Boondock– Saturday was our last night boondocking at Robe Lake, Valdez. Friday night there were two other RV’s boondocking here but last night we had the place to ourselves. This has been a good boondocking site. It’s just a few miles into the main part of town and it’s beautiful and very quite.
Travel Plan– We’ll dump our waste tanks in the free dump site in Valdez this morning, get fresh water and gas and head out to Worthington Glacier on our way out of this area. Looking forward to driving once again on the Richardson Highway. Will be heading toward Tok but along the way is another dirt road into Wrangell-St. Elias National Park so we will give it another go at seeing more of this beautiful, huge National Park. Then we will begin working our way down the Cassier Highway on our way to Stewart/Hyder where, if we’re lucky, we’ll be able to see more brown bears in the wild fishing for salmon.
Brown bear watching– Thursday evening we went out to see the brown bear sow and her four cubs fishing near the fish hatchery on Prince William Sound in Valdez. We did get to see her as she tried bringing her cubs out of the woods, out from behind a chain link fence, across the street and down to the water where she likes to fish. She led her cubs out from behind the chain link fence but only one cub followed her lead. The other three got stuck behind the fence and started calling to the mother as she started to cross the street. Back the mother went and this time all four cubs followed her lead as she took them to her fishing area. At this point, we left the area but were gratified that there were some public safety officials there to maintain some crowd control and protect both the onlookers and the bear. It’s very unusual to see a mama with four cubs. Usually they are born 1-3 to a litter so to see four cubs was quite a thrill for us. In all the time we spent in Yellowstone National Park, we had heard of four cubs but never actually saw this many. Think this is truely a once in a lifetime experience and we could stay there all day and watch these bears. The locals of Valdez tell us this sow had a litter of three cubs two years ago and she managed to raise them all to maturity without loosing any. Usually one or sometimes two cubs are lost to predators so we’re hoping that in this case she can raise all four of these cubs to maturity. She seems to be a patient, attentive mother and responds immediately when any of the cubs give a distress call to her. There seems to be one runt in this litter. It is noticably smaller than the other cubs and has some light colored fur around it’s neck and on it’s chest. Friday morning we were up at 5:00 am and drove over to the bear fishing area to watch her fish and see her cubs. As you can imagine, there were very few folks around at this hour so the sow and her cubs moved about unencumbered by human presence. Still find it amazing how proficient these bear are at catching fish. We watched her catch at least a dozen fish and the cubs pitched right in and helped her eat them. This is a memory we’ll enjoy for the rest of our lives. Met a couple from Ohio this morning. They also saw the bear and agreed it was a wonderful experience to see them in the wild, not in a zoo. Something they never dreamed of seeing.
We boondocked last night again at Robe Lake with just beautiful views of the water, the woods and surrounding Chugach Mountains. Woke to a temp. of 45 degrees F. and a light rain. Actually, we heard it rain at a moderate rate all night. We’re planning on going out on a cruise on Prince William Sound today so we’re hoping this place will act like Camelot and only rain at night for a day or two. We shall see but we’re going out on the cruise, rain or shine. Heard a lot of bird calls at the lake and saw a bald eagle fly over in addition to an armada of ducks in the water. Though I know there are large animal wildlife somewhere out in the distant woods, we haven’t seen any around the lake.
We got a tip that the area of Prince William Sound near the Fish Hatchery was a good place to go and watch for seals. Then someone else told us that in the same area, we might see Brown Bear fishing in the evening, sometime around 8:00 pm. So we headed for the fish hatchery area at 7:30 pm and found a crowd of people standing on the walk way, cameras up, looking at the beach. Saw a few young men fishing off the side of the road and they had clearly caught a few fish. Looking further up along the shore, there was a Mama Brown Bear with her four cubs!
We were told by a ranger that the difference between a Grizzly and a Brown Bear is habitat. Grizzlies live in the interior where food is tough to find and the bear frequently have a lower protein diet making each grizzly need a very large area to range to look for food so they are quite intolerant of other bear and people. Brown Bear usually live within ten miles of the coast and their diet contains much more protein making them more tolerant of other bear and people. Both are still quite dangerous and the most dangerous is the mama bear with cubs.
Rarely do bear have so many cubs. That’s a lot of mouths to feed in any species! The mortality for bear cubs is high so this mama we were watching has her work cut out for her.
We stayed in this location for about an hour watching the mama catch fish, bring the fish up on the shore and begin to eat it. The cubs join in eating some of the fish and the mama tolerates them sharing in her catch. She does not feed them however and they must come to her and take some of the fish for themselves. At one point the mama crossed the road to the woods with a fish in her mouth and the four cubs following, She ate the fish in the woods, likely sharing it with them and nursed the cubs while in the bushes. Then she crossed the road to go fishing again but one of the cubs had trouble getting down the hill and she returned to get him then they all crossed the road together and she resumed fishing. Wow! Can she fish. Catching the fish with her mouth or claws, she was quick! Oh, what a great opportunity to watch a brown bear in the wild! Never thought we would get to see one so close especially a sow with cubs!
The crowd watching the bears with us last night was composed of folks from around the world (Belgium, Germany, Japan, etc.) and Americans from various states. We’ve listened to and read a lot about bear safety and while no experts we do know a few safer behaviors. This was clearly not the case for everyone in the crowd last night watching the mama bear fish. No one was crazy enough to go down on the beach with the mama and cubs but a few did other risky things. When the mama bear crossed the street some people ran away. One man ran right by the bear like he was a gazelle, which is a very dangerous thing to do. Running can get the bear’s “chase” instint going, they focus on the runner and chase the runner down. Luckily she was focused on her cubs and fishing and did not give chase. Another thing a few people did was approach the cubs to get a better picture of them crossing the road (either they are brave or suicidal). There were other human behaviors that amazed us such as letting a few little kids run free making lots of “little kid noises”. Turned out, this mama bear was unusually tolerant so all there remained safe and folks have lots of great stories and pictures to take home.
Cruise on Prince William Sound–
We will be going out on a cruise today and may return very late tonight so will likely post about it tomorrow. Here’s hoping we get to see some whales out there.