Saturday, May 5, 2012

Kodiak Sojourn--Sunshine, History and Fish

Kodiak Harbor
           Friday morning found us landing at Kodiak, less than one hour from Anchorage. Kodiak was on our itinerary for personal reasons (see “Don Brown in Kodiak” below) but we thoroughly enjoyed our time there seeing the sights and meeting the people.
Our arrival enthusiasm was slightly dampened by an excruciatingly slow Avis rep. With one finger he made enough keystrokes to write a novel. We are not sure what he was doing but we were the last passengers to exit the compact terminal, keys in hand. On the recommendation of a local, and after driving the wrong way for about five miles, we headed to “where the locals eat,” King's Diner. It proved to be a propitious suggestion.
At the Diner Jayne, in addition to being our server, was a one woman booster for Kodiak Island. Before the omelet arrived we had recommendations for places to visit and places to eat that would keep us occupied for the next two days. She also shared places to avoid; good advice when some roads lure you in and turn to gravel a few miles along.
Baranov Museum, Kodiak
            The Best Western Kodiak Inn allowed early check in and proved to be centrally located near the fishing fleet moorage. This town and island lives and breathes fishing. We first visited the harbor master to inquire about the status of the "Karen Jean", a fishing boat formerly owned by a friend. It was out fishing. Then, up the hill to the Baranov Museum to see the “Don Brown Collection” and other artifacts. The Kodiak Wildlife Refuge Center and Alutiiq Museum were close by as well. In a short time we had done what we came to do and were ready to move on.
While we were the only “tourists” in the area, museums were teeming with grade school kids on end-of-year field trips which gave them a certain kinetic energy.
We faced two choices for our driving tour—go east or go west. Though nearly the size of Connecticut, the Kodiak Islands are rugged and relatively roadless. We could go westerly about 40 miles or easterly, about 15 miles. We turned west.
The limited roads generally follow the coast, winding around bays, then over ridges into the next valley and around the next bay. The weather changed with each valley; sun in one, snow and rain in the next, cloudy and dry in the next. On Friday alone we experienced a range of weather that, we are told, is typical of the area. The only constant was the temperature, low 40’s most of the day.
The scenery is spectacular. Rugged, snow covered hills loom over the coast, hidden when cloudy and sparkling when the sun shown bright. The hills still wear winter brown but will likely spring to green with longer days and warmer weather. The sea was barely rippled but the beaches bore evidence of winter storms that must sweep the islands.

          We were surprised at the end of our drive to encounter the Kodiak Launch Complex, an extensive facility for the launching of satellites. I have visited their web site but am still unclear why one would travel to Kodiak Island and then 40 miles down a winding road to reach a missile launch site. But then physics was not my strong subject and I’m not into orbits.
On the return, on Jayne’s recommendation, we stopped at the Olds River Inn for dinner. This place is 20 miles from anywhere. Why it’s there and why is succeeds I don’t know but the food was great and owners were typically Alaskan; gracious and friendly. I think everything but the napkins was homemade and delicious.
Saturday we turned east, toward the Fort Abercrombie State Park which sits on a high rock promontory, at one time guarding the entrance to Kodiak Harbor. We took advantage of the brilliant sunshine to hike the extensive trail system in the park, enjoying the views and exercise.

Sashimi in Kodiak

The Kodiak Military History Museum, housed in an old ammunition bunker, was well worth the visit. Staffed and maintained by a volunteer crew it contains professional exhibits focused on the islands World War II efforts. We were lucky as it opened for the season the day we visited.
Visited the King’s Diner again for lunch and a dinner recommendation from our guide, Jayne. The Old Power House Restaurant was her choice. Sushi in Kodiak? Again it was a good recommendation for a place off the beaten track.
Now it’s back to Anchorage and the waiting Chalet. No more motel beds for a while.

Don Brown in Kodiak: In 1940, with a business degree from the U. of Washington in hand, Kathy’s father, Don Brown, embarked on a big adventure—he took a job in Kodiak Alaska and headed north.
Jobs were scarce between the Great Depression and World War II so an office job with Simms-Drake Construction was appealing. Simms-Drake had a contract to construct a Navy Base on Kodiak Island and had import all the materials and people needed for the job. Don traveled by steamship to Seward and then transferred to a second ship for the trip to the island. He didn’t realize he would be there for three years.

Don made lifelong friends during that time; Larry Gourlie, Neal Mitchel, Marty Cordes to name a few. The war scattered the friends but, when it was over, Don stayed in touch with many of them his entire life. They are all gone now.

When the war came to Alaska, June of 1942, contractor personnel were enlisted in the defense of the Island. Each was issued a Springfield rifle, dating from World War I, and seven rounds of ammunition. Thus armed they were to repel any invasion attempt. No attempt was made.
In 1943 Don received permission to leave Kodiak as a crew member of a Fish and Game ship and made it back to Seattle where the Army rejected him for service due to the flat feet he developed running barefoot on his farm as a child.
In 2008 Don donated his collection of photos from that time to the Baranov Museum in Kodiak where they now reside.
Don never returned to Kodiak but it’s his memory that draws daughter Kathy there now. Little of the Kodiak he knew remains—it was destroyed by the 1964 earthquake and tsunami. He would be pleased to know she made the trip.

Kodiak Weather: After three days in Kodiak we may not be qualified to talk about the weather but, based on personal experience and talks with locals, here goes. We have experienced the following:
+  Sunny: Any sun counts and we have had a great deal. A few scattered clouds can be ignored. If you can see the sun it’s sunny.
+  Light rain/mist: You can’t see it but you are wet when you come in. Wipers on intermittent, intermittently.
 +  Rain: You can see it. Wipers on low.
+  Heavy/torrential rain: You can see, feel and hear it (as in pounding on the car.) Wipers on full.
+++  Wind may be added to all the above but we did not have to deal with wind…yea!

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