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(Vanity) Summer in Alaska, Part V: From Homer to Home
grey_whiskers ^ | 07-23-2006 | grey_whiskers

Posted on 07/24/2006 12:11:02 AM PDT by grey_whiskers

Summer in Alaska, Part V: From Homer to Home

The final installment of a series about the world-ranging adventures of the traveling kitty, “grey_whiskers” and her faithful human companions: myself, my wife, “The Cubs” (our pair of teenagers), and “Auntie Em”.

For Part I, click here.

For Part II, click here.

For Part III, click here.

For Part IV, click here.

Our last portion of the stay in Alaska was a trip down to Homer. It is quite a long drive from anywhere, and (as usual) the trip was long and scenic. In particular, the area near the junction of Highway 9 (coming North from Seward) and Highway 1 (going across to Homer) is very beautiful. First, you are driving “right between the mountains” – down the length of a valley next to a mountain range; second, there are a number of gorgeous lakes, as well as some small towns (Soldotna), and rivers where salmon runs are advertised. (We did not see the salmon, maybe the bears got them all already), but the view and sound and smell – the freshness and wildness of the water is better than strong coffee, and almost as good as a beer commercial.)

Homer is an interesting place and seems to be based on two things: fishing and artists’ shops. The town is listed as about 5,000 people, but it seems smaller than that, because it is spread out, and not concentrated in just 4 or 5 blocks like many Alaska towns we had seen. There seems to be a more “residential” part of town, with things such as a movie theater (two screens!), a computer repair shop, a small engine repair shop, a coffee shop, which would be used by locals and not just by tourists; a series of more-or-less wooded hills reaching up into the highlands above town, and then, the famous Homer Spit.

Homer Spit? No, I’m not talking about an underground episode of The Simpsons. The Spit is a five-mile-long sandbar looking thing, poking out from the main part of Homer, separating Katchemak Bay from the larger ocean. There are boardwalks on both sides of the spit, with everything from restaurants (ice cream, subway, fish (of course), to the number of artists’ shops, to drinking establishments (more later), to charter boat tours for fishing. The parking is somewhat crowded (unmarked), but if you keep at it, you can find something. Besides, half the fun is walking along soaking up the air, and poking your nose into the different shops, so walking enlarges your experience. And besides, this is Alaska. It’s not like it’s hot outside or anything.

Even though the Homer Spit is small, there is simply too much for one person, or even a group, to take it all in during a single day. A couple of places which I simply *must* recommend. One of them is the famous drinking establishment, The Salty Dog Saloon. We were not able to stay in there ourselves: because of Alaska’s laws about minors within establishments where alcohol is served, we were quarantined due to having the Cubs with us. But the Atmosphere – small, dark, cozy – reeked of atmosphere. And practically every square inch of the walls and ceiling seemed to be plastered with dollar bills. Tips? Mementos? When you drink your first beer there, please tell me. And the second place—that is, if you don’t take a charter fishing boat first—is Buttwhackers. Yeah, I know, “I never knew you were into that!”. I’m not. Buttwhackers is a small outdoor shop which takes the fresh-caught halibut off of the charter fishing boats – (1 day is 8 hours, and I am told a half-day is 6 hours!) hence the “Butt” name. And “Whackers” ?? Yes, that’s right! The processed the fish for fisherman and other tourists—I saw people with 288-can capacity ice chests, filled with ice and brimming with halibut. Their slogan—and they sell T-shirts—is “Buttwhackers. We Rack ‘Em, Whack ‘Em, Stack ‘Em, and Sack ‘Em”.

When we were there, two people were working, a strapping, well-muscled, 20-something young man and a nubile young woman. Each of them wore a pair of coveralls or overalls, with bare midriffs. Eye candy, but unnecessary. Watching them work was quite fascinating in itself. Scoop off the cheeks (I was told with a straight face that “butt cheeks are a delicacy”—which I thought was indelicate.), chop of the head, fillet the whole thing, and pack it. And just as amazing was the number and size of the fish being caught. Halibut are a strange fish with a flat body—white on the underside, dark on the top, and both eyes on the same side, so they can see up. They begin life as regular fish, and then over time their body flattens and their eyes migrate to one side, similar to the way many politicians “grow” into new and strange political views while living in D.C. The largest fish I saw—the Ted Kennedy of the sea—weighed in at 225 lbs (more than I do, thank you very much).

Outside of the strip, we spent a pleasant afternoon horseback riding—I am glad we only spent a couple of hours, as I was saddle-sore afterwards. We rode with Trails End Horse adventures, under the guidance of a veteran cowboy named Dave. The ride lasted about two or three hours, and we went on a wide variety of paths and trails, through wooded areas, including a place where Dave warned us of possible bears—he smelled rotting meat, indicating a recent kill—and through mud and fens. Dave was quite a professional, having to calm down an agitated horse at one point, at another chasing a rider OFF of a horse in a hurry as the horse tried to lie down on all fours. (Why? The next step after that is that a horse often tries to roll, with unfortunate effects on the rider.) We learned where the tree line is at (I forget, 1200 or 2000 feet), and he pointed out a house on a ridge above the tree line; we talked about his younger days in Minneapolis and in Colorado; he talked about his love of the horses and other livestock he owned. It was anything but the plastic, compartmentalized “horse ride” one gets in proximity to major metropolitan areas, and we loved it.

Dinner—well, dinner both days in Homer—was at the Sourdough Express in Homer. This small, family-friendly restaurant – though serving alcohol—is still under the proprietorship of the original owners. They moved to Homer with just flour and water and their truck, selling fresh bread to tourists, and worked their way up to this delightful restaurant. The original truck is in the front yard of the restaurant and is part of the children’s play area. There are newspaper clippings by the front door telling of the Restaurant’s beginning and its rise. (Oh yes, there are cute photo albums on each table with the word “Alaska” in English and Russian, and little drawings of stylized male and female Russian dancers—think of the scene of the Dancing Flowers in Walt Disney’s original Fantasia. The food was absolutely magnificent—from absolutely unforgettable tomato-based fresh vegetable soup, to the next night’s lentil soup, to the Seafood Sampler with fresh steamed dungeness crab, halibut, salmon, and shrimp. Oh, yes, the homemade bread was well worth it, and the salads are all from locally-grown organic produce. Locally grown in Alasaka, you ask? Yes, remember the midnight sun part, there is a lot of time to grow each day once the sun does show up. To drink, there are organic softdrinks by Blue Sky (very good), a microbrew amber ale, and wines from the local Bear Creek winery—the rhubarb and the blueberry had a quite poignant taste (if sweet) and somehow set off the seafood quite well. (And of course the desserts (fresh berry cobbler, german chocolate brownies, mint chocolate brownies) are everything you would expect from such a place…

Finally, the lodging—we stayed at a place called the “Magnificent View Bed and Breakfast” up in the hills above homer, and it lived up to its name. The host, Maria, and her husband made good cheer—the fresh fruit toppings on the breakfast homemade waffles were exquisite. A number of guests were staying at the same time for breakfast, and we made very good conversation about where we lived, if this was our first visit to Alaska, and so on. No pets, and you have to take your shoes off before entering, but the house is clean, cozy, and comforting. There is a TV with video games downstairs, and two computers (I was allowed to log in and Freep, as it happens). Highly recommended—and the best part was the breakfast the final morning, when a mother and baby moose wandered into the back yard maybe 30 feet from us and lay down in the grass. Truly a magnificent view—did I mention seeing the mountain range across the bay, too la?

The way back to Anchorage for our flight back was punctuated by taking turns driving and napping, and was not too memorable, so I will skip over it. When we got back to Anchorage, we had a beer at the Snow Goose Inn (They have dozens of Belgian beers. I had a 750 ml bottle of Grotten Brown for I think 14.99 – with its 6.7% alcohol content, it was VERY nice.) Lunch was at the Glacier Brewhouse, which had the second best food in Alaska after the Sourdough Express in Homer—although we stuck to conventional fare such as chicken, burgers, and New York Strip. And after some shopping for more souvenirs – including a pair of Alaska motif bicycle jerseys (hers with purple flowers, mine with the line of Klondike Gold Rush folks going up the hill) – we went to the Moose’s Tooth Pizzaria for dinner. Three college kids were playing frisbee in the parking lot, passing the time until their table was called. The food and atmosphere were excellent—but I didn’t have time to swipe ask for a copy of the menu, as we were needing to head to the airport. It felt like a college hangout, but the selection was much nicer!

Taking it all in all, I would stress the following lessons for anyone wishing to visit Alaska:

1) You can never have too much time—it takes time to let the natural beauty soak in, and there is always more you *could* do. Plan to take it slow and ENJOY each thing as you do it, to savor the flavor.

2) Speaking of the flavor, good, savory food is there, but not always in the places you would look. The most touristy ones are not always the best!

3) The Alaska Railway lets you enjoy the scenery without having to worry about gasoline. Learn to use it!

4) Travel, travel, travel. Alaska is HUGE. In addition to taking things slow, take at least two full days at every location, maybe more, before moving on. And even then you might feel that you are saying goodbye to an old, old friend, just as you are getting to know them.

5) Alaska is best taken if you are willing to exert yourself—biking, hiking, kayaking, anything active. If you can’t do that, then the next best is to let the tour organizers take you. You won’t miss out on the sights, but your freedom (and the quality of some meals) may take a hit.

6) Thanks to ALL Freepers who encouraged me to take the trip, or who gave famously helpful suggestions.

TOPICS: Chit/Chat; Hobbies; Humor; Miscellaneous; Outdoors; Society; Travel
KEYWORDS: alaska; greywhiskers; travel; vanity; whiskersvanity
Thanks to all the Freepers who encouraged us to go to Alaska.

To all, if anyone wants to know more, just Freepmail me. After 5 parts, I still feel it only scratched the surface.


1 posted on 07/24/2006 12:11:03 AM PDT by grey_whiskers
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To: grey_whiskers; Experiment 6-2-6; Kathy in Alaska; Eska; swmobuffalo; mcshot; B-bone

*Ping* to final installment.

2 posted on 07/24/2006 12:12:51 AM PDT by grey_whiskers (The opinions are solely those of the author and are subject to change without notice.)
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To: grey_whiskers
A little more about "Buttwackers":

All the charter boats will clean and package your halibut for you, after they display the days catch and have all the pictures taken.

You then can take the packaged catch to Buttwhackers and do a pound for pound swap with them for halibut flash frozen and vacuum packed(for a price, of course). they packed mine in dry ice and in air shippable containers (waterproof, plastic lined, and well insulated. They copied my fishing license, and put it in plastic on the outside of the box. Nobody checked it, but that may be because it was there and they new it was ok, my opinion.

The B&B I stayed in had a freezer, and the owner grciously stored it for me for 2 days. A week later I opened the box to find all the dry ice gone, but the fish meat still frozen rock solid.

BTW, I smoked over 50 lbs of it, and GAD WAS IT GOOD!!! All this was 15 years ago, so I can't guarantee it is the same way today.
3 posted on 07/24/2006 2:22:39 AM PDT by Lokibob (Spelling and typos are copyrighted. Please do not use.)
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To: Lokibob

new = knew (i have a stickkey "KKK" kkey.

4 posted on 07/24/2006 2:26:41 AM PDT by Lokibob (Spelling and typos are copyrighted. Please do not use.)
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To: grey_whiskers

"Thanks to all the Freepers who encouraged us to go to Alaska."

This is the first installment I've seen, so I'll bookmark it and get to the rest later. Thanks for taking the time to write it all down.

It's been 10 years since I drove to the Alcan and back, spent a month in AK and was just amazed at how beautiful and *big* it is.

Highlights for me were several days at Denali NP (including the auroras and grizzlies); doing the Denali airplane tour out of Talkeetna; salmon fishing for a few days at Russian River on Kenai; and a few days hanging out at Valdez. I tried to drive up to the Arctic Circle from Fairbanks, but the tundra and truckers beat me back, and I just never found the time to do the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage to Fairbanks and back. Well, next time.

Alaska is a great place to visit, especially if you have kids. But I'd say a month is the bare minimum visit, and next time I'll rent a camper rather than tent camping and sleeping in the back of an SUV (which you'll do when grizzlies are in the campground).

Again, thanks for the writeups.

5 posted on 07/24/2006 3:58:53 AM PDT by angkor
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To: grey_whiskers

bump for later reading. I have a friend in the Kenai Peninsula.

6 posted on 07/24/2006 5:41:31 AM PDT by Tax-chick (Whiskey for my men, hyperbolic rodomontade for my horses.)
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To: grey_whiskers

Thanks for the updates.

No vacations yet this summer, but now I feel like I've already been back to Alaska.

7 posted on 07/24/2006 1:23:27 PM PDT by B-bone
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To: grey_whiskers

Thanks for the travelogue around Alaska. I'm glad you had a chance to visit and see alot of interesting sights. I have really enjoyed it.

8 posted on 07/24/2006 3:05:51 PM PDT by Kathy in Alaska (~ God Bless and Protect Our Brave Protectors of Freedom~)
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