Alaska's Aleutian Range - Bears, Salmon and Unforgettable Flying
This dashing taildragger entered military service with the United States Army Air Corps in 1941, and was later purchased by American Airlines in 1944. Several owners later, this iconic aircraft flew our merry crew from Anchorage to Igiugig.
TransNorthern Airlines flies passengers and freight for Native corporations, fishing lodges, Department of Transportation, FedEx, UPS, Department of Fish and Game, and oil and gas companies.
An active volcano, Redoubt stands at 10,197 feet tall at the head of the Chigmit Mountains in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Since 1900 Redoubt has erupted four times, most recently in 2009.
On final into Iguigig, a Native village. "Igiugig" is a Yup'ik word that indicates the village's position at the mouth of where Lake Iliamna feeds into the Kvichak River.
Igiugig may have less than 100 residents, but villagers pride themselves on valuing education, respecting their elders, demonstrating strong will and cultural preservation and being home to the best salmon and trophy rainbow trout sports fishing in all of Alaska.
The airport has no taxiways, so we must back taxi to the airport terminal building.
As I stood beneath these mounted flies I thought, "Am I really going to learn to fish? I don't want to hurt any creature, will the hooks maim them? What if I have to touch their cool scales and thin skin? Can I grow a little bit and expand my comfort zone?"
The village of Igiugig has a great sense of humor. Sweatshirts sold in the airport terminal building read "Get Iggy With It." The village is home to 69 residents of Yup'ik Eskimos, Aleuts, and Athabascan Indians origin.
The Alaska Sportsman's Lodge is situated a short distance south of the Native village of Igiugig on the river.
One of the guide's dogs was waiting on my bed to welcome me upon check-in.
Denali's the top dog 'round these parts.
Rob said his flight from Anchorage was horrible, bouncy and totally lacking in visibility. When he landed he needed dinner and bed. Visibility is great at the docks!
On our way to Brooks Camp, Katmai National Park.
The rangers are serious about harmonizing with the bears. On the way back to the plane, our group had to wait about 40 minutes for a sleeping bear to complete her nap.
The bridge is not a sufficient barrier for the bears, so rangers encourage a swift crossing. Bears have recently been seen climbing up the bridge.
Bears come out of hibernation and head to the rivers and streams of Bristol Bay for their protein, which is primarily comprised of sockeye salmon, though they will eat what they can catch, including lake trout and rainbow trout. Each salmon provides some 4,500 calories for hungry bears.
The difference between a brown bear and a grizzly bear is fairly arbitrary, according to the National Park Service. It basically comes down to diet - coastal brown bears, like the one pictured here, eat salmon and trout whereas grizzly bears further inland typically do not have access to a marine-derived diet.
The Park Service controls the crowds, permitting no more than 40 people at one time on the prime viewing platform. Brown bear fishing for sockeye. Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park.
From river, to bay, to ocean and back again, the life of a salmon is more than epic – it’s nearly miraculous. This region hosts one of the largest migrations on earth. Salmon are hatched in fresh water, swim downstream toward coastal areas and bays, then enter the wide open ocean where they spend most of their lives. Unlike Atlantic salmon that return to fresh water streams to spawn many times, the Pacific salmon returns to its spawning site only once. Guided by a little understood internal compass, these hardy fish return to the same place where they hatched in order to spawn and die. Through this cycle of birth and death, salmon enrich the soils of the forests, enabling majestic trees as well as bears, birds and people to thrive.
Bears choose their fishing spots carefully based on seniority and the aggression of nearby bears. The bear in the foreground is fishing in what the Park calls the "Jacuzzi," while the bear in the background fishes in the Far Pool.
Otis enjoys peace and quiet. After he's done eating, seagulls that have been hovering nearby swoop in to eat leftovers. A juvenile bald eagle attempted to steal away with the carrion salmon, but dropped the prized snack when it was clear it was too heavy with which to fly.
Shortly after summer solstice, the salmon leave Bristol Bay, travel up the Naknek River to Naknek Lake and to Brooks River.
Less dominant bears often saunter up and wait for a fishing spot to be vacated by a bigger, older and stronger bear.
Brooks Falls platforms provide a safe bear viewing area.
Inside Brooks Falls and Brooks Camp, a sleeping bear is given priority over visitors, who often wait 30 minutes to two hours for the bear to wake up and depart the area.
Willow trees don't grow very tall here in Katmai given the stony loam and silty soils from glaciation.
The DeHavilland DH-2 Beaver is the workhorse of Alaska bush pilots. The sound of that radial engine is awesome.
From Anchorage's city streets and the Seward Highway to Katmai, I saw fireweed everywhere. It makes delicious tea and jam according to locals.
The sun set around 11:30 p.m. each night.
The guides don't want the bears to learn that they can scare us, so they firmly speak to them, let them know we are there, and negotiate for the fishing hole.
Katmai's bears are some of the planet's largest, weighing in around 900 pounds. Some are "nine-footers," the moniker the guides give to those bears whose body length is eight to ten feet long.
The bear seems to obey the guide, catches her own fish, and walks to the banks to eat it.
Flights to Crosswind mean fishing on Moraine or Funnel Creeks. For me, it means bears galore!
The Park Service offers a seven-hour round trip bus tour to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. But in the Beaver, we flew out in about 20 minutes.
In 1912 Novarupta erupted and spilled ash for 40 square miles. The colors take you from blue glacial Alaska to sandy Death Valley perception in mere moments.
We flew a safe distance from this anvil cloud that would have no doubt been full of terrifying turbulence.
The DeHavilland Beaver takes us above and across a landscape so lush and well-designed I couldn't stop snapping photos.
Ash and pumice flowed at a rate of 100 miles per hour when Novarupta erupted in 1912.
Then I don't know what is! Our guide encourages the bear to eat her fish somewhere else. I found this a bit harsh, isn't this their habitat? But experts tell me it's important that the bears have an understanding that humans won't run away every time they come near.
Robbie's been flying his whole life in Alaska. It's a job, not something he does for fun. As he pointed the nose of the plane toward the clouds covering the mountain I had faith that he had a plan, that he knew how close to the glaciers he could get.
Though we were flying at an altitude of more than 5,000 feet above sea level, we were only a couple of hundred feet above the snow and glaciers.
Robbie skillfully banked left and gave us awesome views of the glacier below.
Flying above the rivers, forests, and bogs made for as much fun as the bears and fish!
The contrast between the living and the dead.
Tooling around in a skiff is relaxing and there may be some ghosts too...
Our guide Joe had always wanted to see these shacks, which have fallen into disrepair. I was eager to explore. We couldn't help but sing the B-52s "Love Shack," for they really were some funky little shacks.
We disembarked at the shores of the abandoned shacks. On the way up the steep hill we passed many wildflowers.
The former inhabitant's belongings indicated a handy person lived here.
Roaming the nameless riverside property reminded me of California's Bodie State Historic Park's arrested development and decay.
Will he or she ever come back? The spiders don't mind them being long gone.
The guide asked us if we wanted to go fish some more, but I was more interested in seeing the riverscape. We toured the waterways near the lodge and around every bend another miraculous image came into view.
Cody and Robbie took us on an unforgettable wading and hiking adventure covering six or seven miles. Who said fly fishing was not a workout? The bears were plentiful and in exceptionally close proximity. Which seems like it ought to be illegal, but the thrill for me is still running through my veins.
Alaska Sportsman's Lodge boasts a talented chef, pasty chef and servers that provide exquisite, tailored service. They even made special vegetarian meals every night for me!
I'll be back.
After four nights, it was time to go back to civilization. The conversations, hikes, fishing, food, companionship and bears will stay with me forever.
The Colorado River - Iconic, Hardworking and No Stranger to Drought
A Photo Essay by Simon Williams
Remembering all those who died in Normandie, France in the D-Day campaign of 1944. Joe and I were so moved by our Autumn 2015 visit to this beautiful coastline. Happy Memorial Day 2016 everyone.
Rangers scaled a 100-foot cliff in terrible visibility and windy conditions. Admiral Hall’s Intelligence officer remarked: "It can’t be done. Three old women with brooms could stop the Rangers scaling that cliff!" An officer replied to General Bradley, "Sir, my Rangers can do the job for you."
FALL COLOR IN BISHOP CREEK CANYON
Kristine and her sister Carol were raised in the small South Fork Bishop Creek community known as Habeggers. This area is well-known for its magnificent fall colors, marvelous fishing, beautiful campgrounds and arduous trails leading into the John Muir Wilderness of the Inyo National Forest. All fall photos were taken by Carol.
TAKE A DRIVE
The Owens Valley is just a click away in this virtual gallery of photographs taken by Carol Underhill, Kristine's sister.
THE OTHER SIDE OF CALIFORNIA
Below are some photos that Kristine has taken on her trips. Also visit Kristine's Pinterest board for more photos of this beautiful region of California!