The Anan Creek Bear Observatory has been on our wish list for a while, and it’s not far from Wrangell. We arranged for permits several months ago, since the area is restricted to a maximum of 60 visitors per day to prevent humans from putting too much pressure on the bears.Most people get there on a tour by jet boat from Wrangell or by float plane from Ketchikan, but we had the luxury of being able to stay for (almost) as long as we liked. The weather was calm enough that we could anchor ADVENTURES just off the creek mouth, though we could only stay there from 10am until 4pm while the tide was high enough. We took the dinghy and landed among the boulders on shore, and were greeted by a Ranger who made sure we didn’t have ANY food or drinks (aside from plain water). We received a safety briefing before setting off on the mile-long trail up to the observation platform perched over a salmon stream.
We arrived near the platform and were waved on by a Ranger there, entering through a small gate that we were careful to close behind us. The stream rapids were roaring and we could see salmon leaping, but no bears at first. Then, quite quickly, a black bear came out of the woods and walked right past the platform, and that’s when we learned about the duct tape line on the platform deck that everyone has to stay behind when a bear is close. Close! The photo above was shot with a normal lens, not the big telephoto. It’s normal for the bears to walk right next to the wooden railings of the platform, and occasionally they would squeeze through an opening between the ground and the platform and climb down the rocks underneath it. (They could easily hop over the fence and enjoy a Tourist Buffet, but they don’t.) All this happens fairly quickly, and you just need to pay attention. If you need to use the bathroom there’s an outhouse about 25′ from the platform, but now we realize that the path to the outhouse crosses a path that’s often used by the bears. There’s a system in place to accomplish the task safely: you alert the Ranger that you want to “go”, and they will make sure no bears are approaching. When you get the OK signal, you scamper over to the outhouse and LATCH THE DOOR. The edge of the outhouse had quite a few deep scratches in it, nicely painted over by some work crew, but still obvious as to what made them. Once you have accomplished what you went there to do, you stick your fingers through some holes in the door and wiggle them – that’s the signal to the Ranger that you’re ready to emerge. They will hold up a hand while they scan the woods for activity, and when it’s safe for you to cross back to the platform they will wave you on. A boating friend told us that he once spent 20 minutes in that outhouse waiting for the all-clear signal. You can’t make this stuff up. After about 30 minutes a few bears started to appear. Some came from the woods and some from behind big boulders right next to the stream where they like to hide and nap.It was fun to watch various bears – some were expert fishermen and didn’t take long to catch a fish, and some must have been younger and still learning. This fellow FINALLY caught a fish after about 45 minutes of half-hearted attempts, and then he proceeded to gum the poor fish to death.There was a definite pecking order among the bears because when certain bears came out of the woods or from behind the boulders others would move aside and wait, impatiently.Do we ever tire of watching bears fishing and doing other bear-ish things? No way.Eventually we had to leave since the tide waits for no one. We thoroughly enjoyed our day on the platform and down in the photo blind, and it was a nice hike back through the woods to our dinghy. At one point on the trail we were approaching a little foot bridge, and a black bear appeared on the bridge coming towards us. Jim was in the lead and he firmly told the bear that we wanted to go that way. The bear stopped to look at us, then took a few more steps in our direction – HE wanted to go where we were. Jim told him again that we weren’t moving, and the bear reconsidered and left the trail. That’s our second encounter with a black bear on a trail this season, and both went just as the guide books say (though we had our bear spray at the ready, just in case).
We anchored in a place called Fool’s Inlet for the night, and had a blast watching all the seals hauled out nearby, and over 30 bald eagles on the shoreline at low tide… the cherry on top of a most excellent day.