Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Up and Over and Around – Alaska Adventure 2010

Aug 14 – 17:

What day is it and where am I?  During these four days we did occasionally lose track. Our travels brought us up, over, out, around and back, covering 970 miles from the U. S., into the Yukon, over to British Columbia and around into the U. S. again.  The last I wrote we were in Haines, Alaska, monitoring the wildfire burning near the Cassair Highway in B.C., our next destination.   Would the road stay closed and keep us from our planned route? The news on the Forestry Service site let us know we could not necessarily count on going south on the Cassair (37) once we came to the junction on Haines Highway follows the Chilkat River out of Haines and slowly climbs and meanders, up the pass and down, through a variety of forests and tundras.the Alaska Highway. And then there’s the continuing issue of Ferd’s air bag. Would the temporary fix keep us level for a while? On the 14th of August we decided it was time to go, regardless. Time to begin the exit to our Alaska Adventure, south to the lower 48.   

The first 250 miles from Haines, AK, to Whitehorse, Yukon’s capital, was smooth going. We were glad to be retracing the Haines Highway north, one of our favorite chapters in this three-month trip.    There’s nothing but nature, deep valleys with rivers running, abundant spruce and mountains painted in whites, browns and greens.  No roadside fuel stations, no McDonalds, not even very many fellow travelers.  This day was up out of Alaska, into the Yukon. 

Our next day of travel was another 260 miles east on the Alaska Highway, thankfully without any road condition issues. But there was one unique experience.  Maybe this situation could be closely equated with camping out at the box office for concert tickets….Just waiting for an end result, hoping things work out the way you want.   When we arrived at the junction of the Cassair (37) and Alaska (1) Highways  we could see around the corner a short line of vehicles stopped.  At first, this looked like a good sign. They must be waiting to move on down the road, right? We all waited patiently in line for the Forestry officials to give the go-ahead to travel south on the Cassair, Highway 37.  The wildfires burned for weeks in this area of British Columbia, as they do annually.  Lightning strikes start many fires - Mother Nature cleaning house. Then we noticed that the rvs in line had awnings out and lawn chairs setup. People were walking around and gathering in conversation.  So we pulled into the line and asked: “What’s the story?” Answer: “We’re waiting, hopefully, to go down the highway tomorrow. They say that if all goes well there will be a pilot car to lead us through around 9:00 a.m.”  Okay, so what do we want to do?  It was already 6:00 p.m. and the parking spot’s free.  So, we chose to stay too. What a mix! There were a few locals just trying to get home in cars and trucks. The distant travelers ranged from Pennsylvania to Kansas and Vancouver to Ontario. We even had a participant from Sweden in his Class C anticipating the next leg of his trip.  As the evening progressed, people were making new friends, sharing halibut recipes and petting each others dogs.  And yes, the next morning, August 16, the pilot car did bring a line of travelers from the other end.  Then it was our turn. All of us, by then the line was about a mile back around the corner onto Highway 1, proceeded along the smoky road south.  After running the 42-mile gamut of the restricted road, we questioned whether these closures were necessary.  Here's our nice lunch spot at the edge of Summit Lake along the Cassair Highway.  Jerry helped some other travelers to get information on a camping site further down the highway. Smoke, yes, but no fire was visible anywhere.  We were released at the end of the closure to enjoy at our own pace.  We found a fantastic spot for lunch, at a rest stop on Summit Lake. During our break a few of the folks we met the night before, stopped by to chat. In our photo (right)  Jerry and two compatriots from the Cassair Highway lineup are consulting the  Alaskan Camping guide we have depended on throughout our trip. And later, we met some rving friends from the night before to share a pleasant pull off for the night. 

The Cassair through B. C. held up to our expectations for views as we continued south on August 17.Bear Glacier along highway leading into Stewart, B. C.  See the small opening at the bottom of the glacier where the melt is flowing into the lake.  A closer shot is on the right.  But we did take one side trip, exiting at the Stewart-Hyder Access Road, leading west for a spectacular 40-mile stretch. This highway winds through the steep-walled Bear River Canyon before moving up next to Bear Glacier in its frozen grandeur, hanging right out there along the highway. Close-up of Bear Glacier feeding a steady stream in the lake at its terminus.The terminus spills out into the Mezaidin Lake, feeding its murky water.  Here you can see  nature at work as the annual melt of the glacier flows out of this massive, aged ice structure.  (Put your cursor on photos for more info.)

We had an extra bonus on this piece of road, also.  Just as we came along, black bears were out hunting berries or other vegetation for lunch.  We had four different sightings Black bear and her cub out foraging for a meal as we were traveling toward Stewart, B. C. and Hyder, AK, on August 17.  There was another cub with them, but the two babies were moving around too much to catch them all at once.  Soon Momma Bear turned and led them slowly back into the trees.  along the highway, the last being a black bear and her two cubs.   We gawked and they looked somewhat puzzled or aloof.  

As I was saying, this brings us up, around and over to the tiny town of Hyder, Alaska. (More later.)  After all the events and considerations, we were happy that we took this particular route with this particular timing.  It all adds up to another unique segment of our Alaska Adventure -- interesting and fun.

Talk to you later.  

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