Sunday, February 5, 2017

ALASKA! BEAR WATCHING AT THE ANAN WILDLIFE OBSERVATORY

Our cruise ship docked at Ketchikan, our final Alaskan port and our last chance for another Alaskan Adventure. Of course, Bob couldn't just ride on a scenic train or take a tour of some ordinary place, not when there were more BEARS to be seen! And so we boarded a tiny four-seater float plane:

Up, up and away!



We headed to the Anan Creek Wildlife Observatory:

Like our flight the day before, the view of Alaska from above was stunning:
All of this land is part of Tongass National Forest. With 17 million acres (almost 27,000 square miles), it is the largest national forest in the United States--and I had never heard of it before this trip.
Map from Wikipedia

Our pilot freely expressed his views about how ridiculous the government restrictions on logging are in this area. He pointed out the density of the forests and rattled off some stats to prove his point:

There did seem to be plenty of trees:


We also saw some areas that appeared to have been stripped to some degree, although whether it was because of logging or something else we couldn't tell:

Our pilot dropped us off in Anan Bay, an area accessible only by float plane or boat. He flew off to pick up some other fares while we tried to avoid being the main course at the Bear Family Table.

We checked in with the ranger, who gave us strict instructions to stay on the half-mile-long boardwalk winding through the forest and leading to the bear viewing area.

Ummm . . . no thank you:

 Most of Tongass National Park is a temperate rain forest:

We were alone on the boardwalk, and I kept nervously scanning the forest for wildlife that might want to eat us:

Is that . . . bear poop?

 WAIT, BOB! DON'T LEAVE ME BEHIND!


Whew. We finally made it to Anan Creek, where the observatory is located.

Anan Creek has one of the largest salmon runs in southeast Alaska, and where there are salmon, there are bears, and where there are bears, there are bound to be tourists/photographers. Such was the case at the Anan Creek Observatory, a wooden platform built above the water that allowed for close-up (and relatively safe) views of bears catching salmon in the river. 
We were there on a drizzly day, and the shelter on the deck provided occasional respite from the rain:

It didn't take long to figure out that when a bunch of people moved to one side of the deck, there were bears below.  

In a few places, the deck was not that far above the ground, and a green line showed us how far back from the railing we should be standing should a bear appear on the other side:
We saw our first black bear almost immediately. He/She (How can you tell?) was skulking around below us, looking for dinner:




Then there was another bear in a different spot, then another and another:




The bears paid no mind to us. I don't know if that was because they weren't aware of our presence, perched as we were on the balcony above. The water made quite a bit of noise, and the people on deck spoke very quietly. Or perhaps the bears knew we were there and didn't care, having grown accustomed to being watched. Or maybe it was all a trick and they were sneaking up behind us . . . 

At one end of the observation deck, stairs led down to a blind situated at the creek's edge. Since it was a relatively cramped space, we signed up for 15-minute slots of viewing time:
 


We got a different perspective from down below:


From this angle we could actually see the salmon in the water:

Of course, so could the bears:



I can't imagine catching a salmon with my hands, much less my teeth as the bears do. We saw several successful catches:




This must have been a mama bear. Rather than sit down for a snack, she hauled her catch up to a dark cave in the rocks where she probably had a cub or two waiting for her to return from work:


After a while, we returned to the upper deck. This time we saw bears from the side of the deck that was marked with tape. The bears were on OUR side of the river here.

I love the swirling water that gives these next few photos a Vincent Van Gogh background:



Darn. Missed it.




A different bear decided to give the same area a try:

This one was either more skilled or just plain lucky:


According to the order of my photos, this is a third bear in roughly the same location:

She seemed to be more interested in posing for the photographers than in diving into the frigid water:


After a few hours of viewing, we had to make our way back to the bay. Otherwise, we'd either be camping in the observatory or attempting a really long walk back to Ketchikan:

On our walk back to the bay, we saw an immature bald eagle perched on a limb, his strong neck curved and his shoulders hunched as he scanned the ground, his sharp talons ready to pluck dinner from below. I tried to look as big as possible.

I don't know if I'll ever have another experience quite like this dream-like, ephemeral one at Anan Observatory.

The human world was almost shocking in its contrast to what we had seen just an hour before.  The last cruise ship in this video was ours--so huge and foreign to the ancient world we had just left:


It's amazing that the two worlds co-exist so close to each other.

See you later, Ketchikan!

2 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness! What a fun experience! The scenery alone would have been worth the trip; the bears were icing on the cake. Or fudge on the ice cream. I wonder how many tourists have been eaten over the years when they crossed the line.

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  2. A definite highlight.This is a place I would go back to without much coaxing.

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