Monday, July 20, 2009

Hungry Hill

The Bulkley River Valley

The Bulkley River is a major tributary of the Skeena River and is paralleled by Highway 16 in the region of Smithers. Despite the fact that its major tributary, the Morice River, is actually larger, the confluence was still called the Bulkley by Poudrier, a government cartographer who, it is rumored, never saw the region.

And for another piece of trivia, the inhabitants of Smithers are commonly called Smithereens.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ursus americanus kermodei

Dee and Cal missed seeing the Kermode bear (Ursus americanus kermodei)), which fascinatingly is a subspecies of the American Black Bear. They are neither albino nor related to polar bears, nor the "blond" brown bears of Alaska's "ABC Islands". This color variant is due to a unique recessive trait in their gene pool, and about 1/10th of their population have white or cream-colored coats. From what I can tell, they are found only in central British Columbia.

Because of their ghost-like appearance, "spirit bears" hold a prominent place in the Canadian First Nations/ American Indian mythology of the area. (See also Touching Spirit Bear.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

On the Road Again

After three weeks on the Alaska Maritime Highway System (ferry), Dee and Cal are on the road again, starting out with a bang, riding 91 miles to Terrace, BC. They are on BC-16, which is part of the Yellowhead route of the Trans-Canada Highway.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

B.C. Border Crossings

Another trivia question: how many times have Dee and Cal crossed a border into the province of British Columbia? By my count the number is seven (7), once from Alberta, five times from Yukon, and once from Alaska. They have crossed the border out of BC six (6) times: five times into the Yukon and once into Alaska. That makes a total of thirteen (13) BC border crossings so far. All this is assuming they made it off the ferry in the wee hours of this morning. The coverage map shows Verizon service right around the Prince Rupert area so hopefully we will hear something from them yet this evening.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Alaska's "First City"

The picture Dee posted of the entrance to Ketchican claims that it is "Alaska's 1st City." Yet Sitka claims that it is "The First City in Alaska." Which one is correct? Without going into the details of determining exactly when a given city is established, it is clear that Sitka is the older. Ketchican's history dates to 1883, while Sitka's history begins around 1800. How, then, can Ketchican claim to be Alaska's first city?

Well Ketchican calls itself "First City" simply because it is the first stop in Alaska for ferries and many cruise ships traveling north through the Inside Passage. Its vibrant native Alaskan heritage, scenic location, and picturesque hillside houses and staircases make it a popular destination for travelers. It is also known as the "Salmon Capital of the World."

Ketchican is situated on Revillagigedo Island, 90 miles (145 km) north of Prince Rupert, BC. It is separated from Gravina Island, where Ketchikan International Airport is located, by the Tongass Narrows. In August 2005 the 2005 Highway Bill provided for $223m to build the Gravina Island Bridge (nicknamed "the Bridge to Nowhere" by its critics) between Ketchikan and Gravina Island. The bridge would have connected the island of Ketchikan to Gravina island where the airport is located so you can drive to the airport rather than taking the ferry across the waters. After years of national and international ridicule over the expense of this project, the Alaska government ultimately chose not to build the bridge, and will spend the appropriated funds elsewhere.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ursa americanus

Way back on June 5, I wrote about grizzlies, and today it is time to look up black bears (Ursa americanus). I had been planning to do this for a while, and the trikers' visit yesterday to the AnAn Creek Wildlife Observatory in the Tongas National Forest provided the motivation to do it today.

Unlike the Grizzly, the American Black Bear has never been an endangered species. It is the most common bear species native to North America and lives through out much of the continent. Black bears are found in 41 states, including Arkansas. :-) Black bears are omnivores whose diet includes plants, meat, and insects. Their diet typically consists of about 10-15% animal matter. The black bear eats a wide variety of foods, mainly herbs, nuts and berries, but where available (as in Tongas) salmon is a favorite food.

Like many animals, black bears seldom attack unless cornered, threatened, or wounded. They are less likely to attack humans than Grizzly Bears and typically flee for cover as soon as they identify a human visitor. Deaths by Black Bear, though, are most often predatory, while the more numerous grizzly fatalities on humans are often defensive.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Wrangell Narrows

Although I can't find much information about it, the Wrangell Narrows fascinates me. It is so narrow (and shallow) that cruise ships cannot make the passage, and even the ferries have to pick the right time of the tide, which I am guessing is the reason Dee and Cal have to leave Petersburg at 3:00 am.

"Wrangell Narrows, 20 miles of narrow tidal waterway, separates Mitkof Island from its close neighbor Kupreanof Island. In some areas Wrangell Narrows is barely wide enough to accommodate the Alaska State ferries and does not allow for the passage of larger cruise ships. The "Narrows" is famous for it many navigational markers. With tides that can range from a high of 19 feet to a low of -4 feet in one day, the water often rushes through the Wrangell Narrows adding to the navigational challenges. (geography)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Megaptera novaeangliae

The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is one of the many marine mammals inhabiting Frederick Sound in the region of Petersburg.

"Of the estimated 6,000 humpback whales in the North Pacific, approximately 1,000 feed in Southeast Alaska during the summer. Nearly half of the Southeast Alaska feeding population, or approximately 500 whales, will enter the Frederick Sound area during the summer. They are after the very abundant herring and krill (shrimp-like crustaceans), which thrive in these waters. This makes Frederick Sound one of the best places in the world for observing the feeding behavior of humpback whales.

"Steller sea lions, harbor seals, Dall’s porpoise, and Orcas (killer whales) are also frequently seen. The area contains two major and several minor sea lion haul outs. Sea lions and humpback whales are often seen in the same feeding locations and interaction between these species is common. Harbor seals are seen both in the water and on the many rocky islets throughout the viewing area. A variety of sea birds is also present." (Petersburg)

"Found in oceans and seas around the world, humpback whales typically migrate up to 25,000 kilometres each year. Humpbacks feed only in summer, in polar waters, and migrate to tropical or sub-tropical waters to breed and give birth in the winter. During the winter, humpbacks fast and live off their fat reserves. The species' diet consists mostly of krill and small fish. Humpbacks have a diverse repertoire of feeding methods, including the bubble net feeding technique.

"Like other large whales, the humpback was and is a target for the whaling industry. Due to over-hunting, its population fell by an estimated 90% before a whaling moratorium was introduced in 1966. Stocks of the species have since partially recovered; however, entanglement in fishing gear, collisions with ships, and noise pollution also remain concerns. Once hunted to the brink of extinction, there are at least 80,000 humpback whales worldwide." (Wikipedia)