Browsed by
Category: Wildlife

A Bear In Ketichikan, The Inside Passage And Vancouver

A Bear In Ketichikan, The Inside Passage And Vancouver

Well, this is almost it. We are now at our final stop before making the long journey home to New Jersey. Looking back on this trip, the definite highlights were Denali and the humpback whale watching trip in Icy Strait Point.

But the last few days have had their moments.

First we stopped in Ketchikan, Alaska which is apparently the salmon capital of the world. It was pretty clear why this is – every year thousands (or maybe tens of thousands? Or hundreds of thousands??) swim up the creek that flows right through the center of town to spawn. They didn’t really come out so great in my pictures but all you really need to do is look down and you can see thousands of them.

With salmon of course, come bears and eagles. And we got to see both! Including one bear that just kind of popped up out of the bushes behind us!

Note of course my filming technique, which is critical for filming bears at close range. Essentially it boils down to staying a few steps behind the morons who rush up to get close to a bear. I mean seriously, these animals can run 30 miles per hour! Personally I would have never chosen to get this close to a bear but it really just kind of popped out of the bushes behind us. It was never really scary because except for that one look he gives us at the end of the video, he really didn’t seem all that interested in us.

Plus, there were literally a dozen idiots who rather than staying in place or slowly backing up actually ADVANCED in his direction. So if anyone was getting mauled – it would have been them. Still it was the closest I got to a wild animal since that time I foolishly stared down an elk at Rocky Mountain National Park.

In any case, our new bear friend didn’t really bother much with us. Rather he was much more interested in the thousands of salmon in the stream below us, which is where he immediately went after creeping up behind us.

After our run in with the bear, we then went to see some native totem poles. This was pretty cool, but the really exciting thing was yet another encounter with some Alaskan bald eagles! This time they were just about close enough to get a somewhat decent picture.

Bald eagles in a tree
Note that I said it was a “somewhat decent” picture…

After a quick lunch, it was time for our last real Alaskan event – the Ketchikan lumberjack show!

Alaskan Lumberjacks try to roll each other off of log.
What can I tell you guys, just another day in Alaska.

This was……OK. It was fun to watch (although man the seats were uncomfortable) a staged “competition” between guys doing things like axe throws and racing to chop logs. Think of it as like Medieval Times but with lumberjacks representing the United States and Canada. You’re supposed to cheer on your “country” (they sort the audience into US and Canada as well) and yell things out like “Yo Hoooo!” along with the performers. Fun for kids. And pretty fun for adults too. But at about $40 a ticket for a 45 minute show with no food……..I don’t know.

It certainly wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen before, so I’m glad we went. Buuuuuttttt if I ever find myself in Ketchikan again…I don’t think I’ll be revisiting this.

One other really cool thing to do in Ketchikan is to visit the Tongass National Forest Visitor Center. It’s right next to the lumberjack show and has a really great overview of all the incredible national parks and lands within Alaska. Incredibly, only about 40% of the entire state is private land. To put that another way – that would be about 25% of the ENTIRE Lower 48! Incredible to learn and really put our whole Alaska experience into context.

Alaskan land is mostly publicly owned!
This land (of Alaska) is your land, this land is my land.

From Ketchikan, it was basically straight on through until Vancouver. We traversed the “Inside Passage” which is a really narrow body of water with hills, mountains and trees on both sides. Also present, tons of birds, sea mammals and other wildlife. We also shared our journey with another cruise ship with was pretty cool.

We traverse the Inside Passage of Alaska.
Welcome to the Inside Passage of Alaska.

Unfortunately for us, like a lot of the rest of time at sea, this day was completely overcast and occasionally really foggy.

A distant view of fog in the Inside Passage of Alaska.
You can actually see the fog we spent hours in right behind us. We couldn’t see ANYTHING.

So yesterday was mostly a relaxation day. After going through The Hobbit on the last trip, this was my day to try and make a dent in Lord of the Rings on this one.

This morning we awoke in the port of Vancouver.

The Vancouver Port
Bienvenue au Canada.

After bidding adieu to the Radiance of the Seas for the final time, we made our way to our lodging for the evening to drop our stuff off and do a little sight seeing. But Ariel and I were both so completely drained (also having to chase down our taxi driver as he drove away with my wallet wiped out the remainder of my energy) that all we did was head over to the Space Museum and get some lunch (including vegetarian gravy poutine fries!!!!) on Granville Island.

Ariel gives the thumbs down to feeding pigeons.
Please don’t feed the awful pigeons at Granville Public Market. PLEASE.

We’ve also already been to Vancouver on our first road trip as a couple way back in 2012 when we did 2,999 miles in just a week and half. So we’re pretty much done here.

Now, we prepare for the long journey home and radical change in our lives.

An overlook viewing of Vancouver Harbor.
Looking out into the sea from Vancouver.

Final thoughts on this trip, plus some reviews and guides to follow.

Final Day: Prairies, Bison And A Surprise Encounter With a Nuclear Missile Launch Site

Final Day: Prairies, Bison And A Surprise Encounter With a Nuclear Missile Launch Site

The last day on this trip was really only a half day. After doing my usual packing routine, making sure I left nothing behind, I took a look at myself in the mirror – a solo adventurer for possibly the last time in my life…

…and then I was off.

My main target today was the Sully’s Hill National Game Preserve. This had actually been a national park at one time – and let me tell you something – I don’t suppose I’ll be in Devils Lake again anytime soon, but this is one hell of a free experience.

First a couple of stops along the lake. Apparently, the thing about Devils Lake is that it regularly expands and contracts, swamping forests and occasionally houses.

Hey guys, long time no see.

After that, it was on to Sully’s Hill which is effectively a safari exclusively for big plains animals like elk and bison. Back in the early 1900’s, as these giants were being hunted to near extinction, Teddy Roosevelt set up what are effectively safe havens to ensure these species would survive. Now they let you drive around amongst them – for FREE! Ariel and I had been to one near Denver a few years ago and it was really cool. This one might have been even better. It was basically deserted and also included forest drives, a prairie dog town (!!!) and a scenic overlook of Devils Lake.

Sully’s Hill Forest Drive.

Really cool stuff.

From there, it was time to head to the airport. With four hours until my flight and only about 90 minutes of driving to get there, I was free to take my time. This meant I could go a little out of my way and stumble randomly across a decommissioned nuclear missile silo.

A random nuclear missile bunker.

So so so cool. And more than a little terrifying in our current geopolitical environment. They actually have a ton of these all over the Dakotas, Wyoming and Colorado. I’d been to one in South Dakota on my big roadtrip in 2010. That one was unreal because they let you actually go into the control room where “missiliers” (the guys who actually push the buttons) sat for years waiting for the orders to destroy the planet.

This wasn’t that, but still a cool find in the middle of nowhere. And it was also fascinating that it was right next to yet another sunflower farm.

The rest of the day passed without incident. I stopped a few times to take in the scenery and just appreciate the splendor of this beautiful country of ours.

This is an open road song.

And then, it was over. I returned my trusty Hyundai Sante Fe to the rental car company at Fargo, went through security, boarded the plane and headed home, to Ariel and Sammy…

Final tally: 3 states, 1 Canadian province, 4 international border crossings, 1,276 miles 1 border incident

Now Ariel and I leave for Alaska on what is OKPROBABLYACTUALLY going to be the last adventure we go on before the baby.

Stay tuned for that as we take one last trip before our family grows.

Day 2: An Incredible Sidequest To The Source Of The Mississippi River

Day 2: An Incredible Sidequest To The Source Of The Mississippi River

Day 2 began in Rochester, Minnesota where I stayed at the Days Inn. Whatever. Next it was back to the Mississippi River at Lake City. The views there were pretty cool, but not so different really than the Hudson River.

Until I looked up…

Look, I get that for a lot of people in this country, bald eagles are just birds. But I’m from NEW JERSEY for God’s sake. It might as well have been pterodactyl. Supposedly there’s a bald eagle pair somewhere in the Meadowlands, but I sure don’t know anyone who has ever seen it. The only other time in my life that I ever saw a bald eagle (or any eagle I think) was actually in Canada with Ariel on our first ever trip together. That was awesome. But seeing a bald eagle IN AMERICA WHERE IT BELONGS was a really moving moment. It also was flying right over my head for a solid 20 minutes. I was transfixed. I mean they really are such graceful animals, you just need to look at one in flight for five seconds before it’s incredibly clear why they chose them as our national symbol.

After the eagle sighting I made my way up to Minneapolis. I didn’t stay long because……….I have very little patience for cities. We have New York City. That’s enough city for 100 lifetimes. While I was there, I stopped at Prime Deli for lunch. It’s a kosher restaurant that serves grass-fed beef. I’ve never had grass-fed beef.

Yes. More of this please.

It was amazing. In fact, I’ve never encountered a kosher restaurant that serves grass-fed beef so I HIGHLY recommend making the trip for this. I’m not saying I would fly again to Minneapolis just for the burger I had. But I would definitely think about it.

From Minneapolis it was a race against the setting sun to get to Lake Itasca State Park. Lake Itasca is the official designated headwaters of the Mississippi River. This is no joke. I’m talking about seeing the 2,500+ long river, which is ELEVEN MILES wide at its widest point, at it’s starting point.

“It ain’t exactly the Mississippi.” Actually, it is…

Which is all of 18 feet wide.

I mean, it’s really incredible. You can literally look at the lake and see where the river begins. I don’t know if there’s something like this for the Amazon or the Nile, but this was really an incredible sight.

This is it. The “infant” Mississippi River. Unreal.

Being that it was a Friday evening, that also meant I got to do my Shabbat ritual with my bread and wine (this time grape juice yuck). Saying kiddush (the Jewish prayer that welcomes the Sabbath), at the headwaters of one of the great rivers of the world – and doing the hand washing ritual AT THE SOURCE OF THE RIVER – is something I will have a hard time topping. Finding creative places to make kiddush is one of my ongoing quests so this was a big one for me.

One of the most spiritual places I’ve ever made Kiddush.

From the headwaters of the Mississippi, it was onward to Bemidji, Minnesota where they have a statue of Paul Bunyan (who is apparently a big deal in these parts) and Babe the Blue Ox.

It’s Paul Bunyan. And Babe. Wow.

They also have a real infestation of some awful flying insect.

And that was about all I could take for one day.

So far on this trip, I’ve knocked out the two remaining states I needed in the contiguous United States and got to see the source of the Mississippi River. Not bad. Today I’m heading to the northernmost point in those aforementioned Lower 48. That should be fun.

Stay tuned for more!