Not all summer days in Alaska are sunny; there are many overcast and rainy ones, too. Although the weather is not always ideal, we have learned not to let it dampen our spirits. One thing that always brightens our day is spending time with our family! We are excited that our daughters flew into Anchorage and spent a week with us. During their visit, we explored the Kenai Peninsula. Many Alaskans think that it is the most beautiful part of Alaska.
To reach the Kenai Peninsula, you must travel along the Turnagain Arm, a waterway south of Anchorage that leads to the Gulf of Alaska. The drive beside this body of water is a very scenic drive rain or shine. David and I drove it three times in one day (once when we took the camper to the campground and a round trip drive to the Anchorage airport) and we can attest to its beauty. Each time it provided us with amazing views.
When William Bligh of HMS Bounty fame attempted to find the northwest passage, he kept running into dead ends and having to turn around again and go in a different direction. Frustrated, he called it Turn Again and subsequent maps labeled it Turnagain River. Now it is called Turnagain Arm because it is one of two bodies of water that branch off of the northern end of Cook Inlet.
Turnagain Arm is best known for its beauty and its high tides. There are steep-sloped mountains that rise 5,000-6,000 feet above the inlet and glaciers grace some the valleys. When the tide is out, you can see broad stretches of mud flats with streams running through them but, when the tide is in, the water completely engulfs the entire basin. The tides can rise and fall up to 40 feet and are the largest tides in the United States. There are several times throughout the year when there is a bore tide which results in a 5-6 feet wave that moves along Turnagain Arm at 5-6 m.p.h. People flock to see this phenomenon when it occurs.
We camped at the Williwaw State Park Campground on Portage road and we could see a small part of the Portage Glacier from there. The Portage Glacier is about ten stories high and miles long but it is receding quickly. We talked to a number of Alaskans who remember seeing it when it was twice as large as it is today. The Blue Ice Trail runs behind the Williwaw campground and you can hike up from there to see part of the glacier. Had it not been pouring rain, we might have attempted it. We will have to save that hike for another day.
One place that we did visit while we were in the Turnagain Arm area was the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. This non-profit park’s mission is to rehabilitate orphaned and/or injured animals and to educate the public about bears. The Wildlife Conservation Center boasts about 200 acres and you can either walk or drive through a section of it and see many animals in their natural habitat.
We saw grizzly/brown and black bears, elk, musk oxen, foxes, moose, bald eagles, owls, lynx, caribou, Sitka black-tailed deer, wood bison, and wolves.
One of the unique things that we observed was the birth of an elk. The cow had just given birth and was cleaning the newborn when we arrived. Meanwhile the baby elk was trying to stand on his new legs. It was so amazing to watch this; we were fascinated. We also got to see the staff feed the grizzly and black bears. They feed the bears every day at 3:30 PM in the summer. They also feed other animals at different times throughout the day.
It was a great experience to be so close to so many animals. The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a great place to go to see many of the animals that call Alaska “home.”
Turnagain Arm afforded us some beautiful views of mountains, glaciers, and wildlife. We are looking forward to what comes next as we travel down the Kenai Peninsula to the town of Seward. We are hoping for some sunnier and drier days. We will see if we get our wish.