As a city denizen, the closest contact I have had to wildlife in recent years was that raccoon that stole my Shamrock Shake while I was taking pictures up on Twin Peaks in San Francisco a couple weeks ago. Cute as he was, the experience didn’t give me chills. Well, I’ve got them now, and it isn’t just because of the temperature.
Anchorage is surrounded by vast wilderness that is home to the kind of wildlife most of us have only ever seen in zoos or on TV. Between the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, and the Chugach State Park and National Forest, a day trip out of the city will make you feel like you are in an episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom (or, insert name of more timely TV show reference here, for those who are too young to remember the 1970s).
Just keep the telefoto lens on your camera at the ready, and don’t be an idiot and try to get close to, pet or feed the animals, and the Kenai Peninsula will reward you handsomely. I had an amazingly lucky day, in part, because we hired a local guide to show us to the best spots to see these magnificent creatures, and to keep us from getting ourselves killed by, oh, say, an avalanche or a grizzly bear. (He also happened to know of a truly memorable little donut shop tucked away behind the only gas station on the Seward Highway. The maple bars were puffs of heaven glazed with sin!)
But, although I took all the photos in this post out in the wild hinterlands, you don’t actually have to leave Anchorage city limits to have a wildlife sighting. Believe it or not, the city of Anchorage itself is home to not only 300,000 people, but also about 1,600 moose, and scores of black, brown and grizzly bears, linx and other species of wildlife. Inside the city. Urban wildlife. Seriously, moose just walk down the street like sulky teenagers and pick through people’s trash bins. Bears saunter around and nap on people’s back decks. Most of them wander into the city from Chugach State Park. The prevailing attitude seems to be: (1) Moose are stupid and dangerous, so stay out of their way; and (2) Bears are cool, just don’t corner or threaten them. In fact, more people are hurt each year by moose than by black and grizzly bear attacks combined.
Anchorage locals are eager to point out that the only bear species that will actually hunt a human being is the polar bear. The rest of the bears, they say, are happy to just share the space with us, as long as they get the fishing spot they want, and people don’t mess with them. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, do you?