Nabesna RoadExpectations on Nebesna Road

We started out the next day for an adventure up the Nebesna Road—the Northern entrance to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. We stopped at the visitor’s center and discovered that we probably wouldn’t be able to drive to the end of the road. Part of the road had washed out due to the heavy rains and glacier-melt runoff.

We also discovered that mountain biking hasn’t really caught on in the area. When we asked the ranger about whether or not we could ride our mountain bikes on the trails, she said, “You can take your bike on all the trails, but they’re awfully bumpy.”

After consulting our Milepost and the map from the visitor’s center, we headed up the road. “Do you mind stopping at mile post 11.9?” I asked Pedro.

“Why there?”

“According to the Milepost, there’s a chance of seeing owls near the culvert.”

“You don’t really think the owls are just sitting there, waiting for you to come and see them, do you?” he asked.

“Well, nooooo,” I said. “But a lot of times when I hear about a bird, I drive up and sure enough, it’s just waiting for me.”

He laughed and agreed to park in the shade and snooze whilst Sarah and I hunted for owls.

Despite hiking as far as we could on either side of the culvert, we didn’t see any owls. I guess the Milepost can’t predict bird sightings with the same accuracy that it reports on gas stations and roadside pullouts.

A niggle of disappointment scratched at my mood.

Instead of Owls

When we got back to the truck, Pedro had gone for a short hike, so I read some of the road signs in the parking area. Evidently, the Park Service recommended that only ATVs use this particular trail. Another first! How often do you see signs in national parks warning visitors to use their ATVs?

We continued up the Nebesna Road towards Twin Lakes, where we I hoped to see trumpeter swans and cygnets. Instead, we had a nice hike and saw some gulls. I squashed my feelings of disappointment over my second birding strike of the day.
We headed up the road to mile 34. The sunshine and a stream of glacier melt-off sparkling in a wide bed of gravel invited us out for a picnic. We enjoyed sandwiches complete with fresh homemade buns, and the cookies I’d made the day before.


A road grader passed us as we ate and the driver warned us that Nebesna Road had a three-foot drop-off and washout about a mile up the road. We decided to head back down and find a good trail for mountain biking. With three people and two bikes, Sarah and I decided to hike and look for more birds.

On our way back past Twin Lakes, Pedro glanced over at the lakes and exclaimed, “Cygnets!”

He pulled the truck over and I hopped out with my binoculars and camera. Sure enough, a mother and father proudly guided their cygnets across the lake. I could have stayed and watched them until they swam closer, but that could have taken hours.

Bonus Birds

We decided to hike and bike up the Caribou Creek Trail between mile posts 19 and 20. Sarah and I took off hiking whilst Pedro unloaded his bicycle. I hoped to find a few more birds for my life list (I’d like to have 500 on my list by the time my fiftieth year has ended). Unfortunately, the birds kept quiet.

Sarah and I chatted and caught up on life as we hiked. The trail leads steadily upwards towards a camping cabin on the side of a hill. It winds back and forth across a swampy area and eventually a stream. Pedro passed us, but as the trail climbed, we caught up to him.

Right about the same time I finally heard some birds. Evidently, I had stumbled across a Wilson’s Warbler’s haven. I have seen this cheery little yellow bird with a black cap as far south as southern Arizona. I usually see one or two as they migrate through Holbrook, as well. But I’ve never gotten good photos of one (warblers tend towards twitchiness and they never stop hopping).

Nabesna Road Warbler

These birds, maybe even the same ones I’ve seen in Holbrook had flown a greater distance than I had driven. Their journeys had finally worn them out enough to stand still for a photo or two.

When I reached the camping cabin, Pedro asked, “Did you see the chicken-like birds?” I hadn’t. He told me he had startled them on the way up just about as much as they had startled him.

I headed back down the trail to the spot he’d described, and sure enough, a Spruce Grouse with three chicks lurked next to the trail. They, too, cooperated for photos.

Nabesna Road Spruce Grouse

Unexpected Blessing

As we fueled up after returning to the Tok Cutoff (the word ‘Tok’ rhymes with ‘joke’), Sarah happened to look out the truck window. “Moose!” she exclaimed. Sure enough a moose had ambled out in the highway and seemed to check for traffic. Pedro hopped in the truck and drove slowly to the edge of the parking lot.

Suddenly, two yearling moose came out of the brush and joined their mother in the road. We watched in awe as they trotted down the road a ways and then crossed to the other side and disappeared into the bushes.


I felt a pang of remorse for my earlier disappointment in not finding owls. I had seen so much more instead. How often do I travel through life, vaguely disappointed (or even downright disgruntled) because things didn’t go my way?

Never let your expectations get in the way of your experience. #write31days Click To Tweet

Beauty Tip #17: Choose to go through life in eager expectation that God will bless you—in HIS own way and time.

Q4U: Have you ever felt out of sorts because things didn’t work out the way you thought they should?


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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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