Kodiak, known as the Emerald Isle, is easily one of the most quintessentially Alaskan locales. Much like Alaska itself, Kodiak is epic in scale as the second largest island in the United States. While Kodiak-the-City is only a small microsm of Kodiak-the-Massive-Island, I was elated to be selected for a project in the town of ~6,500 people. Naively, I harbored hopes to explore the island as much as possible. But it was plainly apparent from the start that I’d only barely scratch the surface.
My colleague and I arrived in Kodiak on an overcast April morning, the light was waning from dim to sharp as clouds shot past. The skies were a somber sort of spooky.
Kodiak is at the “base” of the Aleutian chain, and the island winds were howling. North of the airport, giant white turbines spun frantically on a ridge. Beautiful elevation, in the form of tree-covered mountains, erupted from the ocean.
Fun fact: Kodiak was the capital of Alaska during Russia’s occupation. Yep, in 1792, a salty Russian
moved the town to its current locale and it became the Rus HQ. Also, did you know that “Petrichor” is that sweet earthen scent you smell right after it rains? Kodiak had it pretty much all the time, even when sunny. Olfactory bliss, if that’s your thing.
Our first experience (for fun) involved a walk around the harbor. You have to cross a bridge from downtown to the marina; it’s a pleasant setting and walking felt like a much better way to soak in some sights than driving. Even in the early spring, the docks were vibrant with activity. Ships of all shapes and sorts, each in various states of repair. They provided living space, freedom, and (hopefully) profit to their respective crew.
Commercial fishing is the largest contributor to the local economy, with tourism and hunting making up the remainder of the island’s regular income. With these facts in mind, we watched harbor grow more and more active, with people in colorful rubber attire flitting across docks with gear and tools and supplies.
As the sun came into full force throughout the afternoon, spring’s shades of green lent themselves to Kodiak’s Ozian moniker, Emerald indeed. I can’t even imagine how incredible it must look in the height of Alaska’s resplendent Midnight Sun. Plants tend to grow monstrous with 20+ hours of daylight. Go figure.
Speaking of monsters, Kodiak boasts the biggest brown bears in the world. I didn’t see any, but I held out hope till the very end. While this briefly bummed me out, I’m still going to pepper these paragraphs with bear puns all the same.
The infamous Kodiak Grizzlies
– the largest of which weighed in at an epic 2,400 lbs (1,088 kilos) – are massive. Noted for being almost as big as Polar Bears, the hugest bears EVER, this subpopulation of brown bear is closely monitored and considered endangered. I tried my hardest to catch a glimpse, alas, no bears for me. Though holy cow, we saw TONS of huge
Bison everywhere. All over. Leaving heaping bison surprises for the wary traveler to trod upon. My advice: watch your step. Tactical foot placement aside, seeing some of America’s last freely-roaming bison was remarkable. A few were close to the road and you could see their strength in feisty moments of bucking, spinning, or angry head-shaking. It was endearing, in a special sort of way that made me grateful for car doors.
We stayed at the Best Western, it was awesome. I guess I did see bears, but they were mounted and stuffed…barely even worth mentioning.
Oh, and the Kodiak Rotary presence appears to have officially undergone a civil war between morning people and midday risers. Their schism perfectly reflects the nuances of the human condition.
The twin highlights of our trip were as follows:
1) Great Food and People: three establishments bear mention for being stellar hosts with quality ingestibles. First, Monk’s Rock Coffee
had some insanely tasty sammiches. They also have a seriously unique gift shoppe of Eastern Orthodox books, reliefs, and other religious relics to captivate and delight.
Next, Kodiak Island Brewery has a solid array of beers. The Wing-Nut Brown was my personal favorite, with Liquid Sunshine coming in a close second.
fed us delicious, hearty pizza, and the staff was gracious in every way. Their gyros looked great as well.
All in all, Kodiak’s denizens rock the block. Some of the bars were enjoyably dive-ish (observing a drunken game of rapid-fire-darts was the best part of night number one) and a resident fisherwoman attempted to engage in a drinking contest with yours truly.
Sadly, I had to pass on the competitive drinking bout. While extremely friendly, this burly lass seemed far too proud of her boast that Kodiak locals can “out drink anyone, any time, from anywhere.” I know a few Brits that might disagree, but let no one say that her pride went unacknowledged.
2) Fossil Beach. Ok, bear with me. If you want to see something cool, fly to Kodiak. Once there, rent a vehicle (preferably one with four-wheel drive), go toward the first road out of the airport, Rezanof Drive, and head left. From there, follow Rezanof a ways, take a right at the first T you come to, and keep going for awhile further. Where the road forks and a sign directs you toward Fossil Beach, hang a right and hold on tight. You won’t be disappointed, even on a nasty weather day. Oh, they also launch rockets there. So that’s cool.
Fossil Beach rests in a little bay, surrounded to the north and south by clifftops of the breathtaking variety. But what makes this spot so special are the fossils littering its shores. They’re all over the place and fascinating to inspect. I’ve no idea why so many fossils ended up there, but it’s well worth a trip.
If you’re feeling spry, climb up the southern slope to the cliffs. You’ll find a few World War II-era bunkers up there. Walk on in, the ghosts seem chill. It’s quite a sight to see these little fortifications still standing strong against a long-gone Japanese threat.
Some impressions from Kodiak: always bring a poncho, never say no to a scenic drive, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Oh, and I’d probably politely decline any drinking contest challenges from the inhabitants – your liver will likely thank you.
upon returning rentals
blood is frowned upon
© Chasen Cunitz and AKv2v.com, 2016
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Alaska: Village to Village