Personal Journeys

PERSONAL JOURNEYS

September 18, 2005

A Memorable Place

Watching bears catch salmon in Alaska

By Donna Lang

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

My husband, Steve, and I recently returned from a three-week trip to Alaska. It's an awesome place to visit, full of mountains, glaciers and wildlife.

The highlight was a day trip to Katmai National Park and Preserve. The park is home to the famous Brooks Falls, where bears congregate during the summer to fish for salmon.

The day started with a flight south from Anchorage to the small town of King Salmon. From there, we boarded a float plane that would take us to Katmai. As soon as the plane landed, we saw two brown bears walking on the beach -- a glimpse of what the day would hold.

All visitors to Katmai have to attend a bear safety class. A park ranger shows a video and answers questions. The fact that the bears tolerate the presence of people is emphasized.

With our bear safety training pins proudly displayed on our jackets, we were off to see the bears. Our first stop was the lower viewing platform next to the bridge that spans Brooks River. From there, we were able to view bears playing in the water. But we wanted to see bears catching salmon, so we moved on.

It's about a mile to reach the falls viewing platforms, and to get there you must walk a half-mile stretch of trail in the woods that is often used by bears. Nothing gets your adrenaline rushing more than turning a bend and seeing an 800-pound bear coming your way. This is exactly what happened to us.

We remembered the ranger's instructions and got off the trail to let the bear pass.

After that close encounter, we continued to the falls, where it was just like a Discovery Channel documentary.

There were about eight bears in the water and two at the edge of the falls. Even though every bear has its own fishing technique, the bears at the top of the falls seemed to have it the easiest. They just waited until a salmon jumped -- almost right into their mouths.

The scene was mesmerizing. We felt lucky that we were able to see firsthand such a marvel of nature. After several hours viewing the bears and snapping pictures, we headed back to the lodge for a bite to eat. We made it back to the lower platform only to learn that the trail was closed. A mother and cub had decided to take a nap next to the trail, and the rangers would not let any visitors pass.

Rather than complain about our grumbling stomachs, we hiked back to the falls to see more bears. Our return trip proved to be as memorable as the first. Once again we were captivated by the bears fishing.

Donna Lang lives in Nottingham.

My Best Shot

Katie Joost, Baltimore

Wonders of the Galapagos

My family recently joined a group from the New York Audubon Society on a tour of the Galapagos Islands. Our group of 16 hired a boat with a guide for a week as we visited the Darwin Center and toured most of the major islands. We photographed and walked among such incredible Galapagos wonders as the blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorants, marine iguanas, tortoises and these two penguins. It was a fabulous visit with nature and a fascinating look at the theory of evolution.

Readers Recommend

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Tanya Cook, Abingdon

My 10-year-old son and I spent spring break 2005 in Paris. The Eiffel Tower shows a compact, breathtaking city. The day before we returned home, we walked the Champs-Elysees to our final destination, the Arc de Triomphe. The 284 steps to the top were a workout, but the view from above was well worth the effort.

Aruba

Lauri Doody,

Baltimore

My husband and I honeymooned in Aruba last fall. Each day, we had a fabulous view of the water as we stepped out of our resort room. We floated from our room right onto the beach and into the warm water, barely stopping to put down our beach towels and chairs.

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