In This Place & In This Time
Travels through British Columbia, Yukon Territories, and Alaska Part II
Grizzly at Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park & Preserve
So, after a year-and-a-half, here I am, in Alaska!
The places I have been over the past two weeks, and especially over the past few days – I don’t think the words awesome, beautiful, and gorgeous can be used too often to describe them.
Skeena River Byway, BC
Driving up through the BC Cariboo intermountain region (between the Fraser Canyon and the Cariboo Mountains), then the Yellowhead and Stewart-Cassiar Highways. Traveling along the Skeena Road to Prince Rupert. Picking up the Alaska Highway at Watson Lake in the Yukon, through Whitehorse, Haines Junction and into Alaska. Then South to Valdez to catch the Ferry to Whittier and Seward, crossing Prince William Sound, to spend a week camped on the Kenai Peninsula and Homer (an absolute happy place and the quintessential end-of-road destination).
Sunrise on the Homer Spit
Earlier this week I got a once-in-a-lifetime flight to Brooks Falls and a boat trip to Lake Clark National Park, both over on the Katmai Peninsula. Up into the high country at Resurrection Pass and the Palmer Creek Road above Hope (and my first moose sighting of the trip), and then up the beautiful Turnagain Arm to Anchorage where I am writing my blog this evening.
Flight over Aleutian Range going to Brooks Falls. AK
Mostly camped out in the truck, in a state or provincial park, along the beach, or on a side road. That itself is an adventure. Early on I decided to push on to Goat’s Pass on the Cassier Highway in BC. But I misread the description and learned too late that it was actually Gnat’s pass. No goats, no motels or restaurants, no internet – just gnats by the millions. Luckily it gets cold there at night, so no bugs in the morning. Just a quiet evening reading in the truck and listening to the buzz!
Let the lifecycle begin! Sockeye at the Kenai & Russian River Confluence. AK
So far, it has been a wonderful trip. But it has not been easy.
From my experience on this trip, if you want to travel during Covid, and be an early visitor as rules loosen back up, you need to bring plenty of patience and grace. Go knowing that everything is messed up, nothing works, no one knows what is going on, everyone is stressed and trying to figure it out one step-at-a-time. It is a mile-by-mile roller coaster for sure.
Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area, Kenai Peninsula. AK
What kept me going, and what has made this and other trips so worthwhile, are the people I have met. There was the wonderful woman at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) office and the US Customs officer at Beaver Creek who convinced me to keep going, telling me it would all work out. There was the young woman at the “Moose is Loose” ice cream shop in Sterling Alaska who gave me a free milkshake just because I was nice to her. Kim at the bear watching company who told me her amazing life story and then hooked me up with an amazing flight to Brooks Falls after my original trip was cancelled. The fisherman on the Ninilchik River who had lived there since 1973 but was moving to Florida in just a week (talk about a 180 change), or the hostess at the Homer Spit campground with her sign “be nice or leave”, which really sums it up.
It is a great time to make new friends!
Evening at the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. AK
Along with the wonderful personalities I have met, there have been so many special moments:
· Four surprise black bear sightings on the Cassiar Highway.
· Traveling up and down along the Skeena River to Prince Rupert, a two-day river drive with the water and wildlife just outside your window.
· Driving the Alaska Highway with hours and hours of brilliant fireweed on each side of the road, cresting each new hill to see subarctic Taiga (fir and spruce forests), mountains, fog, and wonderful light on a million shining lakes.
· An amazing flight on a sunny day over the Aleutian Range to Brooks Falls and the Land of Ten Thousand Smokes (named for the 1912 eruption of the Novarupta volcano) in Katmai National Park and Preserve. Explore.org has a live, super-cool webcam of the bears and falls which you can follow here.
· Crossing Cook Inlet by boat to visit Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Mountains, volcanoes, headwaters for the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world, and hiking for hours in hip-deep water to photograph bears.
· Time on the Ninilchik River, a special memory from my first trip to Alaska twenty-five years ago.
· This morning, taking a short hike and visiting a trail-side female moose outside Anchorage.
Bears on the Beach! Lake Clark National Park & Preserve. AK
You may notice an overreaching theme here? If you didn’t know this before, I really like bears. Seeing them, and being around them, makes me happy! And while I don’t always go looking for them, I get grumpy when I don’t see them on a regular basis. So, for this trip, I planned to go everywhere I could think of to see bears. I couldn’t get into Fish Creek in Hyder Alaska because of the border, and I haven’t yet gotten to the Chilkoot River in Haines (also a required border crossing). There are bears in the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary near Prince Rupert, but they are early season bears feasting on sedges. But so far on this trip I have seen twenty+ black and grizzlies, and I soon will be headed for Denali National Park and the Denali Highway, both great bear sighting areas. After that, Haines and maybe, depending on time, back to Bella Coola BC to wrap up? To see more images, go to my Bear Page at Northwestriversphotography.com
Black Bear on Stewart-Cassiar Highway, BC
Memories of the Ninilchik River
I had just started as Conservation Director with American Whitewater in the early 90’s. We had no budget, but I wanted to go to a river conservation conference in Anchorage. It was an important meeting… and it was in Alaska where I had never been but had always wanted to go. I got a cheap plane ticket, promised to sleep in my personal car rental, and my boss said yes.
After the conference, I drove to Denali (in early April), then back to Anchorage for another meeting. Then off to Homer so I could sleep on the beach. All of this in one day. It was about 11:30 pm, a solid ten plus hours of driving, still light but barely so as I crossed the Ninilchik. I glanced out my window and saw an eagle, then another, then more and more. Totally zonked from driving, I grabbed my bear spray and stumbled through the woods and down the river, talking to the eagles in almost every tree. Many at eye level. Today I realize it was a wonderful, religious, if slightly hallucinogenic experience. But magical, nonetheless. I see that vision every time I cross the river. I felt it last week like it was yesterday. But it is a memory of the past, as the river has grown in, changed course, and been developed. Worthwhile though, to stand beside a river and float back in time and see it so different in your mind’s eye.