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Tours for the Discerning Naturalist

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Trip Reports

Trip report Yukon June/July 2012

The Dempster never fails to amaze me as every trip is different from year to year and tour to tour. These are my observations from the two tours in June and July 2012.

Firstly, the weather was generally excellent on both tours, and the most critical day for weather is the Skagway-White Pass day and both tours had beautiful clear days. Secondly, the mosquitoes barely registered on either tour. Big bonus!

I have now traveled the Dempster 18 times and after all those trips you get a feel for what is unique or unusual. On the June tour this year I have never seen the cottongrass so spectacular. I have been trying to figure out why this was so......perhaps the peak was a few days late this year & we just happened to catch the peak? On the July tour the very obvious highlight was observing 16,000 caribou (and more arriving by the minute) on the Yukon-NWT border in the Richardson Mountains. In 17 previous trips I have observed less than 10 caribou (but fortunately 3 on the June trip). The Porcupine herd is not supposed to return to the Dempster until late August, but there were rumours of forest fires driving them south. Whatever the reason......we got lucky!

Other highlights from the June tour were the Dallís sheep ram posing on the rock pinnacle at K158 (truly a National Geographic moment!), and the animals that trotted across the sand dunes at the Carcross Desert. On the July tour we had great looks at the herd of sheep at the river at K180. Birdwise, we saw both Long-tailed Jaeger and Hawk Owl on the June tour (missed in July, despite scanning 18 million spruce tops!), but on the July tour all the right species popped up on schedule in the Richardsons: Willow Ptarmigan, Short-eared Owl, Whimbrel, Golden Plover & Lapland Longspur. I always spend time at the Gyrfalcon nest at K158 and on the return on the July tour we were blessed with two downy chicks in the nest being fed by an adult (must have been eggs in the nest on the June tour).

Other miscellaneous sightings/misses......both tours saw the beluga whales in the Mackenzie Delta (unusual), but there was an almost total absence of snowshoe hares this year (two in June, one in July). The hares experience massive population swings from abundant to scarce so this was obviously the bottom of their cycle.

On the June tour the Dempster was closed for a day the day after we finished driving it (lucky us!) because of forest fires. On the July tour we understood why the road was closed as the fire had burned right to the edge of the highway at about K320 on the Eagle Plains.

On the July tour we visited Diamond Tooth Gertieís in Dawson and as we walked home at 11.30 pm there was a rainshower in the vicinity which produced a brilliant double rainbow with its base squarely planted in Bonanza Creek, the site of the original discovery that triggered the Klondike Gold Rush!!!! You all know about the proverbial pot of gold at the base of the rainbow!

I was interested, as always, in the unscientific poll of your favourite spots on the tour. This always produces a wide variety of responses with the beauty of the Richardsons, the immensity of the Mackenzie Delta and its pingos, Top of the World Highway, the White Pass, and the Arctic wildflowers. Susan Fletcher highlighted one of my personal favourite spots of the tour.......the view from the tor beyond the microwave tower at K275. The magnificence and expansiveness of the 360 degree view with the ridges rolling away into misty solitudes are truly inspiring.   

Culturally, Tuktoyaktuk & Dawson City are popular, & Grandmaís burgers at Pelly Crossing, and those fabulous mattresses at the Gold Rush Inn in Whitehorse were all mentioned.

I had a personal epiphany at the Eagle Plains Lodge on the June tour. The lodge is situated virtually on the Arctic Circle and the moment of the solstice this year was at 10.09 PM PDT on 20th June. I was out walking the road after dinner at this time and I pondered that I was watching the exact moment of inertia when the sun finally turned back to the south again. Was I alone on the Earth in this endeavour? 

Thank you all for choosing the adventurous option of visiting the Yukon-Dempster this year. It is a very special part of our great land that few get to experience (and I always feel sad for those who turn around at Tombstone or the Arctic Circle!).

It's the great big, broad land 'way up yonder,
It's the forests where silence has lease;
It's the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It's the stillness that fills me with peace.
...from 'The Spell of the Yukon' by Robert Service

Tony Greenfield

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Updated November 10, 2012

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