The Alaska Highway
and Other Ramblings

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The Alaskan Highway starts in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, because there was already an existing road and railway network to it.  It ends at Delta Junction, Alaska, because there were already highways to major Alaskan cities to it.

The Alaskan Highway is no longer the formidable beast that it once was.  Mostly paved, except in a few construction zones, it isn't difficult to drive, nor hard on vehicles.  The Steward-Cassiar Highway, in British Columbia, which is the obvious route from Prince Rupert to Watson Lake if one is in Prince Rupert, has a hundred-plus miles of gravel, but it's very well maintained gravel, and it isn't actually part of the Alaskan Highway.  And we emerged from it with a dirty truck, but no flat tires, and no cracks in the windshield.  Being the Chairman of the Department of Redundancy Department, I loaded an extra spare on the truck, but haven't changed a tire.

There are less benign roads in Alaska.  The road to from Chitina to McCarthy, where the old Kennicott Copper Mine is, now in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, is said to be awful.  Less so, but formidable, one hears, are the Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay, and the Dempster Highway from Dawson to Inuvik in the Yukon Territory.  I don't know, having driven neither.  I don't think doing so is essential to seeing Alaska, unless one feels a need to test oneself by driving awful roads.  I'm from Texas, and I've done that already.

Lisa and I drove from Prince Rupert up the Cassiar-Stewart Highway, overnighting at a resort about halfway to Whitehorse.  The scenary was lovely.  The next day we drove into Whitehorse, in the Yukon Territory, where we laid over a day to get the oil changed in the truck and do other chores.

Whitehorse is a pretty town, on the Yukon River, once the wild gateway to the Yukon, but now thoroughly civilized, with the usual assortment of American fast food restaurants.  It also has a highly efficient place called Enviro-Lube, which did a fast oil change on the truck while we sat in it.

The next day we drove down to Haines, Alaska, through Kluane National Park, the Canadian Park which is contiguous with Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.  The two parks contains nine of the sixteen tallest peaks in North America, and mile after mile of lovely forests with snow-covered peaks in the background.  The road to Haines is worth driving in both directions, because the weather is so changeable that one gets a different picture from one day to the next.  One can get to Haines by the Alaskan Marine Highway system, though.

What is notable about Alaska (and Canada) is how much of it there is, and how much of it has no people in it.  A lot of the country we saw has a higher population of bears than people.  Half of all Alaskans, roughly a quarter million of them, live in Anchorage.  There are only two other towns with populations greater than 10,000, Juneau the state capital, and Fairbanks.  Most of the rest of the people live in small towns and villages, which means, outside of a town, the population density approaches zero.
This is Fort Seward.  That's a bit confusing, because it's not in Seward, Alaska, which would make sense, but in Haines, Alaska.  The fort was established around the turn of the century.  Haines has a very nice museum, which shows a lot of pictures of the fort.  The building in the picture were originally duplex quarters for married Army Captains and Majors.  The former fort is now all private property, and several of these buildings are now duplex condominiums.  The town of Haines is on the border of the Chilkat Eage Preserve, where 40,000+ bald eagles gather in February of each winter to fish on the river, attracting eagle fans from all over the world.

The fort also plays host to the cruise ship dock, and tourist shops for the ship passengers, including an all-you-can-eat salmon bake.

Haines is also a terminal for the Alaskan Marine Highway System, so it is possible to put your vehicle on the ferry at Bellingham, Washington, and take it off at Haines, avoiding all of the Alaska Highway except for the stretch from Haines to the Alaska border, which can be done easily in a day.

The highway between Haines, Alaska, and Haines Junction, Yukon Territory, is lovely.  We drove it once in each direction, and were glad we did, because one gets a different view as the weather changes, and the weather changes a lot.  This picture was taken at a trailhead in Kluane National Park, which adjoins Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska.  And yes, indeed, there are bears in those mountains.  A black bear crossed the road in front of us, and I think Lisa got a picture of him.  If it turns out, I'll scan it when I get home.  The road between Haines Junction and Haines is almost all in Kluane NP, and it's both wonderful and empty.

Canadian signs are frequently in both English and French.

These are more mountains in Kluane NP, taken on the road between Haines Junction and the Alaskan border.  The flowers are fireweed, and are unfortunately much more brilliant in person than they are in the picture.

They had snow overnight in those mountains.  The attendant at a Shell station in Haines Junction said the unseasonal snow was making him wish to be in Arizona - until I told him what the temperatures were running in Arizona. It can snow any day of the year in those mountains, and often does.  It doesn't often get down to the level of the roads in the summer, though.

We crossed the border into Alaska, and drove on to Tok, where we spent the night.  From Tok into Delta Junction, there was a lot of construction, but the road wasn't really bad.  The worst construction area I've seen so far was on the way back, in British Columbia between Prince George and Jasper.  The road surface wasn't all that bad, but the dust was horrible - at times it obscured the vehicle in front, and I had to slow down enough for the dust to clear to be able to proceed - and there was about 20 miles of that.

From Delta Junction, we drove to Fairbanks, stopping only long enough to hit an ATM machine for cash, then drove down to Denali, the National Park which surrounds Mount McKinley.  After checking out the visitor center, and finding out that we'd have to take a long bus ride the next day for a chance to actually see the mountain, with no assurance that we would because of the unpredictable weather, we decided to leave exploring that park for another trip.  We camped overnight at Denali.

The next day we drove into Anchorage, in the rain.  We stayed in Anchorage only long enough to hit the local REI outlet for some outdoor gear, then drove on down the Kenai Peninsula to Homer.  Homer, known as the home of Tom Bodet, who does the Motel 6 radio commercials, is also known as The End of the Road, and if you look at a map, you'll see why.

Homer is a quant little town, population about 3600, and is the Halibut fishing capitol of the world.  Halibut weighing in the hundreds of pounds have been caught on boats out of Homer.  The salient feature of the town, though, is the Homer Spit, which extends five miles out into Kachemak Bay from town, and is the home of the ferry terminal, the harbor, and all those fishing boats.  The spit dropped around 6 feet in elevation during the March 23, 1964, earthquake, and several of the buildings on it had to be elevated.  Water was in the famous Salty Dog saloon about four feet high during the resulting tsunamis.

The views, when you can see them, are gorgeous.  Here are Lisa and I sitting in the rare bit of sunshine, enjoying the scenary, about 8 feet from where the truck was parked on a bluff overlooking the bay.

This shot was taken from the same place at sunset, which occurred quite late.  The Homer Spit is visible only in the larger version of the picture, and is not the spit of land sticking out prominently in the left side of the picture, but can be seen in the far distance.  A light or two on the Homer Spit are barely visible.

Homer is at the very end of the Kenai Peninsula, which is where people from Anchorage go to play.  The peninsula was our favorite part of Alaska, with lovely scenary, lakes, and also the town of Seward.  There is an extensive network of canoe trails, and it would be a wonderful place to spend a couple of weeks with a canoe.

This shot was taken on the drive back up the Kenai Peninsula, somewhere north of Anchor Point.  What looked to us like a volcanic cone across Cook Inlet turned out to be exactly that - the volcano on Augustine Island.

We camped at the lovely but almost unfindable Quartz Creek campground on Kenai Lake.  It's the only Forest Service campground I've ever been in which had hot and cold running water in the restrooms, as well as flush toilets.  I think the camping fee was ten dollars.

We put the Feathercraft kayaks in Kenai Lake, but didn't stay long, as the wind was kicking up a chop, and the water was really cold.

The next day we drove to Seward - and that's another story.

Copyright 1999 by Linden B. Sisk
All rights reserved.