Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Caribou and Muskox Along Teller Road

 Alaska 2014 continued:

The ride back from Teller was a bit subdued, even with the sharing of all the goodies we'd gotten at the Native Store. I think we were all a bit shook up by it--I know I was. But our spirits were lifted when we came upon a herd of caribou near the road. We paused to watch, and I did my best to shoot through the tinted and rather muddy rear window.

Caribou along Teller Road.

The herd moved steadily along, seemingly unbothered by our presence.

Both male and female caribou have antlers, though in June they were all still in velvet. This male stood out from the others.

Not too much farther down the road, as got closer to Nome and the sky began to brighten somewhat, we spotted a pair of muskox. We had seen one briefly along Council Road the day before, but it was gone over a ridge before everyone in the van had seen it. These two were laying at the edge of the shrubs, probably chewing cud.

Muskox along Teller Road.

This time Bill let Ed and I out of the van so we could get some better pictures. While we were likely to see caribou when we moved back downstate, this would be the only place we would see muskox as they only inhabit the Seward Peninsula and points north.

I once had a dream, long ago when I was maybe 10 or 12, of running around our house and coming face to face with a muskox. I can see it as if I just dreamed it last night--that shaggy hair, and the broad expanse of horn across its forehead. I'm pretty sure at the time I didn't know what it was, though I must have seen a picture of one somewhere. I remember my shock when, several years later, I discovered it was a real animal.

We made a few more bird stops, then, with the city of Nome in view, we came across yet another, larger herd of muskox, this time with several calves among them. I was very lucky in all this that the animals were all on my side of the van.

Muskox calf near Nome.

According to Wikipedia, the muskox, along with bison and pronghorn, are survivors from the Pleistocene era, and may have survived the last ice age by finding ice-free areas where there were no people, or they may have been hunted to extinction. It also states that the population currently in Alaska was introduced, after being extirpated by hunters.

Muskox stand four to five feet tall. Females range from four to six feet long while males can reach eight feet in length. Both sexes have horns. They average around 600 pounds but can weigh as much as 900. Their coats are characterized by the long guard hairs, which blow dramatically in the tundra winds. Fabio, eat your heart out.

Such stately creatures they are. They eat grasses and pretty anything else they can find. They are known for their habit of forming defensive circles when threatened. This herd, which held maybe 10-12 individuals, did not exhibit that behavior.

Eventually they tired of our presence and began to move away, and so did we. But what a treat to be able to see them up close, and especially to see calves. I suspect there will be muskox art in my future.

Next: the birds of day two, Teller Road


  1. Hi Marie,
    I have so enjoyed visiting Alaska (vicariously) through your blog. All of the images -- from the rushing stream, to the train from no where, to the baby musk ox (cute!) make me want to go on a Safari as well. (Mine will probably have to take place in the state of Indiana this year.)
    (I know you from the Fourth Street Festival in Bloomington)

    1. Thanks Elizabeth! This trip was a dream come true for sure. You know, when I started writing this blog (2009?) I wasn't sure what direction it would take. What it's turned into is a chronicle of my travels. It's essentially a place for me to display my photography, which I don't sell at shows, but at the same time people who read it get some good info on places they might like to see themselves. I'm glad you're enjoying it!