Alaska, the Last Frontier - Summer 2012 travel blog

we're really here!

bad road

boundary friends


mountain lake

vegetation boundary

more rain clouds rolling in

The drive from Destruction Bay to Tok is known to be one of the roughest stretches of the AlCan these days. It crosses large swaths of permafrost, easily identified whenever you see stunted fir trees at lower elevations and wavy lines in the road. The poor trees can’t get their roots very far into the ground before they hit ice. There never seems to be a shortage of road to straighten, culverts to fix, bridges to replace, or surfaces to level out. The soil in this area is glacial and unsuitable for road embankments. Anything that causes the permafrost to melt will cause the icy soil to liquefy and the liquid soil has little strength and will settle or subside. Then if this soil refreezes during lower temperatures, it will expand or heave. Because it is in the interest of Alaska for this road to be passable, the US has been subsidizing road repairs in the Yukon for many years. But the legislation was written so that if Canada puts a finished layer of asphalt down the subsidies will stop. Is it any wonder that the road suddenly improved after we crossed the boundary back into Alaska? Along the route we saw a number of attempts being made to build structures that would funnel the cold air back into the soil preventing the permafrost from melting. Many of the rough spots on the road were marked with orange flags, but many were not. Some were the rough pavement that makes the tires rapidly go up and down and set your teeth to buzzing. Others produced a waving motion up and down, like an unpleasant amusement park ride. The motor home drivers get special kudus today for bringing us through to the Alaska border safe and sound. This time when we crossed the border it was in the knowledge that we will be here for a while. No more worries about tomato worms or having extra tax levied on that box of wine.

The international boundary marker here makes a good photo-op, as does the narrow clearing which marks the border. This is part of the 20 foot wide swath cut by surveyors from 1904 to 1920 along the 141st meridian to mark the Alaska–Canada border. This swath continues south to mark the boundary between southeastern Alaska and Canada. Portions of the swath are cleared periodically by the International Boundary Commission. The boundary line between Alaska and Yukon was originally described in an 1825 treaty between Russia and England. The U.S. accepted this version of the boundary with its purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. But after gold was discovered in the Klondike in 1896, a dispute arose between the U.S. and Canada, with both claiming Skagway and Haines. An international tribunal decided in favor of the U.S. in 1903. It’s amazing that the Canadians are such good friends of ours.

We are camped behind a sports goods store in Tok (an abbreviation of the name Tokyo Camp from the WW2 road building days). When I think of sporting goods I think of tennis racquets and golf clubs, but what I can buy here are guns, guns, guns. The Candian border folks question us closely about fire arms, but now that we are back in the US, bearing arms is back in fashion. It does make more sense here when you might need to protect yourself from a bear or nab something for your dinner plate. Tok is the only town in Alaska that tourist who drive themselves will visit twice - once when entering and once when leaving. It has a great visitor center and we have another stack of glossy brochures to digest. It's other claim to fame is that it is the coldest place on earth where humans live full time. Temperatures of -78ºF have been recorded here. I would have thought that some of the villages north of the Arctic Circle would have set the records, but they are all located near the sea, which must provide a somewhat moderating influence on the temperature.

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