Saturday, 19 August 2006, Haines, AK
We arrived in Haines last night a little before 9.00. The view of Haines from the ferry is quite impressive, as the white houses of Fort William H. Seward stand out clearly on the hill, with the mountains behind. Unfortunately the light by this time was not really good enough for photographs. On arrival we drove into town - about 4 miles - and checked into the Haines Hitch-up RV Park, right on Main Street. We were so impressed by this little town, and also with the dry weather, that we decided we might stay 2 nights and check the area out. The RV Park is very clean and well-kept and the hosts are friendly and helpful. There are a lot of do's and don'ts but if it keeps things clean and running smoothly, then I guess we can stand it for one night now and then!
This morning we drove first out to Chilkat State Park which is on the western side of the Chilkat Peninsular about 7 miles south of Haines. From this Park we had a clear view across the Chilkat Inlet to the Davidson and Rainbow Glaciers. We had seen them both from the ferry yesterday, but the view from the Park was much better, once some very heavy cloud had passed. We had wanted to stop, on the way back to town, at a gallery just outside the Park called Extreme Dreams - it had been recommended to us by our Juneau friends. Unfortunately it was closed until 1.30 and it was shortly after 12.00 when we arrived, so we had to content ourselves with a look through the window. It appeared to have a nice variety of interesting artwork and glasswork. It seems that this section of Alaska is home to many artists working in all mediums.
We drove back into town and looked around the fort area. This fort was built as an army post in the early 1900's to establish an American presence here in south-east Alaska. It seems that Canada laid some claim to the land and the ownership hadn't been clarified... In 1946 the buildings were sold to a group of WWII veterans and they have been kept in very good repair. The area is now a national historic site. The downtown area is a little deserted - it seems that a few of the locals have decided the season is over, and a lot of the interesting things are only open during the week, e.g. the interesting sounding Hammer Museum. Some of the trees seem to think it is autumn already as well! But it is a pleasant little town, with never the sight of a cruise ship - we were told that the locals decided they could better live without the cruise ship tourists. The only way in or out of this town is the Haines Highway which we will travel to Haines Junction to join the Alaskan Highway, or a ferry to Juneau or Skagway.
We had also been told that the Chilkoot River was a good chance to observe bears feeding on salmon, so we decided to drive out to the Chilkoot Lake Recreation Area and find a campsite for the night. After an early dinner we drove out of the campground and back along the river. We came across a large group of people, all looking in the same direction down at the river. We parked and went to investigate. A mother grizzly bear and her cub were feeding on the edge of the river and it was a wondrous sight. It was the closest we had been (and want to be!) to any bear we had seen so far. When she decided to leave the river and go back to the forest, she was coming in my direction so I decided to climb back in the truck and watch from there. She ran right in front of the truck and up the hill into the forest with her cub right behind her. But she didn't stay out of sight for long.
We drove further down the river to get a better view of the Bald Eagles which were circling above. Evidently there are about 400 of these birds living in this area full-time and in the autumn and winter the numbers climb to 3500. The Haines area has one of the highest concentrations of Bald Eagle populations in North America.
As we were driving back to the campground we discovered the bear and her cub were now feeding on the edge of Chilkoot Lake, just at the entrance to the campground. Along with a lot of other interested observers, with as many cameras, we watched them feeding for quite some time. Mother bear went off to take a swim in the current and left baby bear alone on the edge to continue eating for a while. It is one of the most amazing sights I have experienced to date. It is one thing to see all the natural geological wonders that we have seen, but it is entirely something else to see the wildlife in their natural habitat, going about their daily business, with little or no interest in the human observers.
I think I'm going to lose count eventually, but I think these were bear sightings number 5 & 6!
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