South on the Dempster Highway

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South on the Dempster Highway

As I began the journey south the weather hadn’t improved. With the prolonged rain the road became more muddy by the hour and on the hilly sections it was noticeable that some vehicles were beginning to struggle. In particular one vehicle pulling a trailer was sliding all over the place on one downward section.

Once I had made the two ferry crossings things started to look up and the drizzle relented for some of the second half of the days drive although the low cloud meant poor visibility in the higher sections once again. I forgot to mention that I had spotted a bear on the drive up to Inuvik crossing the road but didn’t have an opportunity to take a picture. Today I was more fortunate. Not only did I see one but rather than run into the bushes he stayed in the open and I was able to photograph him. While doing so, a truck pulled past me and on noticing the fact I had my camera pointed out the window stopped as well. Strangely, the occupants not only stopped but decided to get out and take pictures as the bear crossed the road! As you can see, it looks like they had been hunting based on what is protruding from the back of their truck.

Bear crossing Dempster Highway

After watching the bear for an hour or two and taking the picture that heads this post, I continued on and with the weather appearing to clear still further, by the time I crossed the Arctic Circle the views were good and things were looking quite promising.

Arctic Circle
Not long after stopping at the Arctic Circle sign I arrived at Eagle Plains, my resting point for the night.

Dawson City, YT to Inuvik, NWT

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Dawson City, YT to Inuvik, NWT

My Location

Today I made the long drive north on the Dempster Highway to Inuvik, once again crossing the Arctic Circle. Unfortunately the weather of yesterday continued and much of the journey was fraught with blanketing fog and drizzle. The road was muddy and slippery in certain sections, particularly where construction teams had been working, and I thought what a contrast this experience was becoming when compared with the conditions I had experienced on the Dalton. The redeeming feature of today was the sighting of numerous caribou framed by the gray skyline creating a mystical feeling in the dreary conditions.

Crossing from Yukon into Northwest Territories

Originally I had planned to camp somewhere north of Eagle Plains, where I stopped for fuel, but with the weather looking unlikely to abate I pressed on to Inuvik, crossing into Northwest Territories and making two “on demand” ferry crossings, the first being at the Peel River, close to Fort McPherson and the second at the confluence of the Mackenzie/Arctic Red Rivers next to the town of Tsiigehtchic (“mouth of the iron river”), a Gwichʼin community. During the winter, these ferries are replaced by ice bridges and it reminds me how locals say driving the Dempster is often easier in winter because the ice packed road is more forgiving than the muddy or dusty summer conditions, all of course assuming you have the correct tires. Further more, in winter you can travel beyond Inuvik to the Arctic Ocean on the ice road across the delta.

The first picture below is from the Peel River ferry crossing and the second is from the approach to the ferry at the Mackenzie/Arctic Red rivers confluence. The white church is in Tsiigehtchic which lies between the two rivers just before they merge.

Peel River Ferry
Approaching the ferry across the Arctic Red and McKenize rivers

Although I was well north of the Arctic Circle, it struck me how lush the vegetation was compared with the tundra at the same latitude on the Dalton. There were even trees! I later discovered that this is due to the Mackenzie river delta, the relatively warm waters of which keep the permafrost at bay allowing for more top soil in which life is able to flourish.

Bear portraiture

Alaska, Animals, Bears, McNeil, Photo, Wildlife No Comments »
Bear portraiture

Just got back from a moderately eventful trip up the Dalton Highway but I’ll save creating posts for the last few days until later.

In the meantime, I converted one of my bear pictures into a “bear portrait” with photoshop! It’s a bit of a quick edit at this stage but an interesting effect with a few simple changes. You can see the original color image in my bear gallery here.

Sub-blog for McNeil

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Sub-blog for McNeil

I created a sub-blog of taxidialogue for my McNeil visit here.

McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and Refuge, AK

Alaska, Animals, McNeil, Road Trip, Wildlife 3 Comments »

My Location

I wrote in the guest log at the sanctuary that it was hard to put into words how I felt about my 6 nights living with the McNeil bears. Aside from the fact that those of you who know Paul McNeil and have heard his bear joke will enjoy the obvious irony in the name of the location, this was one of those life experiences that has no benchmark. It is quite simply unique. You can read everything you need to know about the sanctuary by clicking here so I won’t spend time describing it in detail. However, I will re-iterate that the bears are truly wild, there are no fences around the sanctuary and no fences within it. The reason they come to this area during the summer is to fish. Access is by permit only through a lottery system and the boundaries on maps are expected to be respected by back country travelers. The campground for visitors is the only area where bears are not allowed and I stress the words “not allowed” because there are no fences around it. Over time most bears learn to respect the imaginary boundary. Others are asked to leave politely by the guides! Bear etiquette is described in a previous post but at McNeil it becomes possible to really appreciate the rule of standing your ground. We saw bears as close as 20 or 30 feet away without any fences. Why is this possible? Because they are wild bears that are not conditioned to associate humans with food and the guides take care not to surprise them. If bears are surprised their reaction is a defensive one as with any other animal particularly if a mother with cubs is involved. With that exception, they generally only become a threat to humans if we feed them whether it be deliberately or accidentally. When this does happen they are usually killed although some are given one chance in certain areas through relocation and tagging. The people I spoke to says this rarely works unless they are transferred to an island far enough away such that they are unable to swim back. As I think I stated earlier it is why they say in Alaska and elsewhere that a “fed bear is a dead bear”.

Because I took so many pictures and couldn’t possibly select a few for the blog, I created a gallery here. I will also add a link at the top. The gallery may change as I have many photographs to review so please bear with me! It might also take a while to load depending on the speed of your internet connection.

American Bald Eagle

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American Bald Eagle

I caught this American Bald Eagle today on Homer Spit as he conveniently flew behind an American flag. The reason the flag is not in focus is because I used a long lens and focused on the eagle which was beyond the flag. I think it adds to the effect!

Dall Sheep

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Dall Sheep

Perhaps we can thank these relatives of the Big Horn sheep found in Colorado and elsewhere for the establishment of Denali National Park?

Roadside porcupine

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Roadside porcupine

Squawking to my arrival at Watsons Lake

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Squawking to my arrival at Watsons Lake

This fellow squawked to my arrival at Watsons Lake visitor center where the staff were more than enthusiastic in their promotion of the Yukon. Perhaps unfairly, I suppose the Yukon loses out to BC and Alaska much of the time.

Yellowstone

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Yellowstone

Are you staring at me?

Yellowstone

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Yellowstone

The winter weather forced the closure of the South entrance which meant a detour back to Jackson, over Teton pass and then north to the West Yellowstone entrance.

Yellowstone

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Yellowstone

Grand Teton

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Grand Teton

Yellowstone Coyote

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Yellowstone Coyote

Yellowstone, Jan 2008.

Yellostone Bison

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Yellostone Bison

Yellowstone, January 2008.

Posing on Bear Peak

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Posing on Bear Peak

Summit of Bear Peak, Colorado, 2007

Big Horn Sheep

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Big Horn Sheep

Guanella Pass, Colorado, 2006