August 3 Day 29 Kluane to Haines

We woke to brilliant sunlight streaming in the east facing windows around 5:30 and with hot tea in the cupholders  were on the road by 6.  At last the Alaska Highway filled all my highest dreams of what this road could be. We were all alone and the Yukon pavement was smooth and silent.  When I lived in a beautiful part of the MotherLode in California, near Sonora, I dreamed of a road to myself.  I couldn’t often see the beauty because there were usually 7 cars behind me wanting to go faster and 7 cars in front of me trying slow me down.  Our drive today filled my yearning for the open road, a highway uncluttered with vehicles, wild and open and all my own.

Take a minute to watch the show and get a taste of what it felt like

this is the world heritage site we have been passingSt Elias MountainsWe took our time and pulled off often to catch the spectacular views of the St Elias Mountains.  A stop at the Kluane National Park of Canada gave us just a taste of the wild expanse of ice that makes up more than half of this magnificent land. Adjacent to and combined with the Wrangell-St Elias, these two parks make up the largest contiguous extent of protected wilderness in the world, and are recognized by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site of great significance. Ice fever called, and I dreamed of returning and taking the time to fly over that vast icefield with glaciers radiating down on all sides.

the St Elias Mountainsthat is a very big grizzly eating berries on the hill above usTo Haines Day 29_3390The road was perfect, except for a short stretch after we crossed into British Columbia, and when we saw the construction signs we pulled to a stop, with no idea what waited for us there. 

After a few moments, we noticed the flagger scanning the slopes to our east and of course, we looked up too.  High on the hill above us, oblivious to the world below, a grizzly grazed intently for berries.  The road folks exclaimed in awe that he was really a “big one”. It was thrilling to watch him move, so quickly and full of grace and power, even through the binoculars. The 300 lens could just barely capture him, but there he is, a real wild grizzly, no collar, no bands, unexpected, in the middle of nowhere.  Without the construction slowdown we would have missed him.

shifting habitats on the Haines HighwayWe crossed Haines Pass, with more wonderful interpretive signs about the gold rush and an especially well done description of the habitat variations from tundra to hemlock forest as we descended into the valley.  the river where 3500 eagles gather each springThe rapid change was dramatic, and beautiful, as we suddenly were surrounded by the thick, dark forest and the broad glacially fed Chilkat River, home to more than 3,500 eagles in the fall at the Eagle Reserve.

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Fort Seward at HainesOnce we arrived in Haines, we took advantage of the sunny afternoon to walk around Fort Seward and explore the shops and galleries on the Fort grounds.  Fort Seward was built in 1902 and operated until 1947.  Eventually it was bought by a group of war veterans and  the grounds and buildings are privately owned with hotels, restaurants and galleries.  I especially enjoyed walking through the Native Arts Center and seeing the huge mess of artistic creativity in the main carving room.

But the main reason we took the extra time to come to Haines was for the bears, and it was time to go find them.  There is a large population of both black and brown bear in Haines, but it is especially famous for the bear viewing along the Chilkoot River at Chilkoot State Park just 9 miles north of town.

Bears at Hainespeople were really obnoxious fighting for position and then stopped and blocking the roadthe bear guard having trouble with the dumb people We unexpectedly drove in Haines on a “cruise ship Wednesday” the only day that ships dock here, so the bear viewing site was full of people in cars and buses, with tour groups and people walking along the road.  It was a zoo, just without fences.  Even so, it was wonderful to see these big brown bears up close and personal.

The only ‘fence’ was the park officer walking around trying to corral all the folks who would think of getting to close to a momma grizzly and her babies.  She seemed somewhat frustrated with some folks especially, and said to me, “Fine, let them get mauled, they deserve it”.  She was saddened especially by the fact that the two cubs will no doubt end up being killed from their exposure to too many people.  They can’t relocate these big brown bears because they stubbornly return to their homelands in record time.

Bears at Haines1If you look closely at the lower right photo in the collage, you will see a salmon fisherman of the human variety.  These fishermen compete with the bears for the spawning salmon, but if a bear comes too close they will run away, leaving behind their catch. This results in bears discovering that humans are a great source of food. The saying goes, “A fed bear is a dead bear”.  Sad

wen had burgers here last nightStill, it was thrilling to watch Mama and her little ones, a male and a female just a year and a half old. Mama was a great swimmer, and her babies were carefully staying in the shallow water as they watched her fish.  The boy cub was much braver than the light boned delicate little girl but he still didn’t go all the way out to fight the strong current with Mama.  Even with her collar and bands, it was wonderful seeing this great wild 7 year old bear fishing in her world, traveling the same routes her mother did and fishing the same waters while she taught her babies.  There is another mom with 3 cubs in the area and 2 other males but we didn’t see them on this trip.

After our bear time, we went back to town to our home on the water at Oceanside RV Park.  It’s not fancy, but it has full hookups, TV and WiFi and with our planned two day stay, it’s nice to have amenities. Our freezer stores are getting a bit low, so we went to the Lighthouse Bar just down the road for great burgers while we watched the light change over the inlet.  Somehow coming to Haines was a full circle return from our cruise last summer when we watched Haines in the distance as we passed by on the Princess.  It was fun to watch the cruise ships pass  on the Lynn Canal as we settled into the evening.

 

CaptureMiles travel today: 214

Road condition: excellent 2 lane paved highway with a short stretch of gravel construction in BC

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here

A LOT of photos of the bears are linked here

 

Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

9 thoughts on “August 3 Day 29 Kluane to Haines”

  1. The griz while you waited at the road construction site – GREAT!

    I drove the road down to Haines in my old VW camper in an October snowstorm in 1981. I had to make it that day, or I would miss the once-a-week ferry to Seattle, which I really, really wanted to catch. Couldn't see the road for the snow (just the pole markers on the sides), and had to periodically stop to scrape the frost off the INSIDE of my windshield – those old VW busses had TERRIBLE heaters! It was the scariest drive of my life… but I DID make the ferry. Fortunately, I have also drive it under better conditions. 🙂

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  2. love the grizzly on the side of the road..if it weren't for the construction you never would have seen it!..now as for being the only ones on the road?..when it is like that do you ever wonder if the world has come to an end and you and Mo are the only ones still on it??..
    have a great day!..and thanks for the ride..we are so enjoying Alaska through your windshield..but geesh..could you stop more often!..there are so many places to take pictures!!!!

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  3. If you want to read a delightful book about life in Haines, read Heather Lende's'If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name.

    Enjoying your posts.

    Mary Ann

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  4. I have never seen a real live Grizzly Bear so it was nice to see some real live photos of a Grizzly Bear that haven't been Doctored up for a magazine. Sure know that feeling of no other vehicles on the road. We experience that in Southeastern Arizona every winter & I just love that feeling. Keep on having yourselves a great time way up dare in da Nort:))

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  5. What a great bear sighting … even if there were stupid people around. Enjoyed the photos in your online gallery too.

    How people just leave or stop their cars helter skelter when there is a “wildlife jam” is always irritating and inconsiderate. Not that we haven't stopped at our share of roadside sightings, but Mui always makes sure to pull off to a safe spot before we leave the car; and we don't venture far as the car is the safety net when you're around wildlife.

    Our first bear sighting was also at a distance, and also when we were at a standstill, and quite by happenstance. In our case, we were in line at the Whittier Tunnel entrance, waiting to cross into town. High up on the snow-covered hills, two black dots were playing around, tumbling in the snow. Yes, they were mere dots, but the shapes were clearly visible. What a thrill that was.

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  6. Great bear pictures. Sometimes people seems to forget that wild animals are, well, WILD!! Hope Abby wasn't scared of the cubs.

    The highway shots were great too. What a great feeling of being the only car on the road.

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