Today was Neil’s trip to Katmai National Park for bear watching…but more on that in a bit.
First off…let’s talk about those Kilcher’s from the Alaska The Last Frontier reality show. Now if any of you have watched it…they sort of imply that the extended family lives on a cattle ranch in Kachemak Bay and that they only rarely get to town and have few to no what most people would call “modern conveniences”. Connie was actually concerned last season for the pregnant one since Connie thought that she would have to give birth on the open range with only family members to help. The family owns a boat that…again mostly implied…is used for getting all of whatever they need from civilization up to their remote compound.
Well…I gotta tell ya…like most of Hollywood…it’s completely, absolutely, 100% fake.
Turns out that the family lives 13 miles (by road) from Homer but is only 7 or 8 miles as the crow flies from the Homer spit…in fact except for careful camera placement on the show you could see the Homer spit from their boat landing beach.
And that whole ‘out in the middle of nowhere with no electricity’ image they project. Again…fake. When we drove out the ridge road yesterday to look around we get 13 miles up the road and sure enough we see Kilcher Road going off to the right toward the bay. Now I grant you…it was a dirt/gravel road…but then many of the highways up here are dirt or gravel so that’s nothing special. And as to that whole ‘off the grid’ lifestyle…well, here’s a picture of their road and what’s that I see going down the road to their little subdivision…why mercy me it appears to be a power line.
With that in mind we drove a few miles further out on the ridge road and here’s what we found: 4 miles further from town than Kilcher Road there’s a brand new middle school with power lines and everything. Two miles in from Kilcher Road we saw a Chinese takeout and delivery place, and a half mile or so from the road there’s a school bus stop. Now I grant you that maybe…just maybe…in the dead of winter they wouldn’t be able to drive up their road as it is fairly steep and dirt/gravel…but it’s only a half mile tops down to their compound as the bay keeps it from being much more than that…but it’s a private road and there’s plenty of space at the top to park a car or pickup and just take a snow machine or walk up the hill.
One other photo catchup from the other day…here’s a life size model of the Alaska State Bird we saw the other day at the Passage Glacier visitor center.
Today when Neil was at the airport at Homer Air for his flight to Katmai National Park…we were talking to the guys in there and they said that they see the Kilchers in town all the time…so much for being isolated.
I think that what they really are is people that want to live alone and be mostly self sufficient…and that like many people who live out of town in Alaska they get gas, diesel, and propane trucked in during the fall to last the winter. What they’re not is the rugged survivalists that they appear to be…Connie was disillusioned by that conclusion.
Ok…I also owe you some eagle pictures…here are few from both last night with somewhat poor light and a few more that Neil got today after returning from his flight to Katmai. This nest is about 250 yards from our site 75 in the RV Park…walk down to the bluff, down the bluff to the beach, and another 100 yards west to the nest tree.
Couple of shots of mom sitting above the nest and then one of dad sitting on a rock over at the edge of the bay.
Went back today and got a few more shots of mom and baby.
This is the larger of the two eaglets…it’s about 3x the size of the other one so eagles up here must lay eggs with more time between them than is typical down south…Ozzie usually lays her eggs on successive days so they hatch at approximately the same time but looking at these two chicks one is clearly weeks older than the other.
Momma sitting over the nest.
The larger of the two eaglets…the smaller one didn’t come up into view while Neil was down there.
On to Katmai. Day 31 (Wednesday July 29) Neil was scheduled to take the bear viewing flight…Connie wasn’t interested so Neil along with 4 other folks from the caravan…Joe and Mimi, Terri, and Sandy all met up at Joe and Mimi’s site 13 at 0715 and headed off to the airport. We got outfitted with our hip wader boots…which turned out to be totally necessary…and then loaded up the plane for the 120 or so mile flight southwest across the Cook Inlet to Katmai National Park. After landing on the beach we spent about 3-1/2 hours wandering around the grassland, beach, and river banks hunting bears and other wildlife. Was he successful? I’ll just let these photos speak for themselves…captions as needed.
A few shots from the air on the way down.
Standing by our landing strip…from left to right our pilot, Terri, Mimi, and Sandy from our group. Joe (Mimi’s other half) and I are up in the grass marking our territory.
First bear sighting on the ground…we had spotted a half dozen or so on the way in.This is a big boar about 125 yards away out on the tidal flats. Poor fella must be all tuckered out from digging clams. All bears in this post are coastal brown bears…which are exactly the same as grizzly bears except they’re bigger since they generally get more calories. Grizzlies and browns are identified via the longer snout than a black bear and the pronounced hump on the shoulder…extra muscle due to all the digging they do. Sows generally have shorter, dumpier legs than boars and are generally blonder where boars are more brownish.
We wandered into the grass behind where Neil was standing for the plane photo and walked away from the beach…ran into this sow who we walked up to about 50 yards away from…this is as close as people are allowed to approach the bears. How close the bear approaches people is entirely up to the bear and there aren’t any National Park Service rules on that one.
A couple of slightly closer views of the sow.
From there we turned south and went a half mile or so to the edge of the river…where we spotted this sow and a pair of cubs laying around…our guide/pilot thought they were third year cubs based on their size which means they’ll likely leave their mother at the end of this season.
After we saw the sow/cubs…we looked 90 degrees to the left looking downstream and spotted this large boar about 60 yards or so away…he was taking a nap as ya can see.
We perched ourselves on a little grass bank and kneeled down to see what might happen…our pilot thought that he would likely get up and look for some fish in the river shortly. Sure enough…after a bit he woke up and watched the river for a few minutes…it’s just out of sight to the right side of this photo.
Then he decided to get up an take a walk.
Got himself a nice drink of water, pooped (didn’t get a photo of that unfortunately).
Then continued his walk.
He continued walking…notice how he’s getting bigger in each of these series of photos over about 2 minutes.
He walked pretty close by us…despite the large size of his head…the lens was not zoomed in very much…
Walked right past us and set up slightly upstream to watch for fish awhile longer.
Just how close was he? In the photo below…the grassy bank to the left was where we were kneeling and the log right of center is the same log as in the earlier shot of him continuing his walk. From the grassy bank to the water is maybe 12 feet and he wasn’t in the water when he passed us…so easily under 10 feet was the distance to our group.
We walked around the other side and got another nice shot of him eyeing the river for fish…unsuccessfully as the tide wasn’t in enough for any fish to make it upstream yet…most of the river at this point was 12 inches or so deep…just not enough for fish to get into.
He eventually gave up and wandered out of frame to the left away from the river…got some nice bear butt pictures but didn’t bother posting those. We waded across the river and got a few closer shots of the sow and her cubs.
And verified that bears do…actually poop in the woods.
After passing the sow/cubs we turned downstream again and wandered almost out to the bay…when we spotted this fox coming down to the river.
He was thirsty do got himself a drink.
Then cagily sat on the side of the river carefully not looking at the ducks…obviously hoping they would come close enough for him to have lunch. No such luck however.
Eventually he gave up on the ducks and decided to wander down towards where we were standing…my guess is that he figured we might have some food for him.
This was from about 20 feet away…don’t know what kind of fox it is but it obviously hasn’t been eating very well so far this summer…pretty skinny.
At this point…the pilot said we were running out of runway (beach) as the tide was coming in so we needed to hurry back to the plane. It was a mile or so back…across the river which by this time was getting pretty deep…several of our tour members got pretty wet when the water came over the top of their waders. Once we got across the river…our pilot took off at a pretty quick pace for the plane…by the time we got back he was at least 400 yards in front of Terri and Neil…she had waders full of water and bad hips/knees so walking in the deep soft gravel on the heavily slanted beach was giving her trouble. Neil stayed back with her so she wouldn’t be all by herself…so much for the pilot’s instructions that we needed to stay together in bear country.
Getting back to the plane we quickly loaded up…had a pretty perfunctory pre-flight checkout and took off. Granted…the beach was narrower than it was when we landed but it was still 2 or 3 times the plane’s wingspan and while I’m not a pilot it looked like plenty of room to take off to me. Maybe it was closer to marginal than I thought though…the pilot’s the expert so we’ll defer to him although the one of us who was a pilot didn’t appear overly concerned about the lack of runway. Nonetheless…we got off safely and headed back to Homer. On the way we passed SomethingorOther Crater…which is a dead volcano that now contains a lake. The pilot said that on clear weather days they usually flew down inside the crater but continued on around the center cone…we figured that he didn’t think it was a clear weather day so was passing on it when…we banked steeply to the right and swooped down into the crater for some photos.
Another lake in the top of a mountain…along with some pretty deep snow on the cliff overlooking the river. Don’t know how deep but from flying over it I’m guessing the snowpack there is 60 or 80 feet deep at least…and I’m sure the water is quite nippy as well.
On the way back we had a much nicer flight weatherize…saw some whales in the sound but only briefly so got no photos. We also saw a raft of sea otters or seals…apparently the get together and hook arms into a floating raft to protect themselves from Orcas or killer whales…seems to me that would just do a great job of concentrating the food for the Orcas rather than provide protection…but hey, what do I know.
Day 32 (Thursday July 30) was devoted to our 170 mile transit from Homer back up the highway we were on the other day then heading off on the Seward Highway another 60 miles or so to Seward AK. We got there about 1230 and quickly got setup in site 508. Again…we’re in a very nice park…it’s the Seward City Public Campground right on the water…so we got some nice pictures after we arrived.
We got some very nice scenery today…with lots of great photos as the weather was beautiful all the way up. The only hard part was the initial climb out of Homer…it’s about 1,500 feet from the town up to the top of the bluff and the grade is 4 or 5 miles long. Steep but not too bad as hills in Alaska go…we just downshifted BAT to 4th gear instead of 6th gear, set the engine RPM on 2400 or so and cruised up at 45-47 mph until we got over the top.
Our first stop of the day was at Tern Lake…which is supposedly named for all the Arctic Terns one can see there. We didn’t see any terns at all but did spot a Loon and some waterfowl along with some very calm water so we could get one of those cool mountains reflecting in the lake photos.
Fireweed on the shores of Tern Lake. Fireweed is so named because it’s typically the first plant that regrows in an area that has been burned. It blooms in the summer and there are huge swaths of these beautiful pink flowers pretty much everywhere you go here in Alaska.
Red Throated Grebe (left) and immature Pie Billed Grebe’s (right).
Beautiful reflections on the calm Tern Lake.
Lilly Pad Lake…I wonder where it got it’s name from?
Couple of panos from spots along the road today.
This one is looking out across the water in Seward…about 30 yards downhill from our site is the shore with this sight…and equally impressive peaks behind us.
That’s about it for today…tomorrow we have a boat trip scheduled…Kenai Fjords Wildlife and Glacier Cruise. It’s an all day thing with both dinner and lunch included so hopefully we’ll get some nice pictures of glaciers calving or whales or other cool stuff. We’ll have to dress carefully to account for potential wet, windy, cold, or warm weather depending how lucky we get.