"Tales from the Trail"
Guest: Gene Adee
Sponsored by Alaska's Hallo Bay Bear Camp
Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge
(ride: Florida to Homer, AK)
Oh, you’re not gonna believe this!
As I mentioned before, Clint and Simyra (my Hoka Hey Challenge sponsors and hosts) run the Hallo Bay Bear Camp located 120 air miles southeast of Homer in the Katmai Nationl Park. The camp is just back into the grassland about 100 yards in from the Pacific Ocean.
When I first talked to Clint many months ago he mentioned that he’d like to get me out to the camp to see brown bears, BIG brown bears, in the wild, up close and personal. I have to admit that with my limited bear IQ and Discovery Channel bear episodes running through my mind, I was less than enthusiastic. However, when I got here to Homer and saw the operation and learned a great deal more about the bears’ habitat, I was enthusiastic to go…almost. I figured, in for a penny, in for a pound.
#1: Our Cessna 206 charriot awaits
#2: Left turn out toward the Homer Spit
#3: Cruise ship at the deep water harbor of the Spit
To get to the Bear Camp requires an hour flight in a C-206 with huge tires for landing on beaches. No problem there, I’ve done that. What has been a problem, though, the last few days has been the weather out at the Park. Not quite zero:zero, but almost. All flights were grounded. When the weather broke this morning Clint had a couple of cancellations, which opened up a seat for me. Ever the non-rev be me.
The flight was smooth and the vis under the high overcast was excellent. Simyra was our guide (she will stay at the camp for another two weeks) as we started walking along the beach to the break in the waist-high grass, which was a path made by the bears themselves, then through a wooded area that looked and felt like something out of Jurassic Park. When we got to the meadow on the interior we could see three bears right away, two sub-adults together (7-8 years old) and an adult female off about a quarter mile away. Eventually we saw another adult male and a female adult with a pair of two-year-old cubs.
#4: Looking from the air for bears
#5: Tally-Ho! Picture center on the beach
#6: Hallo Bay Bear Camp overnight huts - Accommodations for 1, 2, & more
#7: Inside the galley and main dining room
#8: Sandy paw print
#9: Day trippers (versus overnight guests)
#10: Jurassic Park trail
#11: Simyra, my hostess, Hoka Hey sponsor, and guide
Bears communicate mostly by the reading body language of other bears. For example, if bear-A is grazing in the meadow and bear-B is about to enter the same meadow, bear-A might sit down to indicate that everything is OK and you can come in. Or, bear-A may turn and face bear-B indicating that it’s not welcome. Very subtle and very interesting.
#12: Sub-adult brown bear
#13: They can actually smell each of the different grasses
#14: They don't eat the real tall grass behind this bear
#15: Bear scat: I feel better and lighter already!
#16: Rear and front paw marks. Front is much larger
#17: Adult female with a real itchy winter coat
We strolled around the grassy meadow in a single file, presenting to the bears a much smaller and less offensive cross-section view than a line abreast view would. They knew we were there, but they treated us like just another piece of driftwood. I spent about two hours in total fascination at what I was experiencing. I lost my timidness almost immediately and felt very comfortable even in close proximity to these huge animals. Talk about a vertical learning curve…
#18: Working our way closer - Enjoying the experience
#19: She's looking kinda mottley with some of her coat rubbed off
Right now they are trying to get rid of their winter coats (by scratching or rubbing up against trees) in preparation for their much shorter summer hair coat, and the onset of salmon season a few weeks away. They just ate various types of grasses the whole time I watched. They’re ravenously hungry.
I was a bit disappointed when we had to turn back to catch the plane back to Homer. My amazement square wasn’t quite full, yet. Several times I turned myself into a mouth-breather with it wide open. The flight back was just as good and I got some good pictures of the spit and Homer from the air. What a great way to spend the day.
#20: After a hard day of play, just relaxing
#21: Adult female with two cubs
#22: Off we go...
I’ll be leaving in the morning to start my way back to the lower 48. But first the Harley service stop up the road.
You really need to get up and see what AK has to offer.