Chapter 11. Cassiar Highway
© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2002 All rights reserved.
(Shari) When we arrive, a hundred people are already on the viewing platform awaiting the grizzly show time. Not having to wait very long, a black bear saunters down the hillside across the road and into the stream below us. While he tries to catch a salmon, we see another two bears down stream walking towards us. A fourth bear appears out of nowhere and now the show begins. Bears eating leaves, bears attempting to catch salmon, salmon scurrying out of the way and bears just resting, provide entertainment for the next two hours. Four years ago no platform provided viewing and a safety area. Four years ago we also had the area almost to ourselves. The crowd of people amazes me and I wonder when we come back in two years if there will be even more people. Getting on with their business, the bears seem not to mind the throng hanging over the sides of the fenced platform. In hushed silence people talk in whispers as they excitedly snap pictures. We tire of watching the bears and actually depart before they do. At 5 PM I have arranged another Happy Hour at the pavilion. This time I am giving a verbal test. In answer to a multiple-choice question "How long did it take to complete the Alaska Highway?" Pat retorts with a straight face, "What makes you think it is complete?" That cracks us all up and it is such a classic answer I give her team the point. Everyone passes the test, thank heaven, because I threatened them of having to repeat the trip if they failed. After our test, Nancy, David, Bert and I go to a wonderful little restaurant in town and have a delicious meal.
(Shari) Surprised to see David and Nancy up so early I inquire why. Here it is 8 AM and we were not to meet them until 9:15AM. David says it is his last chance to see the bears and birds and he wants to get going. We are not disappointed today, since Ozzie, the grizzly is already at the bear viewing area eating his breakfast of salmon when we arrive. He must have just caught the fish, since I notice he has a lot of it left. It takes him well over 20 minutes to eat the fish and I spy on his dining manners through my binoculars. Toward the end of his meal, I notice that the fish is still breathing and moving and I get grossed out. It never dawns on me that as Ozzie tears into the fish pulling off the skin and then eating the flesh from head to tail, he is not affecting the internal organs of the fish. When I eat, I usually save the best for last. Apparently Ozzie eats the best first, thus not harming the innards. It is not until he munches into the head does the fish finally die. How awful! Now I feel sorry for all those salmon, no matter that they are about to die anyway. After Ozzie finishes he crosses the stream towards us and starts to eat his dessert right under where we are standing. He is so close we can almost hear him chew the leaves. Finally after he departs, two Bald Eagles swoop down to finish off anything remaining of the fish. This happens all before 9 AM and before we take our car trip to see Salmon Glacier. It is another million dollar day and our two cars travel up, up and up the gravel road to view the glacier from above. I do not ask, but I think the group would agree, that this is the best glacier seen on the trip because it is so large and so unique. Looking like a huge white ribbon with a black stripe and a bluish cast, we follow it for over seven miles as we climb up. How did God make such magnificent scenery and why? We eat our lunch on the rocks above the glacier, just soaking in the ambience. After lunch, Pat goes back with David and Nancy, while Wally, Virginia, Bert and I continue on the not maintained road that warns us to travel at our own risk. Isn't that what we have been doing these last 69 days? Snow in the right lane forces us to use the left lane close to the edge of the cliff. Finally, a huge mound of dirt that has recently fallen off the mountain stops us. It still has bushes attached to it and takes up 100% of the right lane and 75% of the left. About 50 feet from it, is a huge boulder blocking our way. Bert starts to turn around but I want to get out of the car for two reasons. One, so I don't go over the cliff when he overshoots it and two, to tell him when he should stop and go in the other direction. I notice Wally and Virginia hop out also. I think to myself that it is lucky David and Nancy did not come also since it takes Bert numerous back and fourths to finally get around. The trip down is tedious and we all feel like a well-deserved treat at a great restaurant in town. Both Bert and I ate here with Nancy and David last night and had the delicious special. Tonight we both have the steak, advertised as "What Al Pacino eats." Last spring he was here filming Insomnia with Robin Williams and the restaurant has a couple of pictures in its window. See, we can hob knob with the best of them too even in the middle of nowhere.
(Bert) The trip is over. The goodbyes are imminent. I spend some time on the computer, completing the lists of wildlife that we have seen so that I can give each fellow traveler the final tally sheets. My goal was for us to see 200 bird species during the route through British Columbia, Yukon Territory and Alaska. Our final count is 218 species, plus 4 additional subspecies. Of these we saw 178 in Alaska and 129 in Canada. I had a personal goal as well, and that was to bring my all-time Alaska list into the "200 Club", a milestone since only 295 species regularly occur in the state. I finish with 203 Alaska sightings in the combined three trips. I also kept track of other species. Collectively, we saw 38 mammals and in a guessing question to the group at our farewell get-together, I ask them, "For which mammal did we see the most individuals?" Their best guess is caribou, and in fact we did see 250 Greenland Caribou or, with the other two caribou species, a total of 297 caribou. Surprisingly, the mammal we saw the most individuals was Stellar Sea Lion, whose colonies are large. On our various boat trips we saw a total of 479 sea lions. Undoubtedly the most rare mammal we saw was the Wolverine. But there were a few others we only saw one of: David and Nancy saw one Polar Bear on their flight to Barrows, Pat and Jim spotted a weasel, Wally and I saw one Tundra Redback Vole in Chicken, Wally and I also saw a Collared Pika at Denali National Park, six of us saw a sprinting Tundra Hare in Nome, Shari and I watched a single White-tailed Deer cross the road early in our trip and I watched a Striped Dolphin through my spotting scope in Kenai. Besides animals, I enlarged on my keen interest in plants on this trip. One thing I like about Alaska is that as summer approaches and the bird sightings dwindle, the wildflowers abound. The diversity and beauty of the flowers is truly amazing. This trip I identified 254 plants, mostly wildflowers, and I photographed 239 species. Using a digital camera is a real boon to wildflower identification. Unlike collected specimens, the photos do not wilt and with the advantage of a computer the photos can be enlarged on the screen to see the intricacies of the beautiful blooms. The trip may be over, but we have over 5000 photos, later edited to about 2500, that we can view on our computer for a perpetual reminder of a great Alaskan adventure.
Epilogue Table of Contents