June 5 – 8 The Yukon to Skagway along the Klondike Highway

After leaving Tok (the Tok RV Park is great and we were nestled amongst the pines) We made it across the border but not before spotting a juvenile caribou on the side of the road.  He was freaked and froze in front of us before sprinting off to find his mother.

Little dude!

The RV traffic had picked up dramatically and we kept seeing the same caravan of three RV rentals being driven by Germans.  We seem to encounter a fair amount of Dutch and Germans. 

The frost heaves started not long after we left Tok – we were anticipating them this time. The “perma” in perma frost isn’t so permanent as the pavement gives way as the ground softens.  There are times on the Alaska Highway that you would expect the oxygen masks to fall if you were on an airplane.  Being in a higher profile vehicle only exacerbates the rumpy-bumpy ride.  

The wildflowers were in bloom and we even drove through a “pollen storm” – like a dust storm but it was orange-yellow pollen coming off the deciduous trees; the road was layered in it.  

We were curious to see how much had changed since we went through this area two weeks ago.  The Yukon Discovery Lodge was busy though they ran a generator all night as they had no other source of power.  Such is life in this part of the world.  

We left the next morning as the sun was rising over the nearby ridges.  Fog emerged from the valley and we had a clear view of the Kluane Range that had been socked in on our way up.  We witnessed massive icefields running vertically from the sides of peaks – amazing stuff.

We passed marshes and ponds with migratory birds including Trumpeter Swans;  one pond had two swans surrounded by ducks as if they were gathered to admire their magnificence. Unfortunately there wasn’t room to stop and enjoy the scene.  

We swung by Pickhandle Lake as the mist rose and the loons were making their way across the water.  

Pickhandle Lake and the Kluane Range

We then settled at Lakeview Campground for breakfast; the forest was rich with the scent of pine mixed with the heady essence of spring.  

As we made our way back down to Destruction Bay, we rounded corners with endless the endless mountain range welcoming us with open arms.  The bay was still partially frozen, quiet and still save for the distant cry of what sounded like a fox.  

Destruction Bay

After a peaceful overnight at the Caribou RV Park south of Whitehorse we headed to Skagway, AK via Highway #2 – known as the famous Klondike Highway that leads to the Inside Passage.  We essentially drove from the Yukon, through a spit of British Columbia and back into Alaska – all 100 miles from Whitehorse.  

As we headed west the terrain turned into granite outcroppings, more steep cliffs with cascading waterfalls, surrounded by partially frozen ponds.  Granite islands emerged from the waterways, covered in lichen with a smattering of boreal pine creating a very unique ecosystem.   The temperature dropped to the 40’s as we crossed from Canada back into the U.S.  It was an extraordinary site as we headed down the steep slopes into the bay.  

Along the Klondike Highway

The weather cleared as we parked up in Skagway at the Pullen Creek RV Park; there were four cruise ships up from Glacier Bay in the dock carrying some 12,000 people.  We encountered many of the ice-cream-consuming tourists as we explored Skagway; which turned out to be quite the destination with the Klondike Gold Rush mystique permeating the town, its old buildings giving off an aura of the Wild West.  The Gold Rush was brutal – when you consider that the prospectors had to endure such a savage environment in the hopes of striking it rich.  The museums along with the active, retro train station gave us a good feel of what it must have been like. 

They had an obscene amount of jewelry stores – I suppose because the whole idea is this is where gold is mined?  We did find a few nice art galleries amongst the interminable kitsch and discovered these gems (I go ape for art!).  The mother of the artist was there and said in the original painting of the Laughton Glacier her daughter painted in one of her boots that she had lost during a hike!

Whimsical Watercolors of the Inside Passage

Skagway reminded me a bit of Sisters, Oregon with the traditional facades and galleries and in the summer it is also teaming with tourists.

It’s now 6:00 a.m. and there is a loud hooting of a train then several crash-bangs!  The train has pulled into the harbor to greet the three cruise ships that had arrived – the fourth must be on its way. Either this is normal or they are making up with a post-Covid frenzy. Skagway must make a killing on tourism during this short window.  Come October the bay will start freezing over and the 300 some odd residents of Skagway will be encased in snow and ice until May.  I don’t know how they manage!  

We departed on a stellar warm day and headed out to Carcross, but were diverted several times to take in the scenery. 

We even spotted a pair of brown bears munching on dandelions on the side of the road.  

Brown Bear – ignoring us

Carcross is a charming town – the name is derived from Caribou Crossing.  The town was built to promote the indigenous tribes with lovely totems and buildings painted in the Tagish First Nations tradition.  The center was designed to represent local artists, but sadly there were only a few shops open.  Otherwise it is a lovely stop along the Klondike Highway.  

Carcross – Tagish First Nations

May 31 – June 3 Anchorage and Prince William Sound, Alaska

We landed in Anchorage during a rare heat wave; in Alaska that means temperatures into the high 70’s and it has been going on for days.  They usually don’t have weather like this until July and it’s very unusual for streaks like this to go on for days.  Well – it certainly worked out great for us.  After taking care of some personal business in Anchorage and picking up a rental car we headed to Whittier to kayak on Prince William Sound.  

The scenery was once again quintessential Alaska as we meandered along the Turnagain Arm with the sun reflecting from the dramatic peaks, creating an off-world metallic sheen along the water.  One pond we went by had mesmerizing ice sculptures partially submerged in glacial blue water  – the sun intensifying the ice into a sort of crystallized topaz.

We were scheduled to go through the Whittier Tunnel also known as the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel.  It stretches for 2.5 miles and is a one-way system, hence the set schedules to come and go.  So it’s important to plan your trip if you have an appointment for kayaking or a cruise.

As it turned out our kayak trip was cancelled due to high winds, so we decided to flex and when we arrived in Whittier we booked one of the four hour Prince William Cruises, and since we had time on our hands we decided to hike the Portage Pass Trail.  

It turned out to be pretty steep – more like level three to four in some places and some pretty long stretches of slushy snow.  But the view of the Portage Glacier was worth the effort.  

The view from Portage Pass Trail

After a thigh busting hike we boarded the cruise and headed towards Blackstone Bay.

On the way we saw Stellar Sea Lions (we have these in Oregon as well), a raft of sea otters and then some lone ones floating on their backs happily watching us go by.   There was healthy amount of bird  life and waterfalls everywhere, some seriously raging down the sides of the cliffs; it reminded me of the movie Avatar for some reason.  It was certainly windy and even on such a warm day that wind got cold and I wound up huddling a good portion of the time in the back where I was safe from the constant pummeling, coming out in intervals, bracing myself to take in the views. 

We finally slowed down near Blackstone Glacier; we got a quarter of a mile from the glacier which is a good but safe distance.  The crew were fishing out some of the bigger chunks of ice as it apparently gets caught in some of the motors of the boat.  

Flocks of gulls were perched on icebergs, taking flight in our wake. 

The wind calmed down once we started drifting through the ice, looking in awe at the waterfalls to the right of the glacier, and listening to the roar of a gargantuan spilling of its melt into the water.  

I had photographed an arch that a minute later calved into the bay, sending shock waves that dispersed the debris field of ice.  I was only able to catch the tail end of the event as I wasn’t quick enough to the draw.  

The arch before it collapsed
The arch after it collapsed

We moved onto the next tidewater glacier known as Tebenkof.  You could hear the shifting and cracking of cavernous ice, waiting for it to calve but alas, it was not our luck for this next one to give us a show.  

After standing out for quite a while I started to get really cold and finally wandered back for a hot chocolate inside the boat.  We stopped by the nesting area of the black legged kittiwakes; waterfall after waterfall – bucolic.  

We headed back through the tunnel and as we emerged the sun was intensifying the sheen across the water; it never really sets here in the traditional sense- I’ve been up at 2 or 3:00 a.m. and it feels more like early dawn.  It has been an adjustment to go to sleep at 10:00 p.m. and it’s still broad daylight out.  

We stopped at a touristy spot as Bob wanted to do some gold panning and managed to collect a few impressive flakes!  

As our trip came to a close, I had the opportunity to catch up with my dear friend Janet; we’ve known each other for forty years and still manage to stay in touch.  You know it’s a special relationship when you see each other after a lapse of so many years and the connections reignites immediately and you want to spend endless hours catching up.  We never have enough time so I planted the seed to visit us in France and I suspect this will happen – we can easily fly to anywhere her and her husband decide to visit in Europe.  Some places and people are simply meant to be and this is one of them. She was the closure to a stellar visit to the incomparable State of Alaska.  

We left Anchorage on our way to Tok only to be met with yet another unfathomable site –  the 27 mile long Matanuska Glacier.  Surrounded by the vast green egress of a new spring lies a massive glacier casually visible from the side of the road.  Upon investigation, this masterpiece emerges from the frozen vice of the jagged range belonging to the Chugach National Forest; on the other side of the range lies Prince William Sound.  Investigating the icey interior of this range with my zoom lens reminds me of the likes of Yukon Cornelius.  On the outer rim it is a balmy 70 degrees yet the interior reveals a permanent housing of ice, flanked by jealous mountains. I’m not quite clear how the geography works but to say it is simply a curiosity seems inadequate.  

Alaska sets itself apart as an imperious, untamed world…. truly the greatest of all the wildernesses the United States has to offer.  Untamed – a concept I can can certainly relate to.

May 30 – Denali, AK

We sighted a black bear not long after we crossed the border into Alaska.  We were glad to get our unlimited Verizon service back, but had to switch our brains back to miles vs kilometers and US cash.  

After a nice stay in Tok we headed for Fairbanks.  The weather was fantastic and we were optimistic that we would be seeing Mt. Denali in all its glory: The weather is such that the mountain is visible only around 40% of the time so we would be one of the lucky few. 

We kept passing sweeping, endless mountain ranges, pressing themselves against bountiful skies.  

We stayed at the Wedgewood Resort in Fairbanks to give ourselves a scheduled break from the confines of BigB. They had a beautiful wildlife preserve adjacent to the resort – it’s a nice stroll through the boreal forest to a small lake where you maybe run into another person; it was a place of solitude with a chance for tree bathing.  

We arrived at the Denali RV Park and Motel and headed out to the National Park the next morning to go for a hike along the Savage River.  We stopped briefly at the visitor center on the way; we saw a moose and were warned about said moose by a ranger as she had a calf and had been getting aggressive.  Otherwise we navigated moose spoor that was prolific pretty much everywhere we went including the RV park.  

Savage River in Denali National Park

On our hike along the river we had the luck to spot Dall Sheep; one large male was sitting there along the ridge like a sphinx with a full set of curved horns on full display.  They were too far away for a photograph – even a high powered professional lens would have found the subject challenging to shoot.  We settled for what we could see through the binoculars and watched as several more came over the ridge. 

The hike along the river was exhilarating and there was still snow to navigate even though the weather was now in the sixties with barely a cloud in the sky.  The hike skirts the edge of the river and through portions of tundra with the Alaska range providing a dramatic backdrop.  I stopped on one of the upper trails to take it all in even though I really couldn’t; these dimensional spaces and experiences fill up too many senses – I settle for contemplating their existence and the associated memories.  

A gentle cooling breeze while the river raged on

You can take the bus through the park but due to landslides the trip is truncated – we opted for the drive to and from the trailhead instead – you can’t go any further into the park from Savage River without getting a ticket at the bus depot near the visitor center. We were happy with our sojourn as it was and were able to spot wildlife on our way back to the visitor center.

The wind blew heavily during the night and we woke without a cloud in the sky; this meant we were in luck to see the mountain itself.  We headed for the Denali South Viewpoint and about an hour into the drive we turned a corner and there it was – unmistakable, stately, towering above the vast tundra, subverting the surrounding peaks – the most majestic of the North American peaks. 

Mt Denali in all its glory

We were blessed to drive past the range and different variations of the mountain.  We arrived at Denali South Viewpoint and discovered many tourists had the same idea – though it wasn’t overly crowded.  The view was unbeatable and a short hike revealed an even better picture-perfect view.  Through the telescopes we could view the peak and the massive glacier running through the range.  

The boys were super happy they could see the mountain – no Jedi tricks here

The smell of spring permeated the surrounding forest, the warm breeze enveloped us and the view was beyond the imagination. 

Denali South Viewpoint