Monday, August 1, 2011
PHOTOGRAPHING ALASKA AND THE GRIZZLIES
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???