“Get your motor runnin’… Head out on the highway… Looking for adventure… In whatever comes our way!!”
Steppenwolf may or may not have been describing our cross-Canada roadtrip when he wrote the Born to Be Wild lyrics, but even if he wasn’t they are totally appropriate. Ever since we bought our Ford Explorer in Vancouver at the beginning of May, Thom and I have spent plenty of time on the highway looking for adventure.
When I think of wildlife in Canada, bears are one the first to come to mind pretty quick for me. Growing up on the Atlantic coast, bears were pretty rare. I remember one day school being post-poned because a bear had wandered into the neigbourhood garbage, and we had to wait till it was shooed away before going to school. But that was the extent of my bear experiences.
Thom has been chief driver for the most part. I’ve taken a few turns at the wheel, but more often have been in charge of taking photos. At first I was happy to enjoy mountainous landscapes that are quite similar to New Zealand’s south island. Little did I know the challenges that would soon present themselves.
Even with all the warning signs along the road, I thought the chances of seeing anything would be slim to none. Soon we got a glimpse of the locals, and realised the signs weren’t just a tease after all.
Going on a bear hunt – unknowingly
Our sightings started with a last minute decision to turn down a side road towards Olympic Park, while en route to Whistler. Coming to the end of the road, all we found were barriers and a great big CLOSED FOR THE SEASON sign. I guess that made sense, being spring and all. Never the less, we were slightly disappointed, and made our way back to the main highway.
Until we saw a car in front of us stopped with their hazard lights on. It took a minute to figure out what they were up to, but then we saw for ourselves.
There, roaming around, enjoying the stillness and peacefully having some dinner was a bear! A brown bear that looked relatively small compared to what I’d envisioned in my mind, but still bigger than any bear that I’d want to come face to face with!
From the safety of the truck, I was able to roll down my window and snap photos of this beautiful beast, without disturbing him (or her) in his (or her) home. There were no chains between us, no enclosures, no captivity. I was so happy for the chance to be a guest in this little guy’s home.
I thought surely this was a one-off experience. Little did I know, 6 more would be feeding on the roadside at the same time we were driving by. My count is up to 2 brown bears and 5 black bears (and although I’m not any expert, I’m pretty sure none of them were Grizzly).
One Mountain Sheep, Many Mountain Sheep
The guy at the Jasper Visitor Center assured me that heading northeast towards Hinton, there would definitely be mountain sheep.
As we made our way along, sure enough we saw camper vans pulled over before spotting the large horns of the mountain sheep on the right hand side of the road.
Thom pulled over with the 4 way flashers on so I could take a picture, and then all of the sudden from across the road emerged a huge herd!
Since the road was close to the lake, and there was a slight bank leading down, we hadn’t even seen them coming until they were essentially right beside us.
It was a bit surreal, watching them roam in a herd.
The one on the left was dancing around in the grass, and another leading the pack came over and right in front me, started butting horns! It was crazy! As fast as the standoff had started, it was all over and they went their separate ways. But the rest of the herd took their time, and meandered in the middle of the road, eating something on the centre line.
The cars were good about stopping and going slow for them, but I guess patience began to wear thin for their grazing. Only one moron beeped his horn (honestly, that’s a good idea? Have you seen the horns on these things!?) but the rest of the cars were able to work their way around the 30 plus mums, dads, babies and other various family members.
We were in a National Park, and guests in their home. Manners and respect for these animals is completely necessary.
Back home in Nova Scotia, deer are generally abundant at dusk, and you don’t want to see them because they are notorious for darting in front of your car and doing a massive amount of damage.
In Jasper National Park, I was surprised by seeing a couple roaming around during the day. We minded our business and left them alone to go about their business, while they watched us out of the corner of their eye, and watched briefly through my camera lens. I have so been loving my 75-300mm zoom lens when it comes to animals!
The deer count grew by 2′s every so often, though I didn’t feel the need to photograph them every time. Let’s face it, most of the time, I got their backsides, and deer bums aren’t overly interesting.
Check out the rack on that one!
Driving back into Jasper at dusk, after visiting Justin and Lena and stocked up on some groceries and cheaper gas in Hinton, we met more cars pulled over with their hazard lights on – a clear indication that something cool was around. Then we spotted it, grazing on the other side of the road.
A massive body, shedding a winter coat and lifting a massive rack of horns atop its head every time it lifted to look around. At first I thought it was a elk and Thom thought it was a reindeer.
Regardless of what it was, we were both very excited to add this to the list. It wasn’t until spotting some signs later the next day and matching up the horn pattern that Thom figured out it was a caribou! Again, another beast I was glad was happy on the side of the road, rather than in the middle.
Roadside Wildlife Watching has been some of the best free fun in Canada we’ve come across so far. It’s an awesome surprise and completely fascinating to see them roaming free.
But as with any animal encounter, a bit of common sense is necessary. There are plenty of signs reminding you that these animals are in fact wild. It is unlawful to feed or approach them. And really, why would you want to?
If you are going to pull over, make sure you employ some common sense safe driving practices as well. Pull completely off the road in a safe spot, and put on your hazard lights.
Do not stop in the road! I’ve been in a car accident because someone slowed down in the road to look around. My friend Justin worked as a raft guide in Jasper and was telling me about how the roads would come to a standstill because there was a bear, while he was driving the bus.
While we and others may be completely enthralled with seeing these unique animals, I can’t help but think of the people who drive these roads regularly. Yes, Thom and I are on holiday, and pay little attention to the clock, but not everyone on the road has that luxury. Other people have places to be and things to do, so be considerate of other drivers.
The wildlife warnings are posted for a reason, your safety! So be sure to obey the posted speed limits advisories and be extra alert. constantly scanning for movement. After all, these animals are born to be wild, and it’s up to us to keep them that way