Close encounters of the bear kind - Alaska Part 1 - September 2014


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November 22nd 2014
Published: November 14th 2017
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Lake Clark WildernessLake Clark WildernessLake Clark Wilderness

He was chasing fish - not us!
It has been a very long time since I have posted, but really gonna try to do better and start catching up on these blogs.

Yes, Alaska is part of the US, but it seems like a world away and most of the time seem like a completely different world. Seems like that place you only see in magazines and never in real life. Well, we were due for our September vacation and Alaska came up as cheap and reasonable. Well it was pretty late in September so we were not sure this would really be the best decision (we have considered summer vacations in Alaska several times, but the prices were totally outrageous and out of this world). We do things off-season when we know we should not so we went for it. Why not? Right? The big attraction of Alaska has always been the bears. September is Nikkie's birthday so I always try and do something special for her. I called and I called and I called. I searched and I looked at website after website trying to find something. It was very obvious that bear season was over. But as always... well you'll just have to wait
Just outside AnchorageJust outside AnchorageJust outside Anchorage

The Potter Marsh
and see what happened.

We landed very late at night in ANCHORAGE and for some reason all the hotels were really expensive. So we settled on the Anchorage Downtown Hotel. Little run down, but it was clean and we were literally there for 6 hours so nothing to complain about. Get in and get out. The next morning we were out pretty early and just looked for the closest Starbucks before heading out. At Starbucks several people stopped us and asked us where we were from, why we are here (are we visiting family), and then once they found out the real reason “what made us crazy enough to visit in late September”? Oh oh. Did we make the right decision? Everyone wished us luck and called us crazy. Welcome to ALASKA IN SEPTEMBER I guess.

We drove around Anchorage, took some back roads and explored a little bit. It was misty/ raining and we were really hoping this is not what we were in for the entire trip. Is this what the locals warned us about? Lets just hope they are wrong. There is a 125 MILE DRIVE ON SEWARD HIGHWAY (ANCHORAGE TO RESURRECTION BAY) that we
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Braving the rain and oh was it rainy the first day
did in stages but our spot for the night was the ALYESKA RESORT in GIRDWOOD (not that far from Anchorage so we took it easy). POTTER MARSH was the first stop which was only a short drive. A network of walkways around a marsh. There was not much to see as it was still raining. We got a break in the rain as we entered the CHUGACH NATIONAL PARK. All around us was mountains including the CHUGACH MOUNTAINS. This area also has the ANCHORAGE COASTAL WILDLIFE REFUGE FOR BIRDS and MOOSE. We saw plenty of birds. The moose was a little harder to find. If you know our story you would know that we are always looking for moose and yet we never find them. We found a very young one next to the road late that night so I guess it counts. One of the things that did blow us away and definitely surprised us was the number of BALD EAGLES we saw. Every 5 minutes Nikkie would yell for me to stop or start chasing after them so this was a pretty magical experience for us. We truly could not stop talking about the number of eagles we
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Plenty of great picture opportunities
saw in such a short time span. MILE-MARKER 96 FOR BORE TIDE is a must stop (in my opinion). It is crazy to see to tides come in and go out. Standing up high it is a pretty cool experience. Climbing down to the water level adds a completely new dimension. You stand there in awe as these towers of water form some pretty huge waves as the water retreats.

We stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation (sort of a rehab facility/ zoo). Cool to see all the animals, but they are not free so we don't really count it 😊. We kept going, hit the little turn-off road to Whittier and finally hit the glaciers and mountains. EXPLORER GLACIER, MIDDLE GLACIER and countless other glaciers were right there. We were in complete awe being totally surrounded by mountains, glaciers, rain, and mist. Everywhere you looked you saw this magnificent creation. Glaciers hanging down from cliffs, trees changing colors, countless and countless waterfalls running down the mountains looking like white arteries on the sides of the mountains, perfect glacial fed lakes with icebergs floating in them. What a creation. We kept going and waited our turn at the tunnel
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Can't see the tides from higher up but trust me they are there
to Whittier (a small fishing village completely dead at this time of year). We were pretty hungry so we found the Wild Catch Cafe and had some good chowder and a great salmon burger. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel and crashed after some long travel days.

We were up pretty early to continue our drive on the SEWARD HIGHWAY to SEWARD. We met an older guy sitting on the side of the road selling all kinds of jerkey so we bought 4 bags for our long days ahead (just supporting the local economy). An added bonus that the jerky was really good. We made our way up and down TURNAGAIN PASS. This area is packed with lakes and we got a couple really, really good pictures with reflections of the changing leaves in the lakes and mountains in the background. The winding roads took us past trees changing colors, around corners with white peaks rising majestically in front of us and past canyons with glacier run-offs running far down below. We were in true awe and could not believe we were experiencing this. We passed by many LAKES including KENAI LAKE and TERN LAKE. We finally made
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Rainy and misty and beautiful
it to Seward just in time to buy a ticket to go on a CRUISE OF KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK. If it was any time earlier in the year I would recommend you getting tickets way ahead of time, but since this was “off-season” we were just fine buying it there. It's a pretty long cruise through the KENAI PENINSULA and KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK. There is lots of WILDLIFE on the cruise. We saw lots of otters and SEABIRDS as well as a BEAR walking the shore looking for food. As you go there are lots of WATERFALLS and in several places they will try and get as close as possible to these waterfalls. The real show on these cruises are the GLACIERS. On this cruise we also crossed into PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND. Lunch was pretty basic and you can buy drinks. There is plenty of room outside to move around and plenty of seats inside to relax until you get to the glaciers (it does get cold this time of year). It is hard to describe the enormity of the glaciers. They don't look big (because you are far away) and getting up closer you get a little
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Saw this guy on one of our stops
bit of a perspective of how massive these structures are. The moment we realized how huge these things are was when we were still several miles from the glacier and we saw another cruise boat very similar to ours. Our boat was pretty big and this little thing was a speck in the distance compared to the glacier above it. We saw a couple small calvings of the glacier which was really cool. The cruise was long and at some point you just kind of want it to be over. Still we would highly, highly recommend this especially for the glaciers. This is an experience not to be missed. Back in Seward we went to Terry's and found out that this was their last service after being open for many many years. We got the fish and chips (halibut) which was ok and the chowder which was really good. We made our way to Eagles Nest B&B in Soldotna for our overnight stay.

And so the big day arrived. The people at the B&B was great and woke up early to get us breakfast. We had to find the Soldotna airport. A couple days before I managed to find
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Drifting ice from glaciers, peaks and ice cold lakes/ponds/streams
a lodge in the wilderness that would take us on bear tours. When I booked the 24 hour trip (3 days before we left) they said there were still BEARS but we had no guarantees. I'll take it. This was our trip into the ALASKAN WILDERNESS. We got into a little plane with two guys who was fishing for the day. And off we were on our BUSH PLANE ADVENTURE to LAKE CLARKE WILDERNESS. As we took off over the bay we could see white-capped mountains all around us, vistas that stretched for hundreds of miles and a colorful landscape of trees, bushes, streams, and rocks. After 45 minutes in the air we circled and were getting ready to land. Nikkie and I looked for a landing strip but could not see any. And before we knew it we put down right on the beach. Wow. Welcome to Alaska. We stayed at the Silver Salmon Creek Lodge. We were greeted and picked up in a little trailer towed by a four-wheeler. They were closing down the lodge for the season so it was just the two of us and there were some employees left helping to close down the lodge.
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Still caught some of those fall colors
We got to our room, was handed a pair of boots, told to wear warm clothes, met our guide and off we were. We started driving. We immediately went to the beach and it did not take long for us to see a bear walking towards us from the distance - with two cubs. They quickly settled in the tall grass where we left them. We drove around more without much success, headed back home for a quick lunch with the remaining crew and walked to a close by pond where we saw some salmon with beautiful snow-covered peaks as the backdrop. Around 3 we headed out again to look for bears. It was pretty chilly. We say a big guy playing around in the ocean where one of the streams empty into the bay. He was having fun going up and down and splashing in the water which got us some pretty good pictures. We saw another loner walking around and tracked him too. The mama bear and cubs were gone. We had a beautiful sunset and dinner with the guys while star watching before settling in for an early night.

The next morning it was up early
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Rainy and misty the first day, but it also created some pretty awesome scenery and reflections
again and after breakfast we headed down to the beach and saw the mama and cubs digging for clams. This is where it got really interesting. We parked the 4-wheeler and started circling the bears to the point where we were with our backs to the waves/ bay and the bears were on the beach (had to get that lighting right). We were also really, really close as in "here-let-me-take-a-selfie" close. We got some pretty incredible pictures of these guys digging up clams while watching the little cubs learning to dig for food. Incredible experience while also realizing that if that mama bear wanted to attack there really would not have been too much we could do (of the foolish things we do). We got back to the beach and followed another big bear (he literally walked by us close enough where I could have touched him if I reached out).

Time to go again - what an incredible 24 hours. Not in our wildest dreams could we have imagined this is how this would have played out. You are alone in the wilderness with no cell phone service, no cars, and no one else around – that in
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Just more of the same on the first day
itself is probably worth the price of the stay. The guys at the lodge were great and we would highly recommend these guys for a bear watching trip. It is not cheap but oh so worth it. We made it back across the bay again with similar spectacular views of the mountains and MOUNT SPURR (ACTIVE VOLCANO) behind us.

In Soldotna we found a kid selling hot dogs so we had the obligatory reindeer hot dog (not bad at all). The drive to HOMER was long and fairly boring. We had some mix-ups on the booking of our hotel so we had to find something else and we ended up at the Halcyon Heights B&B. Nothing to write home about, but we were served a pretty good breakfast that included some homemade bread and jams. Once we unpacked our bags we headed down to the SALTY DAWG SALOON (a must visit for the ambiance) where we ran into a bunch of guys (and girls) who just finished their summer work in either bear country or on a fishing boat. The boat guys were ready to party - 3 months on a boat will do things to you I guess.
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Chasing eagles
We shared a couple BEERS with these guys and it was fascinating hearing their stories, what they do, where they have been and where they are going. Crazy how the seasonal work works out across the country. We were pretty hungry and our food options seemed a little limited so we settled on the Chart Room @ Land's End Inn where we had good chowder and Kachemak Bay OYSTERS, SALMON (it was pretty burned and dry so not the best), and HALIBUT Iliamna with a crab/artichoke/parmesan crust w/ potatoes and vegetables (the dish was a little too saucy but the fish was really good). We finished it with an okay crème brulee. We called it an early night. Wish we had some more time to explore the area since it seems like there is a lot to do.

We made the long uneventful drive back and stopped at the EXIT GLACIER outside Seward. We debated hiking to the very top but settled on just HIKING TO the bottom of EXIT GLACIER. Nikkie was terrified that that we would see a bear (yeah we did not have bear spray or any of the other obligatory bear protection). So we decided
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Yeah that is me with no shoes. Polar bear plunge?
to just hike to the start of the glacier. There is some interesting history on the rocks and as with any glacier there is stats, records and information on how much these have receded over the last 10, 20, 50, 100 years. Eye-opening to see the change just in the last couple years based on pictures. We hung around and tried to make our way to the very bottom, but it seemed like we would have had to cross a stream or two so we decided to pass on getting wet, drove around a lot more and spent another night at the Alyeska Resort. This does seem like a great place for winter time for skiing and all other winter activities. For dinner we went to the Double Musky Inn (local legend). We had the garlic seafood w/ pasta, shrimp, halibut, and salmon in a spicy butter sauce (really good) and the crusted halibut special w/ vegetables (good). The food was really good, but the portions was out of this world - definitely some of the biggest I have ever seen.

The next day we got our caffeine fix from the Grind – a local eclectic coffee shop. We
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Only moose we saw on the trip
made our way to Anchorage for part 2 of the journey, but not before we stopped at The Rustic Goat (we saw it while driving around on the first day) and had a good tomato bisque, a really good pesto/kale fettuccini, a really good clam and bacon pizza (steamed paprika clams, bacon lardons, grilled leeks, fire-roasted cherry tomatoes, and mozzarella with a garlic cream sauce) and some good beers. What will part 2 hold for us. If it’s anything like the last 3 or 4 days then this is gonna be one awesome trip.



Likes
- the scenery was absolutely mind-blowing and is everything you would expect of Alaska, especially with the mountains and glaciers
- seeing the waterfalls running down the sides of the mountains forming these white arteries was really special. Yes the rain on the first day was a bummer, but that was a pretty magical site so there is always the good that comes with the bad
- the breweries and little local restaurants was great to experience. No chain restaurants around.
- the glaciers were AWEsome and the number of eagles we saw was a massive bonus.
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Just outside the Alyeska we saw this guy waiting for dinner

Dislikes
- at most places the food portions were just astronomical. I know this is a cold place and the people need the calories to stay warm and fattened up but it felt like such a waste at times
- I know this probably just us and our luck, but man there were no moose to be found

Advice
- no matter the time of year - bring a good rain jacket, dress warm, bring a good camera and binoculars (we don't use binoculars, but I can see this being a must for most other people)
- support the locals with their food trucks and stands on the side of the road. They are always up for a good conversation and the food tends to be pretty good.
- depending where you go, the towns tend to be fairly isolated and finding hotels, B&B's or inns could be a challenge so book ahead of time. This is coming from a guy that books everything last minute
- get out and explore. I am sure cruises are nice, but man this is such a big state with so many beautiful roads with no other
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More fall colors surrounded by water
people/cars
- if you are going at this alone (not an organized tour) and intend to do any sort of hiking then it is probably wise to get some bear spray or whatever else you prefer in case of a bear encounter out in the wild with no one else around

That was the first part of the trip. 3 things to cross-off including the Alyeska Resort, a bush plane adventure and the Seward Highway. So 285 down and 5,496 to go.

Til next time from bear country


Additional photos below
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One of the countless valleys we drove through
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Saw this on the way to Seward
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The scenery was pretty incredible
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Just one of the many mountain reflections in a lake
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Seward is surrounded by mountains


14th November 2017
Lake Clark Wilderness

Love this picture
So do I...:(
14th November 2017
Lake Clark Wilderness

Bears
Great bear blog Nikkie & Divan...super stuff
14th November 2017
Alaska

Alaska
You've made Alaska sound extremely appealing, and your bear and landscape photos are amazing... but this little cutie stole my heart! :) Looking forward to reading more of your blogs - I've bookmarked your Penang blog to read on the weekend. Cheers, Ren

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