Caribou on the hoof

Driving back from our state B&B association convention in Homer, I got to see my first herd of caribou in the wild! I’ve gone up the Haul Road before in September, wanting to see the caribou migrating, whole hillsides covered with hundreds of the animals. On those trips, I’ve missed them, but now at the end of Sept. 2007 I got to see them just about a hundred miles from home.

I was just south of Soldotna last week and noticed something in a marshy field. I thought, bee hives? old wood pallets or junk? And just then I saw the flash of a butt jumping across the road in front of the car in front of me. Our two vehicles and the oncoming car were able to stop easily, and we all sat on the highway and watched as the last one leapt off to join the others. I’m not sure if what I saw qualifies as a herd. It was probably 14-16 animals total, about 3-4 bulls that I could make out. I see why I thought they looked like wood boxes—not only is their color grey-dun right now, but with their heads down grazing, they’re much more “square” from the side view than a moose is. A moose looks a lot more like a dark colored wine barrel on tall stilts from the side.

Something spooked the caribou, and they all sprang forward about 20 yards, then turned and looked. The moose in my yard don’t startle like that—they slowly raise their head from grazing and stare at whatever has entered their space, usually my husky Little Girl. The moose’s look says, “What? You think you’re gonna scare me? You’re just a little 50 pound dog!” It seemed the caribou bulls were on guard and gave the all clear to go back to browsing.

A car crested the hill behind us, coming our way, so it was time to get moving. The Sterling Highway to Homer is kind of busy, so we were only able to sit parked in the middle of the road for a few minutes. On my recent trip to Whitehorse (in the YT, Canada), the longest I went without seeing a car was 40 minutes as I drove there. That length of time is closing up. When I first drove the Alcan in 1996, it was still common to have one or two hours between seeing a next car.

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