August 21, 2009

NP to Haines (Aug Vacation Part 1 of 5)

Filed under: Photography,Travel — Susan Stevenson @ 11:14 am

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.

Tanana RiverMowing RoofWe’ve made the drive to Delta many times, so the only photo I took on that stretch of highway was of the Tanana River with the Alaska Range in the background. We made pretty good time getting to Tok.

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!

CyclistsAfter 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.

Red FoxFox at Rest StopI 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.

Sunset and Rays Border City RV Park Creek Rowboat on Creek



Scenery after crossing the border into CanadaAlaska 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.

Pickhandle Lake and Fishing Dock Tundra Swan

Kluane LakeAK Hwy around Kluane LakeAbout 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.

Kluane Lake Kluane Lake Kluane Lake
Kluane Lake Kluane Lake
Kluane Lake Steve Kluane Lake Kluane Lake
Kluane Lake

St Elias MountainsApproximately 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.

Termination DustWe 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.

Approaching Kathleen Lake Kathleen Lake Fireweed
Fireweed Reststop Autumn Tundra
Rest stop Haines Hwy
Rest stop In The Clouds Descent to Haines

And then finally… we were there! What an amazing drive… a drive we would do again in a heartbeat!
Welcome to Alaska - and the Valley of the Eagles

Part 2 – Haines is posted here.


  1. Gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous! Wow! What a thrill to be able to see that part of the country and Canada. That little fox is so darn cute! Can’t wait for part 2!!!


    susanstevenson Reply:

    Thank you Lynn! It was wonderful to see wildlife (the fox) so early in our trip. Oddly enough we didn’t see any moose until we were only 100 miles from home on the return trip! We both thought that was quite odd, as moose are usually frequent sightings.

    Yukon Canada is stunning! When we drove through in 2003, we said we’d like to come back and see it again. It took us 6 years, but we did it. 🙂



    Comment by LynnMN — August 21, 2009 @ 1:17 pm

  2. What wonderful shots. It brought back memories. Kluane Lake is the most beautifullake I’ve ever seen. I loved the color of the water. I remember driving around this lake and thought how wonderful it would be to be camped next to it.


    susanstevenson Reply:

    Kluane Lake, and that entire area is just breathtakingly beautiful! You know it’s pretty when even my husband – who isn’t very vocal about his surroundings – says “Wow… this is so beautiful!”

    I’m sorry it took us 6 years to get back to this part of Canada, but I’m glad we made this trip.



    Comment by Tammy Kauffman — August 21, 2009 @ 2:44 pm

  3. Hi Susan and Steve Still can’t do much typing as yet Sure do have and will have plenty of reading to be done
    Thank you both Love John and Shirley


    susanstevenson Reply:

    Good to hear from you John. Please keep resting those hands and taking it easy. I want you feeling well as quickly as possible, and I know you want that too.

    I promise you will have a lot to read in these entries. We had a wonderful adventure!

    Love to you and Shirley,


    Comment by John & Shirley Strauser — August 21, 2009 @ 3:25 pm

  4. WOW!!!! The pictures of the mountains and lakes are Outstanding and Breath taking!! I can hardly wait until your next post!!!!


    susanstevenson Reply:

    Thank you Liz! We really had the most perfect weather on this trip. It more than made up for the other trips we took this summer. And exploring new territory was so exciting too!



    Comment by Liz McCollough — August 21, 2009 @ 3:36 pm

  5. I finally just made a shortcut to this blog on my desktop. I love your blog more than any place on the web. When I need to relax and “drift away”… this is where I come. You are, without a doubt, the most exciting and adventurous friend I have ever had and one day, God willing, I will meet you.
    Thanks again, as always – kattraks.


    susanstevenson Reply:

    Thank you for your kind words, Laura. I do hope that someday we have the opportunity to meet, and at the very least I hope that your travels will bring you to Alaska someday! It is such an amazing place to explore and enjoy!



    Comment by Laura — August 22, 2009 @ 7:56 am

  6. Stunning pictures! I loved stopping at Kluane Lake every time we drove the Alaska Hwy out of Alaska. Haines Junction would be our stop for the night before continuing on.


    susanstevenson Reply:

    That drive is stunning, Abby. You’re going to love the drive from Haines Junction to Haines. It’s incredible!


    Comment by Abby C. — August 22, 2009 @ 10:30 pm

  7. Wow! the pictures were great! Makes me want to drive up there now instead of taking cruise. I have to ask….what type of camera did you use with these photos? Thanks.


    susanstevenson Reply:

    Thanks for commenting, Debbie. The cruise will get you into some places that you can’t get by road, so I’m sure you’ll have a blast anyway. 🙂

    I use a 40D currently, but always have my eye open for the next investment. Haha! I try to hold onto my cameras for three years before upgrading. I think I’ve got a year left on this one. *grin*

    Take care,


    Comment by Debbie E — September 1, 2009 @ 9:16 am

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