The sun set late last night and rose early and bright this morning. We Burlwood posts enjoyed the beautiful weather driving from Haines Junction through the Southwest corner of the Yukon Territory to Tok - Gateway to Alaska.
The engineers have done heroic work putting in a roadbed that is at times higher than the tops of the stunted trees, but still the winter frost heaves have torn up the surface. All through the day we ran into potholes, potholes filled with gravel, and road patches. Still, this is a much better road than it was at the outset, and the traffic keeps the tiny communities alive.
We thought the presence of the road crews would scare away the wildlife, but we had several wonderful views during the day. Bear Flat Lodge was out of business, but an adult grizzly casually walked across the road in front of the car and shambled towards the buildings. Obligingly he turned to look at the car, about twenty feet away, as we paused to take his picture.
The land is full of water - rivers, creeks, lakes, ponds. The road Brown bear passes Kluane Lake - the largest lake in the Yukon; and skirts the Kluane National Park along Kluane Range, behind which is the St. Elias Range, with the highest mountains in Canada; and goes through Beaver Creek, the westernmost town in the Yukon. But mostly the land is empty and breathtaking.
Rounding a corner we saw what looked like small blocks of white ice in a lake. We turned around to investigate. The pond was shallow enough to have fully melted, and a flock of trumpeter swans had arrived -- perhaps to continue their migration, or perhaps to stop for the summer. We watched the swans twist their necks together in courtship, and fly a graceful aerial minuet.
We bought a new Sibley bird guide; our old one was written in 1965, and the ranges of birds have changed since then. Sibley helped us identify a Rough-legged Hawk and a Harlan's Hawk, which is a kind of red-tailed hawk without a red tail. If these sightings continue we may be forced to join the Audubon Club! Quonset hut church
Instead of chainsaw sculpture, we've seen creative use of the large galls or burls formed in spruce trees. Some artists make burlwood bowls, while more commonly a slender trunk with one or more huge burls is used as a decorative porch support.
Beneath the soil which thaws every summer and supports vegetation lies a layer of permafrost - frozen ice and dirt which can extend hundreds of feet. If the permafrost melts, it settles, along with the buildings or structures on the surface above. So great care is taken to prevent the thawing of the permafrost. An experiment has been made along part of the Alaska Highway by sinking pipes into the ground, topped with cones. Our guide book didn't offer any further explanation as to how the devices might work.
We stopped for lunch in Beaver Creek, basically the only settlement on the highway, halfway between Haines Junction and Tok. At Edna's Cafe we rather adventurously ordered pierogis and roast chicken and both were good. Had we chosen the other restaurant in town, we would have had bread made from sourdough carried to the Yukon in 1898. Caribou
The Catholic church in Beaver Creek was constructed from a 1940s-era Quonset hut left by the army; in other communities former military buildings have been re-used in similar ways.
After lunch we stopped at a hillside pullout to look north and east at the lovely mountains, when we spotted movement below. Crunching through the icy muskeg was a herd of very healthy-looking caribou, the bucks' horns still covered with spring velvet.
Most campgrounds and tourist businesses, including government visitor centres, won't open for another couple of weeks, and some roads farther north are still closed. Tok, where we are spending the night, had four inches of snow night before last, but it is clearly spring today and we're happy to have had a full day of sunshine--even the five-minute hailstorm around noon occurred under sunny skies!