Alaska Highway up North

Wednesday, 23 August 2006, Delta Junction, AK
On Monday we started our journey along the northern part of the Alaska Highway, from Haines Junction. The Alaska Highway was built during WWII. It runs 1422 miles from Dawson Creek in British Colombia to Delta Junction in Alaska. We plan to drive most of it, except for a short stretch between Haines Junction and Whitehorse because, on our return south, we will detour from just south of Tok over the Taylor and Klondike Highways via Dawson City to Whitehorse. Out of the 1422 miles we will miss driving less than 100 of them. (And we drove 5 miles of that 100 to get to our campground on Sunday outside of Haines Junction.)
The sky was a little clearer on leaving Haines Junction, but thick clouds were hanging about the mountain peaks - the highway is still paralleling the Kluane Ranges from Haines Junction to Koidern. The first stop we made was at the ruins of Silver City. These ruins are easy to find but are not signposted in any way. Soon after sighting the Kluane Lake, about 35 miles from Haines Junction, there is a road to Kluane Bed and Breakfast on the lake. Approximately 3 miles along this dirt and gravel road are the ruins. Silver City was a trading post, roadhouse, and North West Mounted Police barracks serving traffic travelling from Whitehorse to the goldfields of the Kluane Lake district from 1904 to 1924. Many of the buildings are still almost intact, except for the roofs collapsing. It is interesting to wander around and find them in amongst the trees and shrubs which are slowly reclaiming the site. It is a true ghost town, not a replica or a restored town in any way. Without The Milepost, we wouldn't have known it was there.
Only a few miles further along the highway, Sheep Mountain looms ahead. The Sheep Mountain Visitor Information Centre provides information on the Dall sheep that live on this mountain, so high up as to be mere white specks. The Information Centre also provides telescopes to view them and the ranger was very helpful in locating them and making sure the telescopes were pointed and focussed in the right direction.
Kluane Lake is Canada's largest lake and the highway follows its edge for over 40 miles. The settlements of Destruction Bay and Burwash Landing are on the shores of the lake. We stopped briefly in Burwash Landing to photograph the world's largest gold pan and to visit "Burlbilly Hill", which is a workshop where the proprietors work with Spruce burls to make interesting bowls and other articles. Unfortunately there was a sign out, "Closed - please call again" (Alaskan humour?), but we did have a look at all the amazing burls on display outside their shop.
A few miles outside Burwash Landing we suddenly had a really good view of St Elias Range snow peaks. This occurred because the sky had become a lot clearer and the clouds had lifted from the peaks, but also because the trees by the roadside had been destroyed by fire in 1999. We also stopped at Kluane Wilderness Village because the 'bible' told us there was a viewing platform from which you could see Mt Logan and others of the Mt Elias Range. Unfortunately the platform was closed. It is about 20 miles from Burwash Landing and also has a burl workshop - "The Burl King of the North"!
About 10 miles on from there we stopped at a viewpoint overlooking the Donjek River Valley, which gave really great views of the icefields and snow peaks of the St Elias Mountains. The blue skies were not to last. About half an hour later we stopped at Pickhandle Lake and Juergen took some beautiful photos of the lake reflecting the surrounding forests and mountains. We could see darkness coming from the north and within 10 minutes the lake looked like a different place, with wind blowing strongly and the surface of the lake covered in small waves. I had heard that the weather changes quickly up here, but this was close to being instantaneous!

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