On a high from our Tuktoyaktuk adventures, Karen and I decided to seize the daynight and we departed Inuvik, NWT at 7pm to travel the 766km dirt road south to Dawson City, YT. We had our full 26-litre gas can, spare tires, food, water, and eager desire to revisit our university days and pull a true all-nighter.
The road took us from the flatlands of the Mackenzie Delta into rolling Richardson Mountains and thoughtful vistas. Fields of snowy cottongrass bordered the rise of tundra foothills hosting summer golden grasses and orange lichen outcrops.The standing sun honeys exposed soil, burnishes rock outcrops and highlights the pools of lichen.
A few north-bound trucks and pick-ups had passed us early in the evening but by the Arctic Circle rest stop, we’d been road-alone for hours. By 1am we arrived in Eagle Plains. The motel and humming transport trucks slept while our little hatchback drank up our emergency fuel.
Throughout the Yukon, we’d read bear warnings at trailheads, outhouses, gas stations, and rest stops. Motorcyclists taking the Dempster had reported being chased by grizzlies. Even in Inuvik, residents warned us off hiking the parks and hillsides because of encroaching bears. While we’d had black bear encounters through each province, we were wondering if all the grizzly hoopla was just territorial hype.
Uh. Nope. Wrong.
By 1 am we saw our first –heavy deep brown fur traversing the eastern tundra rise, his shadow fattening behind him. Speed-rambling, he paused over dwarf shrubs of green arctic willow to snout the air. By 2:30 am, we stopped again to watch and film a hunt as another bounded up and down trying to grab her prey (likely hoary marmot or Arctic ground squirrel). Later, yet another Yukon blond was gorging on wildflowers alongside our car.
In all, that overnight drive under bright blue sky and steady sun gifted us 7 grizzly sightings, owl, golden eagle, ravens, dall sheep, porcupine, snowshoe hares, Arctic ground squirrels, loon, merganser, and, at 6am, a lone moose swimming in Two Moose Lake about 100 km from the end of the road.
The next day we tried to set camp in the southern Yukon to find that tents were barred from the campground because the high protein, grizzly-loving soapberries were in bloom. We photographed the warning sign with said plant and then slept by the roadside, bear spray by our heads.