Do you have a special place that never fails to be the backdrop of a memorable time? Do you know the feeling of a “happy place” you can go back to again and again, knowing it will never get old? I have quite a few of those, and they’re on the Kenai Peninsula, aptly nicknamed Alaska’s Playground.
From Anchorage, getting out of town and into the wild is just a short drive south. At the edge of town, after you’ve passed Potter Marsh, you soon round a bend and start driving along curves tightly hugging the Chugach Mountains. To your right is the Turnagain Arm, and beyond that is the Kenai Peninsula. The drive southward is full of visual delights—photo opportunities abound. I never tire of any part of this drive.
Just before Moose Pass, the Seward Highway forms a Y and the Sterling Highway branches off toward the west (and then south). Continuing on south at the Y another hour brings us to Seward, one of the most restful places in Alaska for me. I love to spend time in this small harbor town, window shopping with a latte and filling up with delicious roadhouse food. I always take a stroll on the docks to read the creative boat names and marvel at how far some have traveled.
Sometimes we visit the Alaska SeaLife Center, which is a treat for young and old! Or we take a drive down a narrow dirt road to a favorite beach, Lowell Point, where the sand is black and the crowds are minimal. This town has charm, quietness (as long as you don’t come for the Fourth of July!), and Alaskan beauty that’s hard to match anywhere else. And I honestly can’t decide if it’s more gorgeous in the summer or winter!
Back at the Y, another of my happy places is a couple hours down the Sterling Highway. My aunt and uncle have had a beautiful cabin on the beach as long as I can remember (that's me below at the age of four or so, gathering "pretty rocks"!). Through their generous hospitality we have been able to enjoy it the last few summers. I expressed many of my feelings about the cabin at Happy Valley in this post, so I’ll just add that having family visiting from the Lower 48 only sweetens this special place.
Farther down the road, the highway ends at a town called Homer. This eclectic place captures my creativity, curiosity, and sense of adventure. The Homer world is a mixture of fishing and hippie innovation. It is everything you want in a coastal town but with the addition of being surrounded by incredible mountains. People come for fishing excursions, unbelievable scenery, and a stroll down the famous Homer Spit with all its shops and enticing restaurants. I prefer the less touristy parts of town, but it all captures my heart. I notice that other people I know can’t help but get a dreamy look in their eyes when they talk about Homer—so I guess I’m not the only one.
These places call me back year after year, season after season. They draw me in and invite me to experience the piece they offer to Alaska as a whole. I am so blessed to have these happy places within a half day’s drive.
No, it's not Disneyland. A Gallup poll released last week revealed that Alaska is the "happiest" state in the nation. In honor of this recognition, I am going to share with you an essay I wrote in school almost TEN years ago about my "happiest place" up here, along with some photos I've taken there.
Fist-sized rocks crunched under the truck tires as we drove along the rugged beach. Miles of sparkling blue water stretched to my left, and three conspicuous volcanoes rose straight out of the water across the inlet. I cracked my window and was hit by a blast of chilly Alaskan air tainted with the pungent aroma of fish. The truck suddenly turned up a steep, short driveway, and I thought we were going to flip. When we were level again, the aged sentinel of the beach sat in front of us—my uncle’s cabin.
The first thing I noticed when I stepped out of the truck was the variety of sounds. Two playful dogs welcomed us with happy barking, my cousin’s horse clip-clopped its hooves on the rocks, my uncle revved the engine of his four-wheeler, and my aunt’s sweet voice drifted down to us from the expansive wooden deck. I closed my eyes to drink in the familiar sounds. Then I was barraged with a mixed smell of fish, salty ocean spray, and wildflowers. The breeze tousled my curls, and the salty airborne droplets tingled my tongue with their savory flavor.
When I opened my eyes again, what I saw warmed me despite the temperature of the enveloping air. The cabin stood elegantly and proudly on the hillside, smiling at me with its wide wooden grin and light-reflecting windows. The firepit to my right sat empty, inviting me to roast marshmallows in its coals, and the rough-hewn wooden benches circling it seemed to shout, “Come, sit and feel the warmth of fire and family!” It all brought laughter and loved ones to mind.
I opened the door and stepped inside. Furs, skins, animal heads, and enormous fish were plastered to the walls and affirmed that this cabin was right at home in the Alaskan wilderness. The humble kitchen stood to my right, and the smells of homemade salsa and oven-baked halibut overwhelmed my nose. But I had yet to see my favorite part of the cabin: the staircase.
The circular staircase, made of fine wood and carefully carved by a skilled craftsman, was created especially for this place. I ran my hands along the smooth, pale wood and planted one foot firmly on the first step. Just as I had suspected, it whined and groaned under my weight. I took another step. I went up the winding staircase to get a perfect view of all the goings-on in the cabin. Before long, I marched off the last step and was in the loft.
The overstuffed couches in the loft circled around the TV that didn’t get any reception. Therefore, a stack of movies sat nearby for nighttime entertainment after long days of outdoor fun. I sank down into a cushy chair but was up in a moment because I still had much to see. I walked to the railing and peered over at my family bustling around downstairs. I sighed and smiled to myself, and I wished I could spend my whole life in that cabin.
It was the closest thing to heaven that this earth could offer. Here, all worries ceased to exist. This was the place where peace prevailed.
I couldn’t help but smile as the familiar surroundings captivated my senses. I took the porch steps two at a time and spotted the hot tub at the end of the deck. I could already feel a blast of bubbles massaging my back as I soaked in the warm, steamy tub. The strong aroma of chlorine wafted to my nose and made me want to dive right in. But that could wait. Before I stepped through the cabin's glass door, I grabbed a can of thick fruit juice from a worn blue cooler. The sweet taste always delighted my tongue and reminded me of this place.
I'm a mom of twins, published author, editor, amateur photographer, and nature enthusiast with an unlimited supply of curiosity. Come discover the little wonders I find during my everyday life in Alaska.
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