This is a re-post from a year ago. We were fresh back from our trip to Alaska and in the midst of chronicling our experiences. Consult this handy reference for definitions of “cheechako,” “Outsider” and others.
I think it’s safe to say when we arrived in Alaska, we expected it to be teeming with wildlife and photography opportunities from the get-go. Initially, one of us looked upon this prospect with more favor than the other, as you will see. You’ll also see that my husband’s regard for me is tempered with the most basic reality. 🙂
Flush from the previous day’s festival atmosphere in downtown Anchorage, we pick up our car in the morning and decide to venture. The concept of urban wilderness isn’t entirely alien to Minnesota-dwelling Outsiders. However, given the non-homo sapiens population statistics kindly provided by the ADN, I find myself wondering if Bear Insurance would be part of the well-prepared cheechako’s travel kit. We have none.
Following Claudia’s example from yesterday, I look to the mountains and orient our rented conveyance (totally indicative of GM’s performance issues with today’s consumer) on the map. The Chugach Range cradles Anchorage against the mouth of the Cook Inlet, and I see Eagle River to the northeast of the city. Remembering that a high school friend had made this town her home after graduation, I am curious. We have also seen recent video of a moose kill as it happened outside an Eagle River resident’s bedroom window and as far as we know the bear perp is still at large. I start to feel like a nervous city slicker, but say nothing. Pete has come to shoot critter photos, after all.
We pull into the Eagle River Nature Center, following the Iditarod Trail without realizing. The lot is full, people are ready to hike and everyone’s dog is wearing a bear bell. The theory is, if the bear hears you coming, the bear will avoid you. Except if you threaten her cub(s) in some way, which evidently you are able to do by just being there. Huh. I wonder if dog tastes better than human to a bear. If so, does the bear bell signal dinnertime to a hungry bear?
We take a look at taxidermy in the headquarters, and I am not reassured. Brown bears, in particular, are gigan huge enormous. You’re supposed to make noise with a black bear and stand completely still with a brown bear and you will survive either encounter! I’m thinking this root theorem is what’s commonly known in Alaska as bullchitna. Is it that the brown bear’s attention span isn’t long and it will become disinterested in you? Could you get away with uncontrollable shivering or other potentially embarrassing bodily functions if you stand your ground? Inquiring minds want to know. Not. In. Person.
We decide we will defer lunch (another food group that is attractive to bears) until our return from the hiking trail. Out we set, Pete’s tripod clanking and me with a gimpy leg from a recent fall off my bike Outside before our trip. I think, “No wonder he doesn’t seem worried! He is able to out-run me!” The trail we select is an easy loop, less than a mile. Thank you, loving husband. It is punctuated with viewing platforms from which Pete hopes to get some photos of wildlife. Bette Midler singing “From a Distance” reverberates through my head.
We find ourselves not alone. It would seem we are accompanied by the entire population (human) of Eagle River. There are children and dogs galore, whooping, jingling, pooping and mingling. Everyone’s happy vocalizations ensure the absence of any and all critters who might be willing to have their photo taken. Even the song of the birds is stilled. While Pete is irritated, the black bear theory at least is definitely proven.
We tailgate our lunch from the cooler in the parking lot and decide we need a location less traveled for the rest of our day. The Eklutna Lake Trail is the ticket. Easy to navigate, check. Glaciers, check. Mountain view, check. Lakeside vistas, check. Only ten miles in from the main road, check. Happily, Pete gets this photo of a bush pilot swooping his little floatplane through the valley of the lake. We have authenticated our day in the wild with a quintessential Alaskan image!
Summary for our Chugach experience: no wild critter sightings with the exception of what might have been a bear’s butt as we came round a bend on the way home.
And even then, cheechakos can’t be sure.
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Barbara Swafford says
Somehow I missed this post of yours so I’m thrilled you’ve brought it back to the surface. Reading about the Chugach Mountain Range brought many memories of Alaska to the surface. And Eagle River…the last time we were there that’s where we watched one of our grandsons play hockey.
Alaska sure fills us with good memories, eh?
Very interesting. You might enjoy the novels of Dana Stabenow, who writes mysteries with a main character who is a Native American woman living alone in a cabin and shooting her own meat. I learned about cheechakos and many other things, including bears and moose, from reading her stuff. I hope you eventually saw some native animals.
.-= Dot´s last blog ..Comment on Summer Joys by Dot =-.
Betsy Wuebker says
Hi Barbara – I’m so glad you enjoyed this. This was our first full day in wilder places than downtown Anchorage and I needed to get a handle on my fears. By the time we got to Denali, I was more ready – and less exposed. LOL! Yes, Alaska is full of good memories. Thank you.
Hi Dot – Thank you for the book recommendation. I will have to check it out! I am not sure if you saw our post on Ada Blackjack, a native woman who was on an explorer’s expedition and was the only survivor. I was just fascinated by the book: https://passingthru.com/2008/09/survivor/ It covers a lot of the same topics as Stabenow’s appear to, except this is a true story.
Oh yes, we were treated to marvelous glimpses of wildlife: moose, grizzly, enormous black bear on Kenai, salmon, bird life, Dahl sheep, Arctic fox, hare, eagles. I will post a couple additional entries from back then. On this day, we were just anxious and wet behind the ears. 🙂 Thanks.
Great that you reposted this indeed! I love the photos and it is always great to share in others experiences, and here too learn a little about Alaska.
I joke sometime to my husband about a trip to Alaska, and I say joke because as captivated as I am by the land and nature there, we are both warm loving people, ie. the tropics suit us perfectly 🙂 So I get to visit Alaska through others!!!
.-= Evita´s last blog ..Book Review: Conversations With God =-.
Once again lovely pictures and storytelling of an adventure, and one I missed the first time around – Thank you for sharing it again.
I love pictures that bring back the feelings of the experience.
I have one daughter working in Glacier Bay for another week and she just took a group kayaking, camping and apparently on the bear encounter excursion! They are all back safe and sound and soon she will be headed for Michigan on her last round of IS school.
Good post – it was nice to drop by and enjoy the journey Thank you
.-= Patricia´s last blog ..Welsh Men Are Born to Sing =-.
Hi Betsy. Enjoyed the reading AND the pictures. I’m a warm weather person and yet I still feel compelled to visit Alaska. If I had to choose between a drive down the coast towards California and a drive north to Alaska, I’d go north. The rugged and the remote appeal to me, that’s for sure.
.-= Davina´s last blog ..Laziness is Like What? =-.
Betsy Wuebker says
Hi Evita – Alaska was pretty warm in August – 60’s and even 70’s during the day. Definitely temperate enough for a visit. I’m glad you enjoyed this post. It doesn’t seem as though a year has gone by for us, but sadly, it has. Thank you.
Hi Patricia – Wow, we have another friend whose daughter finished up working the salmon run this summer. I wonder had I been adventurous enough during the pipeline days when I was a student to land a job what that would have been like! Thank you, glad you enjoyed this one.
Hi Davina – You are right at the gateway to Alaska, so no more excuses! 🙂 You could hop a boat right in Vancouver and go up the Inside Passage. I am still wanting to do that. Thanks.
Hi Betsy – that all sounds pretty scary to me! What if you can’t tell the difference between a black bear and a brown bear? Gulp! At least over here we only have to worry about snakes, spiders, scorpions, crocodiles, sharks, great, big mosquitoes and kangaroos (kangaroos have been attacking people lately, because of the drought).
.-= Robin´s last blog ..Birds Returning, Returning Birds =-.
Jannie Funster says
I felt sorry for the mother moose. So sad. 🙁
And please, Lord, let me be able to tell the difference between a black and a brown bear if and when I ever have to. Thank you.
.-= Jannie Funster´s last blog ..Post-Vacation Contemplation =-.
Betsy Wuebker says
Hi Robin – I know what you mean! Black, brown – it’s a BEAR for god’s sake! But wait . . . crocodiles, snakes and kangaroos?! Oh, my! I did hear ‘roos can be quite nasty and very strong. Thank you.
Hi Jannie – Interestingly, the grizzlies (brown) are even different colors. The Kodiak and Kenai grizzlies are darker and the Denali grizzlies are blondes. Our driver said it had to do with their diet. The island bears eat more fish. The grizzlies we saw in Denali were eating fresh kill. A well-fed bear is what I’d rather encounter. Then perhaps he wouldn’t want to feast on me. Thanks.
Cath Lawson says
Hi Betsy – I also want to do that inside passage trip from Vancouver.
I think I would die of fright if I saw a bear though. It would be lovely to see one from a distance but I read about these bear attacks and it terrifies me. Alaska seems to get the worst of them.
.-= Cath Lawson´s last blog ..Is Your Name Letting You Down? =-.
Betsy Wuebker says
Hi Cath – I’ve heard regular cruisers say the Inside Passage is their most memorable cruise.
And I’m with you. When we were driving in Kenai a big ole black bear was bounding along in front of us at roadside. I prayed he wouldn’t suddenly try to cross in front of us. Thanks.
Jannie Funster says
You ever watch Grizzly Adams? I think that was a well-fed bear but I’m not sure if he was a Kodiak, Kenai or Denali. He was well paid too, I bet. Had his own trailer. And masseuse.
.-= Jannie Funster´s last blog ..Viral Mirth =-.
Betsy Wuebker says
Hi again, Jannie – Yeah, we used to watch that all the time. All I care about bears is whether they’ve had enough to eat before we’re acquainted. I’ll bet he was! Thanks.