Local couple takes camera along on bear lovers’ dream trip: Alaska

Two bears playing on a hilltop were oblivious to photographers. (Photos by Becky Smith)
Two bears playing on a hilltop were oblivious to photographers including Becky Smith who snapped this photo and others in this article.


by Bruce Strand, Arts Editor

An Elk River couple, fascinated by bears, took “the trip of a lifetime” a year ago to photograph polar bears and grizzlies up close in Alaska.

Becky Smith, traveling with husband Bruce and another couple, snapped over 8,000 photos in 10 days during August 2012, keeping just over 5,000.

“This was an amazing vacation and we saw beautiful scenery and awesome wildlife,” said Becky Smith. “I would go again in a heartbeat.”

Becky and Bruce Smith.
Becky and Bruce Smith.

They traveled to a remote site, Katkovik, to view polar bears. It was a two-and-a-half hour flight from Anchorage to the Alaskan tribe’s village. The foursome joined a Bald Mountain Air expedition with a professional photographer/author, two guides and marketing people.

“The bears were waiting for the ice to come in, and also for the village to starting harvesting their allotment of whales,” said Smith, adding that some photos included bones from a previous harvest.

p-bear3While the group watched from boats, a couple bears noticed them and approached the edge of the water, while others just kept napping. They saw a mother nursing her cub, which the photographer said is quite rare, and the first time he had seen it.

“The cubs stayed close to their family, almost shadowing each other,” said Smith. “One bear went into the water, floated on his back and then went swimming.”

The group viewed grizzlies in Katmai for five-plus hours. They had to  stay in one area and not stand up until they left, and then stand together and stay together.
The bears would stalk salmon, then submerge their heads, and if they caught one would always devour it right away.

One bear chased another with a salmon across the water, up the hill, back across the water, up to the ridge and back down. “He never got it away,” said Smith. “It would have taken that bear less time to catch his own fish!”

The group viewed two young bears playfully wrestling, oblivious to photographers, while another bear scratched his tummy and watched the goings-on. One bear had a stare-off with a gull scavenging for scraps.

“There was so much going on that it was hard to leave when the time was up,” said Smith.



She loves shooting wildlife (in zoos, too) along with dogs and flowers, and has done two family weddings as well. She assembled calendars the last two years with both floral and Alaska themes for family and friends.

“I have been told I have a good eye, but am trying to work on the mechanics; there is so much to learn,” said Smith, who’s still modestly equipped with a Nikon D7000 and two lenses.

The Smiths have a web site, set up by their daughter. The address is  Photographyanddesignsbymd.com.


Polar bear takes a swim.
Polar bear takes a swim.


A grizzlie emerges from the woods.
A grizzlie emerges from the woods.


Polars scavenge amid whale bones.
Polars scavenge amid whale bones.
Gone fishin'
Gone fishin’