Alaska 2014

NOTE:  When Sharon adds comments, they will be in {curly brackets}.  Comments added AFTER coming back to San Jose are in [square brackets].

 

Report 22. Day 22. Mon, May 26. Fort Nelson, British Columbia to Watson Lake, Yukon Territory

 

It's Monday morning 413 am and the sun’s just thinking about coming up. Perfectly clear sky. Temp cold but not freezing cold, we got up early to see if we can get some animals. We're heading for Watson Lake today, about 330 miles. As we stop to dump our trash, we see this sign.

4:30 and we're on the road. I say to Sharon "Let's go shoot something."

We drive by a cartoon-like poster. It's a black and white drawing of a guy's shoe just off of the accelerator and it says, "All of those who hate speeding tickets, raise your right foot." Pretty cute.

Spectra Energy’s name is all over the place up here, on buildings and quite a few trucks. Here's an excerpt from Wikipedia: Spectra Energy Corp is a S&P 500 company headquartered in Houston, Texas, that operates in three key areas of the natural gas industry: transmission and storage, distribution, and gathering and processing.

A diagonal sign with a caribou on it has lights all around it flashing on and off, on and off. The sign says there are bison on the road near Muncho Lake, and we're going past there today.

About an hour later, we come around a corner, and there are identical tractors parked all over the areas just off the road. There were two a few seconds back, and there are eight in a group here. We can see that they've been mowing the sides of the highway for miles and miles, and I can see why they need ten tractors to do it. And the land split is interesting. On our left are stunted-tree taiga forests, with trees only eight feet high or so, as a maximum. {These are black spruce and they grow on the permafrost with shallow root systems. As a result they can be 100 years old and only be 8 feet tall. They also often slant in many directions or fall down and are called "drunken trees".}

We pass a place that has five crosses close together on the left side of the road, across the ditch. Must have been a family involved in a terrible accident, or a school bus - something like that.

Every so often we see signs pointing out a leg of the old Alaska Highway. Very cool. There was one project where they made a new road that eliminated 138 curves on the old highway. Awesome. That's the way to spend tax dollars.

A big parking lot whizzes by on our left, and there must be 200 trailers in it, looking kind of moth-balled, like they are put up for the winter, side by side, all parked at an angle, like in a parking lot. I wonder if they are for sale or rent. I look for a sign that says they have a room to let for fifty cents. Dang me.

A common sign they have here shows that truckers are entering the road ahead of you; on a vertical sign, road going up and down and trucker coming in from right side at 90 degree angle. The drawing is not an 18 wheeler but a big truck, cab real big, behind cab is a lower down box, the bed behind him, and when I see that from far off it looks like a buffalo warning sign, has three dashes in back to show movement that look like the breath in winter of a buffalo. {This one I think you have to see to appreciate.}

We pass a bird standing beside the road on the left. Sharon didn't see it. It is like a crane but seems much darker than a sandhill crane {We call out to each other, "crane?, Ibis?, Curlew?"} . Hmm. I have to find out. I do a U turn, and come back, slowing down when we get near the bird. We get one great shot, then it turns and heads off through the roadside brush. Sharon calls it, looks it up and shows me a picture of a sandhill crane, and that red bit on his head, around his eye is key.

About ten after five, we see a black bear beside the road -- a little one. He begins reversing his direction and runs away. Sharon says we've got lots of black bears. Let's let him go, and I love it.

However...

Ten minutes later we get ANOTHER black bear, and we click off a couple of nice shots. You can see him sniffing us in the second one. {I love the vegetation hanging out of his mouth in the first picture.}

But wait! Buy TWO black bears and get a THIRD one FREEEEE! YES, We get a third black bear. This bear is on our left, but is in a bit of a ditch. We can clearly see the curve of its back, but no head and no tail. I DO slow down, so we're not totally jaded yet. No photos of the third one.

We must be in moosey territory because over another hill and down and there's a moose on our left. Spooked by us, it jogs away from the road into the forest but stops and turns its head around just long enough to click off two photos.

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I'm reminded of the sixties show Laugh-In, when they had a kid on named Moosey Drier. "And now, let's go to Moosey Drier!" He was about 13 years old and I have no idea how he got on that show. Moosey.

Lets see, so far this morning, and its not 5:30 yet, sandhill crane, three black bears, and a moose. Yessir yessir three black bears.

A big flock of birds does that flock thing where they go one way, then wheel around and go another. Maybe 40 birds or so, like a big globe. My first thought is crossbills.. Sharon's notion is that it is migrating birds. Cool.

Over another hill, and we come upon a carcass on the left, being eaten by a bald eagle and two ravens. Sharon at first thinks it's a mountain lion carcass, but we finally see that it's neck is stretched way back and we see the deer's face. Our vehicle spooks the birds, and all three of them fly up inro a pine tree, with the ravens just two feet above the eagle. The ravens start doing a remarkable thing. They break off little bits of the tree and throw them down on the eagle. They are trying to drive the bald eagle away but what a funny way to do it. You can see two bits of black color in the photo below left, one almost touching the eagle's head, and the other one about three feet straight above.

In the one at the right, you can pledge allegiance or something. Beautiful bird.

Awesome.We come upon a fourth black bear, this one just a little bear. It lopes along beside us but as we get near, it turns left and crashes into the woods, disappearing, but giving us a fourth bear for the morning.

We come upon a little settlement as we are climbing a hill. No signs announced it. I say it's either a gas station or an ex-gas station. There are three pumps, but one has had the guts knocked out so we can see right through it. It's an Ex.

AT 6:15am, we are at a summit and now headed downhill. Great views.

Our truck has a feature you can toggle off and on, and it's now on. It uses the engine to help slow down the vehicle. You see signs all the time coming into small isolated towns, "DO NOT USE ENGINE BRAKES IN TOWN," aimed at big rigs. Anyway, I can feel the effect. I don't have to use the brakes so much. A small item, but well appreciated when we're "coasting" down a long hill.

Coming down the other side, we breeze by two more moose and a hundred mosquitoes, roughly estimating and way too low, I'm sure. The mossies, that is. {I read later that a moose can lose a pint of blood a day to mosquitos}

7221 Via Romera, San Jose, California, 95139, Western U.S., United States, North America, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy, "Local Group" Galactic Cluster ( containing the Milky Way and Andromed galaxies), Virgo Galactic Supercluster, Universe, Multiverse. I write this chain because of an advertisement at a lodge and RV park for this cinnamon bun for sale, and it's "The best in the galactic cluster." Pretty deep reference.

As we wait for them to open, we see a cyclist with a fully loaded bike. He's waiting too. The gasoline is about $7 a gallon, and I dig the "no sniveling" sign. The man and woman cutouts on the rest room building remind me of my friend and former roommate at Stanford, Bill Bolstad, who quit his job, jumped on his bike (This was in Palo Alto, California in about 1967 or maybe a little later), drove across the USA, up to Montreal where his bike broke down. He met a girl who let him into her apartment to use her phone. The girl's roommate Syl came home, met Bill, and they must have said at the same time, "Where have you been all my life?" The motorcycle fixed, they BOTH got on, rode clear across Canada, back to Palo Alto, got married, moved to New Zealand where they found they were at home, parented a son and daughter, and still live there. We see them every couple of years or so. Anyway, long story to get to the "ride across Canada" part. But then, you know me.

As we wait for them to open, we see a flock of maybe eight birds working in the trees across the road. We finally ID them as Yellow-rumped Warblers.

We "bun up" and head out. There's a dead porcupine on the side of the road, and at the same time, we both start singing, "Dead skunk in the middle of the road..., stinkin' to high heaven."

7:30 am and we are paralleling the Tetsa River, with its nice dark green color.

A few minutes later and we are on the lookout for Stone Sheep, near Stone Mountain. We have come around a corner and are at a big sort of cutout of a giant rock area. Sharon says we are in a sheepy area, being done with the moosey areas temporarily.

7:40 am and there's a dead elk on the left side of the road. It is whole still, as no varmints have got to it yet.

A bit later we drive along Summit Lake. It is high enough here that it is still partially covered with ice. Beautiful blue-green water with patches on top of totally dry ice and snow. To our left is a totally snow-covered peak. Beautiful.

Last night on Canadian TV, they showed a comedian opening a show in Montreal, where as you know, French is the language mostly spoken. The funny fellow says, "Hello Montreal! Or as I call it, Practice France."

A lone tent camper, with his motorcycle parked next to the tent, enjoys the lakeside parking lot.

We continue on, and Sharon has had us watching for Stone Sheep, smaller than the famous Rocky Mountain Sheep, for some time now. And it finally pays off, as Sharon quietly yells for us to stop. I do and this is the result:

At 8:15 am, we pass a live porcupine on the left. It has rusty brown quills and a dark yellowy tail. Very much alive, it is happy to stay where it is in the field, eating away at bits of something.

One of the rivers here is the Toad River. It is the name of a town and, as you would guess, the name of a river. Great name and we wonder how they got their name.

We zoom by a bunny on the right, and Sharon says he is taking his life in his paws. A few minutes later we get a caribou.

I learned some time ago that reindeer are actually caribou. Sharon says there is a difference, and that is that wild herds are caribou, but over the centuries natives have domesticated them, like a herd of cows I guess, and that is when they are called reindeer. So its a caribou on the road, we think, or an escaped Vixen.

We come to a place that's supposed to have animals high up on this mountain, and we stop and look. Sharon is aces at this, and within moments spots seven mountain goats. Awesome. Photo 1 is the first shot out-of-focus, Photo 2 is in focus and Photo 3 is an extreme zoom.

Next we get horse, deer and caribou -- only not animals, signs asking us to watch out for them.

A bit later, we pull over at the Toad River Lodge. There are swallows all over the place, but we have stopped because we just saw a wonderful lake with a picturesque beaver dam in it.

We park and walk down to it, getting some great photos and video. {Doesn't Bob look like he is fishing in that photo?}

On the way back up with get a streaked sparrow-like bird. I suggest female Cassin's Finch, and when Sharon checks her "iBird Pro" app later, she confirms my notion.

Back in the saddle, we come upon a group of Stone Sheep, near the highway. {We figure family group with male, ?father, female and two young.} The last photo shows the in environmental context.

At about 11 am, we come to the wonderfully-named Muncho Lake. It is also a beautiful blue green and is iced over 80 percent or more, and it's gorgeous. Sharon gets an iPhone shot of me walking to the water to get the mirrored mountain shot at right. {There is copper in the water and signs that say it is not safe to drink.}

Back on the road, we're feelin' fine. Ah, a "promise" of Wood Buffalo.

But we don't see any buffalo, which were suggested miles back and again here.

We take off and a quarter after noon, we get our fourth black bear of the day, while looking for buffalo. Then we descend down into a valley, enjoying the engine brakes (well, me anyway).

 

Soon, we cross the last suspension bridge on the Alaska Highway, and it spans the mighty Liard River.

Ahead a few more minutes lies Liard Hot Springs. Sharon and I took a dip here in 1998, but we are going to bypass it today. If we had hit this area in the evening, and were staying here, we'd partake, but now we continue on. There is a stretch of water flow near the source that has a steep gradient from near the source, to where it drops down to a lower level a few feet, and it's just pleasantly warm there.

Sharon reads a bit about the local buffalo. They are actually called Wood Bison, and there's about a hundred of them today. {almost extinct, the last one shot in the 1930s but they had some (in zoos, I guess) and they reintroduced 20 of them in the 1960s and now there is no hunting of them} But Good Grief Charley Brown, there's our fifth black bear of the day. We slow down for it but don't stop. Hello Goodbye.

About one o'clock we finally get our buffalo. Sharon zeroes in on his horn. Looks like its seen some serious action.

And fifteen minutes later get our sixth and seventh bear of the day - a mother and baby. (Baby blocked by willows for photographs). We are on a lucky bear streak. At left, this is Mom, after stashing baby in that brush beyond her. At right, she goes out into the really green grass. I expect her to start limping, like a shorebird, pretending to have a bad wing so we follow her, letting the baby go. Ha ha, Mrs. Bear. We're not biting.That's right. I said it. {It was interesting to watch how the baby bear was out in front when we pulled up with Momma back in the woods but he scooted over to her and moved back where we couldn't see him and we believe she made a noise that told him what to do.}

About 1:30 we stop at Coal River and refuel at the Coal River Lodge, where they have breakfast all day, bison burgers and fireworks and full service, and by the way a big FOR SALE sign.

Fifteen minutes later we come on another buffalo, down in a ditch eating grass. It is shedding like crazy and looks like a gigantic linebacker.

As we finish up with the buffalo, Sharon gets a bird with a mouse in his talon. We get it down to Kestrel or Prairie Falcon, and there are arguments for each, and against each, and we let it stay there. {Argue? Would we argue about the ID of a bird? Just a lot of the time but we each have ideas about our position and its part of our birding together. Fun}

I get hit by the drowsies, so we trade drivers. Later, when I wake up, she says she saw two buffalo but no moose. We pass a sign that says entering British Columbia, and this is the place where the road wanders back and forth across the BC-Yukon border 6 times.

About 3:30 we get our first Grizzly in a while. It's a small one - not a baby, but only a little larger. It is nervous and runs away like crazy. Doesn't like pictures of itself apparently. Good bear.

About 4:00 we refuel and my credit card is refused. I call Citicards fraud alert and get it squared away, after answering a raft of questions. No matter how much information we give them ahead of time, where we'll be traveling, the dates and all, they still block transactions and force us to call them.

We head out and re-cross the Liard River.

Coming into Watson Lake, we stop at the world famous Sign Forest. {I understand this was started by a soldier during the building of the road and it has been added to ever since. It is many times bigger than when we were here in 1998}. I like the Jeff City, MO and Santa Clara, CA references.

 

We stop for the evening at an RV park near Watson Lake, and oh it feels good to stop for the day.

They advertise cable TV but it's out. There is WiFi, but it's a hot spot situation, so you have to bring your smart phone or computer to their office or just outside it. A couple in the check-in office complains that they can't even get the WiFi here in the office. The check-in lady is remarkably calm, and doesn't rattle at all, having some excuse or story for everyone. She's working in the right place. She says if we go up to the restaurant, they'll be glad to let us use their WiFi, and it is different than theirs. But as we leave the office, another couple is walking back from the restaurant, complaining that the restaurant wouldn't let them use the WiFi unless they ate dinner there. "Hmmmph!", they hmmmphed. {A fellow also checked us out on the WiFi and says to me and Bob, "You know there are 2 men for every woman here, If he doesn't treat you right you come to me and I will" He mentions that 2 more times although I am saying to him that Bob always takes good care of me. Bob mentions to me that the fact he was missing teeth probably doesn't help him find a woman of his own.}

You know what, though? They can't get to me. We're hungry and tired, and we were going to eat there anyway.{It's the end of a 12 hour day and it will be great to have someone else cook AND clean up.}I get my laptop and we walk up to the restaurant, where Yukon Dave is the cook, chef, bottle-washer, order-taker and said "I oughta be," when I said hey it looks like you are good at everything. He says he's been here 12 years now. We have roast beef dinners with mashed potatoes and gravy, and the gravy is wonderful, as are the potatoes. {The homemade apple turnovers were delicious too. There are great baked goods here in Canada and all seem to be very proud of their baking}

We finish up and go back to the rig. A talkative red-shirted fellow named Ernie comes over when I'm working on something in the bathroom, and tells Sharon that when we turned in, the trailer brake lights on the right side didn't work. Hmmm, I hmmm. I try some things but realize that I need some help as to where to look, for this problem. I go over and ask Ernie if he knows, and he is all helpful, saying, "Let's go have a look."

This turns into a 45 minute investigation, with another traveler, Steve, coming over also. They are both retired and super knowledgeable about RVs, both electrical and mechanical. We (Get it? "We". Heh heh) trouble shoot lots of stuff, including doing bulb exchanges, popping the lid off of a fuse block under the hood of the truck, and after a half hour, I start wondering about the connection between the truck and the trailer. I pull it apart, put it back, and it doesn't fix the problem but it changes the behavior in the "improved" direction. Steve goes over and gets a can of spray. He sprays both connectors with some spray that removes corrosion and reconnects the truck and the trailer. We go through our ritual, and guess what! It works perfectly.

Early in this process, Sharon did her contribution by checking the user manual and telling us that all the fuses for the trailer exterior lighting came from the pulling vehicle - the truck, and not the trailer.{Always my job to read the trailer manual and the "trouble-shooting" section. I stayed in the trailer while all this was going on and thought "Boys having fun fixing things". They were all very proud when the lights all finally worked and so were we.}

In the process of our investigation (after I told Ernie and Steve about the sparking incident - read on), Ernie found a black wire under the trailer, totally severed, and we know when this happened, days ago. We were putting the slide in, and just at the end a lot of sparks came down from under the slide. I got under there, and saw that the plastic ties that held the bundle in place had broken, the bundle was hanging down, and the folding mechanics had pinched the bundle wrapping, the insulation and connected a positive with a ground making the sparks. Anyway at the time, I taped them back up, re-tied them and everything has continued worked fine since. Ernie repaired the black wire, re-tied the bundle in place, verified that the slide still worked. So the fact that the black wire was broken didn't have any known effect - nothing we are aware of stopped working. But as Ernie said, this will prevent some future problem maybe.

In the process, of this investigation, I was in the truck and they were all the way in the back of the trailer. Conversation was difficult, so whenever we wanted to check whether something we did worked, we would go through the following ritual. Left turn signal 3 seconds, right signal 3 seconds, flashers 3 seconds, brakes 3 seconds. So we didn't have to yell back and forth to "ok, stop that and now do your right signal" or whatever.

Spraying into the connector ends solved 100% of the problem.  I thank them profusely.  Steve’s wife, about 15 minutes before we finished, said “Five minutes Steve.” for dinner.  She is likely put out, but he had the solution and I'm so grateful..

Many thanks to those guys.  I hope we see them again up the road.

Cheers to you all,
Bob and Sharon


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