Monday, June 30, 2008

Alaskan Idyll, Day 12 Skagway to Destruction Bay

This morning we said goodbye to our wonderful waterfront windshield view in Skagway, Alaska, and drove 270 miles to Destruction Bay, YT. The first hundred miles back-tracked north on the Klondike Highway, climbing up over White Pass, back through Carcross, and rejoining the Alcan just east of Whitehorse.

We Say an Early Morning Goodbye to Our Beautiful Campsite In Skagway

Climbing the grade, the road crosses an unusual cable-stayed bridge. Instead of being stayed from a vertical pylon, with the cables distributed symmetrically to both sides of the deck as usual, the pylon on this bridge is slanted, with one end of each cable anchored in the rock, and the other end supporting the deck. As can be seen by the photo of a large truck crossing the bridge, this unusual design seems to work effectively.

An Unusual Cable Stayed Bridge

Between the summit and Carcross, we spotted a bear and a wild animal, which we can’t identify. The bear was in just about the same location where we saw a bear on the southbound trip, and we think it was probably the same animal. We don’t know what breed the cat is; can anybody help us here?

Wildlife Spotted Near Carcross

Carcross, Yukon Territory

Past Carcross there is a bakery where we stopped in a tour bus three years ago. Our guide kept telling us how good the pies were at this bakery. When we arrived, we learned that, without asking us, the guide had called ahead and told the baker that he had a busload who wanted pies. The baker and his wife worked very hard to bake 20 pies before we arrived. At $20 each, very few of us bought the pies. The baker was very angry when we left.

Near this bakery, there is a footbridge suspended over a deep, narrow canyon. As you may have figured out by now, Keith is fascinated with bridges, and wanted a picture. There really is no good place to photograph this bridge from the road, but some enterprising soul has built a small visitors center on the edge of the canyon, where the bridge may be photographed. Kathy was kind enough to climb out of the coach and walk over to take the photograph, but discovered the there was an admission charge, of $17.50. Senior rate. And that’s why there is no picture of that bridge in this blog, folks.

We are wondering if the bakery and the bridge business are operated by the same dude?

One of the interesting aspects of travel in this remote country is the high turnover of service businesses along the road. That’s why we try to travel on the top half of our gas tank, unless our destination is a large town where we feel confident we can fill up. As an example, three years ago there was a thriving filling station, convenience store, and souvenir complex at the junction of the Klondike and Alaska Highways. Today it looks like this:

A Once Thriving Business Enterprise

Another interesting aspect of the Alcan is the multiple generations of roadways which can sometimes be observed long the way. When originally constructed in 1942, under imminent threat of invasion by the Japanese, the “pioneer road” was little more than a unpaved, narrow wagon track, bulldozed in the most expeditious manner straight through and over all hills and obstacles. One section of this pioneer road, south of Ft. Nelson, was so steep that it acquired the name “Suicide Hill”.

The plan was to utilize this original track as an access road for construction of an improved highway with less steep grades, more generous curves, and a wider right-of-way. It turned out that the Japanese did invade, but only in the Aleutian Islands at Dutch Harbor. As the threat of mainland invasion receded in 1943 and 1944, plans for the improved highway were shelved, and only the most dangerous sections, such as Suicide Hill, were re-routed during the war.

In 1946 the Canadian Government reluctantly took possession of the highway from the U.S. Army, and embarked on a slow but steady improvement campaign which continues to this day. Except for the perpetual frost heaves, much of the latest generation Alcan is similar to a US interstate highway, in terms of grade, curves, lane width & shoulders, etc. The big difference is two lanes instead of four, with opposing traffic. Shown below is a typical view of the modern road.

The Modern Alaska Highway

We recently had a note from a nice lady who grew up in Alaska, and traveled the dirt and gravel road 5 times in the 1970’s. Keith has a friend who made this trip in the same time period, pulling a pop-up trailer. By the time he reached Alaska, the trailer was so beat up that he had to abandon it. In that era, travel to Alaska by road was a true adventure. Today it’s really a piece of cake, except for the frost heaves, and the construction zones, both of which are handled by slowing down.

Traveling the modern Alcan, there are occasional glimpses of the earlier generation road, sometimes still paved, and sometimes abandoned and overgrown to the point where it is barely distinguishable. Shown below is a photo of two generations of road side by side. The older paved road is on the left, and the new road is on the right. We believe we recall driving the older road southbound in 2005, while the new road was under construction.

The Old (left) and the New (right), Side by Side

Branching off to the south is a gravel road, shown in the next photo. We are not sure whether this is an even earlier generation of the Alcan, or a side road. It clearly is still in use, but the fact that the old growth is cleared well back from the road, together with the well developed second growth nearer the road, suggests that this right of way is fairly old.

An Older Generation Alcan, or a Side Road?

Another example of the old alignment is shown in the following picture. We apologize for the poor quality of this photo, which looks more like a picture of a wet windshield than a landscape. The swath which we think is the old roadway is just behind the antenna. To the left, out of view, the hillside descends steeply to a lake. The hillside has been cut away to allow the new road to clear the lake. We believe the original builders simply bulldozed up this steep hill to get by the lake.
Putative Pioneer Right-of-Way (New Growth, Behind Antenna)

Further north, at the southern end of Kluane Lake, there is a short section of very narrow, winding road, which currently is being upgraded. The following photo shows the old road to the right, with a newer alignment under construction on the left.

A Junction of the Old (right) with the New (left)

Is there a highway archeologist hidden (very deeply) in Keith’s soul?

Past the construction zone is a Yukon Provincial Park named Sheep Mountain. On our last trip, we saw sheep on the mountain. This trip, they had all gone to Hawaii on vacation, or something. While Keith was waiting for Kathy to hunt sheep, he decided to clean up the potato chips from the floor around the pilot’s seat. He tossed them out the window, and soon there was a large black Crow eating them. He hung around until we left, looking for another handout. As Kathy approached the coach, she thought Keith was conversing with the Crow! In the meantime, she photographed some pretty wildflowers in lieu of sheep.

Conversation With a Crow

Pretty Wildflowers at Sheep Mountain

We arrived at Destruction Bay Campground mid-afternoon, tired but happy to find WiFi, which allowed us to post the Juneau Blog. At 5:30 we met in the restaurant for a short lecture about the area, then a very good barbeque beef dinner. We learned that the town is an old Army construction camp, and is named Destruction Bay because of the destruction caused to the camp by a very high wind (clocked at 100mph). The owner said he has experienced wind this strong a couple of times since he has owned the place.

On our way out of the coach to go to supper, our step broke. After supper Keith spent a couple of hours making a temporary repair. During this time, the wind was constant and annoying. Guess the name is appropriate.

Tomorrow we motor north to Tok, Alaska, crossing the border once again, from Canada to the U.S. Don’t miss our next exciting episode!

1 comment:

Bill and Linda said...

I think your unidentified animal is a Lynx. See this: