A note about this post, which describes several bear encounters we had during our 2017 trip to Brooks Camp, Alaska: I published a shorter version about a year ago. Since then, I’ve contemplated doing some freelance writing, so I took an online writing course. I removed the post from our blog and used it as my submission, and, with some helpful feedback from the instructor, I fleshed out the article, creating something that might encapsulate the Brooks Camp experience for the average newspaper or magazine reader. In the end, the instructor felt it was ready for submission and gave me the contact info for several publications that I could submit it to…but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t give away ownership of a piece that I love so much, a piece that describes my favorite Katmai experience. So here it is, rewritten and with A SECOND bathroom-related bear encounter for your enjoyment!
We watched through the windows as four bears, a mother and cubs,strolled up the path.These were Alaskan coastal brown bears, one of the largest land carnivores in the world, and Dale and I had just ducked into the bathrooms to avoid them.
Like most visitors, Dale and I took a floatplane to Brooks Camp, which is in Katmai National Park and can only be reached by air or water.
Dale had been on a floatplane before, but this was my first time on such a unique form of transport, and it was very, very cool. When the experience starts out with a photo-op like this, it’s gotta be great, right?
This boat tour, which was seven hours round-trip from Homer to Seldovia and back, took us across Kachemak Bay, an incredibly rich habitat that supports many wildlife species, from sea birds to sea otters, seals, and porpoise as well as whales. And the view—of the glacier-carved Kenai Mountains—is spectacular.
From the parking lot outside of the Alaska SeaLife Center, one can hear a variety of sounds; the sea birds screech and call, and the sea lions, if they’re outside, bark raucously. Eagles, which often perch on posts outside the center, may add their plaintive call to the din.
All manner of sea creatures have found a home in Seward’s SeaLife Center, and the cacophony outside the complex gives visitors a preview of what’s to come. We became members shortly after moving to Seward and have enjoyed frequent visits ever since, looking in on the residents and learning more about the amazing place in which we live. The SeaLife Center does important work, not only educating the public through the state’s only public aquarium but also undertaking marine research and wildlife rescue and rehabilitation.
“Point, you’re going to want to retreat; Point, you need to retreat.”
During the day, park rangers stood sentry at various places throughout Brooks Camp, monitoring bear activity and sharing details with one another via radio. We were on the Lower River Platform, and the ranger had his binoculars trained on a spot across the Brooks River known as the Point. He was letting his counterpart know that a bear was headed their way.
We stood on the Lower River Platform one afternoon and watched a family of bears for some time. The mama, a beautiful sow with blonde ears and a distinctive, upturned nose, occasionally lifted her head to check her surroundings and then returned to napping. One of her cubs lay beside her.
The other cub, however, had no intention of taking an afternoon nap.
Katmai National Park is known for its brown bears, but the origins of the park are centered around something entirely different—the volcano Novarupta, which erupted in 1912. It was the most powerful volcanic eruption of the 2oth century, and as part of our visit to Brooks Camp we took a tour to the site of the devastation, a place now known as the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.
It was September 9, and we were on the Brooks Falls Platform, where two Katmai Park Rangers, Dave and Becca, were broadcasting a “Play-by-Play” streaming video for the Bear Cams audience, with Becca narrating the activity. Dale and I were listening as well, hoping to learn a little more about Brooks Falls bears.