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Monday, May 24, 2010

The Beginning of The Alaska Highway

Location: Fort St. John, British Columbia
Population: 17,402

By looking at a map, once can recognize that British Columbia is a big province. By flying over it, you may see that much of it is uninhabited and remains raw wilderness. But you don't really get these things until you're driving through the countryside and humans feel like the minority - colonized here and there but dwarfed by the mountains and forests surrounding them. You don't really comprehend how big "big" is until you keep driving and driving and all you see are millions of trees stretching in every direction, mile after mile.

This morning, less than five miles outside of Prince George (and after visiting the hockey rink since I don't think I'll be coming back to see a game played here anytime soon) we saw our first moose of the trip. It was a brief glimpse of a female alongside the road who quickly disappeared into the woods, but it whet the appetite for more sightings and we were hopeful based on all the watch for moose signs we passed. She was the only one we saw today, but I'm sure we'll see more.

One of our first stops today was at a nature park where the mosquitos were too numerous and the trails were too muddy for us to feel much like hiking, but I did spot this butterfly. I've seen these commas (Polygonia spp.) in the field guide and was looking forward to the day I got to see one, since I'm intrigued by the feathered edges of their wings! Beautiful insects:

It didn't take long for us to find another black bear, either. We stopped to watch an adult bear up on the hillside, and before long one cub emerged from the nearby trees. Then came a second cub, and a third! The cubs looked very small - I wonder how old they are? Probably 2-3 months old already, but still so tiny! They were certainly full of energy, running back and forth across the clearing, and were full of energy as they kept wrestling each other down the slope. Very cute:

Our lunch stop was at Bijoux Falls where I got a close enough look at this squirrel to identify it as a red squirrel, a species I haven't seen before:

We also got close looks at a flock of Steller's jays. These are one of my favorite northwest birds, and though we see them often near my parents house in Portland I haven't ever photographed them before. The ones we see in Oregon don't usually have that white eyebrow, which was cool to see:

In general we saw fewer birds today - by far less variety and less abundance. The one highlight was when we pulled over on a wide shoulder to switch drivers and heard an unfamiliar call. It took a bit to locate the bird, get good looks, and agree on the identification, but it ended up being my first life bird of the trip - a singing male Tennesee warbler (year bird #175, North American life bird #321)! Does anyone else find it odd that I had to go to British Columbia to see a Tennessee warbler?

The terrain again changed a lot today from flat farmlands to rolling hills blanketed in aspen trees to rocky mountains covered in spruce forests. Here's a picture of some of the highest mountains we saw today, still capped in snow, with Highway 97 winding its way between them:

It's pretty amazing to me that we've been driving all this way and didn't even reach the Alaska Highway proper until today! But we passed the Mile 0 marker in Dawson Creek and covered about 50 miles or so until reaching our destination city Fort St. John. Along the way we got to detour onto a small portion of the original Alaskan Highway, which was amazingly built in just over eight months in 1942. It took thousands of people to complete the road, which was intended as a supply route for use during World War II. In the years since the highway has been rebuilt, and while it follows closely to the original route it is a bit shorter since they straightened it out considerable. At the old portion we drove today, we got to see the only original bridge that is still in use - the Kiskatinaw wooden bridge at Milepost 20:


Costea Andrea Mihai said...

hello!! wonderful captures!! you have an excellent job!!I envy you :)) succes!!

Keith said...

WOW! Love all the pics. Keep 'em coming :)