June 1 – July 5 2017
May 31: The movers came, stuffed the moving van with all our possessions and drove off to store everything for the next 5 weeks. We did a last walk around on the morning of June 1st and then we said good-bye to River Gardens, which had been our home for almost 14 years.
Now being truly homeless, we drove off to Pemberton, our first stop on our “homeless, footloose and adventurous” journey.
We spent the night with Kiran, Geoff and Kingston. We met them in Whistler first, where we were treated to a delicious dinner at the Aura Restaurant in the Nita Lake Lodge. My birthday celebration had officially started 🙂
Kingston entertained us with his songs and laughter. After breakfast next morning we started on our road trip north, something that was high on my bucket list.
We drove via Lillooet and Cache Creek to Quesnel. Beautiful weather, gorgeous scenery.
I have driven this section several times and it never seizes to fascinate me.
After checking into our hotel (Quality Inn, Quesnel) we wandered around to find a place to eat and later, with happy bellies, walked to the historic footbridge (not lit up this evening) and along the river back to our hotel.
Next destination was Smithers, a 486 km easy drive. Scenery not as spectacular as the Fraser Canyon but still quite beautiful. We spent the night at the Florence Motel.
From Smithers we drove to Hazelton where we paid a quick visit to Ksan Village, a place Hari had not seen yet. From there to Kitwanga where the old totempoles are still standing. And yes! Instead of longingly looking at the sign pointing north (we used to drive west to Prince Rupert), we actually turned right and north. Wow, that was an exciting feeling, actually going north. I had the feeling our trip had now started for real! I was literally jumping in my seat!
At Meziadin Junction we turned west towards Stewart, right at the Alaska border. This is the “tail end” of Alaska, the “panhandle”, not the main body. From Stewart we drove into Hyder, our first Alaska stop! Hyder is a little ghost town, far away from the rest of Alaska and therefore quite dependent in many ways (schools, emergency) on Canada (Stewart).
On our way to Stewart we of course gawked at the Bear Glacier. Even though much smaller than it used to be, it was quite impressive.
In Hyder we drove to the Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site in Tongass National Forest. A platform has been constructed there to watch the bears catch salmon. Unfortunately we were there too early in the season (We did know that). The bears go fishing in July/August. So I guess we will have to save that for another trip 🙂
After our visit to Hyder (no custom’s check point going into the USA, but a Canadian one coming back into Canada) we walked the boardwalks of Stewart through some interesting marsh. It was pretty chilly by that time.
We had booked accommodation at B&B House Austria. A delightful stay!
We set off direction Dease Lake. Passed by Bear Glacier again. Yes, another stop to look at this massive ice field, so close to the road.
Back at Meziadin Junction we now turned north again on the Cassiar Hwy. We very much enjoyed driving this road. It is well maintained and has relatively little traffic.
Every once in a while we noticed a sign to some lake or the other. Sometimes we checked it out, sometimes not. One “lucky” stop was at Morchuea Lake. Beautiful and so peaceful.
A few hours later we passed the Lower Gnat Lake. The view was worth a photo stop.
Our address for the night was the Arctic Divide Inn & Motel in Dease Lake.
This was truly a lucky find in a very small town. The young owners, proudly showing off their baby, are slowly developing their inn into something unique. We very much enjoyed staying there. Dinner we found at “The Shack”, a tiny take-out with excellent food. Breakfast was provided at the inn and enjoyed at a large “community table” which was a nice way to get to know fellow travelers.
Dease Lake BC to Teslin YT
We set off rather early and at 8:10 AM we spotted our first bear. A little later we discovered one in a tree. And driving along we passed one, trotting on the side of the road. We approached (yes, in the car!) cautiously but as soon as he thought we were getting too close for (his) comfort, he disappeared in the shrubs. When I looked back he had come back on to the road again, happily continuing his morning stroll.
We stopped at the Cassiar Mountain Jade Store, a family run business. Everybody is welcome and the coffee is free. It was fun wandering among the raw jade and seeing finished products in the store.
A bit north of Jade City was Good Hope Lake.
Now we were ready for a picnic. We drove a short distance into Boya Lake Provincial Park where we found a perfect spot by the lake.
We also learned that all those depressive looking burned forests we saw, had a positive side to it. This made us feel a lot better because I must admit: those enormous stretches, as far as the eye could see, with blackened trees, looked devastating.
But we learned, on a sign in the Yukon, at Rancheria Falls, the following:
The benefits of fire
While forest fires are often seen as devastating catastrophes, periodic fires are vitally important to the life of a boreal forest. Charred logs on the forest floor are evident of a forest fire more than 100 years ago. You still see this evidence so many years later because the cool, semi-arid climate and short summers of the North slow decomposition and growth.
A fire actually renews growth by getting rid of dense and older growth that blocks sunlight and by creating new environmental conditions for both plants and animals. Patches of burned area interspersed with mature forest provide the best habitat for a wide diversity of animals and birds because they offer both cover and food.
Moose and Snowshoe Hare thrive on the lush green shoots of willow and aspen and the low shrubs and grasses that appear after a fire. Predators follow prey into recent burn areas: wolf follow moose and lynx follow hare. Willow Ptarmigan and Rock Ptarmigan plus Ruffed Grouse also use the open areas and shrubby plants that appear in the first years after a fire. Pine Marten, Red Squirrel and Spruce Grouse are among the few mammal and bird species that are especially adapted to the shadier, more mature boreal forest.
At the gas station at Hwy 37 Junction we talked with the guy working there. He told us that 11 years ago a huge flash fire ripped through the whole area we just drove through.
Because of the intense heat the needles burnt right off the trees but left the trunks standing, dry like matches. Any lightning strike could start another fire and this happened a few times since the big fire so many years ago. The man watches the sky like a hawk and is ready to flee if there is a lightning storm approaching. His truck is always packed and ready to go.
Just before reaching Hwy 37 Junction we crossed the province line into the Yukon!!
Now we drove west, towards Teslin, our next stop.
It had been quite an interesting day, starting with the bears we saw.
In a field along the road, I don’t remember where exactly, we had seen a moose, but the beast was kind of scared and took off very fast. No photograph 😦
We have seen other critters but neither one of us could figure out what they were. Who knows, maybe a Marten?
After a nice walk across a beautiful boardwalk at Rancheria Falls (where we learned about the good part of forest fires) we approached Teslin with a beautiful view of the Nisutlin Bay Bridge, the longest bridge on the Alaska Hwy.
We spent the night, so fitting, at the Nisutlin Trading Post Motel.
For dinner we had to go to a restaurant across the road. Not very impressive but it was food.
A delightful day was awaiting us, breathtaking scenery, sunny weather, just perfect!
The distance was not much, just about 255 km.
Leaving our Trading Post we headed for the Teslin Tlingit Heritage Centre, just out of town.
A beautiful cultural centre, proudly presented by local Tlingit People. We admired their art, checked out the displays and watched a movie about their history. In another building were some traditional canoes, freshly decorated.
Our next stop was Johnson’s Crossing. A nice tearoom with a plaque, describing a totally useless and waste of public funds “Canol Project“.
Coffee and pies were excellent, the interior eclectic. I happened to overhear a young man at the next table talking about his trip way into the country, encountering lots of moose. I am not sure about the purpose of his trip. Surveying? Study? He had a fat little notebook. Wish I had asked…..
We continued along the Tagish River, enjoying the breathtaking scenery.
The road was “a bit” dusty at times due to road work.
Entering Carcross we discovered a combination of dilapidated buildings and a thriving tourist hub. No doubt because the White Pass train stopped here. It was fun walking around here in the warm sunshine.
Then on to Skagway, , passing the Chilkoot Trail sign on the way (we did not hike this trail!!), watched the beautiful scenery around Bove island, crossing into Alaska and going through US Customs. (The official border is actually several km’s before the border post).
We did it! We were in Alaska (Again! Remember Hyder?)!
In Skagway we checked into the Sgt. Preston Lodge. I was surprised to see the comfortable, spacious room as we had reserved just a basic, small one. More surprises followed! A birthday cake, ordered on line by our son and delivered at the lodge, 2 gifts from the owners of the lodge, and last but not least a congratulatory ad in the local newspaper (hubby’s doing!). Good start of my birthday (next day).
We shared the large birthday cake with some other guests and staff and took off for a discovery walk of the town. Skagway is a tourist town as many cruise ships dock here. We had dinner at The Skagway Fish Company, a very popular place, sitting outside, enjoying food, sun and surroundings. Later we checked out where we were supposed to meet our boat next morning for our trip to Juneau.
My actual birthday, and a day I had been anticipating for a long time. Not because it was my birthday, but because we had booked our boat trip from Skagway to Juneau this day.
Around 7:00 am we walked from Sgt. Preston Lodge to the Skagway small boat harbour to find our boat, the Fjordland, a 65’ catamaran which we saw arrive around 7:30 am. Captain Glen welcomed us and he and his son Ketch looked after the 48 passengers the whole trip with professionalism, knowledge and jokes. He sailed us through the magnificent Lynn Canal, pointing out eagles, trying to spot whales, finding sea lions and seals. Meanwhile Ketch served coffee and muffins. After a stop in Haines we continued to Juneau. After an absolutely fantastic journey through the canal we arrived in Juneau, where a bus and very friendly and informative driver were waiting for us.
With a side trip to the airport to drop off some passengers he took us for a city tour, pointing out some worthwhile places to go and check out once he let us off the bus for our several hours on our own in the town. We wandered around, had lunch at a picnic table at the side of a city street, watched the tourists, enjoyed the warm weather. And of course I had to take a picture of myself with a “Juneau sign”. After all, my nephew has been named after this town! Juneau is very much a tourist town, with cruise ships mooring here all summer long. Countless jewelry stores and as many eating establishments. As the town is built on a hill side, steep stairways lead to upper streets. And those stairways have street names! We chatted with a First Nations carver who told us some of the history of the town. We also learned that although there were quite a few cars in town, there are no roads out! Juneau is only accessible by boat or plane. We checked out the statues of Patsy Ann and the hardrock miners and Hari tried in vain to spot mountain goats on Juneau Mountain through binoculars.
After we met the bus driver and bus again he drove us to the Mendenhall Glacier. Truly a spectacular sight. As it was a bit overcast the blueish colours really “popped out”.
Then it was time to get back to the boat for our trip back to Skagway. While salmon and corn chowder was being served we enjoyed sighting whales, eagles, more sea lions and porpoises.
And last but not least, Captain, son, and all passengers sang happy birthday to me, and I was presented with a big birthday cupcake!
After a stop at Haines again, we arrived back in Skagway at 8:30 pm.
What a gorgeous, unforgettable day!!
Time to get back into our very dirty car and say good bye to Skagway and the wonderful people at the Sgt. Preston Lodge.
Crossing the border I received another “happy birthday” from the customs officer. Too funny!
The country side with the beautiful lakes and mountains we had seen coming down this way we now viewed from a different angle. The landscape is awe-inspiring, so majestic!
We stopped at the Yukon Suspension Bridge. Hari has no problems with heights but I surely do. Scary but heck, we were there, we walked across.
The mosquitoes were huge and plentiful and had a good taste of my blood!
Then on to Carcross desert.
Carcross Desert is commonly referred to as a desert, but is actually a series of northern sand dunes. The area’s climate is too humid to be considered a true desert. The sand was formed during the last glacial period, when large glacial lakes formed and deposited silt. When the lakes dried, the dunes were left behind. Today, sand comes mainly from nearby Bennett Lake, carried by wind. The dunes contain a wide variety of plants, including unusual varieties such as Baikal sedge and Yukon lupine, among others (information: Wikipedia).
And 177 km after leaving Skagway we arrived in Whitehorse. We found our accommodation for the 2 nights we were going to be in this city “Ravensong B&B” but sadly discovered it was way too small to be comfortable. We stayed for one night before changing to a motel in town. I walked to the Whitehorse dam and checked out the fish ladders I had read about. It was very hot in Whitehorse. Temperatures must have reached somewhere near 30 degrees Celsius the days we were there. Quite unusual for this region I was told.
We decided to drive west for the day. We packed up our stuff and left the tiny b&b.
The Alaska Highway is undergoing lots of maintenance during the summer. A short window of opportunity before winter shows all its white power.
For us, and all the other drivers, it meant occasional waits for a pilot car to guide us through some rougher stretches, or to just go slow, to avoid enormous dust clouds.
It is part of the course, part of the adventure!
Our goal was Haines Junction, at the cross point to the main body of Alaska, or south to Haines. This is quite interesting. It shows how enormous the country is, and how few roads. We went, on our way from Skagway to Juneau, by boat first to Haines. It took about half an hour with the fast catamaran. With a slower boat it might take 1 to 1 1/2 hours. But if you were to go by car from Skagway to Haines, you would first have to take the Klondike hwy to Whitehorse, then hwy 1 west, the one we were taking this day, and then from Haines Junction hwy 3 south to Haines. This is a journey of 566 km, a 7 1/2 hour drive under normal circumstances!! You appreciate your road system at home when you consider this.
I would not mind driving hwy 3 all the way one day though. As the road goes through Kluane National Park, this would definitely not be a punishment 😉
The scenery is spectacular. We drove parallel to Kluane National Park and turned onto highway 3 until we reached Kathleen Lake. Did we ever enjoy today’s drive!
At the crossing, with signs pointing straight, taking you via the Haines Road to Haines, Alaska, or right, the Alaska Highway to Anchorage and Fairbanks. I was so tempted to turn right…..But considering the distance, to Fairbanks 792 km, or to Anchorage, 979 km, we decided to keep that for some other time (my bucket list is getting longer).
Haines Junction happened to host the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival so the village was alive with guitar and drum playing people of all ages.
Kathleen Lake was a beautiful stop. Hari chatted with an old-timer, having lived in the area for a long time.
And then it was time for the drive back to Whitehorse.
We left Whitehorse early in the morning.
About 40 km south of Whitehorse we discovered Swan Lake. Located at the shores of the lake is the Swan Haven Interpretative Centre. Swan Haven is located on the shores of M’Clintock Bay on Marsh Lake. April and early May Trumpeter and Tundra swans, wigeons, Canada Geese, Northern Pintails, shorebirds, eagles, and other predators abound in this small bay, easily seen from the observation decks. So we missed out on the wildlife but the scenery was breathtakingly beautiful.
Later on we stopped at a viewpoint, explaining the “lost landscape of Quesnellia”.
the “lost landscape of Quesnellia”. The mountain we saw in the distance was Simpson Peak.
The granite base and volcanic islands of Quesnellia, on the Pacific plate, were crushed against the westward-moving North American continental plate. A terrain is a belt of rocks that differ in age and type from those around them. This terrane, called Quesnellia, is named for a town in central British Columbia where the volcanic rocks are well exposed.
Granite cooled in the earth’s crust 206 to 144 million years ago, during the Jurassic period of the Mesozoic era. Undersea volcanoes erupted above the granite. Here at Swan Lake, the volcanic islands of Quesnellia have long since eroded but, in Simpson Peak, we can see the granite roots of a once-mighty volcano and the angular spikes of an ancient magma chamber (information “Sights and Sites of the Yukon”)
Arriving in Watson Lake we checked into our B&B “Cozy Nest Hideaway“, located about 8 km out of town. A very nice place to spend the night, located at the lake. A beautiful garden crept down from the house to the lake shore, where I stood and watched the lake, still surrounded by daylight, just a bit before midnight.
We had gone into town for a bite to eat in a small place, where we had a hilarious encounter with an American couple. He could not get over the fact that a hamburger cost $14. How many do I get for that price, he demanded to know. Together with another couple we had a great interaction between the 3 tables.
Afterwards we paid a visit to the Northern Light Centre where we saw the sky we should have seen in reality if we had visited in wintertime! We also learned a lot about Northern Lights.
And Watson Lake is famous for its Signpost Forest. Too crazy! It has now over 72000 signs! The couple we met at the restaurant had brought their homemade sign from Quebec and were going to put it up the next day.
To be continued…