As we rafted and hiked the mountains, we began to see small bands of caribou, up to a dozen animals at a time. This was encouraging,
but we hoped to see caribou by the tens of thousands. .It is not practical to raft all the way to the ocean, and so we completed the
last part of our odyssey, about 20 miles or so, on foot. Carrying all our gear, we backpacked up over Caribou Pass, the last part
of the Brooks Range, and then down onto the coastal plain. For two days we saw no caribou. On the third day the weather turned damp,
cold, and cloudy, which is not unusual near the ocean. We had just shouldered our packs when caribou began pouring over a nearby rise.
Soon we were completely surrounded by these big deer.
As you sea from my journal entry, the weather was cold, although it was late June. The sun never sets at this time of year above the
Arctic Circle, yet it can snow anytime, and cold weather is common near the icy waters of the ocean. The next day we reached the Arctic
Ocean, here known as the Beaufort Sea. It was sunny and cold, and there was a lot of ice not too far away. The small black mark in
the sea is a kayaker, a Japanese fellow paddling down the coast alone. We shared several meals with him. This painting will give you
some idea of how big everything is on the coastal plain.
The caribou travel hundreds of miles from the Porcupine River valley to have their calves here. The coastal plain is relatively free
of wolves at this time of year. In addition there are plenty of plants to eat, and the hordes of mosquitoes that plague the herd during
the short summer have not yet emerged. It is an ideal place for births to take place.
As you may be aware, some oil companies would like to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, right on the coastal plain where the caribou have their calves. This is also a prime area for mother polar bears to den in winter when they have their cubs. The coastal plain is the summer nesting ground for many thousands of birds as well. I think it would be very short sighted to bring any kind of development to this land, our last and greatest piece of wilderness.
At one time in I spent a week in Washington DC as an unpaid lobbyist talking with members of congress about the importance of wilderness and the Refuge. The coastal plain is currently protected from drilling, but this could change.
Myself, and many others, continue to work for the permanent protection of this magnificent land.
Of course my trip was not as arduous as the one the deer make each year. Six of us from the Sierra Club flew in a small bush planes.
Here is our plane in Arctic Village where we helped the pilot fuel up by hand pumping fuel from a drum. Flying in bush planes is not
at all like flying with the airlines. It is very noisy and you feel like you are in a real life Imax theater experience. Thrilling
and a little scary.
All day we walked among the caribou. They were wary, but not too afraid of us. Later, I learned there had been about 70,000 deer in
this group, about half of the Porcupine Herd. We were incredibly lucky to have blundered into them. By evening when we made camp,
the herd had moved on and only stragglers remained. Here is page from my journal where I drew of a big bull as it trotted past my
The text reads as follows: I was just beginning to get the hang of this one (the caribou) when he moved on. It is 10:30 PM now. Dinner
was cous cous with veggies, cheese cake from a mix and hot drinks. Very welcome and warming. Lots of caribou continue to roam past
our site. It is cold and very damp, about 40 degrees. At first the fog cloud was lifting, and it was breezy and very chilly, but now
it has settled down. Visibility is maybe 1/4 to 1/2 mile. Fog everywhere, but the wind has died, and with everything on, long undies,
polar (fleece) pants, and top polar vest and anorak and wind suit, and polar hat with 2 hoods up plus liner gloves and polar socks
for mitts (I lost my mittens when I was photographing) I am quite comfy.
Later on a hike, one of our group came upon a newborn caribou calf and took this picture. Mom was not far away. Most of the herd had
their calves within a few days of each other about two weeks earlier. There is great safety in numbers within the herd from predators,
like wolves and grizzly bears. Calves born later, like this one, are at great risk.
Not all of the drawings in my journal are of sweeping landscapes or of caribou. Here is a picture of a semi-palmated plover sitting
on her nest of four eggs, close to our camp site on the stony beach.
I returned home with an entire book full of sketches and notes, as well as the hundreds of photos I took. I constantly referred to
these as I wrote and illustrated the book.
Each year the Porcupine Caribou Herd make a trek of hundreds of miles across the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northern Alaska.
They begin in the spring, leaving their wintering grounds near the Porcupine River, from which the herd takes its name. Continuing
north following the river valleys, they cross the Brooks Mountain Range and arrive at the plain the borders the Arctic Ocean in June.
This is their "calving grounds," the place where the females give birth. In this, the second of my books on the far north, I wanted
to follow the herd as much as possible, and report on the other animals that inhabit the Refuge one of last great pieces of wilderness
left in the world.
From Arctic Village we flew over the rugged mountains of the Brooks Range and landed on gravel bar. Landing strips and all other man
made things are not permitted the Refuge. This is a picture of the Kongakut River close to where we landed. We traveled by rubber
raft down this river for over a week moving north toward the sea..