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The snow dappled Brooks Range faded behind us as wide vistas of tundra beckoned ahead. Camp came on a breezy gravel bar. A long mesa called Poko Mountain glowed in the northwest. We sat by the fire past midnight, unwilling to say goodnight to the beauty.

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Slow but steady, we floated the small upper Kokolik with plenty of wildlife distractions. A golden eagle soared nearby. A peregrine falcon flapped overhead. A red fox stared from the bank, then dashed away upstream. When Lisa turned and pointed, I fumbled for the shotgun, but somehow I knew it wasn’t a bear. A musk-ox stood up from its bed, staring at us with droopy eyes and a dangling coat, a helmet of horn and curved yellowing tusks.

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Wildlife watching was at a minimum the next day as we hunkered beneath our raincoats, chasing Lisa downstream through cold rain and occasional hail. After the river penetrated some hill country near Tupikchak Mountain, a bedrock shelf appeared. Chilled, we pulled ashore, grabbing handfuls of driftwood.

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When the rain stopped, the wind began. It pushed us downstream, out of the hills and into a transverse valley that the river cut directly across. Jer pointed out a group of caribou on a hillside, then fifty of them crossed the river in front of us.

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Two hundred feet above the river, we stood in the wind and looked over a valley sprinkled with migrating caribou. The nearby herds caught our eyes first; 50 here, 100 there, 20 crossing the river over there. Then as we looked farther across the broad valley with binoculars, the movement of white and tan animals seemed to appear everywhere; in the bottoms, on the slopes, a long string of them trailing out of sight over the eastern horizon. My rough estimate came to 5,000 ungulates.

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