Bears At Your Feet

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Wrangell, Alaska, USA
By Hendson Quan

“A BK Big Fish, ” I said to the cashier at Burger King. I was back in Seattle now, where you have tall buildings,cars, lots of people and fast food places of every imaginable kind, not to mention specialty coffee. Just the day before, I had been in Southeast Alaska, a land made distant not so much by just being thousand miles apart as by its way of life and environment. There, I watched how wild bears get their fish.

It is 8:30 in the morning. I am at the tour office of Alaska Waters in the City of Wrangell. There are six others waiting with me. We look at each other and give instant recognition and bonding, as if knowing we will be on an adventure together starting just moments away. We introduce ourselves. Ruth is a retired nurse from New York. Chris and his wife are from Reno. Carol is a school teacher from Illinois. Just then Wilma Leslie approaches the group and announces, “We’ve got sightings. Let’s go down to the pier.” A five minute walk takes us to Mark, who is standing next to the jet boat that will be our mode of transport from Wrangell (pronounced ‘rango’) 35 miles south through the Eastern Passage to the Anan Bear Observatory in the Tongass National Forest.

Bear Country
Bear Country
Mark, wearing sunglasses the whole time, is a dead ringer for the actor Sam Elliott. Check out his height, built, hair color and more noticebly the voice and manner of of his speech. It turns out that he has been in Alaska for over 30 years, having come from the ‘lower 48.’ The hour ride gives you unbelievably fresh air, snow capped mountains, virgin forests, the big blue sky, and water and greenery for as far as your eyes can see. Most of all, it offers you space, a sense that you are there alone with nature.

On arrival at Anan, we disembark and place all our food and drink, except water, in a metal locker. We then follow Mark on foot for about a half mile through the rainforest to the bservatory. The two levels of the observatory offers views from various angles of the creek below. I opt for the lower level first. We can see countless pink salmon swimming in the water. A group of black and brown bears appear, with two cubs. They are no more than 30 feet from me. They put fishermen to shame as they catch their prey easily, one at a time. Right then and there, they eat their catch, fresh and tasty. No adding batter, no deep frying, no tartar sauce. The bears seem to know something about food and nutrition that we humans don’t.

Shopping for Dinner
Shopping for Dinner

After about two hours of watching the bears playing in their natural habitat and feasting on fresh seafood, we start our trek on the same trail back to the jet boat. There we pick up the food and drinks and have a feast of sorts ourselves. One fellow traveler even has a canned tuna sandwich. This tour to the Anan Bear Observatory is not to be missed. Peak of the season is July 5th through August 25th, where entrance is by permit only and is limited to 64 per day by the US Forest Service. Both the public and tour companies may apply for the permits equally. After August 25th, viewing is available through the first week of September.

Getting There
The easiest is to fly to Wrangell from Seattle on Alaska Airlines. Other ways include by car from points in Alaska or by ferry boat. Alaska Airlines offers an internet advance purchase price of $424.40 for the roundtrip.

Where To Stay
Rooney’s Roost Bed and Breakfast, 1-907-874-2026 or e-mail rroost@aptalaska.net.
Becky and Gordon Rooney have an immaculate house with six rooms, rates range $75-$95. Becky cooks a breakfast to die for and she offers pickup/dropoff service at the airport.

What to Do
If your time permits, take also the Stikine River and Glacier Day Tour offered by Alaska Waters, Inc. 1-800-347-4462, e-mail info@alaskawaters.com. Capt. Jim Leslie has over 20 years of experience on the Stikine River and has an unparalleled safety record.

Another night of salmon!
Another night of salmon!
Take the two-hour land tour of Wrangell offered by Gold Rush Tours, 1-907-874-3203, e-mail info@goldrushtours.com. Carrie McCormick, owner-operator, will take you to Shakes Island to see Chief Shakes Tribal House, Rainbow Falls to introduce you to some nice hiking trails, and Petroglyph Beach to see rock carvings made by Native Americans who inhabited the region when it was just a frontier.

For More Information
Warangell Chamber
Warangell





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