There were a few times, says Phil Stephens, he slept with a hatchet by his side up there in the wilderness of Alaska and the Yukon.
“It was just in case a bear snuck up on us. It allowed me to sleep more easily, though I suspect it wouldn’t have helped much with a grizzly.”
At least he could have, perhaps, seen it coming “because the lack darkness in the northern Yukon is a wonderment in the summer.”
Stephens, a senior naturalist at Midland’s Chippewa Nature Center as well as an accomplished photographer, closes out the 2010 “Nurturing Nature” series on Wednesday, Dec. 1, with a picturesque program titled “Spectacular Alaska and the Yukon.”
The evening begins at 7 p.m. at the Green Point Environmental Learning Center, 2010 Maple in Saginaw. Admission is free to members of the Friends of the Shiawassee National Wildlife refuge; $2 at the door for others.
Stephens is no stranger to the area. He scouted it for a possible two-week Chippewa Nature Center trip, which did not occur, and then he and his family spent seven weeks driving the 10,500 miles there and back from Midland.
He ranks Alaska and Yukon as one of the most spectacular of the many places he has has roamed “because of the vastness, remoteness and diversity of their natural areas which include not only mountains but arctic tundra, glaciers, seascapes and lots of wildlife.”
The Rocky Mountains in the U.S. and Canada are also very spectacular, he says, though not as diverse and are more crowded. “However, the Rockies and Sierras have easy-to-navigate trail systems, which are easier for a family to explore than the ‘routes. that are poor cousins to trails in the far north.”
So which is more spectacular -- Alaska, our largest state, or the Yukon, which is part of Canada?
“Both have some areas of spectacularly big mountains which are wonderful. However, on the Dempster Highway in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, we had a wonderful sense that we were on a sparsely-populated corridor the width of our gravel road that was bordered by true wilderness stretching for hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from us. The sense of isolation there was awesome.”
And what might be the biggest misconception people have about Alaska and the Yukon?
“It’s not all mountains. There are many large areas that are gently-rolling or even very flat. There’s even a farming area north of Anchorage.”