Alaska 2017 Part 1: Seldovia

It’s hard to know where to start when my mind and heart are full of images, every one glorious and each bringing back wonderful memories of breathtaking beauty and shared joy in the wonder of God’s creation. Stephen and I got home from our Alaska trip eight days ago and have now pretty much returned to east coast time and have more or less gotten caught up with phone calls, emails, and life back home. It takes a while to return to “normal” when you’ve been immersed in wonder.

Our trip started with a bit of unexpected excitement. As we waited to board our plane from Reno, NV (after the Lake Tahoe family vacation portion of our trip), a phalanx a 10 TSA agents filed in and took up positions in a semi-circle around our gate, posted a sign saying all passengers would be subject to additional screening, and stood closely scrutinizing the crowd waiting to board. They then pulled various people over for pat-downs (including Steve) after we passed the gate and headed down the jetway. I have no idea what they were looking for, but that was the first time I’ve seen that happen.

The plane trip was uneventful until we were about to land in Anchorage, very close to the airport and very low, when the plan suddenly accelerated and quickly gained altitude. Everyone was wondering what was going on, until the pilot announced that we couldn’t land yet because there was a pack of coyotes on the runway! We had to circle out and come back about 15 or 20 minutes later, after the coyotes had been chased away!

We ended up landing just before midnight in steady rain, so we went straight to our hotel and got some sleep. The next day, August 21st, was Eclipse Day, but it was heavily overcast and raining, and the eclipse was only 40% in Anchorage, so we didn’t see the eclipse. But, as soon as we looked out our hotel room window, way in the north we could see Denali (Mt. McKinley) along with other mountains in the Alaska Range, all snow covered but glowing under clear skies and sunrise light. Denali (the official name was Mount McKinley until 2015, when it was changed back to its original name “Denali,” which mean “the Great One” or the Tall One”) is often wreathed in clouds, so it was a special treat to see it on our first morning in Alaska. We hung out of the third floor hotel window taking photos (Stephen) and sketching (me) for a long time, hardly able to tear our eyes from the mountains shining in morning light even through the rain where we were.

Denali in morning light

As soon as we’d eaten breakfast we rented a car and headed four hours south to Homer, where we parked the car, so we could board a ferry to Seldovia. But before we got on the ferry we met and chatted with a fascinating man who, with his wife, has built and lived in house trucks for the past 35 years. Here’s an article about him, with a video tour of his house truck: 75 Year Old Man’s Adventurer House Truck. I asked if I could take photos of him and am planning to do a portrait, since he looks so typically “Alaskan.”

We then rode the ferry 45 minutes to “The City of Seldovia.” I guess the Alaskan definition of “city” is a bit flexible, as Seldovia is more like what we’d call a village, with 250 year-round inhabitants, and a few more for the short summer season. Once in Seldovia, our host, Scott, who built the VRBO cabin we rented, met us at the dock and took us by skiff to his cabin down the bay and across to the other side, where his cabin is nestled right at the base of a mountain.

In Scott’s 18 foot Lund skiff
Our cabin, nestled at the base of the mountain– low tide. At high tide the water is almost up to the deck!

This cabin is delightful, as are Scott and Janet, who built it. They stay in an older cabin behind the one we stayed in, and from our cabin all we could see was the bay, the mountains beyond the bay with one cabin nestled at the base of those mountains, sea otters cavorting in the bay, salmon leaping high from the water, and Bald Eagles flying back and forth, sometimes landing on the beach in front of our cabin. And one morning coyotes meandering along the beach! It was quiet, peaceful, and soul-nourishing- a piece of heaven on earth for sure. The view changed constantly, due to mists wafting around and through the mountains, so every minute I could have done a new painting.

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Every morning I awoke early and, while Stephen slept in or enjoyed the view from the loft bedroom, I got the wood stove going to warm the cabin, then sat and marveled at and sketched the view while sipping a steaming mug of tea. I could not imagine a more perfect start to any day!

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Ink and wash misty mountains
Seldovia Bay and coyotes (on far right side of beach)
Graduation Peak sunrise Seldovia Bay view

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There are sea otters everywhere in the bay! They float on their backs cracking mollusks and crustaceans, rolling around in the water, playing, letting us get fairly close in the skiff.

Sea otter
Synchronized swimming

This off-the-grid cabin is absolutely charming and perfectly comfortable, with windows on the entire side facing the bay, a propane refrigerator and stove for cooking, no internet (apparently some people can get enough of a signal to get online, but I was very glad we couldn’t), and solar powered lights (which we scarcely used). There’s running water and a shower (water heated by propane) inside, and a perfectly acceptable outhouse instead of an inside toilet. The water is the best tasting and coldest water you can imagine! It comes from a mountain stream and is so clean it doesn’t need to be filtered or treated in any way. Scott just stuck a pipe high enough up the stream that the water is gravity fed, rather than pumped in. I wish I could have brought that water back with me.

Cabin kitchen
Looking down from the loft bedroom

Whenever we wanted to go hiking, Scott took us in his skiff over the Seldovia, where we hiked some beautiful trails, ate lunch in a delightful restaurant, then returned by skiff to the cabin to cook our dinner and have a quiet evening. So perfect!

Seldovia Outer Beach view and Seldovia Bay Ferry

Rocky Ridge Trail Seldovia

The last evening we were there, Scott took us in his skiff to the back of the bay, which he calls his “cathedral,” with mountains on all sides, Bald Eagles perched and flying all around, and salmon leaping all around the boat. He snagged and filleted a salmon for us, which I cooked for our dinner when we got back to the cabin. On the way out to the “cathedral” I sketched the view while the skiff was bouncing along over waves– fun!

Sketched while bouncing over waves in the skiff (white gel pen trees added later)
Salmon leaping
Salmon swimming by the skiff

It was hard to leave this amazing place and we hope (plan) to return someday. As we rode the ferry back to Homer, we stayed out on the upper deck, watching the amazing panorama of jagged Kenai Mountains to the east. I could look at those mountains for years and never grow tired of them.


Seldovia Ferry View

I’ll do another post in a few days for the second half of our Alaska trip, which was mostly in Denali National Park, and probably a third one for birds and other wildlife we saw, so stay tuned!