Stories told by Alaskans explain the island of Chichagoff to have at least 1 grizzly bear, if not more, per square mile. “There use to be more,” explained a friend “but one year many of them died while hibernating because of the lack of food to support them all. Does the land belong to them, or to us? Or are we just a part of nature as they are? In Alaska, we share the space. And me, I give them a lot of space. Oh pretty bear that could crush me in a second, I’m just passing on by. You stay there. Good… and I’ll just mosey on by!
As we motored our dinghy up the pristine Neka river, our first encounter was a mama bear and 1 tiny newborn cub. At the sound of our engine, mama bear turned the other direction and slowly disappeared into the bushes with her cub at her side. The windy river stretched miles through short meadows starting to grow from the late spring. As we took off our shirts to bask in the sunlight, the warm glow on our pale Alaskan skin felt like the welcoming of a long-lost friend. That vitamin D has never felt better!
Centered in the middle of this pristine valley, the roaring engine came to a halt as we stopped to embrace the beauty around us. Being in the middle of an Alaskan wilderness is mind blowing. The jaw drops as one becomes ever so small surrounded by the grand meadows and jetting peaks.
On the edge of the riverbank, the opportunity for practicing fly-fishing presented a wide-open space. Being new to fly-fishing, I naturally embrace these open spaces. Less likely to lose a fly or get my line tangled, is always a plus.
As the evening sun slowly moved through the sky, we saw 4 deer slowly munching their way around. “Good to know they are there,” I felt relieved, “the bears won’t be after us.” After an hour, we jumped back in the dinghy and started floating down river. A couple bends later, Rob captured some hunters in the distance. In his photo, you can see their binoculars were pointed on us. We waved, they waved, and all was great. As we made our way to the mouth of the river, we stopped to admire a cute little cabin in such a environmentally productive area.
A couple days and 4 bear sightings later, we decided to pay the town of Hoonah a visit. Shortly after we pulled up, the hunters docked their boats. A sheriff walked his way to the end of the docks, where their boats were tied up, to do a routine investigation of the grizzly kill. 3 large white plastic garbage bags were taken off the boat and the sheriff started to inspect them. “Sounds like they killed a bear,” Rob observed.
“A bear!” I couldn’t resist walking to the end of the docks and interrupting the big testosterone filled group of men staring at their kill. “Can I see?” As my estrogen presence accompanied the scene. The men all uncomfortably rustled in their boots as their grizzled bear circle was interrupted by my “eep” of excitement.
“Go ahead!” offered the sheriff.
“There’s its skull right there. It must have been old. Look at the teeth, they are starting to rot out. Looks like he could have had a tooth ache,” explained one of the hunters.
As a dental hygienist, I am purely fascinated and wished I had more time to examine the skull. Maybe the hunter was a dentist? I never found out, but thought it was interesting of him to point out that first detail.
Another hunter took out the bear hide and pointed to the foot, “take a look at those claws; that foot is as big as your head!”
“Waaaaaa?” I cried in wonder as I examined the claws and the size of the bear’s foot compared to my hand. Not being a normal part of my life, I was filled with wonder and let it shine bright. As it’s natural for me to fully embrace these moments in life. But people always take that as a sign of weakness, especially men with a fresh kill. It was time for them to nip at the bait I had thrown.
“Ya!” Puffed another hunter. “We killed that bear right where you 2 were fishing, shortly after you left.”
A big pause filled the air…
“Not to scare you or anything…” he insisted.
Knowing that he wanted a typical scared reaction, I stuck up my nose like Ann of Green Gables, and informed the lovely gentlemen, “Well, it’s a good thing the bear knew exactly where we were!”
I lost their interest. Their efforts of getting a scared reaction out of a squealy girl had failed.
After more discussion, I discovered that the bear guide was one of the only guides who has rights to touring people in that specific area to hunt for grizzlies.
“Why don’t you keep the meat?” I questioned.
“It’s usually wormy and no one likes the taste of brown bear meat. Once you eat it, you’ll never want it again. If people eat any bear, it’s usually black bear, and even that needs some beef mixed in to it for good sausages.” Explained the bear guide.
What happens to the meat? The birds, bugs, or even other bears will eat it in no time.
As the proud hunters moseyed along, Rob and I jumped on our mountain bikes to explore the town of Hoonah.
Icy Straight point, Icy Straight brewery, and Icy straight lodge were our main stopping points in Hoonah. Icy straight point is now where the cruise ships dock 1.5 miles from Hoonah. At one point, there was a busy cannery. Now that canneries are a thing of the past, they turned the old buildings into shops and a bit of a tourist trap. It was neat, but we wanted to help support some local businesses so we headed back towards town.
At Icy Straight Brewery, we enjoyed some nice flavors on our palate. This brewery caters to everyone, but saves their specialty beers for the locals. A couple of the specialty beers include fireweed beer and blueberry beer. Wishing we were going to be there later in the season, we could only dream of how delicious those beers would be.
When we made it to Icy Straight Lodge, we were greeted by the friendly owners, Barb and Ed. After talking to them, they invited us to enjoy the first caught king salmon of the year, a delicious meal in deed! “Want to go on a drive?” Asked Barb.
“Uh sure,” I responded as I was wondering where we would go at 9pm.
“Bears!” exclaimed their friend. “Take a look at these photos I just got earlier today!”
So there we went, on a grizzly bear safari!
10 minutes later, there was a bear, grazing on the side of the road, 15 feet away! My heart raced as I rolled up my window, not knowing how he would react to a vehicle filled with garlic breath. Without a care but grazing on his mind, the bear dawdled along as if he never saw us.
After a bit of grizzly fun, we headed back to the boat. We thought about sneaking onto the set of the Alaskan Bushman reality TV show, but decided to sail away to a new destination.
Where are we currently?