Rainbow over the confluence of Moraine and Funnel Creek. NPS Photo/J. Narvaez
Not long ago, I left the “hustle & bustle” of working with visitors at Brooks Camp to assist our resident Bear Monitor, Ranger Leslie Skora, at Moraine and Funnel Creeks for a week. While flying up to Crosswinds Lake in the northern part of Katmai National Park & Preserve, I’ll admit that I had expectations of seeing many bears, and not many people. Instead, while I found the opposite to be true, I still ended the trip truly grateful for the experience. What deeply impressed me was the overwhelming feeling of openness and freedom that the remote land gave off.
Map of the Moraine and Funnel Creek area, including observation points used for bear monitoring scans. Source: NPS
Every other day, when we scanned for bears from atop a bluff at the Funnel Creek Observation Point, I felt the landscape to be at the same time expansive and accessible. On leaving my tent in the morning and climbing over the first hill of the day, I was greeted with snow-capped mountains in the distance and a view of rivers that I knew I would soon cross. In one scan of the Confluence Observation Point, I might have seen Northern Harriers hovering a few feet above land, bears sunning themselves on the tundra, cubs bouncing on dead trees, or red salmon filling the banks of a river.
Ranger Julian looking out over Funnel Creek. NPS Photo/L. Skora.
Hills and valleys formed by old glacial deposits were further shaped by the winding waterways that cut through them. The mosses, lichens, mushrooms and low vegetation that covered the ground seemed to come from another era. It was a place where the lone caribou or bush of alders stood out against the rolling tundra. I was humbled by the feelings of wilderness, wide-open spaces, and being a visitor in a seemingly ancient land.
At the same time, the environment was not always forgiving; winds could whip through the tundra devoid of large trees. A river we crossed with ease one day, could rise six inches the next and then be too deep and swift to traverse. These conditions gave me even more respect for the landscape and much more appreciation for a beautiful sunny day after having steeled ourselves against the rain and up to 40 mph winds.
Ranger Leslie Crossing Moraine Creek. NPS Photo/J. Narvaez
Moraine and Funnel Creeks were great places to explore, and it is important to remember the “best practices” and rules to follow in such an area. Like many of the amazing parts of Katmai National Park, it was easy to feel that the land would forever remain untouched, that an area so large could not be affected by our recreational presence. In fact though, I was surprised by how many people I saw at this remote location, and how many planes I heard. At a little over 100 individuals, the number of visitors on the busiest day I witnessed at Moraine Creek easily rivaled the number of daily visitors in Brooks Camp the same day. Admittedly though, visitation is usually low at Brooks Camp in the second week of August, the wind conditions on Crosswinds Lake kept many visitors away the rest of the week, and there are over four million acres in Katmai National Park.
Nonetheless, it was not unusual to catch up to five Brown Bears in a scan of the area (a lot for anywhere else in the United States) and over double the people. In such situations, it is important that visitors are trying to minimize their impact on the environment and following the principles of “Leave No Trace.” It was nice to see that local fishing guides were doing a good job of giving bears their space and grouping together if a bear were to appear nearby on the river.
Bear walking near Funnel Creek. NPS Photo/J. Gehring
All in all, even though I did not see as many bears as I was expecting, I had more of an appreciation for those that did appear. More than that, it reminded me of what draws us to the wilderness where the “supports of civilization” are few. In places like these, our senses are more easily activated by that possible glimpse of a caribou, sound of a bear walking below an overlook, taste of handpicked blueberries, smell of salmon, or the touch of the cold river rushing over your feet. For me, places like Moraine and Funnel Creeks reinforce my passion to keep exploring. They help me understand my surroundings, notice how everything I see is interconnected, and better realize why they are all important to preserve and protect.
A trip like this one always reminds me why I love to travel and get outside. What attracts you to the wild outdoors?