KATMAI (KTUU) Alaska has no shortage of strange jobs.
Just ask the rangers at Katmai National Park who are responsible for keeping a hoard of summer tourists safe in country where territorial bears plod grassy trails that overlap with people trails. Streams are full of anglers and big brown tanks vying for the same salmon returning to spawn.
One safety measure can be seen every day or three: a ranger shouting at a bear as it wanders uncomfortably close to Brooks Lodge cabins, the dining hall, or the park's campgrounds. If that fails, sometimes throwing small rocks works. Bear spray, almost never used, is the second to last resort.
That and other efforts -- including an electrified fence surrounding the campground, making sure people walk in groups and make noise, and keeping people and bears separated by 50 yards or more -- has avoided human deaths at Katmai (with the exception of two enthusiasts known to crawl into bear dens) and has kept rangers from needing to kill bears since 1982.
The ability to safely venture into bear country, watching from a platform above Brooks Falls and sleeping outdoors surrounded by a fence, makes Katmai like nowhere else.
That's obvious from the moment you arrive by float plane or boat.
In September, as salmon return from the ocean, tension among animals competing for food is just as evident as the natural beauty.
Plenty of fish to go around, but sometimes that's still not enough. Watch as these male brown bears battle for position at Brooks Falls.
But in the end, even when a bear lets a salmon get away amid a fight, there's someone there to pick up the pieces. (Someone, or at least a seagull.)
When to visit: Late June to early July and September, when salmon runs draw bears to the iconic Brooks Falls.
How to get there: Katmailand Air from King Salmon.
Where to stay: Katmailand's Brooks Lodge is the lone indoor option in walking distance of Brooks Falls, and nightly rates begin at a few hundred dollars during peak seasons. The National Park Service also maintains a campground that costs $12 per night, though peak dates are booked almost immediately when made available online at recreation.gov on January 5.
What to do: Look at bears, visit the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, enjoy the lack of internet and cell service.