Trip Report - NW North America (Long)

Old Aug 23rd, 2009, 06:31 PM
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Trip Report - NW North America (Long)

In July and August, 2009, I made a six-week road trip through much of the northwest portion of North America. 10,900 miles later, I’m home again.

I have long wanted to make a trip such as this. Given my advancing age and some recent health problems, I have no idea how much longer I’ll be able to travel, so, I decided now was the time to do it.

In brief, the trip covered an almost straight line from my home north of Las Vegas through Bryce Canyon, the Salt Lake City mountains, Yellowstone, and into Canada. From there, I traveled my favorite part of the Canadian Rockies – the Icefield Parkway. From Jasper, I went north and west to spend a few days photographing bears around Hyder, AK. After that, I went on north and west through British Columbia and The Yukon Territory, and into south central Alaska. I spent a little over a week in the Anchorage and Kenai Peninsula areas and then backtracked down the Alaska Hwy, the Cassier Hwy, and the Yellowhead Hwy before heading south again at Prince George. I made a visit on Vancouver island then continued down the coast through Washington, Oregon, and northern California before turning east and heading home again.

It was a wonderful trip, not counting a little bad weather and some forest fire smoke at times. I visited friends and relatives along the way, saw many new places, and enjoyed re-visiting some of my favorite places from the past.

In the next few segments, I’ll give you a bit more expanded description of the various segments and try to highlight a few special occurrences.

I’ve also taken a huge bunch of photographs. Once I get them culled and processed, I’ll post some of them for anyone who might be interested.
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Old Aug 23rd, 2009, 07:38 PM
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I would be interested in your pictures! That must have been an incredible trip, six weeks on the road -wow. We have visited many of the wonderful places you mentioned but never Alaska, although it is on our wish list. Did you blog or keep a travel journal? How long did it take to plan this trip? I assume you used Fodors.com for much of it? Looking forward to reading more and seeing your pictures!
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Old Aug 23rd, 2009, 07:49 PM
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The photos will be a few days. I have over 1,000 and it takes me some time to down load them to my cumputer (done), cull them (partially done) and then process them.

I keep both a photo log and a trip journal. Unfortunately, just before I left, my trusty(?) old laptop went to computer heaven so I was reduced to journaling by hand in a notebook. That journal is what I am using to create this travel report.

I started planning in March or April, just after I found out schedule conflicts would prevent me from attending a get-together on Vancouver Island in May. My planning would drive most people crazy - I know it did my ex-wife. I lay out a general plan but keep it very non-specific so I can change it on the fly if needed or if the mood strikes me. I get hotel or B&B reservations in places where I need to be on specific days but most nights, I have no reservations. That way, I can stop early or continue later. I have done that for the 40 years and almost never have a problem finding a last minute place to stay. That's especially true now with the down economy.

I am familair with much of the area already but I did pay a lot of attention to trip reports and other posts on Fodors and the other forum.
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Old Aug 23rd, 2009, 07:54 PM
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First Leg - Home to the Canadian border:

I’m fortunate to have my children living fairly close so I see them and the grandkids fairly often. Still, I can’t see them enough so my first two stops were in Cedar City, Utah and at Bryce Canyon. Between the two, I traveled across Cedar Mountain, past Cedar Breaks, on down the mountain past Panguitch Lake and into Red Canyon. There are more beautiful settings in the world but not many.

I am going to devote a later segment of this report to all the wildlife I saw during the trip but on this short little leg, I saw deer, pronghorn antelope chukars, and wild turkeys.

After nice visits, I headed north to my surrogate daughter and her family in the mountains NE of Salt Lake City. If you’re ever travel north along I-15 toward SLC, the route through Provo Canyon and the Heber Valley is wonderful. After that visit, it was non-stop to Yellowstone.

As always, Yellowstone is a wonderful place. It is highly scenic and has a wide variety of wildlife. I won’t bore you with all the details but every time I visit, it is magic.

I also visited and had dinner with friends in Henry’s Lake, ID and made the trip across the Bear Tooth Mountains to Red Lodge. I did not get photos that do justice to the Bear Tooths, primarily due to low overcasts and dull light but also because it is almost impossible to capture all that grandeur in print photography.

I then headed north for an uneventful trip into Canada, crossing the border at Sweetgrass, Montana.

A word about border crossings: During this trip, I crossed Canadian checkpoints five times and United States three. In all cases, the border officials were polite, sometimes genial. In only one case did the formalities take longer than 45 seconds, once I reached the official. Crossing on the ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles, US Customs and Immigration is done at the ferry dock in Victoria. The way they have it organized is that a Customs Officer checks your vehicle and then sends you to a building for the immigration screening. In neither case, did that take longer than 30 seconds, however, when I got to immigration, there was a line and that took about 15 minutes before I got to the screener. I know others have described problems with US or Canadian border officials but I had no problems and no unreasonable delays at all.
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Old Aug 24th, 2009, 08:32 AM
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Canadian border to Hyder, Alaska

After crossing the border, I made a quick stop in Fort MacLeod and ATM’d a pocketful of Canadian currency, then on to Calgary for lunch and a much needed car wash. The trip from Shelby across the border and through this part of Alberta has a subdued beauty. Mostly, it is rolling prairie with prosperous looking farms. I especially enjoyed many of the farms raising a beautiful yellow flowered plant which I think may have been mustard. Passing through acres and acres of brilliant yellow shimmering in the sun was very peaceful.

I spent the night in Canmore, AB, just a few miles down the road from Banff. The Econolodge there is not what you might picture when you hear the word. It is more a nice hotel of about 3 stars and I recommend it.

That evening, I took my first gravel road of the trip and photographed several scenic lakes and a gathering of Mountain Goats.

The next day, I headed into the Canadian Rockies. In my opinion, the front range of the Canadian Rockies is much more impressive than in the US. For one thing, they come on you suddenly, unlike the Colorado plains where you can see them for 100 miles. They are also much more jagged and craggy which, to my mind, makes them more appealing.

One drawback of even a long trip like this one is that I could not spend a lot of time visiting everywhere I would have liked. So, Banff and Lake Louise got only a passing review as I headed to the Icefields Parkway, one of my two or three favorite areas in the world. I’ve been there only twice – once in winter (early October) and this trip and have decided I like it better in winter. If I had seen it in summer the first time, I would have been mightily impressed but a mantle of snow on the ground and snow covered crags makes it even more impressive.

Driving into Jasper, I saw a man competing for a Darwin Award. My attention was drawn to him because he was standing in front of a house with his camera raised for no apparent reason. As I drew even with him, I saw a very large bull elk in a small side yard, grazing on the lawn. The elk had the house on one side of him, and a sturdy fence behind and to the other side of him. Our hero was taking his photograph blocking the animal’s only avenue of escape and so close he would not have had time to react if the bull had charged.

I stayed the night at the Hotel Athabasca in the center of Jasper. This would not be everyone’s choice with its small rooms and no elevator but it is one of the original old grand hotels on the rail line and, at least to me, has a lot of character.

One stop not to be missed in Jasper is the Bear Claw Bakery. It makes the best baked goods I have ever had and it will also prepare scrumptious sandwiches for your hikes or drives.

Traveling up the Yellowhead Hwy and then the Cassier, I took all of one day and half the next to reach Hyder. By this time, I was going into scenic overload. When I lived in Hawaii, we had a slightly sardonic saying recognizing the wonderful weather: “Oh well, just another day in Paradise”). The same could apply to the scenery on this trip. From the time I entered Utah until I returned to Nevada six weeks later, I was constantly in scenery that people from other places plan for years to visit. I was able to recognize that freshly each day but by the end of the day spent driving in constantly evolving beauty, I was a little jaded by it.
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Old Aug 25th, 2009, 06:17 AM
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This is a wonderful report of what must have been a trip of a lifetime. Thank you for taking time to post. I am taking notes for a trip to Canada we hope to take in the near future.

>>>I stayed the night at the Hotel Athabasca in the center of Jasper.
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Old Aug 25th, 2009, 07:26 AM
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Thnak you for your kind words. I worry it is getting too long to hold people's attention.

The Athabasca is in the center of "downtown" Jasper so it's within walking distance to most of the shops and restaurants in the area. There's not much of a view from any of the rooms except that rooms in the front on the east side look down on the town square which often has herds of elk grazing. If you want better views, you need to stay at some of the lodges just at the edge or outside of town.

It has also been my experience you are likely to see considerably more and better looking wildlife in late Autumn or early winter than in mid-summer.
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Old Aug 25th, 2009, 07:40 AM
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Hyder, Alaska

The end of the road: “A place where, when you get there, the only place you can go is back”. When Tom Bodett wrote the book, he was describing Homer, Alaska but he could just as well have been talking about Hyder. Hyder is so much at the end of the road it is the only place I know where crossing from Canada into the United States on the established road system does not involve Customs and Immigration inspections.

Hyder has much more to recommend it. It is bear country! In my opinion, it is the best place on the North American road system to reliably see and photograph a variety of bears during the salmon spawning season. I was there for four days in mid-July and was able to photograph both blacks and grizzlies from fairly close but relatively safe locations each day.

Hyder is a quaint little town of dirt roads and only 97 year-round residents, originally established as a mining town. At the end of Canada’s Hwy 37A, it and the neighboring town of Stewart, BC sit astride the US/Canadian border at the end of the Portland Canal, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean. While mining is still practiced in the area, the primary support for Hyder is now tourism and the tourists are lured by bears – lots and lots of bears.

This year, the salmon run had not yet fully developed so the bears were not yet as thick on the ground as they can be. Still, on this trip, I saw and photographed at least four different animals and saw at least two more I could not get a camera onto in time. When I visited the previous time, in mid-August, the creek was filled with salmon and there were dozens of bears, both at the forest service viewing area and all around town, even on the porch of my motel cabin.

The US forest Service has established a viewing area along a 200 yard stretch of Fish Creek, north of Hyder. In this area, the creek is cold, clear, swift, and shallow, running across a stream bed of gravel and small rocks – the perfect place for salmon to spawn. That spawn rings the dinner bell for bears. The viewing platform is elevated about 20 feet above the creek and has railings to discourage human-bear intimate encounters. The rangers are all also equipped with bear spray if needed. Anyone who can’t get good bear photos here has to get better equipment because the setting is perfect.

Hyder has other attractions. At the back of town, in a converted old-time school bus, the Seafood Express serves the best halibut fish and chips I have ever eaten. Diana, the owner and chief cook operates it and her husband catches the halibut and salmon she serves. He also operates a seafood supply company that will ship fish to you anywhere in the world.

Another attraction is Salmon Glacier, a huge two-armed glacier running down the mountains and into a valley, ending on the Salmon River. It is one of the most impressive glaciers I’ve seen and a person can get close enough to it on the roads to make really startling photographs. Unfortunately, the morning I headed out to see it, the road had collapsed into the river a mile or so from Fish Creek and it was unreachable except by a (for me) very long and strenuous hike.

Too soon, my time in Hyder ended and it was time to head farther north.
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Old Aug 25th, 2009, 07:52 AM
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The Canadian Rockies really draw you in...hard to explain, but they are just so amazing. We have been several times and still look forward to going back. I am really enjoying this, thank you Definitely not the usual trip report!
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Old Aug 25th, 2009, 04:45 PM
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No worries about keeping our attention. I love reading trip reports and seeing the different things people emphasize.

Love your description of the Darwin Awards candidate.
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Old Aug 26th, 2009, 09:10 AM
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The Yukon and So Central Alaska

My next two days were spent in concentrated driving. Coming back out the Stewart cut-off, I headed north on the Cassier Hwy. The Cassier is a remote 465 mile long 2 lane highway through a highly scenic area of British Columbia. Some areas of it have still not been paved but it appears whoever does such things is about to. There are two stretches south of Dease Lake that are still gravel – one about 5 miles and the other about 12 miles. North of Dease Lake, there is a stretch of about 20 miles and then, just before you reach the junction with the Alaska Hwy, there is another short stretch of intermittent gravel and pavement. It is, however, all easily driveable.

Entering Yukon Territory, I bought my second most expensive tank of gas on the trip at $3.97/gal. The most expensive was at Rancheria, YT coming back. Gas there was $4.07/gal, both for regular grade fuel. On average, fuel prices were $.75 to $1.00 more per gallon in Canada than in the US. Including all the fuel I purchased in Canada, overall cost for the trip was $3.20/gal.

I headed north on the Alaska Hwy and spent the night in Whitehorse, YT. The beauty along this stretch is more subtle than the Cassier or farther north. The peaks are always visible but usually further away and colors are more subdued. Dropped into the middle of it, it would be a wonderful place. It’s just in comparison to what is north and south of it that it does not impress quite as much.

Headed north again, I found as I had in the past, that the northern part of the Yukon has much more roller coaster roads than either BC or Alaska. I think it has to do with frost heaves on the tundra but even though the speed limits are normally in the 50 mph range, that’s too fast unless you want to spend a fair amount of your drive airborne. There is a 20 mile stretch of the Hwy south of Desolation Bay that is also gravel but that promises to be short lived. While I came through, they were at work and I could see paving machines standing by.

Crossing into Alaska, I headed into Glenallen for the night. My mother always told me if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. So, I won’t tell you about the Caribou Inn in Glenallen. Suffice it to say that, after checking in, I decided to continue my trip and drove into Wasilla.

I’m getting tired of writing it and you’re probably getting tired of reading it so just assume that the landscape I passed through was superb, scenic, wonderful, glorious, and awe inspiring unless I tell you otherwise. It’s a little trite to write too many gushing superlatives but almost all the northwest corner of the continent lends itself to that.

The next two days were spent visiting friends living on a lake about 60 miles north of Anchorage. I was fed well and enjoyed the visit with these friends and friends of theirs in true Alaskan hospitality.

Another three days were spent in Homer. My “motel” is situated on the crest of the hill just as you make the curve coming into Homer with a 180 degree view of Homer, Kachemak Bay, and the mountains and glaciers of the lower Kenai Peninsula. For those of you who have seen it, you will understand. For those who haven’t, there are no words sufficient to describe it. The motel I stayed in, the Bay View Inn, reminds me of a 1930’s motor court but it has “The View”.

Weather on this trip was much as it was for my trip last year – chilly, overcast, occasionally rainy, and with little color for good photographs. Nevertheless, I put a lot of images on my camera’s memory card of that view and of other Homer sights.

I had planned three days in Seward but the weather did not cooperate. Rains were so heavy there was considerable flooding in and around Seward and the Alaska Troopers were saying that the Seward Hwy might have to be closed at any time. So, I headed for Anchorage instead.

On the way, I stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Although it has some of the attributes, it is not a zoo. Animals that cannot survive on their own in the wild (too young, injured, etc) are brought here for care. Those that can be are rehabilitated and released back into the wild. Those that cannot are able to live out their lives in relative comfort. Tourists are welcome because they provide a much needed source of revenue to support the conservation efforts.

Animal enclosures are huge and, unlike in zoos, it is quite easy to get photos that do not emphasize the animal’s captivity. I was able to photograph one species (caribou) up close and personal that I had only ever seen from a great distance in the wild. Others I had seen closer but was still able to get closer photographs than I had previously. It is worth a visit and, if you’re inclined that way, your financial support.

The balance of my time in the Anchorage area I spent sight-seeing, shopping for family gifts, visiting Hatcher Pass twice (another string of superlatives are in order here) and getting my car washed and the oil changed in preparation for my return trip south.

I was disappointed to find that my favorite place in Alaska for blueberry pancakes, the Bird Creek Cafe on the Seward Hwy, has closed. By accident, I found a place even better. Leaving Anchorage, I stopped for breakfast at Peggy's Cafe across the street from Merrill Field airport. The pancakes there are huge and fluffy and filled with juicy and tasty blueberrys. As a bonus, the waitresses make everyone feel like an old friend.
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Old Aug 27th, 2009, 10:45 AM
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Haines and Skagway

The trip south was more of the same. Nice scenery, some bumpy roads, and long drives. After a night in Beaver Creek, YT, I drove south into Haines.

I had been to Haines in the past but only by ferry so the drive down the Haines cut-off was new to me and did not disappoint. Part of the way is through Mountain passes and other parts parallel the Chilkat River.

Haines is one of my favorite of the SE Alaska ports for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it is another place on the road system where one can normally find and photograph bears and eagles during the summer. Second, although it is a cruise port, most of the large ships cannot stop here, making the town much less crowded than the larger ports.

I was in Haines for 2 ½ days and was able to see and photograph bears and eagles each day. They frequently come to the mouth of the Chilkoot River at the south end of Chilkoot Lake and there is a state park there that allows people to get close enough for photographs without strenuous hikes. While I was there I saw only one grizzly and it had a radio collar but I saw it several times. The ranger told me there was also a black bear with two cubs that came to that spot but I did not see them while I was there.

At the end of the last day, I caught the Alaska ferry to Skagway for an overnight stay. I’ve been there before and I simply did not have enough time to stay longer, though I would have liked to. The next morning, I headed out to continue my southbound trip.

Note: The Chilkat and Chilkoot rivers are two separate places, not my spelling variations of the same word.
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Old Aug 27th, 2009, 04:15 PM
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dwooddon, sorry if I missed this, but did you used to live in Alaska? Or simply spend a lot of time there previously? It seems like you are visiting places you a returning to, like old friends. It sounds like a great journey.
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Old Aug 27th, 2009, 04:42 PM
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No, I never lived there although if my grandchildren weren't a factor, I would. I've been visiting various parts of Alaska almost every year since the early 90's. I also flew in and out of there several times when I was in the Air Force. Before the jet age, it was our primarily refueling spot on the way from the west coast to Japan which was our jumping off spot for other Asian destinations.

It was a great journey and, if my health holds up, I'll go again next year.
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Old Aug 27th, 2009, 06:15 PM
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Love your report. Still can't imagine how freeing it must be to have 6 weeks on the road.

If you don't mind me asking, why would you choose to live in AK if you could? Your post said your home town is north of Vegas, so that would be quite a difference in climate. Again, sorry if too nosey but am genuinely curious. Others suffering through long winters each year like we do might also be curious.
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Old Aug 27th, 2009, 08:08 PM
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Several reasons - first, over the past several years my photographic interests have become focused (if you'll pardon the pun) on wildlife and nature photography. I don't know of anywhere better to pursue that.

I also love the area. Mile for mile, I don't think there's a more scenic place in the country.

Just I am able to travel to get away from the heat of summer here, I'd plan on traveling a fair amount to escape the cold and dark of the Alaskan winter.

I might get up there and turn out to hate it but, if it weren't so far from my kids and grandkids, I'd sure like to find out.
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Old Aug 27th, 2009, 08:10 PM
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There will be a short delay in the rest of the chapters. I have to be out of town for a couple of days but I'll finish this as soon as I can.
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Old Aug 30th, 2009, 09:42 AM
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Skagway to Vancouver Island

The three days it took me to reach the island were long and I made few stops except for fuel and food. The drive from Skagway to the Alaska Hwy, down to the Cassier Hwy, south along the Cassier to the Yellowhead then southeast to Prince George were (insert your own scenery hyperbole here). Continuing south, the area around the Fraser River Gorge and Lillooet were especially scenic except for some dense fire smoke around Lillooet.

I arrived at Horseshoe Bay in mid afternoon and had to wait two hours for the next ferry. After a smooth crossing, I spent the next two days touring the mid-section of Vancouver Island, both east and west. I drove out to Port Alberni and then to Ucluelet and Tofino. I’ve heard many raves about Tofino but it is not my kind of place. The next day, I drove up the coast to Campbell River and out across the island to Gold River through Strathcona National Park. That is a seriously scenic route and I enjoyed my short visit to Gold River before heading back.

The next two days were spent in the Victoria area, visiting a forum friend and being generally touristy. I was also able to get a number of good photographs of water birds at a small lagoon close to Victoria. I enjoyed a very nice B&B west of Victoria (more of which later), had a wonderful visit and was well fed in the process, and then took the MV Coho across to Port Angeles, WA.
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Old Aug 30th, 2009, 10:15 AM
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Port Angeles to home

The ferry arrived in Port Angeles just after noon, we were soon debarked, and I headed west then south along US-101 in the Olympic National Park. This is another area where my schedule did not permit more than passing views and I would have liked to spend more time here. I continued south, arriving in Long Beach, WA in early evening. The town is a quirky and interesting little coastal community and the beach is miles of white sand and driftwood, backed by a fifty yard strand of sea grasses. Here and in Oregon, I would have liked to have gotten more coastal photos but the sometimes rainy, always hazy weather did not provide very good light.

The next morning, I continued south, stopping along the way for coastal views and anything else that caught my eye. I arrived in Newport, OR, and met friends who had driven over from Salem to visit. We toured more of the coast and then had a very nice dinner in Cannon Beach (unfortunately, I did not make note of the resort name and can’t remember it). That afternoon I got some inadequate photos of whales and some distant shots of sea lions.

The next day, I continued down the Oregon Coast to California, through the Humboldt Redwood forests and on down the Coast to Fort Bragg. I then made a stop at Clearlake for a two day visit with my ex-wife and her husband (we’re a strange, strange family). They share my interest in photography and are avid birders so we spent a considerable part of the time visiting areas around Clearlake where various species are to be found. The best place I found, however, was their deck. They have a superb elevated view of Clearlake and have purposefully set up their yard and feeders to attract wildlife. From the deck, I saw and photographed deer, hummingbirds in the hundreds, orioles, oak titmouse, crows, scrub jays, turkey vultures, eagles, and an osprey.

After leaving them, I headed to Lake Tahoe just for the views and then back into the desert for the long drive home. After spending six weeks in verdant greenery and in moderate temperatures from the low 50's to the mid 70's, my arrival back into the stark landscapes and high heat was a shock to my system for a bit.

This ends the geographic part of my report. I’ll write a couple of segments describing wildlife seen and food and lodging that was out of the ordinary. I’ll also add a link when I get some of my photos up on the web.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the report as much as I enjoyed living it and then writing about it.
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Old Aug 30th, 2009, 11:45 AM
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Wildlife and birds

During my trip, I saw huge numbers of animals and birds and photographed many of them. Most were in the wild, a few in rehabilitation centers. Alphabetical lists of my sightings are shown below. I’ve tried to be specific as to species but there were a number where I was not close enough or got enough detail to identify the specific species within a family. It is also not beyond the realm of possibility that I may have mis-identified an animal or bird in which case, I hope more knowledgeable observers will correct me.

Wildlife in the wild: Black bears, caribou, Coho salmon, cotton tail rabbits, coyotes, gray whales, grizzly bears, halibut, harbor seals, humpback whales, jack rabbits, moose, mountain goats, mountain sheep, mule deer, plains bison, pronghorn antelope, Rocky Mountain elk, Roosevelt elk, sea lions, sockeye salmon, turtles, and white tailed deer.

Birds in the wild: Anna’s hummingbirds, bald eagles, Bonaparte’s gulls, California quail, Canadian geese, double crested cormorant, Gambel’s quail, great blue herons, grouse, hawks, LBB’s (little brown birds), mute swans, puffins, ravens, rofous hummingbirds, snowy egrets, trumpeter swans, turkeys, western gulls, white faced ibis, white pelican, and yellow warbler.

Wildlife and birds in rehab centers: Bald eagle, caribou, grizzly bears, moose, musk ox, Rocky Mountain elk, and wood bison.
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