Once More in Alaska for the Bears

(I’m writing this without cell signal and can’t do even the smallest bit of research, so please forgive inaccuracies.)

We decided to cross the border one final time, driving down the inside passage—along braided rivers and seemingly endless mountain ranges covered in a new, light layer of powdered snow, plus glaciers peeking out when you’re not even looking for them—to the small port town of Haines, Alaska.   

The plan was to stay in our last gravel lot on the water, since Haines seems like such an interesting place and we could then walk around the historic port and shops and restaurants each day from the trailer. That was not to be. Even though many tourists have left Alaska by now, the RV lot we had our eye on was all booked for Memorial Day weekend.

Where we ended up turned out to be a treat in its own way. The Chilkat and Chilkoot rivers run parallel into the Gulf of Alaska here, and we stayed at the Chilkoot State Recreation Area’s small campground, which meant we drove along the Chilkoot River each time we went into town. And the river is where all the fall bear action is.

Alaska Brown Bears

Coastal brown bears (aka Alaska peninsular grizzlies) look like grizzlies, but they eat so much more salmon that they’re actually bigger than grizzlies. 

On the Chilkoot when we were there, they’d come out of the mountains each morning and evening, eat fish in the river when the tide was out and along the fish weir, then lumber back into the woods, like this momma and her two cubs.

A guy was on the weir each morning counting fish, cleaning off the fish gore, and maintaining the weir in general, I assume.  He had a laptop and a long pike and a lot of bravery, to put it politely.

My guess is these bears are so focused on gorging themselves with salmon that they’re not particularly interested in him or the tourists gathered around watching them eat.  

I would ride my bike down to the weir in the mornings and watch the woods carefully, for I think bears hate surprises as much as I do.

I saw two females with two cubs each; they were at the weir each day.  Another female with three cubs was fishing down where I saw the males. 

The males weigh 800-1,200 pounds. They wandered at will, whereas the mommas were more watchful.  

A sign warned that three cubs from one female had to be killed recently because they’d gotten too accustomed to people, and then her next set of cubs had to be killed as well. Photos of people close to the giant bears were alarming. I was happy to have a good camera.

You can see the momma with three cubs in the water at the far right; I’ve got the lens at its widest here. With the naked eye, you could watch them easily, though. It was thrilling.

Bald Eagle Preserve/Foundation

The greatest population of bald eagles lives here in Haines, as well, up to 3,500 in the fall each year, feasting on salmon along with the bears.  They crouch on sand banks, not even having to ride the air currents above to spot a meal.  We’d have to look out for them while we walked along the shore. 

We didn’t even visit to the preserve or the national foundation headquarters; they simply were everywhere around us.

Chilcat State Park Hike

One morning, we drove along the historic harbor to the south end of Haines for a long morning hike.  The temporal rainforest here means the forest floor is covered in mosses and giant cabbage-like plants.  

I can’t accurately describe what it feels like to walk in these lush woods and see the milky, blue water out behind the tree stands, then, towering mountains and glaciers behind that. It’s like an ever-shifting 3D viewer you struggle to make sense of. How can this be real?

Rainbow Glacier is one of three we could see that day.  There’s a cirque glacier to its right (the ice settles as a circle nestled in the tops of the mountains) and a tidewater glacier to its left (the glacier comes down to the meet the water, often in a zigzag)

The wind was blowing cold air over the river valley really hard, plus we were having to walk along large, tricky rocks at the shore, or I would have taken even more photos. I like this one though; Tracy is in the lower right.

Airstreams in Haines

Before the hike, we went to a small farmers market with a string band entertaining people as they stood in a long line to buy local produce; this was at the fairgrounds, current home of the set of the movie Wild Fang that Disney shot here.  

We managed to miss the gobs of people from docked cruise ships, although we did run into the Airstream Club’s Alaska caravan crew, whom we’d seen drive below us when we were hiking the mountains in Kluane.  They were parked in a campground closer to town than us, but we ran into a small contingent at the meadery. (Okay, we visited the meadery twice and the brewery once.  What a friendly little town.)

Of course the Airstream group know Sherri and Mooch from Tennessee! They’d all met at the international jamboree in Wyoming earlier this summer.

Anytime you run into Airstream people, they cheerfully try to lure you into joining the club and entice you with the merits of traveling all together. As much as I crave the companionship and would so love to be part of a community on the road, I’m unwilling to travel in a group with an itinerary to do that. I’m sure we’ll join one day, eventually!

In the meantime, we’re heading back into Yukon and then south again, along the Cassiar Highway, as long as it’s not closed due to wildfires.  We’ll play it by ear, taking our time but aware of the cold weather pushing our rear bumper.  It’s finally a clear, sunny day, but the temperature is in the 40s!  

4 thoughts to “Once More in Alaska for the Bears”

  1. Glad you got to go to Haines – it’s featured in the PBS series “Iconic America”‘s episode on the Bald Eagle. Now you can watch it with memories of the beautiful scenery! What a terrific summer you’ve had! The trials have been there, but when you look back I know the smiles will outweigh the trials.

    1. That’s cool to know about Iconic America—if I had to move somewhere cold, Haines would be top of the list for sure. Thanks – looks like your summer has been full of family!