Anchorage, the Iditarod, and Bears

The last section of our Alaskan adventure featured Anchorage, the Iditarod, and Bears. It began with spectacular views from the McKinley Explorer train from Denali National Park. We even had a somewhat rare view of the top of Mount Denali, which is usually covered by clouds. After our guided tour ended in Anchorage we stayed on for an Iditarod dog sled adventure in nearby Alyeska, and a once-in-a lifetime trip to Katmai National Park to watch numerous bears feeding on salmon.

Mount Denali from the McKinley Explorer Train Ride

Iditarod Sled Dog Adventure

After picking up a private rental car from a Turo.com host we moved from our hotel to a quaint self-serve Bed and Breakfast. We then headed south on the Seward Highway to the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood to get our ride to the Iditarod Dog Sled Adventure. Here we met Iditarod racer Ryan Redington, whose grandfather Joe Redington is known as “The Father of the Iditarod” as founder of the world-famous dog-sled race 50 years ago. The dog team was already hitched to a wheeled sled when we arrived, and clearly excited and anxious to get started.

Ryan Redington’s Iditarod Dog Sled Team

Ryan drove us on the sled through a couple of long loops around a trail through the forest and past gold-mining equipment on the Crow Creek. We then got to pet the dogs and play with some of the new puppies while Ryan told us about his Iditarod racing experiences. He came in ninth last year. His goal is to win the race for his grandfather Joe, who had four fifth-place finishes in his 19 races, but never won. We were honored to provide a small token sponsorship for Ryan’s next race.

Katmai National Park

With more brown bears than we could count, Katmai National Park was by far the highlight of our entire Alaska-Yukon adventure. To get to Katmai we flew on a small plane from Anchorage to King Salmon, AK and then on an even smaller float plane to Brooks Camp in the national park. We saw our first two bears while taxiing to shore in the float plane. They were closing in on a group of tourists who had landed on the narrow beach before us. Fortunately the bears simply walked past the tourists within a few feet of them, but without paying them much attention.

Brown Bears or Grizzlies?

Often weighing more than 1000 pounds, the brown bears of Katmai are bigger than grizzlies, which are a different sub-species of brown bears. Before we could venture out to find more bears we had to attend a “Bear Safety 101” class. No food allowed in our bags or pockets; no closer to any bear than 50 yards; make noise while walking along the trails; and never run away from a bear.

Lower Brooks River

We first stopped to watch bears from the raised bridge and viewing platforms on the lower Brooks River. A large school of salmon congregated next to the bridge but apparently the water was too deep for easy fishing there, so the bears were spread out in the shallower water. We watched as a couple of young bears wrestled while several others caught and ate salmon.

As we headed off the bridge toward Brooks Falls almost a mile away, we were stopped by a worker on a four-wheeler waiting for a mother bear and her yearling cub to get off the trail. Unfortunately they simply stepped off to the side of the trail and laid down to rest, effectively closing the trail until they departed. After waiting for some time we headed back to the lodge for lunch. When we arrived back there more than an hour later the two bears were still resting, and a ranger directed us off the other side of the trail through thick scrub to get around them.

Brooks Falls

At the iconic Brooks Falls we watched six bears in front of us and another three or four downstream. The two bears closest to us spent most of the time wrestling with each other, while all the others were actively looking for and catching salmon. Only one bear stood at the top of the falls waiting for fish to jump up to it. In the hour or so we were there we saw many salmon jumping up around the bear, but not one ended up in its mouth!

Despite the constant light rain, our time at Katmai National Park was an unforgettable experience.

Anchorage

For our last day in Anchorage we first drove to the forested parkland to the north and west of the airport. Here a walk through Earthquake Park provides views of some of the damage and interpretive signs about the 9.2 magnitude Good Friday earthquake of 1964. Point Woronzof Overlook has expansive views of Cook Inlet and the snow-capped mountains to the west. While driving along the perimeter of the airport we came across a family of moose, a mother and two calves.

Later we took a narrated tour bus ride around the city before spending some time at the Anchorage Museum. The large four-story museum includes a variety of contemporary and traditional artwork; indigenous people’s cultural, handcrafts, and history displays; and a planetarium featuring videos of the Aurora Borealis. We could have spent much more time there.

Anchorage Museum Display

Before heading to the airport for our flight home we took a long walk along the picturesque coastal trail. Our adventures of Anchorage, the Iditarod and Bears were a wonderful way to end our journey.

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