We really enjoy rising early, making coffee for our travel mugs, and taking off before breakfast. As we headed south from Anchorage in the rain, the terrain took on a new appearance. The tundra and taiga that we had experienced from northwest of Tok through the Denali area and all the way to Anchorage, changed to a more lush, green, mountainous landscape (although there was still some snow). The contrast with the barren tundra and the sparsely treed taiga was a welcome change. It began to look like the Alaska we had expected.
We stopped for breakfast along the Seward Highway at the end of Turnagain Arm (a wide bay off Cook Inlet). Our route along the arm had water on our right and the Alaska Rail Road main line on our left with steep mountains just beyond the RR track. We crossed the northern end of the Kenai Peninsula, a hot fishing location with fishing "boom towns" and wall to wall fishermen lining the banks of the rivers and streams.
It was late afternoon when we arrived in Homer and the Heritage RV Park halfway down the Homer Spit - a low lying sandbar that extends for 5 miles into Kachemak Bay. This was the most luxurious RV park we had stayed at on the trip thus far. There was an attendant at the showers who presented you with a towel, wash cloth, and bath mat! By luck we got the best site with a spectacular view of glaciers and mountains over the bay. The famous "fishing hole" where the locals snag salmon was just to our right. Tom tried his best to fish in a conventional way, but only managed to hook a fingerling.
There was an excellent gift shop, expresso bar, and a tour office. We took advantage of the tour office and booked a bear viewing flight to Katmai National Park on the Katmai Peninsula. We arrived at the K-Bay hanger at 8AM for the hour and a quarter flight to our destination.
We flew over mountains, volcanos, glaciers, and ocean. Mike, our bush pilot and experienced naturalist, landed his Cessna single engine plane right on the beach where we immediately saw brown bears (AKA grizzly bears) digging for clams on the beach and roaming the low swampy meadow inland.
We donned our mucklucks, put on our backpacks, and set out to the meadow where there were at least a couple dozen bears. According to National Park rules, we could approach no closer than 50 yards. However, if the bear wanted to approach us, we may just sit still and let it come closer. Our guide had us keep in a tight formation to make us look small and not frighten the bears. Besides the pilot, and us, there was a retired airline pilot, Doug, who had the biggest telephoto lenses we had ever seen. We were virtually alone since there was only one other bear observer party that we could see occasionally at a great distance on the meadow.
Our first encounter was with a sow and her young cub. They were eating the goose tongue grass which is actually high in protein. The cub was doing all kinds of back flips and kid-like behaviors. It was like he was performing for us. We walked through the meadow further, crossing a shallow stream of cold glacier melt water to observe another mother and her year old cub. After watching the cub for a while, we noticed it was also watching and sniffing us since we were up wind. Mike told us to hold our ground and as the cameras fired away, the cub came closer and closer. When he was about 35 feet away, Mike spoke gently and encouraged him to leave us. "Hello, bear. Yes, we are humans. Now you are too close. Better turn around." said Mike and the bear did just that. We were probably more excited than frightened with this close encounter with a 200 pound grizzly cub.
We felt more in touch with nature during this 3 hour experience than we ever have. We observed bears sleeping, waking up from their naps, fighting in a playful manner, and even mating.