Our original plan was to head to Hyder, Alaska after Haines, with a stop in Whitehorse but we made a few changes. We were now chasing the Aurora Borealis. There was a forecast for a strong Aurora on the evening of the day we left Haines.
We had to head out on the Haines Highway once again, since we made quite a detour to see Haines, which was totally worth it. Leaving quirky Haines was definitely bittersweet but driving through the spectacular Haines Highway a second time was certainly not going to be a hardship.
As we left Haines, we drove along the Chilkat River, the other beautiful river in town. So much beautiful nature there.
We were now leaving Alaska once again and crossing back into Canada. Going through customs was quite easy, with just a couple of the standard questions and a wave through. For some reason, it is still always stressful for me.
The weather continued to be cloudy but the views from the Haines Highway were still beautiful. We had a slightly better view of the mountains this time around and the clouds were much prettier.
Some of the peaks that were bare when we drove into Haines were now covered in snow. Winter is coming. Continue reading →
We spent a lot of our time visiting the Chilkoot River in Haines. This beautiful river is where the salmon run, and where we found the Chilkoot bears, as well as eagles, seagulls and others vying for the nutrient-rich fish.
The Chilkoot is surrounded by forest and and empties into a lovely lake, the Chilkoot Lake, which in turn empties into another section of river, where we visited frequently.
The rain was beginning to catch up with us and we had a couple of pretty dreary, rainy days, but most days we made at least one visit looking for the bears. No luck the first couple of times, but we finally spotted a sow and her cubs at the mouth of the Chilkoot River where it then dumps into the Lukat Inlet.
These two cubs were our first grizzly cubs of the year! We saw several black bear cubs back in Yellowstone and we saw quite a few grizzly bears in Yellowstone and Denali, but no grizzly cubs.
Grizzly bear cubs have an adorable feature, they have white fur around their necks. Since they are born early in the year, during the sow’s hibernation, the white fur is almost gone on one of the cubs, but the other still has an almost complete white collar.
We watched the sow and cubs fishing along the beach. Then we saw another bear on the other side of the river mouth, also feeding. The other bear was working his (we assumed he was a male) way towards the beach where the sow and cubs were.
All of a sudden, he got in the water and started swimming towards the beach.
While in Haines, one of our neighbors mentioned that they saw lots of whales on the ferry to Juneau. We were pretty happy with our whale watching this summer, but we never have enough of the whales, and thought it would be fun to take a day trip to Juneau.
An added bonus was that Juneau has drugstores and we could take care of filling Angel’s prescription. In fact, a lot of people in Haines take the regular ferry to Juneau to buy supplies especially since there are both a Costco and a Walmart there.
We were able to get a pet sitter for Angel and made our reservations for the day with the best weather forecast. Unfortunately, the weather deteriorated. And, after having had great luck the rest of the summer, we were off on a ferry on a completely cloudy, kind of dreary windy day. And the sea was quite choppy, in fact the day before they had to turn back once already underway and cancelled the trip, something that has happened only about twenty times over a several year period.
The good news was that the boat we were scheduled to go out on, the Fjordland, is a catamaran that sails pretty smoothly over rough waters. And when we set off the waters were quite still because we were at the mountainous end of the protected Lynn Canal.
Shortly after departing, we stopped to look at stellar sea lions on the rocks. There were several groups, all males. This is the end of the mating season when they don’t eat. Amazingly, these big fellows are usually much bigger than this! Continue reading →
Even for us, it was an ambitious plan. We were going to drive 400 miles roundtrip on a sketchy gravel road, the Dempster Highway, north to the Arctic Circle and back to our campground. The Dempster is the only road in Canada that crosses the Arctic Circle, so it was a chance of a lifetime. I have to admit I had visions of sleeping in the car. But my more rational self figured that we would get back sometime around midnight.
The three of us headed out at 5a.m. with lots of food and water. It was still dark and there was a light fog in the air. As we reached Two Moose Lake, which had quickly become one of our favorite spots, light began to filter through the fog and we were rewarded by one of the most breathtaking sunrises we have ever seen. I actually had hoped to see a moose (or two) at Two Moose Lake but this was even better.
We stayed in Dawson City a couple of extra days waiting for the rain to subside before heading to our next destination, Tombstone Territorial Park in Canada’s Yukon Territory. The road to the park, the Dempster Highway, is a gravel road with a terrible reputation. So ideally we wanted to drive there when the road was dry. But ultimately we decided to move on even though it had rained the previous night and the road was sure to still be wet.
Fortunately, it was only 44 miles on the Dempster Highway to our campground. The road was not as bad as we expected. In fact many times we asked others about it, their answer was “it’s not that bad”. That is because the overall perception is that “the Dempster” is horrible from beginning to end. And that is not true. There are bad sections, very bad sections and the “not that bad” sections with maybe a couple of “hey, pretty good” sections thrown in.
Alaska Day driving day 12 recap:
Road Name: Klondike Highway from Dawson City
Road Type: 2-lane
Road Conditions: Pretty good
Road Name: The Dempster Highway
Road Type: 2-lane
Road Conditions: Well-graded gravel road with minimal washboard, but plenty of potholes, very muddy after a rain
Miles Today: 83 (includes a drive back to town from our campground for gas)
Driving Time: 2 hours
Total Miles in Canada: 2217
Total Miles since entering Canada: 4405
The signs are a little scary
After arriving at our campground, we had to clean up our car, the Coquí, which was covered in mud and rocks. Fortunately, we had covered the windshield with a tarp, which helped just a little bit. Our collection of mud-covered rags keeps growing.Continue reading →
It was hard to believe that a week had gone by, and this was our last day in Denali National Park with Hector’s “golden pass”. We were out for 13 hours the day before, and Angel and I were pretty tired, but Hector was on a photographers’ adrenaline high.
It was very cloudy so we left just after 6 a.m. Hector really wanted to make the most of this day, and his plan was to “get down low”, closer to the earth as much as possible.
We tried to take all of the scenery in as if we would never be back again. The beautiful fireweed with the mountains as backdrop, the braided rivers, the meadows, the glittering ponds. Continue reading →
The forecast for this morning was for partly sunny weather. Sunny meant that it would be brighter earlier so we set out at 5 a.m., although we wondered if the smoke/haze would still be around. It was not very sunny, but also not hazy, and there were puffy clouds in the sky.
The mountains on Polychrome Pass had some very interesting clouds around them. And the sunrise over the pass was quite pretty. Hector was really pleased with this morning light, and with the variety of days that we had in the park so far.
With the mudslide delay, our previous day was over 14 hours again. We were sleep deprived, but somehow still had lots of energy. So we headed out shortly after 6 a.m. The morning was cloudy, which was forecast, but there was also a strange haze in the air, making it tougher for photography. So this day was presenting Hector with a different type of challenge.
The Teklanika River was still lovely, though, and we got a glimpse of a soft, pretty, smoky sunrise.
There are several opportunities to see Denali, the high one, from the road that runs across Denali National Park and Preserve. As the road rises from forest and woodland habitat in the lowlands to the subalpine meadow and open woodland, the mountain can sometimes be seen just peeking behind a closer mountain range.
Then, as the first two of four passes rise up to and down from the alpine area of low tundra, there are two places that offer a full view of the mountain (when she wants to be seen): Stony Creek and the Eilson Visitor Center.
We set out at 5:00 A.M. in order to catch the beautiful morning light and also to be ahead of the first morning buses. Since we began our drive at mile 29 by the Teklanika River where our campground was located, we had a large head start on the park buses that leave from the visitor center at mile 1. We saw almost no-one early in the mornings, only the very occasional other car (park employees and service vehicles). It was truly special to be the only ones out on the road. Absolute solitude.
We took Angel with us on all of the morning drives, as we never knew how long we were going to be out. National Parks do not allow dogs outside of the roads, visitor centers, turnoffs and other developed areas so it was a bit restrictive but we made it work.
Our second day driving in Denali was full of promise. The forecast was for a clear, sunny day, and we were excited about seeing the mountain for the first time.
That morning we encountered a dense fog as we went over the first pass, Sable Pass. Weather changes quickly in this area so we were a bit concerned about whether Denali was going to be visible.
But fog has a unique beauty. We came across a caribou feeding, silhouetted against the fog. It was a quiet and serene scene and a sweet encounter.
The fog continued as we drove on, covering the landscape. Usually when the “mountain is out” as they say around here, she is first visible up close from the Stony Point overlook.
And there is a dramatic moment when you come over the pass and the giant mountain appears. But alas, when we got to Stony Point all was still white with fog. Rats.