A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.
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The round-rumped grizzly bear ambled toward us, and I swallowed a scream and the urge to run. It had 6 million acres of Denali National Park and Preserve wilderness in which to roam, yet somehow this bear had managed to find my backpacking partner and me, alone on the Savage River.
On and off the road system, Alaska is dotted with cities, towns and villages that give the state its real character.
Luck struck around 6:30 a.m. Sunday -- less than nine hours before the end of the 10-day Slam'n Salm'n derby -- when Robert Hayes hooked a 40.97-pound king salmon that made him the winner.
Summer solstice marked the beginning of the warm season last week, but two Anchorage fly-fishermen discovered Monday morning that winter still lingers deep in the Chugach Mountains.
As if there weren't enough to do in Homer before, now visitors have to add one more stop to their itinerary -- the Alaska Islands and Oceans Visitors Center.
The $18 million center opened in December. It gives visitors a glimpse into the world's largest seabird refuge, the remote Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
The refuge consists of about 2,500 islands and rocky knobs scattered from Southeast Alaska to Point Hope and Icy Cape in the Chukchi Sea. Many Aleutian Islands are included in the 4.4 million-acre refuge. The center is also home to the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve.
"The whole intent was to bring the offshore world of the big blue into Homer, where people could have a vicarious experience," said Poppy Benson, the center's public programs coordinator. "Here, they can learn about and see what goes on in the offshore world they most likely won't get to visit.
"It's a stunningly beautiful building, it's free and it's on an interesting site with trails leading down to Bishop's Beach."
Homer, with its road-accessible port, was chosen as the headquarters. There's not much of the refuge nearby to visit -- just Yukon Island and Sixty-Foot Rock in Kachemak Bay and the Barren Islands at the mouth of Cook Inlet.
It was a challenge to faithfully represent the huge refuge. Designers of the 38,000-square-foot facility above Beluga Slough and Bishop's Beach used artistic interpretation as well as natural reproductions to give visitors a feel for the refuge.
For instance, bull kelp strands made of brass drape around the front doors. In the airy lobby, where a two-story window frames a view of Kachemak Bay, the pebbly floor has been inset with thousands of porcelain shells and bones to look like a rich marine-scape at low tide. Ceramic intertidal creatures cling to the walls of the lobby.
"The whole place is just covered in artwork," said Julieanne Schneider, Homer Chamber of Commerce visitor services manager. "It's just beautiful. And there is so much information about the sea, the birds, the mammals and so forth."
Benson said there will be guided beach, bird and plant walks on a regular basis. The 12-minute "Journey of the Tiglax" film is shown every half hour. The film is a virtual journey with the research vessel M/V Tiglax in the refuge. Visitors will see what researchers see, including seabird colonies of more than 1 million birds.
The exhibits are set up to draw visitors through the history of the coast, focusing especially on interactions of humans and nature in the Aleutians. Schneider said the exhibit opens with Native egg gatherers and includes information about the Russian influence and the impact of World War II. The World War II battlefield islands of Kiska and Attu are in the refuge, as is the nuclear test site of Amchitka.
"This isn't just about seabirds," Benson said. "The battle of Attu took place in the refuge. We bring that history out as well. We also touch on Native cultures."