Haines, Alaska


August 2006


What a beautiful spot to spend a week.  The white buildings of Fort Seward form a distinctive landmark on a hillside overlooking America's longest fjord.  Haines is surrounded by glacier-covered mountains and numerous lakes and rivers teeming with fish and wildlife.  Here we had our best-ever bear encounters - with photos to prove it.  After a trip to the Bald Eagle Foundation Museum where we watched a magnificently filmed hour-long movie about these creatures, we spent time at the nearby Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve where we watched the eagles in their natural environment.  What an incredible sight to watch them soar so close by. 

 A renowned artists' haven, Haines boasts lots of little shops and galleries of traditional native and contemporary artwork.  Every shop owner has their own story about what brought them to (and keeps them in) Alaska.  Despite forecasts of rain all week, most days were clear long enough for us to venture out.  Each evening we drove eight miles out to Chilkoot Lake State Park where the bears were feasting at dusk on spawning salmon.  A sow and her very large cub came every night.  Occasionally a large male would get too close and the mama would chase him away, or she would make a hasty departure.  Nick, a wildlife ranger we met there, explained how we should handle ourselves around the bears.  The bears come out of the wooded hillside along the road and cross it to get to the river.  It is so important to give them room and not block their exit back across the highway.  The bears have become so used to humans that they mostly just ignore them all. 

One evening some friends parked right next to the water and later the mama and cub came down and were feeding in the water just 15 feet next to the car.  Three of us were able to stand inside the car's doorways on the far side and take pictures over the top of the car.  When the bears decided to head back up the hillside, we all piled into the car and shut the door.  (I didn't know I could move so quickly!)  The ranger had to tell the 30 or 40 people behind us to move away to a safer distance or to their own cars. 

On our last evening there, the one night the ranger was not there, we encountered a traffic jam as we were leaving.  People were definitely crowding the bears.  The mama heard something (like another bear) and when she came up on the road, the cars were blocking her exit.  People had left their cars in the middle of the roads to see the bears and there was no room for us to move forward.  People were standing all around taking pictures.  I got a couple of fantastic shots from inside the car that show you how foolish some people can be!

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