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Alaskan Adventure: an American Family Safari


SafariChick
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We traveled to Alaska from August 2 through 11, 2013.

Itinerary:

Fly from SFO to Anchorage at 8 pm (a 5-hour flight but we got an hour back). Arrive in Anchorage at midnight - sleep at motel near airport

Day 1: back to airport by 8 a.m. for 9:30 flight to King Salmon, then King Salmon float plane to Brooks Camp - arrive by noon.

Day 2: Brooks Camp

Day 3: Brooks Camp - fly back to King Salmon then Anchorage; drive to Seward

Day 4: Seward

Day 5: Seward then drive to Soldotna

Day 6: In a.m. Fly to Lake Clark National Park, Silver Salmon Creek Lodge

Day 7: Silver Salmon Creek Lodge

Day 8: Fly back to Soldotna; drive slowly back to Anchorage, stopping at scenic points and spending time at AK Conservation Center. Fly home at midnight

Our family, consisting of me, husband and our two daughters ages 11 and 14 spent a wonderful 8 days in Alaska in early August. We were not lucky with weather (rain or drizzle almost constantly - when the sun came out on the last day it almost seemed strange to see it there!) but we were pretty lucky with wildlife sightings. There were some weather-created problems and a mechanical problem causing a plane cancellation leading to a bad travel delay but still, it was an excellent trip.

Day1: After not a lot of sleep at our motel, we boarded a 30-seater plane from Anchorage to King Salmon, about an hour flight. We then had to switch planes which entailed taking a little van from the main airport (which just consisted of one room with very little in the way of amenities - more about that later as we were to become intimately familiar with that room) to the even smaller room with even fewer amenities by the water to wait to board our float plane.

 

Little waiting room by the float plane dock:

 

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Sign in above room re max occupancy, evidencing local sense of humor:

 

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Float Planes:

 

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The float plane was a fun experience. This is coming from the person who’s very anxious about flying in small planes. But someone who was on the plane with me told me she looks at it this way: float planes feel much safer than other small planes because they can actually land on water, and we’d be going over so much water that there was a really good chance that if the plane had to make an emergency landing, we’d be over water! The take off and landing were really smooth, and it was a very pleasant half hour or so flight.

We were excited to arrive at Brooks Camp, in Katmai National Park, where we hoped to see bears. And actually, it wasn't very rainy that first day. Here's Mr. SafariChick and the SafariChick kids:

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As soon as we’d had lunch and put our things in our room, we set off to visit the Falls and look for bear. We’d been watching the bears on the wonderful bear cams run by Explore.org for weeks prior to the trip, and had become familiar with some of the bears that visit frequently. The Rangers there come on to the chat under the cameras and answer questions, and have a bunch of resources about the bears online, including a list of the most commonly seen bears there with the ID number (and sometimes nickname), photos, and identifying marks or characteristics. I was hoping to see some of the bears I had come to “know” from these cams.

Before getting to the Falls, one must cross the Lower River floating bridge. At this time of year, we didn’t see any bears in this area, but in September, when the bears come back for the dead and dying fish, apparently there will be many there. We took some photos of ourselves in this picturesque spot.

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View from viewing platform at the other end of the floating bridge:

 

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I had told some of the other folks who watch the bear cams that I’d be at Brooks, and the days I’d be there, and that I’d try to wave at the Lower River camera. I had to ask a Ranger where the cameras were as they weren’t readily apparent. (Hanging off of the viewing platform seen in photo above). I waved to the camera a couple of times during our stay, feeling a bit foolish and wondering whether anyone would actually see it. Turns out that they did and they took quite a few screen caps of us! I was touched. Here are a couple:

 

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Bridge 4

 

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Bridge 6

To get to the Falls it’s another mile or so walk, through pretty woods. We’d had bear safety training - the path we had to walk on to get to the Falls is the same one the bears take to get there - but we didn’t see any bears on the trail.

 

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Before we went to the main Falls viewing platform, we stopped at the other platform at the spot called the Riffles where you get a longer view down to the Falls - didn't see any bears from that vantage point, but it was pretty and fun to see the spots we'd seen on the cams so many times but now in person

 

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There is a long, raised walkway to get to the main Falls Viewing platform

 

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and some educational displays along the way

 

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When we finally got to the Falls Viewing platform - well actually, just before we reached it while still on the walkway, we saw a crowd of people pushed against one of the railings and looking over at the embankment. There was our first bear! He (or she?) had caught a salmon and was eating it off on the side of the river, parallel to the walkway that leads to the Falls viewing platform. It occurred to me that if one were watching the cam, one wouldn’t see this and it made me wonder how much happens beyond what the cams see. We watched this one bear for an hour or so. s/he went back in the water and caught another salmon, took it off to the same area to eat, then lay down and spent quite a while licking his/her paws and eventually settled down for a nap. We watched the napping bear for a bit, and then went back to the Falls, but nothing else was happening and the kids were antsy so we headed back to our cabin.

 

Here are a few pix:

 

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Nap time:

 

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This one is not a good shot of the bear but shows our vantage point and where it was compared to the walkway - this was when it was heading back to the Falls after eating the first fish

 

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and the crowd - including me in the brown fleece happily peering through my binocs - watching the bear while it was eating:

 

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Looking at Bear from Walkway with Binos

 

Next post: a little more information about Brooks.

Edited by SafariChick
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ABOUT BROOKS: I’ve been thinking about going there ever since reading @Atravelyn ‘s trip report describing her visit there. We really should have gone in July and if I ever go back I will because there really is a short season in which there are a lot of bears there - it’s all dependent on the salmon run but apparently, the second and third weeks of July are probably the safest time to go. Since we were there Aug. 3 and 4, I was hopeful but knew it was risky. Usually the bears are there in July, then go off to smaller streams where the salmon run is a little later, then return to Brooks in September to get the dying and dead fish down in the Brooks River.

 

The cabins are very in demand and one can start booking them in the January a year and a half before the July one wants to visit. We were very lucky to even get the cancellation that we did but I would not go at that time of year again - it’s too expensive and too risky. Better to book a year and a half in advance! I’m not sure what the cancellation policy is if one isn’t 100% sure one can make it that far in advance - will have to find out - thinking of booking again for July of 2015 this January :) The cabins are rustic and pretty small - they fit in 2 bunk beds so there was a single bed for each of the 4 of us, a sink in the main room, a shower behind a curtain in the main room, and a little WC. It was just fine in that setting. There are only 16 cabins I think - or is it 8? I have it in my head that they only can accommodate 32 people so maybe it’s 8. Some are stand alone and some are attached - we’ve heard the attached ones are very easy to hear your neighbors but we were lucky to get a stand alone one. There is also a camp site with electric fencing and the use of communal showers and toilets. One can apparently rent a tent and other camping equipment at REI in Anchorage.

They have a Ranger talk each night at Brooks and we went to the one the first night which was about the life cycle of the salmon. It was really interesting, there was a lot I didn’t know about salmon!

The meals are in the main lodge which also has a fire and a bar. Meals are very pricey and are a buffet - it was about $35 for an adult for dinner, for instance, less for lunch and breakfast. There was a good salad bar at lunch and dinner and one could pay less to have just soup and salad. At breakfast there were hot options but again, if one only wanted continental it was a lower price. When we'd checked in, I was excited to meet Kara, the woman who works at the front desk but is also the person who takes most of the photos of Brooks that they post on their Facebook page. I'd corresponded with her months before our trip, asking her opinion as to whether we'd see bears in the first few days of August, and found her photos from August 2012, and she was just as warm as I hoped she'd be in person. The whole place has a cozy feel to it.

 

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There were a lot of professional or semi-professional photog types there with big cameras and tripods.

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I imagine it’s 100x more crowded in July. As it was, we were always able to see fine and didn’t need to wait for people to leave. (Though I did mention to one photog in a group of about 8 Italians travelling together that he was taking up spots for at least two people when I noticed he had a huge camera set up on a tripod right at the rail of the platform, but wasn't even using it as he had ANOTHER huge camera and lens in his hands and was standing with it in a different spot! This didn't actually cause him to do anything different but, as I say, I was able to see so no big deal.

Ok I must go to sleep, it's after midnight - more tomorrow and/or over the weekend!

Edited by SafariChick
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Seeing a bear in the wild must be very special, I really envy you! Lovely pics, not only the bear but your family also. You all look very happy there. What were you told in the "Bear Safety Training"?

 

Looking forward to the rest of your report. :)

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Don't forget to post those bear pics here. :) (Whip cracking smiley not yet available...)

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Loving this TR @ and it's clear from the pictures that you all enjoyed yourselves. and you got a bear sighting on Day 1!

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Seeing a bear in the wild must be very special, I really envy you! Lovely pics, not only the bear but your family also. You all look very happy there. What were you told in the "Bear Safety Training"?

 

Looking forward to the rest of your report. :)

 

It was very cool, for sure! And we had even closer encounters later in the trip. When you first get off the float plane, they immediately usher you into a little cabin to watch a video about bears. You learn that the bears there on the Katmai coast are Brown Bears. This is the same species as Grizzlies, but they call them Grizzlies in the interior and Brown Bears on the coast. Brown Bears grow bigger than Grizzlies, typically, because of their salmon-rich diet. Kodiak bears are also the same species but they supposedly grow even bigger though I've heard some refute that they really are any bigger than other Brown Bears.

 

They tell you to try not to get any closer than 50 yards to a bear, and 100 yards if it was a sow (female) with cubs. But they also said the bears might approach you or pass you closer than that if on a trail as there isn't much room. They said if you had a surprise encounter with a bear on the trail, to slowly move to the side of the trail and try to give it room to pass. Also, to talk to it in a gentle tone in order to calm yourself and the bear. And not to look it directly in the eyes as it could perceive that as a threat. Also, never to run as then you could be confused with prey. Also, that you should play dead, protecting your face with your arms, if it did start to attack you and not try to fight back. However we did see this sign at Exit Glacier in Seward later in the trip - note the advice in the last line.

 

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Bear Attack Sign

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"If it starts to eat you - fight back!" OH my, I'd be passed out from fear..

(what a great name for a tr, haha)

 

Nevertheless, great pics and report SC....always wanted to see Alaska bears; I've only seen VA bears and Montana bears! And think you saw a KILL...a salmon kill.

(Love that Alaska salmon; no wonder he ate two, so would I!)

 

Keep it up...Glad youall had a great time no matter the rain. And I agee with you on the photogs who hog all the space just because some of us only carry

point and shoots! Like we're not REALLY photographing :rolleyes:

 

Waiting for more......

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Our second day at Brooks, we decided to do the tour of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, which is offered by Brooks Lodge for an additional charge. It goes from about 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and consists of being driven in a bus and accompanied by a Ranger and being taken to a fascinating geological site. The bus ride is about 23 miles from Brooks Camp. Rather than try to describe what it is, I'll quote from the Katmai park website about it"

 

On June 6th, 1912, a previously unknown volcanic vent (Novarupta) erupted in the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. The lush, green Ukak river valley was buried beneath hundreds of feet of incandescent ash at temperatures of up to 2000°F. The water buried underneath the ash became superheated and worked its way up through the ash to the surface. These discharges of steam escaped from thousands of cracks and fissures to become fumaroles, giving the valley its name. Today, the valley floor has cooled significantly since the eruption and the "smokes" have disappeared. However, the "Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes" is the only substantial ignimbrite sheet to have formed during recorded history.

 

From http://www.nps.gov/katm/planyourvisit/valley-of-ten-thousand-smokes-tour.htm

 

It was fascinating to see and learn about this event. I think most people probably don't know about it because it took place in such a remote area of wilderness that people were not killed but its effects were still far-ranging.

 

 

 

Only one eruption in historic times -- Greece's Santorini in 1500 B.C. -- displaced more volcanic matter than Novarupta. The terrible 1883 eruption of Indonesia's Krakatoa belched out little more than half as much, yet killed 35,000 people. Vastly isolated Novarupta killed no one.

 

 

 

 

 

At nearby Kodiak, for two days a person could not see a lantern held at arm's length. Acid rain caused clothes to disintegrate on clotheslines in distant Vancouver, Canada. The eruption was 10 times more forceful than the 1980 eruption of Mount Saint Helens.

 

 

Those two quotes are from the website of the organization that runs Brooks, Katmailand.

 

http://www.katmailand.com/lodging/brooks-valley-smokes.html

 

Once at the site, one can hike down to the Valley Floor. My husband and kids did this. I went more than halfway but felt like the steep hike back up was going to be slow going for me, so I decided to turn back at that point. A few others had chosen to remain at the top and I chatted with them while we waited for the others. Here are some photos from the day.

 

The Valley from above:

 

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Beautiful fireweed was blooming everywhere:

 

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Down on the Valley Floor (taken by Mr. SafariChick) - can you spot the children?

 

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Can you spot the children 1?

 

Kids at the river in the valley

 

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Pawprint of small bear, Valley of 10.000 Smokes

 

"Research Overlook" - a scenic stopping point on the way to and from the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. This photo has a view to Margot Creek, which we were to visit the next day.

 

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Research Overlook - on road to 10,000 Smokes - View of Margot Creek

 

I probably would not have gone on this trip had there been more bears being seen at Brooks, but since there were not many bears there, and since my husband was interested in this trip, I agreed to go - and I was glad I did, it was very interesting and beautiful.

 

I had also hoped we might see some wildlife there, as the day before a lynx had been seen and wolves and wolverines have occasionally been seen on this route as well. But, sadly, we did not see any of those animals on the trip. We did see this little mammal though - not exactly sure what it is - a kind of ground squirrel, I think:

 

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However, we returned from the trip with plenty of time for a visit to the Falls back at Brooks, and we were to be lucky again with bear! But I will get to that in the next post ....

Edited by SafariChick
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When we went back to the Falls after our trip to the Valley of 10.000 Smokes, we were so happy to see that there was already a bear there - again!

 

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Ted in water

 

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Ted

 

We were told this was the bear known as "Ted" who, unlike most of the other bears, actually hangs in around all summer and doesn't leave in August. He has that distinctive scar on his left flank, so we were pretty sure it was him, though we found a lot of bears have scars!

 

He caught a fish quite quickly, and then took it off into the woods

 

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Ted with Fish

 

We waited a long time but he never came back. But we were happy at least to have seen a bear again on this day! Whlle we waited, Mr. SafariChick practiced trying to take photos of salmon jumping. He got a few successful ones (but note, I am not showing you the many misses!)

 

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Salmon jumping up Falls 1

 

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Salmon Jumping 2

 

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Salmon Jumping 3

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Really enjoying this TR and have filed away your itinerary for future reference.

 

How many nights would you recommend for a stay at Brooks Falls in order to have a good look at the bears - are particular times of the day better than others?

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@@Treepol thanks, glad you're enjoying it! I think 2 days/2 nights is good though I wouldn't have minded one more day if there had been more bears there. I think at the height of the season (July - especially 2nd/3rd week to be safe) the experience is quite different. I was watching the cameras and seeing 10, 12, 14 bears out at the falls fishing at once! You'd see scuffles between them from time to time over a fish or a spot so there was a lot going on! Also there would be many more tourists. When it is crowded, which I gather it typically is in mid-July, the rangers are there to make sure people get a turn. They have a rule at that time of year about one hour on the platform, then you have to give up your spot to the next group. So you might have to wait. Also, they have what they call "bear jams" at that time of year. They won't allow tourists to cross the floating bridge if a bear or bears is napping near it on either side. So apparently sometimes people have to wait a while before getting to the Falls, which is where most of the action is in July. And it takes a while to walk to the Falls - probably 30 minutes though I never really timed it. There are companies that offer day trips, but I would not do that. I read a blog of someone who did that and barely got to see the bears at all. There was a weather delay getting there and so she got there late. Then there were bear jams, and then she had to be on the beach to get her float plane in the afternoon! @Atravellyn could add a lot to this discussion - I feel I'm spelling her name wrong and she won't see this - read her trip report on going to Brooks if you haven't as she gives a lot of great detail and she was there in July (not this year).

 

They serve meals for a 2-hour window or so and I remember she suggested to try to eat early or late so you could be on the platforms when most people were at meals - or just eat snacks that you buy at the little store there (granola bars and such) or bring with you. But you're not allowed to have your snacks with you on the platforms or outside at all - they have a little food storage room where you can store your food if you bring any.

 

It is light out from about 5 a.m. until 11 p.m. and the bears can be out at the Falls any time of day/night. When I was there they kept the viewing platform open until 10 p.m.

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The next day we had planned in advance to take a boat trip to Margot Creek, a creek nearby where supposedly the bears go to fish when they have mostly left Brooks in August. Since we'd only seen one bear per day at Brooks, we hoped to see more there. Again, this was for an extra cost. We had a guide who took us in a small motor boat and it was about a 30 to 45 minute boat ride, depending on the winds. We all had to be outfitted in waders before we left. My older daughter made hers look fashionable - me, not so much so I'll just post a photo of her in hers!

 

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Waders 2

 

The boat trip was fun - cold as the wind rushed past us! We all had layers and hoods - gloves would have been good to have. The kids thought it was really fun!

 

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Girls in the boat

 

When we pulled up to the mouth of the creek, we were excited to see a bear in the water waiting for us!

 

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We pulled the boat up onto the shore (well, the guide and Mr. SafariChick did) and got out and started walking over to the creek. The bear saw us and started to come closer. We were a little nervous but the guide told us don't worry just keep moving to keep some distance between us. The bear didn't come too close, though, it stayed near the mouth of the water looking for fish, then it got one and we watched it eat the fish.

 

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It did get out and walk in the shallower water at some point also

 

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It was really cool to see this bear out in its habitat while we were on foot, no raised walkways or viewing platforms between us!

 

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After watching this bear for maybe 10 minutes, our guide suggested we keep walking down the creek because we were hoping to see more bears, possibly the mother and cubs that he had seen there the day before.

 

We walked along the bank of the creek, it was muddy and not always much room to walk so you had to watch your footing - but it was very beautiful there and soon our guide pointed up in a tree and said - look, an eagle!

 

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we kept walking down the creek and several times our guide had us cross over to the other side because it would have been impossible to keep walking on the side we were on. Crossing the creek was an interesting experience. The water looked fairly shallow but it was deeper than it looked! And the water didn't look like it was moving that fast but in some places it was flowing so hard that it almost pushed me down. He had us walk sideways, facing the direction the water was flowing from. He helped my younger daughter across as she is lighter and smaller. It was fun but it really gave me respect for the water. I never realized how strong a little creek could be.

 

We went down as far as we could but unfortunately we never saw another bear. Still, it was a great experience and I felt glad we did it. It felt an accomplishment and it was great to see the one bear we did out in the water, and the eagle too.

 

It was very buggy there at the creek.and we were glad we had the headnets we'd brought with us. It wasn't as bad most other places but here the bugs were really in our faces and annoying us.

 

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Here's a view of the scenery and the boat, with the girls walking back to it when it was time to head back

 

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Girls heading back to boat, Margot Creek

 

When we got back to camp, we knew we'd just have a little time before our float plane back to King Salmon, but we figured we had time to eat lunch at the lodge. What we didn't know was that we'd be met by the Brooks manager who said to us "Don't shoot the messenger, but your flight from King Salmon to Anchorage has been canceled due to a mechanical problem." We were supposed to take a 1:30 float plane to King Salmon and a 3:15 plane from there to Anchorage, arriving at 4:45. The manager told me he wasn't sure but he was trying to negotiate with the airline about all of his various guests getting out and back to where they had to go. He asked if we had a connecting flight to meet in Anchorage - we didn't - we had to just pick up our rental car and drive to Seward, about 2.5 hours away. He said ok, we are holding 14 spots on a flight at 6:40 p.m. to Anchorage and we'll try to get you on that one. We thought oh wow, 3.5 hour delay but ok, not too bad, we'd still get to Seward at a reasonable hour after picking up our car. Little did we know, that was not to be. To be continued .....

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It took a while before the manager could get everyone sorted out. It wasn't clear whether our float plane would leave on time or whether we'd spend some of the extra time at Brooks. I was hoping we'd get to go back out to look for bears at the Falls but we were asked to hang around the Lodge and wait for word. Meanwhile, we had lunch at the Lodge and hung out by the fireplace, where they have a circle of chairs. I actually fell asleep in one of the comfy chairs while we waited for news.

 

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Inside Brooks Lodge

 

Finally we were told it was our turn to go get on a float plane. We hustled over to the beach and got on the float plane and had an uneventful trip. It was pretty gray and rainy by this time. We did the reverse of our prior trip, went into the little waiting room, then sort of gathered without having been told that we should get onto the van to go over to the "main airport" of King Salmon. (Alaska is not unlike Africa sometimes, so at least I had experience from the Maun airport of not exactly being told what to do when and having to figure it out!) Everyone from the van jumped off and ran and got in line inside to try to check in for their flights back to Anchorage. There were 2 or 3 people at the check-in counter. When we got up to the counter they told us there was not actually a flight at 6:40 - that was when a flight from Anchorage ARRIVED at King Salmon. But there were two that were going out to Anchorage, one at 7:20 pm and one at 7:35 p.m. Ok, we said, so please put us on one of them. Uh - no, because by now there was only 1 seat left on either of them and of course there were 4 of us. So I don't know what happened to the 14 seats supposedly being held for us but the few people from our van that were ahead of us took any remaining ones and were out of luck. So the next flight to Anchorage was at ... 11 p.m. It was now about 3 p.m. so we had another 8 hours ahead of us at King Salmon. Let me tell you, there is not a lot to do in King Salmon or around the airport! There was one little gift shop next door, and there were two restaurants within walking distance. Not only was there no wifi in the airport, there were no snack bars or snack machines or even a water fountain!! I had to ask if there was any way to get some water, and one of the gals behind the counter was nice enough to go get me an actual cup of water from upstairs where I guess they had employee facilities.

 

We passed the time by napping on the floor, reading any books we had with us, going to check out the gift shop. My poor 11-year-old - we'd accidentally left her carry-on bag at home so she didn't have it for the whole trip. It didn't have that much in it - a stuffed animal that she was sad not to have with her, and 2 books she'd planned to read on the trip, so she had no books. Luckily, the one thing this airport had was a little area where people had left books they didn't want. She read almost the entire biography of Peter Lawford, who she'd never heard of before this. We were getting giddy with being tired and my husband and I found this hilarious. There WERE tie-ins to people she'd heard of though - she'd done a report on Lucille Ball when she had to do a report on a "Famous American" and she came into Peter Lawford's biography. Eventually we made our way over to one of the restaurants, which was called Eddie's Fireplace Inn. And it had wifi at least! It had decor right out of the 1970s, a waitress who seemed overworked and wasn't super friendly, and $10 grilled cheese sandwiches. But beggars can't be choosers.

 

Our after dinner entertainment was provided by some apparently local young men with a local middle-aged man who seemed to wander in off the street. The middle-aged man wanted to buy a ticket to get on the plane to Anchorage at 11 p.m. but he was intoxicated. The younger guys seemed to be also, one was very loud and kept trying to interpret between the counter staff and the middle-aged man. He wanted to pay cash for his ticket but didn't have exact change and the counter person didn't have change either. Also, they clearly didn't want him to get on the plane as he was drunk. The gals working there all looked about 18 and petite, and I was worried that these guys could get belligerant with them and things could get out of hand. But they finally convinced the men to leave and to come back in the morning when they'd sobered up. Another young man did come in just before the plane boarded and he also seemed a bit intoxicated but not too bad. He told us he'd just inherited a fishing boat and was running it on his own, and that he had a kid he was going home to see. He also looked about 18. Life is different in Alaska.

 

We finally got to Anchorage about 12:15 a.m. and me and the kids got frozen yogurt at a Yogurtland that was still open in the airport. This seems to be becoming a tradition, as we also got frozen yogurt at a Yogurtland in Dubai at about 3 a.m. when we went to S. Africa as a family. We got our bags and our car and Mr. SafariChick and I took turns driving very sleepily to Sweard where we arrived at about 3:15 a.m. Ugh.

 

We had been supposed to take our cruise of the Kenai Fjords the following day at 11:30 but we knew we'd be so tired that we had called from the airport and asked if we could move it to the next day. We had 2 days in Seward and had planned to leave the second day for doing a few things that could easily be switched to the first day. The company told us that normally with a coupon (which had saved us almost half the cost of the boat trip, so it was a big savings) they can't move days but it turns out that the day we were to go was looking like a weather warning day - meaning that the weather might be bad and they might not be able to go out or they might only be able to stay in the Bay and not go out into the open ocean - so because of that, they did let us move it to the following day. That meant we could sleep in and take it easy on the first day in Seward after arriving so late and just be on our own schedule. We happily fell asleep in our beds at the Exit Glacier Lodge.

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Thank you to @@urologysteve for recommending Exit Glacier Lodge. We really liked it a lot - the room and the breakfasts were great, and the hostess was extremely friendly and helpful as was the young woman she had working for her at the front desk. That first day in Seward, we slept in as late as we could while still being able to take advantage of breakfast. We wanted to do two things this day: try to hike to Exit Glacier and visit the Alaska Sea Life Center. We decided to do Exit Glacier first as it didn't seem to be raining and we thought we'd better take advantage of that since we never knew when the rain would start. We had brought rain jackets and rain pants to AK but the kids didn't always want to wear them or bring them on a walk if it didn't appear it was about to rain. In this case, that caused some problems! Because of course after we got into our hike, it started drizzling, then raining, then raining probably the hardest it did the whole trip! We were very far from the car by now and the only thing to do was to keep going and know those without the proper raingear were going to get super wet. The older daughter only wore a sweatshirt and leggings, the younger one had on rain pants but no jacket. Eventually we lent them some of our gear at some points. It's a longer hike than we imagined so my advice is make sure you have all your raingear when you do it (It was really only 1.3 miles but that feels quite long when you are getting soaked!) The Glacier was pretty from a distance but very small when you got up close, and that was sad, to see how much it has receded.

 

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We went back to the hotel to change into dry clothes, got some lunch, and then went to the Sea Life Center, which was very enjoyable. It was partially built with proceeds from litigation over the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster and has some displays telling about that event and which animal populations have recovered and which haven't. They had a number of child-friendly exhibits and some actual animals so it was sort of a combination aquarium and museum. We especially enjoyed seeing the puffins up close in the sea bird exhibit, as well as some other sea birds.

 

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Murre

 

and the Harbor Seals were very cute

 

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Harbor Seal, Sea Life Center

 

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The Harbor Seal exhibit had an area where you could see them above water and also below. There was one Harbor Seal that seemed to want to take a nap but didn't want to do it outside (it was rather windy). So it would come down into the water and kind of lean against some rocks with its eyes closed for a couple of minutes, then swim up and grab a big breath of air, then zoom right back to the exact same position and "nap" again. We watched it do this about 10 times - it was so cute and funny!

 

We had a delicious dinner at a restaurant on the water called Rays Waterfront, and then headed back to Exit Glacier Lodge to sleep and get ready for our cruise of the Kenai Fjords the next day.

Edited by SafariChick
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Terrific descriptions, SC. Enjoying this very much indeed. The jumping salmon pics are great!

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Really terrific trip for you and the fam. Awesome pics and details..I've never read a trip report of Alaska with such detail; enough to make me think I too would enjoy it! I always thought of cruise ships and Alaska; you've given me a totally different spin.

 

Thank goodness!

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@@Treepol you're welcome - yes, Lynn's reports are always super helpful! Thanks @@Sangeeta - I'll tell the Mr. you said so about the salmon! It was challenging as you never know quite when they'll jump and where! Thanks @@graceland - it's funny you say that about the details. I told myself this trip report I was going to write shorter and less details but I don't seem to be able to do that!

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The next morning, we learned that unfortunately, the weather was still very choppy out on the ocean and that the company had decided not to have any of the boats go out in the ocean that day either. I learned this via email early in the morning - the woman who I'd been corresponding with about changing the day of our trip was nice enough to send me an email alerting me of this so we knew before we arrived. She said we'd be told of our options when we went to check in but they would be to either reschedule for another day, get a refund or take a shortened boat ride that just stayed within the Bay and receive a partial refund. We were quite disappointed as we'd heard the chance to see whales was much greater if you went out in the ocean, and also we would not get to see a glacier calving. We did call the other major company to see if they were having their boats go out in the ocean that day. They said they were leaving it up to the captains to decide once they were out there and it was a 50-50 chance. But to switch companies, we'd have not gotten the coupon discount that we had already and still only had a 50% chance of going out into the ocean. We'd heard that the day before both companies had left it to the captains and neither had gone out into the ocean. We finally decided to just stick with what we had, and we went on the shortened ride as we had no other day we could do the trip.

 

The trip was still very nice. We saw otters in the water almost immediately after we went out - we could still see the harbor of the town of Seward while we were watching them. They were adorable, as otters generally are! I loved seeing them. Mr. SC liked them but he's a bit jaded - being a surfer, he sees them frequently up close when he's in the water WITH them right at home!

 

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We also saw Dall Porpoises swimming along by the boat which we all really enjoyed, but it was hard to get a decent photo. We got to see sea lions hauled out on a rock

 

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Sea Lions on Rocks

 

and more puffins and eagles, though photos were not as good as the previous ones I've posted of those birds.

 

we also saw a lot of beautiful scenery such as waterfalls coming down from the mountains around us

 

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Waterfall from Boat

 

When we started to get near where the Bay joined the ocean, the water started getting rougher, even within the Bay. We'd all taken some seasickness prevention medicine (Bonine) and I was the only one who reported feeling a tiny bit nauseous - we had been sitting in the top level of the boat but at that point my husband and I moved down to the bottom level as it was supposedly more stable down there. So in the end I was glad we hadn't tried to go on a boat that might have gone out into the ocean. We didn't see whales or harbor seals, but at least we saw the seals at the Sea Life center. We'll have to save the whales for the next trip to AK!

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What an ordeal you all went through but lucky for us the pics are so good - it makes me want to go ~ however I do not have the PATIENCE you obviously have and I would have been pissed off at everyone; however it all turns out and I love all the Otters and Landscapes!

 

Somehow kids just get through it and thorougly enjoy everything; even a 3am yogurt.

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I don't think I really have a lot of patience, but just have to roll with the punches to some extent when this stuff happens! After our boat trip, we hopped in the car and headed for Soldotna, about a 2-hour drive away. We took a little detour along a road that was heading in the same direction but was slower going as we'd read it was a good place to possibly see moose, and we really wanted to see one. Alas, we did not - it was probably because it was not the right time of day - much more likely to see them at dusk or dawn.

 

Soldotna was just for one night to sleep over as our small plane to our next destination was from its little airport at 9 a.m. We got to Soldotna in time to eat dinner at a place I'd read about that sounded good, St. Elias Brewing Co. - a brewery (obviously) and pizza and salad restaurant. It was excellent, with funky decor, and surprised us being in what otherwise seemed to be a fishing town. We stayed in the apartment of the owner of Silver Salmon Creek Lodge, which was reasonable and even had a washing machine and dryer we could use. At that point in the trip, this was welcome so we took advantage of it. We met one of the other residents of the fourplex, a man who had a dog that he said was a trained seizure dog or something of that nature, a very friendly fellow.

 

The next morning, we went to the little airport, not without some trepidation. Some of you might have seen the news about the small plane that crashed taking off from Soldotna recently. All ten aboard were killed, including the pilot. Me being the nervous flier I am, flying on a small plane out of the same airport made me extra nervous, although this was not the same air taxi company (however we WOULD be using the same air taxi company that had the crash for our return flight). The pilot for this trip seemed very confident, and he put some music on his ipod that went through our headphones which was relaxing - Sweet Home Alabama and other rock songs with which I was familiar. At one point on the trip, we got into some clouds and couldn't see anything in any direction which made me pretty nervous (I was in the front seat next to the pilot) but he said he was going to take a different route as this one wasn't working out the way he'd hoped! Once we got out of the clouds, I was fine and it was a pretty flight, and only about half an hour.

 

We landed on the beach at the Silver Salmon Creek Lodge (I'll call it SSCL for short) and out on the tidal flats, we saw not one but TWO mama bears with two cubs each! Wow! I had a good feeling that this was going to be one of the best parts of the trip, and I was right! In fact, I can't recommend this place highly enough. Aside from the bear-viewing, which was awesome, It is quite small, so even though it was pretty full, there were only about 16 to 20 guests. And the owners and staff really made it feel so homey and welcoming. The owner and his son seem to mainly run the place, and there's a chef with 3 kitchen helpers, 2 of whom also are the cleaning staff. It all feels like a family and the meals are in a room with a view of the beach, with an open kitchen so you can talk to the chef and kitchen staff while they are cooking. Then there's a comfy living room downstairs with a fireplace where people can read, chat, share photos and videos, etc. This is all in the main lodge. There are some rooms in the lodge, but others are in cabins nearby, and we had 2 little cabins - one for the kids and one for us - which were very new, clean and comfortable.

 

David, the owner, met us on the beach and, after some quick introductions, he got into the plane we had just vacated. Apparently, his mother (who'd been ill after a stroke for a few months) had just passed away the previous night, so he had to go into Soldotna for the day. Oliver, David's son, picked us up on the beach in what would become our main mode of transportation for the couple of days were there other than walking - a cart with bench seats on either side so that 4 could ride in it - pulled by an ATV! He took us to our cabins so we could get settled in then, after picking up some other guests and getting them settled, came back to take us to meet our guide for the trip. The way things worked here was much like an African safari camp. You have one guide for the length of your stay, who takes you out on what you might call bear drives. These are done at any time of the day and evening at the guests' discretion, so long as it is light out. In our case, we had a couple with whom we were sharing our guide. They'd been there for several days before us, and were a lovely couple who live part of the year in AK and part of the year in Florida. They also travel to Africa on a regular basis, and are amazing photographers. I gave them the link to Safaritalk and they had a look and thought it was great. I encouraged them to join and post, and I hope they will. This is their photography website. http://www.imagingnature.com/

 

In any case, Oliver took us out to meet our guide, Brian, who was already out looking at bears with the other couple in our group. There were the two mother bears with 2 cubs each still out there. They were both visible at the same time but to be close to one family, you would not be close enough to the other family to take good photos, so we concentrated on one mother and cub trio to start. I could not believe how close we got to the bears. SSCL does not have a rule about how close the guests can get other than listen to and stay with your guide. The guides are experienced enough to gage how close is too close, when to back off, etc. The bears did not seem worried about us or interested though of course they knew we were there. The mother was digging for clams and the babies were learning how. There were other guests out looking at them as well so there was a group of us. (there is one other lodge down the beach from SSCL and some of their guests were there as well). There was another group looking at the other mother and cub family. Here are some photos (hard to limit it to just one or two as it was such fun taking pictures of these bears!):

 

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Bear Cubs together

 

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Mama & Baby look at clam

 

This one gives a good idea of how close we were

 

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Photogs with Bear

 

Bear cub with seagull

 

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Cub with Gull

 

Ok that's probably enough for now! In the next post, our after lunch excursion into the meadow.

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LOVE this SC! Although you have much more patience than I would with delays

But you were trained well in Africa to roll with it!!

 

Just adorable cubs, loved seeing them interacting!

Great time you all had even in rain

Great memories for the girls

 

I hope you take them to Africa!

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The seagull with the cub - what a beautiful picture!

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A terrific day for you. How adorable are those cubs? You truly deserved that after all the flight irritations.

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What a great trip, Alaska is a place I really want to go and bears are one of my favoirite animals.

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