Will you see wildlife on the Alaska Highway?

Traveling the Alaska Highway (Alcan), part two

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This is one of three posts about our drive on the Alaska Highway.


The weather forecast for our time on the Alcan showed nothing but rain.  For days, it was supposed to rain.  We were going to miss some of the stunning scenic views that make the Alcan legendary, all because of rain.

This was the situation when we stopped at the Visitors Center in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, and I’ll admit we were feeling bummed about it.

Dawson Creek is the official kick-off point for the Alcan, and the tourist information center receives a lot of visitors, some happy, and some, like ourselves, not so happy.  The staff member with whom we talked, a short, pleasant woman with a propensity for tangents, told us that most travelers were already finishing the Alcan and heading back, and people often come into the visitors center and complain that their trip didn’t go as planned.  It might be gripes about the weather, or the fact that they didn’t see bear/moose/elk/bison or whatever it was that was on their checklists.

She joked that she tells such people, “I’m sorry, but the bears didn’t get the memo that they were supposed to show up today.”

It struck us that we didn’t want to be those grumpy travelers, the ones who view the world in which they travel without grace or gratitude.  People (including ourselves) who are driving the Alcan for recreation have no right to complain about anything.  And besides, this isn’t Disneyland; it’s a vast wilderness where the weather is subject to extremes, animals move about according to their own schedules, and life goes on with or without tourists.

We returned to the road with a renewed sense of appreciation for the fact that we were in Canada, starting the Alcan.  That was enough.

Now, I’m not going to say that karma rewarded us for our positive attitude, but we were compensated for the lack of clear skies with several days of abundant wildlife.  Staff at Jasper National Park had told us that some animals, such as bears, prefer to be out when it’s overcast rather than sunny, and rainy weather can be great for animal watching.  This turned out to be true.

The largest mammals in North America can be found in Canada and Alaska, including moose, caribou, bison, elk, and mule and whitetail deer, as well as black and brown bears, wolves, coyote, several species of bighorn sheep, and mountain goats.  There are also hundreds of birds species (Alaska has 493 different birds).

While we didn’t come close to seeing every possible creature that one might see along the Alcan, I think we did pretty well. Here are the highlights of our checklist:

  • Numerous black bears, including this fellow, who was eating grass by the side of the road.  His fur was wet from the rain.  This is my favorite picture from the trip so far.
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So. Cute.
  • Moose are pretty elusive creatures, at least when it comes to seeing them from the road, so we were happy to have two sightings.  The first was a large female that we spotted loping across the highway.  When she reached the brush, she took off at a gallop, reminding me of a horse.  A few days later, we had a second sighting, a mama and baby standing in the middle of the road.  They shot into the woods as we neared.
  • A mama and baby caribou:

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  • And several herds of bison!

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This herd stopped traffic

We also saw trumpeter swans, bald eagles and other raptors, and so many American kestrels that we quickly lost count.

 

Despite the fact that we didn’t see towering mountains or glacial ice fields, the drive turned out to be pretty amazing anyway.  I’m just glad we were paying attention!