Sea Shells on the Sea Shore at Admiralty Island
My family and I went on an Alaska cruise this year to celebrate my dad's 85th birthday. The highlight excursion of the trip was my visit to Admiralty National Monument. As a nature photographer, I think we can all identify with that strong desire to photograph that iconic image - you know the one - 'that photo' of the grizzly bear eating the salmon out of the waterfall. The one I am looking for, of course, may also incorporate the iconic images of a flying eagle in the background with two other adult grizzlies high-fiving each other while a third juggles salmon heads in the background. Don't ask me why, let's just all agree that I have a very rich fantasy life. I also think that National Geographic might begin to take me seriously if I can get that juggling bear.
The trip to Admiralty Island was initially recommended by my sister-in-law as a 'must thing' to do when we reached Juneau Alaska. The cost of the trip to go to the Pack Creek Bear Viewing area was 699.00 per person
through the cruise ship. This meant that for my wife and I to go, this was going to cost approximately 1400 for a five hour viewing. It is important to note that the five hour viewing time does not actually guarantee any bear sightings. You are only afforded an opportunity to go and stand somewhere where there have been known sightings in the past. As my sister-in-law pointed out, the trip to the island, with all its amazing scenery is worth the experience all on its own, so as long as you go there..however, let's be honest...you want to see those sock-eye heads getting juggled.
Given the $1400 price tag, we initially demurred - as it was such an incredible extravagance. The 5 hour outing would almost be as expensive as the actual cruise. Fortunately, my sister-in-law is a super-smart egg and suggested that we look outside of the cruise line and make our own travel arrangements. Going directly to the National Parks website
, we were able to get passes to be on the island for $50 a person. They only had 6 available - and we purchased four of them. We were also able to rent a small plane directly for $750 in total. By doing it ourselves, we were able to book the entire trip for four people for $900.00 - still not small change - however it yielded a savings of approximately $2,700.00 over purchasing directly from the cruise line.
Plane to Admiralty Island
The flight from Juneau to Admiralty Island was absolutely stunning. We were fortunate that the weather was beautiful, and the light and clouds dappled the landscape below. I know I said it a couple of sentences ago - but it was just stunning. The flight alone was worth the price of admission and I don't say that flippantly. As I mentioned in my article on Climate Change
, I realize the climate impacts of flying on the environment - I just don't think it is practical to eliminate flight. There was also a recent article in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, which I found on the American Chemical Society website
, that shows the complicated relationship between flight and climate change.
Sea Shells on the Island
Landing on the island, we were met immediately by a park ranger who indicated that the four of us had the place to ourselves. The next group was not going to show up until after 2 PM. We were given two choices for an adventure - we could either stand on the coastline and look for bears there, or we could hike a mile out into the woods and look for bear in a blind that was put up by the parks service. As there was nothing going on at the river, we opted to hike out to the blind, using many of the techniques that we talked about in our interview with Chuck Bartlebaugh, titled Be Bear Aware.
The beauty of the woods was breathtaking - it looked like something out of Endor. There was indication of bear everywhere - scat on the pathways and hair on the trees. At any given moment, I expected a bear to pop out of the woods and appear on the path. The Parks Department deserves a lot of credit for the maintenance of this trail. It was meticulously kept. The amount of work that was obviously put into it - and ultimately to serve no more than 12 people a day - is quite amazing. It shows the dedication of their hard work to making sure that people are able to experience these amazing and often isolated places. I know it is just one more thing that I am thankful for every day.
Not Quite Endor
An Eagle Waits for an Easy Meal
Hiking together in a group, and calming chanting "Hey Bear Ho Bear," we made it out safely to the blind. We sat in the blind for well over an hour - and outside a beautiful bald eagle and a king fisher, we got nothing. The four of us caucused and we agreed to give it 12 minutes - 11:25 AM. If we didn't see a bear, then we were going to pack up and hike back down to the shoreline. At 11:25, I disappointedly started to put away my gear. Just as I am taking my camera off of the tripod mount, a huge adult male walks past us up the stream. We have no idea where he came in from - and we decided that given that none of us saw him come through any of the visible access points that he must have been bedded down just feet from where we were staying in the blind. That was a sobering thought. The adult male did not stay long, slowly making his way up the stream. He lazily stared at the salmon in the water with him - but he seemed quite content to just stare at them and contemplate as he ultimately made his way up the river. Buoyed by the fortuitous experience, we decided to head down to shoreline and see what was cooking there.
Where Did This Grizzly Come From??
The main viewing area, along the shoreline is very picturesque - but nothing like the beauty of the blind area where we saw the adult male. However, we had the opportunity to photograph a juvenile male and a sow with two cubs. The park ranger referred to the juvenile as "Joe" and seemed to have a great appreciation for his demeanor. While he seemed to ignore us in general, he was quite comfortable - laying down on the shoreline catching a short nap. He was close enough that I was able to fill the screen of my camera with my 300 F2.8 with 2x extender - no cropping. I may not have gotten the grizzly with the juggling salmon, but I will say that I am very pleased with the opportunity that I had. Everything was kind of perfect - the flight to Admiralty Island, the stunningly beautiful hike to and from the blinds, and the opportunity to photograph these stunning creatures in their natural environment. It really doesn't get any better - and if I didn't come away with any photos, well it was my own damned fault. Events like these make me feel so incredibly fortunate, and appropriate of this holiday season, thankful. I hope that whoever is reading it is filled with the same joy and interest and desire to protect our national monuments, parks and other open spaces. We live in an amazing world - and it is important to preserve it and share it with others.