Oahu – The First 24 Hours

FlightOne should never take for granted, the technology that allows one to go from somewhere near the top of the planet, where the air burns one’s face with cold, to somewhere closer to the middle, where the air envelopes you in a warm embrace, by climbing into a winged cylinder with engines that suck, squeeze, bang, and blow you there in a mere six hours. It’s a fantastic time to be alive.

My family and I landed in Honolulu just before 7pm last night. My wife’s bag didn’t make the flight (the flight apparently was overweight and her bag was one of the lucky few that were held for the next day’s flight). This meant that as soon as we grabbed our rental car our first experience with the local shopping scene was a quick trip into Target for some of the essentials that were supposed to arrive with us in her suitcase.

Famished as we were, we ate at the first restaurant we could find: a joint I had never had been to before called Ruby Tuesday. Their smokehouse cheeseburger is a seriously good eat, but we all agreed that my wife’s Chicken and Broccoli Pasta was the best dish on the table.

We were excited to get to our house, so we hit the road. From Honolulu to Laie–the town we’re staying at–the highway cut us through the middle of the island towards the eastern coast, which we then followed north to Laie. It’s a one-hour drive, but that’s only because most of the drive has a speed limit of 35-45 miles per hour. Much of it was two-lanes winding along the coast. It was dark, so our views were limited. Occasionally, the road skirted close enough to the beach that streetlights illuminated the water. I think I even saw some turtles, but I’m the only one that believes me. Before we knew it, we had arrived at our home for the next week plus.

We rented a large, five-bedroom house right on the beach. We’re sharing it with my brother-in-law and his family who are arriving a day after us. After a most brief tour of the house, we went out back to check out the beach. Apparently, some of the beaches on Oahu are seasonal and we were expecting ours to be one of them. To our good fortune, a most quintessential sandy beach is just outside our back door and ready for our enjoyment. It was too dark to see much, but from what we could make out by the light of my LED headlamp (which I never leave home without!) we had quite a space to enjoy as soon as the daylight showed itself.

The stars were magnificent. Fortunately, the light pollution here is very minimal and I had a limitless view into the heavens. Stars and planets glistened brilliantly above the crashing surf below. The Geminids meteor shower peaking, it was almost too much to believe.

Jupiter rising above the Pacific.

Jupiter rising above the Pacific.

After a long day of traveling and the extra fatigue that always accompanies 3,000 miles worth of flying, we were all exhausted. The wife and kids went to sleep, but I was too excited to follow suit. I was up until nearly 2am sitting in the back yard, photographing the stars and watching meteors streak across the sky. Some of them brilliantly shot below the eastern horizon, appearing as if they were landing in the ocean. I sat out there on the wet grass and breathed humid air until Jupiter had climbed well above the horizon. I finally came inside and let the ocean lull me to sleep.

The next morning our plan was to get the rest of the things we needed for our stay: a trip to Costco, acquiring our snorkel gear, and arranging the delivery for our missing bag. My son and I swam in the ocean while waiting for the other two to get ready to go. The current is remarkably strong on our beach, almost impossible to swim directly against. It was fun letting the current pull me along the coast while I floated.

My first daylight view from our home in paradise.

My first daylight view from our home in paradise.

Everyone ready to go get our shopping out the way, we hopped in the car. We skirted the north shore on the way to the Costco in Waipio, driving past endless roadside shops, fruit stands, food trucks, and surfers. We passed myriad fields, growing coffee, sugar cane and pineapple. We stocked up on groceries and then made the return trip back. We stopped at a few places along the way. We bought fresh fruit and a few trinkets (I got a wooden beaded bracelet for $3.50 from a store that had the most docile cats lounging around. I thought being a cat in Hawaii might not be a bad reincarnation.)

Alexis taking in the roadside sights.

Alexis taking in the roadside sights.

Back at the house, the kids and I went to play in the water. I had warned my daughter about the current and had her experience it for herself as I swam nearby. Eventually, my son wanted to try out the bodyboards that came with the house. The waves, at that time, weren’t the best for bodyboarding but it was fun floating around on the things. I paddled out near a reef that’s just off shore and tried to ride the current back onto the beach. As I neared the beach, I came upon a shallower spot with jagged rocks below me. I scraped the top of my foot against one of the rocks. I tried to stand and wade away from the potential danger but it was too late. A larger wave crashed over my head and pushed my body down onto the razor-sharp rocks. I received a couple cuts on my wrist, one of my fingers, and my foot. Nothing serious, but enough to reinforce the potential danger to my kids. Unfortunately, they seemed less concerned with my wounds and more excited by the fact that my blood might attract sharks. “Stay in the water, dad! I want to see the sharks!”

The first battle scars of my war with the Pacific.

The first battle scars of my war with the Pacific.

We cooked tacos for dinner and sat around watching movies. I cracked my bottle of Laphroaig, which paired nicely with the sea breeze flowing through the beach house.

Jett absorbs paradise.

Jett absorbs paradise.

A May Day at Bishop’s Beach

In which we discover wormy volcanoes, investigate the biology of tidepools, and spend a day taking in an amazing view.

Sunday, May 27, 2013 –

I had never been to Bishop’s Beach before. The Kids© have attended school field trips there that The Wife© has joined them on, but I had been unable to partake. Growing up on the Kenai Peninsula, I’d made a million pilgrimages to Homer, but all those trips were spent on the Spit or in the Pratt Museum. I had no idea Bishop’s Beach even existed until a few years ago. Having some free time over the weekend, and accommodating tides, I was happy to indulge in The Wife’s© suggestion that we spend the day in Homer, Alaska to check out the beach..

With a -5.5-foot tide set for 10am, we left Towers de la Marquis at around 8:30am and set out on the 80-mile drive to Homer. Low tides, revealing hundreds of extra yards of gravel, sand, or mud (depending on the beach) aren’t exactly what most people have in mind when they think of prime beach-going times. When most lower-48 Americans think of a day at the beach, images of surfers, kids splashing in a gentle surf, sunbathing, and sand castles are conjured up. But in Alaska, think less sandals and more Xtratufs. A receding tide at Bishop’s Beach, in Homer, makes a seafloor world accessible to anyone not afraid to get a little bit muddy.

The drive between Kenai and Homer is generally enjoyable, with great views of Cook Inlet and the Aleutian Range visible for most of the drive. You’re all but guaranteed to see moose browsing alongside the highway, and a handful of immense eagle nests. This highway also takes you through Anchor Point, which marks the westernmost point on the US highway system. Another 20 minutes driving South brings you to the hill that descends to the City of Homer, but not before offering one of the most breathtaking Alaskan views.

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It’s funny to think of local sign ordinances that prohibit signs that might be considered too distracting to drivers. I dare you to try and keep your eyes off of the road when confronted with the view above.

Once in Homer, we took the turn into “old town” and parked in the close-to-full parking lot for Bishop’s Beach. The especially low tide had brought out dozens of other tide-poolers as well. Almost immediately, we spotted a couple of small crabs, hardly bigger than a thumbnail, as well as various small shells. My 11-year-old, Jett, and I headed straight for the tideline, while my wife, Jan, daughter, Alexis, and niece walked north towards some larger rocks.

Jett and I quickly noticed small mounds in the sand that resembled small volcanoes. Looking towards the water, their frequency increased dramatically. Near the water’s edge, we were surrounded by a veritable minefield of these things. Not only that, but there were sounds accompanying them, a sort of sizzling, bubbling sound. A persistent white noise, clearly audible, yet hardly the focus. We noticed that many of them had small pink appendages poking out of them. At first, I believed they must be clams. Clams are prevalent–though populations appear to be declining–along the southern Kenai Peninsula; however, I’m familiar with razor clams which leave an indentation in the sand, not the opposite that these things created. Jett reached in to see if he could feel a shell surrounding this new specimen. He quickly took on the challenge of trying to get one of them out of the sand. In typical clam-digging fashion, he dug out the ground beside the mound and then cut in horizontally to get underneath it. The water table was so high and saturated that this become a lot more difficult than it sounds. As soon as he started digging, water began to rapidly fill up his holes. A number of times he was able to get his fingers on one of the animals, but it would quickly slip from his grip and disappear into the muddy puddle that remained of his digging efforts. After a number of failed attempts, he finally caught one and we realized we weren’t dealing with clams after all.

Hundreds of mounds cover the beach for miles.

The wormfields

A worm appears above a mound in the sand.

A single worm volcano.

One of volcano worms samples the air.

One of volcano worms samples the air.

One of the volcano worms.

One of the volcano worms.

 

After this, Jett ran off to catch up with his mother and the girls. I continued skirting the water’s edge, looking for life, and snapping photos of the scenery.

Mountains across the bay.

Mountains across the bay.

The glassy calm water reflects the gorgeous clouds and mountains.

The glassy calm water reflects the gorgeous clouds and mountains.

One spellbinding day, in Kachemak Bay.

One spellbinding day, in Kachemak Bay.

 

I found another kind of worm and spent a few minutes watching it undulate in the shallow water.

Some sort of sea worm undulates in the shallow water of Kachemak Bay, in Homer, Alaska. (refresh page if video doesn’t load)

The tide moved in quickly. While I’m used to big tides living next to Alaska’s Cook Inlet, which boast some of the largest on our planet, what was remarkable about the tides in Bishop’s Beach on this day were how quickly, yet calmly, they moved in. I’m used to the tide rising in waves; literally. Each wave comes in, breaks, and recedes. On the average, the breaking water comes further and further on shore, and recedes less and less, until the tide turns and the water goes back out. However, at this time and location, it acted in a way I hadn’t experienced before. First of all, the water was glass calm, both near the shore and across the whole of Kachemak Bay. Secondly, it appears the beach in this area is very flat. Both the calmness of the water and the vast flat plain for it to come in on, made for an incoming tide that was truly unique.

Tide Coming In (refresh page if video doesn’t load)

I picked up my pace to catch up with my family to see what all they had discovered, stopping a few times to snap some more photos.

This crow searches the sand for a meal.

This crow searches the sand for a meal.

I came across a large rock that was partially submerged. The water surrounding it and the depression it made in the sand created a well around it that became a prime habitat for tidepool organisms. A small hermit crab swim-crawled its way around the rock, eventually working its way under it and out of my view.

The rocks themselves were teeming with life. Barnacles, mussels, vegetation and other organisms lived in and on the rocks.

Life on the rocks.

Life on the rocks.

Finally, I caught up with the family and heard their stories about the crabs and sea stars they had seen; and no, they hadn’t seen any octopuses yet. As a group, we explored dozens of tidepools. They were more suited to the terrain in their waterboots; I, however, had to choose my steps deliberately, having only equipped myself with my hiking boots (Gore-Tex is great, but it can’t stop the water from coming in from the top). I too saw sea stars and crabs, as well as small shrimps, sea anemones, and urchins. By this time, we were more than a mile from our car. I noticed the tide was starting to come in with purpose (I wasn’t sure just how high it would end up and was cautious about becoming stranded), and we were all fairly famished, so we started back towards Carl (that’s the name of my reliable car). As we picked our route on our trek back, we crossed another tidepool that had a solitary silver fish swimming about in it.

Violet holds a small fish.

Violet holds a small fish.

After getting around the large rocks, streams, and pools, a stable rocky path skirted the bluff at the top of the beach and brought us back to the parking lot.

We left Bishop’s Beach and headed for the Homer Spit, a natural 4.5-mile-long strip of land extending into the ocean, for a much-needed lunch at Starvin’ Marvin’s pizza place, which very well might serve the best pizza and breadsticks on the Kenai Peninsula. After lunch, we cruised the Spit to the end of the road, which is the southernmost point in Alaska connected to the contiguous highway system. During the Summer months, the Spit transforms into a tourist mecca, with dozens of shops peddling their wares, foods, and other forms of Alaskana. The Homer Boat Harbor, along the Spit, is host to hundreds of personal and commercial fishing boats–including the Time Bandit, made famous on the Discovery Channel show, Deadliest Catch–and cruise ships.

If you happen to find yourself in Southcentral Alaska, a trip down the Kenai Peninsula should be a part of anyone’s itinerary.

And if you happen to be there on a beautiful day with a low tide, you may never want to go back home.

 

Sea Star

Sea Star