Chapter 2. The Alaskan Highway
© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2006 All rights reserved.
(Bert) In my entry for this date exactly four years ago, when we drove this section of highway, I wrote, “Spring is barely in evidence along the start of the Alaskan Highway.” Not so today. Although we pass some aspen groves still absent of leaves, most are a third to a half leaved. Clumps of green grass poke through last fall’s dusky brown remnants. Yet, just like last time, “On distant horizons, mountains are covered with the powder sugar of recent snowfall.” We again find wildlife. While most of the group is enjoying freshly baked cinnamon rolls at Shepherds Inn, Chris T. and I walk outside hoping to find a few birds. Chris shouts, “A moose!” and as I rush towards his position I see the big beast lumbering along the other side of the highway. Chris runs to get his camera, but I have mine with me and I take several photos before it moves back into the forest. Although everyone else misses seeing the moose, almost all get to see the Black Bear and her two cubs when we pass them along the highway later. Curiously, one cub is as black as its mother, but the other is brown.
(Shari) Two McDonalds, Wal-Mart, a big shopping center and hordes of cars populate Ft. St John north of Dawson Creek. What happened to the wilderness? I do not remember any year being as crowded with people or as green. The leaves have already sprouted and I feel gypped of my fourth spring. We take the group on a slight detour to traverse an old wooden bridge on the original part of the highway. Only one vehicle at a time is allowed on it and I must say it was a little daunting looking down to the river and wondering if the bridge would hold. We stop along a curve and take pictures of many of the others making their way across the gap. Geraldine is ready for our group and has 26 cinnamon buns set to go since I had called ahead yesterday. Yum! Shortly after our snack we see two cub bear and a mom on the side of the road. Bert and Chris spot a moose but the rest of us miss it. The early spring has taken its toll on the birds and our lunch stop turns out to be a disappointment with few feathers flying at the now closed restaurant. Finally the traffic thins and the highway becomes the road I remember. After arriving in camp we gather for Bert’s short talk about why the road has frost heaves, have a travel meeting and help Virginia celebrate her birthday with chocolate cake and ice cream. I am ready for bed by 9 but it is still light outside and the sun does not seem ready to set for awhile yet. Too bad!
(Shari) After three years of trying to see the million dollar view from the top of Steamboat Mountain, I finally see it and it is worth the wait. No fog and snow today!
My goodness, words cannot describe the beauty of this marvelous creation of God. I feel so small among the snowcapped mountains looming high in the distance in the panoramic view surrounding me. The day could not be better with nary a cloud in the sky. By 11 AM we have already seen caribou, bear, deer, moose and oodles of birds. We stop every few miles just to drink in the scenery. Barbara even learns the names of four new birds today and can tell me the difference between a Yellow-rumped Warbler and a Wilson’s. I am impressed. Georgia, Nancy D. and I salivate over Stone Mountain Provincial Campground wishing it was open and we could camp here, overlooking Summit Lake. Sally tells Bert about a birding spot and we stop there for lunch. Two hours later I honk the horn and Bert comes back. However he is not ready to leave, but instead comes to retrieve the rest of the group for a look at Bohemian Waxwings. Another 20 min. go by and now I am really concerned about available space in the campground since as Virginia pointed out last night, there are only 15 spaces and 13 of us. We spend some more precious minutes looking at some Stone Sheep licking the road before arriving in Muncho Lake. While the caravan stages at a closed motel, Bert and I go to scout out the campground. From the road we see two sites occupied. While we are removing our car, someone pulls into the campground. I tell him, it is full. As he turns around, he has to drive past one empty site after another and soon he is taking our precious site. Another young couple has just recently arrived and is setting up a tent on another of the biggest sites. Over the CB I tell the group to send the two biggest motor homes in first. Ten minutes later I ask for the 5th-wheels. We need to park as fast as we can before other sites are taken too. If we calculate right, we will be short three spaces all because of a Bohemian Waxwing. As people park their rigs they move their cars into the empty spots to save them for the later ones in the group. I drive down the road and flip the campground sign from “Vacancy” to “Full.” Even that does not stop other people from pulling in to take a look. This is the Queen’s birthday weekend and from experience I know the Canadian parks are jammed for the holiday. We all get in and only two of us are parked in overflow. We gather in Richard and Georgia’s back yard overlooking the turquoise waters of the lake for a mammal talk by Bert. We roast sausages and hot dogs over the fire before we have s’mores. Can you believe Ray and Nancy have never had them? I am always surprised when I find people that have never done that over a fire. As we sit and talk of the day I remark that it has been the best day I have ever had on a caravan. Incredible scenery with incredible people! Usually it takes weeks for a group to loosen up. We can tell by the pictures we take: first photos show forced smiles. Today our pictures are full of people enjoying each other and their activities. One turn after another is breathtaking and just when we think it cannot get better, we get to camp on the shores of a turquoise lake beginning to thaw. Patches of aquamarine shine through white ice and snow and I can hear the crackle of ice as it splits and hits the shore. I think I could spend the whole summer here.
(Bert) Every turn in the road, every rise we climb over, every stopping point vista is so eye pleasing it is hard to imagine a more beautiful day. I have an overwhelming urge to capture a photo memento a thousand times. Unlike previous trips, the skies above Steamboat are crystal clear blue and the view extends to distant snow-covered mountains. Along the way we have already seen a Black Bear and Mule Deer. Atop Steamboat I hear the distinctive electronic buzz of a Varied Thrush. To confirm my recall I retrieve my recordings and play the thrush call. Yes, that is it, and to my surprise the thrush calls back from across the canyon, flying to the top of a nearby spruce. It moves between trees on either side of us, offering close views, a life bird for many standing beside me.
We continue driving up and down through the Canadian Rockies, changing elevation today from 1000 ft to 4250 ft when we reach Summit Pass, slowing for a moose at mile 67 and two more at mile 78, along with two White-tailed Deer and a beaver dam holding back a frozen pond. Skies painted mountain bluebird blue fluffed with cottontail clouds are the backdrop for snow covered peaks and an iced over Summit Lake. A few throw snowballs at each other. I’ve been calling out the mammals we see along the road for others to find, but don’t mention the Gray Fox because three or four ravens chase it into the woods even before our rig passes the spot. The Barren Ground Caribou stays near the highway, probably licking the salt, and we see first two, then another pair and then a herd of twenty and yet another one shortly thereafter. Sally tells me of a good place for birds and we make it our lunch stop. The pine trees, marsh and small ponds give us the mother lode of birds today. Eleven duck species, including Barrow’s Goldeneye, numerous Horned Grebes, a few Semipalmated Plovers as well as six sandpiper species are put on the list. Purple Finch and Violet-green Swallows are additions. But the best bird comes just about the time Shari toots the horn announcing our departure. Almost everyone ignores the signal when I tell them we have Bohemian Waxwings in the scope. Above the marsh, the waxwings fly between emaciated Black Spruce, resting at the tops and staying just long enough for me to realign the spotting scope and give opportunity for seeing the distinguishing features.
We reach our campsite at Muncho Lake and in shifts we move rigs into secluded campsites nestled in White Spruce with openings to the turquoise water covered by a thin layer of slushy ice. We gather around a campfire for my talk on large mammals which starts with my exhibit of a moose jaw, showing the unusual separation between frontal teeth and molars much farther back. During a bird count of today’s sightings, Bill and Terry add an out-of-range Palm Warbler and Chris adds Dusky Flycatcher as well as many others. To my amazement our total species count for the day reaches 73, very good for a travel day in British Columbia.
(Shari) Oh my gosh, only 20 min. to get out of bed, get dressed, make the bed, gather the lunch, eat and get out the door for our departure to the hot springs. I must have not heard my alarm and Bert finally realizes the time and wakes me up. He takes over the bed duty and gathering the lunch, I get myself ready and grab a breakfast burrito to eat on the way and I actually make it on time. But I am crabby. We drive 17 mi. to a salt lick where we are to see animals but we only see some sheep off in the distance using the scope. Larry is the first one in the top pool at the hot springs, followed by Pat and then me. Soon Ginny joins us in the naturally warm - almost hot - water, smelling of sulfur. The park has done a great job of putting up steps for us old folk to gingerly get in the water. The steps go down and down until I am almost covered to my neck in the hot water. The upper pool is 3 meters deep so we can swim and we have the pool all to ourselves. We get in and out as we start to think we had stayed too long in the warmth. The day is not warm, but warm enough so that we do not get chilled. Finally after over an hour I decide to get dressed for I think I may shrivel to a prune. When I get out of the changing room, many others have joined us. After our swim we eat lunch at the picnic tables and I join Hoss, Sally and May on the way home to take a well deserved nap.
(Bert) Just a day or two ago Nancy D. told me the bird she really wants to see is Boreal Chickadee, having searched many times and many places for this far-north species. Earlier than I expected, she gets her wish today when we hike to Trout River mineral lick. A pair of chickadees dances between trees, showing their pretty shades of earthen colors. At the dramatic overview of the valley the river snakes through a spindly spruce forest, stirring up the rock flour that has eroded from the limestone, dolomite and shale mountains in the aftermath of glaciers long since gone. Above, exposed white spires of rock riven by erosion form the mountain cliffs and the salt at its base supposedly attracts mammals, but we see none there. On our hike back uphill we see Dall Sheep climbing high beyond and above us, only noticeable to the naked eye when they move. Their bull’s eye white rumps centered by black tails are evident through the spotting scopes. Onward to Liard River we head, encountering a Bison feeding along the roadside in route. At the provincial park some of us slowly bird along the boardwalk through the wetlands while others head directly to the hot springs for a swim. Barbara is intent on identifying the sandpipers and plovers we see, a confusing task for a beginning birder. We sort out the stub-billed plovers - Semipalmated Plover and Killdeer - from the long-billed sandpipers and then concentrate on the features that tell us the Solitary Sandpiper is not the Spotted relative. Sallying between barren perches just above the meandering pools of shallow water, a Say’s Phoebe is a nice addition to our list. Again, Varied Thrushes are singing and one comes close above us, affording a delightful view of this burnt orange robin look-alike. Everywhere we hear Ruby-crowned Kinglets singing on territory, sometimes flashing a red sliver of raised feathers stretched atop their heads. We enjoy the striking yellow and red colors of a pair of Western Tanagers traveling together through the birch and spruce. I hear Least Flycatchers and finally one is close enough to the boardwalk for all to see. Many birders forsake these tiny birds, electing to dismiss them as unidentified empids without narrowing the classification to species. Yet this one is so close that I can explain the key differences that separate Least from other empidonax. The lesson is valuable since a bit farther along the boardwalk we encounter Hammond’s Flycatchers and can now hear and see the difference in this close relative.
We return to the picnic area for lunch, after which I join others for a swim in the luxuriant hot waters springing from below the surface. Moving upstream the crystal clear water moves from tepid to scorching and soon warms my body throughout. I wish I had my camera when I see Chris T. all but submerged in the hot springs, but holding a pair of binoculars and watching a flock of White-winged Crossbills flitting in the trees above.
On our return trip, we first loop through the camping area, finding a Rose-breasted Grosbeak with a brilliant “bleeding” rose bib and then hit the highway back to Muncho Lake, stopping to watch a family of four Dall Sheep browsing up a steep rocky incline beside the road. Around the campfire tonight, I talk about grouse, anticipating we may see Ruffed Grouse during tomorrow’s drive.
(Bert) Across Muncho Lake an eerie fog entwines with ghostly white ice, accentuating the turquoise water below. Dimly visible dark mountains show through the mid story, but fog enshrouds the peaks. As R-Tent-III serpentines along the shoreline highway, falling ice crystals melt on impact with its windshield. We leave the fog in the valley, but the rain stays with us for a hundred miles. Along the way we see a single caribou and three groups of Woodland Bison with calves along the grassy edge separating the highway from the forest. The road follows the curves of Liard River, here a lazy ashen stream flowing broad and shallow over a gravel bed. The sky canopy has risen and the rain dissipated by the time of our first rest stop at Coal River. We are surprised to see a Yellow-headed Blackbird, far north of its expected range. Just as we leave the river I park beside the road to examine a dark eagle perched on a dead tree. Whether Golden or immature Bald, we are uncertain, but Terry stays longer and concludes it is a Bald Eagle.
Black Bears browse beside the road. I photograph a single adult, but by the time Tailgunners Terry and Pat reach the spot, the mother now has three cubs in her company. Bill and Ginny find another Black Bear with a brown cub and a black cub shortly before Contact Creek. We stop to see if I can again find Ruffed Grouse at a location I’ve seen it on prior trips. This time we cannot find one, but are pleased to watch White-winged Crossbills feeding on spruce cone seeds atop the tall conifers. Hammond’s Flycatchers are singing, this being the third location we have found them in the past two days. Say’s Phoebes are in good numbers as well and here we add our first Townsend’s Warbler to the list.
Reaching our campsite at Watson Lake, I begin a birding hike around Wye Lake. We see our first Common Loons of the trip and are delighted to watch a Pacific Loon through the scope aimed at the opposite side of the small lake. In a large flock of Surf Scoters floating on the surface are a few White-winged Scoters. An Arctic Tern flies gracefully above our heads, spreading pointed wings and a long forked tail. A sudden drop in temperature and ice cold rain foreshortens our hike, as our thin clothing left us unprepared for the change in weather. In a half hour, warmer and dryer conditions return. Later, May pulls up to my coach with her bicycle, having biked the last 25 miles of our route to Watson Lake. Along the way she found many birds, including flocks of Bohemian Waxwings and, best of all, a flock of Smith’s Longspurs.
(Shari) Upon our arrival the color of the Muncho Lake was white with patches of turquoise showing through the thin ice. This morning as I look out, it is totally turquoise. The ice has melted and just a layer of slush coats the lake. Words cannot describe it and I hope my pictures turn out. Rain falls as we leave the campground and a layer of fog emanates from the lake’s surface and a quarter of the way up the mountainside. Eerily beautiful! Traveling together I find this group likes to stop for a snack in mid morning at a restaurant. Some bird, others eat and then bird, and others just eat. Luckily the rain has just stopped and the group can stand by the trees and ponder all day on the type of birds. Even with a gray cloudy sky and a 54º temperature, the scenery is fantastic. New growth green peeking between the dark green of the spruce along side chocolate colored hillsides and snow capped mountains is breathtaking no matter the weather. At Watson Lake the birders start the path around the lake but soon come running home due to rain. Later a group of us go to the sign forest and visitor center. Watson Lake is known for its signs, started by a homesick young man working on the Alaska Highway. He put up a sign from Danville, Illinois, and now there are thousands of signs on poles proclaiming towns from every state in the union and beyond.
(Shari) “I don’t want to go,” I tell Bert when he awakens me this morning. “The guy said ‘Don’t come if it is raining’,” I add. Bert answers that it rains a lot up here and if we cancel just because of a little drizzle, we will be canceling all the time. That is not exactly true, but I know he really wants to go to the bird banding station this morning. So I lumber out of bed, don three layers of clothes and a raincoat, and take the first group of people to the banding place. Upon our arrival, we learn that there will be no banding today due to rain. “See, I told you!” I think to myself. However I doubt if anyone is too disappointed besides Bert, since it is not appealing to stand in the rain and cold to watch bird banding. Onward we march and by 9 AM I officially declare this a sunny day since I see an outline of something that could be the sun through the clouds. Hey, I will take anything I can get. We stop for a short hike to a falls before going on for our promised cinnamon buns. Bert remarks that he cannot see a regular caravan doing this. I totally love this group. We have similar interests in nature and still have room for cinnamon rolls. Unfortunately, even though I get my order in first, the girl messes up and when reminded of my order, tells me the rolls are sold out. “Oh well,” I joke, “I will just be 10 lbs. lighter than those who ate the rolls.” That will be the day! The rest of our journey is spent surrounded by mountains. At one point the road looked like a ribbon through a spruce forest ending at a snow capped mountain far in the distance leaving me wondering how in the world we will get across it. Every turn is gorgeous with another view of a frozen lake, a rushing river or snow-capped peaks. After arriving in Whitehorse, 23 of us go for dinner. It is a superb meal and Bert and I split the Italian Primeverde and the Mediterranean Sloovacha (I know I spelled that wrong). I hear many positive comments about the choice of restaurants. Bert and I sure liked it.
(Bert) The weatherman could have predicted rain and dry, warm and cold, accumulated snow and spring budding trees, open lakes and frozen - and been right on all counts today. First the rain. Our plan is to visit a bird banding station and while we wait in our parked rigs, Shari takes a carload of passengers down the muddy entrance road to check on conditions. Too much rain, no banding today, comes back her report. So I announce we are on the road again and some anonymous disc jockey plays the song through the CB’s. We drive through the rain a dozen miles and the skies clear. I miss seeing large mammals today, but at our rest stops I hear reports that Sally has found Mule Deer and twice Caribou, as has Chris. Ralph and Virginia spotted a Ruffed Grouse along the road. With a wind chill making it seem even colder, the temperature is in the low 40s when we stop at a wetlands overlook in the valley encompassing Rancheria River. Almost no birds come out into the cold, but we hear them singing. A serenading White-throated Sparrow is at the western edge of its species range. Chris T. points out the pretty song of a Lincoln’s Sparrow. We stop again at a recreation site and hike the short distance to Rancheria Falls. Snow covers much of the path and frozen drifts linger in the Lodgepole Pine forest. At the falls we watch an American Dipper resting on a boulder near the edge. It remains motionless, like a black pebble balanced on a black rock, silhouetted against the churning whitewater. Nearby, Chris identifies a Townsend’s Solitaire perched atop a branchless dead trunk.
Our vehicles continue climbing until we reach the continental divide. While others stop for cinnamon buns, I explore the snow covered pine forest. I’m surprised to see a Savannah Sparrow singing from the crown of a pine tree, certainly not in the habitat I’d expect and undoubtedly only stopping on its migration to the northern tundra. I take many photos of a chipmunk that I think must be a unusual species so far northwest and at high elevation, but when I compare them with my book I see it is the rather common Least Chipmunk.
Onward to Teslin Lake, I miss the turn to a new pullout, but send a message back to the others and they stop for photographs of valley below. We regroup for lunch at a rest stop along the lake. I see our first Herring Gulls of the trip and a half-dozen Spotted Sandpipers, but the frozen river attracts little else. Don tells me he saw a male Yellow-headed Blackbird fly across the road, another remarkable sighting of this species which has been recorded only once in the Yukon Territory prior to 2001 and has only been seen once or twice since.
Our last stop is at Jakes Corner because Shari reads in the Milepost that this is the only known location of the black Arctic Ground Squirrel. We find three of them, yet they look very much like the hundreds of others I’ve seen in the past, perhaps a shade darker, so maybe this is just a regional color variation. Circling above the gas station we see three swallow species: Cliff, Tree and Violet-green. The best bird though is a pair of Mountain Chickadees. Sibley places a single dot over the Yukon Territory on the range map for this Rocky Mountain species, a clear indicator of its rarity here, and the Yukon bird checklist lists it as a rare winter species.
(Bert) Float planes rest on the shore, not yet primed for the coming season. This part of the Yukon River is clear of ice, but large chunks still block the river in a shallower section downstream. Rafts of scoters and Long-tailed Ducks float sleepily in the morning cold. Overhead, an occasional Bald Eagle wings past. We drive a scenic route along river’s edge, stopping frequently to look for wildlife. Last night Chris and May bicycled near here and saw a River Otter. Now we hear a Townsend’s Solitaire piping single well-separated notes and later its full song. A sure sign of spring, resplendent Pasque Flowers - also called Spring Crocus - poke up from the otherwise dry remnants of last year’s vegetation. Now the yellow-centered purple flowers are just a couple of inches above the surface, but later the stalks will elongate to over a foot. Farther downstream the river flows through a narrow channel, pillared on both sides by hexagon columns of volcanic rock formed during quick cooling. Near the city, where the S. S. Klondike is dry docked for tourists, Arctic Terns circle above the ice strewn river and we watch Red-breasted Mergansers through the spotting scopes.
After a long break for lunch and errands, some of us bird again in the afternoon. We head toward Marsh Lake and on the habitat border we find Red-breasted Nuthatch and a Western Wood-Pewee on the forest side and a Whimbrel on the marsh side. We visit Swan Haven along M’Clintock Bay, where open water and exposed mudflats attract migrating ducks and swans. A wall chart shows the daily tallies throughout April, but none for May as most of the waterfowl have already moved on. I’m delighted to see a small flock of Greater White-fronted Geese, as I expected these would all have gone north by now. Far out in the mudflats we see a dozen swans and try to identify them through our scopes. At this distance it is tricky to separate the species by the slight differences in bill shape. Fortunately, a pair takes flight and the difference in size becomes obvious. When they come to rest again, I can get a side-by-side comparison of Whistling and Tundra swans. Looking in another direction, Georgia asks about a pair of sandpipers she sees in the scope. To my great surprise I identify them as Upland Sandpipers, looking very much out of context on the barren mudflats. Hoping we have enough time left on our schedule to chase in the direction of some reported nesting Mountain Bluebirds, we search the location for a half-hour but come up empty. As a result we arrive back at camp 30 min. late for the travel meeting, but Shari good-naturedly conducts the session a second time.
(Shari) Choices today are birding with Bert or shopping with Shari. Luckily only Pat goes shopping since today is a holiday in Canada and we find hardly any open shops. Pat and I still have a good time, stopping for a latte at a coffee shop and joining up with Ralph and Virginia. I go on to the new Canadian Superstore and get some groceries before returning to R-Tent-III. It is a wonderful lazy relaxed day for many of us and we compare stories at the travel meeting at 5.
(Bert) Crystal clear skies give us an eye appealing view of the snow covered mountains of the St. Elias Range throughout the day. A late spring leaves the snow well below the tree line. At Takhini River, where we see three elk beside the highway, the mountains are still low and distant, but when we reach Haines Junction they loom high on the horizon. The Alaska Highway runs at their base and they form a perfect backdrop for photos when we stop at Bear Creek Summit, elevation 3294 ft. I search the roadsides for Mountain Bluebirds, known to nest along this route. Hoss and Sally report that they have seen some when they refueled. While others are at the Kluane National Park Visitor Center, Ray and Nancy and I hike back to the gas station. The owner tells us the birds nest in the back yard and shows us the way. In a minute we find them feathered in the prettiest shade of blue imaginable. Later, at Sheep Mountain we can find a few recently born lambs among the 30+ Dall Sheep browsing high above us. Some scamper through the grassy bowl of a glacial cirque. After departing the visitor center, I hear CB chatter about a tire problem on Hoss and Sally’s 5th-wheel. They pull off and Sally announces it is a broken axle. While the rest of us move on to the campground, Terry and Pat stop to help resolve the problem. Now, we drive beside Kluane Lake, still iced across. The campground owner tells us the ice was 4-1/2 ft. thick this winter and the temperature dropped as low as -52 degrees. Even now, he predicts it will be below freezing tonight. We have no water at the campsites since the pipes are still frozen above 150 ft. of permafrost. While we are gathered inside the restaurant for a travel meeting and my talk on glaciers, we see Hoss and Sally drive by. They had removed one wheel and crept slowly the rest of the way to the campground. Now two mechanics kneel over the disassembled wheel while the rest of us gaze at the workers. Apparently the problem is a wheel bearing and they intend to have it fixed yet tonight.
(Shari) I remember the Alaskan Highway as being potholed and bumpy and narrow in 1996. In 1998, the road was better and in 2002 better yet. This year it has been wonderful. Hardly a pothole or bump so far! The road has been widened and big shoulders and pull offs exist where they had not before. It has taken some of the adventure out of driving to Alaska but I am not complaining. Hoss may not agree with these statements since he broke something on his trailer just past Sheep Mountain. Terry stops with him and takes one of the four tires off and they limp in on “three legs and a prayer.” Hopefully the mechanic that comes over can help him and get him on the road by as early as tomorrow. The day is gorgeous with chocolate mountains bathed in white surrounding us as we drive. Stopping every few miles we take our time just to soak in the scenery and try to see some birds too. While Bert, Nancy and Ray hike a mile or so to see a bluebird, I meet a group at the bakery across the street for lunch. I am beginning to classify the group on the birding scale. Bert is still a 10 and I am a 3 with the rest taking the numbers in between. Larry and Maureen are maybe 1’s but I think Bert has hope to move them up. Ha! I overhear Barbara identifying an immature bald eagle at the visitor center and some of the group are not sure. They ask the ranger and sure enough Barbara is right. I give her a hug and tell her I am disappointed but thrilled with her. We get a kick out of that since she may not turn out to be an SOB (spouse-of-a-birder) for me but a birder for Bert. Our campground owner, Loren, entertains us with stories of the Yukon, why he settled here and sings us his rendition of the Kluane Mountains after the delicious steaks and burgers he grilled for us. Tim, a friend of his, also sings but I enjoy Loren better. He is a character and salesman for sure.
(Bert) I pass up the first stop since it comes so soon after our departure from Destruction Bay. Later I hear from Bill and Ginny that Terry and Pat found a Sharp-tailed Grouse at the spot and that all four of them watched the bird and took photos. Independently, Chris and May found another in route this morning. Yesterday we crossed into Snowshoe Hare range and today I see more of them. Almost out of their winter camouflage fur, only the oversized feet are still white. The best find of the day is the pair of Rusty Blackbirds nesting in the same location I found them four years ago. This time I locate the nest, a wooden construction wedged deep in a low spruce beside a small lake. Although the nest seems complete, the female is not yet sitting on eggs. She moves erratically from tree to tree and when I photograph the dark bird amongst dark branches, the yellow eyes glow like fireballs. The male keeps its distance, perched prominently atop another spruce. Although the lake is still frozen over, but for a narrow opening along shore, the day is warm and I snap a photo of Shari and Larry stretched out on the pier basking in the warm sun. We linger for nearly two hours beside the lake, seeing Bald Eagles, Trumpeter Swans, Boreal Chickadee and many others. The beauty of the scenery holds us and our lazy schedule today is slow to urge us on. When we do arrive at Beaver Creek, it is still early and time for me to take a nap before attending the dinner show tonight at the hotel next door.
(Shari) No sooner are we out of the campground but we hit rough road. Hoss says it is going to be a dippidty doo day. The road is new but already it is succumbing to the harsh conditions of the Yukon and showing sags, holes, lumps, cracks and heaves. The ground constantly freezes and thaws and the ice-water expansion and contraction causes havoc with the asphalt. Forty below zero would cause havoc with me too. I cannot imagine living in these harsh conditions all the time, nor put up with constant darkness seven months of the year. At one of our stops I hear Barbara explain to Maureen the difference between two kinds of gulls. Now for someone who just started her life list 10 days ago she is really getting into this birding stuff and I joke that she will soon be taking over Bert’s job. Later, a Mountie almost hauls Mike in, does a dance with Kay and pours water on Bill’s head. A lady of the evening calls Virginia a “Cutie Patootie” when she learns Ralph is married to her. This is all in fun as we sit and enjoy a dinner show “301 Miles from Nowhere.” Exceptionally well done, this is our fourth year seeing the show and now we enjoy the anticipation of the jokes as well as the jokes themselves. The singing by the two principals is superb and I break down to buy the album of the show so I can enjoy the tunes whenever the mood strikes to return to the wilderness.
(Bert) I intended to let Shari write about the show, but when I reread her journal from our last trip here, I came across the song lyrics that I most enjoyed from the show and want to reproduce it again here:
You never can forget the wilderness,
No matter what you do.
Once you’ve been up here in the wilderness,
It becomes a part of you.
Beautiful mountains and rivers,
Far as your eye can see.
The way it all used to be,
Where eagles can fly to the end of the sky.
So when you're back in the city and caught up in the strife,
Just remember the time you were here and how special it was in your life.
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