Scottish visitors fall in love with Homer
Sandy and Mari Gibson say enjoyment is due in great part to friendliness
When Scots Sandy and Mari Gibson adopted a Wheaten Terrier named Cassie, they not only discovered a dog they love, but also an international community of other Wheaten parents. They recently traveled from southwest Scotland to Homer to meet two such puppy parents.
While researching Wheatens, the couple joined a Facebook page for Wheaten owners, and noticed a woman named Denise Hansen from Homer, Alaska who was very active.
"I saw that Denise is very active as a fundraiser and arranging auctions," Mari said. "First we saw her pictures of the view from her house and then we watched the program, 'Alaska - The Last Frontier' and Kachemak Bay was featured. We thought we would love to see that view some day."
The couple loves to travel. They have been to Spain, Portugal, Greece, Austria, Turkey, Ireland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Croatia, Slovenia and Slovakia. Five years ago, to celebrate their 25-year anniversary, they sailed from Southampton to New York on the Queen Mary, and then traveled to Las Vegas. This year, eager to take a special trip to celebrate their 30-year anniversary, they originally planned to spend time in Canada or drive from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon and Yosemite.
"When we looked at the maps and started planning, we realized it was going to be too many miles," Mari said. "We would be driving all the time."
While browsing trail finder brochures, they read an article about Alaska that captured their attention.
"It said that Alaskans are the friendliest people in the United States and we started thinking about Homer," Mari said.
After doing more research and discovering the opportunities for hiking and bear viewing, and eager to explore the Homer Spit, they began planning their trip north. Mari reached out to her Wheaten Facebook friends, Jim and Denise, who she had only communicated with by Facebook Messenger.
"I asked for suggestions on things to do and places to stay, and they invited us to stay with them," Mari shared. "We wanted to spend time with them, but we didn't want them to feel like they were stuck with us. Denise would not take no for an answer and we think it is absolutely fantastic that they would open their home to complete strangers. They welcomed us like we are longtime friends."
Flying to Anchorage via Reykjavik, Iceland on an 11-and-a-half-hour flight, Sandy and Mari arrived into Anchorage on a Sunday night, picked up their rental car, got a hotel room and slept until the next morning, when they left the city early and took their time driving down to Homer.
"What a drive," Mari said. "The views were absolutely spectacular around every corner."
In Homer, they settled into the Hansen household, welcomed by Jim, Denise and their three Wheatens, Charlie, Molly and Monty.
In and around Homer, they hiked to Grewingk Glacier, Diamond Creek and the Carl Wynn Nature Center, explored the shops on the Spit and downtown, visited Bear Creek Winery and the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, walked the beaches and made several stops at Two Sisters Bakery.
"Our visit to Diamond Beach was so much better by having local, Taz Tally, talk about the geology, wildlife and local history," Mari said. "We thoroughly enjoyed the winery and all the shops, but hiking to the glacier was our favorite, topped off on the return journey when our water taxi operator stopped to allow Sandy to take photos of the sea otters."
Eager to see bears, poor weather delayed their bear-viewing trip two different times. Finally, on their third attempt, they landed at Lake Clarke, where they saw 20 adults and two cubs.
"It was a perfect day, sunny weather and lots of bears," Sandy said. "Our pilot, Derek, made an awesome day even better by flying us back over Iliamna and the glacier."
The couple shared that the highlight of their time was being with the Hansens.
"Everything about our visit with Jim and Denise was perfect," Sandy said. "They invited friends over and I don't think we have laughed so much in years. We loved talking with them about our mutual love of Wheatens and hearing how they came to be in Homer. We hope they will take a trip to Scotland, where we can repay their kindness."
It rained nearly every day they were in Homer, but they did not let the rain dampen their experience or their time spent outdoors.
"We are Scottish and we know how to deal with weather," Mari said. "We were told that Alaska has four seasons - June, July, August and Winter. We hoped for nice weather, but we came prepared."
From Homer, the couple will spend time in Seward, Talkeetna, Healey, Denali, Hatcher Pass and Palmer. They wrap up their Alaskan adventure with a visit to the Matanuska Glacier.
The couple shared that while they are excited to see more of Alaska, they will long remember their time in Homer and the kindness and hospitality that was shown to them.
"Everyone is so laid back and friendly and we love the quirky shops and that there's so much talent here," Mari said. "We expected to like the town, but actually fell in love with it, partly due to the friendliness of everyone we met."