Horsing Around on Cumberland Island

Since nobody seemed to be a fan of kayaking with alligators, I thought I’d go with something cuter. Our last adventure in Georgia was one I had been waiting for for a very long time. Cumberland Island National Seashore has been on my list of “must visit” places for years. Every time I drove from New Hampshire to Florida I wanted to fit it in but just never could. Since we were already adventuring in Georgia, I would not be denied! Cumberland Island or Bust!

Cumberland is the largest and southern most of Georgia’s barrier islands. We would only have one day to explore and I was determined to make the most of it. We boarded the 9 am ferry in St. Mary’s and began our relaxing 45 minute journey to the island. Our fellow 148 passengers were quite a diverse group. There were cyclists, campers, hikers, fishermen and even a couple getting married.

After disembarking, we started out on the River Trail…

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We stopped near the edge of the sound and watched as the Cumberland Queen II headed back to St. Mary’s…

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The trail ends at the Ice House, this is where we got our first glimpse of the famed wild horses of Cumberland Island…

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Horses were originally brought to the island in the 1700’s. Now, a herd of feral horses resides on the island. They are left to there own device with no help from the National Park Service. Some of the horses we saw seemed a bit thin, but overall looked to be in decent health. And obviously are healthy enough to mate and produce colts. Steve sat down to watch at one of the picnic tables and I noticed how huge the live oak tree next to him was. I had to back up so far to get most of the tree in, you can hardly see him…

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You are warned to keep at least 50′ from the horses, after all, they are wild. But what do you do when you are taking a picture of the beautiful lane, lined with spanish moss laden trees…

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And the horses suddenly decide to cross the road, right where you are standing?

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You do what I did and hide behind a tree! We continued on towards the ruins of the Dungeness Mansion. Since it was nearly noon, we stopped at a picnic area and had our snacks. As I was reading the signs about the wildlife, another group of horses came by. This foal couldn’t have been more than 6 weeks old…

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In 1736 James Oglethorpe built a hunting lodge he called Dungeness. In 1796 Phineas Miller and his wife built a 4 story mansion on the site and named it after the lodge. In 1884 Thomas Carnegie, brother of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, and his wife Lucy bought Dungeness and raised 9 children there. Today all that remains of Dungeness is a sprawling shell …

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There was a time, it looked like this…

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Some of the outbuildings remain, as well as some of the statues…

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There are several other buildings from that era which are still in use. While we were walking around the mansion, I spied another family group of horses. I thought the colt was beautiful and spent lots of time taking pictures of it…

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We were almost done checking out the mansion when an altercation broke out between the horses, I have to tell you, the horses scared me way more than the alligators!!!

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We continued on to the Dungeness Beach boardwalk…

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I watched as the fiddler crabs defended their territory in the marsh…

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At the end of the boardwalk, sand dunes create a barrier to the interior of the island…

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When we finally reached the beach, it seemed deserted. One of the benefits of limiting the number of visitors to the island each day is you get to see this…

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Unspoiled, salty air bliss. We walked over a mile and a half on the beach and only saw a handful of other people. We did see a horseshoe crab skeleton…

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And one of the few people we did see was kind enough to take this picture for me…

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As we neared Seacamp Beach Campground, I stopped again to marvel at the gnarled live oaks and their spanish moss adornments…

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Our day was nearly over, the 4:45pm ferry would soon take us back to the mainland. Cumberland Island was everything I had imagined and more. We had walked about 6 1/2 miles and taken countless pictures to go through later.

If you’ve been thinking about visiting Cumberland Island, all I can say is DO IT! Hopefully we will return again another time to see the north end of the island.

My friend Dawn, from Random Bits of Trial and Error wrote a lovely post about her adventures on Cumberland Island, read about it here.

Thank you for coming along.

I’m a couple weeks behind, we are currently at our summer job in Wisconsin. I can’t wait to tell you about it!

What are you more afraid of feral horses or alligators?

Kayaking with Aligators

We only had 2 days to explore the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, not nearly enough time considering it covers 630 sq miles. The swamp is only part of the Okefenokee experience, there are also vast wet prairies, pine uplands and cypress forests. This mosaic of habitats makes the Okefenokee a “Wetland of International Importance.” The swamp itself is 38 miles long and 25 miles wide and remains one of the most well preserved and intact freshwater ecosystems in the world.

Day One

We stopped at the visitors center and asked about the 120 miles of water trails. Like hiking trails, they range from easy to difficult. We wanted to plan an easy paddle, maybe 4 or 5 hours in total. A trip to the Cedar Hammock canoe shelter sounded just right.

With the next day’s kayaking plan in place, we had the rest of the afternoon to explore. We took the 7.5 mile Swamp Island Drive. The ranger told us to be on the lookout for several species of carnivorous plants and orchids blooming along the borrow ditch. She explained the ditch was created when workers “borrowed” the material to build the road.

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Rose Pogonia
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Butterwort
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Pitcher plant

 

We crossed onto Chesser Island, which was named after the family who settled there in 1858. A short path led us to the homestead…

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It’s hard to imagine what life was like in 1927 when Tom and Iva Chesser built the homestead. The yard was kept free of vegetation to reduce the fire hazard and  to increase the chance of seeing any snakes that might wander by. There are many remnants of family’s life on the island…

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Cane syrup hearth

Our final stop on the Swamp Island Drive was the Chesser Island Boardwalk…

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We kept our eyes open for wildlife. The ranger told us a bobcat had been hanging around the boardwalk, but alas, I had to settle for lizards…

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We climbed the 40-foot Owl’s Roost Tower for a view of Seagrove Lake…

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Day Two

Our first plan was to be at the refuge early, but when I woke up, it was a chilly 63 degrees. I decided I wasn’t in a hurry! It was almost 10am when we arrived warming up quickly. We signed the paddlers’ log, we began our adventure.

We followed the Suwanee Canal for about a mile and a half before finding the entrance to the Cedar Hammock trail. Along the way, I marveled at the reflections in the tannin rich waters…

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We saw a few alligators in the canal. Despite being in a kayak, I did not feel threatened by their presence.  Okefenokee NWR-1990

Although, one surfaced so close to the front of my kayak, I could see it’s eyes but not it’s snoot. A little too close.

We left the motorboats behind when we entered the trail. They had all been courteous, slowing down to no wake speed when they passed, but I was happy to head deeper into the swamp…

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The trail was peaceful, with scores of water lilies blooming along the way…

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At the end of the trail there is an overnight shelter and outhouse.

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I got out to stretch and watch the alligator swimming by…

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As we were leaving, I noticed a baby alligator among the lily pads…

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Steve took the lead on the way back to the canal. I wonder if he saw this guy…

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I loved every minute of our paddle! From the anhinga…

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To the turtle…

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It was amazing!

Would you kayak with the alligators? Do  you think we’re nuts?

A Trip to Canaveral National Seashore

Nature in harmony with science make Florida’s Space Coast an adventure not to be missed. I have been to the Space Coast twice, the first time in 2012 and again last week with Steve. There are several components making up the coast, you have the Canaveral National Seashore, consisting of 57,662 acres, the Merritt Island NWR, consisting of 140,000 acres which includes NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

On both occasions, my main objective was to visit Merritt Island NWR, specifically the Black Point Wildlife Drive. Both of my visits were in late March and I was surprised by the differences. The water levels were much higher in 2012 and my visit coincided with a prescribed burn.

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It’s natural for the water levels to fluctuate and we haven’t had a lot of rain this winter.

Merritt Island NWR is home to over 1500 species of plants and animals, including 15 federally listed species. It is also an important stop on the Atlantic Flyway. You never know what you might come across during a visit.

The wildlife drive is a 7 mile, one-way road through various habitats, from shallow marsh impoundments to pine flatwoods…

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With spring in the air, wildflowers are blooming, attracting lots of butterflies…

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In 2012, I was lucky enough to be visiting when a large flock of white pelicans were resting in the marsh…

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This year, we saw quite a few northern shovelers which are in the spoonbill family…

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While we were photographing them, a grackle made his presence known. He was finding a meal in the fallen palm fronds. When I got too close, he retreated to my spare tire.

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We saw flocks of blue billed ducks. I haven’t quite identified them yet…

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And tons of coots…

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The one animal you are almost guaranteed to see is alligators…

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After we finished the drive, we decided to head over to Canaveral National Seashore. On the way, we were lucky enough to see a sandhill crane with its chick…

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Using our America the Beautiful Pass, we entered our first national park of the year. I don’t think we will visit as many parks this year as last (15 in total), but we love not having to pay the entrance fees.

Our first wildlife encounter was with an armadillo. I’m fairly sure this little guy was completely blind. He was unfazed by my presence and at one point nearly walked into me…

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We also saw what I think was a box turtle on the side of the road…

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Only one of our encounters came with its own warning sign…

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I have to admit, we were a bit surprised. The seashore has 5 areas with beach access and apparently clothing is optional at beach 5. Who knew?!?!?

The one area we haven’t visited yet is the Kennedy Space Center. I’ve heard you can spend the better part of a day there, so it will have to wait until next time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

(Wild) Life on the Road

After spending 4 1/2 months in Alaska, it was time to return to the lower 48. I spent weeks reviewing our route. We had already driven the Alcan, so I wanted to travel other roads. It was a horrible year for wildfires in British Columbia, so I changed our route several times. BC has a great website I used to make sure the roads I wanted to take were open. Eventually, I settled for returning on the Alcan. It just seemed safest.

We had seen some pretty cool wildlife while we were in Alaska, but we always want to see more. Not long after we crossed into the Yukon, we got our first chance…

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These wild horses were contently munching on the grasses along the highway. I felt pretty lucky to see them, apparently there have been efforts over the years to capture the remaining wild horses. I don’t know how many are left, but it can’t be many.

When we crossed into BC, the first thing we saw was a highway sign warning us of bison in the road near Muncho Lake. Herds of wood bison move pretty quickly and we spotted them long before the lake. At first we saw lone males hanging out by the road…

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Or in the road…

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It’s always a good thing to remember, these are wild animals and to always keep your distance.  Steve did that by taking his pictures out the window…

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A short while later, we came across a herd of wood bison. We stopped and watched as a calf nursed…

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After a while, we had so many pictures of bison, we didn’t pull over to watch the next few herds we saw.

What there weren’t any warning signs for was the herds of mountain goats. Early one morning, as we were driving along, we had to stop because they just wouldn’t get out of the road…

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I took this picture looking through the windshield…

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Mooned by a mountain goat! Finally, they moved off the road. One stopped to look back at us as if to say, “NOW you may go”…

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I liked seeing them on the upper slopes better than in the road…

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We had seen a couple bears along the way, but they were always heading into the woods. By the time I got the camera, they were gone. Until this guy came along…

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We saw more wild animals in 4 days in Canada than we did in 4 1/2 months in Alaska. And that’s the wild side of being on the road!

Up next, the wonders of Yellowstone.

Have you ever had to stop because an animal wouldn’t get off the road?

Where are the Bears?

In an effort to get caught up, this post is going to be about several day trips we’ve taken around the Kenai Peninsula. We are always on the lookout for wildlife, particularly bears. Black and brown bears (grizzlies) live on the peninsula and we spend a lot of time exploring the area looking for them. We’d been told the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was famous for bear sightings. We set off early one morning to drive Skilak Lake Road, an 18 mile dirt road in the refuge. We had barely gotten a half mile from Waldo when I had to stop and admire the reflection on Upper Trail Lake…

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When we finally arrived at Skilak Lake Road, I realized something – it was Memorial Day weekend. There were people everywhere, the campgrounds were packed and the bears were in hiding! But, the scenery was lovely…

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Mt Redoubt, in the background, is a volcano – it last erupted in 2009

We did finally get to see some wildlife…

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Oh ya, and we did see a squirrel, but i didn’t get any pictures of it. Another day, the town of Hope was our destination. The Alaskan gold rush began in Hope and there are lots of places to explore. After we turned off the Seward Highway, we were treated to some stunning vistas overlooking Turnagain Arm…

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Usually, we make sure we have a full tank of gas before we head off to do any exploring but we had both verified there was a gas station in Hope, so we didn’t top off the Jeep. What we didn’t know was the price of gas in Hope was $4.50 a gallon! Holy crap! Over a dollar more than in Seward. AND – cash only! That’ll teach us! After we emptied our wallets, we drove along Palmer Creek Road…

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The breathe taking views eventually led us to a hiking trail. There were quite a few cars parked at the trail head, but we grabbed the bear spray and our cameras and started down the trail…

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It didn’t take too long to realize the snow covering the trail was too deep for us to enjoy the walk. As we were debating turning around, I caught movement in the brush…

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This willow ptarmigan was foraging in the underbrush, making way more noise than you would have thought for something that small. We watched until it disappeared and headed back to the Jeep. Since it was getting late in the day, we decided to head back home. As we passed Tern Lake, I saw a pair of tundra swans. But, Steve saw what I had missed! The babies…

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It didn’t take long for a crowd of onlookers to appear. It seems when one person stops along the road with a camera in hand, everyone stops. Apparently, I’m guilty of the same thing. We were driving along Kalifornsky Beach Road, just south of Kenai, when I saw a guy on the side of the road with his camera. Steve and I turned around to investigate – was it a bear? Nope, but almost as cool. It was a caribou, munching away on the tender new shoots…

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We hadn’t driven 3 miles further down the road when we saw Ms. Moose doing her part to control the dandelions…

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After turning off of Kalifornsky Beach Road, we headed north to Captain Cook State Recreation Area. The weather wasn’t the best, so we didn’t have a very good view across Cook Inlet, but we did see some more wildlife…

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We finally got a few sunny days and we headed to Cooper Landing. We stopped at the boat launch and watched as the rafters and fishermen began their journey to the Upper Kenai River…

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Steve decided to drive down Snug Harbor Road which follows the back side of Kenai Lake.  I was enjoying the scenery when Steve abruptly did a u-turn. Why? Was it a bear? Nope (again) it was a beautiful waterfall that couldn’t be seen from  the passenger side of the Jeep…

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We finally made it to the end of the 18 mile road and found Snug Harbor…

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While we were sitting there, a couple in a canoe returned to shore, only to find out their battery was dead…

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We tried to jump start them, but to no avail. We ended up giving them a ride back to Cooper Landing so they could call for a tow. They were grateful we were there, it would have been a very long walk back to town!

Another day, we when were looking for bears, we saw mama moose and her baby…

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So, we’ve done all this driving around Kenai Peninsula looking for bears when we could have stayed at home and let them come to us…

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I took this picture in our driveway! I watched until I thought it was gone. Steve drove to the bottom of the hill and didn’t see it anymore, so we figured it had moved on. Come to find out, it had circled back to Waldo and checked out our grill…

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Like the bear print on the lid to the grill?
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 I guess it was unhappy dinner wasn’t ready!

One of our guests shared this picture with me…

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Now we know where the bears are!

 

 

Our First Day Trip

So we crossed from the Yukon into Alaska on May 1st. Here it is July 1st and I am posting about our first day trip on May 12th. Reminds me just how far behind I am.

We’ve actually been in Alaska for 8 weeks and we’ve been on several day trips now. One thing I have decided is that Nat Geo has been lying to us for years! There is not a moose standing in the road around every bend and there aren’t bears catching salmon in every river and creek. As a matter of fact, I saw my first wild bear just this week. That being said, if you want to make sure to see all of the Alaskan wildlife, you need to take a day trip to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

We drove past the entrance to the AWCC because we had heard there were a bunch of eagles in Turnagain Arm. The tide was out and, who knew that eagles will stand in the shallow waters to hunt…

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It was amazing to see so many eagles in such a small area.

It was a cold, raw day and the skies kept threatening to drench us. We had dressed for it and were ready to explore the AWCC. The conservation work being done there is truly impressive. They have helped re-introduce wood bison and other large game back into the wilderness. Some of their wildlife are movie stars, having been on loan for the filming of Into The Wild.

I loved how much room the animals had and how natural their habitats were. Here are my favorite pictures from our day…

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Elk
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Musk Ox
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Grizzly bears
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Black bear
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Looking for lunch
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Something’s on the wind
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Part of the caribou herd – I think they see the lunch truck coming
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Wood bison with nursing baby
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Learning to walk

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Successful fishing in Turnagain Arm
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Wolf surveying his domain

There were several other species I didn’t get any decent shots of, like moose, lynx, porcupine and reindeer.

I’m hoping to see most of these animals in the wild and if you’ve been following me on Facebook or Instagram, you’ll know which ones I’ve seen so far.

Up next…Kenai Fjords National Park.

Thanks for coming along!