Black Bears

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.20150812 9869 anan bear 2 rMost 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. 20150812 9873 black bear face 2 rClose!  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.  20150812 10026 anan bear with blaze rAfter 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.20150812 9895 anan bear wide rIt 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.20150812 10059 anan gumming fish rThere 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.20150812 10167 anan impatient bear rDo we ever tire of watching bears fishing and doing other bear-ish things?  No way.20150812 10109 anan bear waiting for fish r20150812 10245 anan bear with fish r20150812 10200 anan face rEventually 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.

You Never Know What to Expect

We heard about a couple who are kayaking from Vancouver Island in British Columbia all the way to Skagway, Alaska – what an ambitious adventure! – and they were reported to be near Petersburg.  There was a bit of a scare since a two-person kayak was found washed up on a nearby beach, so the State Trooper headed out in his boat to try and find them.  Fortunately the kayaking couple was discovered safe and sound, though the Trooper advised them to get some brightly colored gear to help with visibility.  The beached boat found its proper owner, so it was a happy ending all around.  One member of the kayaking couple is a professional violinist, and she’s giving impromptu concerts in some of the small communities she encounters along the way.  The word went out on the radio station and on bulletin boards, and we thought we’d see what a paddling violinist sounds like.20150807 0239 violin concert RESIZEWell, we were absolutely BLOWN AWAY by the talent and passion of this lovely German gal.  She left us breathless with her performance of classical pieces as well as with some contemporary improvisations, then a few tunes on a borrowed guitar.  What an unexpected, fabulous performance.

We finally cast off the lines with friends Mary and Bill aboard, heading south down Wrangell Narrows.  Keeping with the theme of “you never know what to expect”, we left under glorious sunshine and blue skies, but as we turned the corner we were socked in by fog.  It never really burned off – it just came and went, thick and thin, as we cruised.20150807 9637 wrangell narrows fog and sun 2 rThe fog finally lifted and we arrived in Wrangell to check out their excellent museum and to explore the petroglyph beach.  One of the gals in the museum suggested a nice hike to Rainbow Falls, so we spent some time enjoying the forest and all the little details that make a walk in the woods so enjoyable.  20150808 9716 tiny forest mushrooms rThe trail led to view of Rainbow Falls at one spot, and a viewing platform overlooking the top of the falls farther along.  This late in the season after a mild winter meant that the falls weren’t roaring as much as they could be, but it was a great hike regardless.20150808 9746 rainbow falls trail rBack in town we checked out the small Totem Park, noticing frogs and beavers among the totemic symbols which we don’t usually see in totems farther north.20150808 9681 wrangell totem beaver frog r20150808 9677 wrangell totem park rAfter enjoying excellent burgers at the Stikine Inn, we took our tired feet to the Petroglyph Beach to see how many we could find.  Once we spotted the first one it was easier to recognize others, many of which have been faded considerably by time and tide.20150809 9792 petroglyph raven face r20150809 9795 petroglyph two face rIt looks like the petroglyphs were made at different times, and it’s fun to imagine the people who carved them and to guess at the messages they represent.20150809 9822 petroglyph spiral rWe didn’t find all 40 petroglyphs, but we did find quite a few.  Some were so faint it was hard to tell what they were anymore, but it was a neat place to explore and hopefully we can find more in other places around Southeast.  As we walked the beach we saw the Alaska State Ferry departing.  The ferry is also known as the Alaska Marine Highway since it connects the many isolated and island-based communities together.  Remember, every car that exists on these island communities got here either on the ferry or the barge.20150809 9815 wrangell state ferry r