July 14, 2015 – Turnagain Arm, Alaska – I somewhat randomly turned right instead of left and ended up with a pretty close encounter with a group of Dall Sheep above the highway. Not a particularly rare event, but one that I had really hoped for.
I had spent the night along Turnagain arm in a pull out. My intentions were to head back into Anchorage, to the west. This isn’t a huge pull out, but it has a small grassy median between the road and the paved pullout area. It is at a point where an arm of the mountain comes down and the mountain has been cut away to allow the road to have a more gradual turn as it rounds the point.
I was parked heading westbound towards Anchorage, and came to the west end of the pullout to head back onto the highway. But as I did this I spotted a “no left turn” sign planted near the end of the median. I looked a little more closely and realized that leaving in this direction would have meant crossing a lane of oncoming eastbound traffic and entering a lane of traffic that had just come around a bend. Mostly an issue with visibility and the highway is pretty busy.
So I did a little fancy maneuvering and got myself ready for a tight right turn instead. This worked out fine and it was a nice morning so and the scenery was pretty here anyhow. I started down the highway and got no more than a mile when there were many brake lights ahead. I slowed down as well and we got down to about five miles per hour. As I rounded the next turn there were cars parked along the road and some stopped in the middle, with people all along the guard rails and walking here and there. I figured there must be something to look at, so I watched for a parking spot. When I saw one I slipped neatly through the oncoming traffic and people and swooped into a spot. I still didn’t have any idea what I was going to see.
I got out with the camera in hand and started looking where the people where pointing their cameras. Up on the cliffs above my head. So I looked mostly straight up and about all I saw was rock. Then someone pointed and I saw the sheep walking on the top. I took a couple of pictures and then another person walking by said “oh, you need to see the sheep back over there” as they were returning from having done so. I crossed the road and rounded the corner and found myself looking across the road at a group of sheep close up and in plain view, eating and frolicking, wandering around right above the traffic below.
I watched for a while and eventually one of the elder sheep rounded them up and they headed up into the brush. I started back to the car, but by the time I was back around the corner they were too. But this time way up on the sheer rock wall. I watched a mother and kid eating as they moved around, hopping up here and down there.
So a wrong turn ended up netting a pretty good sheep encounter. I hadn’t seen sheep close up in Denali, so this a nice treat. Oh, and the no left turn sign? Yeah, I think it was telling westbound travelers not to try to cross the oncoming traffic to get into this pull out, not really for folks already in the turn out.