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Trip Report Wolf Pups & Other Wonders of Katmai and Kodiak, Alaska

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Areas visited:

1) Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park, where bears catch salmon that jump up the falls

2) Katmai Coast with Katmai Coastal Tours-Kukak Bay and Hallo Bay. The wolves were seen in Hallo Bay. I previously traveled with John Rogers’ Katmai Coastal Tours in 2008 and here is a link to the detailed report containing photos. Obviously I was a satisfied customer to return. I’m still a satisfied customer.


3) Island of Kodiak—what a gem this place is for nature activities

I planned to do the following itinerary using major airlines and float planes arranged by Brooks Lodge and Katmai Coastal Tours as part of their standard packages. For a solo traveler with FF miles, this routing made the most sense economically.

July 12 Depart Chicago to Anchorage via Seattle with evening arrival & o/nt at Barratt Inn, near airport in Anchorage
(American Advantage miles provided a free round trip to Kodiak that allowed a stop in Anchorage followed by a departure several days later to Kodiak.)

July 13 Penn Air Anchorage to King Salmon and Katmai Air King Salmon to Brooks Falls & o/nt Brooks cabin. All flights between Anchorage and Brooks are arranged by Brooks Lodge, Katmailand Inc., as part of the Brooks Falls visit.

July 14, 15 Brooks Falls bear viewing

July 16 Katmai Air from Brooks to King Salmon, Penn Air King Salmon to Anchorage & o/nt at Barratt Inn

July 17 Alaska Air Anchorage to Kodiak on an early am flight allowing for hiking in Kodiak and Galley Gourmet Dinner Cruise & o/nt A Downtown B&B

July 18 Kayaking & o/nt A Downtown B&B

July 19-21 Andrews Air to Kittiwake (boat) from Kodiak, air arranged by John Rogers of Katmai Coastal for 3 nts bear viewing along the coast of Katmai. Andrews picks up and drops off clients from Kodiak lodging.

July 22 Andrews Air to Kodiak & o/nt at A Downtown B&B, afternoon hike

July 23 Kayaking and early evening departure on Alaska Air via Anchorage to Chicago.

July 24 Morning arrival in Chicago.

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    John Rogers of Katmai Coastal tours requested I change the boat dates I had booked. In exchange for departing Brooks a day early, he added an extra night on his boat (Kittiwake) and a complimentary flight direct to the Kittiwake from Brooks. The resulting itinerary is a better use of time than what I had arranged.

    For a group, the Brooks to Kittiwake charter flight would be a worthwhile option because the cost of the flight would be shared. Also, the costs of an Anchorage to Kodiak Alaska Air flight would be saved by using the direct charter, and there would be no hotel in Anchorage after returning from Brooks.

    The direct charter between Brooks and the boat does depend on the weather, though, and flying over mountains can be more susceptible to poor weather. So there is a risk that a direct flight might be delayed or cancelled. In order to do the direct flight, I was on standby throughout the day, waiting for ideal weather and an available plane, and that could cause an inconvenience too.

    So the itinerary I did was:

    July 12 Depart Chicago to Anchorage and overnight at Barratt Inn near airport

    July 13 To Brooks Falls & Bear Viewing

    July 14 Bear viewing at Brooks

    July 15 Bear viewing at Brooks and early evening charter flight from Brooks to the Kittiwake, which was anchored in Kukak Bay

    July 16, 17, 18 On Kittiwake, bear viewing along Katmai Coast

    July 19 Andrews Air back to Kodiak, afternoon walk on Near Island’s north trails and Galley Gourmet Dinner Cruise

    July 20 Day long wildlife boat trip with the owner of A Downtown B&B and Possibilities Unlimited Alaska on his boat, Trophy II

    July 21 Kayaking, short visit to Fish Tech Museum on Near Island, wildlife viewing/drive to Pasagshak and walking along beaches with Alaska Wilderness Adventures

    July 22 Hiking to Terminal Point and Near Island’s south trails through Kodiak’s Hop on Hop Off Shuttle and Tours

    July 23 Kayaking with Alaska Wilderness Adventures and early evening departure using Kodiak’s Hop on Hop Off Shuttle on Alaska Air via Anchorage to Chicago.

    July 24 Morning arrival in Chicago.

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    There is lots of good info information available on Brooks all over the internet, but I’ll add my two cents as well.

    When to go
    If any of your dates are in July, then the maximum stay is 3 nights in the cabins and 7 nights at the campgrounds. June and August will likely have far fewer bears than the numbers seen in July. In September there is another salmon run and bears return, though not as many fishing on the falls.

    While mid-July is considered the optimal time to visit because it coincides with the biggest salmon runs (assuming the runs are not early or late or puny that year), my visits have been as early as July 5 and as late July 25. All visits have provided some jumping fish for at least several hours during my 3 days, plus many other memorable and photographable moments. The trips closer to mid-July were not clearly superior. I would hesitate to go much earlier than the 5th or later than 25th of July, though.

    If you want to visit in July and if you want several nights and especially if you have several people in your party, then it is best to book as early as possible, which means sending an email ([email protected]) or fax (907-243-0649) a few minutes after New Year’s Eve the year prior to your visit. I booked at 12:02 am on Jan 1, 2009 for my July 2010 visit and got my first choice of dates. I also have booked Brooks through an agent.

    I met a lady this trip who visits Brooks every July and Sept and she said she has been unable to find open dates when she waits until a few months before July to reserve.

    Flying to Brooks
    Just so you know, you will be asked for your weight (wearing all your gear) when checking in at the airport. And before boarding the float plane to Brooks you’ll be weighed on a scale with a big dial for all to see. At least they don’t shout out where the dial lands, but the process is not very discreet.

    Brooks arranges the flights from Anchorage for you as part of your overall visit and you don’t have to do anything about air. It’s all included in the price.

    If flying from Anchorage through King Salmon (which is the most common route that takes around 90 minutes) there are no readily available toilets for passengers at the Katmai Air building/dock on King Salmon where you board the float plane. A Brooks staff member shuttles you to the Katmai Air building after you land at the King Salmon airport, so visit the loo at the King Salmon airport before boarding the shuttle.

    I recall when I’ve been delayed several hours at Katmai Air, there were some kind of bathroom arrangements made that did not involve hanging over the end of the dock. The King Salmon to Brooks Falls leg of the flight is about 30 minutes.

    Luggage is often sent to Brooks on a separate plane due to weight limitations, so take everything with you that you’ll need for several hours of bear viewing (definitely camera and rain gear) in case your bags lag 4-5 hours behind.

    Some flights bypass King Salmon, which is my preference because there is less waiting around. Instead, float planes are used the whole way from Lake Hood, near the Anchorage Airport, then to Kulik Lodge, and finally Brooks. You can request this route, but it depends on whether planes are flying to Kulik and what the fishermen that use that lodge are doing.

    It’s so exciting coming in for a landing on Naknek Lake, near Brooks Lodge, and seeing several bears before you even reach the water.

    If you are flying in just for the day and not staying at the lodge, it is better to land on Brooks Lake instead of Naknek because then you are already past the bridge and won’t get held up by a bear jam. Sometimes wind and weather conditions dictate on which lake the landing occurs, despite where you may have been told you will land.

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    The cabins are 4-share of same sex occupants, 2 sets of bunk beds in each, with ensuite facilities. You can book the whole cabin for your party if you want and avoid sharing with strangers. I’ve always done the 4-share and it has worked great.

    There are both individual cabins and side by side cabins, known as dormitory cabins. I’ve been in both but the individual cabins are better because you can hear everything next door in the side by side dorm cabins. Regardless of where you end up, if you share with others, take ear plugs.

    One of my cabinmates this past trip even handed out earplugs prior to bedtime this because she knew she was a snorer. Unfortunately that first night I arrived back at the cabin after lights out and missed the earplug distribution.

    Cabin 26, followed by Cabin 27 are the best for views, but you cannot be guaranteed a specific cabin if you book as single willing to share. Don’t know how it works if you book the whole cabin. Wherever you stay, it is unlikely you’ll spend much time in those dwellings anyway.

    There is also a camp ground, and the campers eat at the main lodge and nearby shower facilities.

    Some people stay at the very expensive and exclusive Kuilik Lodge mainly to fish, and then fly over for a day of bear viewing. Others who could not get a spot at Brooks Lodge stay back in King Salmon and fly over for the day.

    Bear School
    Upon arrival you go to a 20-minute bear school complete with video, conducted by a ranger, which emphasizes bear safety and you get a pin that should be worn in a visible location at all times so the rangers know you are a legitimate visitor.

    Food service is offered in the main lodge: 7-8:30 for breakfast; 12-1:30 for lunch; and 5:30-7:30 for supper. Each meal has a full or a mini option, all buffet style. Both mini and full are all-you-can-eat, but the mini limits what items you can eat. Minis include dessert and were all I needed. The food is very good with lots of options at each serving, even if you choose the mini meal.

    There is a gift shop with things like granola bars, jerky, nuts, candy bars, soft drinks, water, and ice coffee. You can eat these items in your cabin or around the fire in the lodge, but not outside.

    Weather and Clothing
    Bring rain gear as it often rains for part of each day. I wore rain pants every day with fleece or trousers or both underneath. It was never hot enough that the rain pants got sticky and uncomfortable. Bring gloves and a wool hat or head band to protect the ears. Highs in only the 50s and 60s F are common in summer.

    Definitely bring a mosquito headnet. Sometimes I’ve needed it and sometimes not. Lots of people wear them so you would not look weird with it on. You can carry a backpack, which is a good place to put some extra layers and the net. You’ll want a water container. Binocs are helpful even though most bear action is close. Typical evening dress at the bar or around the fire is your bear viewing clothes. But lose the mosquito headnet in the lodge. I suppose after several beers wearing it could be funny.

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    Da Bears
    You may have noticed I departed from Chicago, hence Da Bears. When you say it, bears rhymes with scarce.

    The bears here are Alaskan Brown Bears, which are a kind of grizzly. Along the Katmai Coast, with its abundant salmon, these bears have developed some characteristics that make them unique. They grow bigger and their behavior is more tolerant to bears and other animals in close proximity. It is the tolerance factor that makes bear viewing along the Katmai Coast so different from anywhere else and so rewarding.

    Bear Viewing Locations and Getting There
    There are 3 places to officially view bears at Brooks Falls. Plus they can be roaming around camp, outside the main lodge windows, or strolling past your cabin.

    1) Lower Platform
    This is about 2 city blocks away from the cabins and a ranger is stationed along the path from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm. You cross a bridge and climb a few short flights of stairs or use a ramp to reach a couple of big platforms overlooking the lakes and meadows. This is the best place for sows with cubs or younger bears, all fishing in the lakes. Usually at least a couple of bears are visible from the Lower Platform. It is wheelchair accessible.

    Highlights at this location: A sow with four spring cubs hung around here during my recent visit. I’ve seen mothers with spring cubs at the Lower Platform on three of my four trips. Once I saw a mother moose and calf here. Mother ducks and ducklings (Mallards, Mergansers) are common. Quite the nursery! This last trip there were up to a dozen subadult bears that galloped through the shallow water in what the rangers called “bear stampedes.”

    Lowlights at this location: Bear jams occur here more often than other locations. If a bear rests or sleeps near the bridge or along the lakeshore, the visitors must stop and wait—either on the platform or on the paths near the cabins and lodge. Waits can be a couple of hours until the bear moves on. Due to bear jams, guests need to be on the correct side for their plane to take off about two hours before departure.

    Into the Woods to The Riffles and Falls
    Leaving the lower platform, there is about a 3 city block walk on a road before reaching the trail into the forest. Recently, drop toilets have been added at this road-trail intersection.

    The narrow, winding trail through the woods stretches a distance of about 5-6 city blocks before the ramp to the raised wooden walkway is reached. It is on this wooded trail that you are most likely to encounter a bear while on foot and I have seen at least one in the woods on every one of my four visits. The bears are not interested in the people and it is the people’s job to remain uninteresting and keep a distance.

    To let the bears know you are coming so as not to surprise them, you can talk to others on the trail, clap your hands now and then, or make sounds. I once had the pleasure of walking with an Elvis Impersonator, so I was serenaded with Elvis songs to ward off the bears. Elvis had left the gold jumpsuit at home, though. There has never been a major incident at Brooks between a visitor and a bear to my knowledge.

    Even if you are not into tracking spoor, it is easy to see bear paw prints in the mud. Also, notice the trees that line the path and look for bark that has been clawed or gnawed off. You can usually find strands of bear hair on these trees which allows you to touch real bear fur.

    2) The Riffles
    The raised wooden walkway has a path to the right that leads to The Riffles Platform, upriver from the falls. This platform and the extended wooden walkways have been around about a decade. At The Riffles, younger bears fish or mothers teach their cubs to fish. There are almost always a couple of bears sitting on the rocks looking for fish or engaging in even more interesting antics.

    Highlights at this location: This year I witnessed a coalition of three subadult siblings harass adult bears and steal their fishing spots or their actual fish. On previous trips, I’ve spent a lot of time here watching mothers teach their second and third year cubs to fish and watching young bears wrestle and frolic.

    Lowlights at this location: Some of the interesting bear activities get started in view from The Riffles Platform but are carried out with much grunting and roaring out of site in the woods.

    3) The Falls
    The wooden walkway ends at the falls 2-tiered platform. This last platform offers great views of the fishing bears and all the activity at the falls. There are lots of interactions, maneuverings, and sometimes fights—and that’s just the photographers. ;)

    Highlights at this location: It is common for 10+ bears to be visible near the falls and I had a personal record on this last trip of 24. You can watch and try to photograph the salmon hurling themselves upstream and perhaps into the open mouth of the bears.

    In addition to fishing atop the falls, there are bears that dive for fish and swim around underwater submarine-style looking for fish. Every few minutes (when the salmon are running) you can watch a bear eat a fish with gulls circling and the occasional eagle dropping in. Sometimes brawls break out between the bears. One brawl became so big that all the bears at the falls got in on it and then scattered for over half an hour. I think they scared themselves.

    This year I witnessed a female beg other males for fish they had caught and her strategy was a success. I’ve seen mothers teach their second or third year cubs to fish up on the falls and I have even have seen a mother with spring cubs skirt the banks of the river. I’ve watched courtship and mating on the falls on July 12 (late in the season). Once I saw a bear accidentally fall down the falls and emerge unscathed. The ranger said that was a rarity.

    Lowlights at this location: It can get crowded and viewing can be limited to an hour at a time by the rangers. Some photographers get too exuberant and shout when they get the perfect shot as if it were a sporting event. If it is really windy, the bears get wary because they cannot hear well and may take leave of the falls. One time horrendous winds and rain resulted in just one bear making two brief appearances in a several hour span at the falls. Wouldn’t you know that time frame perfectly coincided with Jeff Corwin’s feature on fishing bears at the falls. They didn’t get much footage but it was fun to watch the cameras roll and see Jeff Corwin provide an animated intro without much followup action.

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    Bear viewing hours
    It’s twenty-four hours a day at the Lower Platform, though hardly anyone pulls an all nighter and you are not allowed to sleep on the platforms.

    At the Falls and Ripples Platforms, the ranger walks everyone back at 10:00 pm. I think you can get to the Falls/Ripples as early as 7:00 am, but in my experience the bears are late sleepers when they have near round the clock daylight. My extremely early outings have never been rewarded with unusually good sightings and often not much at all is going on then. On the other hand, it’s all happening in the evenings…which leads to the topic of light and photographers.

    In July the best light at the falls begins in early evening and continues until 9:15 pm or so, if the clouds lift. In the morning the bears can be back lit, assuming there is sun, which is not common. Usually it is cloudy or raining. If you have a tripod, bring it. If not, you’ll still get amazing shots. There is electricity in the cabins for recharging.

    My Secret Bear Viewing Strategy
    Not a secret anymore. My strategy to maximize quality bear time is to have a big lunch then stay at the falls or riffles through the normal supper time. Because most people leave to eat an evening meal at some point and the daytrippers are gone by eve, there are fewer people on the platform.

    The light is at its best and the bears and fish seem to be more active in the evenings, all combining for an optimal time to stake out a viewing spot at the falls. Then I walk back to the lodge with the ranger and the other hangers on at 10:00 pm, get some snacks from my cabin that I had bought earlier at the gift shop (or that I had brought from home) and head to the bar and lounge around the fire for a late dinner of nuts, granola bars, and juice ordered from the bar. There is a larger selection of spirits than just juice, but I don’t know what wine goes with a Nature Valley Chocolate Chip Granola Bar.

    You don’t need to employ a secret strategy and skip dinner to see bears. Other than when there is a wind storm and driving rain, some bears are always around in July.

    Beyond Bears
    In addition to bears, there is great fishing (guided or alone) with which I have no experience; there are daily hour long ranger-escorted walks to archeological sites; there is easy or challenging hiking (which I have done with others); each evening there is a ranger presentation on an aspect of the park; and there is the daily approximately 6-hour round trip bus tour to the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, with time to walk around. I did this once and was glad I went to this scenic area, but I prefer the bears. The park itself was established to preserve the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, resulting from the 1912 eruption of the Novarupta Volcano that altered the landscape. The bears were an afterthought.

    Photo Link--Pictures 1-68 appear in chronological order; the last 10 shots are of walkways, platforms, accommodations.


    Wolves are next.

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    Superb as always, Lynn. I've only read the first couple of sections but I plan to cheat a bit and skip ahead to the photos then go back to read the rest.

    I booked at 12:02 am on Jan 1, 2009 for my July 2010 visit and got my first choice of dates. I also have booked Brooks through an agent.

    So I guess I'll never be doing this. :(

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    Thank you Volcanogirl, Leely2, and China Cat.


    I traveled with Katmai Coastal in 2008 and wrote a detailed report on Fodors that would apply to this trip as well. The link is posted above.

    The plane ride from Brooks Falls to Kukak Bay, where the Kittiwake was anchored, was a spectacular flight seeing trip in addition to transportation. It took about an hour.

    The Kittiwake’s first mate, Tim, who I remembered from last time came to fetch me on the skiff. On board I met Captain John (Whitaker not Rogers) and Chef Carrie. My four shipmates were all out with Bear Guide Brad for an afternoon exploring Kukak Bay.

    After stowing my gear in the luxury stateroom that happened to be available for me, Tim put me in the skiff and I headed out to join them. It was an exceptionally high tide, which flooded the areas where bears often forage, so there was not a lot of bear activity going on. We rode in the skiff along some islands in Kukak Bay to observe birds. Our birds that day and throughout the trip included:

    Aleutian Song Sparrow
    Arctic Tern
    Belted Kingfisher
    Black Legged Kittiwakes
    Black Oystercatcher
    Black Turnstone
    Common Merganser
    Glaucus-winged gull
    Golden crowned Sparrow
    Greater Yellowlegs
    Kitlitz’s Murrelet
    Parakeet Auklet
    Pigeon Guillemot
    Pelagic Cormorant
    Semipalmated Plover
    Spotted Sandpiper
    Tufted and Horned Puffins
    Wandering Tattler
    Western Sandpiper
    White Wing Scoter

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    Oh, Common Merganser was in the original list.

    Guide and Crew
    Brad proved once again to be an outstanding bear guide and an entertaining addition to the galley when socializing at meals. Brad’s fine guiding skills were especially apparent when we encountered other groups that give us a means for comparison. Brad would have us in the right place at the right time with the right light repeatedly while others could be seen far from the action or chasing it and missing out. Brad knew the right place was not always where the bears were, but where they were going. That comes from years of experience and insight.

    First Mate Tim was in good humor and very helpful just like last time and showed off his fishing skills by providing us with fresh halibut. Carrie was a delight to visit with and a gifted chef. More on her fine meals under “Food.” Captain John Whitaker was a hoot and did a great job getting us around at our convenience, which meant some odd hours for him. He did everything from steer the boat to help wash dishes. This was a caring and impressive crew/staff that worked well together to provide a superb nature experience with plenty of laughs.

    The dedication of the captain and crew was demonstrated by an incident in which one of the guests had left behind jewelry and medication in Kodiak. Captain John and crew were in continual contact with any and all parties that might be able to locate and then deliver the missing items. The medications posed a more urgent concern than the jewelry so several options were outlined, from coordinating distant and local pharmacies to allowing Captain John to invoke maritime law and order a couple days’ supply of the missing meds for the passenger in need, bypassing the need for a new prescription. All items were eventually reunited with the owner for a happy ending to that saga. But I was impressed with the perseverance and ingenuity of captain and crew in addressing that problem and looking out for a passenger who needed assistance.

    A married couple and father with his teenage son joined me. Everybody was enthused about getting out there, respecting the bears, spotting wolves, and having fun. The father of the father-and-son-team was in Alaska for his second visit in 25 years and provided the hilarious quote of the trip (via a cruise-promoting travel agent).

    When he first decided to visit Alaska 25 years ago, a travel agent in Mexico City tried to encourage him to book a cruise rather than explore on his own. The agent said, “If you’re not on a cruise there is nothing to see in Alaska except to dig a hole in the ground and look at the permafrost.”

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    Carrie treated us to a variety of deliciously prepared and artistically served seafood--from Tim-caught halibut steaks and halibut roll ups to shrimp, scallops, smoked salmon & penne pasta, and clam chowder. We had some who were not fans of fish, and they were prepared other dishes.

    There was lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, including asparagus and organic salad greens. Carrie was experimenting with some homemade breads that were a hit. Desserts were just too good. Even if one suffered from Ursaphobia (fear of bears) and never left the boat, the fine food would make this trip worthwhile.

    Day 1 on the Katmai Coast--A Discovery Channel Day
    We witnessed the first fishing day of the season in Hallo Bay under sunny blue skies. Brad had us out early and lined up to observe the bears’ reactions to the first salmon runs of the season. They charged through the shallow water, sometimes in our direction, in pursuit of the salmon swimming in from sea. It made for an exciting perspective.

    About the time the salmon fishing ceased for the morning, the clamming began, compliments of the previous day’s exceptionally high tide. Two female bears dug for clams for 45 minutes in an arc around our group with the mountains as a backdrop. Breakfast for these bears was several dozen clams each. I preferred the eggs to order and muffins prepared by Carrie.

    We had five wolf sightings that day, and I can proudly claim credit for two. One of the sightings was a wolf pup running in the meadow. The members of this pack had light brown or white coats which stood out against the green vegetation, but blended into the bleached driftwood they liked to run along.

    One member of our group stated he’d like to see his first red fox and within moments one appeared, as if on command. The downside of the wolf infiltration is that they kill the foxes and frighten them out of the area, so fox sightings have become unusual.

    We had a mother named Melissa and her second year cub named Scout frolicking together in the sun. This pair will be part of one of our most amazing encounters on the last day.

    That evening the light was perfect for more fishing activities. Taking advantage of the fine weather and conditions, we were out 9:00-2:00, then 4:15-10:30.

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    Day 2 on the Katmai Coast --A Lazy Morning and Action Packed Evening

    Fog prevented us from heading out until 11:00 am and the morning’s venture produced a few cute sleeping bears and a few roaming in the distance, but not a lot of activity.

    We did get to see some fascinating bear trails where over hundreds of years the bears had stepped in the same footprints. At one time some of the trails stretched from Hallo Bay to Anchorage. The concept of these enduring trails and the uniform footprints adds to the mystique and mysticism surrounding this creature. Before leaving for lunch, we had a quick glimpse of a wolf.

    Our evening outing started with us admiring the numerous purple wildflowers in the meadow—Wild Geranium, Lupine, and Siberian Iris. Soon our admiration was focused on the first of about 20 wolf sightings. Of the four adults and four pups in the pack, we saw all but one adult, mostly on a high ridge behind piles of bleached driftwood. There were times when the wolves descended and trotted along the piles of driftwood.

    At one point we were torn between watching Scout nurse or looking at wolves. The purring sound made by the suckling cub was adorable and very audible.

    After that excitement we saw a pair of young boars wrestling in the next meadow. We slowly approached and were just getting settled when they halted their play and raced away from us and down an embankment. We felt bad to think we may have disrupted their activity, but Brad assured us we had not. He was right; the bears had just gone for a drink in the river together. They knew the importance of remaining well hydrated during physical exertion. Then they raced back to the wrestling ring in front of us and resumed their playful battle. What a show!

    As we waded out to the skiff to return to our boat, a wolf appeared on the sandbar as if to see us off. We were out 11:00-2:00, then 4:15-8:45.

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    Day 3 on the Katmai Coast--Puffin Potential and Schooling Scout
    We had ringside seats for yet another exciting wrestling match that involved two different participants from the previous evening.

    Soon after the wrestling ceased, the largest boar in the bay strode in, scattering the young males and putting the females on alert. He was intent only on grazing and not interested in tussling with the boys, pursuing the ladies, or worse—killing the cubs.

    We took leave of the bears and spent an hour ducking behind large stones on Ninagiak Island in hopes of some close puffin views if the birds landed on their nests on the rocks in front of us. There was plenty of puffin action high above our heads in the air and atop steep cliff faces, but no puffins alighted nearby.

    In the afternoon we immediately noticed the wolves were active up on the ridge and hoped for some closer sightings. We were rewarded when an adult wolf descended out of our view and then crossed along the logs behind Scout and Melissa. Wolf, mother bear and her cub, all in one view!

    Mother bear Melissa and cub Scout walked past us at a close distance and appeared headed toward a distant meadow, when Scout became curious. He changed directions and approached us. Any physical interaction with bears is strictly forbidden so Bear Guide Brad sprung into action and stood up, which is a sign to the bears that they are not welcome to proceed closer. Scout was unfazed. Next Brand tossed down his water bottle with a thud as a further deterrent. Then his camp stool. Brad asked us to stand. All of these actions were meant to discourage the baby bear’s advances so that more drastic measures such as igniting a flare were not needed.

    Scout was not getting the message, but his mother was. She approached and looked us over and then did something extraordinary. She redirected Scout’s attention by engaging him in play with her. She knew exactly what was happening and that Scout’s behavior was not appropriate so she distracted him. After a few moments of playing with Mom, Scout was inching our way again. Mother bear grabbed him gently yet firmly by the scruff of his neck with her teeth and dragged him off. She had worked WITH us, showing no sign of aggression TOWARDS us to help teach the rules of Hallo Bay to her young son. The adults (human and bear) in that situation combined forces to help instill the culture that prevails in Katmai National Park for people and bears. We humans were all impressed by the intelligence exhibited by this mother bear.

    With the bear excitement over we were about to head to other meadows and collected our stools and camera gear. I took one last look over my shoulder as we left the logs that the wolves like to frequent and saw several pups peeking at us. We decided to retrace our steps and see what the wolf pups would do.

    Soon we spied all four pups inching along the logs for a better look at us. Of course we were thrilled to have a better look at them. Two of the pups lost their courage or their interest and retreated, but two continued to check us out. Then there was one little guy who continued to explore on his own. He came within 20 yards of us before dashing off. All the while the two parents were high on the ridge watching the events unfold over an hour’s time. What a grand finale to a fantastic time in Hallo Bay.

    Our time in the field that day was 9:15 to 1:45 and 4:00-8:30.

    The wolves established a noticeable presence last year in the Hallo Bay area. Previously, a wolf sighting was uncommon. As to whether they will remain, it depends on food sources. There is not much moose in the area, though we saw tracks, and the salmon runs are short lived. Unlike bears, the wolves don’t rely on sedge grass for their diet. Wolves will take down a bear cub, but first must contend with mother bear. With fewer foxes, the wolves may be able to exist on numerous small rodents. The alpha female looked thin but the pups were all plump. In some video clips I’ve received from Brad since my return, the wolves are becoming even more used to human visitors along the Katmai coast.

    Photolink of 100 pictures in chronological order


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    Andrews Air brought the next lucky visitors to the Kittiwake and flew the five of us to Kodiak where we were all transported us to our respective lodgings. A Downtown B&B was my stop.

    A Downtown B&B
    This is perfect if you do not have a car. Mary of Hop On Hop Off Shuttle recommended this place operated by Lee and Kim of Possibilities Unlimited.Alaska.

    You can arrange and pay for the breakfast part of the B&B or use the nearby grocery story and full kitchen with refrigerator to prepare your own. I took advantage of one hearty breakfast the day I went for a daylong boat trip with Lee.

    My studio was clean and cheerful and equipped with a TV and a nice bathroom. I had a view of the harbor from my window. But the most charming feature was the lovely hosts, Lee and Kim, and dog Bug Eyes. I enjoyed their company on our scheduled activities and was so appreciative of their invitation to join them for dinner one evening. It’s like I had relatives in Kodiak!

    Near Island Trails
    Taking the sidewalk along one of the main streets, Rezanof Drive, (on which the B&B was located) and heading over the very pedestrian-friendly bridge takes you to Near Island with some excellent walking trails through the forest. There are no bears there, but I did surprise an eagle that had landed on the ground about 15 feet away from me. The trails on the north side of Near Island are easily accessible on foot. They are about 20 minutes away from the center of Kodiak and I walked them all in about 45 minutes. The trails on the south side of the island are equally as enjoyable with different views, but they are farther away and I got there in Denise the Hiker’s car when we walked those trails for about 45 minutes.

    Fish Tech on Near Island
    What a fascinating place this is. I am not sure what its official name is, but everybody called it Fish Tech. You could walk there but driving was more convenient and Wendy the Kayaker took me along with some other guests after one of our kayak sessions had to be cut short due to winds. There is a very cool—actually cold—touch tank with local marine life and a beautiful aquarium. It is free.

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    Marty and Marion Owens’ Galley Gourmet Cruise

    This was my first official activity in Kodiak and what a lovely outing this is. Marty is the harbor master and Marion, a professional photographer, oversees the organic garden at their B&B from which ingredients are used in the gourmet meal that she prepares on board.

    A perfectly seasoned salad had 15 greens, many from her garden. Our main dish was halibut in a delicious sauce with diced red, yellow, and orange peppers. Dessert was a rhubarb and plum cake. I even had a tasty cup of decaf coffee after our meal to try the cardamom spice they added. Should you wish to imbibe in alcohol on the cruise it is a BYO policy, but a variety of soft drinks were served.

    The boat has beautiful woodwork and an ingenious dumbwaiter that allows the numerous, tasty hors d'oeuvres and appetizers to find guests, no matter where they’ve settled in on the boat to relax or take photos. Kittiwake nests, puffins, oyster catchers, bald eagles, otters, and sea lions were all present on our cruise and it was the only time I saw more than a single Horned Puffin. The Tufted Puffins were more plentiful.

    Fine cuisine, served in style by enjoyable hosts, surrounded by the wonders of nature—a perfect combination and it is not necessary to get all dressed up. However, I did leave my Muck Boots back at the B&B in favor of less cumbersome footwear.

    Trophy II Marine Wildlife Cruise

    Captain Lee Robins runs this fantastic outing on his very comfortable boat, Trophy II. I booked it as part of my stay at A Downtown B&B and since no additional guests signed up on our day of departure, I got a solo trip. Depending on the wildlife viewing interests of the guests, a variety of routes can be taken.

    I was very interested in puffins, so we visited many Tufted Puffin cliffs and rookeries and even climbed up the back of one of the cliffs. Nothing dangerous, though. Amongst the thousands of Tufted Puffins, we managed to see one Horned Puffin too.

    In addition to spending lots of time with puffins, we visited Kittiwake rookeries and had some nice bald eagle sightings. Captain Lee could drift in toward the shore for prolonged and viewing because Trophy II needed only two feet of clearance.
    We saw otters, including mothers with babies riding on their backs and stomachs.

    We spent some time letting the Fin Whales play with us as they are known to do. These are the second biggest whales, next to the Blue Whale. I enjoyed a couple of uncommon sightings of the Fin Whale’s tail, something they rarely reveal. These whales were really diving down deep, so they pointed their nose vertical toward the ocean floor and gave a flip of their tail out of the water.

    We were out the entire day and I had a sandwich made to order, plus chips and homemade cookies for lunch, compliments of Captain Lee. I could do this trip many times over, keeping my eye out for wildlife in the water and on the shore.

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    Kayaking and Other Adventures with Wendy of Alaskan Wilderness Adventures

    On our first kayak outing, in an hour we managed to see many starfish very clearly along the shore, view two otters scurrying out of the water and see one sea lion posing majestically, before whitecaps sent us back to shore.

    I asked Wendy if our activities could shift over to land from the water, and that was fine with her. So we headed off to Pasagshak State Recreation Area. This is where Captain John from the Kittiwake said he’d go if he had a free day in Kodiak, therefore I was pleased to be able to visit, especially accompanied by such a knowledgeable guide.

    We took our time on the 40 mile trip to Pasagshak, stopping along the way at scenic points. The weather/wind may not have been conducive to kayaking, but the sunny day was perfect for enjoying the beauty of the “Emerald Island” and looking for wildlife.

    We found the free ranging buffalo herd in Pasagshak, then headed for a stroll along fossil beach where we found remnants of an ancient artifact. The spectacular scenery here reminded me of the Cape of Good Hope.

    Along the route we saw mountain goats up high, an eagle ready to fledge but still sharing a nest with its mother, and two bears. Hurray! I got to see Kodiak bears!

    Bear #1 was a hairy spot on a hill with binoculars, but Bear #2 crossed the road not far in front of us. This brief view was insufficient for Wendy who halted the car and got out. We were going to follow the bear across the narrow roadside creek and into the thicket. Since Wendy is a Class A Hunting Guide with 16 years experience, I was willing to follow. Sure enough, we did get another much better view of the young male as he made his way through the woods.

    Our second kayak outing lasted most of the day for a 14 mile round trip paddle. In addition to puffins (mostly Tufted, but there was one Horned) swimming near our kayaks, and a young eagle perched along shore, we had a pod of humpbacks feeding and playing for hours all around us. Some were in the distance and some were quite close. A highlight was a mother whale and calf that the breached together out of the water in front of us.

    To go kayaking with Wendy no experience is necessary and she provides all equipment, the life jacket and wet bag. For footwear, she explained that hiking boots are not suggested because the ankle movements required for steering the kayak are impaired. If you have neoprene or water proof gloves, stick them in your pocket in case you decide to wear them.

    Hiking and Hospitality
    The hike was arranged through Hop On Hop Off Kodiak Shuttles and Tours.

    Denise, the Hiker, stated that the 6-mile loop, medium difficulty hike to Terminal Point is her favorite on the island and I could see why. We drove to the start of the trail and hiked through this Enchanted Forest with several different habitats that included Sitka Spruce, moss covered Alders, ferns, carpets of soft moss, meadows of wildflowers, and beaches.

    Tracks showed that a fox was leading the way, but we never saw the little fellow nor did we see another person. Enroute to our hike a Sitka Deer posed nicely for a few moments and a photo. Denise kindly packed us lunch, which we ate on a picnic table at the trailhead once we completed our Termination Point hike.

    After the invigorating Terminal Point hike we opted for the far less demanding southern trails of Near Island and even included the neighbor’s dog for this jaunt. As we finished up, Denise asked if I would like to try some wine from their vineyard in California. My wine tasting extended to several glasses and then to smoked salmon tasting (that was caught and smoked by Denise and her husband Rob).

    Then Rob, who I had hiked with in 2008, called and said he was coming home with crabs fresh from the crab traps. I was kindly invited to join them for dinner. The crabs were outstanding, as was the salmon and pasta, and Denise and Rob were warm and gracious hosts with many entertaining tales about Kodiak. I felt like an honored guest albeit a tired one from the day’s hike.

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    Mary and the Hop On Hop Off Shuttle and Tours

    I had contacted Mary prior to my visit to help arrange the various outings and had used her expertise in 2008 as well. During my 4 nights in Kodiak I found Mary to be very helpful in offering suggestions, providing inexpensive Internet, and even lending me her cell phone. Her shuttle to the airport came in handy when it was time to leave. Mary’s contacts and guidance helped make my visit a success.

    Singing the Praises of Kodiak
    This is one tremendous nature and wildlife destination in Alaska. In Kodiak it is so easy to take advantage of land and water activities and the abundance of wildlife found in each environment. Everything is accessible with good roads and trails. There is lodging for any budget. The people are great and very welcoming. While I did the bulk of my bear viewing in Katmai, there are bear viewing trips on Kodiak too.

    Photolink to 73 photos

    The only disappointment of this entire trip was I did not get to dig a hole in the ground and look at the permafrost. Maybe next time.

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    Very interesting about Melissa getting Scout away from you all. What an incredible experience. You're awfully close to that whale in your kayak. Were you nervous?

    Thanks for the terrific report and photos!

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    Fantastic report once again Lynn =D> ! I almost booked a trip to Katmai for next year, and after reading your report, I am so glad I did not (It's a good thing :), read on...)

    Your report is just what I need to help make better plans, definitely the most detailed report available. Thank you so much for taking the time to post. After seeing the gray wolves, I'm even more determined to make a trip up there!

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    Wow, Lynn - want to add my kudos to all the ones above. What a terrific and informative report. Glad you added the link on the Africa site. I would do anything for even ONE of those sightings - let alone everything you saw!

    Had been thinking of making a trip to Baja next Feb. for the gray whale nursery, but having second thoughts now. I want the whales AND the bears AND the wolves AND the otters AND the puffins AND...

    Thank you for bringing them home to us!

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    Fantastic report, really descriptive and the photos are stunning. The bear with the surprise seagull at Brooks is a standout. I just love the white wolf on the cliff and that photo of all the bears at Brooks is amazing. It seemed like there was so much to see and all so beautiful … how I wish I could go there one day, but who knows.

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    I have heard that until about 4 weeks wolf pups, coyote pups, and domestic dog pups are indistinguishable. So for the first month, I think it would work out fine, Crosscheck.

    I did not even know the bird was in the photo. I was just clicking away.

    In 2003 I went to Churchill for the polar bears. They were equally wonderful.

    Thanks for the encouraging words.

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    Another wonderful report. Thanks for the details - especially the outings you took after "Da Bears". Love that you got to see a Kodiak and Horned Puffin. Can't wait for your next report....

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    Looking forward to reading the details of your trip, but I think I'll cheat and look at your photos first. Looks like you had a a great time. We just returned from our bear watching trip with Single Star about 10 days ago ... also had a fantastic time ... never got around to writing my blog or processing my photos, so I have a lot to do in the coming weeks to catch up.

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    Lynn ... I'm back to add my compliments and thanks for the report. I really enjoyed reading the informative bits as well as your personal experiences with the sightings.

    Like you, we've been to Churchill to see the polar bears. As terrific as that trip was, being able to sit with and walk amongst the bears of Katmai added an extra dimension to our brown bear watching trip that was missing from the polar bear trip.

    Lee's quite the character isn't he? We enjoyed our week with him on the Single Star, and enjoyed meeting Kim as well. "Like family," is definitely a good description for them.

    Thanks again for sharing your experience.


    P.S. Here's a teaser photo from our trip (I think this bear was at Geographic Harbor) ... http://2totravel.blogspot.com/2010/08/teaser-from-alaska.html

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    atravelynn, now I know where you have been.
    What a great report, you have sold me on the idea to go, even from the UK. The next Canada business trip sounds like the ideal time to extend the dates and take 2 weeks. The kayaking experience sounds fabulous, and I've always had the NW brown bears on my wb=nted list!
    Many thanks again, I'm off to see your photos now!

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    Great photos of a fabulous experience, and your "Pleasant surpise picture of the trip" is truely a special shot.
    Could I be a little geeky and ask about your camera kit, lenses, set-ups and post processing? Plus, any top tips on camera settings given the light, action and weather that you experienced.
    Finaly, the kayaking is very very tempting for me. Talking photography and seawater and kayaks, are there any suggetions you would have?

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    The blog and photos are wonderful. I've wanted to read a report about the Single Star. What a fantastic trip you had. The cliffs looked familiar, as did the fog.

    For cameras I have a 2006 Sony H2 P&S which zooms up to 12x and a 2007 H9 which zooms up to 15x. I used a Trek Pod mono/tripod. Mostly I kept the settings on the green auto with continuous shoot. At the falls with the white water and often cloudy skies for a gray atmoshpere, I think overexposing is a good idea. If you have a remote button that clicks the shutter, that would be good while you wait and wait for a fish to jump, though I did not use one. I had plastic bags with me at all times in case of rain. Post processing, I have Photoshop Elements.

    For photography on the 2-person kayaks, the best spot is in front. If you can get your kayak partner in back to agree to do the paddling when you are near the whales or whatever, you'll be ready. I shoved the camera into my life vest to protect it, wearing the strap around my neck. The kayak offers great low views. But a boat lends itself to easier photography because you could use a tripod, the camera and your gear can remain more at the ready than with a kayak, there is not the danger of getting the camera soaked, and you can swing around better to where the action is.

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    Gosh, back from E. Africa (and the Kenya board) and starting to work on my 2011 adventures. What a surprise to find you, Atravelynn, on the Alaska board with an amazing trip report and photos. I guess I need to check into all your trip reports and see where else I need to go.....thanks again for sharing!

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    We have lots in common Renoduck. I'm back from Kenya too and working on 2011.

    Thanks for the comment and it gives me an opportunity to offer further praises of Katmai and Kodiak. I showed some of these photos in an album to a friend. Her comment was, "You must have spent your whole vacation looking through the camera to get these." Not so, and that's a good point to make. The animal activity in the photos was continual with plenty of time to just look along with focusing and photographing.

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    Agreed atravelynn ... there was so much bear action on our trip, too, that after the first day, I spent more time watching than photographing ... and I still came back with a lot (I mean a lot) of photos.

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    Great testimony Eenusa. You used a different company in the same location with the same great results.

    The photos we have posted represent what your average visitor would see. Maybe we had a little extra luck in some areas, but these results are typical. Unlike some of those weight loss adds with the fine print, "results are not typical."

    I still can't believe places like this exist.

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    Another fantastic trip report, Lynn! All the detail is so helpful both in making the reader feel she was there and also in case someone wants to do a similar trip. As someone else said, I only need to look at your trip reports from trips you've done to know where I want to go next!

    A question about the Katmai Coast portion of the trip: it looks like you spent just about 3 or 4 nights there? When I look at the website for Katmai Coastal Tours, I don't see anything shorter than a week. Just curious if you have to ask about shorter trips, or perhaps they've changed things since 2010.

    Also, do you think a trip like this would work with kids - mine will be 11 and 14 by next summer and, as you know, we took them to Africa. We've been considering going back to Costa Rica next summer but doing a trip like this also sounds very tempting! We also might just go somewhere without them for once!

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    ((*)) Superb report! This part deserves special mention:

    Scout was not getting the message, but his mother was. She approached and looked us over and then did something extraordinary. She redirected Scout’s attention by engaging him in play with her. She knew exactly what was happening and that Scout’s behavior was not appropriate so she distracted him. After a few moments of playing with Mom, Scout was inching our way again. Mother bear grabbed him gently yet firmly by the scruff of his neck with her teeth and dragged him off. She had worked WITH us, showing no sign of aggression TOWARDS us to help teach the rules of Hallo Bay to her young son. The adults (human and bear) in that situation combined forces to help instill the culture that prevails in Katmai National Park for people and bears. We humans were all impressed by the intelligence exhibited by this mother bear.

    Very powerful indeed.

    There have been a couple tragedies over summer, from people who did not repect the guidelines for observation, and a couple who knew exactly how to behave(dropping and playing dead) who survived a possible fatality.

    Thank you for the comprehensive report. I have yet to get up north to see the Polar Bears, but have been fortunate to view many in the wild in the Aleutians, along with local rivers in my area.

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    Good thing I finally checked back in here after over a month. Thanks for the comments.

    Katmai Coastal Tours--I booked 3 night trips each time, but spent 4 nights on the boat each time due to weather or flight changes. It is imperative to allow a day or two pre and post trip, as weather and flights can change and do change. It is NOT the odd and rare occasion that your planned itinerary is shifted around by a day. It is typical.

    You know who else does trips to Katmai coast and also covers the islands between Kodiak and Katmai? Lee Robins who runs A Downtown B&B and the boat Trophy II. I went with him around Kodiak but not to the Katmai coast. I'd go with Lee Robins or John Rogers on the Katmai trip.

    If your children are willing to spend several hours walking or sitting in what could be cold, rainy weather, then they'd be fine. Much of the bear viewing was sitting in one place for an hour or two, so that would have to be ok too. But while sitting, there are bears to look at, you are not just sitting and waiting. One thing they'd have going for them is good joints, knees, and stamina.

    Do ask about age limits on the boats and for the activities.

    When I booked, a 3, 4, or 7 night option was possible. If only 7 nights is available now, that could get expensive. If you call John Rogers, he'll let you know. Or email him. Sometimes response time is a week or so if he is out at sea. Also try Lee Robins.

    Good luck and have a great time, Jane.

    Thanks for the pullout quote Jetset! What a privilege to spend time in your neck of the woods. The bear cub lesson is one of the most amazing wildlife encounters I have had. There is so much going on inside their heads. We can only observe, infer, and imagine.

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    Thanks so much, Lynn. I kind of forgot to check back here for a week or so myself - I wish there was a way to PM on Fodors so we could get each other's attention with an email notification if we're not checking certain threads!

    I keep going back and forth on what trip to plan next. This sounds wonderful, have to poll the kids and see if they think they're up for it. We were then thinking of going back to Costa Rica but to Osa Peninsula, where we'd not been, and Fodorites are having a get together there next summer so we were going to go for that - but the timing isn't ideal as older daughter's going to Argentina with her Spanish class and would be back less than a week before we had to take off again to meet up with them. So now I'm back to thinking about something else again.

    The problem is, having been to Africa I'm dying to go back - nothing else seems quite as enticing except maybe Alaska - but I think some money must be saved first! So maybe Alaska or something in the States would be ideal while saving money - though if we just stayed put I suppose we'd save money quicker!

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    Lots going on for you Jane62. Alaska is not a money saving option, unfortunately. The Katmai coast is right up there with Africa in terms of $$. Good luck with your options. Lots of places on the mainland that aren't as expensive. Polling the kids makes sense. If you'd like to see some black bears, instead of Alaskan brown bears, consider the Vince Shute Wildlife Center in Orr, Minnesota. If interested, I went 3x and did a report.


    None of the photo albums work since the switch to shutterfly.

    As for PMing, my email is the same as my Fodor name at hotmail.

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    Yes, lots going on for me - my problem is I want it all and now! I know Alaska is not inexpensive for sure. I was hoping it was at least less expensive than Africa! Problem with polling the kids is younger daughter doesn't think she wants to go anywhere and then loves it when we're there! That is interesting about the wildlife center in Minn. but what else could we do in the area? I was thinking maybe of going back to Yellowstone/Grand Tetons but this time perhaps hiring someone to try to show us wildlife rather than just wandering around ourselves. I'll email you, if you don't mind, as this is rather off-topic to your report!

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