(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?

Drifting into Happiness

Despite the fact the weather hasn’t been all that great this summer, we’ve been very lucky to have mostly warm sunny days when we’ve scheduled an excursion. Our rafting trip through the Upper Kenai River was no exception. Our trip began at the office of Alaska River Adventures in Cooper Landing, where we donned rain pants, rubber boots and a life vest. (The rain pants were for “just in case” we get splashed by the rapids) We walked down to the launch area and were given a quick but thorough safety speech. Our guide, Austin, promised us he hadn’t had anyone fall overboard, at least not accidentally. This was good news to me!

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Our float would take us nearly 7 hours covering the entire Upper Kenai River. This portion of the river is closed to all motorized craft. Drifting (and paddling) is the name of the game. A family at the launch waved as we headed off…

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There were only 2 other couples on our trip, both on their honeymoon. That made Steve and I “the old married couple.” Austin pointed out landmarks and mountains of interest as he seemingly effortlessly paddled our way. The flow of the river is very calm here and he mostly just used the paddle for steering…

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As we rounded a bend in the river, Austin gave a shout, “There’s a bear!” Of course we all turned trying to get the best view…

 

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He told us another rafting company had put it there to fulfill the promise of seeing a bear in the wild. We all had a good laugh, but I was hoping for one just a little livelier. This time of year, the river is full of fisherman, hoping to land the big one…

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The current began to pick up a bit as we neared the confluence of the Russian River and the Kenai River…

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The Russian River Ferry brings fisherman to the far bank. This is an extremely popular fishing spot and where you can witness combat fishing. I, for one, was happy there weren’t too many anglers out on this day. It would be neat to see fisherman shoulder to shoulder on the river, but I imagine tempers can flare…

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If you’ve never heard of combat fishing, you should Google it! It’s nuts! Anyhow, back to our adventure. We lucked out and got to see several eagles as we drifted…

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We were coming up on the only Class III rapids on our trip and I decided to video going through the Kenai River Canyon…

Austin noticed a couple up on the bluff, they were pointing and looking at something across the river. And guess what – finally – a bear…

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See the couple on the bluff

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We were getting closer and closer to Skilak Lake, which would mark the end of our float. Austin knew of a small side channel where he frequently sees moose. Since we had plenty of time, we left the main part of the river and found ourselves in the most beautiful, peaceful area I’ve been in for ages…

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The detour was a wonderful addition to an already exciting day. When we finally got to Skilak Lake, Austin broke out the makings for our lunch…

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After we had eaten, Austin packed up everything and prepared to lead us on a mile and a half hike to where the van was waiting…

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It was a beautiful hike to the van. I’m hoping Steve and I can go back and hike the trail again.

You won’t believe it, but I am almost caught up! It’s a good thing too because we only have another 3 weeks in Moose Pass before we head to Denali!

Thanks for coming along with us on our adventures.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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!

 

 

Cruising Resurrection Bay

The town of Seward is about 26 miles south of us and is the heart of Resurrection Bay. There are glacier cruises, fishing charters, kayak adventures – nearly anything you’d like to do on the water in Resurrection Bay is found in Seward. In late May, Steve and I went out With Kenai Fjords Tours hoping to see some wildlife and knowing we’d get to see several glaciers.

Our cruise left Seward at 10 am and I didn’t have great expectations about the weather. It was overcast, cold and windy.

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Everyone was bundled up! As we left the harbor, we had a great view of the town’s waterfront RV park (a place I’d love to spend some vaca time!)

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Looking back at the pictures I took, I was really disappointed. I don’t think any of them captured the beauty and excitedness we saw and felt.

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We hadn’t even gotten out of the harbor when we saw our first wildlife – sea otters…

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The captain and crew gave a first rate running commentary on everything we were seeing and made every attempt to get us as close to the wildlife as was possible without disturbing them. Despite the crappiness of the weather, there is no denying the beauty of the scenery…

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Our next wildlife encounter was a group of Dall’s porpoises. They seemingly played in the boat’s wake, riding the waves and swimming along side of us, as if to race…

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With their black and white bodies, if you look quick and don’t know the difference, you might think they were killer whales (orcas). The porpoises finally tired of playing with us and we moved on. Our next sighting was special because it isn’t often the endangered fin whales are this close to shore. Fin whales are the second largest creature to ever live on earth!

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Leaving the fins behind, we came upon a pod of killer whales, aka orcas. Killer whales aren’t whales at all, they are members of the porpoise/dolphin family.

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As we were watching, a smaller boat drifted in. They got a close up view…

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As if the dramatic cliffs and soaring, snow capped peaks weren’t enough scenery to make your jaw drop, the captain brought us into a cove with a glacier fed waterfall…

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All this excitement and we hadn’t even gotten to the glacier yet. Our destination was Aialik Glacier, deep in Kenai Fjords National Park. The closer we got, the more ice we came across and, luckily, the bluer the skies became…

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And then, there was Aialik Glacier…

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See the group of kayakers near the center of the picture? No thanks! As much as I enjoy kayaking, that wouldn’t be for me!

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We didn’t get too witness any calving of the glacier, but the abundance of ice in the water suggested it had been active recently.I’m pretty sure Steve was enjoying himself, what do you think?

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We were about half way through our cruise, but there were plenty of things yet to see. On our way back towards Seward, we motored around several of the islands. My favorite was the one with all the steller sea lions on it…

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And the colony of kittiwakes nesting on the face of the cliffs…

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But, our luck hadn’t run out yet, we came across a humpback whale…

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One of the reasons we chose this tour over some of the others, was this tour stopped at Fox Island for an all you can eat prime rib and salmon buffet. I would have taken more pictures of Fox Island, but I was too busy stuffing my face! Steve and I both opted to add the king crab legs (at $15 a person, how could we not!)

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We were almost back to Seward when we got our final wildlife encounter. There were mountain gloats high above us on the rocky outcropping…

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All in all, even if I think the pictures don’t do it any sort of justice, it was an amazing cruise with stunning scenery and more wildlife than I ever expected.

Up next…looking for bears…oh my!

 

 

 

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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Grizzly bears
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Black bear
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Looking for lunch
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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!

Hanging Out the Window

Time was getting short and we still had almost 3000 miles to go. We were due to arrive at our job in Moose Pass as close to May 1st as possible. Here it was the last week of April and we were only half way there. Of course, we had taken the really long way. From here on out, it would be one night stops, often not even unhooking the Jeep. Our planned travel route would take us through about 13 miles of Idaho. What could possibly happen in 13 miles? Just before we crossed the state line, I saw a sign stating all boats MUST stop and be checked for invasive species. My first (and only) thought was “Gee, glad they are taking it so seriously.” What I never gave a thought to was our 2 kayaks strapped to the roof of the Jeep. I mean they hadn’t been in the water since we left Florida. We were half way though our 13 miles when Steve pulled over to give the car with the red flashing lights pass by. Much to our surprise, they pulled right in behind us. What had he done? He wasn’t speeding or driving erratically. Nope – kayaks are boats and we hadn’t stopped. The sheriff was very pleasant about it, but we had to turn around and go back to the state line. The kayaks were inspected and we got a little sheet of paper stating so. I threw it on the dash as we began our 13 mile drive though Idaho again. We breezed through Oregon and Washington state before I ever thought about that little scrap of paper again. Several times I remarked to Steve that the landscape wasn’t what I had pictured. There were no tree covered mountains or lush forests. Only more of what we’d been seeing all along, giant rocky mountains with little or no vegetation. We finally got to the border crossing, produced our passports and were welcomed into British Columbia, Canada. For the first hour or so of the drive, we passed grove after grove of fruit trees. Every kind you could imagine. Apples, peaches, plums, pears. All in bloom, waiting for pollinators to do their jobs. I didn’t get any pictures because there just never seemed to be a good spot to pull over. We knew our biggest problem would be finding campgrounds that were open in April, most of them don’t open until May. I had picked out a few possibilities and figured we’d just stop in rest areas or truck stops if they didn’t work out.

We got to see our first wildlife in BC. Large herds of wood bison hanging our on the side of the road…

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As the scenery began to resemble more what I had expected, I spent a lot of time trying to capture it…

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Our best stop in BC was at Liard River Hotsprings. The provincial park wasn’t open yet for camping, but they had a large parking lot we were told we could dry camp in. In the morning, we headed over to check out the springs…

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The boardwalk to the springs

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Taking a nice soak

In a word – it was awesome! We were so tempted to spend another night, but we really did have to move on. We got to see a little more wildlife…

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We didn’t see near as much wildlife as I thought we would. Maybe it was too early in the season.

We crossed into the Yukon and stopped for the obligatory picture…

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I spent much of the next few days hanging out Waldo’s window. Every time I thought the scenery couldn’t get any better, it did!

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Yes, that’s me with my camera out the window

When we got to Watson Lake, we stopped at the Sign Post Forest. It’s hard to describe and the pictures don’t really do it justice…

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I don’t know how many signs there are, but I can tell you, it is A LOT! It took my quite a while to go through all of the pictures and here are some of my favorites from the Yukon…

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And finally, we were heading back into the USA – Welcome to Alaska…

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Well, we made it to Alaska! Up next…Oh Waldo, you’re so……..

Our Hinkey Summit Adventure

Page had told us about another drive we would enjoy. “If you follow the road through Paradise Valley, you will come to the base of Hinkey Mountain. There is a road to the summit, your Jeep wouldn’t have any trouble,” he said. Frankly, the prospect of getting to do a little 4-wheeling really appealed to me.

First we had to find the road to Paradise Valley. Page had said it was easy. “Head out Hwy 95 for 25 miles or so, when you see a gas station in the middle of nowhere, take that left. That’s the road to Paradise Valley.”  Seems simple enough. Steve and I were enjoying the drive, just chatting about our adventures the previous day (you can read about that here) when I noticed these tiny heads popping up along the side of the highway. “Did you see that? What are those? Look, there’s another one. Slow down, I want to see what it is.” Well, there were cars coming up behind us so slowing down wasn’t an option. Lucky for me, our “middle of nowhere” gas station was just up ahead. Hopefully when we made the left, there would be more heads popping up. Sure enough, as we made our way down Paradise Valley Road, there they were. Steve pulled to the side of the road and I waited anxiously for the critter to makes its appearance. I didn’t have to wait too long…

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They reminded me of the pocket gophers we had seen in Texas but these were prairie dogs. It was comical to watch them pop up and scurry around, only to disappear into another burrow. We watched for a bit then resumed our drive. All the sudden, without a word, Steve banged a u-turn. Huh? What had he seen that I missed? He pulled over again and pointed to one of the prairie dog holes and said “Isn’t that an owl?” We got out the binoculars and sure enough, it was a burrowing owl. The problem was, it wasn’t feeling like being social. Every time we tried to get a picture it either dropped back down into the hole or it would fly off to a fence post just out of camera range. With a little patience we were finally able to  get a few shots…

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Leaving the owls to their activities, we drove on. I was thinking “Wow, Hon, get catch with the owls!” when a pheasant flew into the road. Naturally, it didn’t stay long enough for either of us to get a shot. Now it was my turn…”Pull over!” I wasn’t sure what I had seen, but I wanted a closer look. When I walked over to the fence line, this is what I had seen…

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Hey, it’s still wildlife, it’s just long dead wildlife. As I was getting ready to get back into the Jeep, I looked down the fence line and saw something a little more photogenic…

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Wow, I was loving all this wildlife! Once again, we started back towards Paradise Valley. Finally, we made it and had to get a few pics while we were there. It is another ‘has been’ town with more abandon houses/businesses then occupied, but it has a saloon too…

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We finally found Hinkey Summit Road. It wasn’t going to be 4-wheeling unless the road got a heck of a lot worse further on. With no other vehicle in sight, we crawled along, ever ready for our next wildlife encounter. Steve stopped by a pond and I got out to check it out. Lots of ducks and geese and a couple birds I couldn’t identify at the time…

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American Avocets – Thanks Google!

We came to the entrance to Homboldt National Forest where the road to the summit truly began. I oohed and aahed at the scenery…

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I took pictures of the winding road…

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As we neared the summit, I noticed a natural bridge…

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At the summit, we almost got to go 4-wheeling. There was still snow to play in…

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OK, not really enough snow to 4-wheel in. Perhaps it was the elevation getting to me but I had an idea – I would take a video on the way back down the mountain. Maybe not my best idea ever, but what do you think…

Thanks for coming along.

I am almost caught up. I have one more post about our trip then I will start on arriving in Alaska and our adventures so far (there have been some cool ones!)