Amongst The Mountains Landscapes People

Mountain Monk

Buddhist monk in front of mountain backdrop.

I took this photo in July, 2015. It was my first time visiting Independence Mine, up Hatcher Pass in Alaska. We explored the abandoned mine and followed various footpaths in the surrounding mountain scene. I really wasn’t sure where the trails would take me. Every once in awhile, a flash of orange could be seen scrambling up the rocky landscape. The color contrasted so beautifully with the gray of the mountains. Despite the contrast, the orange robes of the Buddhist monk seemed to belong in this setting.

As we were leaving, I looked back to see this scene. I managed to snap this photo from the back seat of a moving pick-up truck. I was surprised I was able to get the scene in focus and without motion blur. During post-processing, I desaturated everything but the orange to make the image stand out the way it always will in my memory.


Not Finding Ghosts

May 28, 2015.

We went searching for a ghosts.


Following some rumors and vague leads on the internet, we set out to search a couple of potential candidate areas for what once was known as Kern Creek Station. From what I’ve learned thus far, at one point in the early 1900s Kern Creek Station was the northern terminus of the central Alaska railroad system. Pictures found in online archives show an established community at this place, with a bridge crossing Kern Creek and surrounded on both sides by various structures. We were sure remnants of this place must still exist, so we set out in search of them.

Along the way, we pulled into the rest area near the Hope turn-off. Parked there was the most awesome camper trailer I had ever seen.

Camper trailer shaped like an atomic bomb.

The camper was hand-built by a man named Bill Guernsey, who resides in Anchorage. He was kind enough to let me take a look inside. I was too struck by the intricate details of his work to think to take a picture. You can read all about his project, and what inspired it in the first place, here.

The camper wasn’t the only beautiful piece of engineering in the parking lot that day. I took a moment to gawk at what I believe is a 70s-era Volkswagen Thing.

70s Volkswagen Thing


The side-stop out of the way, we got back on the road to fulfill our objective. The first, and most seemingly-obvious candidate location, was Kern Creek itself. We parked at a pull-out along the Seward Highway and walked north until we reached the outflow of the creek where it spills into the Cook Inlet at Turnagain Arm. Two large culverts carry the creek underneath the highway and railroad tracks. Because the creek runs completely under the highway, there are no markers to indicate that you’re driving over the creek. In fact, I’d suggest that very few people even know Kern Creek exists. At the culverts, we considered traveling through them but the water was flowing quite swiftly and was undoubtedly very cold. Instead, we climbed back up to the highway and crossed. From there, we climbed a small embankment up to the railroad bed, and crossed it as well. There, we dropped down to the creek. Immediately, we could see a number of metal beams standing up in the mud. I suspect this to be part of the old rail bridge that crossed the creek. We didn’t see any signs of additional structures.

Metal beams protruding from mud.


Cadastral survey marker bearing the name Paul Owen JohnsonWhere the creek enters the culverts, we noticed a number of US flags affixed to a large rocky cliff that’s adjacent to the creek. In the center of the flags was a small cadastral survey marker, bearing the name of Paul Owen Johnson, with the dates “3.10.1945 – 8.12.2010”.


We took in the current view from this location: The rock with the memorial, the forest of metal beams protruding out of the muddy ground, the rushing creek flowing into two large culverts. One side of the creek met steep walls of rock and soil. The other featured dense alders and other impassable flora. Perhaps with tall waterproof boots, we would have waded up the creek. Instead, we opted to cut into the trees on the north side of the creek and head upstream. A few dozen yards in, we met the creek where it bends around a corner. From this point, the creek appears to flow through a gorge, with steep rock walls on both sides. We found a small trail that led up above the northern wall of the gorge. We followed it up into luscious rainforest. Tree with moss growing on it.The ground was coated in mosses and ferns. Sunlight trickled in and transformed everything into gold. Birds sang all overhead. We followed the path up and down the ridge above the creek until we heard the water below moving very swiftly. Through the trees we could see white water that matched the rushing sounds below. We picked our way down the bank, grasping at roots and rock and trees, until we reached a small rock outcrop that protruded over the creek. Here, the water was a torrent. For millennia, the water beat itself against the rocks, both carving them away and polishing them simultaneously. What was left was the smoothest, shiny gray rock I have ever seen. It could have been confused for metal.


We scrambled back up to the top of the gorge. We pushed forward a hundred or so more yards before writing off the chance of finding a historic civilization. We vowed to return someday to follow the path as far it would take us, up and into the mountains. We headed back to the road taking various detours to check out cool trees or interesting mushrooms. Once we made it back down to the culverts, we climbed back up onto the railbed. Instead of immediately dropping back down and across the highway, we chose to follow the railroad tracks south until we were directly across the highway from the car. We noticed various loose pieces of the railroad: spikes, bolts and nuts, various brackets. All were made of a very heavy and rusted metal. They were scattered everywhere. As we were walking alongside the tracks, a pick-up truck with some sort of rail attachment came down the rails in our direction. I thought to myself, ‘great, now we’re going to learn that walking this close to the tracks is some sort of federal offense and we’re going to be arrested.’ He looked down as he passed us, and nodded. Phew. We dipped back down to the highway and crossed it, and got into the car to head to our next presumed destination.


Just a few miles up the road, we pulled in to park for our next journey. There wasn’t a real parking area; only a few vehicles could fit there, but it worked for us. We got out of the car and started walking towards our destination.


From the parking lot, we almost immediately had to cross the railroad tracks; however, we had to wait for a few minutes. Some behemoth tree-trimming machine revealed itself on the tracks. On either side, it had long articulating arms with what appeared to be rapidly-rotating circular saw blades at the ends. The machine was slowly moving down the tracks, while reaching out and buzzing to oblivion any tree unfortunate to be within its reach.Vehicle with attachments for eliminating trees near railroad tracks.

It slowly made its way passed us. We paralleled the tracks for a few dozen yards before crossing, then continued onto what appeared to be an old road. Aside from a pile of dirt and the railroad tracks, the path we were on could have been driven in my little two-wheel-drive car. We thought for sure this road was going to take us somewhere, especially since this area looked promising in aerial photographs. We were excited to see the long-forgotten village of Kern. We were extremely let down. What we found, after traveling a hundred or so yards down the path, was a clearing filled with junk. This was apparently the place where, I’m assuming, the locals go to shoot their guns. All around were bullet cases and spent shotgun shells. There were fragments of clay pigeons all around, but there was just as much, if not more, discarded household items that had apparently made attractive targets. Destroyed appliances, toys, and other bits of metal and plastic were scattered everywhere. What looked like the home of a forgotten village from space was nothing more than a junkyard from down here.Junk in gravel pit

We bushwhacked around in the surrounding brush and trees, hoping to find a clue leading to Kern but turned up nothing besides a bunch of scratches to the exposed skin on my arms and legs. We were deflated, yet hungry, so we headed into Girdwood for lunch.

Girdwood is a wonderful community. For those that aren’t aware, it’s the quintessential ski-resort town which brings with it a unique set of residents, visitors, businesses, and public displays. The highway into town is bordered by unique shops and businesses, offering everything from handmade clothing to adventure travel packages. It also has a fine selection of dining opportunities. For lunch, we chose the Chair 5 Restaurant. It’s a cozy, wooden building artfully decorated with various Alaskana. You have your typical animal mounts and antiques hanging from the walls, as well as some more unique items like this movie poster:

Movie poster about Alaska


Pike Kilt Lifter aleThere are dozens of beers available, from local micro brews, to pub beers from around the country, to foreign imports. They also offer a brag-worthy selection of single-malt scotches. I chose the Pike’s Kilt Lifter ale, which tasted amazing after our day in the sun. For lunch, we each chose the Tundra Burger, which has a locally-produced patty that consists of bison and caribou. I kind of expected it to taste more gamey, but it tasted very similar to a quality beef. It was a wonderful meal that we enjoyed in an atrium section of the restaurant. After lunch, we headed back south–the direction of home–but still had one more stop to make.

Another pretty camper trailer
Another gorgeous camper trailer, seen in Girdwood.

Anyone that has lived in Alaska is very aware of the great Good Friday earthquake that occurred in 1964, and anyone that has spent much time in Southcentral Alaska has probably seen evidence of that massive quake that still remains to this day. Travelers passing through Portage, which is a few miles south of Girdwood on the Seward Highway, have surely noticed the dilapidated and half-submerged structures that are visible from the road.

Ruins of Portage townsite.

I’ve been intrigued by those buildings for as long as I’ve been tall enough to look out a car window and see them. I have always known that they were the result of the Good Friday Earthquake, but I never really understood what exactly happened. As a kid, I imagined that the reason that they are slightly submerged was because the ground opened up and swallowed them. I believed that there was an entire city buried there, where the gaping maw of Earth consumed it and then closed back up forever. What I know today isn’t that dramatic, but it’s still amazing nonetheless. During the earthquake, the land that Portage (and other areas of the state) was built upon dropped significantly. Water from Cook Inlet rushed in to fill the area that was now below sea level. This flooding was ultimately what drove the town of Portage to extinction. Over the years, I’ve watched the buildings in that area decay away. They’re sagging and fading and becoming a part of the Earth again. Left alone, I can’t imagine it being more than a few more decades that they’ll even be visible. So, I wanted to explore them while I still had the chance. I wanted to satisfy the urge to explore them that I had ever since I was a young child. So why not now? We parked across the highway at the small tourist-trap rail depot. I’m not entirely sure what all goes on at that place, but it advertises various railroad excursions. There’s not a station or anything though, so I’m not really sure how it all works. I did see some portable staircases, so I’m assuming people actually board trains there. I’ve just never seen it happen.

Ruins at the Portage townsite

We hopped across the highway and started backtracking to the visible buildings. We noticed a number of signs that indicated the area behind them was a reservation and trespassing was prohibited. Fortunately, those signs ended before we reached the Portage buildings. We walked up to the first building and examined it. The wood was gray and the structure was clearly deteriorating. I don’t know what I expected to see, but I was surprised at how little what was left resembled a building. The earth had eaten the floor and vegetation was wrapping its way around the building’s exterior. We had to duck our heads to get underneath any part of the structure. Chrome bumper from vehicle buried during 1964 Good Friday Earthquake.Where paint remained, it was chipping and faded. Graffiti was ubiquitous, and it wasn’t even anything creative or interesting. The second and subsequent buildings were about the same. One of the buildings was more recognizable as such than the others, I could make out what must have been a hall area and various rooms. The buildings all seemed to be no more bigger than mobile trailer homes. We continued to explore the site, expecting to see more of the extinct town. I had seen pictures of Portage pre-quake, so I knew at one time there was more than what I was seeing today. Unfortunately, there’s surprisingly little left to show for it. We walked in the direction of Cook Inlet. Something shiny caught our eye so we walked towards it. There, growing out of the earth was a gleaming chrome bumper, reflecting the bright summer light. We poked around near it and realized that an entire vehicle was connected to that bumper, mostly buried and with few removable parts remaining. We left it to continue its slow and steady decomposition.

We scrambled back to the car and got back onto the highway for the last time that day. I spent the two-hour drive home reflecting on the events of the day. Were we disappointed that we didn’t find what we were looking for? Sure, at least slightly. We didn’t find our ghosts. But this disappointment was made up for with the satisfaction of finding what we weren’t even looking for. A gorgeous day under the Alaskan sun can never go wrong.



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.


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






Caines Head Independence

I don’t consider myself a pessimist at all. I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain. And I feel completely soaked to the skin. – Leonard Cohen


July 4-6, 2012,
My brother-in-law and I, along with our families, set out to spend a long Independence Day weekend in Caines Head State Recreation Area, south of Seward, Alaska. We reserved the Derby Cove cabin for two nights, planning on that serving as our home base as we explored the surrounding area. Since we were staying two nights, and we were bringing all of our kids, we weren’t exactly packing light. To accommodate this more conveniently, we decided to hire a water taxi to take one of us and all of our gear over to the cabin while the rest took the coastal hike to the cabin. While the trail isn’t particularly arduous (save some challenging spots on the beach if you grow impatient waiting for low tide), lightening the load allowed the kids (and adults) a more comfortable hike over and allowed us to carry more gear. We decided that I would take the water taxi and all of the gear, secure it in the cabin, and then hike back towards Seward after the tide had lowered to meet the rest of the group somewhere in the middle.

Leaving Miller's Landing
Leaving Miller’s Landing

The water taxi took me from Millers’ Landing, at Lowell Point, to Derby Cove in about 15 minutes. The captain of the small skiff pulled the boat right up onto the beach, I threw all of our gear onto the beach, and hopped out. The taxi pulled away and headed south to some other patron. It was now just me, a hundred or two pounds of gear, and everything that this Alaskan wilderness rainforest had in store for me.

Resurrection Bay and Derby Cove
Resurrection Bay and Derby Cove

From the beach, I couldn’t see the cabin and wasn’t quite sure where it was; however, an orange buoy hanging from a tree seemed to be propitious. I walked towards it and noticed a trail heading back into the rainforest. I pulled our gear up to a point that I felt was out of the reach of the tide and waves, strapped on my pack, and headed up the trail. A raven flew overhead just as I entered the trees. It made a call and plopped down on makeshift bench fabricated from driftwood.

Just a few steps into the trees, I became slightly overwhelmed as the rainforest instantly consumed me. To my right, a steep slope was decorated abundantly with ancient spruce trees adorned with large clumps of soft moss on nearly every branch. To my left, a low-lying wetland with small meandering streams drained the mountains into the ocean. The path was narrow, but the footing was fine. I felt small amongst these ancient, behemoth trees. About 50 yards in, the trail widened. I could see a gray outhouse ahead. A few more steps in, the cabin became visible. To the right of the cabin, a small, yet powerful, waterfall came cascading down through the trees. Near the front of the cabin its flow slowed and pooled up, from there becoming a more casual stream that, after a few twists and turns, relinquished itself to Resurrection Bay. This all made for one of the most wondrous camping locales I’ve ever experienced. A small foot bridge took me over this stream and to the steps of the cabin. Inside, two sets of bunk beds, a wood stove,  a picnic table, and some shelves. Enough light came through the windows to allow me to observe the cabin’s interior, but the light came filtered through the thick forest which created a surreal and subdued atmosphere. The quality craftsmanship of the cabin softened the sounds of the rushing water just outside. To sit in this cabin and to do nothing else would have been a relaxing retreat all on its own.

But there was some work to do; no time to get comfortable yet. I made a few trips to the water and back, dragging most of the gear up to the cabin. I left a larger, heavy tote to cart up with the help of my party once they arrived.

Excited to be able to show off  our new home for the next couple of days, I decided I’d skirt the coast and head north towards everyone else, albeit at a pace dictated by the shrinking tide. A light rain combined with the ocean to create a comfortably humid environment. The coast in this area consists of steep cliffs to the west and Resurrection Bay to the east. Sections of these cliffs jut out further towards the ocean, while in other areas they recede for a few yards, exposing a larger beach area. My trip north had me waiting for the tide at some of the rocky outcroppings. The rock was slicked with slimy green algae, and sloped directly into the water. I, admittedly ill-conceived, risked climbing over some of the segments; one simple slip on this frictionless foundation would immediately crash my bones down on the rock and then summarily deposit me into the frigid ocean.

I got lucky: I only slipped in once.

So I trekked north, crawling into pockets of exposed beach and waiting for a few minutes for the tide to recede so I could make it through another segment. A tour boat slowly motored up the Bay. I could feel the passengers training their binoculars on me.

“Is that guy trapped? Should we call for help?” The vessel’s Park Ranger would assure them, “Nah, he’s just stupid”, and then resume his lecture on how evolution has spent millions of years naturally selecting only the best-adapted wildlife to find this environment habitable.

After making my way just over half a mile, I passed the other public use cabin in the area: Callisto. Unlike the Derby Cove cabin, Callisto is fairly visible from the beach and the water. It’s not immediately on the beach, but the area in front of it is cleared out making it easy to spot. Damp wood was burning in Callisto’s stove, exhaling soft white smoke through its rooftop chimney. A family of four were on the beach in front of me, presumably Callisto’s residents for the day, exploring the rocky beach. I passed them by, continuing towards my approaching family.

Piles of surf-smoothed rocks.
Piles of surf-smoothed rocks.

I came upon a large rock that rose abruptly out of the water and connected with the cliff bluff. As I examined it for a potential way to get over or around it, I heard voices over the other side. I was able to climb up enough to peer over the top, and there was the rest of the gang. Terry was just on the other side of the rock, facing the direction of the rest of the family that were huddled up a dozen or so yards further north. I made some sort of loud silly remark, activating Terry’s hyper-startle syndrome. The noise he made attracted the rest of the family and we began talking to each other over the rock. For awhile, I was just a few feet away from my family, but I may as well have been separated by miles. Through very careful and deliberate acrobatics, I was able get up and over the rock and reunited with everyone else. Our team was complete, but we were still over a mile away from the cabin. Between Terry, a dog leash, some grippy barnacles, and myself, we got the entire family–and dog–over the rock and safely onto the beach from whence I had just came (honestly, by the time we were all over the rock I do believe the tide had receded enough that we could have just walked around it). No more obstacles to maneuver, we had an enjoyable walk to Derby Cove; whales splashed just off-shore and the kid investigated the nooks and crannies of the cliffs bordering the beach.

Whales in Resurrection Bay
Whales in Resurrection Bay

We arrived at the cabin and got settled in. Terry popped open a 10-serving can of Chili Mac Mountain House and we had ourselves a splendid little feast. It had been a long day for all of us, getting up and driving to Seward, the hike and water taxi, and hauling the gear to the cabin. The rain picked up and we snoozed under the sound of rain beating down on the cabin’s tin roof.

The next day we got up, had breakfast, and set out for Caines Head proper and on up to Fort McGilvray. The rain continued through the night and showed no signs of stopping any time soon. From our cabin, we had a short hike that climbed us over the hill that dropped down to what’s officially considered Caines Head State Recreation Area. There you’ll find a ranger’s cabin, a rocky beach, and–most likely–tents, kayaks, and fellow adventurers. From the beach, an old military road, though now a trail, was our path to Fort McGilvray. You could tell that the trail was well-cared-for and normally pleasant to travel upon. On this day, however, the trail seemed less footpath and more streambed.  The trail had a few moderately steep sections that, when covered in running mud and water, were tricky to get us and the kids through. There was no getting through the trek without getting soaked, and the sooner we realized it the easier the hike became. We were all thoroughly soaked, but we all handled it well. The trail alternates between dense forest and jaw-dropping views of Resurrection Bay. Along the way we found and explored a couple of bunkers or caches of some sort, concrete and steel that a World War would inspire. We continued on and finally arrived at the fort.

Trail marker
Trail marker

Fort McGilvray is a subterranean military fortification built into the rock cliffs 650 above Resurrection Bay. It existed as one of a number of facilities built by the Army during World War II in an effort to thwart any attempted Japanese invasions. Short-lived, construction began on the various facilities in 1941 and by 1944 the installations were ordered to be dismantled. Many of the buildings were simply abandoned and are–though empty–well-preserved to this day.

We all put on our headlamps that we brought specifically for the fort, and began exploring. Numerous pitch-black rooms are connected to the main corridors. Every emitted sound echoed throughout the entire building, making it nearly impossible to gauge where it originated. I had my fun sneaking around and spooking the kids. Around the outside of the fort, we explored other buildings, assumably lookout positions, and massive pads for gun mounts. I located and signed a  surprise geocache that contained the most-delicious Coors Light I can remember drinking.

Scooby Doo-esque
Scooby Doo-esque
Gates of Fort McGilvray
Gates of Fort McGilvray


After an hour or so playing around the fort, we headed back down the even wetter trail back to the cabin. When we arrived back to the beach by the ranger’s cabin, the tide had risen and met the swollen drainages from the mountains. A rushing creek now blocked our path. Our kids graciously accepted the challenge and foraged for a number of large pieces of driftwood and created an improvised bridge; it worked perfectly.  Once back at the cabin: We ate. We dried out. We slept.

The next morning we got up and packed our things up for the hike back to Seward. This time I took the hike with the kids, while Terry took the gear in the water taxi. I was glad to get to experience this half of the trip that I had missed previously. Our timing was perfect and there was no waiting for the tide or any challenging obstacles to cross, just an enjoyable walk along the beach to Tonsina Point, where the forest trail connects you to Seward, via Lowell Point. Some of the forest we went through near Tonsina Point  was even more amazing than the forest outside our cabin. This was straight out of the Star Wars world of Endor. The rain even stopped for a few moments here and there, as sunlight filtered through these ancient behemoth trees. The smells, the sounds, the sights: it created a beautiful piece of zen.

After crossing some creeks, the trail climbs up a few switchbacks and then descends down an old road and into the parking area at Lowell Point.

Even though the rain was unrelenting and prohibited some of the side excursions I had hoped to undertake, our time at Caines Head was an Independence Day I’ll never forget. The area is one of my favorite places and I anxiously look forward to the next time.