Friday, May 21, 2010

Alaska Expedition 2010 - Day 8

Double G Service – Muncho Lake: I got up first. Had no idea what time it was, so I washed up and headed out for some coffee. Lois had told us that Jack makes breakfast. Coffee at 6am, and breakfast starts after 7am. So, I went to the restaurant and saw Jack. He told me that the place had originally been built by an engineer in the 1940’s who had helped put in the Alaska Highway. At that time there were about 35 families that lived just S of where we were now. The Double G was an Esso dealer and was eventually sold to Earl and his wife. They ran the business for about 8 years until their kids left, and that’s when Jack and his brother (the two G’s) bought the place. Jack’s been through 3 wives – and not proud of it – but it’s a hard place for women to exist. I thought to myself - I would love it here. I asked him if it was the solitude, or the harsh climate that made his wives leave and he said it was a combination of both. Again, I knew I’d love it here. I liked Jack. He is an intelligent, down to earth, hard working man with a great sense of humor. He said the north had aged him about 15 years. Some years are good and some are bad, but overall, it’s been a good life. After mile 103 you are off the power grid, so everyone in the north country has a generator. It costs Jack about $5000/mo to generate the power he needs. The lodge up the road uses about $12,000 worth.

• I started to munch on my left over cinnamon roll from The Sherpherd’s Inn and Jack told me that he makes a cinnamon bun too. I put mine away and asked him for his. He plucked this LOAF of cinnamon bread out of the freezer, put it in the microwave, put a slab of butter on a plate next to it and handed it to me. It was heaven. No icing, just cinnamon roll. Dave came in so I offered the remaining ¾ of it to him. Jack said he had to go check the weather and asked Dave if he wanted to go with him. Four times a day he monitors a weather station and emails it to the Canadian Weather Service. Dave ate about 1/ 4 of the cinnamon roll and gave the remaining ½ to Rafael. Jack made us eggs, bacon and HOMEMADE hashbrowns for breakfast. I don’t remember ever having homemade hashbrowns before. I watched him peel and shred the potatoes. He even burnt the bacon for me! We checked our email from the café – he does have wireless – and sent Katlyn a Happy Birthday note.

• We hit the road at about 8:30am heading for Teslin. As we drove past the spot at the lake where we had walked the previous day, water was rushing into the lake from crevices in the mountainside. It must have rained in the mountains last night causing snow to melt. The water in the lake was an electric blue-green color in some spots that was just breathtaking. The Hwy is quite curvy here – the most we’ve seen so far on our trip. There is a steady light rain falling now and the temperature is about 44F. As we drive north, Rafael and I look out our windows on constant vigil for wildlife and Dave, old Eagle-eye watches from the driver’s seat. He saw another dark-phased Red-tail, and stopped suddenly and said “those are pipits”. Flipped a u-ey and sure enough a small flock of about 20 pipits were on the side of the road.

Mile 474 - Laird Springs – Laird River There is a flashing sign that says “bison next 130 km”.

Mile 511 – Just before The Coal River Bridge, we saw a huge Woodland Bison grazing on the side of the Hwy. There are less than 250 of them remaining in the wild. We’d seen piles of Bison poop all along the Hwy, but this was our first sighting.

 It’s now 44F and raining pretty steadily. About a mile past the bridge we saw another male grazing on the East side of the Hwy. No females. Dave thinks they are in their birthing season and probably deep in the woods under cover.

About ½ mile further up the road I was able to video a black bear walking along the east side of the Hwy.  I can't seem to get the video to upload here so, I'll put it on my facebook page.
Mile 528 – 4 Bison walking along the east side of the highway (right side). 11:01am and 42F Rain is coming down pretty good now. When we open our windows to take pictures we get soaked. Dave measured them up against the truck and it looks like the hood of the truck is midway up the height of the bison’s shoulder. It is really easy to keep a journal of our trip because I can plug the laptop into the power converter connected to the cigarette lighter. I have been able to download photos from the camera directly to an external harddrive. Then in the evening I upload my notes and photos to the blog website.

Mile 561 – Sign that says “Welcome to the Yukon”. Another bison grazing on the side of the road.
Watson Lake Stopped for gas at Campground Services – diesel $113.9/L and a potty break. At the Downtown RV Park, we pulled into the Wye Lake parking lot and scanned the lake for birds. A few Herring Gulls were floating on the rain drenched lake, and that’s about it. No wonder! It’s miserable! We drive a little further along, maybe a ¼ mile to the visitor’s center where the Watson Lake Signpost Forest surrounds the information building.

What a riot! Signs and license plates from all over the world are nailed to posts 15 feet high. Walking through the maze of posts is like walking through a forest of signs. Too funny. Wish the weather was better, but it is really cold and rainy and I’d rather go inside a look for field guides. Once inside, I found Dave and Rafael gathering informational booklets from the receptionist. She offers Dave and hammer and a few nails and he runs out, grabs the AREI license plate off the front of the truck and nails it to one of the posts!

We’re now a part of Yukon history. We walk through the signpost forest and find a sign that says “Oxford, Ohio – Home of Miami University”! How funny is that?!

• We stop at Kathy’s Café for lunch and I must say, it is true that for every 1 female we’ve seen at least 10 men. Fluffy would be in heaven. I send her a quick text saying, “It’s raining men!”, but I get an error message and it doesn’t go through.

• We cruise Watson Lake looking for grouse, but all we get are Chippies, Yellow-rumps, and Orange-crowned and a couple of juncos (not sure which ones yet). Again, the rain makes it impossible to see anything on the lake - 39F now. Reluctantly, we get back on the Hwy and head toward Teslin.

• Just past the Liard River bridge and the Albert Creek bridge is a sign for the Albert Creek Bird Observatory.

We turn in, hoping that Ted Murphy-Kelly, the station manager would be around – even though the weather is miserable. Down a muddy lane with ruts that make the Excursion bottom out (twice!) we finally arrive at the banding station nestled in a watery marsh. To our good fortune, he’s there working on the boardwalk and we get to visit with him and hear about all the great birds he gets.

Generally, Ted runs 23 nets, and has a staff of volunteers that help him. Neotropical migration has just begun, and we got good looks at Myrtle, Wilson and Orange-crowned Warblers and a Northern Waterthrush. The first bird I saw was a Song Sparrow, which Ted says is new for the station this year. I sure hope we can stop by on our way south in August and spend more time with him and his staff. He’s a neat guy and has a really beautiful location that begs to be explored.

Mile 742 Swan Lake Rest Area. The rain has stopped and it is 45F. It’s 5:40pm. What a beautiful lake.

There is a mountain, Simpson Peak, that is the remnant of a Mesozoic undersea volcano. It overlooks Swan Lake.

About a mile down the road Rafael caught a glimpse of a black fox walking along the bushes. It had a white tip to its tail. I flipped a u-ey, but couldn’t find it again.

Yukon Motel & Wildlife Museum – Got in around 6:38pm.

All the rooms were full, and when Dave went to register, they had our name and asked us how much we had been quoted. I pulled up Dave’s sheet with all of his contacts, and saw that it was $110. The young man at the counter looked surprised. He said that the cabins usually rent for $210/night. He called a manager on the phone, and after a few minutes offered to give us the cabin for $135. We are in Cabin #1.

We drove around the museum , past a low building with rooms 15, 16 & 17 and past a couple of other small cabins with no numbers. Directly in front of us was the lake and this GIGANTIC brand new log cabin. It was #1. I was stunned. There had to be a mistake. I took the key, walked up to the door and knocked – afraid that this was someone else’s cabin. No answer. The key fit, and I turned the lock and opened the door.

We walked into the most beautiful log cabin I have ever seen. I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe this was our room for the night. It was a fully furnished home with a great room (livingroom with sofas and flat screen TV, dining room with large table and 6 chairs and china cabinet), kitchen, bedroom, bath and laundry room on the first floor, and a loft large enough for 2 double beds and 2 recliners. You could have fit 2 more double beds up there and still had plenty of room for a couple of desks and dressers. The place even had a washer and dryer! It took me a good ½ hr to accept the fact that this was our cabin and that we were staying here for the night. It was such a contrast to the Double G at Muncho Lake.

• We grabbed 3 beers from the cooler and toasted our good fortune and soaked in the beauty of the location. Dave was immediately drawn to the large picture windows overlooking the lake, set up the scope and found Surf Scoters, Green & Blue Wing Teal, Greater and Lesser Scaup, Common and Barrow’s Goldeneye, American Golden and Semipalmated Plover, Short-billed Dowitcher and lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper and a Bald Eagle.

There were violet green, bank, cliff and barn swallows everywhere. His list goes on and on..

 I on the other hand was still in shock at the overwhelming beauty of the cabin and the views of the lake that all I could do was just “be”. I felt giddy after my Warsteiner Dunkel, and suggested that we walk to the restaurant and get some supper.

• Rafael and I ordered Fish& Chips and Dave had a beef dip sandwich. The salad was delicious. Dark leaf lettuce that hit the spot. After dinner, we wandered over to the museum and gift shop where the most beautiful taxidermy work I’ve ever seen was on display. There were moose, caibou, willow ptarmigan, wolf, fox, snowy owl, great grey owl and more that I can’t remember. They also had a nice assortment of polartec and fleece vests and jackets, jewelry and carvings.

• After dinner I worked on the Queen City Bird Festival report until my eyes burned from fatigue. We hit the rack at 10:30pm – exhausted, warm and totally happy.

1 comment:

KK said...

I would have been one of Jack's X-wives - good story.
What a beautiful cabin! I can't picture where you are in the Yukon. I'll have to check a map.