After a slowish start to our trip through Canada (and the fun at the border) we were ready to see a lot of trees (and animals). There are 2 main roads that people take to get into (or out of) Alaska. The traditional route is the Alcan. The one I actually like better is the Stewart-Cassiar Highway.
The route I have always enjoyed the most is route 37 (Stewart-Cassiar Highway). As you’re driving along Highway 1 there is the aptly named Junction 37 outside of Watson Lake. If you’re low on fuel, this is a necessary fill up spot as this route doesn’t have a lot of options. We currently carry about 39 gallons of extra diesel in our trailer. Even so, we only get about 10 miles per gallon so those 39 gallons don’t get us too far.
I jokingly mentioned to Alicia that we should count the number of animals we would see vs the number of cars.
My money was that the wildlife count would be higher. Not 5 minutes after we started south on 37 we had to stop as there was a rather chunky black bear waddling across the road. Bears: 1 Cars: 0. We did pass a car about 15 minutes later so that evened out the score. I think that by the end of the day, we had seen 11 bears, 3 moose, tons of birds and a red fox (or something foxy). I don’t recommend driving around dusk as we came close to hitting 7-8 black bears in a matter of 30 minutes.
Just before dark my eagle-eyed wife spotted a moose in a lake. We pulled over at a close-by rest area and wandered back. I was able to capture a decent shot of 2 calves that were close by the mom we had seen from the road. They let me get 2 pictures before shooting off into the woods. We then headed back to use up 12 gallons of diesel so we could get to bear glacier for the night.
Bear Glacier is Awesome
After a very long day of driving we got to bear glacier just as the moon was rising. My wife was ready for sleep, but I noticed the milky way was popping up. I needed to investigate! It wasn’t the brightest shot of the milky way I’ve taken, but it’s still beautiful to see. Especially with a glacier directly below.
The moon was washing out the sky a bit (the main reason it didn’t show up that bright). The plus side was that it lit up the foreground like daytime. Moonlight is a blessing and a curse for night time photography.
I ended up taking a few more shots, but eventually decided I had done all the damage I could. Sleep was needed. I crashed for a bit then got up for sunrise. The clouds never moved in so it was a pretty, but flat lit morning.
I wandered down to the waters edge and was surprised to get a decent panoramic image with the light pouring in the valley.
At this point my wife was ready for Costco. Thankfully there is one in Prince George which splits the drive in half. I was quite tempted to do a hike that overlooks the 7 sisters, but decided against it due to a rather regrettable experience last year on that hike (I probably should tell that story sometime as well).
As soon as we got off the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, the traffic increased by something close to 10 billion percent
It’s hard to remember the exact count of animals vs. cars. I would strongly suspect we saw more wildlife. Probably the best view was a bull moose standing in some fog right in the middle of the road. I tried desperately to get my camera out for a picture, but missed it by like 2 seconds. It would have been awesome. However, I will have that image imprinted on my brain for the rest of my life.
As we turned onto Highway 16, the traffic immediately kicked up. Due to our rather abysmal fuel economy (though for the record, we are hauling something like 20k pounds total) we try to keep our maximum speed at 55mph (90kmh). This works great when there are no cars as we do drive faster than a fat bear. When there’s a bunch of traffic, we are almost always the slow one. My wife actually got a bumper sticker for our trailer that has a picture of a turtle. It appropriately says “I can go slower if you want”.
We made it to Costco before they closed which allowed us to fuel up at the lowest possible price in the area. We then crashed in the Walmart parking lot. After beautiful rest stops for the past 3-4 nights, it was a bit depressing to have a parking lot light directly above us. The next morning, we were glad to be there.
Our truck batteries were dead
For the rest of the trip we had to get a jump start every morning. Or we had to get our generator out to charge it before we could start. Not my favorite situation. Our 1.5 year stint in Juneau meant that we hadn’t been driving it much and apparently we had let them die a couple times too many. We need to get new batteries, but not this month! There are several engagements in October that we need to fly to and don’t want to get new batteries until we return in November.
We met a Pastor from Texas (of all places) that works at a church in Prince George. He was nice enough to give us a jump so we could head on our way south. I had heard about a hike near Whistler that I wanted to do so we needed to get going. We charged down the road and eventually made it to the highway 99 turn off. The scenery and wildlife count were not quite as great as the Stewart-Cassiar Highway. However, this quickly changed as we made our way toward Lilloet.
The canyons on 99 were breathtaking. It was definitely slow going and I was quite glad everyone was driving the opposite direction. There would have been some angry people behind the slow turtle driver.
In Lilloet, we got to see a lot more animals
As we were driving across a bridge, my wife spotted 3 brown bears on the river bank below (did I mention she was eagle-eyed?). As soon as we got out of our truck, we had a black bear stand up and check us out. I didn’t quite get a picture of him standing, but love the look he gave me after he dropped back down. Having spent a lot of time around these beautiful animals in Alaska, I’ve got a decent sense of when they’re curious and when they’re hostile. This one was just curious who we were.
After a brief look, he bounded down the hill toward the river. The 3 brown bears had disappeared into the woods. We got an interesting show as we watched this black bear try to swim across the water. He definitely tried hard, but ended up on the same side a fair ways downstream.
After he vanished the brown bear mama showed back up with 2 cubs. It was interesting to see one of the cubs was jet black. They found a dead fish on the edge and decided to take the easy dinner (late in the season bears will take whatever food they can find, even if it doesn’t taste the best).
I’m not usually a fan of taking pictures of animals this time of night. With the light fading, I was forced to shoot at iso6400. I primarily shoot landscapes and can always take a long exposure to capture enough light. When you’re taking wildlife images, you have to use a fast shutter which means a higher iso.
At this point, we had driven over 1,300 miles (about 2,000 km). We had seen a lot of animals and a lot of trees. Seriously, if you want to see some amazing tree color, do this drive. One interesting side note for me was the fall colors. When we started the drive in the Yukon, the colors were in full bloom. As we headed south, it was like watching the seasons change in reverse. I really wish we had more time to sit and wait for the colors in lower BC to turn. Maybe next time.
Now it’s time for some hiking near Whistler…