Alaska, the Last Frontier - Summer 2012 travel blog


Haines Highway summit

Haines Highway


Kluane Lake

Kluane Lake

on the road

loaded with pine cones



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fish wheel

We had a hard time leaving Haines. The road out of town went past a gas station that was jammed with Canadian bike race participants, buying that bargain $4.96/gallon gas. As we drove their 160 mile route to Haines Junction in the Yukon, we kept thinking about those bikers tackling the long gentle inclines to the summit at 3400 feet and then coasting back down again in the cold rain. We crossed back into British Columbia, changing time zones one hour back again.

Once we passed the summit the weather began to brighten and once we passed Haines Junction and were headed north again back on the Alaska Highway, we could actually see blue sky. We took a short informational hike through a spruce forest in recovery from a beetle infestation. We learned that the beetles are always around, but when the trees are made vulnerable by climate stress, the beetles take over. A spruce’s natural defense to having its bark penetrated is to ooze pitch and sweep the larvae back out. But if a tree is not robust or has had insufficient water, it doesn’t have enough pitch to pitch the bugs out. The infestation here took place in the early 1990’s, so we walked through a forest in recovery. Many of the dead trees are still standing with pitch stains on their trunks and when they fall over, they enrich the soil so that new plants can flourish. As we drove on we could see short, healthy young trees intermingled with those the beetles had done in.

This has been a great trip for seeing animals so far. The dandelions are blooming vigorously and are much larger plants than we have at home. Perhaps that’s because no one is coming after them with Weed-B-Gon. Bears love to eat dandelions, so we see them in the grass by the side of the road. They are barely distracted from their feast when cars screech to a halt and people leap out shutter clicking. We also saw a pair of swans, a bird that also ranges well north of here.

We are camped on Kluane Lake, the largest lake in the Yukon. Between 400 and 500 years ago, a glacier closed the drainage outlet. The water level rose more than thirty feet and the lake’s drainage reversed. Water that had flowed south to the Gulf of Alaska carved out a new channel at the northeast end to connect with the Yukon river system. Instead of traveling forty miles south to the Pacific, Kluane Lake waters began a ten times longer journey to the Bering Sea. Today the lake is back to its previous level, but its drainage has forever been altered.

By driving north we have left the cold and wet of the coast behind. The temperature is in the º60’s and it’s a pleasure to be outside. The campground offers free firewood. What more incentive does a person need to break out the s’mores?

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