Alaska is really HUGE! But ironically, the places most visitors head towards, and the roads that connect them, are relatively few in number – especially compared to the enormity of the state. So often when you see an interesting camping vehicle, you will bump into it again in another location. We were somewhere when I noticed this gorgeous little trailer. From the road, it was really attractive, and doubly so because there was a kayak on top made of matching wood. So I was super happy to see it in our campground in Anchorage. And more so to talk to Glenn, the talented guy who built it! I guess he’s made many kayaks, and when he saw the plans for this cute trailer he had to build it! He’s traveling by himself, and fits very nicely in this clever little camper. He gave us the tour and the whole story. A fascinating rig, and a far more fascinating guy!
We read online about an interesting phenomenon that occurs a ways out of Anchorage. It’s called a Bore Tide. This area has up to a 35 feet tidal range! The Turnagain Arm, and the Knik Arm are long relatively narrow extensions of the Cook Inlet, on the Gulf of Alaska. These two are the only places in the U.S. that Bore Tides regularly occur. The idea is that the incoming tide reaches water that is still outgoing, in these narrow arms, a single wave forms and moves slowly upriver. It moves somewhere between 6 and 24 miles per hour. We read that the wave can be up to 3 feet, or 6 feet, or someplace said up to 10 feet tall!
The Bore Tide tables said Tuesday would be the highest in weeks… and it would be at Beluga Point at 6:45, plus or minus 30 minutes. So we invited Glenn to join us hunting for a Bore Tide. Beluga Point is just about a half hour from our campground, so we left plenty early so we wouldn’t miss it… Did I mention it was raining? We’d had drizzly rain for many days. We stood in the rain for well over an hour, with many others waiting also. We decided we’d missed it, but figured we could drive upriver to another viewpoint and try to catch it there. (I can drive over 20mph) We arrived at a nice spot, and from the numbers of folks set up to see it, were sure we weren’t too late. The rain let up a little, and we enjoyed the fantastic view. Then we saw the wave! We almost missed it again… it was about 9… inches…. tall. We probably spent almost 4 hours to see a ripple move upstream. We were laughing about what a non-event it turned out to be, when an excited local lady said she has driven past this twice a day for years, and this is the best she’s ever seen! (!?) It was a great experience with a nice friend, but not at all what we’d expected! Adventure means often altered expectations!
One nice family was vacationing from Skagway, and their cute little girl kept flirting with me. Such an adorable little gal gets her picture here! Dad’s gonna worry a lot about her in a dozen years or so!
And Heeeeeere it is!
Here’s a video of the amazing wave! Hold on to your seats!
I guess a cool thing to try is to surf this wave. You have to be prepared for very cold water, and ok with waiting the plus or minus 30 minutes… and if you miss the wave… well, you can try again tomorrow! Of the eight or so we saw try, it looked like one rode it for a few yards.
Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park
A few days earlier, we had set up a fantastic trip to Brooks Falls, where you can watch Grizzly Bears hunting Salmon up very close. As requested, we checked in at the airport at 6am, and boarded the plane at 7am. At 7:15 the pilot announced that the weather in King Salmon, our first destination, was socked in. We would get an update at 8am. So we all got off the plane, and waited. At 8 they told us it was looking ok, so we all boarded again. We actually taxied to the runway, but the pilot never gave it full throttle. He taxied to the first ramp off the runway and we went back to the airport. Some malfunction with the plane. So we all disembarked again, and waited. They said they’d get us another plane, but when it was obvious it wouldn’t happen before 10am the whole trip was cancelled. They said we could reschedule after August 9, but then the bears would have moved off this prime area. We were really looking forward to this potentially awesome adventure! I volunteered to be on a standby list, and they got us in on Wednesday!
The rain stopped Wednesday morning, and we didn’t have to check in till 7:15. (Yay!) We boarded a few beautiful Pilatus turboprops, and flew about 1.5 hours to King Salmon, a very small settlement that can only be reached by air and boat. We transferred to beautiful DeHavilland Otter float plane. These are sturdy workhorse planes, made in the 50’s, that have been updated by the addition of a turboprop power plant. Great planes!
We flew about a half hour to the Brooks Falls Lodge.
Once disembarked, we were treated to a very nice presentation on how to co-exist with bears. They are very careful at Brooks to not interfere with the bears, and not invite trouble. These are Grizzly Bears. It used to be that Grizzly Bears and Brown Bears were thought to be different species, but whoever decides these things has decreed that they are the same thing. Whatever you want to call them, they are huge, and their claws are amazingly long! Salmon swim upstream here to spawn for about 6 weeks every summer. The bears are very territorial, and generally will not get too close to each other, but the huge number of Salmon here to feast on makes the bears set aside their social distancing for a while. The bears’ goal is to fatten themselves up on juicy Salmon to give them enough bulk to get through the winter. They are so intent on hunting, and so happy to have full bellies, that they tolerate humans who stay on the boardwalks provided.
Our first bear sighting was even before we got to the lodge. Then from the boardwalk we saw a mother bear with 4 cubs hunting around.
A little over a mile from the lodge is a large viewing platform where you can see the falls, and dozens of bears. They will sometimes come very close to the elevated platform, letting you see them pretty closely.
The most dramatic viewing is from the platform right next to the falls. This is a few hundred yards further up the trail, and your time there is limited to 30 minutes. When we arrived, the wait time was estimated to be 2 hours! But we could wait at the first viewing spot and enjoy bears the whole time.
Here is a Common Merganser in case you’re tired of bear pictures…
This is the biggest jump for a Salmon, and the highest risk! The bears will wait patiently until a fish gets close enough to bite, or catch with his paws.
This is a Momma bear who is teaching her two cubs to fish. When she’d catch one, she’d move to another rock and they’d share. This was the only sharing we saw. And she never moved too far away from her favorite hunting spot.
Ok, get ready for a bunch of bears catching and eating Salmon… we were told to be very quiet and still, so as not to distract or interfere with the bears and their hunting. And specifically not to cheer when a bear caught one! Somebody said maybe we should be applauding the fish that got away!
Just beneath the falls the water is flat, but still moving fast. Some bears will “snorkel,” putting their head under the water and biting at fish. Or lunging towards them. Some will sit and look at the water and then jump at a tempting fish. It’s great fun to watch these huge bears acting like silly teddy bears in the water!
Grizzly Bears are very territorial, and even though they tolerate each other during the Salmon feast, they will fight if they perceive another has gotten too close to their space. We witnessed a few fights, with very loud growling. They were over quickly, probably because fish were swimming by!
We didn’t see this guy arguing with anyone, but it is obvious he’s done his share of fighting!
One fight seemed to worry this little cub, who climbed quite a ways up a tree. It really looked like, once up there, he was unsure what to do next!
Some of the bears would perch so precariously I was wondering if they ever fell off. We never saw one fall.
I couldn’t resist trying to capture still shots of a mighty bear’s lunge…
And here’s another…
Here’s a cute little guy showing off for us.
Guess what? More bears!
It’s fun to watch them come up out of the water, fish or not.
Two happy bears!
I put together a video of our trip. Like this whole blog, it may be a bit too long, but whatever… We were very blessed to watch these incredible creatures, and are excited to share it with you!