The Cook Inlet, which we visited earlier, branches into the Knik Arm to the north and the Turnagain Arm to the east. The Turnagain Arm separates the Kenai Peninsula from the Alaska mainland. The Seward Highway, a National Scenic Byway, runs along the north side of Turnagain Arm. The Turnagain Arm is about 40 miles long and averages 2-3 miles in width.
The Turnagain Arm is surrounded by magnificent snow-covered mountains with many glaciers, including the Skookum Glacier shown above.
The small town of Hope sits on the southern side of the Turnagain Arm. Hope was a frenetic hub for the gold rush in 1896. But riches didn’t come for most prospectors, and in just three short years, most of the gold rushers had moved on to the Klondike. But the town persisted, and Hope’s historic district still includes the original 1896 store and 1902 social hall.
Turnagain Arm was named by William Bligh, of “Mutiny on the Bounty” fame. Bligh served as Sailing Master on the 1778 expedition of Captain James Cook to find the Northwest Passage. When they reached the head of Cook Inlet, Bligh believed the Knik and Turnagain Arms were mouths of rivers and not openings to the Northwest Passage. But Cook ordered Bligh to investigate both. Bligh and his men travelled up the Knik Arm, discovered it led to a river, then travelled up the then-unnamed Turnagain Arm to discover yet another river. Having to turn around a second time, a frustrated Bligh named it the “Turn Again River.” In the photo above, the beautiful Chugach Mountains rise 3,000 feet above the Turnagain Arm.
The Turnagain Arm has the second highest tide (up to 40 feet) in North America after the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. At low tide, much of the Turnagain Arm can turn into giant mud flats with exotic shapes as shown above. This can be inviting to tourists, who are strongly discouraged from walking out onto the mud, because it can swallow people like quicksand and hold them in the mud like concrete. Numerous people have died getting stuck in the mud and drowning when the tide returns.
As a result of the severe tides, Turnagain Arm is home to a phenomena called a “bore tide.” When the incoming high tide starts to flow from the Cook Inlet into the narrow Turnagain Arm, it’s initially held back by the mud flats. But eventually the force of the tide is too much to resist, and the water surges into Turnagain Arm in wall of water that can reach 6 feet tall.
On the day we visited, the bore tide was about 4 feet tall. A few people tried to surf along the wave, some on inflatable shoes, others on surf boards. Ultimately, every one of them fell into the chilly water, and one unfortunate surfer smashed against the rocks along the shore (though he eventually climbed on shore under his own power).