Some things never seem to lose their wonderment—a star-filled night sky, a passage from a treasured book, the smile of a loved one. For this writer, a wilderness float trip is high on that list, though the origin of the charm is hard to pinpoint. Is it the flow of the river? Anticipation of the unknown at first launch? Or the way rivers change each time you run them, making each trip seem new again?Every float is special, but the Little Susitna River in Southcentral Alaska is a place to get lost.
Graham Stanford is 18 years old. Standing just a few inches over five feet tall, he carries a short-barreled .40-caliber rifle as he walks through the waist-high brush in front of me. He stops, holding up his right hand—a signal for the four of us behind him to hold back. I can see over his head: a small field of brown grass divides the nearby lake's edge from a thick stand of alders and a wall of snow- dusted mountains rising up behind them. From our guide's slightly lower vantage, I'm fairly certain he can't see more than a few feet beyond the barrel of his gun. I clutch my camera, as if it might help."There," he says, pointing off to our right. Squinting into the rising sun, I see two small brown forms and one big one, slowly lumbering along the bank about 50 yards away. My heart skips a beat.
I was less than a mile from the house when I saw the bear—a reddish, teenage grizzly—sauntering down the road. At first, he didn't even react to the rumble and crunch of tires on gravel. But once the dogs saw him and exploded into an indignant, noses-to-windshield frenzy, he evaporated into the brush. Of course there were bears around our new homestead up the Klehini River, 20 or so miles north of Haines. Wolves and moose too, along with all the wild creatures that come with the country. That was one of the reasons we'd bought the place. Not that our 15 years in Juneau had been your average suburban experience. In our time living in the shadow of the glacier, we'd rubbed shoulders with bears, mostly black; mountain goats; wolves, especially a certain black wolf; coyotes, and more.
Check out these beautiful pictures of breaching humpback whales from Foggy Lens Photography.
The Alaska Railroad is now offering a new day trip to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Aboard the Glacier Discovery Train, guests will have the opportunity to experience the unparalleled scenery on the southern portion of the Railbelt and be able to check out all of the new and exciting things happening at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
On a misty afternoon in Southeast Alaska, a crowd gathered around the skeleton of a humpback whale. The voice of Ken Grant, Tlingit elder and management assistant for Glacier Bay National Park, carried through the spruce and cotton- woods: "Yei ayá xwaa ax haa shkalneegi, yaa haa ixti awsiteen wei yaay yaa haa Tsalxáan tayee dei woo hoowin ach aya yei gax to saa ... Tsalxáan Tayée Yaay." I have heard from our ancestor's oral history that our shaman saw the whale sound and swim under our Mount Fairweather—this is why we give her the name 'Whale Beneath Mount Fair- weather.' Forty-five-and-a-half feet long, the skeleton formed a graceful arc, head lowered and pectoral fins soaring through the air. Tsalxáan Tayée Yaay had returned home to her permanent display in Glacier Bay National Park.
“Don’t run,” I tell myself as two young grizzlies leap out of the forest and scamper down the beach toward us. Then I say it out loud to my wife: “Don’t run!” Even though our guide, Ed Shanley from Above & Beyond Alaska, had us check every pocket to make sure we weren’t carrying any food that might attract bears, the grizzlies seem to be running trough the drizzly afternoon straight at us. Perhaps this is a traditional welcome on Admiralty Island, part of Tongass National Forest near Juneau. We do as we should; we freeze. The Admiralty Island National Monument ranger accompanying us—Carl Koch, a former paramedic from New Jersey—says the two bears are 3 1⁄2 years old, and that this is their first summer on their own. Never run, Koch says again, as he had in our initial briefing: “Even if they are not going to hurt you, they would love to chase you. It’s instinct.” Koch carries a .338 rifle, but assures us he’s never had to use it.
Take a look at these stunning shots of Alaska from Foggy Lens Photography.
(Photo: Michael W. Rogers) A community discussion on the values and benefits of wilderness took place on Tuesday, April 15 at the Loussac Library in Anchorage. The event, "Explore Wilderness: A Conversation on Alaska Wilderness Values," brought together artists, scientists, Alaska Native leaders, land managers and adventurers to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, historic legislation that changed the country and Alaska.