Currently: 57 degrees, partly cloudy, Homer, AK. Watching Last Comic Standing and staring out the window at mountain peaks across the Cook Inlet.
What’d We Do?
This morning we woke up to rain tapping the roof of our cabin on the edge of a lake in the middle of the Kenai Peninsula. We got a bit of late start because yesterday left us completely spent.
Our first stop of the day was to a homesteading museum that told the history of modern day settlers on the Kenai Peninsula. At one time you could move to Alaska, erect a “habitable” home (the definition being fairly loose), cultivate crops on your land and live there for five years and receive a deed to the land. Eventually, the homestead act was changed and granted US military veterans access to the best land
We met Carol whose father homesteaded south of Soldotna where the museum was located. He had worked his way through Alaska, eventually ending up on the Kenai Peninsula, and upon hearing of Pearl Harbor immediately sailed to Seattle to join the Army. In Seattle he was hit by a truck and rendered unfit for service. Without Army status, the family was unable to homestead any of the acreage around the Kenai river near Soldotna, but could still take a plot just south of the area.
Carol showed us around various structures that had been relocated to the museum grounds to demonstrate how homesteaders built “habitable” homes and how they lived fairly primitive lives until oil was discovered and the area grew in population and modern conveniences.
The definition of a “habitable” building varied depending on the skill and seemingly marital status of the builder. Many homesteaders were young and fresh out of the army, so they didn’t have the knowledge to properly build a sound structure. Some cabins featured inconsistently sized logs that left large gaps, and others tried to emulate corner notching of older cabins but failed in execution. It seemed the cabins that were built by bachelor men were most shoddy, whereas the cabins built by married or engaged men were much more sound. There were also cabins built before a mill had been established in the area, so logs weren’t able to be milled for consistency.
Carol also talked at length about the Good Friday earthquake of 1964 that devastated the area. She recalled how her family was living in a trailer as they built a more permanent structure on their homestead, and how the cabinets flung open and poured their contents onto her as she tried to escape. She said the 9.3 magnitude quake caused the feeling of waves in the ground and flung the tops of the trees all the way to the ground and see-sawed them from side to side.
We also briefly met Marge at the museum, she is 95 years old and was the first woman to homestead land on the Kenai Peninsula with her husband. She had lived her entire life in an apartment in Chicago previous to moving to Alaska, and when her husband discovered an article about homesteading in the newspaper she responded that they should move as long as she could find women to teach her how to live life in the bush. The most amazing part of her story is that upon arriving in Alaska the furthest they could reach was Moose Pass, an hour and a half drive from Soldotna, and they had to walk along the river all the way to their new homestead.
After spending nearly 2 hours learning about homesteading from the locals, we had lunch at a great little pizza restaurant in town and drank cream soda and root beer that was on tap. Root beer on tap seems to be a thing up here.
Upon waking up to rain this morning we planned some quick indoor activities that could fill our day. One plan was to visit a local winery that had the distinction of being the first and only winery in the state to serve wine that was made of 100% Alaska-grown fruit. When we arrived at the small farm we had to get out of the car to open a gate designed to keep the moose out of their property. Once inside, we had a private tasting with the farmer who gave us a taste of wines made of haskap, raspberry, strawberry and rhubarb. All were fairly sweet, even sweeter than other fruit wines we’ve sampled, and I’d say the raspberry was probably my favorite. Kirsten bought a syrup made of haskap berries that is supposed to go great over ice cream. Ice cream you say? We’re sold.
After the quick wine stop, we made the drive to Homer which sits at the southwestern corner of the Kenai Peninsula. Along the way we stopped to view rivers and ocean overlooks, and stopped for photos at Ninilchik which features a beautiful Russian Orthadox church from the early 1900’s. The ocean nearby roared as waves crashed on-shore from winds that whipped through the Cook inlet. A couple stopped to tell us that the inlet had been closed to boat traffic today due to high winds and treacherous wave conditions, although we found 2 wind-surfers out at a beach just south.
We also made a stop at Anchor Point which holds the title of the most western highway point in North America. Kir and I visited near Lubec, Maine when we were first dating and noted it was the most Eastern point in the US, so today we were happy to cross off another extreme of this country. We walked along the endless beach and Kir found seashells and interestingly colored rocks. The skies were a bit hazy but we were able to make out many of the volcanos on the opposite side of the inlet that make up parts of Lake Clark National Park. The mountains clock in at over 10,000 feet and were capped with snow.
We arrived at our hotel in Homer at about 7:30 and found dinner at what the hotel clerk called a “fancy restaurant,” which may be more like an mid-level sports bar in another area. I wouldn’t take her word for it though as she questioned which direction was north when asked where would be a good location to spot the northern lights. Actually, she asked which direction we would look to in order to find the northern lights. Yes, which direction would the northern lights be in? Hmm…
Kir and I just got back from trying to spot the aurora. According to the forecasts the aurora is currently at storm levels with tons of geomagnetic activity, but it’s way too cloudy here to see anything. We’re a little annoyed because we hear the aurora activity has been insane the past few nights but we’ve either been without a car, in an area with too much light-pollution or too tired to get out late to see them. We’re holding out hope they’ll be active when we get up north in the next week.
Who We Met
Carol and Marge at the Soldotna Homestead Museum who had actively homesteaded in the area around mid-century. We also met Carol’s dog, Bailey, who followed us around the property with his stuffed toy in tow in search of a play partner.
We also met the berry farmer who gave us the wine tasting and gave us recommendations for the best overlooks to stop at on the way into Homer.
What We Ate
Pizza, burgers…we’ve had a very healthy day.
What We Learned
We knew the statehood of Alaska didn’t come until the late 1950’s, however we didn’t realize how young the history of the area really is. Even though the homestead museum featured many old-time artifacts, many were already obsolete when they were brought to the area because there was no electricity to power the appliances of the time. The way of life in Alaska up until the 1960’s featured no electricity and modern plumbing came even later.
Wildlife We Saw
No wild animal sightings to note today minus a ton of seagulls and what could have been an eagle carrying a fish, but was too high to determine for sure.