Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Typical Homer Flowerbed

I think it is funny seeing other people's flowerbeds around town. It seems like everyone has the same flowers growing in their yards. There are some flowers that just do amazingly well in this area, and they've probably been shared many times over the years (as I have done...).  Flowers that do well in the area are prolific and tend to spread easily so a bare flowerbed will soon be packed and need to be pruned back.

Here are some of the common flowers in the area (I tracked down the names to most of them)--all in my flowerbeds! I missed the iris's as they have already finished blooming.


Peonies do so well there are now numerous peony farms in the area. Usually they hit bloom stage after peonies in other areas but this year they came early here so sales were poor as the national (international?) market was glutted.

My lilies are brilliantly orange-red.

Bachelor Buttons spread easily.

These are a type of rose--small flowers on prolific bushes.

Delphiniums are local classics. Mine are 6-7 feet tall and the hummingbirds love them!

Geraniums bloom for a month a more.

Shrubby Cinquefoil grows wild and in many cultivated areas.

Russian Daisies dry nicely.

Forget-me-nots are the Alaska state flower.

Pansies grow in my lawn, my garden, my greenhouse AND my flowerbed! Here they are tucked between a kohlrabi and my chives.

This is my favorite of all flowers but it did not transplant well so just a couple stalks made it, instead of being a huge bush. The bees love it and it blooms much of the summer.

Daisies can take over if not controlled and are considered invasive. Here they are flopped over, making for a strange angle to view them.

My columbine didn't transplant well either so I just have a few plants left.

Goatsbeard (also known as potentilla) are more shrubs than bushes and they grow wild in the area as well.

An unknown flower that brightens my flowerbed with a different color

Wild roses do well around here. There are also the pale pink wild roses (I think of these darker roses as the domesticated wild roses). The moose "prune" them back every spring; my rose bushes are the last thing they eat before things start growing again in the spring.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mid-summer Wildflowers

One thing I love about Alaska is the amazing show of flowers every summer. Considering how short our growing season is, we get quite the variety of sizes and colors, with various microclimate having its own types and season. When we were hiking Slaughter Ridge in Cooper Landing last week I snapped pictures of flowers along this trail. My years growing up I memorized hundreds of flower names, and that serves me well now, so there were just a few I didn't know the common names of.

Yarrow (Excellent homeopathic properties; can make tea from the fresh or dried flowers)


A single stalk of fireweed. Right now there are fields of fireweed blooming around Alaska, creating stunning displays.

I knew this one as a harebell growing up; I'm sure it has other common names

I took this of the yellow flowers, and didn't realize I also caught some harebells and monkshood in it, as well as the bridge across the Kenai River in Cooper Landing!


Indian Paintbrush


Hiking Up Alyeska (And a Free Tram Ride!)

We were heading up to Anchorage with some of the Homer High School cross-country runners to drop them at the airport for a flight to Oregon to Steens Running Camp and decided to take in a hike at Alyeska on the way. At first we were going to hike to the hand tram but then decided at the last minute to hike the 2.4 mile trail up mountain and catch the tram down. I didn't realize the tram is free from the top, so we were earning our free ride. The chair lift was also running; not sure if that was just for the fun of it or maybe is a cheaper option than the tram for getting to the top.

The tram operator said the tram is just over 2000 feet, so that is the elevation of the hike, which is a pretty good climb. The trail starts out as a gravel road, then higher up narrows to a single track trail. It is steep in a few areas, but it is easy hiking--in other words, not scrambling or climbing over rocks. I'm going to put this hike on my "keeper" list as the views from the top are gorgeous!

A chain embedded in the rock in one section of the trail up Alyeska

View of Alyeska Resort from about halfway up the mountain

The tram runs every 15 minutes, shuttling bikers, hikers, sightseers and diners

The tram building near the top of the mountain

View of Turnagain Arm from the restaurant/tram area (which isn't quite at the top of the mountain)

View of the trail winding up the mountain

A couple parasailers who took of from near the top of the mountain

Friday, July 18, 2014

Cooper Landing Area Hikes-Stetson, Slaughter & Fuller

We managed to squeeze 3 hikes in 3 days at Cooper Landing and were so grateful that the weather was amazing--not too hot, not too cold, not rainy, not too buggy...! We have done all of these before but it has been awhile so thought I'd give some updates, and of course some pictures.

Stetson Creek Trail

There is actually a trail sign for Stetson Creek!
This trail has a connector from the Cooper Creek South campground, which is where we were staying the other two or three times we've hiked this. But since we weren't staying there we parked in the "trailhead" parking which is a pulloff on the right just before Sackett's in Cooper Landing.

My goal for the hike was to get above treeline, and I was thinking it wouldn't take much more than an hour. The other times we'd hiked it we just went for a jaunt from the campground, not taking water or supplies, and not making it more than 30 or 40 minutes out. This time we were prepared with bug spray, water, snacks, extra clothes: the whole nine yards. We hiked like we had a destination, moving along at a brisk clip.

Because we'd always taken this trail from the campground I didn't realize it actually had a name, and we've since seen it on a map. At our brisk pace the trail climbed for the first hour of hiking, in some places gradually and in a few areas quite steeply. After an hour the trail leveled out and followed Cooper Creek up towards the Cooper Lake dam. Across the valley on the opposite mountainside we saw the road that goes up to Cooper Lake dam as well (construction on it right now so it is closed to traffic--bummer!!). We never did get above treeline as the trail continued at the same elevation. I'm not sure how far it goes--going to leave that for another day.

We found out later when we visited the museum that this trail is used by a man who has a mining claim up it (we saw the trail to his camp) and he finds a good bit of gold. It was interesting hearing about the man's camp: a tent with electric wires around it and his equipment with electric wires around it as well--both to fend off the bears. We saw a little bit of bear scat on the trail, more and fresher the further along we got, and very little in the first 45 minutes of hiking.

Here are some pictures from the trail. It is nice walking, particularly as two people can walk abreast, which is unusual for Alaska trails, and it is in fairly good condition in most places, with a few boggy, rocky spots and one small stream crossing.

There are some pretty sections of the Stetson Creek Trail

A small but interesting section of the trail

This is as much of a view as we got--not quite above treeline but pretty nonetheless

This section of trail was built up with a substantial drainage on the right side

My feet got nicely frozen in this short stream crossing!

Slaughter Ridge/Juneau Peak

Panorama from the top of Slaughter Ridge with Kenai Lake to the left and Kenai River winding to the right
The ridge behind Wildman's store is called Slaughter Ridge, though the mountain is Juneau Peak, standing at 3261 feet (according to the map in the Cooper Landing Museum). Since Cooper Landing is at 410 feet, that would mean it is a 2851 foot climb, which is right around the same elevation gain as Skyline Trail up the road 20 minutes.

A pretty, mossy waterfall is near the beginning of the Slaughter Trail

Evidence of a dry spring and summer: no water or mud where there usually is some.
An interesting phenomena that I have noticed this summer is that when I am hiking my entire energy is focused on the moment that we reach treeline and get a sweeping view. I have never had that disposition before, but it is becoming a prominent part of my mentality of hikes: I want to get a view. It certainly motivates me to climb mountains as that is the main way to get a view!

Slaughter Ridge is all about the view, and I consider it my favorite one of all the mountains I've climbed (um, maybe after Hope Point, which is amazing as well). The trail is in fairly good shape and is easier to climb than Skyline as there is more distance to go with the elevation change. And it is more official now as there is a notebook at the top under a dishpan, along with some bug spray and miscellaneous foo-foos (like a geocache). We were the first ones up it on July 14th. One person ran up it in 45 minutes and 45 seconds a few days before us. It took us 1 hour and 45 minutes to hike it (1 hour 10 minutes back down).

View of the ridge we climbed with Kenai Lake in the background
Sections of the trail weave along the edge of a sheer drop-off, which didn't bother me as much this time as the last time I hiked this trail 2 years ago. The false peaks got me again. Each time I would be hopeful "This is the top!" and my hopes would be dashed as I reached it and discovered another two or three peaks up. Finally we did get there. It was comfortable on top, until suddenly a chilly wind whipped up and I went from shorts and t-shirt to bundled up (why we always bring extra clothes on the mountain hikes!), and then taking things off as we went back down and out of the wind.

From the top there are views of Kenai Lake, Slaughter Lake (I think it is) and Trout Lake on the Resurrection Trail. The water is aqua and so pretty, dappled as the clouds go by. We sat at the top for probably 30 minutes, soaking it all up.

Fuller Lakes Trail

As we were heading out of Cooper Landing back to Homer, we decided to spin up the Fuller Lakes Trail. The last time we hiked it was 6 years ago, a week before we were going to hike the Chilkoot Trail in Southeast Alaska. The kids were young, and we all had fully loaded backpacks. We could not remember a thing about that trail, and doing it again, we know why:  it is a completely nondescript trail. It is 2.9 miles, a 1400 foot climb, to the lower Fuller Lake. The trail is mostly packed dirt, a gradual climb, with little view. We felt like we could be anywhere in the Midwest. We did it as an exercise hike, so pushed along and managed to get to the lake in an hour and back in 40 minutes, which was a good pace.

Here are a few shots of the trail.

This trailhead along the Sterling Highway always catches my eye with the nice stairs

Not sure why I take pictures of bridges...probably because it is a break in the monotony of the trail

The bridge at the lower Fuller Lake; heading on to the upper lake

Lower Fuller Lake on a calm morning
Doesn't this look like it could be Anywhere, USA?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cooper Landing Revisited--2014

Every summer I look for an excuse to head to Cooper Landing for a vacation. There are just so many trails to hike within 20 minutes of town. Earlier this week Douglas and I took a 3-day anniversary trip there and packed lots into our time. Since businesses change I thought I would give an update on some of the places we checked out a couple summer's ago.

Gwin's Lodging

Cute little cabin we stayed at--Gwin's Lodging

Two years ago Gwin's seemed like a dying business, but the store was remodeled with bright lighting, new doors and tile floor so didn't feel like a dungeon. The Gwin's Roadhouse restaurant was doing brisk business for breakfast, lunch and dinner (Though I will admit I will never go there again for breakfast. My breakfast burrito was mushy, the coffee, for $2.95, was watery, and Doug's apple juice, which they charged $4.95 for, was watery as well. That meal was the biggest disappointment of our 3 days.), partly because the internet routers were located there for wifi. 

Cozy is the word, and while the paneling dates this, the bed was comfortable and the shower was hot (albeit short!)
The price of the cabin was probably about right--$140. They had what seemed like 15 or 20 cabins for rent of various sizes and types, with the price ranging to $200/night. They advertise the wifi, but I think that is deceptive. We could not access the internet from the cabin, and access from the store was spotty and from the restaurant it was just slow. I am taking an online class and was supposed to get on and check it, but gave up. If it had been essential I would have driven to Wildman's and used their wifi.


Speaking of Wildman's, they have taken the little museum/chamber building out of their parking lot and added a casual dining room addition. This places gets crazy-busy, even without a gas station. It is comfortable, they have a decent convenience store food selection, but they also have the coffees, ice cream, basic quick hot food and also boxed lunches to go. This is still our favorite place to stop when going through.

Grizzly Ridge

This used to be Hamilton's, and is the only gas station in Cooper Landing. We saw it had a new name and owner so had to check it out. The restroom is new which is a great improvement, and the rest of the store seemed pretty much the same. It is a cramped space and it hasn't been fully developed yet so it is a work in progress. They do have ice cream, and they stay open till 10 p.m., which is a bonus.

Kingfisher Roadhouse

Looking out the window to the outdoor seating section (aka, smoking section)

The decor keeps me looking around the Kingfisher
For our anniversary dinner we opted to go to the Kingfisher Roadhouse, which doesn't look like much from the outside but has a sweet decor inside that I thoroughly enjoy. We looked online and a site said it opened at 4:30, but when we got there the hours on the door said 5:00. We'd had an early lunch and were hungry but had to wait till they opened. The food there is very good, though it seems overpriced. On the other hand, to keep fresh ingredients in a place 1 hour from Soldotna and 2 hours from Anchorage would require some coordination. For a special occasion, it is worth it.

Cooper Landing Museum

 We've driven by the Cooper Landing Museum before and I don't know if I've ever seen it open before, but we had time as we were driving by and I'm glad we stopped. A local was manning the museum and he knew some folks from Homer. A Homer school teacher, Sheryl Sotelo, helped Cooper Landing kids reconstruct the skeleton of a bear, which is displayed in the museum. There had just been an article about her in the Homer Tribune a few days before we left and Sheryl had mentioned helping the kids reconstruct that bear had been a fun highlight in her educational career. I would not have even known about the Homer connection with that skeleton if I hadn't just read that article.

An interesting mix of things in the Cooper Landing Museum (open 10-2 daily in the summer)

The old post office and store is filled with clothing, quilts, photo albums, and other relics of the community. Just behind the store is where, supposedly, a bridge once spanned the Kenai River

This is the old post office and Cooper Landing store with a WW II relic in the foreground

A huge section of tree from Montague Island with a commentary on the history of how it got here

History of a tree slab

Summit Lake Lodge

While Summit Lake Lodge is not part of Cooper Landing, it is only 10 minutes up the road and it has a nice restaurant that we enjoy, so we drove up there for dinner. The grounds of Summit Lake Lodge are beautiful and I just want to soak them up. They have cabins there as well, which I'm sure we will check out someday.

Hope Turnoff Bike Path

And just 10 minutes or so past the Summit Lake Lodge is the 7-mile paved Hope Turnoff bike path. Apparently climbing Slaughter Ridge wasn't enough for us so we went for an after dinner 14-mile bike ride as well. This time we were prepared mentally that it was mostly uphill going out and would be downhill coming back, but that was balanced by the wind, which was on our backs going out. It was great having no traffic on a bike path and being able to bike side by side and chat.

Besides our sightseeing, we also went on 3 hikes in the Cooper Landing area, which I will write about in a separate blog post.

I still love Cooper Landing and haven't gotten enough of it. Most folks converge on it for the fishing on the Kenai or Russian Rivers, but we are completely indifferent to fishing and are there for the hiking.