Thursday, August 8, 2013

Camping With the Bears at Katmai National Park - August 3-5, 2013... Part 2!

Katmai National Park wasn't actually set aside because of the bears. It was set aside because of the great eruption of the Novarupta volcano back in 1912 that covered the valley floor with 500 feet of ash. That's yet another statistic that I can't really comprehend... 500 FEET of ash. This ash covered all the rivers and lakes in the valley, and subsequently the heated water caused steam fizzures to form through the ash. It looked like 10,000 steam engines were in the valley, and became known as the "Valley of 10,000 Smokes". A haze from this eruption darkened the sky over most of the northern hemisphere. People in "nearby" Kodiak were being evacuated a couple days after the eruption began and couldn't see their hand in front of their face even with a lantern lit because it was so dark. I can't even imagine!

They offer a bus trip into this valley, where you can hike down further into the valley to get up close to the ash and other features. It was even more interesting than I expected!

On our drive out there, we stopped a few times along the way to get off the bus and see some different scenery. At this stop, we saw that a bear had recently been here rubbing on this tree... see the fur?

The road to the Valley of 10,000 Smokes

We had a couple water crossings... this is one of them.

We haven't even gotten there yet and the scenery is beautiful. You can see a tiny bit of the ash in the valley though!

The fireweed was so plentiful it made the hillside PINK! So pretty!

 Zoomed in version of the photo above...

A better view of the Valley... rivers have begun to carve through the ash again, but not all the way to the bottom yet.

Our ride...

On our hike, we got much much closer to the ash and even lava (well, cooled/hardened lava)! Surreal!

Mountains of ash!

The ash has been weathered by rain, wind, etc... of course I love to look at the detail in this!

This river... we could hear it from a ways off. Check out the videos below the photo... I'd hate to get caught in that water! We couldn't even hear each other talking when we were near it it was so loud!

This is downstream of the previous video... at the falls. Again... I wouldn't want to get caught in that tumultuous water!

Then very quickly after the falls, the river calms down quite a bit.

Continuing on with our hike... that's most of the rest of our group. Of course I was taking up the rear!

The confluence... there are actually 3 different rivers joining together here. It felt like we were on a different planet. So strange... and awesome!

Some pumice...

This is one of my favorite scenic shots of the trip. That fireweed was just beautiful lining the road!

One last scenic shot on our way back to Brooks Camp. This area was fogged in when we stopped there in the morning, so we decided to stop on the way back to see if we could see more.

Going on this day trip is highly recommended if you're going to Katmai. It means you really need to spend a whole day there (in other words, stay 2 nights), but it is 100% worth it! 'Til next time...

Camping With the Bears at Katmai National Park - August 3-5, 2013... Part 1!

Just one day after I was on a float plane for the first time, I flew on one for the second time! It was a fairly spur-of-the-moment idea, but that's the way some of the best ideas are, right? We decided to tent camp there since it was SO much cheaper and there likely weren't any rooms left at the lodge anyway. It took some persistence to get a campsite for both nights, but we did it and it was a great adventure. Before I even start adding photos (and videos) to this post, I can tell you that it won't be a short one. It was an action-packed and scenery-packed couple of days!

We flew into King Salmon, then from King Salmon to Brooks Camp Seaplane Base. It was a beautiful flight under the clouds (it was lightly raining in King Salmon)! We flew along the Naknek River to Naknek Lake, and the water was so clear!

Our plane that will get us to Brooks Camp.

Before we take off from King Salmon...

We're off! Such pretty scenery!!

A couple videos of our flight...

Arriving at Brooks Camp...

This sign must have been photographed millions of times... it's right there on the beach as you get off the plane.

The lodge dining hall... complete with an awesome fire ring that we sat around more than once!

This place is awesome. Completely off the road system, with no cell phone service. I quickly noticed that people were actually enjoying where we were. The only "screens" I saw were when people were taking photos or later looking at their photos from the day each evening. It was really few and far between though! It was great to leave all those distractions and truly appreciate just where we were. I was in my element in this environment!

Here's just a little taste of the relaxing atmosphere (when planes weren't coming and going, at least):

After we got in and went through "Bear School", we went to the campground and set up our home away from home. For those that are thinking, "you're tent camping in Katmai with all those bears around? Are you crazy??", the campground is surrounded by an electric fence and they are VERY particular about where visitors can have food, drinks, and other scented things. We were just fine!

We could set up our tent anywhere within the electric fence area... there weren't designated tent sites. We decided to pick this great spot right among the fireweed. The tag on our tent said that we paid for our spot, so don't kick us out! :)

A closer view of that tag...

A wider view of the camping area... the yellow dome nearest the path toward the back is our tent.

And an even wider view, complete with the food cache building. I'm glad we decided to camp... it was quite comfortable!

We did a cultural walk the afternoon after we arrived. This area was inhabited by people several different times in fairly recent history. This is a replica of a typical home here at one point. 

Just a pretty view as we were walking back to the campground...

An American Three-Toed Woodpecker. Another first for me!

The shore of Naknek Lake

The view along the way to the Brooks River and Brooks Falls (where the bears tend to be)

We went to check out the lower and upper platforms to see if there were any bears around. August is a lull in bear activity around Brooks Camp as many of the bears go to the coast to find fish. There are some bears that remain around Brooks Falls, so we didn't miss out completely. 

The view of Brooks Falls from the lower platform

This bear was actively fishing while we were there... it was neat to watch!

I was slightly late pressing the shutter button, but this bear pounced on fish multiple times.

This bear was being more selective about what fish he/she would try to catch, by looking around under water. Interesting watching the different fishing techniques!

This area is called the jacuzzi. It looked like you could get a nice massage in there!

This fisherman wasn't paying attention like I'm sure he was told, but he got lucky. Even though the bear clearly sees him here, he ended up turning around and walking back toward the falls. I don't think the fisherman ever knew the bear was there.

I don't know how these bears can stand at the edge of the falls like this... it's got to be slippery as the water is rushing past! Impressive.

This was our view of the falls from the upper platform. I can't zoom in on my camera, so you'll have to look carefully toward the far side of the falls to see the bear. If you don't see it right away, you should see it start to move toward the falls around 8 or 9 seconds in. You can even see a few drops of rain fall.

We went back to the falls the next day and got lucky again seeing another bear. We were told by some people we passed on the way there that a bear was taking a nap on the shore. By the time we got there though, he/she was up and moving around again. I didn't go quite as crazy taking so many photos this time, partially because the bear kept going off into the thick brush at times. This bear, however, did catch a fish, so there was that!

As soon as he caught it, he took it right over to the side to eat. I think I read that they can eat up to 15 salmon a day during the peak of the salmon run... can you imagine?!

The gulls were right there waiting for the bear to finish his meal so they could get their share of the leftovers.

I did spend some time trying to get photos of the salmon jumping the falls on this day. The salmon are trying to get back... well, not TRYING... they are GOING back to where they hatched so that they can lay eggs for future salmon generations. After they lay their eggs (burying them in the pebbles at the bottom of the river), the adult salmon will eventually die. Because there are so many salmon jumping the falls here to get back to where they hatched, it's a great place for the bears to catch salmon. And the fact that the fish are JUMPING up the falls makes it that much more spectacular to watch! So here are a few of the salmon jumping photos I was able to get that day...

We could have gone back to the falls one last time the morning we were leaving, but they caution everyone that it's a very real possibility that you'll get stuck on the wrong side of the various gates they have set up to keep the bears away from people. The bears have right of way, so if they decide to be in an area of a path/walkway, the park rangers will close off that section until the bear leaves. We decided that we didn't want to take that chance and possibly miss our flight. 

I admit I wasn't ready to leave Katmai when we left, but having 2 nights and 3 (sorta) days was a good amount of time to be there. We actually met several people that we kept seeing along the way while we were there, so it was neat to get to know some of them. There was a couple from Australia visiting, for one! Anyway, I had some fun getting video of our planes coming into Brooks Camp... dropping off passengers before picking us up. It's neat how they just come right up to the shore and then someone pulls it a bit more on shore and sets up a gang plank for the passengers to walk to dry land. 

On our flight back to King Salmon, we had more beautiful scenery. It was a great trip, and I can't wait to go back!

The last video I'll leave you with (for this post) is us landing at King Salmon. Have I mentioned this was an awesome trip?! I'm finding that at least of the more costly things I've done in Alaska, they're all well worth the money. That may not be true across the board, but it makes it easier to shell out the money when you get an experience of a lifetime for it!

There was one more part of this trip that I didn't cover here because this post is long enough already, but that'll be in "Part 2". That is... our trip to the Valley of 10,000 Smokes! Don't miss it... it's no less amazing that all of this here! 'Til next time...