Category Archives: Katmai National Park

Behind The Scenes At Katmai–The Brooks Falls Platform


Talk about iconic.


When I told people that I’d been to Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska, each and every one of them would give me a blank stare.  Whereupon, I would ask them if they’d seen photos of the bears standing at the waterfall with their mouths open, catching the salmon jumping up the falls.  Then, the light bulb would turn on for them.  Everybody is familiar with these iconic images, even if they don’t know the exact location.

Unless there is a sow with cubs at one of the other viewing platforms, the Brooks Falls Platform is by far the busiest, most crowded, most popular platform.  So busy, as a matter of fact, that there is a ranger there during peak hours, clipboard in hand, taking names and allowing 1 hour of viewing time before those names are called and people are asked to move to make room for others waiting their turn.

Brooks Falls And The Platform

The photo above makes it look like there’s not many people at the platform, but I can tell you for a fact that when this image was taken, both lower and upper tiers were crowded cheek-by-jowl with photographers, their tripods and their supertelephoto lenses.  It was only thanks to a couple of forbearing photographers that I was able to squeeze in to a spot between them with my own tripod and (rented) supertelephoto.

Alone In The Falls

My first morning at the falls presented me with just one bear and no salmon jumping.  So, I screwed my 4-stop ND filter onto the lens and got in a little “silky water” practice….handheld!  You see, the tripod bore the 500mm lens, so rather than take time to change out camera/lens combos, I just steadied my camera and 100-400mm lens on the railing of the platform and successfully achieved some silky-water shots.

Silky water shots aside, I definitely acquired my most dramatic bear images here at this platform.

Caught One

Portrait Of A Bear

Caught One

Caught One

My current plans – barring any unforeseen circumstances – are to return to the park in 2014.   I urge those of you who can, to travel to the wild, remotely beautiful state of Alaska and visit this park to see the bears for yourself.  It’s an amazing opportunity to view these creatures closeup and in their own environment (well, as close up as the National Park Service allows – if you are a photographer, a telephoto lens sure helps).

Oh, and if you are interested in knowing the details of where I stayed while in the park, go to this link.  If you want to know about my gear and also the best times for photography at Katmai, click on this link to go to the article I wrote for the National Parks Traveler website.  And, while you are at it, go to the Traveler’s Facebook page and Like them.

Becky At Brooks Falls


Filed under Alaska, bears, Katmai National Park, National Parks, Photography, Travel, wildlife

Behind The Scenes At Katmai–The Riffles Platform

Out In The Riffles

A bear and a bird in the riffles downriver

My last “Behind The Scenes At Katmai” post highlighted photographs taken of and from the Lower Platform, just across the floating bridge from Brooks Lodge, in Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska.

This post shows you photographs taken from the Riffles Platform.  This place is sort of like the middle child of viewing platforms in the park.  Everybody either sees lots of action at the Lower Platform or the more iconic Brooks Falls Platform, so they may tend not to spend as much time at this platform, located just a few hundred yards downriver from Brooks Falls.

Looking Toward Brooks Falls

A Bear And A Bird At Brooks Falls

Looking upriver toward Brooks Falls

The Riffles Platform received its moniker from the numerous small, shallow rapids (riffles) in front of and to the sides of this viewing area.  Our photo tour leader informed us that this is the area where we would see sows with their cubs because, unless desperate for food, the sows would stay clear of the falls where most of the males staked out spots.  While I was there, I did not see any momma/cub combos – I saw those at the Lower Platform.  What I did see were younger, more inexperienced bears and older bears looking for easier fishing.

Bear On A Rock

Bear Water Seagull

What Are You Lookin At Buddy

Standing In The Riffles

To me, the Riffles Platform was analogous to an overflow parking lot at an event venue – when the Brooks Falls Platform got too crowded, people would come on down to this platform.

I didn’t see as much action at this platform as I did the others, but what action I did see yielded some very nice images.

Next post:  The Brooks Falls Platform


Filed under Alaska, bears, Katmai National Park, National Parks, Photography, Travel, wildlife

Behind The Scenes at Katmai – The Lower Platform

Action At The Lower Platform

In a previous post, you got an idea of the layout for Brooks Lodge.  Now, it’s time to take your camera and start viewing the bears.

This post deals with the Lower Platform and photos you can capture from that vantage point.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The path through the lodge complex parallels the shoreline of Naknek Lake. Rangers advise visitors to keep to the paths, though, since the beach is the purview of the bears…..actually, everywhere in the park is the bears’ purview and sometimes one sees an 800 lb bear ambling up the path to plop itself down in front of one of the buildings for a quick rest before the rangers try to chase it away with loud voices and clapping. While it’s one thing for the bears to move along the path through the lodge area to get from Point A to Point B, it’s another thing for a bear to start making itself comfortable in a lodging area inhabited by larger numbers of humans; rangers and volunteers definitely work at discouraging that behavior.

The path continues away from the lodge buildings down to the bank of Brooks River and a floating bridge connecting the lodge with the first of three viewing platforms (the Lower Platform).

The Bridge and The Platform

The view of the bridge from the bank of the Brooks River.  That bus you see in the distance is your ride to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes – if you’ve purchased a ticket for about $90+ which includes a box lunch for the day-long tour.

Bridge To The Lower Platform

The platform not only affords ample bear-sighting but also offers expansive views of the mouth of the Brooks River and a portion of Naknek Lake. From this vantage point, you can see bears, fishermen (and women) and floatplanes landing and taking off. If you have your polarizer filter attached to your lens, you can also see the salmon swimming en mass in the shallower portions of the water.

Salmon Underwater

Who's That Knocking On My Door

This is one of the thing that will cause a “bear jam”, closing the bridge at both ends and moving back anybody waiting at the river bank.

The Floating Bridge

Hard to tell with this upload, but there is a bear parked right in front of the gate right at the very end of the bridge.

Set Up On The Lower Platform

Set up for action at the Lower Platform

A Little Bear Porn

Catching the action.  My organized photo tour group’s first day in the park at the Lower Platform was quite the experience – especially when an amorous boar chanced upon this willing sow right next to the viewing platform.

Court Play

Playing in the distance.  Caught this shot with my rented 500mm lens and then did some cropping to focus more on the bears.

Sharing The Space

Sharing the beach with the bear

Mommy and Spring Triplets

A sow and her spring triplets

Just Standing There

Alone on the road

Looking Toward The Oxbow

Looking across the Brooks River oxbow area to the mountains beyond

Hi There

Yearling triplets at the Lower Platform

At The Mouth Of The River

The view toward the mouth of the Brooks River and Naknek Lake beyond, on my first day there – a very overcast, rainy day.   Compare this image to the image below, taken a couple of days later, late in the evening (yes, it’s that light at 10PM), while I stood on the bridge with my tripod and camera.

Alaskan Splendor

Alaskan Splendor

For more information on the cameras and nitty-gritty photography info regarding the park and the platforms, click on this link to get to the article I wrote for the National Parks Traveler website.

Most of the images you see here in this blog post (and my other Alaska blog posts) are for sale on my website, and you can order my various 2014 Alaska calendars by clicking on any of the calendar images on the left side of this blog site.

Becky On The Bridge

Next Post:  The Riffles Platform

Leave a comment

Filed under Alaska, bears, Katmai National Park, National Parks, Photography, Travel, wildlife

War Wounds and Battle Scars

Head Wound

While photographing the brown bears in Katmai National Park, almost every bear I saw (not all, but almost) sported some sort of wound in varying stages of the healing process on the face, across the snout, on the neck, back, or butt.  Some of the wounds were quite new, while others were healed or almost so.

Rear Wound

Neck Wound

The thing about bear wounds is that these bruins have incredible healing powers.  And, oftentimes, the fur may or may not grow back;  if it does grow to cover the wound, it’s not as thick.  Therefore, scars can be a key characteristic for park biologists in identifying a particular bear.

Teeth Marks

Teeth Marks Closeup

Yes, those are puncture wounds made from the teeth of another bear.

Some bears get their injuries through a fall (as in falling from the top of Brooks Falls or falling down a mountainside), while other (probably the majority) get their wounds via altercations with other bears battling for mates, prime fishing ground, or some other territorial or food dispute.

I learned that – as a rule – bears prefer not to get into  a serious fight.  Instead, their disputes generally consist of much posturing, loud roaring (which can be heard a mile away – I can attest to that), and a display of teeth.  Sometimes, though, as the pictures above indicate, things can get pretty serious.



The arguments above looked serious, with the bears trying to bite each other.  However, their fights were over as quickly as they began, and of the disputes I witnessed, none ever drew blood.

1 Comment

Filed under Alaska, bears, Katmai National Park, National Parks, Photography, Travel, wildlife

Gone Fishing–The Snorkeling Method

Even though I and the rest of my photo tour attendees only were able to spend 4 days within Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska, we still learned so much about the coastal brown bears inhabiting the park.

We learned about their fishing methods, for instance.

Some bears stood in the water and constantly moved their heads from left to right, looking into the water for that flash of movement signaling a nearby salmon.

Some bears stood in the water and felt the movement of the salmon around their paws

And some bears snorkeled.

Fishing Next To The Bridge

This bear actually squeezed beneath the floating bridge and re-surfaced on the side you see here.

Up Periscope

Up periscope.

Down Periscope

Down periscope.


Snorkeling with nose and eyes below the water.

Did it catch anything?  No, but not for lack of trying.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alaska, bears, Katmai National Park, National Parks, nature, Photography, Travel, wildlife

Behind The Scenes at Katmai – Brooks Lodge

Alaskan Building Adornment

Welcome to Katmai National Park and Preserve!

If you’ve read my detailed article published in the National Parks Traveler about Brooks Lodge in Katmai National Park, Alaska, then you have an idea of the area’s layout with some pretty pictures to go with it.

So my last post ended with the mandatory orientation session dealing with bear etiquette. Once you receive your bear etiquette pin, you are free to immediately roam the park or go get squared away with your lodging.

There is Brooks Lodge (operated by the park’s concessioner Katmailand Inc.) and Brooks Camp (operated by the National Park Service). During the peak months of July and September, the lodge only allows stays of up to 4 days. If you wish to remain in the park longer, you must make a reservation with the NPS and transfer to a tent site at their camp, which is about ½ mile (or less) away from the lodge.

Luggage Carts

Luggage Carts – lodge employees load your gear onto these carts and take them rickshaw-style to each room.

I and the photo tour I was with stayed at Brooks Lodge, in a motel-style building with 5 rooms on each side of the building.

Home Away From Home

My home away from home for 4 days.

I shared my room with another female photo tour attendee (no, you don’t get a room to yourself – although I don’t know how the arrangements work when it’s just you traveling solo and not with anybody else or with a group). I traveled with a photo tour group because I knew then I would be guaranteed lodging within the park – when we left the park, the lodge and campsite were full and any walk-ins were turned away.

Our room consisted of 2 bunk beds, a small shower, sink, toilet, desk and single metal folding chair. Clearance on the bottom bunk is low and I bumped my head more than once before remembering to be careful when sitting or laying down. Electrical outlets are located at the head of each bottom bunk bed and next to the sink.  It’s basic and clean.

Bunk Beds

Bunk beds

The Desk Area

The desk area

Shower and Sink

Shower and sink

The View From The Porch

The view from the porch

Meals are served in the lodge’s lobby / mess hall. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at certain hours.  The food is simple and delicious.  There is a tiny bar within the lobby  that opens in the evening.

Brooks Lodge Lobby

The cozy lobby – a great place to trade bear stories.

Brooks Lodge Mess Hall

The mess hall.

On The Lobby Porch

Wearing their mosquito head nets on the lobby porch

In addition to the motel-style building where I stayed, there are also several nearby cabins.  Cabins and motel-style building all house a total of  60 people.

The lodge shares the lobby, mess hall, bar, lodge office, trading post (gift shop), freezing room (where fish are gutted, cleaned and stored), food storage locker, restrooms/showers, and outdoor eating areas (surrounded by an electric fence) with the camp.

Freezing Room and Trading Post

The Trading Post ahead, with the freezing room to the left of the photo.

There is a cultural center up the path from the cabins and employee housing that shelters a replica of a pit house.  People have inhabited this area since about 9000 years ago.

The Path To The Cultural Center

The path to the cultural center

Pit House

Reconstruction of a pit house

On our final morning at Brooks Lodge, as I and my photo tour roomie were enjoying the fresh air of the morning, a large brown bear quietly lumbered past our building, followed by her spring triplets gamboling after her.  Without giving either of us surprised humans a second glance, momma and babies disappeared into the tall grass of the place that is their home.  It was a fitting farewell from Katmai to us.

Morning Surprise

A Katmai Farewell


Yeah, it stays light that late in Alaska

Next Post:  The Viewing Platforms

1 Comment

Filed under Alaska, Katmai National Park, National Parks, Photography, Travel

Behind The Scenes At Katmai–Getting There

Taking Off

Like a majority of photographers, when writing about my travels to a national park or other scenic location, I tend to post pristine landscapes or interesting wildlife shots.  I don’t always post anything “behind the scenes”, which is what I am doing with this post and a number of future ones.


To get to Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska (if you are staying for more than one day), you’ll fly 1-1/2 hours in a PenAir turboprop to the community of King Salmon, where passengers are bused about a mile to Katmai Air’s small building.

Brooks Lodge Logo

At Katmai Air

Katmai Air Souvenirs

You and your luggage will then be weighed prior to boarding the floatplane  (and yes, if your luggage is overweight, they charge you a nominal fee per extra pound).

Weighing The Luggage

Carting Off The Luggage

Waiting To Play

Katmai Air Dock

The floatplane trip from King Salmon to Katmai  is about 30 minutes.

Boarding The Floatplane

Inside Katmai Air Floatplane

If weather conditions are favorable, you will  be dropped off along the shore of Naknek Lake, just a few hundred feet from the park’s Visitor Center.  If weather conditions are other than favorable, you’ll land on Brooks Lake and be ATV’d to the Visitor Center.

Naknek Lake Landing


On The Shore of Naknek Lake

Inside the Visitor Center, you must attend a 30-minute bear etiquette orientation session. This is mandatory. If you don’t attend one of the sessions (and they are going on constantly all day long) then you are not allowed to go into the park.  Once you’ve attended the session and received your bear etiquette pin, you are free to roam the park.


Next post: Brooks Lodge Layout

Thumbs Up In Katmai

Leave a comment

Filed under Alaska, bears, Katmai National Park, National Parks, Photography, Travel, wildlife