Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Kenai....Homer and the Day of the Bears

      Welcome to Homer, Alaska......the Halibut Capital of the World.  One of the highlights of this trip was the chartering of a plane to take us to Southwest Alaska to see brown bears.  98% of the big brown bears in the U.S. reside there.  In spring they feast on abundant grasses and clams, then on salmon returning to spawn, and finally on berries and seeds as they prepare for winter.
      Arriving in Homer we stayed in Homer at the (end of) Homer Spit Campground. We stayed at a Beach View spot with only electricity for $45/night.  There is water available for the freshwater tank and showers, laundry, and dump as well.  This is Homer; you pay what you pay.  We were going to boondock at the Municipal Fishing Hole CG with no hookups, but fresh water for $20/night, but I acquiesced to my wife and her desire for comfort this stop. (That means I gave in).  Apparently age may not be equal to appreciation to boondocking over time.  Love her anyway, she puts up with a lot.  This is a clean campground VERY centrally located, but nothing special.....a large gravel area with several levels and some hookups.  LOTS of RVs in here with not much room in between.  We also found the dump station, rest rooms, and showers to be very much IN DEMAND so timing was critical.  
Homer Spit Campground
      There is lots to see and do in Homer, the biggest attraction of course is fishing.  We fished here 5 years ago, but chose another charter out of Seward this time.  I did do some shore surf fishing while here, hoping to better my luck.  There are also many shops, cafes, and of course the 'Salty Dog'; a pub of fame and lore.  Some days it's just fun to walk the docks and see the BIG ASS halibut at they are taken off the boats. The Nick Dudiak 'Fishing Hole' is located next to the municipal campground.  The ADFG regularly stocks it with salmon fry which when old enough migrate to sea to grow.  In about 4 years they return to the Homer Harbor and the fishing hole where some very nice King Salmon are caught each year.  It is a popular place.   I fished off the end of the spit near the ferry pilings using cut herring.  It is deep water there and the nearby fish processing plants exhaust their fish waste near there, providing a smorgasbord for incoming flounder, halibut, cod, and rockfish.  I did catch a few each day, but nothing worth keeping size.
      We booked our bear adventure through Smokey Bay Air
It is not a cheap trip, but this was one of our only two extravagances this trip.  We were scheduled to go to Katmai NP, but foggy weather changed our plans.  We diverted into Lake Clark NP, which turned out just fine.  Our flight crew Brittany and Andrew were great pilots (landing on that sloping beach can't be easy) and our Naturalist Daniel was helpful all afternoon. After our 1 hour flight across Cook Inlet we deplaned and set out on foot with our rubber boots and camera gear in hand.  Our hearts were filled with awe, wonder, fear, and even a bit of thankfulness this day.  We were within 20 yards of the most magnificent and beautiful beasts all afternoon and sometimes a bit closer.  God and cohort, Mother Nature, are pretty amazing folks.  It is probably just easier to post several of our better shots than talk about it.
Within 20 yards
      Additionally, I have been in contact with some of the (apparently wide family) of Hilts in Seldovia, just across Kachemak Bay from Homer.  By chance I had met the father here 5 years ago and I reestablished contact with his family again about a year before this trip so we could hook up.  We decided on a day and Barb and I took the ferry across.  Seldovia, a village of just 260 people is just across Kachemak Bay.  It is the quintessential quaint Alaskan village. This village was once the hub of the Great Alaskan Crab Fleet, but that eventually moved to Dutch Harbor.  At it's heyday Seldovia was at one time bigger than Homer.

Seldovia Board Walk
Hilts Homestead

                       Seldovia Boardwalk                      
                 Hilts......ALL OF US.  Rich, Barb, Rod, Sunni Edith, and Laurel                
      Even more tasty meals at this stop.  Some of the meals I prepared included Italian Sausage Soup, Baked Spaghetti w/Reindeer, Stroganoff Topped Baked Potato, Catfish, and Sloppy Jacks to name a few.  Additionally we visited Coal Point Seafoods to stock up on some tasty razor clams since the local season was closed this year.  We also ordered some halibut to be shipped to the friends watching our house this summer.
Sloppy Jacks

Stroganoff Topped Baked Potato

Baked Reindeer Spaghetti

      Diesel was $3.15 here.  There is a Petro Marine Services diesel pump at their on shore facility at the corner of the Beluga Refuge Road and the main highway.  A standard credit card prepay pump with diesel at just $3.04.  They have another station out on East End Drive about 4 miles if you get out that way.  Propane was $3.89 per gallon and laundry at the campground was $2 each for wash and dry.  All not too terribly bad.  We stayed here 11 days.  I love Homer.  It is easily my favorite town in Alaska.  Many come close, but for me this is it.  I don't know if I'll ever be back this way again or not, but I have added many more cherished memories this trip.  

"I'm becoming more and more myself with time.  I guess that's what grace is.  The refinement of your soul through time." 
Jewell (Kilcher)

WiFi courtesy of Homer Spit Campground

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Reindeer Paronkaristys

      I know that the first reaction will be, "How and where the hell do we get Reindeer?"  Relax, this recipe works well with any lean deer type ungulate (i.e. moose, deer, and caribou).  But, you can order it online from Alaska at  This recipe is the result of my search for reindeer recipes from areas where they regularly dine on it.  Finland has very good recipes, as does the University of Alaska Anchorage.  The other 'hook' here will be Lingonberries.  They are available in the U.S. but if not readily available whole cranberry sauce will do.  Reindeer, like most wild game is very lean and offers itself to delicious fare provided cooked correctly.  This is a very simple, straightforward recipe.  By the way, Reindeer and Caribou are essentially the same critter.  

1 1/2 pounds sliced reindeer (I used split and julienne sliced Reindeer sausage)  
2 Tbsp. butter
1 1/2 cup pale ale type beer (I used Fosters Ale)
1 onion, diced
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 cups mashed taters (I like Yukon Golds)
1/2 cup Lingonberry Jam
1/2 cup Bread n Butter Pickles

Sous Cheffin' completed

Simmerin' in the beer, flour, salt, n pepper
      Brown the sliced reindeer meat and onions in a cast iron or ceramic pot with butter.  I used a deep dish cast iron skillet for mine.  Season the meat with salt and pepper; add the flour and stir.  Add the beer and stir again.  Place the lid on top of the pot and simmer for an hour.  Keep an eye on this as the gravy tends to thicken quickly and will need lots of stirring and more beer......what a shame.  Serve the reindeer hot together with the mashed taters and lingonberry jam and, by Finnish custom, pickles. 

We found this delicious. Remember it can be used with venison, elk, and moose as well

"The forest will call you in the way you call it"  
Finish Proverb

WiFi courtesy of Homer Spit Campground

Friday, July 5, 2019

The Kenai Peninsula....Loving Life and Smelling Smoke

Kenai Peninsula
      Welcome to the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska's playground.  We discovered during our last trip that most of what we enjoyed doing was right here.  After getting a new tire on the RV we left Anchorage, traveling SE on the Turnagain Arm along the Seward Highway.  We stopped several times to scan the hillsides for sheep and goats, and the waters for whales as well.
     We spent our first week camped at Morgan's Landing, an Alaska DNR rustic campsite on the Kenai River just west of Sterling.  Once you get through the Million Man March of Fisherman it isn't too hard to find.  We had planned on staying at Bing's Landing, but the Swan Lake fire was putting out so much smoke that it became a non player rather quickly.  Much like our State Forest Campgrounds back in Michigan these are sites with picnic table and firepit only.  There are 2 central water spigots and vault toilets.  The water spigots are pressurized and threaded.  Cost is $15/night.  Admittedly we haven't done much boondocking since entering the state, relaxing at full service parks for a nearly a week at 4 different locations.  Morgan's Landing will at least give us the opportunity to cycle the solar system and battery bank a few times and get back to nature; do some campfire chillaxin.   We did still experience a day or two of fire smoke depending on the winds.  From here we could visit a good friend in Sterling and are within range of Fred Meyer or Walmart in Soldotna and Kenai if needed.  The campground host told us of a 'brownie' (Griz) that had been hanging around so we got a container of bear spray and a bell for Roux's leash our first day in town.
Morgan's Landing Campground
Unofficial Campground Host

Fillin' them freezers
     This has been a BOOM year for salmon fisherman in this area.  The early sockeye run has been so dramatically improved that they have raised the limit in the Kenai and Russian Rivers twice now, from 3 to now allowing 9 salmon per day per angler.  Further south in Resurrection Bay the limit has been increased to 12 salmon per day.  This is due to an increase of nearly a hundred thousand fresh salmon over the Alaska Department of Fish n Game (ADFG) goals for sustenance.  I have talked to both my cousin and a friend of ours here who have limited out in a very short time each and every day.  Freezers are filling up!  This won't last forever, but it sure is fun for those who are here.  Barb really doesn't care for trout or salmon; our fishing efforts usually take us elsewhere, but we'll still get some on our charter in August.  We'll get ours.  We had also planned on doing some Razor Clam digging, but Alaska suspended their season this year along the east beaches of Cook Inlet, so I picked up about 5 pounds of frozen clams for the freezer, at least until we have a chance to get our own in Washington again.  
      One day we trekked north along the east coast of Cook Inlet near Nikiski and Salamatof Beach to do some rockhounding for agates on the beach.  This is a great area due to the occasional eruptions of Mount Redoubt across the sound.  Find all you want, the mountain will make more.  All these agates are fairly 'new' in geological terms.  They are not banded.  The 'new' agates are amber and opaque in color, while the 'newest' agates are very nearly clear.  
Huntin' dem agates at Salamatoff Beach

Alaskan Beach Agates
     Interesting note:  when heading west you pass by a Fred Meyer's Store in Soldotna.  There is a free dump station and potable water fill on the SW part of the lot.  Diesel here was $3.08.  From here we ventured further south now along the east shore of Cook's Inlet.  We spent a couple of nights at Ninilchik Deep Creek State Rec Area.  Another ADNR primitive campground.  Nice sites right on the beach with great views, a picnic table, firepit, and a vault toilet, $15/night.  The water is by hand pump only so you might want to haul in your own water or you can get it about a mile north at Ninilchik View Campground which has pressurized spigots and a dump station as well.  Another chance to cycle the solar/battery system.  These sites fill very quickly during peak fishing seasons and holidays.  We stayed here 6 nights, including the 4th of July holiday.
      There are quite a few eagles here hanging out along the creek or on the cliffs just north of camp.  They are here for the fish.  You will see them every day.  Fireworks are prohibited here, but the occasional person does ignite a few.  It is regularly patrolled by State Park Rangers.  There are a few small stores, charter offices, a fish market, and a gas station in town that will carry much of what you may need.  They are very friendly folks.
Ninilchick Deep Creek Beach Campground
Deep Creek eagles
Deep Creek eagle

Ninilchik Beach sea otter
      One of the most interesting things about Ninilchik is that although it is one of Alaska's most thriving fishing communities, both private and charter.....there is no harbor.  They launch and retrieve their boats off the beach with the aid of very large tractors each and every day.  Not a few boats either, several dozen charter craft and during salmon season the waiting lines are LONG.  

Ninilchik Beach Boat Launch
Mount Redeoubt & Ninilchik Fishing boats returning
      4th of July holiday was a fun filled, beach packed event with lots of camping, family cookouts, and one LONG sunset.  Even though fireworks were illegal here, we kept Roux and Bones constant company.  We were very pleasantly surprised to find no fireworks at all during the night and everyone rested comfortably.  
      In camp we dined on General Tso's Catfish, Reindeer Mac n Cheese, Hot Beef Sausage & Haricots Verts, Caribou Inuulitisivik, Catfish Tacos, and Cudighi Taco Bake Casserole among others.

Hot Beef Sausage and Haricot Verts
General Tso's Catfish w/Eggrolls
Capicola, Ham, Pancetta, Genoa, Brie, Gouda, Crackers, MISO & Mayo/Soy Dipping Sauces

      We finished these two weeks off utilizing solar everyday, but unfortunately the generator did come into play for either smoky or uncharacteristically warm weather to cool the RV down, more so at Morgan's Landing.  The Swan Lake Fire continues, now over 89,000 acres destroyed.  They're keeping it north of the Sterling Highway, but only 14% contained to date, giving everyone plenty of smoke to breathe.  We're off to Homer now.  We're only there for about 10 days, but the adventure begins to peak.  We're camping on the beach; fishing, shopping, ferry rides to meet distant relatives, and even a charter flight to bear country.  The adrenaline cranks up a bit now.  

"I travel a lot; I hate having my life disrupted by routine" 
Caskie Stinnett

WiFi courtesy of Verizon MiFi

Friday, June 28, 2019

Caribou Inuulitsivik

      The first in our series of Alaskan Cuisine, both for us and you  We have never tried caribout before.  This is another of the more lean wild game meats, lending itself to different cooking styles, including this recipe. Venison, elk, reindeer, or moose can be substituted.   Our steaks were small 4 ounce tenderloins wrapped in bacon. Recipe is for 4 people, but you may want to consider it for only  two,  it is that tasty.

4 Caribou Steaks
1/4 tsp. peppercorns, crushed
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 onion, diced
1/2 cup beef broth
2 bay leaves
1 cup red wine
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp thyme
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms

      Saute' the caribou over high heat in the butter and pepper until browned.  Add the beef broth, red wine, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and soy sauce.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, then simmer until tender.  Thicken juices with a roux or heavy cream and add red pepper.  Mushrooms and other veggies can be added.  The bacon wrap will come off as it cooks, just work with it when serving.
      We found the Caribou Steaks to be fairly tasty and tender.  Taste was similar to venison.  The thickened broth was served over mashed taters with fresh peas on the side.  We really wanted to dine 'al fresco', but you know bears......they don't like to share. 

"Manage the meat, let the meat cook, and you'll get fantastic results"  
Guy Fieri

WiFi courtesy of Verizon MiFi

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Bright Lights, Big City, and TorFlex Axles

Tlingit Salmon Art (courtesy of Jilkaat Kwaan Heritage Center)

      After departing Valdez we headed north back to Glennallen and then west arriving in Anchorage.  We stopped overnight hallway across the Glenn Highway at Grand View RV Park.  We really don't drive LONG days anymore since we don't have to.  Full hookups with military retiree discount at $34/day.  It also offered a great view of Sheep Mountain Dall Sheep Reserve just across the road.  You can sit back at the end of a long day behind the wheel and watch these magnificent rams as they loiter on the hillside.  Only pitfall to our plans this trip:  no sheep. They turned out to be on the other side of the mountain where we caught a glimpse of them crossing the pass.
      The Glenn Highway is an impressive stretch of even more scenery (is that possible in Alaska) including the Matanuska Glacier.  On a map Anchorage is the transportation hub of the state.  Eventually you get here either from the north or east and you must go through here to get to the prized Kenai Peninsula.  We will take the opportunity to get any major shopping or repairs done here as well as visit some friends and relatives this time.  It was also time for me to refill prescriptions and this is where we will investigate a new source of reindeer meat.
      We always stay at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson at the Fam Camp on base.  It is the joining of the Elmendorf AFB and Ft Richardson facilities.  Located on base it is secure, but nowhere near isolated from the wildlife.  On our last trip we saw a grizzly on an outer road and a moose right in camp.  In fact today when we checked in for our visitors pass on base they told us they were on the lookout for a grizzly sow scavenging around near the Ft. Richardson side, but probably wouldn't bother us where we were.  You have to remember this is Alaska, their land.  We're just visitors.  60 full hookups at $30/day.  Showers and laundry as well.  Located in the woods across from the base hospital it is quiet.  I did increase my water input filtration system as they had been having water problems on base due to nearby construction.
JBER Fam Camp
      We stayed here 10 days.  Not only are we across the road from the JBER Hospital, but also next door to the new Alaska VA Healthcare System which includes a brand new medical center, a sweet facility and it increases a bit my faith in the system to do what's right.   Thankfully, we didn't need it this trip.   

      The first day we hit the 'Bastion of Modern Civilization" Walmart as well as the Base Commissary and refilled groceries and prescriptions.  We also went down to the Annual Anchorage Soup Kitchen Slammin' Salmon Derby Fundraiser on Shipp Creek.  It was a fun time for everyone there and lots of good fish were caught.  All prizes are donated and all proceeds from the sale of derby tickets go to the relief efforts for the Anchorage Soup Kitchen.   
Crowds line the river to watch
20.4 pound King caught late on the first night
Anchorage Soup Kitchen Slammin' Salmon Derby
      We got our mail forwarding while here as well.  There were several different moose around the area and a black bear as well.  No troubles for us, but gave Roux a good cardio vascular workout.  Right before we left the ADFG came out with their rubber bullet guns and scared two young black bears deeper into the woods.  Apparently they hadn't learned their fear of man yet and were doing a little shopping of their own.  I spent a day down on Turnagain Arm scanning the cliffs for Dall Sheep, but the only ones in view were far above the road.  
      We found some local honey for Barb's allergies, some Lingonberry Jam for a future Finnish Reindeer recipe, and of course a couple souvenir shirts for the grandsons. We also sent some Reindeer hot dogs and polish sausage to a friend of ours picking up the mail.  We also picked up  several pounds of Reindeer Breakfast Sausage, Polish Sausage, and a couple packs of Caribou Steaks. We've never tried Caribou and we wanted to compare this market with the one we have bought our reindeer at before in Tok.  We even caught a movie one afternoon.  
    We're still trying to whittle down the freezers prior to our Kenai Peninsula Adventure so we aren't eating out much.  While here I prepared Reindeer Sausage Rice Casserole, Quail/Sausage/Boudin/Gator Gumbo, Gator Crockpot Meatballs, and Cornmeal Biscuits with Chorizo Gravy among a few others.  
Reindeer Sausage Rice Casserole

Italian Gator Meatballs
Corn Biscuits w/Chorizo Gravy

      Unfortunately there were some maintenance issues with which to contend.  Back in Great Falls, MT I replaced a tire on the left front of the RV.  It was wearing oddly on just the inside track and beginning to scallop.  The other three tires were fine.  I attributed this to a faulty tire.  On arrival in Anchorage (nearly 3500 miles later) I noticed that now the left rear tire on the RV has developed the same wear pattern, yet the left front is wearing fine.  Both right side tires are wearing normally as well.

    Needless to say I was concerned about the cause.  One wheel or one on each side:  bearings?  overweight?  WTH?  I check the GVWR several times each trip, we're fine.  But these tires are both on the SAME SIDE, which could also mean wheel alignment.  Not common on RVs, but it does exist.  The problem is finding someone who can deal with this.  There are NO Camping World and few major RV repair facilities in Anchorage, but there are some I contacted.  They, of course suggested overloading or perhaps alignment.  I sent the pictures and they referred me to another repairman who came out to take a look.  I love these mobile guys.  He looked underneath, told us there is no damage to the system, but our axles may have become tweaked and may need to be replaced once we get back.  He said we're safe and replacing the tire for now will be fine.  We have the TorFlex axle system which is not your typical axle.  It is a more flexible type of setup, but when damaged, cannot be fixed.  It must be replaced.  To order the axles here would take upwards of 2 months or more.  Needless to say we will keep a close eye on this during our 7 week sojourn thru the Kenai and before we head home.  Funny ending to the week:  I was doing laundry while Barb cleaned the RV and while I was folding a load out of the dryer something caught my eye.  I turned to see what it was and about 15' away a young black bear was passing the doorway and stopped to look at me.  I just stood there; he left ambling away through several campsites before disappearing into the closet timber.  Alaska.  
      Fun filled week in A-town.  Diesel was a heavenly $2.99 per gallon here.  Heading south now, around Turnagain Arm and towards somewhere, but definitively on the Kenai Peninsula.

"A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to it's old dimensions."
Oliver Wendel Holmes

WiFi courtesy of Verizon MiFi