Caribou really are the "tundra wanderers" of the far north. The saying, "No one knows the way of the wind or the caribou," will be forever true. Caribou exhibit no pattern, except that they end up at the same two places twice a year. But, as far as a "normal" route, it doesn't exist. No one knows where they will be until you see them there, wherever that may be. The biologist and author of the book Being Caribou, Karsten Heuer followed the Porcupine Caribou Herd 2,000 miles across the Yukon and western Alaska for five months with his newly-wed wife, Leanne Allison, in 2003. One day he said that essentially the caribou are following the wind because they are trying to stay away from the millions of swarming bugs which are ultimately weather dependent. Therefore, they (Karsten and Leanne) were essentially trying to follow yesterdays wind.
So, our goal was to hopefully get lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to see some of the 400,000+ caribou of the Western Arctic Herd cross the river on their way to their wintering grounds. The caribou head south to their wintering grounds as the weather get cooler. Somehow, instinctively, they know when the Kobuk River is about to freeze up for the winter and they need to cross it. However, that window arrives later and later each year as the temperatures remain warmer longer and fall/winter comes later and later. At the end of the float trip we met a man that has been coming to the Kobuk since 1996 to hunt caribou. Back then the caribou were crossing the river in mid-August. We left the river on September 28th and the caribou had not yet crossed. They were still hanging out, meandering through the tundra, paralleling the river with no incentive to hurry across.
All in all, we saw about 1,000 caribou. We only saw two small groups on the river. One crossed down river from us as the sun was on the horizon so we couldn't really see much, but could here an amazing sound of big movement into and across the river. The other group we saw had already crossed the river but spooked as we floated closer and jumped into the river, swam out almost to the middle, then turned around and swam back across.
Here's what we did see....

This was the very first caribou that we saw. A calf came running awkwardly out of the brush and right towards. It ran along the rivers edge and out of sight.

Then we saw this fresh carcass of its mother (probably) just a couple hundred yards from this native fish camp.

This was the first group of caribou we saw from the boats. We waited for a long time to see if they would indeed cross, but they didn't, only paralleled it.

Just downriver from that we pulled over at a cabin to walk out into the tundra behind it to photograph all the old racks we could see from a distance.

While photographing them a small group appeared behind the racks.

A couple of days later we were just passed Onion Portage, one of the most traditional crossings, in the Kobuk Nat. Park. We decided to spend a day on the tundra since they were mostly paralleling the river.
The first group we saw contained about 200 caribou. We weren't close enough or in the right position to get good pictures, but here's a few.

That group was magnificent! Their sound and choreographed movements were so powerful and jaw-dropping.
Then, we had a small group of females walk by followed by a small group of males.

Another group walking by...

Then another group...
And another...this one was another huge group. Probably 100 animals. We had just decided to reposition and were moving around when we turned to see a huge group coming out of the brush.

This was one of the ox-bows that we had to walk around to get to where we were going.

The game trail we followed around the ox-bow.

An ox-bow.

This was the group that we found by the river.

The very last group of caribou that we saw outside Kiana.

A couple of the females are fighting in the middle.

They acted like they were heading towards the river, but it didn't happen because a boat motor scared them.

So, I snuck throught the trees and across the tundra to get closer.

These animals are so regal and majestic, life of the arctic. It was an honor being to so close to them and such a treat just watching them live. They are staple for the people that live up north and are held in very high regards.