Aug 29, 2019 - National Geographic Orion
Wrangel Island, we have landed! Today was a day of vast landscapes and intimate detail. The morning began with the soft, beaconing voice of our expedition leader Russ telling us about the 20 bears already spotted and those ahead. We pulled on clothes with abandon and headed to the outer decks. The morning light sent a golden glow across the lowlands of Wrangle Island, near Kosomol Lake. The steppe vegetation, now in its fall colors vibrated against the dark water and gray sky. The hillsides gave a blue and purple backdrop to the vibrant scene before it. Polar bears slept on ledges high in the hillsides. Other bears walked the beaches sniffing the debris left by the previous tide.
Before long we headed to shore and put our feet on the rocky beach of this remote northern world. Various walks with Russian guides left the landing site and soon we looked like tiny dots in the immensity of the landscape. We visited an old research hut still maintained for scientific and safety needs. While spare, the interior was inviting.
The door to the hut had been removed for our visit but had nails protruding every few inches across the entire outer surface. This disturbing door is designed to discourage the polar bears from visiting while the hut is closed.
The afternoon gave us another opportunity to explore the tundra by foot, at a dreamy spot named Dream Head. Our hikes took many of us down the cobbled beach strewn with bones of walrus. Those that crept onto the tundra became part of the golden glow of fall. We occasionally stopped to take in the grandeur of the land. Most of the actual walking required a bit of watching our feet as the tundra is uneven and bog-like at this time of year.
At our feet was a myriad of color and shapes. Bright yellow willow next to crimson doc and then multicolored leaves reflecting in the still water of the small pools between our steps. White tufts of seeds blew in the wind off the cotton grass stalks. Suddenly a lemming ran away from us as startled to see us as we were of it. A western sandpiper blended into the vegetation and finally flew away. Another stop and we were staring in the distance at a dot of white that was a snowy owl and a sweep of wings that was a small flock of snow geese moving to a different location.
All the while the bridge team and our expedition leader were keeping track of the sleeping bears who occasionally woke up and took a stroll here and there.
Our guides came aboard and gave us presentations about Wrangel Island and its designation as a World Heritage Site. They also taught us about the life of researchers and rangers who work together to learn about and protect this very special place.Topping off the day, our expedition leader told us that tomorrow we would go to Herold Island. Also part of the World Heritage Site, it has more polar bears and more denning sites than even Wrangle Island. Off we go to bed with dreams of white bears dancing in our heads.
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