By Janelle Eklund
Brooks Camp. A place for bear viewing but in my opinion more of a place for people viewing. There were definitely more people than bears while we were there! We were the ones in a cage of boardwalks and viewing platforms. Lines of people waited patiently for their turn on the platforms to catch a glimpse of a bear. One day we had sightings of bears five times. That doesn't mean to say there were five different bears.
We escaped the cage and took the shuttle bus to the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. Even in the intermittent rain throughout the day this volcanic landscape had an air of beauty, peace and quiet. We hiked up a barren flat over the base of a mountain that bled with the stains of autumn fireweed. The pyroclastic blowout of 1912 poured tons upon tons of ash and heat hundreds of feet thick through the valley. Eighty eight years later a river has cut through this flow carving red grayish canyons. Perhaps this is how the Grand Canyon looked millions of years ago in its infancy. Life is starting to grow over this barren land. Lime green moss lays in clumpy carpets bringing with it miniature mushrooms, tiny purple harebells and other colorful plants. The river cuts a narrow gorge - so narrow in places you can step over it if you're careful. Bear and moose tracks make worn paths like the river.
We were the only ones camped at the new visitor center at the end of the road. The solitude was warming. We enjoyed snuggling down in a chair near the windows reading about the area during an afternoon rain. As evening wore on the rain stopped and the clouds began to break up. We ventured out of our cocoon to watch rays of sunlight shoot through the clouds creating brilliant beams of light. The sun took its usual slow time setting, changing the moods of the landscape by the minute.
Camera swung around my neck and lens in my pack, I walked out onto the crowberry laden tundra to fill a bucket. The berries were so thick you couldn't take a step without them crunching underfoot. My head was down in the berry patch but my ears attentive. Out of the evening came a sort of grunt and movement. I looked up and on the near hillside my eyes were graced with a bull moose silhouetted against the last flicker of light in the sky. I squatted down and quickly changed to the telephoto lens and snapped a few pictures as he came closer, only to find the evening light was too dark for a good image. As I slowly started to move away he saw me and kept his advancement. When he was about 200'-300' away he started rubbing his antlers against the bushes. I knew then I was in his territory and that was my cue to leave. I hightailed it closer to the protection of the visitor center. The moose faded into the evening light. I finished picking berries until my bucket was full and it was getting too dark to see.
As the clouds parted more, a half moon rose above mountains and peaks and played hide and seek with the remaining clouds, bidding us a goodnight.
From my light to yours-
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.