Lake Clark National Park & Preserve is another one of the 10 National Park System areas that was established by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) in 1980. This roadless area between the Aleutian and Alaska ranges has seen constant change over many tens of thousands of years. Between gouging glaciers, shifting tectonic plates, and volcanic eruptions, these dynamic forces have shaped Lake Clark into the wild and scenic place that it is today.
The Park sets aside nearly 2.6 million acres and the Preserve adds another 1.4 million acres, and together they protect features that are the very best of rugged Alaska — active volcanic peaks shouldering giant glaciers, alpine lakes, boreal forests, wild rivers, vast stretches of tundra, coastal rainforests, shallow bays, outwash plains, coastal beaches, offshore reefs, and much more, and all of this supports a variety of large land and marine animals, fish and birds that we know and think about when we picture Alaska.
This is a pretty blonde mama bear and her two second-season cubs (they were born around February 2014 when mama was still in her den hibernating, so they’re about 1-1/2 years old at this point; still with mama for this season learning how to be a bear and survive) with another third-season cub (now abandoned and on his/her own for the first summer) trailing them, but this one isn’t threatening to them. This exchange that I captured happened within 15 minutes of us arriving at the Silver Salmon Creek beach. Mama is bringing them very close to camp which is rare, but she likes to scratch on the carved bear scratching pole. She’s almost there, then she encounters another bear who she deems threatening (just to the right of the camera; bushes are in the way and you can’t see the threatening bear) — you can hear them hiss and huff at one another before mama scares the threat off, but not before the babies hit the road! Note the tap-taping sound (sounds like a typewriter) are various camera shutters snapping away at this incredible scene.
Fred has already posted some terrific bear photos that aren’t to be missed. But while he was shooting the bears with his various cameras and lenses, I was taking some little videos of them. Below are a few of the fun clips I captured. Most are less than a minute in length, but they certainly give some personality to the bear ‘families’ we were lucky enough to see during our stay here on the shores of the Cook Inlet at the edge of the park.
I must state that while we were allowed very close access, our guides were always mindful of where the bears appeared to be moving to, and we would flank and move to give them plenty of space to move around and not feel threatened or trapped by us. This worked very well. The bears here get used to humans being present, but with professional guides understanding and operating in this way, the bears stay very wild.
This is the same mama and second-season cubs having some afternoon play time in the grassy meadow between the shore and the woods. Note the little guy who’s out of the water first as he rolls on his back and scratches with his legs flailing all around — too cute!
Here’s a mama with her spring cubs (born in winter 2015 — around February in mama’s den) venturing out to the beach during low tide. Note these little ones are smaller and still very dark at just six months old. Mama is ever mindful of what’s around her, especially with really young cubs; the larger bears and nearby moose would certainly find an unsuspecting little cub to be fair game.
These are third season cubs who are on their own now. They are still figuring things out and spend a lot of time playing, including this little exchange that ran right in front of a group of photographers who were staying at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge with us. Yes, we got this close to these wild, beautiful, playful creatures!
Here are the same two siblings finding the SSCL brand new boat to be an object of their curiosity. Note the boat is resting on the sands during what is now low tide. At this particular time of the lunar month, the delta between low and high tides is over 19 feet which will easily put this boat in the water within a couple of hours.
This gal shows us all the technique a bear uses to go clamming. She spots the air bubbles in the sand, then her quick digging allows her to bring the razor clam (about 6″ long) up and out onto the sand… she looks around, and then expertly uses her claws and paws to pry apart the clam shell, pick off the meat, and have herself a little razor clam snack. Bears are actively fishing for salmon for the high amounts of protein they need to build up their food stores for the coming winter. They need to gain approximately one-third of their early summer weight to make it through their long winter nap.
What a privilege and a treat it was to be in this unique place watching these special animals in their natural habitats. For four days and three nights we got to be voyeurs into these wild bears’ lives. I came away with a special serenity having seen what I saw….