Thursday, July 25, 2013

Cooper Landing Revisited

We got hooked on Cooper Landing as a vacation destination last year with our mountain biking/hiking/rafting adventure, but hadn't done everything we wanted to do last year so made a point to go back for a shorter sojourn this year.  Johnson Pass, Crescent Creek and Russian Lakes trails all beckoned us and I've blogged about those, but I thought I'd give an update on this year's trip.

Bears played a big role in this year's camping vacation.  We were staying at the Cooper Creek South Campground in Cooper Landing.  A notice at the checkin kiosk said that a bear had damaged tents in the campground just 3 days before so we were on high alert for bear safety, keeping most everything we weren't using in our vehicles all the time and strictly enforcing no-odor stuff in the tents. 

A day or so later Aurora was just past our car heading to the bathrooms when she noticed a brown bear not 25 feet away.  It was walking from the creek to her right towards the campsite across the road from us, leaving a wet path.  It sniffed around that site a bit (it was unoccupied), then headed on through it and disappeared into the brush, away from our site.  We were just starting to make dinner (it was about 6:15) so we were a bit apprehensive.  We drove to the bathrooms, then circled around and reported the bear to the campground host.  They thanked us and said the bear had walked right by their site and on through into the woods.  We were a bit edgy the rest of the evening, but it sounded like it was passing through.  We'd gone walking on a trail behind the campsite the evening before and come across brown bear tracks (claw marks obvious as they down retract like black bear claws) so it was no surprise they were around, it was just a surprise to see one mosey on by our site without even a glance at us in broad daylight!  It was a smallish brown bear--like the size of a big black bear.

Not a great picture, but brown bear is running across road, almost in woods in Russian River Campground
The next evening we went for a hike at the Russian River Falls trail just down the road.  Afterwards we decided to check out the campground since we'd never driven through there before.  We drove around a curve in the road and saw a large brown bear in the RV dump station pull-off.  We stopped and the bear ran out to the road, then ran back to the dump station, then ran back across the road into the campground.  This was a different experience as it was bigger and it seemed agitated and we could sense the immense power in those massive paws.  We felt bad for scaring it into the campground.  We reported this one also but the attendant seemed indifferent.  Could be they see lots of bear in that campground!

While Aurora and I were biking/running Johnson Pass, Denver and Douglas ran down to Girdwood and they saw a black bear while out hiking to the hand tram and watched it for awhile.  Funny how black bear holds so little fear for us compared to brown bear!  Besides seeing 3 bear (our first brown bears seen on the Kenai Peninsula in 6 years of being here), we just saw lots of bear scat everywhere we went--some of it quite fresh.  The bears are eating plants right now as the scat was green and uniform colored.  It will change as they eat more berries, and salmon.

Regarding that Russian River Falls hike.  It is a nice, easy 2.3 mile hike out to the falls on a wide, gravel trail.  Families hike it, bike it, run baby strollers along it.  We've seen the price to get in and park at the trailhead parking lot nearly double in the 6 years we have lived here, so $11 per car per entry, for 12 hours, no re-entry allowed, seems like a rip-off and irritates me.  This has got to be a big, fat cash cow.  There were no bears at the falls and the fish weren't jumping, but there was a slew of salmon at the bottom of the falls, milling in a writhing mass of red-tinted bodies (the sign they are dying), which was fascinating watching.  For us this was a very mellow evening hike though seeing the brown bear afterwards was exciting.

We also went back and visited the Catholic church a mile down Snug Harbor Road.  During my painting class this spring I painted a picture of the cross up the 200 foot climb above the church and I wanted to go back and see it again.  The contours of the mountainside were so familiar to me as I'd spent hours on them--painting them--and I observed the difference in light and my portrayal of colors.

Besides that we discovered the joy of taking showers while camping:  Wildman's has 10 minute hot showers for $4.25, which we appreciated beyond words after spending a day of intimacy with pushki, bugs and sweat biking the Russian Lakes trail.

And a trip to Cooper Landing didn't seem complete without a visit to Sunrise Cafe, though we opted for a heavenly piece of peanut butter cheesecake pie and cole slaw instead of dinner!

It still makes me shake my head that I like Cooper Landing, of all places, to vacation.  But I recognize that others like it too, which is why this time we got reservations at our campground instead of leaving it to chance that a spot would be open (there would have been since we were there mid-week).  And I still detest driving through Cooper Landing because the roads are horribly rutted and curvy and traffic is slow.  That will improve a bit when the paving project through there resumes soon (suspended for the month of July due to high traffic volume).  But if I want a good take-off point for lots of hikes and bike rides, this is a great place to be!


Audrey Welborn said...

Love your painting of the cross and mountains, you are very talented. With all of the bear sitings, weren't you afraid on your hikes and biking to run into one, especially at the falls? I am amazed you haven't seen any on the Kenai Peninsula.

MichelleW said...

The bear we have met on the trails have all run from us. We definitely have an edgy feeling hiking and biking in bear country, but we have to subdue the fear a bit otherwise we'd never get out and enjoy it (and I know people--born and raised Alaskans even--who won't go out hiking because of bear). Now that you mention it, we did see a brown bear at Russian River Falls a few years ago, and our daughter ran into on on a trail in the Skilak Lake Area a few years ago (we didn't see that one). We've had black bear in our yard, but they hardly count. We had a bear bell on our bike handlebars to warn them of our presence so hopefully we wouldn't see them!

Thanks for your compliment on my painting. I can be my own worst critic and don't consider myself very good.