Ever wonder what the most westerly end of the U.S. highway system is? Today, you will wonder no further! It is located in Anchor Point, Alaska on the road to Homer. Despite being the largest state in America, major roads are few and far between – the trans-Alaska highway was built as a military highway around World War II as a way to transport large amounts of troops from the Lower 48 to Alaska quickly if needed. Aside from marking the westernmost extent of the road system, Anchor Point offered something else: low tide and a swarm of birds. In better weather, one can look across the Cook Inlet and see the Volcanoes of Lake Clark National Park and the beginning of the Aleutian Peninsula.
Alaska – the Kenai Peninsula especially – experiences the second largest tidal swing in the world. When we visited Anchor Point, the tide was out, exposing discarded fish and hordes of eagles, gulls, and ravens all fighting for scraps of meat. They were all so focused on the feast, they allowed us to get within ten feet of them. We must have watched them for twenty minutes, standing together in awe at these mighty birds.
Before Alaska became part of the United States, it was a Russian territory, and of course before that, it was inhabited by native peoples. The Kenai Peninsula, in particular, has plenty of evidence of Alaska’s Russian history. There are still several predominately Russian settlements and on this tour, I visited the enclave of Ninilchik.
Ninilchik is considered a Native Settlement, with residents not only having Russian descent, but also of Aluet, Alutiiq, and Dena’ina descent. Many Russian fur trappers settled there with their native wives and children in the mid-1800s. Interestingly, due to the enclave’s isolation, some 19th century Russian is still spoken there. While Ninilchik is a decidedly Russian name and is probably the Russianized version of the town, the name actually likely derives from the Athabascan word Niqnilchint, which means “lodge is built place”. The community is located at the mouth of the Ninilchik River and has a small harbor still in use. It is home to a Russian Orthodox church called the Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord Chapel.
As someone who studied the Russian language, history, culture, and literature for eight years, visiting Ninilchik was a cool experience.
On our way to Homer, Alaska, we visited several museums. First, we toured the Norman Lowell Art Gallery, a locally famous painter who is now all but blind, having only 10 percent vision left in one eye. He still paints! Then we visited the Pratt Museum, which is a regional natural history museum exploring life around Homer and Kachemak Bay. Lastly, we visited the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center which houses exhibits and information on this wild and remote refuge. It was great to visit these museums because of the rain and cold.
Perhaps what Homer is most famous for – aside from being the Halibut fishing capital of the world – is the Homer Spit. The Homer Spit is a long, narrow gravel tract of land 4.5 miles long that extends into Kachemak Bay. The Homer Harbor is located on the spit. Many gift shops, tour operations, and seafood restaurants are also on the spit and that is where I had lunch and did some early Christmas shopping. Luckily, while it rained all the way to Homer, it didn’t actually rain in Homer. On the way back to Sterling, where the Great Alaska Lodge is located, it rained once more.
What was great about this tour is I got to learn more about Alaska’s history, specifically that of the Kenai Peninsula and the Homer area specifically. Not to mention, I was treated to fabulous views of Grewingk Glacier and Kachemak Bay.