Gypsum Creek Mine

I believe I have said it a few times here… I love ruins. And while good ruins are fewer in Hawaii, southeast Alaska has plenty to explore.

Old pilings across the sand and gravel from Gypsum Creek into Iyoukeen Cove
Old pilings across the sand and gravel from Gypsum Creek into Iyoukeen Cove
Iyoukeen Cove, is a place we have been many times. We have fished halibut here more times than I remember, doing fairly well, a favorite spot. A few years back we landed a 205 pound fish here.

For one reason or another, fate seems to highlight this odd cove every time are in the area. From the first time I noted the unusual name on a chart to the halibut we have routinely caught here. Once when we simply planned to cruise by some odd activity caught my eye, again leading me into this place. Changing course we discovered whales bubble net feeding along the southern cliffs, a sight I will not soon forget.

The odd name is from the Tlingit, Iyukin, and was first recorded in 1869 by G. Davidson, U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. This name was accepted and was published in the 1883 edition of the Coast Pilot, to be shown as Iyoukeen on nautical charts ever since.

Google Map of Iyoukeen Cove and Gypsum Creek
Located on the west side of Chatham Strait, the cove is a wide open reach of water, unprotected from the wind and waves that can rage up the strait.

A sand and gravel beach backs much of the cove, with steep hills behind. An odd, very narrow, rocky peninsula separates the cove from Freshwater Bay to the south. Cruise ships, ferries, and fishing boats pass by taking little heed of this seemingly unremarkable cove.

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The Bears of Pavlof

After the aborted shore mission at Iyoukeen Cove, we were not done for the day, there would be more bears.

A grizzly bear fishing at Pavlof Harbor
A grizzly bear fishing at Pavlof Harbor
We knew there was yet another opportunity to see bears, under somewhat safer conditions, just around the corner in Freshwater Bay. Pavlof Harbor is a small cove off the bay that offers a small river that tumbles over a low waterfalls right at tideline. If there are fish in the river, there will be bears fishing here. As this is still Chichagof Island, they will be grizzly bears, there are no black bears here.

As we entered Pavlof harbor we were surprised as a float plane came overhead and landed along the northern shore. The plane quickly beached a few hundred yards north of where the river enters the cove and disgorged a group of passengers, the plane deparing as soon as the passengers were off. While we set about anchoring the Quest in the cove, they got a briefing from their guide and slowly walked along the shoreline trail to the river.

In binoculars we could see at least two bears at the river. It looked like these folks were getting what they paid for, a chance to see and photograph grizzlies fishing in the river. Deciding to give the other group a head start we broke out the chow and had grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch.

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Changes in Tenakee

I realize things change, but sometimes the “improvements” seem to involve a loss. A loss of what was, a loss of a little piece of history.

Snyder Mercantile
The original early twentieth century interior of Snyder Mercantile, Tenakee
The Snyder Mercantile was a time capsule of another era. Built over a century ago the store was a glimpse into the past. The products on the shelves were fresh, mostly, but the store appeared much as it did decades ago. A single room with a little of everything from bread to fishing tackle and boat parts. They still used the century old cash register to ring up your sale. Never mind the trouble finding tape and ribbons, it still worked, emitting a classic bell ring as the total was calculated.

Snyder Mercantile
The rebuilt Snyder Mercantile, Tenakee
I was not pleasantly surprised when I made my way into the store. The old mercantile was gone, a modern interior greeted me. Some time since my last visit the past had been swept away. For a minute I could only stand there in the entrance, a feeling of loss overwhelming me. Some time in the last couple years the store has been rebuilt.

Much of the building has been replaced, from pilings to decking new lumber can be seen. The interior pays homage to the original, the walls made from the original tongue and groove woodwork stripped and stained. The stock is groceries, the hardware and tackle is mostly gone, only a few shelves remain. The old cash register is relegated to being a museum piece in the corner, a new computerized machine with a touch screen and laser scanner serves in its place. The satisfing crunch of gears and bell no longer signals each sale.

Snyder Mercantile
The rebuilt Snyder Mercantile in Tenakee
Having skipped Tenakee last season I had missed the changes. The renovations were completed last year. To be fair the renovations were probably necessary. The years of Alaskan winters had taken a toll on the structure. This climate is not kind to the works of man, particularly those built of wood. The location, built on pilings over a tidal flat makes this even worse.

Having first shopped in Snyder Mercantile back in 1994 I have been visiting this store for over two decades. Goods brought out from Juneau are not cheap, but we always have something that has run out after a week on the water. Tenakee means a few groceries and a soak in the hot springs. The changes are good, the store is better, but the rebulding of the century old store still seems a loss.

Postcard from Alaska – Grizzly

We expected to find the bears at the back of the bay, where the stream and the salmon would be.

The mission of the morning was to see bears. So we cast off lines at Tenakee and headed up Tenakee Inlet. There are several side bays along this large inlet, each with streams that attract the bears. The salmon had not quite started to move into the streams, a bit early in the season yet, but they were around. We hoped the bears would be around as well, congregating at the streams in anticipation of their yearly feast.

It was a surprise when my dad spotted this bear, we were just starting into the bay and still a mile from where we expected to find bears. As everyone grabbed binoculars we steered towards shore to get a better look.

So often the bears will run for the woods when a large white object appears. This bear just kept eating grass. A further surprise… Just as we got closer a small bear cub appeared at mother’s side. Deep water just off the rocky shore allowed us to get the boat in quite close. On occasion the mother would look up at us as we drifted in for a closer look. The array of pointing humans, binoculars and cameras were dismissed as unimportant as she continued to graze along the shore.

The cub was a handsome fellow, dark, with a collar of golden fur. He stayed close to mother, but seemed curious. We may have been the first humans he had ever seen. He watched us intently from the safety of mother’s side.

There were several bears at the stream and the grassy flats at the top end of the bay. But the shallow water would keep us from getting anywhere near with the boat. The total was nine bears that morning, including four cubs, three with the same mother. With the morning’s plan a success, we headed back to Tenakee to collect our crab traps.

Grizzly with Cub
A mother Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) and cub on the shore in Long Bay, Tenakee Inlet, AK

Postcard from Alaska – Tenakee Docks at Night

Going through the 1,200 photographs I took earlier this month from spending ten days out on the water. There is some pretty good stuff, and a lot of OK stuff. Time to assemble another video, but first I have to find a piece of music for it.

Tenakee Docks at Night
Fishing boats under sodium lamps haunt the Tenakee docks

Postcard from Alaska – Grizzly

We expected to find the bears at the back of the bay, where the stream and the salmon would be.

The mission of the morning was to see bears. So we cast off lines at Tenakee and headed up Tenakee Inlet. There are several side bays along this large inlet, each with streams that attract the bears. The salmon had not quite started to move into the streams, a bit early in the season yet, but they were around. We hoped the bears would be around as well, congregating at the streams in anticipation of their yearly feast.

It was a surprise when my dad spotted this bear, we were just starting into the bay and still a mile from where we expected to find bears. As everyone grabbed binoculars we steered towards shore to get a better look.

So often the bears will run for the woods when a large white object appears. This bear just kept eating grass. A further surprise… Just as we got closer a small bear cub appeared at mother’s side. Deep water just off the rocky shore allowed us to get the boat in quite close. On occasion the mother would look up at us as we drifted in for a closer look. The array of pointing humans, binoculars and cameras were dismissed as unimportant as she continued to graze along the shore.

The cub was a handsome fellow, dark, with a collar of golden fur. He stayed close to mother, but seemed curious. We may have been the first humans he had ever seen. He watched us intently from the safety of mother’s side.

There were several bears at the stream and the grassy flats at the top end of the bay. But the shallow water would keep us from getting anywhere near with the boat. The total was nine bears that morning, including four cubs, three with the same mother. With the morning’s plan a success, we headed back to Tenakee to collect our crab traps.

Grizzly with Cub
A mother Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) and cub on the shore in Long Bay, Tenakee Inlet, AK