Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Along the Alcan, It’s the Season of the Bison

©Bert Gildart: If you want to see bison engaged in the all the ritualistic traits associated with the power of the species, mark on your calendar the middle of August. Here, at this time, along the Alaskan Highway, it’s the season of the bison.


Rolling in dirt rids bison of bugs, but also telegraphs a high degree of anxiety.

Yesterday, Janie and I were driving about 20 miles north of Liard Hot Springs, in British Columbia, when we came across a herd of bison roaring like lions, kicking dust in the air, rolling in dirt, sniffing one another… pawing the earth, and butting horns. None of this was done in play; rather it was conducted in earnest and is associated with the hormonal rush these huge beasts are now experiencing. These activities are timeless ones, and are important as they will determine the evolution of the species. Their activities will determine which bulls mate with the females, and when all the formality is over, only the strongest will pass on their genes.

Bison have always inhabited the mountains and forest of the far north; in fact the Canadians have established a vast preserve known as Wood Buffalo National Park, located well east of here. But bison have also inhabited the forest of British Columbia, and if you are lucky enough to see them, you are in for a real treat.


We saw these magnificent creatures as we ascended from a swale along the road. From the crest, we could see a small herd of bison and even from a distance of half a mile, we could see two males were going wild. Driving closer we watched as they pushed and shoved, churning up forest grasslands over a distanced that covered several acres. Driving yet closer, we could see muscles strain, horns probe.


CLICK ON EACH IMAGE TO SEE LARGE VERSION: L to R: Other cars pull off leaving this Airstream out in the open; bellowing bull means “Watch out;” but that’s something this Neanderthal must not have realized, though he was lucky  — fortune not everyone is accorded.

The action went on for about 10 minutes, and when it ended, neither bull seemed satisfied, meaning the war had not yet been concluded, though a battle had been fought. We settled in to wait, pulling our Airstream off the road, but well away from the herd. I then mounted on a tripod an 840mm lens attached to my Nikon D300 and hoped the action would resume. In the meantime, the few other drivers along the Alcan had also noted the action and they, too, were pulling over. What people do as they watch wildlife, always awes — and sometimes frightens me.


Last year, Janie and I were in Jasper when bull elk were battling, and we watched as people violated every common sense rule known to mankind. That day a bull elk charged a motorhome that had entered his space, and badly gouged it. Now, it appeared as though the same thing might happen again, but this time rather than a 1,200 pound elk hitting a vehicle, it appeared as though a 2,000 mass of fury might attack, for the perpetrators were assembling.

A young man stepped out of his vehicle and watched as a bison ambled by, passing within feet of his rented motorhome. Moments later a couple driving a sports car stopped in the middle of the road, leaped out, ran toward the bison, and began clicking with their tiny instamatic cameras. They ran back and speed off, leaving a couple in an Airstream travel trailer (not us) out in the open. The couple had just pulled in, and wisely they sat in their tow vehicle as a bull sauntered in front of them and then crossed the road.


Luckily, nothing happened to any of the wildlife watches here along the Alcan, but I will always recall the anecdote of a Yellowstone National Park visitor approaching a bull bison during the mating season and being rewarded for his Neanderthal curiosity by being charged and then tossed into a tree. This troglodyte got by with just a couple of broken ribs.


CLICK TO SEE IMAGE AS LARGER VERSION. L To R: Bison now battling along Alcan near Muncho Lake; Rolling in dirt rids bison of bugs and adds to drama of mating season; fighting was persistent.

Meanwhile, action in the herd was picking back up, and from a distance I photographed a cow rolling in the dirt, then a bull rolling in the dirt. But not too far away, one of the two bull combatants began roaring again, and minutes later, the two gladiators were at it again.

My 840mm telephoto enables me to capture the action from a safe distance and for over an hour, I worked hard, trying to record this incredible moment. The two bison pounded each other, and I recorded it, but nothing, it appeared would be resolved today – so the war was not yet over. More battles would be fought.

Finally, with about 200 images of a herd of bison, I realized I could do little more. Still, the bison and the din of noise they were creating from all these ritualistic activities, continued. Janie and I remained awed, and for awhile we simply watched. The moment was a timeless one, and we felt privileged on this August day to be part of this rare drama, this season of the bison.




*Quebec City



One Response to “Along the Alcan, It’s the Season of the Bison”

  1. Rich Luhr Says:

    Troglodytes, Neanderthals, and bison! I had no ideal Alaska featured such a wide range of creatures! What’s next, trolls and elves? Better carry a few magic philtres along with that 840mm lens.