Some More Haines Fun
Trip Start Jun 18, 2010
61Trip End Ongoing
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A Lazy Sunny Day Again.
A Four Wheeling Experience.
More Bear Viewing.
Well first of all, as you already noted, today is Saturday and if you have been reading this blog, you know what Saturday brings; French Toast is on the menu. I don't know about you, but French Toast just tastes better when it’s fixed outdoors on a camping trip (like this has been a camping trip)
Since there is a lull in the travel action, I’ll play advocate for the Haines Chamber of Commerce and give them their 15 seconds of fame. The history of the valley where Haines is presently located goes back beyond "Once Upon a Time"; it literally goes back thousands of years (artifacts carbon dated back 6,000 to 8,000 years) with the Tlingit Indians (pronounced klink-ET); the area evolved over the years due to it’s abundant natural resources and tempered climate with permanent settlers established in the late 1800’s. Interestingly, Haines exists in somewhat of a rain shadow receiving only about 60 inches annual precipitation with record temperature highs and lows of 90ºF and -17ºF.
Early Haines had its share of gold seekers and traders that brought further development eventually leading to establishment of the U.S. Army base of Ft. Seward. Today, Haines is well established as an eclectic community of 2,500 people (at certain times, they are outnumbered by the eagles) located about 13 nautical miles by water from Skagway but a whopping 360 miles away by road. It has all the amenities a traveler needs (except a Pharmacy, be sure to bring all medications you may need); industry mainly centers around both sport and commercial fishing but also tourism
After our lazy start, the remainder of the morning consisted of the typical family catch-up phone calls and making reservations for a Japanese mule ride; got your attention didn’t it? I’m not talking about the kind of mule you stuff hay into; we went for the Kawasaki 4-wheel drive, knobby tired, liquid cooled, overhead valved, 617cc type Mule. The reservations were for 3:00 PM with the Takshanuk Mountain Trail Co.; we picked up our $49/day rental car just prior to driving out to the trail ride. We knew we wanted to drive around for the next couple of days so this was an easy way to accomplish that.
Arriving at the 4-wheel drive rental office and trailhead, we were quickly given the introductory operating lesson (only slightly more than here’s the starter switch and push on the gas pedal to make it go) because everyone else has already mounted their mule; there were ten other 4-wheelers in this ride. This was a guided 5 mile ride climbing up 1100’ of elevation within one mile. The trail wound its way up the Takshanuk Mountain with 19 switchbacks and thousands of views. Even though the guide informed people to be in 4WD and LO; to take their time that it was not a race to the lodge for snacks, these people were obviously from an underfed cruise ship because they drove like a group of Monday morning commuters in Houston; wide open and right on the bumper of the vehicle in front
The ride up to the lodge (and fresh baked cookies) was the end of the switchbacks and after the facilities break, we continued up the mountain trail to a nameless lake (actually a small pond), then on to the end of the trail at a cul-de-sac turnaround/overlook. From this vantage point you could look north at the valley that forms Chilkoot Lake or south to Mt Ripinsky towering 3,650’over the trail we just rode. The time spent at this observation point is quickly consumed and we mount up for the return ride to the lodge for a full blown lumberjack supper.
Along the way back, somehow I got second from the back and I had mule nostrils breathing down my neck until I whipped into a pull out and let him pass; turns out this was a local geriatric (I’m not being obtuse here, he was 90 years old and somewhat of a local figurehead) who was out on the town showing his visiting, OLDER sisters (he emphasized this not me and certainly not them) a good time in Haines. What a spirit this cart load had; they were a hoot
Supper was prepared by the time we all pulled up at the Lodge. The actual tour company owner was there dressed in his Hawaiian shirt and shorts; he joins the customers when he can to do the mix and mingle. He was an interesting person to visit with and had quite a story that lead him from the surfing shores of Florida to the trail business in Alaska. Supper was a full meal deal of batter fried Halibut, BBQ chicken, green salad and a whipped cream fruit salad. It was all you could eat for as long as it lasted. Everyone got their monies worth and the Mules road a little closer to the ground on the trail back down the hill.
Speaking of back down the hill, we still had some fun remaining; we had those 19 switchbacks to negotiate and I plan to be last in line and fall back in the crowd to enjoy the ride. I don’t know about the Geritol group, but I had some unsolicited help driving back down the hill. There seemed to be lots of free advice coming my way and at one point suddenly I grew a third arm and it was constantly on the steering wheel. Free advice, verbal abuse and an additional hand-on-the-wheel steering assistance aid, what more could you ask for while rocketing down the 20% grade? All this help without even asking!
Having now stuffed ourselves and with an easier way to get around with our rental car, we headed back out the Chilkoot Lake road to the fishing/bear road; tonight proved to be a drive that had fantastic or horrible timing (you can decide) for bear viewing. We just arrived and parked before the momma grizzly bear and two cubs showed up for salmon supper. This road we are on is the only way into the Chilkoot State Park camping area and it runs parallel to the Chilkoot River where the state has a fish weir set up to conduct salmon surveys.
A fish counter has an interesting job at this site because the bears exit the woods, cross the road and enter the river at the fish weir. This weir was essentially a picket fence strung across the river with an opening in the middle where the counter sits and, what else, counts the salmon swimming through. I know, you would think there would be another way especially one that doesn’t put this counter person in peril when the bears start walking the weir to catch their fish. I’m sure there is a contingency plan, but fortunately we never observed the bears having to go very far out to catch all the fish they needed. Periodically, the Park Rangers would allow traffic to slowly drive past the 50 yards of roadway when the bears would be far enough away. You have to understand that Alaska Parks’ personnel take their bears seriously and work hard to prevent stress in the bears
We watched this sow teaching the cubs the ways of swift water salmon fishing and as you can imagine, it was hilarious at times. At one point the cubs had run off with their catch into the woods and the sow was in the stream fishing on the opposite side of the highway. When momma realized this she went looking for the cubs and tracked their smell across the pavement and into the woods. As with any mother and missing kids, this agitated the sow to no end which turns out to be about the time the Ranger lets us drive through to exit the area. Well what happens next is both funny, dangerous and without alteration of facts or embellishment.
Now the Ranger has already instructed everyone to stop if the bears appear back down on the road to see if they will cross; if they stay there or move toward the vehicles, the Ranger had instructed us to slowly back up and let them pass. This sounded like a good plan at the moment, but in real time, this whole idea of driving past hungry bears just falls apart (and me without my bear spray).
We are slowly driving past the area where the bears had been when suddenly up on the passenger side of the car, the sow with both cubs decided to return back to the stream for some more supper
So I stop and I’m looking around to see if one of the bears is on the trunk or getting in the back seat when I hear the passenger side window going DOWN. I can’t believe it; Karen has asked me to stop so she can put the window down to get a better picture! I politely and calmly (Ha!) ask what the #$%@ is she doing? I looked out the window and I see this enormous mother grizzly bear head staring at us and shaking this huge head back an forth (this is a sign of extreme STRESS) and calmly request (calm is relative at times) that Karen put the window back up. All she is saying is that “darn her camera isn’t taking a shot”. Next, she’s asking me where my camera is and obviously not processing my simple request: “Shut the Damn Window!”
Realizing that we are essentially in no-mans-land with a car window open on the same side where an extremely agitated bear is located, I did the only thing I could; I floored it! The Ranger on the exit side of all this road drama said he saw what happened. His only question to me was “What was the condition of the bears, were they stressed?” Thanks a lot Mr. Ranger and yes, I am stressed and my wife is having a blond moment! In her defense, she said the Kodak moment just took over; the whole time I was thinking a Kodiak moment was about to take over.
It was a good thing we had no liquor in the motorhome or otherwise, I would be draining the supply tonight. All things considered, Karen and I had a good time today and gave the 4-wheeler excursion and the bear viewing adventure a K&J Thumbs Up (provided you keep your window UP).