Friday, July 31, 2009

Southwest Alaska -- Kodiak and Homer

Land at last, and what a land. Alaska!

This being May 14, we were the first cruise ship of the season in Kodiak Alaska. We being in Kodiak, we were the last cruise ship of the season.
This place is far past the parts of Alaska most tourists ever get to, visited mostly by fishermen and those seeking out the famous Kodiak bears. The bears are too far inland for us to see, so we decide to walk the town instead, and what did we encounter? A real (if rather stiff) Kodiak bear!

The harbor is a dominating feature of downtown, which is small in this town of only 6,000. On the edge of downtown is a landlocked ship brought here shortly after the Great Earthquake of March 27, 1964 that measured a massive 9.2 on the Richter scale and devastated Kodiak with its tsunami. With every fish packing house flattened, this ship was brought in and converted to a fish packer, and is still at it. Across the street is Baranov House, built in 1804 for the Russian American Company, the oldest Russian building in Alaska.

Russia colonized coastal Alaska starting in the late 1700s, but its presence was limited and its interest in the land declined in tandem with the declining population of sea otter, whose pelts had brought the Russians great wealth. There are still Russian churches in several coastal cities and towns, including Holy Resurrection Church here. Father Innocent was waiting for us, and gave a nice introduction to the church and its iconic artwork.

By now it was time for lunch with friends, and a taste of the local specialty, King Crab Legs. Outside, the owner was putting chum on the pier posts to bring in some eagles for the tourists, and the eagles obliged, big time! The non-bald is in fact a bald eagle, just too young, under 3, to have earned his white top and tail.

We spent the rest of the day at Fort Abercrombie State Park. Spruce and moss dominate the landscape, but the ghosts of WW II also permeate the place. In this cold, wet climate, soldiers watched and waited, watched and waited,
looking out over water like this for an attack that never came. When in mid-1943 the Japanese were driven off Attu and Kiska Islands far to the west of here after a 12-month occupation, the Army finally closed the base and the forest began to reclaim it. Ironically, 16 of the 42 islanders seized on Attu died in a Japanese prison camp far, far away -- in Otaru!

We were all in 7th heaven, enjoying "nature therapy." We hiked every trail we could find,

and wondered at every little bit of flora and fauna we found, including a moss that looked like Spanish Moss from Florida dipped in green dye.

We'll leave Kodiak and its deep sylvan quiet with one last photo, one of our favorites of the whole trip:

Next up was Homer, and once again we were the first and, so far as they know, the last cruise ship of 2009. Homer is a bit more used to visitors, however, as it is the end of the road, the furthest northwest one can go in North America on maintained roads. Two separate friends had told Louise decades ago that this was one of the nicest places they could imagine living in, so we had expectations. The weather started nice but turned dreary and did not show off nature to its best, and even in sunny weather the town is nothing to get excited about. We were somewhat disappointed.

The Volendam berthed at the end of 4½ mile long Homer Spit, and the ship had arranged a shuttle into town for a modest price.
We hopped on and checked out the small but excellent Pratt Museum. An art exhibit centered around the Exxon oil spill was on display,
and the art was fairly acerbic, such as the mobile of oil-drenched shorebirds and the work called "Gunk Mail." Not everything was political, however, as this artistic quilt demonstrates.

There is a second museum in town called the Islands and Ocean Center, operated by a partnership of state and federal wildlife agencies.
It focused of course on nature, but also had interesting specimens such as this seal intestine raincoat sewed with grass thread. Just try doing that on your Singer! In a lab within the museum, technicians helped us view and photograph algae
with powerful microscopes. Jeff's daughter Becky is working on biofuel development from algae, so the little critters had special meaning for us. But give us a Sandhill Crane, like this one we saw on the shore near the museum, any day.

Well, back to the ship and only two more ports before we dock for good in Vancouver!

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