A short way up Turnagain Arm, I spotted a trail sign for Falls Creek and put it on my list to return, hoping for a nice cascade of water pouring down the mountain. I was not disappointed days later when I climbed the steep Falls Creek trail on a return drive towards Anchorage. Note the bright red berries of Devil's club lining the little island in the cascade.
But, we went to Kenai for more than little cascades or moose; fjords and glaciers and sea life were on our mind. An early stop was Exit Glacier near Seward. Did I mention it rains a lot in September?
The scale of the glacier is easy to underestimate unless a group of teenagers provides a measure of scale by approaching the face of glacier (perhaps a little too closely). This rock was under glacial ice just twenty years ago because the Exit Glacier, like all others, is rapidly retreating as the earth warms.
Our initial plans to cruise the Kenai Fjords were delayed by high winds, and we redirected our travel to the area around the Portage Glacier, Portage Lake and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
The drive back over the passes from Seward to Portage revealed that even after the bloom is over, the Fireweed still contributes color to the mountains.
Our first stop was the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center which cares for rescued wildlife and seeks to re-introduce threatened species. Immediately on entering, we saw these two Caribou bulls sparring.
My favorite time was watching these two large Grizzly cubs playfully sparring in a pond. Did I mentioned it rained? You just accept it.
Perhaps the best part of the trip was the horseshoe curve that began aimed directly at a large glacier and then completely reversed direction to continue the descent from Grandview back to Portage. Below you see the view as the locomotive approaches the glacier face.
The Kenai is famous for the salmon runs, and we made the necessary stop at a spawning bed near Portage Lake to watch them. It was late in the run and only a modest number of salmon were left.
The sea calmed two days later, and we returned to Seward for the small boat into Kenai Fjords. The scenery and the sea life were beautiful. The tidal glaciers are huge as this large tour boat shows.
A second equally important reason to cruise the Kenai Fjords is to see the sea life. That proved more exciting for me. My favorite was coming upon the resident pod of Orca lazily cruising along. Mind you, most of any sea mammals remains below the surface, so the real excitement is just in finding them close enough to photograph. Not easy on a rolling boat in poor light.
Note the two adults in the back have distinctive dorsal fins; the left one is notched and the center one is rolled over to the side.
There was more to find. We came along several rocky pinnacles poking out of the sea with an inclined side giving access to Sea Lions for their daytime snooze. Note how large the bull is.
In many spots, we saw small cabins hugging the shore in a remote location. I often thought how satisfying it would be to spend some days at a cabin, exploring the sea quietly in a kayak, and on the second day we came upon several people in just such a cove, quietly moving along the shore.
There were also a lot of sea birds that I had not seen before; I got some appropriate photos of them from a visit to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward.
Everyone loves Puffins. They have two species which are not seen on the Atlantic side of North America. First is the Horned Puffin. I saw them from the boat, but they were always too far and too fast. They were more cooperative at the Alaska SeaLife Center.
There is one final image of Kenai Fjords that captures how I remember it. Simply majestic.
After the Loons drifted into the distant part of the pond, I recalled the large white bird and located it about a half mile along the edge of the pond. Off I hurried with the heavy lens, tripod and camera. It was worth the effort to find this beautiful Trumpeter Swan so close.
Such luck! I headed to Anchorage anticipating the second half of the trip which included Denali.