Alaska Highway – Part ll – Animals


Prior to leaving on our trip along the Alaska Highway to Whitehorse, the Yukon, we were warned to keep an eye open for wildlife.  We set out with the hope of encountering some, particularly wild horses.  I was unaware that there was a herd of wild horses in the Yukon, and being that horses are one of my favourite animals, I was keeping my fingers crossed.

Wild Horses in the Yukon

I was not disappointed.  Near one of the First Nations reserves not far from Whitehorse, we came upon a half-dozen or so horses grazing on the side of the highway.  They were not as I imagined, rather they were scrawny, bony, visibly displaying the harsh winter they had just survived.  Their coats were rough, they had not yet begun to shed the long winter hair.  I felt rather sorry for them, scrounging grass for themselves, fearful of predators.  This photo was taken on the move, they were much more skittish when traffic stopped, unlike the Wood Bison that were so numerous north of Laird Hotsprings.  Those fellows were not at all intimidated by the traffic.  There were stern warnings along the highway to watch for them, hitting one with a car did not bode well for either party.

They did attract attention.  Vehicles would be stopped along the highway taking pictures (as we were) or just watching.  As we came around a long curve, one idiot was parked haphazardly on our side of the road, the rear of his truck still on the traveling portion of the highway.  The driver was standing on the centre line trying to take a picture of a cow and her calf (see below) as a semi-trailer unit was bearing down on him from the opposite direction.  He decided to cross the highway to the other side to continue his photographic pursuits as the semi thrummed between him and his truck.  Mother Bison did not take too kindly to his proximity to her calf, placed herself between the photo bug and baby, and lowered her head in a threatening manner.  Simultaneously my husband was braking hard to avoid the rear of the parked truck and give the semi the opportunity to miss all involved.  Since we had no choice but to stop, I took a few pictures of mom and baby too.  We remained in our vehicle however.

The closest encounter we had almost hitting something was this elk that seemingly came out of nowhere and decided to cross the road in front of us.  Lucky for us we had just exited a rest stop and were not traveling too fast to avoid a collision.

We had a great chuckle over our Sheltie when we stopped for wildlife.  The first few times he would come forward from the back seat, expecting that our truck stopping meant we were getting out.  We would coax him to look out through the windows and eventually he would notice the bigger animal and start whining or barking.  Eventually, just stopping would have him checking out of all the windows first before stepping onto the console between us to see why we were stopping.

Speaking of elk, I harboured the hope that we might also see caribou, but no such luck.

This guy was waddling along the side of the highway just before Muncho Lake.  I jumped out of the truck to take a photograph and (s)he took off across the scree towards the rail line that ran parallel to the highway about 500 meters away.  I tried to catch up, limited by my slip-on leather shoes with a slight heel, the ground consisting of irregular rocks, my age and general poor physical fitness.  The porcupine reached the scrubby brush alongside the tracks and stopped, relying on its own natural defences I suppose and I managed to get these shots.  Of course, every time I moved around to aim for the face, it would reposition its back to me.  Considering the manoeuvring and the barrier created by the brush, it was quite an effort to get the head shot. It is not the best, but I am fairly satisfied with the result.  There did not appear to be many quills remaining on the backside, I suspect it had already had a recent encounter with something and managed to escape.  We told this story many times, my husband taking delight in the image of my stumbling across the rocky scree in pursuit of a ‘racing’ porcupine while he yelled, “Use the telephoto lens!  Use the telephoto lens!”  I can’t tell you how many people responded by saying, “You’re lucky it didn’t throw it’s quills at you.”  Ahem…porcupines cannot ‘throw’ their quills.  They do flap their tails around if you get too close and if you come in contact with those barbed little defense mechanisms, they will stick in pretty good.  Ask the Sheltie (another story, another time).

If you recall this trip was taken the May long weekend, the snow was barely gone, the dandelions the most plentiful greens, and the bears were only a couple of weeks, if that, out of hibernation.  They were everywhere!  The Sheltie really didn’t like these guys, lots of growling and hair standing up on the back of his neck whenever we stopped to take pictures or just watch them eating the spring green offerings on the side of the highway.  Handsome looking animals, but we were happy to remain in our truck.

Finally, we didn’t see this fellow responsible for this —->

There was evidence of beavers all along the way.  This was at a stop we made near Stone Mountain along a wide shallow mountain river.  The Sheltie went crazy following scents along the banks of the river, but no success in finding the owner.