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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

My Alaska Destination

October 7th, 2013 · No Comments

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After 20 days on the road and driving 4,208 miles, I finally arrived in Nikiski, Alaska, where my friends Marveen and Wayne live. But I was confused.

The welcome sign told me that I had come to Nikishka. That’s what the Russians called it and the Chamber of Commerce still maintains is the correct name of Nikiski.

Had I Reached Nikishka or Nikiski?

Had I Reached Nikishka or Nikiski?

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Marveen and Wayne had told me that they live near the unincorporated town of Nikiski, population 4,500. The name Nikiski comes from a Russian word, which isn’t surprising because the Russians colonized Alaska until we bought it in 1867 from the Russian Empire for about $7 million.

Nikiski is 15 miles north of the city of Kenai, which is at the mouth of the Kenai River on the Kenai Peninsula. This area is as far west as Hawaii and at about the same latitude as Oslo and Stockholm. The Russians built Fort St. Nicholas at Kenai in 1791. Kenai is a popular name for some good reasons, and one of them is that the Kenai River has some of the best salmon fishing in the world.

The Alaska Home of My Gracious Hosts Where I Stayed for Five Weeks

The Alaska Home of My Gracious Hosts Where I Stayed for Five Weeks

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Marveen and Wayne live in this beautiful home in a clearing within two acres of mixed forest. They are most gracious hosts and immediately made me feel right at home, turning over the entire second floor to me. She had invited me several times to visit her and Wayne. She visits me in Colorado often, when she comes to see her stepmother in Steamboat Springs, where she grew up, and to see a childhood friend of hers who lives about 20 miles from me.

But in a sense this trip started years ago when my best friend became the senior pastor of Saint John United Methodist Church in Anchorage. I jumped at the chance to visit John there in 2009. I well remember as we drove out one morning that one of his neighbors greeted him and we stopped to chat. Her name is Vicky, and two years later I flew to San Jose for their wedding. At a small dinner party after the wedding, I was seated next to a woman with whom I had immediate rapport. Her name is Marveen, and she is Vicky’s sister. Marveen and I share many interests, especially a love of books and of wildlife and birds. John had told me that Marveen has a large library. But I wasn’t expecting to see about 15,000 volumes in just about every room of their home.

Marveen and I also share a love of birds and animals. In fact, she has many more bird feeders than the two that I have. I made a quick count and saw 11 of them. She also throws out scraps of the salmon that Wayne catches.

A Gray Jay Grabs a Chunk of Wayne and Marveen's Salmon in Their Backyard

A Gray Jay Grabs a Chunk of Wayne and Marveen's Salmon in Their Backyard

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A Juvenile Spruce Grouse Admires Some of Marveen's Flowers

A Juvenile Spruce Grouse Admires Some of Marveen's Flowers

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When I arrived at their home, Marveen told me that a moose cow and calf had been visiting their yard, but she hadn’t seen them for a week or so and was concerned about them. A few days later they returned, and this inquisitive calf came so close to me as I was standing on the front porch that I could barely fit its image in my camera’s frame.

A Moose Calf Checks Me Out

A Moose Calf Checks Me Out

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Before my lengthy visit to his home, Wayne and I had never met. He made me feel totally welcomed and went out of his way to show me birds and animals in several trips the three of us took with his boat on the Kenai River and on several lakes. Wayne is the pastor of North Kenai Chapel and has a counseling practice at Cornerstone Family Ministries, which he founded. He also wrote the book, Adventures of an Alaskan Preacher, which I had read on my Kindle and enjoyed.

An Avid Outdoorsman and Fisherman, Wayne Shows Me a Sockeye Salmon He Just Caught

An Avid Outdoorsman and Fisherman, Wayne Shows Me a Sockeye Salmon He Just Caught

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Marveen took me on several more outings. One of our favorite trips took us along the 18-mile Skilak Lake Road through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, the premier wildlife viewing area on the Kenai Peninsula.

Marveen Takes In the Scene at Hidden Creek Overlook in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Marveen Takes In the Scene at Hidden Creek Overlook in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

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The next day I returned to Marveen and Wayne’s home after making a solo outing to Kenai Fjords National Park. I told them that on the way back I had seen a black bear where we were the day before. Marveen said that the only thing that I had missed while I was away was a huge brown bear in their backyard.

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