After one day of brown bear viewing and one day of kayaking, Addie and I spent two days riding around Kodiak Island. Actually, we covered all the road, paved and unpaved, on the island, some of it more than once. Several times we had to pass scary signs to proceed, but the locals paid no attention so we went ahead, too. Spectacular vistas were around every curve, wildflowers were blooming everywhere. Loving airplanes, especially old ones, and work boats, I could have spent days just photographing those subjects. We stumbled upon the Kodiak Launch Complex – the other cape, they say. Who knew? We had a little excitement when, approaching Fossil Beach, we started down a STEEP grade we should not have. Once begun, there was no turning back and the situation worsened when we reached a deep gully in the middle of the road that caused our rental car to bottom hard a number of times. We actually feared getting high-centered and being stuck there. Addie did a masterful job of driving back up the the hill, but I think she did say a bad word! We have been waiting to hear from the rental car company or their lawyer about the condition of the car we returned.
Spent our 2nd day in Kodiak paddling across big water under the VERY watchful eye of our drill sergeant/guide, Wendy. Although quick to scold, she did an excellent job helping these loud lower-48ers sneak up on seals, otters, and puffins. It was Dad and my 1st attempt at paddling a tandem kayak, and after a lot of loud paddle clanking (and possibly some muttered bad words), we settled into a rhythm..and even made it back to shore without either of us swimming!
Addie told you a little bit about the bears and included many pictures of some of the bears we saw. I will tell you a bit about the details of the bear viewing trip.
Harvey Flying Service of Kodiak was chosen partially based on a recommendation of friends of Joyce and mostly, I confess, because I wanted to fly in Steve Harvey’s beautiful 1943 Grumman Widgeon airplane.
Another major factor in choosing Harvey was that his bear guide, Jo Murphy, is reputed to be the best. Even though I had high expectations for Jo, her knowledge and competence exceeded them by any measure. That was appreciated when walking around in the bear’s environment, often quite close to bears, even mama grizzlies with cubs.
The flights to and from Katmai National Park and Preserve were a treat in themselves. Though I had flown in float planes a few times, flying in the old Widgeon was my first flight in an amphibian. The scenery was beautiful and Jo was able to provide a lot of interesting details about what we were viewing.
Once we arrived at Katmai, we got out of the plane in knee-deep water and waded ashore. We kept on hip boots for the duration of the excursion, as we waded across small rivers numerous times. After leaving the beach, we hiked into a meadow valley surrounded by mountains. The meadow, mountains and several visible glaciers were gorgeous.
On the return flight, we had a blond co-pilot that made me more nervous than the bears (see picture).
Addie enjoyed the grizzlies immensely, even found being in their environment with them a very emotionally moving experience. It was that to me and more. When I was five years old, fascinated with wild animals in general, and bears in particular, my father told me about Kodiak Island and the huge brown bears. At that time, I wanted to go to Kodiak to hunt the world’s largest grizzly bears. Even when I passed the hunting phase of my life, I remained fascinated with the Kodiak bears. Visiting Kodiak Island was on my bucket list for a half century before anyone ever heard of a bucket list! Now, I want to go back.
“If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly…” is a phrase I have worn out over the past few years. However, never in my wildest imagination did I think I would get the chance to come as close to being a real grizzly as I did the other day. As soon as our plane landed on Kodiak Island, Dad and I hopped onto another plane (see Dad’s post about the Widgeon) and flew to Katmai National Park and Preserve to see the brown bears (Kodiak grizzlies).
Our guide, Jo, has been taking wide-eyed “mainlanders” to Katmai for the past 10 years, and she seemed to know all the bears personally. Have to admit, it made things a bit less frightening to have her there interpreting the bears’ every move and look. She completely understood their communication and used that to slowly get us close. As Jo put it, “the bears have extremely expressive body language.” For example, when they tense up, the hump on their back becomes more prominent. On the other end of the spectrum, they put their heads down and/or turn their hind end toward you when they want to show non-aggression.
To get close, we hiked across meadows and forded streams in hip boots. By completely immersing ourselves in their habitat, we were able to silently watch bears dig for clams, fish for salmon, snooze, and play. Besides all the “singles”, we also came across a mom with one spring cub, a mom with 2 spring cubs, and a mom with a 2nd year cub. These bears are seriously good moms..VERY protective and nurturing. We watched one mom chase a wolf she had been feuding with away from her cubs and another mom chase off two bears who were play fighting in a river near her cub. We also watched a mom stop, drop, and roll over so her whining cubs could nurse. Fun fact about brown bear cubs: they are born while their mom is hibernating and they nurse for several months while she “sleeps”. At birth they are naked, blind, and only weigh one pound. See videos. Love those bears!!
On the drive from Denali National Park to Anchorage, Addie and I saw an unusual arrangement for a small airport. On one side of the highway was the typical airport you might find outside of any small town with a runway and a couple of hangars. On the opposite side of the highway, on the edge of a lake, was a facility for float planes and amphibians that had docks for float planes and a hangar or two. It seemed unusual to us that there was a plane crossing across this busy highway so that planes could taxi back-and-fourth between the facilities. You would surely flummox your insurance agent if you reported a collision with a de Havilland Beaver!
Even the rear-view mirror views while driving across Alaska are distracting! We somehow managed to turn a 3.5 hour drive (according to the GPS) into an all day drive. Too many spectacular sights to blow by. Tried to capture some in photos, but as always, they don’t even begin to do the scenery justice.