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Experiencing the lost continent of Beringia

July 9

I would fain grow old learning many new things.
— Plato


I love learning. And recently I have been learning about what has been called the lost continent of Beringia.
During the last ice age, so much of the world’s water resources were tied up in ice that the level of the oceans dropped by 300 feet. This exposed a 1,000-mile land mass that connected Asia to North America. It was an area nearly surrounded by glaciers but not covered by them. That region extends to the Yukon and includes many of the areas through which we’ve been traveling.
Beringia was home to muskoxen, caribou, wolves, grizzly bears, and Dall sheep, all of which we’ve seen in our Arctic travels, but also home to wooly mammoths, short-faced bears, steppe bison, giant ground sloths, North American horses and giant beavers, all of which are extinct.
And Beringia was a cold, grassy steppe, where human beings walked from Asia to North America more than 25,000 years ago.

In addition to touring the wonderful Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre, we had several special experiences. The area along the remote Dempster Highway, particularly near Tombstone Mountain Campground, where we spent three nights, is said to be an area most like Beringia. And, as we toured an active placer gold mine, where miners blast away the permafrost in the hillside with high power hoses, we saw the owner of the mine remove from the previously frozen ground the rib of an extinct steppe bison.
We also had the privilege of sharing two meals with First Nations elders, hearing many of the stories passed down from generation to generation. First Nations elders have long told stories about giant beavers and giant woolly monsters, now gone from the earth. Until recently these stories were written off as myth, but now archeologists are working with First Nations elders in piecing together more information about Beringia.
None of this was taught in the Des Moines public schools as I was growing up, because most of it was not generally known. As we travel to unfamiliar places, just as when we read widely, our knowledge expands and we are again students.
What a privilege it has been to take my president’s hat off this summer and become a full-time student again! And how blessed we are to be life-long learners.
(See also Jane Bahls’ Arctic Adventures blog).

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