Monday, August 1, 2011


A few years ago, Phyllis and I had the opportunity to photograph Alaska and the grizzlies that live there. This is still one of our top two or three trips we have ever taken. We rented an RV for our first and at this point, only time in an RV. If you want to really visit Alaska, I would recommend an RV. Doing so allows you to visit different areas and in Alaska. You can park RVs overnight pretty much anywhere, which allows you to be at one place at both sunset and sunrise. It is also really a lot of fun!!! 

Alaska is called the last frontier for good reason; it's a place of undeveloped wilderness, immense vistas and amazing wildlife. It's a huge state! iI you could imagine Alaska positioned over the lower 48 states, it would stretch from the Atlantic Ocean across the continent to the Pacific Ocean! 

Alaska is a place that in the summer (when we visited) has long days and very short nights. When we were there, sunset was at midnight and sunrise about four to five hours later! This image was taken in Homer, Alaska, along the harbor around 11PM. All the light is natural and this is truly what it looked like.

We visited different areas of the state. Our plane landed in Anchorage and after we picked up our RV, we started driving to Denali State Park. Denali is a nature preserve and spans 9,432 square miles. The most famous attraction is Mount McKinley or as it is called in Alaska, Denali. Denali, which means, 'the high one'
is 20,320 feet above sea level making it the highest peak in North America. It is a wonderful sight to see, looming high above the vista, looking like a great guard protecting the inhabitants of the park.

We spent a day in Denali riding the tour bus which is a good way of seeing the park but it does not offer you an opportunity to photograph wildlife. You can leave the bus and hike the park alone if you wish, maybe getting really up close and personal with the grizlies. We stayed with the bus!!!. We were allowed out at a few points to use the restrooms and at one point just to view the road ahead. This is that view.

I think this view really gives a great idea of just how large and undeveloped Denali is. Keep in mind that this is only a small part of the park.

Our next stop was Homer, Alaska. (This post and the next one will have images of this area). Homer is a city located in the Kenai Peninsula. When we visited in the summer of 2007, the census bureau estimated the population was 5,364. Its most distinguishing feature is the Homer Spit, a narrow 4.5 mile long gravel bar that extends into the bay on which is located the Homer Harbor. We stayed on the spit in an RV park called the Lantern.

I saw a few bumper stickers that proclaimed, 'Homer - a quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem!!!' I really liked Homer! We knew we were in Alaska when we parked our RV at the Lantern, climbed out, looked up at a light post and saw this!

An American Bald Eagle was perched on the very top of one of the lights in the park. We only saw a few eagles during our stay but in the winter, Homer is loaded with them. Now, Homer might be a small village but just like the rest of the USA, it does have its strip malls although a little different than other places. We found this one a block down from our RV park.

It was at this strip mall that we signed in for our most memorable part of our Alaska trip, a guided tour viewing grizzlies in the wild. We were told we might be as close as ten feet from a grizzly and would be going with a husband and wife team, Chris and Ken Day. We asked if either one would carry a gun, not an unreasonable question, we thought!!! We were told, "Oh no, we would never do anything to hurt the bears." Huh? 

A grizzly can weigh between 300 to 900 lbs. A few years before, a so called expert named Tim Treadwell and his girlfriend were attacked and eaten. We were told that he was a little crazy and a bad example of how to deal with the bears. He didn't respect them and treated them like pets. I have seen a video where he is petting a large older bear. It is believed that this same bear is the one who attacked them. 

Chris told us that they were the first to offer the tours and that in twenty years they have never had a problem with the bears. We signed up and were told to meet them at there house the next morning. We arrived and met the rest of the people who signed up, about eight in total. We were given boots to wear and taken out back to their seaplane, a ten seater prop plane. Here is the plane, a DeHavilland Otter and our pilot Ken!

At this point Phyllis wasn't worried about the bears anymore, she was more worried that we would not make it to the island! Have I ever mentioned that Phyllis is not crazy about flying on the large commercial planes. When she saw this, I am guessing she was seriously reconsidering this whole marriage thing lol!

We loaded into the plane and after a few minutes of instructions, took off. The plane held eight in the passenger area and two, including the pilot, up front. I sat in the back and this was my view. That is the back of Phyllis' head, on the right. If this was video, you would be able to see her head shaking in the recognized NO, what the hell am I doing, motion!!

As we approached Kodiak Island, I took this image out the window.

A very desolate island is where we would find the grizzlies. We landed in a pond about the size of the one in the picture, a great landing by a very experienced pilot.

We climbed out of the plane and started our hike on the tundra, single file. We were told we would be hiking in about a mile. As we  hiked, I scanned the tundra looking at this desolate beauty, so much green land with brown scattered throughout it. A few rocks littered the vista but mostly flat land was in front of us on the trail. 

I noticed a little brown mound about a quarter mile ahead and a few mountains in the background. Then I noticed that the little brown mound was moving and as we got closer, I could see a head. It was our first grizzly sighting!

Naturally, we kept walking towards it????? At one point we were about fifty yards from it. It just continued laying there but did not stop looking at us till we were beyond it. We hiked on, heading towards a river that Chris and Ken knew we could view the bears. 

On our next blog, I will have lots of images of the bears including one that charged in my direction coming to within twenty feet. 
Join us to see these great creatures in their natural environment. Besides, you do want to see if I survived, don't you???


Anonymous said...

Wow, Jim:
So exciting. Being a photographer myself, it would by AMAZING to be in Alaska. The ONLY challenge I'd have is NOT knowing where to look next.

Can't wait to see more of your photos from the trip.

Debbie said...

I've always wanted to go to Alaska and after reading your story and seeing your photos,it's definitely made me want to go even more.

When I saw the bear (that appeared to be wet)I was thinking "wow, jim you got a little close didn't you" silly me forgetting "zoom lens" but then I read the part where you said the bear charged you. See I knew you were close! Nice enticing story and the pictures are the icing on the cake ..

Thanks again for sharing Jim
:) Deb

Ann said...

We went to Alaska to celebrate my 60th birthday--and I'd love to go back--should have gone for longer the 1st time! We only saw one bear--it was up a tree when we were at Mendenhall Glacier!

Anonymous said...

The photo of the harbour and of the bear cose up are amazing. I so want to go to Alaska now.

Bec Owen said...

What a stunning place! Like other readers, I really want to visit Alaska, now!

I love reading the stories of your photography travels almost as much as I enjoy seeing your beautiful photos, Jim.

Thank you for another wonderful adventure. (P.S. Can hardly wait for the next installment!)

SJ said...

I love that there's a little bit of everything here, adventure, wildlife, travel and a story to boot. Adore the harbour shot but my favourite has to be the bald eagle. I know those bears aren't pets, still you were brave to get that up close and personal with one. I'm taking it you survived otherwise you're a true 'ghost' writer :) Fabulous post.

Mari Sterling Wilbur said...

My family and I visited Alaska way back in the mid-60s. From looking at your stunning photos, what amazes me is how little it has changed. My favorite photos in this series is the close-up of the bear. He sure looks intent on something - like dinner!!!! Can't wait to see the rest of your images.

Sea Green Natural said...

I can't wait for part 2. Wonderful, wonderful lighting.
Amazing! Oh, glad you had your boots on. LOL!

melissa said...

I feel a part of this great adventure in Alaska especially that plane ride. I loved how all the images were captured. You never rest, do you? :P... There's always a great scenery to shoot...something interesting like the grizzlies... etc.

I liked the first image in particular... great composition. I also liked the blue sky in the other photos...they are very striking images...

I like the bear lying on the grass...

You reminded me of the elk...aren't bears more dangerous? I saw them featured in National Geographic...Am looking forward to your next posts.

Loved Alaska through your post:)

Alpana Jaiswal said...

A treat for the eyes..I forgive you for disappearing Jim..its worth the wait..its too good,I wish to see this also..someday.

Jim said...

Wow great! Keep us spellbound JIM! Nice to know the grizzlies are left alone. Sadly wildlife in Africa is under so much pressure from human encroachment on the wild lands as they push cattle further in .

Jim said...

PS>Alaska for us was 12 years ago, but limited time to see all this so we'll be reading every word.

AleR said...

Great story and perfect shots!

Rimly said...

What an exciting experience. Loved those shots of the mountains. Never seen a bear wild, only in captivity.

sulekkha said...

It's my dream to go to Alaska someday, thanks for showing it to me. I will make the trip too, though I am petrified of flying in small planes too. Lovely pictures as always Jim and Phyllis.

Nelieta said...

Jim what an amazing experience! Alaska has been in my bucket list fro some years now. I hope I will get an opportunity one day to go there. A couple of months ago I watched the movie "Into the Wild" and was astounded by the beauty of Alaska. Your photos are absolutely amazing! Thank you so much for sharing this adventure with us!

Anonymous said...

wow..looks at the mountains ..stunning pics jim .

AJ said...

What breathtaking vistas. My family has been planning an Alaskan cruise for ages. I hope it happens soon.

Jan said...

Absolutely gorgeous, I love these photos, can't wait to see the rest f the trip. Marvelous work.