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There is only one way in and one way out of Alaska – the Alaska Highway (ALCAN), so we are back in Tok to get on the Alcan going south, after 34 days in Alaska. It took us 17 days to get from the US to Alaska, so we assume it will take a similar number to get back to the US. The only difference is we left from Polson, MT but plan to deviate a bit to end up in Sumas, WA.
We were not looking forward to driving for days through Yukon. The ALCAN there is much worse than in Alaska or in British Columbia; muddy places and potholes. Leaving Yukon both times, the coach was covered in mud which will take many washings to get it out of all crevices.
We also learned that much of Yukon is not on the electrical grid. The towns are on the grid, but not the rural areas, and there are very few towns. In one town, we were given information that the electricity would be turned off from 8 – 10 pm, in the entire town, while the lines were being worked on! Very primitive! We did find a Freightliner Service Center in Whitehorse, Yukon, (capitol city) where we got an oil change for the coach, using 28 quarts of oil.
On the other hand, some of the most beautiful scenery is in the Yukon.
We got off the ALCAN and onto lesser roads so we could go in a more westerly direction. As we drove, we would run in and out of Alaska (Alaska dips way down along the coast), Yukon and British Columbia, so encountered multiple customs stops. One new place we got to visit was the town of Skagway, known as Alaska’s gateway city. It is a beautiful little town where cruise ships stop. Our waitress at lunch said the town closes down in the winter due to the cold and snow. The beautiful scenery from Whitehorse to Skagway is worth the trip.
Along the way, we saw what appeared to be a desert in the mountains so we stopped for a look. The message boards described it as remains of an ancient lake, though it looks like a desert. It is called the Carcross Dunes and resulted from glaciers moving through that area depositing their sand and silt. There is a constant supply of sand from a river, which along with the winds, create this very unusual dynamic system.
Our next stop was the two towns of Stewart, BC and Hyder, AK. We stayed in Stewart but spent most of our time in Hyder, going back and forth through customs; the towns are two miles apart but seem connected.
The first thing we did was “go see the bears.” There is a creek running through Hyder where salmon come to spawn and being up in the mountains, there are a lot of bears coming in to catch the salmon. The Park Service built an elevated walkway along the creek so visitors can safely watch the action. This was so exciting! We saw a black bear with her cub come to the creek to fish and a grizzly came alone, caught a fish and left. See the video of the black bear jumping into the water. She did not catch a fish while I was filming her and they left with no fish!
Steward has a huge wetland with boardwalk which we enjoyed as it was along the river with beautiful scenery. There was also a huge glacier in Steward named Salmon Glacier. This glacier is located such that you can drive up one mountain to look down at the glacier on the next mountain giving a rare look at the “head” of a glacier; it is the world’s largest “road accessible” glacier. Everyone said it was worth the trip, and we had not seen a glacier head, so up we went. OMG, it was twenty miles of gravel road, going straight up, starting at 700 feet and ending at 2,000 feet! It was a miserable drive both up and down but seeing that glacier was worth it. We were so bounced around that a toothpick in a holder with the little hole in top, in our glove compartment, actually bounced up and out of the little hole! We were told to be prepared for flies so when we got to the top, we quickly sprayed ourselves, but the flies were so thick we could not keep them from getting in the car when we opened the doors! Plus, Don shooed a mosquito off my back that he said was the size of his hand. We took pix and made a video of the glacier and left quickly. But it was something to see. I took more pix as we descended. The video shows the “head” of the glacier and there is also a pic of the “toe.”
There is a mineral mine along the mountain and the trucks share the road with the glacier traffic. This mine has been there for hundreds of years and still produces gold, silver, copper and zinc. If you look at the lower left of the picture of the mine, you will see equipment in action.
These two towns, Stewart, BC and Hyder, AK, are surrounded by mountains so avalanches are not uncommon. We saw areas where avalanches had occurred, saw avalanche warning signs, and an avalanche equipment building. Speaking of deep snow, on the highways we often saw upside-down L shaped poles along the side of the road. (see pics) We think they are guides for snow plows, the red painted area indicating the shoulder and the white paint indicating where the highway begins. Anyone know for sure?
Interesting list of movies made in Stewart include: Iceman, Leaving Normal, Insomnia, Eight Below, and The Thing.
After a couple more overnight stops in Canada, we will exit the country in Sumas, Washington.
Couple of “Canada Quirks:” One, is Canada does not use pennies, all purchases are rounded up. This makes a lot of sense. Another, is one of the country’s largest big box stores has a unique shopping cart return system. To get a cart, you insert a Looney, Canada’s $1 coin, into a slot on the cart that releases a lock that wraps around the next cart. To get your Looney back, you take the cart to any cart return area and insert the lock into the next cart, releasing your coin. No need for staff to collect and return carts and no vagabond carts in the parking lot.
Looking forward to stepping onto US soil!