Hope to Soldotna, AK
Friday, July 26, 2013
Overcast am at 61º then gorgeous & breezy, high in the 70s

We were on the road about 9:30, beginning the day touring through the remainder of Hope. Turns out we'd seen most of it yesterday, anyway!

The Sterling Highway was our route for the day. The road follows the Kenai River which flows out of Skilak Lake and into Cook Inlet at the town of Kenai. It is beautiful, fast flowing and a lovely shade of turquoise from the extremely fine residue of glacial flower it contains. It is also a very popular place for salmon fishing. We stopped several times, hoping to spend the night at one of several campgrounds, like the one near Cooper Landing. Alas, they were all full of fishermen as were all the roadside parking spots. We knew salmon fishing was popular but we had no idea!

We ended up continuing on Soldotna. (In case you're wondering where these town names come from, the origins are sometimes murky. Often they stem from native American, Dena'ina Athabaskan, names that were first adapted to the Russian language and then, again, to American English.) We stopped at Kenai Visitor & Cultural Center where we got some advice on what to do while in the area. They also directed us to camp at the Diamond M Ranch "Resort" between the towns of Soldotna and Kenai.

We set up camp at Diamond M and then drove to Kenai to watch dip net fishing at the beach on the north side of the mouth of the Kenai River. Wow! The tide was way out; the area has very large tidal ranges. The beach was lined with tents just above the high tide line. People stood waist high in the water with their huge, four-foot-plus diameter dip nets on their edges, waiting for fish to swim in. There were also large, busy fish cleaning stations although some people filleted their catches right on beach. This is serious fishing with people seeking to fill their freezers for the winter.

Tiny Part of Beach Encampment at Kenai

Salmon Dipnetters Line Beach at Mouth of Kenai River

Using Traditional Ulu Knife to Filet Salmon on Beach

Dipnetters Taking a Break Waiting for Tide Change

We then drove around the old part of Kenai which was originally settled by Russian fishermen and trappers.

Holy Assumption Orthodox Church Recalls Russian Origins of Early Settlers of Kenai Region

Back at the campground we talked with two couples who's spent the day dip netting from their boat. They were just finishing fileting the 60 salmon they'd caught just that day.

Two Couples Finish Fileting Day's Catch of 60 Salmon

For dinner, what else? Wild-caught sockeye salmon and grilled veggies, of course! Unfortunately, ours came from the grocery store.

Soldotna, AK
Saturday, July 27, 2013
Overcast and foggy morning, then sunny and finally foggy and chilly later

Bill worked on the website log in the morning while Sandy drove to the local farmers market in Kenai. Afterward we went to the Progress Days Parade in Soldotna. What are Progress Days? We had no idea. Nor did the people we asked. No matter. Everyone seemed to enjoy the 1½ hour event; big parade for a small town!

John Deere Green, 1935 Version, Makes Parade Appearance

Then it was off to the Progress Days Festival. The small fairgrounds featured a chainsaw carving contest and, of course, food vendors, many of whom featured reindeer sausage, an Alaskan favorite. A series of local country and western musical groups also performed to whom a fair number of locals dancing the two-step.

Disk Sander Used for Final Detailing in Chainsaw Carving Contest

And, what festival would be complete without a rodeo? Certainly not this one! We paid the modest $5 admission and enjoyed the horse riding, bull riding and barrel racing events before heading home for dinner.

Tight Turns Make for Fast Times in Rodeo Barrel Racing Contest

Diner was a covered dish affair held by the campground. They supplied several kinds of all-you-can-eat baked salmon, baked halibut and desert. Campers each contributed a covered dish. As with most covered dish dinners, it was great and we had a good time talking with the campground owners and other campers.

Returning to our campsite, we met our neighbors, two young couples who were there to dip-net fish. Interesting folks! Three of them were pharmacists and the other an RN. Over the years they had all managed to get their seven-on-seven-off work schedules coordinated so that they could fish and hunt together. They provision themselves with all the meat they eat from the wild. That includes fishing for salmon and halibut and hunting for big game. Their campsite was equipped to can, smoke and vacuum pack and freeze all they caught on site. Each evening they completely processed all they fish they caught that day. They worked really hard, long days while there. It was quite a setup and we learned a lot from them! To boot, they even gave us a hearty, vacuum-packed salmon portion they'd caught and packaged that day!

A word about Alaskan mosquitoes: We were endlessly warned by friends and in various media to beware the ferocious Alaskan mosquitoes. I hesitate to say they really haven't been much of a problem for us even though this is said to be a banner year for them. To be sure, we have mosquitoes in many of the locations we visit. But they don't seem to be any more ferocious than the ones we encounter in Pennsylvania. Also, DEET works; we use it sparingly but it does keep the little beasties at bay. Our first preference, though is to use citronella candles or the ThermaCELL unit we purchased on the recommendation of sailing friends, Mal and Anne Marie.