The Alaska Highway

August 16-18

Destinations: Destruction Bay; Tok; Anchorage

Miles: 200; 250; 320

Wildlife: Trumpeter swans; dall sheep

Road work

Road work

We hopped onto the Alaska Highway (AK.A. the Al-Can) at Haines Junction, and finished our first day of driving at the Cottonwood Campground on Kluwane Lake.

kluKluwane Lake is the largest lake in the Yukon. It’s on the eastern edge of the Kluwane National Park, which joins the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska to protect a huge mountain range and ice field, including Mount Logan.

At a little over 19,500 feet tall, Mount Logan is the second tallest mountain in North America (Denali is taller by about 800 feet), and by base circumference is judged to be the largest mountain in the world. You can’t see Mount Logan except by air.

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Our campground was superb. We were perched right on the shore of the lake, with views of mountains in every direction. Our next-door neighbor was on his way out of Alaska (as are most campers at this time of year), and warned us that the highway is not in great shape. It was the second person to tell us there was a long stretch of gravel road to be tolerated.

Dall Sheep

Dall Sheep

Before heading west the next morning, we backtracked to the visitors’ center, where we were able to see part of the park’s herd of Dall Sheep way up on the mountainside.

EB1A8173The highway started out smooth enough, but after about 25 miles we hit the first patch of gravel, which extended at least five miles but seemed much longer. In all, the road was in repair, or disrepair, for about a hundred miles, so we did not make good time.

The first stretch of the highway from Haines Junction was a long road on mostly flat terrain, flanked on the south by huge mountains. As we progressed, the terrain flattened out, at least as much as we could tell due to the overcast, but not particularly rainy, conditions. As we neared Alaska, the terrain grew hillier.

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We continued to Tok, where we camped the night in a plain, if somewhat rundown, campground. It’s a not atypical picture of Alaska: The conditions are such that things are built simply and they can’t last forever.

A good portion of the trip from Tok to Anchorage was conducted in the rain. The ceiling wasn’t too low to see the Wrangell mountains in the distance, however.

At one point we saw somebody who saw a moose, but that was as close as we came to seeing any wildlife. Despite driving through obvious moose habitat. Maybe on the return trip.

Fall has arrived in some places.

Fall has arrived in some places.

A hundred miles from Anchorage we passed the Matanuska glacier, which was probably really impressive before it started melting away. It was still pretty impressive. Prior to that, we’d seen a nice pair of glacial tongues coming off a range several miles away.

Whereas much of the terrain coming out of Tok was broad and flat, once we crossed the mountain range at the glacier the topography changed into a winding mountain road reminiscent of the mountains back home, of course on a different scale.

Matanuska Glacier.

Matanuska Glacier.

The road itself had a few under-construction stretches, one of which bounced the van around so much the refrigerator popped open. I should point out here that we took the Tok cut-off, which is part of the Glen Highway and not the Alaska.

The roads through central Alaska (and the Yukon) are subject to “frost heaves,” which is why there is so much repair work in progress. That, plus they don’t have but about a five-month weather window during which they can work on the roads.

By the time we arrived at Anchorage, the weather had cleared.

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