Moose, marmots and bears, oh my!

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The wildlife of Alaska.

In contrast to New Zealand where the native wildlife consists almost entirely of birds, it is a bit of a change to spend some time in a part of the world where the wildlife is large enough to trample and/or eat you.

Our first tramping (hiking for non-Kiwis) trips into bear country were spent in a constant state of concern that we would encounter a bear, that would promptly eat us, before we could figure out how to use our bear spray.

After walking around in the wilds a bit, we began to feel concerned that we would not even see a bear at all. Caught in between wanting to see one in person and not wanting to get eaten by a hungry bear, the search was on. We were quite pleased when we spotted our first black bear on the side of the road from the safety of our vehicle. She was milling about with two cubs—bonus!

No photos though, there was an RV behind her in hot pursuit. (A very slow pursuit) So we thought she was having a rough enough day without us chasing her too. Besides, we were in ‘prime bear country’ surely we would see another.

…surely.

Nope, no more bears. Luckily.

Fortunately over the next few days we spotted a few moose to keep our spirits up. Including this one milling about at a campground we were staying at.

Stray moose

Oh and a few bald eagles.

We shared the plentiful marine life we spotted in an earlier blog post, so it isn’t like we’d missed out on seeing wildlife, we just really wanted to see more bears.

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But bears are not the only four-legged critters Alaska has on offer. The most entertainingly named critter we encountered was the hoary marmot.

Hoary Marmot

We got so used to not seeing bears that we completely forgot about the bear danger a few times. About 2 miles in to a 5 mile walk we spotted fresh bear prints and wistfully recalled the bear spray back in the car. We didn’t meet the maker of the prints though. Just some mosquitoes.

Heading up the Dalton Highway, we were informed we would see huge swarms of bears roaming the tundra.

We were even prepared for one, making a special effort to bring bear spray into the tent with us when camping at the Arctic Circle. No bears. Just more swarms of mosquitoes.

Bear spray and lantern

Although on the way back we spoke to the lady at the visitor’s centre for the Gates of The Arctic National Park and she informed us that a brown bear had been roaming about that campground the night after we stayed. He must have mis-read our itinerary, no wonder we were missing them all the time.

Finally, after a not very convincing start to wildlife spotting on the Dalton Highway. Just out of Deadhorse we managed to lock our eyeballs on to some caribou, not quite a bear, but a pretty special experience nonetheless. Watching as the caribou herd emerged from the roadside mist was one of the most memorable parts of our drive.

Caribou herd

That was until we sat and watched a mother bear teach her cub to hunt for food in the tundra around Deadhorse.

Grizzly and cub in the tundra
Finally! A grizzly bear!

As the weather cleared the wildlife emerged from hiding, eider ducks, geese, swans, Arctic terns.

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Some more caribou.

more caribou

Several Arctic ground squirrels.

Arctic ground squirrel

More mosquitoes.

And finally a black bear, right there at the rest stop.

Bear rest stop
Suddenly, I don’t need to use the bathroom, I’ll wait for the next one.
Black bear

With all the wildlife we saw along the Dalton Highway, we have to admit that by the time we were wildlife spotting in Denali, we didn’t even bother getting the camera out to photograph a bear and a moose in the distance. Although we did enjoy watching them traipse about doing moose-ey and bear-ey things for a bit.

I was more excited to catch a glimpse of a fox.

Red fox

Disappointingly, the wolves of Denali National Park remained elusive. It turns out that I’m no Bear Grylls and my attempts to track down the wolf attached to these prints was a complete failure.

Wolf prints

With the additional advice from Ben, that hungry wolves probably aren’t interested in a belly rub, I gave up and we settled for the company of more Arctic ground squirrels.

Although we think it wasn’t us, but our lunch that had captured their interest.

Squirrel lunch thief

The amazing thing about Alaska is that there are so many wild uninhabited places to visit, but sometimes you barely need to leave the highway to see some of the most impressive wildlife you could imagine.

Brown bear grazing
This chap was calmly grazing by the side of the road in Denali National Park.

We are pleased to report that we left Alaska having seen several bears, all from the safety of a vehicle. Not one of them tried to eat us, not even a little.

The tally of bears encountered while out walking remains at zero. Perhaps, with our knack for forgetting the bear spray this is a good thing.

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