Thinking of going to Alaska? Here’s some advice. Go in the middle of September, drive down Highway 1 towards Seward and hang a right along the Kenai Peninsula to Homer. Yes, I know it’s after the Halibut season and the weather can be a little “iffy,” but if you give yourself enough time, you’ll be rewarded with incredibly beautiful foliage and leisurely access to all that Homer offers.
The drive from Anchorage to Homer is about as breathtaking as you’ll ever see any time of year. But, September’s paintbrush splashes the Alaska canvas with a brilliance you don’t want to miss. The Aspen trees almost blind you with their yellow intensity, especially in contrast to the dark green of the fir trees. Turquoise glacial rivers race through the landscape dotted with an occasional fisherman flicking his fly rod for rainbow trout. The mountains rise on either side, scorched with the color of the Aspens at their base, then browning out above the tree line where Bearberries and Salmonberries paint them a vivid red. Higher up still, the peaks display “Termination Dust,” the powdery first snow of the season called that because it signals the time when all of the tourists leave. If it’s a clear day, you’ll enjoy incredible views of Illiamina and Redoubt, two of the five active volcanoes rising out of the Cook Inlet. The entire journey is breathtaking.
Homer itself represents a community cleverly balancing the temptation to grow with the desire not to change. In the full rush of the season, commerce thrives on the narrow tentacle that filters out into Kachemak Bay known as “the Homer Spit.” Campers pop their tents all over the beaches and RV travelers plug into a large facility down the main road. Fishermen charter boats everyday seeking catches of Halibut and Ling Cod. Sometimes just traveling to the fishing spot can be an adventure in whale, sea lion, sea otter, and puffin sightings. You’ll find people standing virtually shoulder to shoulder in streams trying to catch salmon. But, once September comes, the tourist exodus gives Homer the chance to be more relaxed. For those who enjoy the “off season,” it’s the best time to go.
Should you make the journey, there’s one excursion you won’t want to miss – the Geo-Bio Kayaking tour with Taz Tally and Dottie Harness. Their unique approach combines a leisurely kayaking trip with an in-depth explanation of the incredible geology and nature surrounding you. It’s not the traditional local tour guide giving you snippits of information to take home to the grandkids. These two are true professionals. Taz is a Ph.D. geologist. Dottie comes from a science teaching background and is an active ecologist and environmentalist.
With an energetic and humorous approach, Taz explains what is before you. You’ll learn that all the rocks you see are actually Mesozoic ocean floor basalts covered with, now gorgeous, red radiolarian chert sediments deposited tens of millions of years ago under several thousand feet of water near the equator.
Through displacement by periodic shifting around faults in the earth, they ultimately were pushed to the surface thousands of miles north to form the foundation for the Alaskan landscape. What you see now has been carved out by alpine glaciers over 2000 feet thick resulting in a fjord coastline. The terrain is young by geologic standards and still very much alive as evidenced by common active faulting and the five volcanoes – Illiamina, Redoubt, Spur, Augustine and Douglas. This volcanic activity is caused by the current ocean crust diving under the Alaska Peninsula.
A kayak proves to be the perfect vehicle for this excursion. Its maneuverability allows you to closely approach the formations, faults and outcroppings Taz discusses. You can also paddle over to the patch of Bulb Kelp where Dottie notices a Sea Otter floating on his back napping. She points out that the kelp, which grows 18 inches a day, anchors to the ocean floor. An onion-like bulb bobs on top of the water with wide ribbons of kelp drifting from it. Sea otters love to wrap themselves in the ribbons while they sleep because it keeps them in one place, immune from the flow of the tide. Oh, and don’t worry about going hungry. If you need a little energy food, Dottie will gladly cut you some kelp for a munchie. And if your lips get dry, she will extract some natural marine aloe from the Kelp to help moisten and soothe them.
The day-long tour can be booked through Mako’s Water Taxi on “the Spit.” Mako Haggerty, fisherman turned water taxi captain, delivers you to the start in the morning and safely brings you back when the day is done. His phone number is 907-235-9055. There’s no doubt you’ll work up an appetite being out in the fresh air and paddling the kayaks. Two suggestions – Fat Olive’s for a casual atmosphere with oven-fired pizza or fantastic chicken vegetable soup that’s more akin to gumbo; or the Homestead with a little more elegant setting overlooking Kachemak Bay and cooked-to-perfection prime rib.