07 Apr Cryptomooseology
Two summers ago, from July-August 2015, I was lucky enough to make a trip to my 50th state, Alaska! I traveled with one of my best friends and together we had an amazing time, climbing, paragliding, hiking, fishing, exploring, and searching for wildlife. We waded upstream with salmon, came a little too close to a grizzly bear, shared a cliff with a Dahl sheep, flew with a bald eagle, and watched sunsets with sand cranes. The one thing we did not do, however, was meander with a Moose! 😉
One of our biggest hopes for the trip, was to see moose, yet despite miles and hours of exploring the wilderness, we had no such luck. Upon coming home, people seemed to find this hilarious. Suddenly it seemed that all of our friends and family had had close encounters of the moose kind and they couldn’t believe we hadn’t seen one, even from a distance. And in the two years since, that fact has become an inside joke that just won’t quit.
There have been moose birthday cakes, moose themed Christmas presents, a new nickname of moosey, and a string of text messages and pictures from friends, who seemed to see moose wherever they went.
It was infuriating! Haha. And something had to change!
Luckily, I was granted a very special opportunity to head back to Alaska this March-April to visit Micah, who was working up there for 10 weeks. I would be spending the majority of my time in a remote town called McCarthy, and I was certain that out there, in the vast wilderness, I’d see plenty of Moose! I packed all the essentials – paraglider, climbing shoes, and a moosecot for luck – and set out on a mission to hunt down that wily creature!
For nine days, McCarthy Alaska delivered just about every beautiful and amazing adventure I could possibly imagine. From midnight snow machine rides, to cross country skiing, climbing boulders in the snow, exploring ice caves, crossing frozen rivers, marveling at glaciers, and flying over frozen lakes, every day was full of new adventure and stunning sights.
Every night I went to sleep thinking just how lucky I was to be on this trip, experiencing so many incredible things. And every morning I leaped out of bed thinking, today is the day! Today I would find that moose!
And damned if I didn’t try! As Micah was working, I spent most days on my own, hiking or skiing out into the wilderness. I visited watering holes, searched out open spaces known for moose sightings, and found and followed fresh tracks. I constantly had a camera slung over my neck, and a thought in my mind to leap behind the nearest tree if a moose should charge. And every evening, once Micah was off work, we’d jump on snow machines and travel for miles, trying to distinguish the lumbering shape of a moose from the shadowy trees and dusky sky.
But nine days in McCarthy, much too quickly slipped away, with no sign of a moose! We had spotted hares and lynxes, and even made friends with some goats, but the moose remained elusive! Though I was disheartened, all hope was not yet lost. It was time for me to say goodbye to Micah and McCarthy, and embark on the second leg of my trip, visiting friends back in Anchorage.
Anchorage is home to some 1,500 moose, so I held out hope that I’d at least see one of them! Unfortunately, weather in Anchorage had taken a turn for the worse, and after two snowy, sleety, moose-less days in the city, one of my friends suggested we escape the weather with a spontaneous trip to Denali. Well, I wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to explore another new-to-me area of Alaska, so early on a Saturday morning we set out for a whirlwind weekend in Denali.
And what a great weekend it was! I got to join in on a fierce game of broomball, sleep in a cabin, snow machine 30 miles through a flurry in search of a paraglider launch, tour Denali park, and run a sled dog team! One of my biggest childhood dreams was to race sled dogs, so running a team through the Alaskan wilderness was such a special opportunity for me! I really couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my trip…unless of course, it had involved safely seeing a moose from the back of my sled! Lol.
Because just like that, it was Sunday evening, my two weeks in Alaska were up, and my friend and I were on the road from Denali to Anchorage, trying to get me to the airport in time for my flight that night. I spent nearly the entire car ride with my eyes trained out the window, my gaze flitting back and forth from one side of the road to the other, desperate to spot one of these mythological creatures that everybody else seemed to see everywhere. But four hours dwindled away faster than I thought possible, and pretty soon we were maddeningly close to Anchorage. I think it was within the last hour that I finally gave up hope, slumping back in my seat, not in frustration, but in pure amusement. How was it possible that this trip to Alaska would end without me seeing a moose…again?!
Even my friend couldn’t believe it. He could hardly remember a day when he hadn’t seen a moose, and just the past weekend had seen 15 on this exact same drive! We were laughing about my obvious moose curse…when suddenly…I saw it! An unmistakable dark shape lounging on the ground between two trees near the side of the road.
“STOP! STOP!!!” I screamed. Without hesitating, my friend squealed the truck to a stop, then whipped a U-turn across the empty highway. But the grating sound of the rumble strips scared the moose away and all we saw was the flash of its haunches as it disappeared into the forest.
But at that moment, the curse was effectively broken! I had officially seen a moose butt! 😉 And wow, once the curse was broken, well it was really broken! We set off again and within just a few minutes had seen two more moose, and then two more after that, and then a group of three. In total, 10 moose emerged from the trees on the last leg of that drive back to Anchorage. They were even more beautiful than I had imagined and I forced my friend to pull the car over every single time so I could take pictures. We stayed in the car and never got too close as to seem threatening, but it was close enough that several of the moose slowly turned to look my way. I kind of like to think they were saying goodbye, giving me the perfect ending to a perfect trip! 🙂
Please enjoy some of my favorite photos from the trip, posted below. And if you have any questions or would like information about visiting Anchorage, Denali, or McCarthy, please feel free to contact me! I’d love to hear from you!