I prepared myself for a grizzly encounter. I planned. While hiking, I would make plenty of noise, clapping, talking, and having my pepper spray in-hand (though you have to be 16 feet from the bear to use the spray…uhmm…wow…really?…yikes). More importantly, I had griz-photos all pre-determined in my head, imagining paintings of huge Alaskan brown bears, swishing around in violent rivers, sleek salmon in their massive mouths.
Alaska. I’d never been before. Growing up in Colorado, I thought it would be same-same. Just bigger and colder. Not so.
We headed up at the end of August for a week-long family trip, which included more family than the usual crew of myself, my husband and our boys. We were a group of eleven; extended family members as well as friends. We happily co-habitated in a home on the Kenai River near the little town of Soldotna (we all had to train ourselves to pronunciate the Russian name, Sol-DOT-na). And little town it was, gearing down from a busy summer. Some of the shops and restaurants were shuttering for the year. Fred Meyer, our oft-visited grocery store, however, buzzed with business every day. Mostly ours.;)
Back view of the house we rented on the Kenai River.
Most of our crew of 11 people fished every day, sometimes all day long! They could fish directly on the Kenai, just a few yards down a path from the house.
Our crew lined the river, fishing for Sockeye Salmon
While my family and friends fished, I painted in my journal, enjoying sunny, warm weather.
Painting in my journal on the back deck
On one particularly sunny day, a nuthatch flew into the house through the open door and ended up confused, flying into a window with a clonk. I threw a shirt over him and took him outdoors. He wobbled around a bit, sat on my thumb until he was mindful, and took off.
Poor little nuthatch on my thumb. Cute, isn’t he?
In spite of the amazing fishing and the nuthatch encounter, I had my mind focused on bears, scared though I was with the prospect of an actual teeth-slobbering, claws-slashing encounter. BUT! Never, ever let anything come between a woman and her vision of a great painting. Even big brown scary bears. Even that.
We planned a hike to Russian River Falls, which is known for bear activity. Specifically, bears fishing.
Lower Russian Falls
There were plenty, plenty of fish in the Russian River
The hike was a 2.5 mile stroll along a wide, pedestrian-friendly path down to the famed river and falls. Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who wished for an encounter with bears. The path was well-worn, but since we were there at the end of the season, we encountered only a few groups of people. When we arrived at the overlook to the falls, I was dissapointed to find NO BEARS. Not a single bear anywhere! We saw fresh bear scat, but no bears. There were, however, millions of fish packed in the river, trying to head up the falls, exhausted though they were, to spawn in their own special spawning spot. No other spot would do. They were driven to jump the falls to reproduce. Their jumps were amazing, seeming an impossible feat for a fish. Hello? Note to fish: You are supposed to swim, not fly…
We headed back after a lunch of sandwiches and tangerines by the falls. We all had plenty of chances to take photos of amazing Alaskan terrain. You can bet I found plenty of subjects for future paintings.
On our way back, we met up with a friendly Fish & Wildlife guy, who offered to take us up to see the fish dam (or weir, as he called it), near Lower Russian Lake, where they count salmon on a daily basis. Wonderful! He was a trove of information on the fauna, and even the flora of the area. We arrived at the lake…gorgeous!
Russian Lake. Gorgeous!
Wonderful hike. I would love to spend time in one of the lake cabins that the F&W guy mentioned, painting and hiking the area every day. Maybe I would even become a bear-whisperer.
One day, in spite of some major vehicular problems in which we spent all morning at the dealership then ended up renting a HOT Dodge Charger…(hello power, and welcome!), we drove to Homer.
Posing with two of my sons, in front of the famous Salty Dawg Saloon in Homer
Beautiful Homer. It featured a long spit on which rested the famed Salty Dawg Saloon (of course, we had to pose in front of it) as well as cute little tourist shops. Glacial-formed mountains swung steeply down into Kachemak Bay, providing shelter for many seabirds in its wind-swept waters. Stunning.
Homer Spit Marina
The next day, we decided another hike was in order. This one, called Skilak Lookout trail, promised incredible views of Skilak Lake. Everyone performed back-bends to get 11 people to their different needs and locations with one car this day, having returned the rental.
Skilak Lookout Trail
This trail was a little more sketchy than the other, being less used, more brushy, and in serious bear country. At one point, I heard a very deep moan-groan (no, it wasn’t me) that was “something” (“something” being an inside joke that family members from the trip will enjoy…). That “something” was probably a moose, we decided later, as we had fresh tracks all the way up to the lookout. At the time, though, we considered the very real possibility it could be a bear, and were on hyper-alert, our bear-spray warriors in the front and the back of our group, thumbs on triggers.
Selfie on the top of Skilak Lookout
My boys and I at the top of Skilak Lake Lookout Trail. Skilak Lake below
Amazing, amazing views. The guides online and at the trail site were a little confusing. Online, the hike was supposed to be 2.5 miles round-trip. Turns out, it was 2.5 miles in, 2.5 out. No big deal for any of us, but took longer than what we had planned.
No bears(sad face). Bonus, though! On our way home, we spotted a moose!
Mama moose with her baby
Alas, we had to pack up and go home eventually. No bear sightings! I still cannot believe it! My visions of superb paintings of bears must be shelved! I took many photos, though, and have paintings planned and canvases primed to convey to you my impressions of Alaska.
Fish for home
Also? We had around 250 pounds of fish to take home and put into our freezers. Yum. Thanks, fishermen!!
Alaska. Bigger than Colorado indeed, but also more wild, more rugged, more extreme and wayyyy less tamed.
View from the plane of Alaskan glaciers on our way home
Goodbye, Alaska. I’ll be back… 🙂
All images and paintings on this site copyrighted by Sarah B Hansen unless otherwise noted.