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alaska haines skagway

Day 5 (Oct 2) – Skagway & Haines

Rainbow and Eagles and Bears Oh My…
A very early start today, we need to be on the road by 7am to reach Skagway by 9:15am Alaska Time.   Luckily a time zone changes affords us some extra sleep.   We start in darkness heading south (after a Tim Horton’s stop) retracing the route to Carcross.  Rather than the sun being in our eyes as we drive, the sun starts to light the mountains in front as we go.   The route takes us from Yukon through British Columbia and over White Pass where we enter Alaska. The landscape in British Columbia is different.  It has an eerie lunar appearance.  Rocks covered in dark green moss and light green lichen.  The trees as are sparse and stunted.   It feels very “Group of Seven-ish”. 

We arrive at the Border and get the usual questions: Where are you from? Where are you going? Any food with you?  Anything else alive in the car other than the three of you?   Hope not.
Check-in for the ferry to Haines is 2 hours prior to departure.  The ferry is part of the Alaska Maritime Highway and will head to Juneau after we get off in Haines.  After check-in, we head for Historic Skagway.  It is largely deserted.  There are cars clustered in one area of the street around the Sweet Tooth Café; the only business open.  Everything else is closed and the owners have headed south.  The last cruise ship docked at Skagway on Sept 29th.  Skagway will be closed until the cruise ships return next year.  The street is filled with Jewelry stores – high end gold and precious gems type of jewelry stores.  The port can apparently handle around 6 cruise ships at one time bringing six to seven thousand tourists at once!  We did see one non-Jewelry store that was having a BOGO sale for 2011 Sarah Palin Calendars and $5.95 Sarah Palin collector coins – limit 1 per customer!
The clouds were low as we took the ferry to Haines, the day has been both rainy and clear at times.  Rainbows are abundant.   
After checking in at the B&B that is located where Fort Seward once stood, we decided to go bear hunting – cameras only.  Fort Seward was established during the periods when Canada and the US were having a minor dispute regarding the border in this area.  The dispute was resolved through a treaty in 1903 – Hay-Herbert Treaty.  The Canadian negotiators messed up on this one.  Canada lost claim to some spectacular scenery and fishing resources.    
The Chilkoot River is fed by the Chilkoot Lake.  Sockeye and Coho spawn in Chilkoot Lake making the salmon run in the river popular for fly fishers, eagles and bears.  Our first trip to the river saw a few Bald and Golden Eagles and a grizzly sow and 2 cubs, fishing near the mouth of the river.  The cubs will fish a bit and wrestle with each other.    As we proceed up the river we see many more eagles, this area being called Valley of the Eagles.  We watch wildlife for about an hour and then decide we are hungry.
The owner of the B&B, Norm, had told us only a few restaurants are open and that the Chilkat Bakery has really good Thai food.  We head there for some spice to warm up.  Our plan is to head back to the river after some food and see if more bears come for dinner.  The food is amazing and heats through and through.  The food is washed down with apple pie and ice cream. 
The river has a “bear side” and a “human side”.   Most bears and human respect this – but not all.  Mostly humans are the transgressors.  On our return trip the area is inundated by Eagles, sometimes 6 Bald Eagles sitting in a tree.   At the end of our second visit to the river will have seen 15 bears (1 Black Bear, 1 older grizzly, 7 grizzly cubs and 6 grizzly adults).   The bears are respecting the sides of the river.  As long as they are one their side we can get out of the car and watch.  A make shift telephoto lens (camera looking through binoculars) is used to get many photos.  The protective nature of a mother grizzly is apparent.  We watch the old grizzly as he gets ‘pushed’ around the river bank whenever a mother approaches with her cubs (within 100ft).   As the mother and cubs got closer, the older grizzly would stand to observe.  One of the cubs mimicked the behavior looking back at the old grizzly.  The mother stood; the old grizzly darted off further downstream.   

As we turn the car to head back downstream, we spot bears on ‘our-side’ of the river.  This means we are now confined to the car.  We watch the bear fishing and running in the water.   As they move behind a rock we move the car forward.  There are now 4 cars jockeying for position to view bears.  We know there is a mama bear with her 2 cubs close to us on our side of the river.   My window is down.  I am trying to spot them through the trees thinking they are close to the water’s edge.  Joanne pulls the car up about 4 feet creating more of a space between us and the car behind.  Suddenly the mother is about 10 feet way from the side of the car, underneath the tree that is just beside the car.  She is headed this way quickly.  (I like power windows, that window came up so quickly).  The mother darted between the two cars followed by her two cubs and they disappeared up the side of the hill to our left.    

A day of wildlife watching ends with a bit of culture.  South Pacific is being staged by the local community theatre.  While at the bakery everyone was talking about ‘the show tonight’.  We had stopped at the IGA in town and looked at the poster.  We were subsequently told we had to go by a local – it was sold out the previous night.   It was quite good; unfortunately, we were all exhausted from the early start and the day’s adventures that we decided we shouldn’t stay past the first intermission.  We need to rent the movie to see how it ends!
Final Note:  Joanne feels very guilty to have seen all this wildlife today since she saw nothing when her daughter Jessica visited.