Muskies and Bears

Solomon Travel Blog

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Council camp
 

A light rain tapping the WeatherPort tent muffled out the morning start-up of the generator. Jenny, the camp cook, fires the diesel engine around 4:30 to energize the kitchen tent and begin preparing breakfast for twenty. I usually wake up around six o'clock when camp begins to stir with chatter and activity. But in this unseasonably cold summer, the warmth of my extra-wide, flannel-lined sleeping bag and the small oil-burning Geo-stove made for a nice sleep -- too nice because I didn't wake up until nearly eight o'clock. My plan for a leisure, hearty camp breakfast before heading back to Nome was suddenly abandoned for a scramble to gulp a cup of coffee, grab a fistful of granola bars, pack my sleeping bag, and attempt a record-breaking drive to get the rented Ford SUV turned-in by 10:00 a.

Small musk-ox herd on Skookum Pass
m. Around quarter past eight, I put the pedal to the metal.

 

The narrow, curvy track was muddy and slick following the Fox River allowing no leisure time for the habitual scanning for wildlife. I sped by the area where I had spotted grizzlies on the last trip with barely a glance. The road turns to flattened gray gravel ascending the hills toward Skookum Pass. Its curves become wider allowing for greater speed and I was able to hit 60 mph on some stretches. It was on one such high-speed, valley curve that I spotted the musk-oxen.

 

What to do? I was pressed for time and had already seen those beasts at a much closer distance at the White Alice Site outside Nome.

Grizzly along the Solomon
But here they were, another small herd huddled high on Skookum Pass. I cursed the critters for not being around on any of my previous trips when I had plenty of time to stop and observe them. I finally let the Ford coast to a gradual stop right on the road. The pick-up truck that I had passed was already miles behind, probably still slinging mud. A bitter cold wind nearly blew me into the valley as I stood outside to zoom in on them. After a couple of quick photos which hardly seemed worth the effort by lacking sharpness, I resumed my speed and cranked up the heater.

 

Racing down the coastal side of the hills, I glanced at my pocket watch to see that I should reach Nome by ten. Then where the road arced to intercept the east fork of the Solomon River, I reckoned speed allowed for the element of surprise as I spotted a grizzly on the opposite bank.

Another bear
Without hesitation I pulled to a stop. The bear quickly scrambled toward hill-side willows. While I watched its movement, another appeared from behind a shallow bluff to follow. I couldn't quite tell if they were cubs or adults - they appeared slightly bigger, and darker, than those I had seen last week on the Fox. The bluff blocked any view to see if there were others. The two were scattered at a safe distance and in an obvious retreating mode, but time prevented walking down there. My Alaska wildlife spotting was finally on a roll. Maybe they all knew that it was my last drive out here and just wanted to let me know that they had been around all the while.

 

 

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Council camp
Council camp
Small musk-ox herd on Skookum Pass
Small musk-ox herd on Skookum Pass
Grizzly along the Solomon
Grizzly along the Solomon
Another bear
Another bear
Heading for high ground
Heading for high ground
Waiting for a cub
Waiting for a cub
Musk-ox herd
Musk-ox herd
Sleepers and the kitchen
Sleepers and the kitchen
Camp kitchen
Camp kitchen
Rock samples
Rock samples
The kitchen tent
The kitchen tent
Burn barrels and the generator
Burn barrels and the generator
Solomon
photo by: rotorhead85