A “cager” is what riders call people in regular vehicles. I was happy to be a cager today as my friend and I left the house with 8 degrees and rain and returned with a temperature of 6 degrees and a deluge.
We drove up to Haines Junction, and I didn’t get thrown out of the truck for asking to pull over and take pictures along the way. We stopped at the Canyon Creek bridge – a neat wooden bridge across the river that is so picturesque it demands a photo. At that same location, I crossed the steel bridge where the road crosses the river and scrambled up a rock to be rewarded with a gorgeous vista. Today, I paid a bit more attention to the vegetation, rather than just the views and took many photos of pretty little flowers. I haven’t identified them all, but they were lovely. It is too early for the Yukon’s territorial fireweed to be in bloom. ☹
The Canyon Creek Bridge marks the entrance to Kluane Country and the scenery gets more remarkable with every curve in the road. At one of the rest stops, the story boards told the interesting story of Elijah Smith. He was instrumental in negotiating Yukon land claims with a delegation of Yukon Chiefs, was a respected advocate for his communities, a horse wrangler, guide and family man. He was also a decorated war hero, having served in Normandy and Dieppe.
Travelling through Kluane country, there were vast areas of forest landscape marred by grey, dead trees from the spruce beetle. This surprised me as I did not expect the beetle would have survived the long, harsh winters in the Yukon. Wildlife was scarce. We saw some horses by the side of the road on the way out and on the way back, we did have an exciting moment watching a golden eagle soar over a lake. We were slightly less enamoured of its beauty when we considered it might be watching the baby swans that were on the water with their parents….
Our first stop at Haines Junction was the Visitor Centre. This is a must-see. There are fabulous displays of the geology, wildlife and indigenous people of the Kluane region. Even one that ruthlessly told me I weighed half a female grizzly bear and 15 eagles (some facts you just don’t need to know….). Shooting to weigh as much as a full-grown female grizzly, we stopped at the Village Bakery and made off with some bison sausage cheese sticks, a nanaimo bar, matrimonial square, an apple strudel and some kind of peanut butter energy ball thing (wouldn't buy that again).
Arriving in the core community of Haines Junction, you are immediately awe-struck by the gigantic mountains that you have been getting views of along the way. Even if my photos could convey their majesty, the low cloud cover today made it difficult to capture how impressive they are.
I am always humbled by such sights. Nature does not care that we petty humans have drawn lines on a map between our countries. She does not care that we exist – we are simply another species in her midst. We can’t begin to imagine the powerful force of nature that can thrust these massive mountains into the sky and carve channels between them with gigantic ice blocks. We may be able to harness some aspects of nature for our use, but we are fools if we think we can control it.
Loaded up with our bakery spoils, we headed for Burwash Landing. We stopped at Kluane Lake, which is fed by a river from the Kaskawulsh Glacier. It is the largest lake in the Yukon, though there is visible evidence that it has shrunk considerably. The view is absolutely stunning. I was saddened to see the mermaid washed up onto the rocks as her curly head and jacket reminded me a bit of myself. On the same pile of rocks was a gorgeous boulder. If Tracey had been with me, she would have been looking for a way to load that up and take it home.
Following the lake took us to Destruction Bay and on to Burwash Landing. If you travel the Alaska Highway this far and do not stop at the Kluane Museum of History, you have done yourself a great disservice. For a miniscule $5.00 admission fee, the museum has an excellent display of regional wildlife, descriptions of the regional First Nations tribes, historical tools, and clothing. They even have a very well-done display of the minerals of the Yukon. It was at this museum that I realized that the big brown bear I saw the other day on my way north WAS a grizzly bear. The museum also has a very nice gift shop, of course, but it is the museum itself that should not be missed. 10/10 on this stop.
Not far out of Destruction Bay, there is a beautiful memorial to a young man who died at the age of 23. The memorial was created by his artist father. It is a moving and beautiful tribute to his son.
Heading back towards Haines Junction, We stopped at Sheep Mountain to see if we could see any animals. There was one lone sheep wandering along the hill that we saw through their high-powered binoculars. Curious about a little log cabin not far from the viewing platform, we toodled down the road to take a look. It’s an abandoned cabin that Anne said I would be staying in if I offered her another bite of that peanut butter energy bar. I was startled when I peeked into the shed beside the cabin and there was a statue of a woman in a dress and sweater standing at a counter. After my heart abandoned my throat for its normal place, I almost apologized!
Back at the junction, we continued past it down the road towards Haines, Alaska, for a few kilometers. We made a brief stop at Katherine Lake – a lovely spot backed by the mountains, before heading back to Haines Junction for a very late lunch/early supper. We stopped at Frosty’s, which I can highly recommend.
After restoring our good humour with real food, we started back towards Whitehorse. The skies darkened ominously and then opened up to pour on us most of the way back. We did not let this deter us from an hour-long stop at the Takhini Hot Springs, though, and so ended a successful sight-seeing day without riding in cold wet weather for 8 hours!