Category Archives: wildlife

Yellowstone South Loop and Grand Teton

Location: Island Park, ID -> Yellowstone/Tetons -> Jackson, Wyoming

Good news: we slept in later than we had the previous mornings. Bad news: we still beat our alarms.  But waking up early allowed us to get a head start on the day, and just like our first full day in Yellowstone we needed as much time as we could get. Overall the park felt a little busier than Sunday.

As soon as we made it into Yellowstone we made a beeline for the geyser basins and started with the Firehole Lake Drive. We coincidentally arrived about a minute before the eruption of the Great Fountain Geyser. It was perhaps one of the more interesting eruptions we had seen (in Yellowstone, New Zealand, or Iceland), owing to how the water sprayed and spread out around the crater and flowed down natural terraces that previous eruptions had created over time.

Fountain Geyser
Fountain Geyser Steps

Next we went on a two mile hike along the Fairy Falls trail. Luckily we got there just before the crowds arrived. This hidden-in-plain-sight side trail goes up a hill that overlooks the Midway Geyser basin.  In the cool morning, the trail gave us a great view of the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring reflecting off the steam. The trail itself ended atop a hill which gave an overhead view of the iconic landmark.

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring steam reflections

Grand Prismatic Hot Spring

We made a quick rest stop at Old Faithful, and was coincidentally there to see it erupt again. But no pics this time. We then drove across the park and had lunch at Lake Village, before driving north again to see Sulphur Canyon. They weren’t kidding around when they named that location. The sulfur was so overpowering that it stung our eyes. But it didn’t seem to bother the bison relaxing in between bubbling sulfur pools.

Sulphur Spring
The stench of sulfur clearly didn’t bother this relaxed bison.

Our last scenic stop at the park was at the Mud Volcano, where we saw the Dragon’s Mouth.

Mud Volcano
Dragon’s Mouth

We also passed the Great Continental Divide while driving in this part of the park.  A Continental Divide is a drainage divide on a continent. The Great Continental Divide is  series of mountain ridges stretching from Alaska to Mexico, marking the separation of drainage basins that empty into the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans.

At this point, we had spent most of the day in Yellowstone and had one more park to visit. So we drove south and exited the park. We had a short and uneventful drive on the John Rockfeller Memorial Parkway before entering Grand Teton National Park.

The Tetons are renowned for the iconic views of its distinctive mountains and excellent mountain hiking trails.  The park was much more crowded than Yellowstone, and Ryan suspects that a lot of the other visitors were there in part because of the eclipse yesterday. But we aren’t exactly known for our mountain climbing skills so this wasn’t a good fit for us. Sadly, it was the middle-late afternoon and hazy so we couldn’t get many good photos of the mountains.

But we did managed to get a few photos of the mountains and take a short hike near Jenny Lake and the Laurence Rockefeller Preserve.

We also saw the shrinking Teton glacier from the distance.

Teton Glacier

We left Grand Teton in the early evening and made our way into Jackson. It was supposed to be a short drive, but we got caught in the afternoon rush hour. After checking into the hotel (yay internet, air conditioning, comfortable bed!) we walked around the artsy and expensive downtown Jackson and had dinner.

Tomorrow we visit Fossil Butte National Monument, Fort Bridger State Park (for the Oregon Trail nostalgia), and finish in Vernal, Utah with Dinosaur National Monument.

Total national park passport stamps: 8

Total times Ryan checked the weather: 0

Total steps: 13,418

Total miles driven: 226

Osprey we saw in Yellowstone today

Yellowstone National Park North Loop

Location: Yellowstone National Park

We’re still on east coast time so we woke up before sunrise this morning. Rather than trying to squeeze in a few more minutes of sleep, we elected to get the day started earlier than planned. We spent the day exploring the nothern end of Yellowstone National Park, and we needed every bit of the extra time.

Many people were thinking that the park was going to be extra busy today due to all of the eclipse tourists, with predictions of 3x-4x above normal. With a couple exceptions we didn’t have to wait long to find parking at the various sites, nor did we ever feel crowded when hiking around.

Our day began with a stop at Gibbon Falls, Beryl Spring, and Monument Geyser Basin. But our first real experience hiking and seeing the geothermal sites was at the Artists Paintpots. There we saw steam vents and bubbling mud pits.

Beryl Spring
Overlook of the Artist Paintpots
Bubbling mud pit

But we spent most the morning at the Norris Geyser Basin. We couldn’t spend all day here so we had to choose between a hike of the Porcelain Basin to see its many hot springs, lakes and pools. Or take a longer ~2 mi hike of the back basin to see its many geysers. We decided on the back basin. Some of the geyser we saw included Steamboat, Puff ‘n stuff, Minute, and Echunis.

Steamboat Geyser
Cistern Geyser
Green Dragon Spring
Echinus Geyser
Overflow from Steamboat
Minute Geyser

Our next stop took us to Roaring Mountain

Roaring Mountain

and the Mammoth Hot Springs.

From there we proceeded east into the park making our way past Tower Junction and into the Lamar Valley. Prior to entering the valley Ryan lamented about the lack of bison (and other wildlife) we have seen today. But that quickly changed as soon as we started driving through along the road through the valley. We saw dozens of bison, many of which we grazing very close to the road.

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A buck, not happy that humans are so close.

and even an osprey.

Two Osprey

For Rachel, the highlight of the day came when we got to see the Yellowstone Canyon and Waterfall. Parking and signage here was tight near the entrance so we took the first spot we could find and walked along the northern rim trail to various vantage points along the canyon. We’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Yellowstone Canyon – A basalt layer can be seen at the top as well as various ash layers (blueish-gray color).

Yellowstone Falls

We still had daylight to spare, so we went back west across the park and a bit south to visit more geysers at the lower and midway geysers basins. The most spectacular of which included the Excelsior Geyser Crater and Grand Prismatic Hot Spring.

Sputtering Geyser
Crater of Excelsior Geyser
A preview of a better picture of Grand Prismatic Hot Spring. Come back on Tuesday for a better view.

Finally, with little daylight to spare we exited the park, saw a few more mule deer by the river, and had dinner in West Yellowstone.

Young mule deer

Tomorrow we are going to watch the total eclipse in Rigby, Idaho. Yay totality!

Total steps: 24,132

Total geological formations visited: a lot!

Total times Ryan checked the weather for tomorrow: 4+ occasions of checking various weather predictions (we had no connectivity in the park).

Total national park passport stamps: 7

Total miles driven: 211

Bonus: Our first wildlife encounter of the day

Golden Spike and Geysers

Location: Salt Lake City, UT – Island Park, ID

Last night began our Eclipse and National Park trip. On Monday we plan on seeing a total eclipse in Idaho and through the week we will be visiting various national parks (Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Arches, etc).

Last night we flew into Salt Lake City, UT. This morning we picked up our rental car and drove north towards Idaho.

We made a short detour on our drive north to visit Golden Spike National Historic Site. This is site where the intercontinental railroad was completed connecting the east and west coast. Ryan as a child loved trains and always wanted to visit this site. He even brought along his train engineer hat. Rachel had no objection to the detour and it made Ryan happy. Yay trains!

The site where the intercontinental railroad was completed connecting the east and west coast.

Ryan in a train.

Then we got back on the road towards Idaho. After 3+ hours, we arrived at our home for the next 2 nights in Island Park, ID. While driving, we noticed other eclipse heading north towards the path of totality. One RV even has a sign ‘Totality or Bust.’

We didn’t spend much time at the hotel and quickly headed towards Yellowstone National Park for our first of many visits.

First wildlife spotting: Mule Deer

Our plan was to visit Old Faithful today to avoid the big crowds expected tomorrow. We arrived just in time and didn’t have to wait long for Old Faithful to do its thing.

Old Faithful
Old Faithful

Coincidentally, Rachel had a camp friend also in the area whom we met at Old Faithful and had drinks and dinner to catch up.  We also watched another eruption of Old Faithful from the Inn.
After a nice dinner, we made our way back to the hotel.

Old Faithful from the Old Faithful Inn
Old Faithful from the Old Faithful Inn

Tomorrow is an early as we plan to do the northern loop of Yellowstone. Rachel is very excited for all of the geology! Yay hot springs, geysers, and rocks!!

Total steps: 8,441

Total Miles Driven: 487 miles

Total States: 4 (Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming)

Total National Park Stamps: 4

Total times Ryan obsessed over the weather forecast for Monday: 10-15 (significantly less than usual since he has been driving all day)

Costa Rica Rainforest

Location: Limon, Costa Rica

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Today we made port in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. This was another port that we were really looking forward to visiting, because today we were going to explore a real tropical rain forest. No, Tijuca didn’t really count. This was a full day tour, we were one of the first people to leave the ship and one of the last to get back on board.

Our excursion started off with a river cruise through the Tortuguero Canals. We were told beforehand that this would be our best opportunity to see wildlife that day, due in part to it being early in the day, near water, and relatively out in the open. We spent about an hour cruising through the canals. During this time we were able to see…

…howler monkeys…

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…a two toed sloth…

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…an active three toed sloth…

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…cayman…

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…crocodiles…

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…various birds…

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Kingfisher
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Green-backed Heron
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Cormorant

… and more!

Green Basilisk
Green Basilisk
Bats (very small bats)
Bats (very small bats)

Following the river cruise we drove about 2 hours inland toward the mountains. It was here that we spent time at a private reserve near a national park. We started our tour there on a nature hike where we saw carpenter ants, bullet ants and:

toucans

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and an anteater.

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We had an authentic Costa Rican lunch with lots of yummy foods. It poured during lunch time. But luckily it cleared up in time for our tree top gondola ride.

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A naturalist guide joined us in the gondola as we cruised through the rain forest both near the forest floor and a hundred feet up at the tree tops.

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We returned to the ship just before last call. In the evening we saw Mark Preston of The Lettermen.

Tomorrow is our third day at sea. We plan to accomplish nothing.

Number of primates: 2, howler monkey and human

Number of pilose: 3 (anteater, two toed and three toed sloths)

Free purell squirts: 9

Total steps: 8,299

 

Klondike Countdown

As always, we prepared a summary post for our mega trip, and we meant to post it several months ago in June, but we forgot.

So in anticipation of our next trip (a few days from now), here are some of the highlights from our 17 day-5 night Alaska/Northwest Trip.


W5260129_editedTop Five

  1. Kenai Fjords Cruise
  2. Seattle
  3. Calving of the Hubbard Glacier
  4. Barrow, Alaska
  5. BEARS! and BEARS!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADistances

  • By water: 1,770 nmi
  • By air: 8,279 mi
  • By rental car: 850 mi
  • By tour bus: ~300mi
  • Total steps (via fitbit): 130,276
  • By walking: 53.5 mi
  • Total distance traveled: approx 20,420 miles

For reference the circumference of the Earth is 24,901 mi

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Calving of the Hubbard Glacier

Travel

  • Total watercraft: 4
  • Total aircraft: 6 (on 7 flights)
  • Total hotels: 4
  • Total buses/vans: 15
  • Total lightrail: 2
  • Total Monorail: 1

Geography

  • Total Countries: 2 (US, Canada)
  • Total States and Equivalent 6 (Maryland, Washington, Alaska, Yukon Territory, British Columbia, Texas)
  • Total Continents: 1 (North America)
  • Total Oceans: 2 (North Pacific, Arctic)
  • Total Hemispheres: 1 (NW)
  • Total Timezones: 5 (EDT, PDT, AKDT, CDT)
  • Highest Elevation: ~3700 ft (in Denali National Park)
  • Lowest Elevation: Sea level
  • Farthest point west: near Barrow, AK (156°49′ W)
  • Farthest point north: below Point Barrow (71°21′26″ N)
Whale bone arch
Whale bone arch in Barrow, AK

Wildlife

  • Bears: 2 (Grizzly, Black)
  • Pinnepeds: 3 (stellar sea lion, river otter, sea otter, harbor seal)
  • Puffins: 2 (horned, tufted)
  • Whales: 3 (humpback, beluga,
  • Dolphins (Dall’s porpoise, orca, harbor porpoise)
  • Eagles, 2 (bald, golden)
  • Miscellaneous: goats, reindeer, moose, cormorant, murre, snow owl

 

W5300331_editedPhotography

  • Total pictures taken: 3,658
  • Total selfies: 41
  • Total video taken: 44
  • Total souvenir photos received: 2

Miscellaneous

  • Total national park passport cancellations stamps: 13
  • Total Starbucks white chocolate mocha frappuccinos: 4
  • Total frosty fruity beverages purchased: 0
  • Maximum kp: 1.33
  • Maximum kp during the “nighttime” : 0.67
  • Total days: 17
  • Total nights: 5
  • Total Aquaria: 3

Join us again next week when we go on another Caribbean cruise, this time taking us to South and Central America, exploring rainforests and ruins, and a transit through the Panama Canal.

Last Day in Vancouver

Today was our last day in Vancouver and the last day of our Pacific Northwest/Alaska mega trip. Unlike previous mega trips, we didn’t wait until the morning of the last day to pack and balance weights in our bags. We mostly accomplished that last night. But that didn’t stop Ryan from neurotically waking us up early to finish the task.

Afterwards we went to the meet friends at the Vancouver Aquarium. Holly and family have frequented the aquarium often and guided us through the exhibits in the right order to get the most out of our visit.

We started at the manta ray touch pool. Some of the rays were comfortable getting near human hands, some were more skittish and would flap away. And sometimes, an over-excited ray would flap away near/at the surface of the water and splash people nearby. Rachel was one of those lucky people… and she got soaked!

Next we saw a short show featuring a rescued pacific white sided dolphin and false killer whale.

False killer whale
False killer whale
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An energetic pacific white sided dolphin

No aquarium visit would be complete without Rachel trying to photograph jellyfish. She got a few great images including:

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Ryan got to see his favorite aquarium staple: penguins. The Vancouver Aquarium featured several endangered african penguins.

Next we stopped for lunch and got good seats for the beluga whale show. We got to see a pair of these last week in the Turnagain Arm, but we were going to fast to get decent pictures. We had much better luck today.

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Belugas are very bulbous whales, so they didn’t perform the usual tricks one might expect from their more lithe dolphin cousins. But they did like to spit water (not hitting Rachel), and do a tail splash (which did splash Rachel) 🙂

Other highlights from the aquarium include sea otters and lots of local fish that go great with bagels and cream cheese.

Very cute
Very cute

After the aquarium we walked around Stanley Park. This large urban park has wooded areas that feature how the landscape looked prior to European settlement.  Some of the highlights here include a totem pole garden.

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And great views of the city and ocean.

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If you look closely, you can see the Infinity docked.

We spent the rest of the day exploring the park and city centre. Presently we are at the Vancouver airport, about to begin our journey home.

Today’s weather: High 77, Low 61, Sunny

Sunrise: 5:09am, Sunset: We’re watching ‘breathtaking’ one right now

Total steps (as of typing): 12,607

Up Above Vancouver

The weather was absolutely beautiful today, so we decided to go up into the mountains to get a great view of the city and surrounding area.

We decided to go to Grouse Mountain, largely because we don’t have a rental car, and they offered a free shuttle to get to the mountain and there was enough to do there that it worth the travel time. On our way to the shuttle we stopped by the harbour again to see the Eight Bit Orca.

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and the 2010 Olympic cauldron.

One can have the flame tuned on for special events for the low price of Ca$5,000/4 hr
One can have the flame tuned on for special events for the low price of Ca$5,000/4 hr

There are two ways to get to the top of the mountain. The first is the Grouse Grind, (1.8 mi and 2,800′ vertical) climb over 2830 stairs. The record time to the top is 25’01”. The other option is the aerial tram. We took the tram and made it up in less than 25 min.

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At the top we were treated to great views of the Vancouver area.

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Mt Baker (Washington, USA) in the distance reaching a modest 10,781 ft.
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Greater Vancouver, from 10 miles away and ~3500′ up

There were many shows and exhibitions up at the top of the mountain. Including a large bear habitat.

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And a raptor show

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Rachel loves her good zoom lens!

Tomorrow we meet some friends at the Vancouver Aquarium and explore some of Stanley Park. Tomorrow is also the last day of the trip. We begin flying back late tomorrow night.

Today’s weather: High 75, Low 55, Sunny

Sunrise: 5:09am Sunset 9:12pm

Total Steps: 13,148

Totem Poles of Ketchikan

Location: Ketchikan, Alaska

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Today we we made port in Ketchikan, Alaska’s first city. We didn’t have an excursions booked so we took it easy again today and did a self guided city tour.

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Ketchikan has more totem poles than anywhere else in the world. The city has erected new totems in its many small parks and relocated older totems from abandoned towns into the area. There are convenient walking trails that one can follow to see the newer totems.

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We followed one of those trails to the Totem Heritage Center, because Ryan. There we saw exhibits on Tlingit culture and older totems poles kept indoors to prolong their lives.

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We actually didn’t see any an eagles during our walk through the city, which was a little disappointing. If we were here next month we would have plenty along the creeks during the salmon runs. We did however get to see a few later in the day as the ship was leaving port.

Eagles along the shoreline
Eagles along the shoreline
Golden eagle in flight
Golden eagle in flight

In the evening we saw the second production show, “The Piano Man”. It featured music from Billy Joel, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and others. Rachel enjoyed it.

Tomorrow is an “at sea day” with no scenic cruising on the agenda. We plan to take it easy tomorrow doing relaxing cruise ship stuff.

Today’s weather: High 53, Low 45, Rain

Sunrise: 4:26am, Sunset 9:33pm

Total Totem Poles seen: 33

Total Steps: 8,220

Icy Strait Point

Location: Icy Strait Point (Hoonah, Alaska)

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Today we made port in Icy Strait Point near Hoonah, Alaska. Much like Labadee, Haiti or Cococay, Bahamas, this is an artificial cruise ship stop complete with a “world’s largest zip line” adjacent to the pier. But unlike the other two, it is not exclusive to Royal Caribbean and is owned by Huna Totem Corp, the local native Alaskan corporation. All of the excursions were through that company, and most were (expensive) repeats of similar excursions we’ve seen or done earlier in the trip. As a result, we took the “day off”, by sleeping in and exploring the local area at our own leisure.

We explored the cruise stop a little bit during midday. They had a pretty decent museum nearby which discussed the history of SE Alaska fishing, canning, gold rushes, and general information on Alaskan flora and fauna. There was a lot of good stuff there and it would have been quite useful to known earlier in the trip, rather than coming near the very end.

After the museum, we went out on the nearby nature trail. It was about a half mile loop that went through a evergreen rainforest and along the shoreline. The trees in the forest were very tall and dense that it was quite dark walking the path.

Have we entered the Mirkwood?
Have we entered the Mirkwood?

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There were lots of bald eagles in the trees along the coastline. We finally got some decent eagle shots. But still not the desired cluster of eagles pictures, we’ll try again tomorrow.

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We think this is a juvenile bald eagle. If you know better, please let us know.

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Fly Eagle! Fly!
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The eagle has landed!

On the way back to the ship we got to see a sea lion stalk and ultimately eat a salmon. The newly build pier made taking this and some eagle shots much easier.

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Tonight was the second formal night of the cruise. We each had two lobsters.

Tomorrow we make port in Ketchikan. We don’t have any tours booked yet. Most of what was being offered was a more expensive version of things we’ve already done this trip. We’ll get off the boat early tomorrow and try to book something locally that looks interesting.

Today’s weather: High 57, Low 43, Cloudy

Sunrise: 4:09am, Sunset 9:52pm

Total pinnipeds seen: 2

Total eagles seen: 7

Total Steps 8,738 (Rachel)

 

 

Yukon Do It

“But under it all they were men, penetrating the land of desolation and mockery and silence, puny adventurers bent on colossal adventure, pitting themselves against the might of a world as remote and alien and pulseless as the abysses of space. ”
― Jack London, The Call of the Wild

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Location: Skagway, Alaska and Carcross, Yukon Territory

We made port this morning in the historic Alaskan port town of Skagway. This was one of the major ports of entry into Alaska (and the nearby Yukon Territory) during the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s. Would be miners would make port here, expecting that gold was nearby, only to discover that they had to go another 150 miles north to Dawson City, Yukon. But first they’d have to get themselves, and 2,000 pounds of Canadian required gear over the nearby mountains. On foot! Some people overused animal labor to aid the passage. They had two paths, the longer White Pass, and the Chilkoot Trail. These long hard journey’s became the basis for a couple Jack London novels.

Today we explored the White Pass, because it’s where the road (and railway) is located. Unlike the rest of the Alaskan Inner Passage, Skagway is connected to the rest of North America via roads. Our guide today was James of Chilkoot Charters, someone who comes in from Arizona for the tourist season.  He provided excellent background and narration during the tour.

We started the tour by going up the White Pass, stopping occasionally for pictures of waterfalls and other scenic shots. Initially, conditions were foggy and rainy/snowy which made for bad pictures.

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But sure enough, as soon as we crossed the border in British Columbia, Canada, the sun came out, and the rain and wind stopped. This made for much better pictures. No one lived on the road we traveled upon and we rarely saw other vehicles. So we stopped at many of the scenic overlooks along the way, being treated to raw natural beauty.

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We weren’t in British Columbia for long. We soon entered the Yukon Territory.

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It was also a beautiful day for seeing wildlife. Apparently, black bears love to eat dandelions. So we were on the lookout for bears along the drive. Luckily we encountered a mother and two young cubs. She was mostly focused on eating flowers.

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While the cubs we focused on rolling down hills, climbing trees, generally being cute to humans and annoyance to mommy.

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We soon made it to the small Canadian town of Carcross. This was another major stop for gold rushers back in the day. After making it over the mountains, the miners would construct boats nearby  to transport their gear and paddle along the many lakes and rivers until they made it to Dawson.

Carcross
Carcross

Today, its a tourist stop. Our major stop here was the Caribou Crossing Trading Post. We had lunch there, explored the Mountie and Taxidermy Museum, and got to play with huskie puppies!

Puppies!

Puppies!

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We also stopped by to visit the Carcross Desert, the smallest desert in the world, only 1 sq mi in size. It’s not a true desert because it’s too humid. The sand dunes were deposited by glaciers during the last glacial period.

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We also stopped by to view the nearby Emerald Lake.

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On our way back to the ship, we were treated with seeing a different black bear and cubs eating along the side of the road.

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In the evening we attended the premier showing of “City of Dreams” put on by the ship’s singers and dancers. It was an entertaining production show, with amazing choreography and great singing. It included a lot of music, from pop to broadway. And Ryan was surprised and delighted to hear the Diva Plavalaguna live.

Tomorrow we make port in Icy Strait, Alaska. We don’t have any excursions booked here, so we’ll just walk the nature trail on our own.

Today’s weather High 58, Low 43, Partly Sunny

Sunrise: 4:48am, Sunset 11:05pm

Total Countries: 2, US and Canada

Total States equivalent: 3, Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon Terrirorty

Total Steps: 9,209

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