restaurant has a past – it is called the “Oskolkof/Dolchok House” and was originally built in 1918 by a Russian farmer.  As if this wasn’t enough evidence of Russian culture – how about this:

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Yes, a Russian Orthodox Church.  See? There are Russians!  In the 1700’s Russian fur traders settled along the Cook Inlet shores where there were masses of sea otters. The town got its name Soldotna from the creek  that runs through the area and empties into the Kenai River. There are several theories as to where the name Soldotna comes from: some say it is from the Russian word for soldier; other believe it is a Native People’s Athabaskan tribe word meaning “the stream fork.”  I think the second sounds more likely, but there is no doubt that a Russian influence still fills the town.

Sated with a delicious local selection of soups, sandwiches and fish tacos we said farewell to Soldotna and wended our way to Homer Spit.  I must confess that up to this point I thought only places in Australia used the appellation “Spit” but I discovered it describes any permanent land resulting from a long, narrow accumulation of sand, with one end attached to the land, and the other projecting at a narrow angle into the sea.  To illustrate, here is a photo and map of Homer Spit:

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If you look at the very end of the spit you will see a notation for Land’s End Resort – that is our home for the next two days – and our room views are almost other worldy:

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Our deck led right out onto the beach and I will share some of my artsy photos as the light on this beach was so diffuse and pale, it practically demanded a more soulful approach to capture the mood. Also adding to this somewhat somber mood were info cards in our room that, rather than tell us about turn-down service they instead served a sobering note to the precariousness of life on the Kenai Peninsula:

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No matter, undaunted, we settled in.  And, in defiance of nature – I totally drank the Koolaid of Kachemak Bay – literally:

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Next time:  a last hike and then the last post in this series before I head out to Peru with a most intimidating, scary but exhilarating alternative view of the glaciers, Kenai Mountain Range and Kachemak National Park.

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