The original plan was to spend the first three full days of vacation in Anchorage, but about a week before we left we made the rather spontaneous decision to drive south and spend a day in Seward. The town is ideally situated on Resurrection Bay off the Gulf of Alaska, which made it the perfect spot to try our hands at sea kayaking and take a cruise around the bay. This turned out to be one of the best decisions we made, and the day in Seward was one of the highlights of the whole trip.
Since we’d been up late at the wedding, we were able to sleep in a bit, but we wanted to be on the road by 9 am to make sure we had time to get to Seward (only about 125 miles away, but all of it on small two-lane roads, so we periodically found ourselves stuck behind slow-moving RVs) and grab some lunch before sea kayaking at 1:00. The drive was absolutely lovely. The first half of the drive is on a highway nestled between Turnagain Arm, a long thin body of water that comes off the Cook Inlet and border Anchorage to the south, and the Chugach mountains, which border Anchorage to the east. The day began overcast and cloudy, but it looked like it was clearing up in the south so we were hopeful we’d get some good weather.
After a quick lunch, we headed a mile down to Lowell Point for our 3-hour kayaking trip with Sunny Cove Sea Kayaking. Some of their longer trips sounded like fun as well, but weren’t sure our arms would hold out since we’d never kayaked before. Three hours turned out to be just right, especially since the first 45 minutes were occupied with getting ready to go. First there were rubber boots to put on to keep our tootsies dry as we stood in the shallow water at the shore. Then there was the “spray skirt,” which is worn like a skirt with suspenders. There is an elastic cord that runs around the bottom and fits over the lip of the kayak seat to keep the cold water out and your legs dry. We’d come prepared with our raincoats to keep our top halves dry, so after that we just needed the life jacket to make our oh-so-stylish outfits complete.
After getting geared up, we headed over to the shore for a quick lesson in paddling technique and what not to do, so as to avoid tipping the otherwise quite stable kayaks over, it was time to go! There were about 10 other people in our group and all of the kayaks were tandem. The guides suggested that the Type A personality take the back seat, since it involved multitasking — having spotted my Lonestar Tri hat earlier, one of them jokingly said “Type A…like triathletes!” However, the back seat had pedals that controlled the rudder, which immediately got Jose’s attention. (Rudder pedals! Like an airplane!) So he took the back seat and I slid in up front, which was the “photographer’s seat” according to our guides. Perfect.
We pushed off from the beach and headed south along the shore of Resurrection Bay. Almost immediately, we started seeing some wildlife. There was a huge bald eagle’s nest in a nearby tree, and there were two eagles on either side guarding it. Next we saw some harbour porpoise fins sticking out of the water as they swam along. After that, we noticed we were being checked out by a harbor seal. He kept popping his head up for a moment and then disappearing underwater, only to reappear on the opposite side of the group. He was very cute.
Just before we turned around, we came to Tonsina Point where a river dumped out into the bay. July is the middle of salmon spawning season, and while we didn’t actually see the fish swimming upstream (though we did see the splashes as some of them jumped out of the water), we did see four bald eagles sitting on the beach enjoying their salmon dinner. At one point they flew up in the air for a bit, spinning and diving and looking for another fish (I assume) but we didn’t see them catch anything. Their call, though, was really cool. I guess I’d never heard a bald eagle before, and I’m sure they also do the typical long piercing bird of prey sound, but the calls they were making as they flew around the mouth of the creek sounded like laughter. It was really neat. You can see their “bald” heads in this photo, but I couldn’t get any closer for a better shot because the water got too shallow.
We headed back to Seward after that, a little disappointed that we hadn’t gotten a closer look at the eagles. We shouldn’t have worried! As we pulled our kayak on shore, we heard the laughing call of another eagle sitting on a pole directly above our heads! He took off, but only flew as far as the tree next to the kayak shack. His eagle friend was perched in another nearby tree, and they stayed long enough for me to grab my “good” camera from the car.
All in all, kayaking was a lot of fun, and reignited the thought I have occasionally of renting a kayak to tool around Clear Lake and the area bayous. Of course in Alaska, the weather was cool and the animals cute, while in Houston, the weather is hot and the animals are alligators. With teeth. Eek. But kayaking was only the first activity of the day! We drove back up to the main part of Seward and had about an hour to wander around the waterfront before getting on a Kenai Fjords Tour that went all around the bay and stopped for dinner on Fox Island.
Our tour was surprisingly empty — there were only about 30 people on the boat which seats a couple hundred. (It was a typical short cruise boat. Lots of benches both inside and outside, and a little counter with hot drinks in the back.) The lack of other people was nice, because we had plenty of room to stretch out and enjoy the cruise. It was chilly outside in the wind, but Jose and I bundled up in our warmest clothes and were fine. We definitely did a good job of preparing for the chilly temperatures after living in Houston all summer. (I’ve lost any cold tolerance I ever had, apparently.) During the cruise, the sun came out, which made it warmer.
We cruised south through the bay towards Fox Island and got there in about an hour. Dinner was a buffet that looked a little iffy, but turned out to be quite tasty. In fact, Jose said that the salmon steak he ate on Fox Island was the best one of the whole trip — and he ate salmon seven times total during the trip. After dinner we had just enough time to skip stones on the shore before leaving. The entire shore consisted of thousands upon thousands of flat, smooth stones so they were perfect for skipping. Too bad I suck at skipping stones.
After dinner, the cruise really got good. We continued south far enough to get a pretty good view of Bear Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. It looks like it’s a tidewater glacier (one that comes all the way down to the water), but apparently it is not. The sun was slowly beginning to set and was directly above the glacier (it was about 8:00 at this point), so it was hard to get a photo that really did it justice. We both took some good looks at the ice through Jose’s binoculars, and it was very cool.
As we left the glacier behind us, we turned towards the east for a bit before heading north on our way back to Seward. We were now on the opposite side of the bay and the back side of Fox Island, and there was quite a bit of wildlife we were able to see — puffins, sea lions, thousands of roosting sea gulls, and a super cute sea otter who just floated there staring at us as we went by. The boat captain also told us more about the area. At one point, he asked us to look at the mountains to our right and compare them to the ones on Fox Island on our left. The ones to the right were a rich brown color, while the ones on Fox Island were gray like granite. The brown rocks were igneous rock, while the gray was sedimentary. I didn’t fully understand what this meant (we needed Meryl and James there with all their geology knowledge!) until the boat captain finally made his conclusion. Turns out the entire Resurrection Bay area lies on a fault line. “This would not be a good place to be in an earthquake,” our captain nicely pointed out. It reminded me of the stories we’d already heard about the 1964 earthquake and the jets of water that shot out of the earth due to all the ground movement, not to mention the resulting tsunamis. Whoa.
We got back from the cruise a bit before 10:00, and even though we had a two-hour drive back to Anchorage ahead of us, I still insisted that we take a short detour to see the Exit Glacier, another large glacier coming off the Harding Ice Field in Kenai Fjords National Park. We didn’t have time to do the hike up to the closest lookout, but we still got a good view from a distance. If I ever find myself back in Alaska, I’d like to do the trail that goes up to the top of the glacier.
We were both very tired, but somehow we made it back to Anchorage — where we could still see light on the horizon when we arrived at the Lake Hood Inn just before 1 am! Our day trip to Seward was a huge success, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for some cool activities within a day of Anchorage. Here’s the full slideshow of our day there. Enjoy!