I’m splitting the vacation blog into five entries because, as usual, I took a gazillion photos and have a lot to say about each portion of the trip. The five parts will be:
- (Part 1) North Pole to Haines
- (Part 2) Haines
- (Part 3) Skagway
- (Part 4) Dawson City
- (Part 5) Top of the World and Chicken & Home
NORTH POLE to ALASKA BORDER – Monday, August 10th
Steve and I were lucky enough to get on the road earlier than usual. It always seems that the morning of a big trip, we’re scrambling around the house doing last minute things, even though we try to get it all done the night before. Steve covered for a co-worker who had National Guard duty, so he worked every day leading up to the trip. This meant that I had to do all the loading and packing, and making lists and checking things off. I got it all accomplished, and all Steve had to do was load the truck bed with the necessary automotive *stuff* that he takes when we travel, as well as Sedona’s crate.
Our first day took us about 330 miles, to the Border City RV Park which is only 3.5 miles from US Customs. Canadian Customs was another 20 miles down the road. I wondered about that void between US Customs and Canadian Customs. If you happen to live in that expanse of wilderness (and we did see a few trailers back in the woods), you’d have to go through Customs in either direction to get to any sizable town for supplies/groceries.
Border City RV Park was OK. It’s more of a truck stop, and the RV park was gravel pull through sites with grass between. Unfortunately, it had rained heavily for several days before our arrival so everything was a muddy mess. Steve said the bathrooms were clean (I use the camper facilities), which is the way we rate a campground. So, for no-frills camping, Border CIty RV Park is an OK place to stop for the night.
When we left North Pole, the sun was shining. Figures… after all the smoke and then rain, we were a little disappointed to be leaving town on a good day. But I was glad for my friends that they’d finally have some decent weather.
When we arrived in Tok (sounds like poke), I couldn’t help but smile when I saw a young man on the roof of one of the shops – mowing and edging the grass roof. According to research done by author & historian Donna Blasor-Bernhardt, Tok was named after a husky pup in 1945 when the US Army’s Corp were breaking trail north from Slana. They were working their way toward what would become the Alaska Highway. Their job not only consisted of building the road, but of naming points along the way. The young pup, named Tok, was their beloved mascot, and upon their arrival at where Tok now is, it was unanimously decided to name the junction after the pup.
Donna is a member of the Alaska Living Group, and I had the pleasure to meet her a few years ago, when she came to Fairbanks for supplies. She’s written several books – my favorite being her autobiographical novel “Waltz with me, Alaska” which tells the true story of her family’s life in a tent, while building their cabin in Tok. Imagine spending an arctic winter in a tent with no running water, and a wood stove to keep you warm – with two small children!
After topping off the gas tank, we were on our way to the border. Along the way, we passed several small groups of bicyclists making the trip up the highway. Kudos to them for being able to pedal over all the hills. At least the downhill ride is exhilarating!
A little further down the road, we came to a scenic turnout with views of Midway Lake in the Tetlin Refuge. The clouds were fluffy and white against a deep blue sky. It was a gorgeous place to stop and stretch our legs – as well as Sedona’s.
A little further down the road, I asked Steve to pull into a gravel turnout, so I could take a few photos of another lake. A Winnebago was pulling out as we were pulling in, and the people told us that a red fox was in the area. They fed the fox bread (a big no-no!!) and she came closer and closer so they could take photos.
I stood by the truck waiting to see if she’d come back, and soon saw her red head poke above the hill. She glanced warily at me, before making a beeline for the leftover bread pieces that lay where the Winnebago was parked. I watched her pick up some bread and then run back down the hill, where she buried the bread in the soft ground. At first I thought perhaps there was a den there, but I didn’t see any kits. I think she was just putting the bread away to eat at a later time. She looked quite scrawny to me, but perhaps this is normal for a fox at this time of year?
We got to the RV Park by 4pm, and I had dinner started a little while later. After we ate, we took Sedona for a walk around the grounds. There was a creek that ran through the RV Park. (I think it’s Despert Creek.) The sun was starting to go down, and the clouds were thick with openings that made the sun rays stream through in bands. We looked forward to crossing into Canada in the morning.
ALASKA BORDER, THROUGH CANADA, TO HAINES – Tuesday, August 11th
Alaska is a beautiful state, and Yukon Canada is stunning as well. With much the same terrain, the transition from the US to Canada is not very noticeable, except that the road signs now measure speed in kilometers rather than mph, and the outhouses are green with white lattice work trim. Also, for the most part, the roads are much better maintained. There’s also a time change (you lose an hour) when you cross into Canada.
The last time we drove this route was in 2003, and we were coming from the other direction. We only vaguely remember that drive, so everything seemed very new to us. We did hit quite a few “red flag” areas on this stretch of the highway. The flags are placed alongside the road to warn you of frost heaves or potholes before you get to them.
When we saw the sign for Pickhandle Lake, we just had to stop. I remember Pickhandle Lake quite well, as we stopped here in 2003 so I could take photos of it. The water was like glass in places, and tundra swans swam happily along. There’s a viewing platform with interpretive panels on Native trading routes, pond life and muskrats.
About 75 miles past Pickhandle Lake is the largest lake in Yukon Territory: Kluane (kloo-WA-nee) Lake. Kluane Lake covers approximately 154 sq miles. The Ruby Range lies on the east side of the lake. When the light hits it just right, the water shimmers with a turquoise color.
Approximately 30 miles after Kluane Lake, is the village of Haines Junction. This is where the Alaska Highway and Haines Highway (Haines Road) meet. After stopping for gas (1.09/litre = 4.13/gal), we headed west on the Haines Highway for Haines, Alaska.
We hadn’t gone very far before seeing the telltale sign of impending winter on the peaks of the St Elias Mountains. “Termination Dust” glowed white in the overcast skies, creating an amazing contrast of dark and light. The sun poked holes in the thicker clouds, illuminating still green patches of tundra below.
Sixteen miles west of Haines is the gorgeous Kathleen Lake. Kathleen Lake is a glacier fed turquoise blue lake, nearly 400 feet deep. In the dimmer light of cloudy skies, the colors just popped and our surroundings were stunning.
The higher we climbed in elevation, the more gold and red we saw in the tundra. Also, the fireweed was quite abundant in some areas, and glowed with magenta light. I wanted to stop at every scenic overlook, but was also anxious to get to Haines.
And then finally… we were there! What an amazing drive… a drive we would do again in a heartbeat!