Jane and I woke up early at the Harbor View Inn in Seward. We were eagerly anticipating our day on the Kenai Fjord cruise. We had a quick breakfast of (you guessed it) muffins in our room and headed down to the dock area and parked in the designated cruise parking lot. We were actually a bit early and had time for coffee and tea.
We knew the speed of the boat over the water would create a breeze and chill, so we both took our warmest clothes and wore many layers. At the designated time we boarded the boat and initially sat in the aft of the upper deck. Almost immediately as we moved out of Resurrection Bay we saw two eagles perched on posts. We continued motoring out of the bay and angled toward the opposite shore which contained many rocky points and ledges. Here the cruise ship caption pointed out the many types of sea birds and sea lions. We focused on some puffins which look like flying penguins. They are difficult to photograph because they come up for air and then dive quickly.
We decided to move to the fore deck; however, that was quite breezy with nothing to block the wind. I alternated between the deck and going back inside the cabin when we were moving and there wasn’t much to see besides the landscape. Of course this turned out to be a mistake because as we moved away from the sea lions and birds the captain announced a whale sighting. The passengers already on the fore deck naturally had the premium views while I scrambled to find a gap to take photos. The first whale spotted was a humpback whale and like the puffins it was difficult to capture more than the back above the water.
We left the first whale and moved further along toward our destination which was one of the fjords and the glacier it contained. Once again the captain announced a whale sighting and this time it was an orca, but a rare type of orca. I got a nice photo of the mist and spray coming out of this whale’s blow hole. I was riding up front with Jane and she mentioned that she’d seen someone we knew. Can you guess who? No, not Bob, but Beth the young intern who had graduated from Clemson and was sitting in the seat in front of us on the Denali bus. Her parents were visiting and they were doing the cruise before heading north to Denali. Even though Alaska is a huge place, everyone seems to do the same loop of tourist attractions.
We continued on and entered the fjord and drew closer and closer to the gray-white mass of ice that filled the valley and reached down to the water. As we neared the glacier the captain announced that we needed to be cautious to avoid all the mini-icebergs floating in the bay. Sure enough they were everywhere and occasionally one could hear them clanking against the hull. I noticed some movement ahead and spotted a sea otter swimming past us in the frigid icy water. When we drew within 50 yards the captain cut the motor and we watched the glacier. This may sound boring but we were anxiously anticipating calving.
Calving occurs when slices of the glacier split off and slide into the ocean. There were some fairly deep fissures on the right side that forecast calving, but a major event never occurred. We did see some minor slides. The other interesting thing about glacier watching is how noisy they are. We constantly heard cracking and creaking sounds so it definitely left the impression of a living moving phenomenon.
We turned around and began motoring out of the fjord, and I noticed a pair of sea kayaks along the shore. Where did they come from? The captain said they get dropped off by a larger boat so they don’t paddle the entire distance from Seward. What a neat way to see the glacier. It also seemed like there were scout boats out ahead of us that radioed the captain when they spotted whales.
Sure enough as we headed back toward home, the captain announced that two whales were spotted bubble netting. Bubble netting is a technique used by the whales to confuse the bait fish. The bubbles make it difficult for the small fish to see, and then the whales swoop upward with their huge mouths open and scoop up massive quantities of fish. It’s a heck of an appetizer. They also told us this was a learned behavior as the northern hemisphere whales learned it from their southern hemisphere friends. I got some pretty neat photos and movies of the whales bubble netting by holding my camera up high above the heads and shooting semi-blindly toward the whale spot.
After the bubble netting episode we chugged at a fairly quick pace back to the harbor. I went to the snack bar for a cup of tea, and one of the cruise ship assistants had one of the icebergs that she’d netted and people were looking at it up close and touching it.
Once we landed we returned to the car and stopped for gas and departed Seward. Our scheduled lodging for Thursday night was Soldotna which was across the Kenai along the Kenai River not far from Cook Inlet. We backtracked on the same road we’d traveled on our way to Seward, but before Turnagain Arm, we made a left turn and it wasn’t long before we were in Cooper Landing and then traveling along the Kenai River. As we got closer to Soldotna we saw a small visitor center cabin for the Kenai Wildlife Area so we stopped to see what the area had to offer. We chatted with a sweet young lady who had lived her entire life in the area, and she gave us a brochure and recommended some of the trails in the area and detouring off the main paved road and taking a well maintained dirt road. We did this and stopped fairly early and did a short hike on the East Kenai River trail to an overlook high above the turquoise colored Kenai River. Once again we were on guard for bears as Donna told us there had been quite a few during the first wave of sockeye salmon which had just passed.
We hiked back to the car and continued on the side road through the wildlife area and then after approximately 16 miles we merged back on the main road and continued on to Soldotna. We found our Kenai River Lodge just off the main road and positioned next to the Kenai River. We walked behind the hotel and checked out the fish cleaning table and the array of hooks available for hanging your catch.
After returning to the room we researched our Soldotna book and found a couple restaurant choices. We elected the St. Elias Brew Pub and it turned out to be a good choice. There were two musicians playing guitar and singing and we sampled the brew and had a hearty meal.