Day 44 - Tuesday, May 14 - Milepost 4312 - Birdcount 218 - Watson Lake, Yukon Territory
(SF's Journal). We are deeper into the wilderness. We stop at a turnout and listen. All we hear are birds talking to each other punctuated every ten minutes or so by a car motor off in the distance. We see caribou early in the morning. Then we see a black blob beside the road. Bert and I look at each other with the expression "Is that what I think it is?" and we simultaneously voice "A BEAR!" There it was, fat and shiny sleek staring at us as we slowly pass it by. The road winds on with a few patches of potholes and construction but not nearly as treacherous as the guidebooks would have me believe. Sure the road narrows but it is not narrow. It just has a gravel shoulder as opposed to paved or a very narrow shoulder. The road does not even twist and turn as warned. I think this was 1995's road straightening. We arrive at Watson Lake early and are the first ones to check in at Campground Services for the night (6.5/8.5/6), a very nice campground, scenic and in the trees. After filling with water and leveling off we head to town. We disconnected the battery on the car as we pulled it this time and it starts right off. It is filthy dirty and we look for a wash. We change some money at the bank and head for the famous sign forest at the edge of town. It is literally a forest with poles covered with over 20,000 signs from all over the world. It was started in 1942 by an American GI who was homesick and stuck a sign in the ground proclaiming the number of miles to his hometown of Danville, IL. Walking in the forest we stumble on a sign proclaiming Hearne, Texas that pulls on my homesick strings. After our stroll in the sign forest, we go to Wye Lake Park, a wonderful city park with a 1.5 mile trail surrounding a small lake. The guide suggests that the trail takes 40 minutes to transverse but true to form it takes us 2.5 hours since we stop so often to watch the loons, ducks and gulls. They sound like they had just been let out of bird school for recess and chirp and chip and flap and flop as they play in the open water free from the receding ice. The day is warm by previous standards and the sun shines brightly and heats the pine until their sweet aroma fills the moss covered pines on the far side of the lake. What a glorious day! For a town of 1700 people in the middle of nowhere, Watson Lake has a lot going for it. There is a shallow lake outside of town that warms up enough to swim in during the summer, so the town built a water slide that can be enjoyed from mid June until September. There is a museum here, and miles of nature trails, an indoor swimming pool and of course the sign forest. It might not be a bad place to live --------in the summer.
(BF's Journal). Our first Black Bear steps out of the forest into the clearing beside the Alaska Highway near Liard River early this morning. Black bear come in three phases: blue, cinnamon and black. This one is as black as the ace of spades, looks big and Sharis glad we are viewing from the safety of our motor home. The morning had already been a good one for wildlife. We started out at 6:45 am and immediately came across seven Caribou. Then while rounding a mountain curve, I spotted a very dark Snowshoe Hare with short white ears and enormous hind feet. Looking at those huge feet, I can now visualize how it can hop across the snow drifts without sinking and make the tracks I found in Jackson Hole, WY in April. The Snowshoe Hare is nocturnal so we were lucky to see one before he retired to his lair. Around 10 am we start zigzagging between British Columbia and the Yukon Territory as the Alaska Highway crisscrosses the border seven times. The first of these is Contact Creek, the place where two U.S. Army divisions met on September 24, 1943 to make the first connection of the Alaska Highway. Within days the other connections were finished and an Army truck was able to drive the entire highway in 72 grueling hours at an average speed of 15 mph. Our speed typically is 45 mph, but ranges from 20 to 60 mph depending on weather, curves and steepness. Now I can usually judge the steepness of a hill by the way our motor home and towed car climb. We ascend small hills in overdrive, #4 slopes in drive gear, #5 slopes in second gear, #6 slopes in first gear and #7-10 slopes at crawling speed of 15-20 mph. Downhill is about the same because we downshift to avoid using our brakes. We can descend a #5 slope in second gear without gaining speed and, likewise, a #6 slope in first gear. Steeper slopes mean using first gear and the brakes to keep the vehicle from running away. In the afternoon we coast into Watson Lake, Yukon Territory at around 2 pm and spend most of the next couple hours slowly hiking 1.5 miles around Wye Lake. The lake is a third covered with ice and has attracted huge numbers of waterfowl. Common Loons hauntingly call across the lake to each other. Pacific Loons join in with a different call. Bonaparts Gulls raucously call from the air while scoters and grebes chatter at the edge of the ice floes. At least on this trip, Shari appears to enjoy the birding as much as I do, probably because the setting is so beautiful and the birds so approachable. We identify 22 species on the lake including three life birds for me: Pacific Loon, Oldsquaw and Lapland Longspur.
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