Shy Bears

It’s peaceful out here on the water, without the usual cruise ships and small tourist ships and charter boats. The marine radio and the anchorages are quiet – the waterways are largely the domain of the locals this summer, so we’ll visit some places that have been “discovered” and aren’t often as solitary as we like. Red Bluff Bay on the east side of Baranof Island is one such place – a stunning inner bay surrounded by mountains and silvery cascades, with a big roaring waterfall and a lush green “bear meadow.”

The entrance to the bay is marked by distinctive red cliffs along Chatham Strait.

According to my geology book, the unusual red rocks are ultramafic – the exposed roots of volcanoes raised by oceanic plates shoved against each other. There are about 25 spots like this within the Alexander Archipelago (southeast Alaska).

Once we thread our way among the small islands protecting the entrance, there’s a roomy outer bay with some rusty vestiges of an old cannery, and snow on the north-facing slope – all the way down to the tideline!


The real gem is the inner bay, partially hidden by a narrow pinch between heavily forested shorelines.

As you enter the inner bay you can’t ignore the roaring waterfall – 500-600′ tall.

I flew the drone to give you a better feel for this magnificent place – mountains and meadow and falling water.

The head of the bay is very shallow – you might have noticed the brown areas adjacent to the green meadow – that’s the tide line. It’s a perfect place to explore by kayak, and even better at this time of the year since it’s when bears are out eating sedge grass. One evening we scanned the meadow with binoculars and spotted 10 brown bears.

I found that the bears here were very skittish – even with the generous distance I typically keep from them in the kayak, they were not comfortable. Bears will stand up to get a better look at things sometimes…

…and though it’s a great photo op it’s also a sign that I needed to give them more space. If I didn’t move off they would have bolted into the woods. They’re hungry and they need to eat, so I backed away until they stopped checking to see where I was. You might have noticed that there weren’t any bears in the drone video – that’s on purpose. First of all, the drone’s view is so wide-angle that it’s difficult to see something even as big as an 8′ brown bear. Second of all, bears don’t like drones – they can hear them but can’t see them, and they will leave the area. Out of respect for the bears, I only flew when the meadow was quiet.

A sow and her two second-year cubs were frequent visitors to the meadow – we saw them several times a day, but even with her bigger cubs she was extremely skittish and ran back to the forest even when I was quite a distance from them.

As soon as I saw how intolerant she was of my presence, I stayed away from her part of the meadow. Some photographers will do anything to get “the shot”, but that’s not the ethos we have when we’re in nature.

Fortunately there was plenty more to see up close – mergansers and harlequin ducks, this curious seal…

…and a couple of mink. I saw this one jumping into the stream, grabbing something and then scampering back up the rocks to eat it.

The wildflowers were starting to bloom – no chocolate lilies just yet, but shooting stars and buttercups lined the creek shore.

We had a great few days all by ourselves in this lovely place – we are so blessed to be able to do this. It’s always hard to leave a pretty spot, but there are other pretty spots waiting to be savored. And of course, whales to keep us company on the way.

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