Roads to Alaska (Page 7)
Farewell to Alaska
Alaskan Reflections
It's Tuesday, September 12, 2000. Our last day in Alaska has dawned.   But, gladly, we can at least dream of another visit someday.

Our autumn visit this time was quite different than our June visit in 1971.   There are definitely fewer mosquitoes in September.   The weather is much wetter, though the rains were usually intermittent and light.   Temperatures were mildly cool.   In June, 1971, the surprise was that Anchorage was cool while Fairbanks was actually "hot."   This time, in September, we had a very pleasant day in Fairbanks with warm sunshine belieing a cool 65 in the shade.   And while June provided broad daylight all night, especially in Fairbanks, September provided only the aurora borealis as a "light to rule the night" for an hour or two at about midnight when the clouds were gone.

In 1971, we traveled home via the "Inside Passage" from Haines, AK to Prince Rupert, BC, stopping off at Juneau, Wrangell and Ketchikan.   That was a relaxing and beautiful trip.   This time our stop at Skagway has served to complete our Inside Passage experience.   And this time we would later see another small community in Southeast Alaska: Hyder.   Actually, that would be our final final good bye to Alaska.


What is Alaska?   Having recently traveled the the roads of the second largest state, Texas, traveling these roads of Alaska is similar in a way.   But the traffic is considerably less and the distances between towns are greater, even compared to West Texas.

The Alaskan roads we traveled are indeed where much of the human action is, but they provide only a taste of Alaska, leaving most of the state untouched.   Those long Alaskan roads have to be extrapolated to provide a fair perspective of this state.   Although Alaska is more than twice the size of Texas it has only 3% of the population.   So, despite the so-called boom of north slope oil and despite the mines, the fish canneries and even the tourism, Alaska is a vast, untouched wilderness, teaming with wildlife.



After our travels, I'd say the real Alaska is depicted by the people who inhabit it.   Of the places we saw, it's the barely populated "dots" like Chicken, Healy, Ninilchik, Glennallen, Gakona, etc.   They provide the grit.


Alaska is the isolated, small but thriving, communities such as Skagway, Tok, Delta Junction, Homer, Seward and Valdez.   They provide the "color."



Alaska is the small population centers like Fairbanks, Wasilla and Palmer with their "full service" on the frontier.   They provide "community."
And Alaska is the quarter-million people of Anchorage, a small city by all standards, that cares for and feeds the whole of Alaska.   It provides the "nourishment."   Anchorage and the smaller city, Juneau, together provide the formal linkage with the rest of the U.S. and the world.


And finally, Alaska is the aurora borealis; the glacier around the bend; fjords; endless forests of black spruce, birch and aspen; the autumn tundra glowing red and yellow, and the highest mountain in North America, hiding in the clouds.

The Homeward Trail
P
ulling out of our wooded campsite on the edge of Tulsona Creek, we trundled the mile of dirt road to get onto the paved Glenn Highway.

Standing stark, and straight ahead, was 12,000 foot Mount Drum.   What a wonderful "Good Morning!" for our last day in the Alaska interior!  

At Glennallen, we filled the gasoline tank and continued northeast for 122 miles to Tok, then southeast on the Alaska Highway to the Yukon border another 96 miles .   In this way our path made a wide corner directly north of the Wrangle Mountains.   For us, this provided a lingering distant view of that rugged region of glacier and snow packed mountains.   But because of the expanse and the distance, this magnificent sight is almost impossible to convey photographically except, perhaps, by a panning video.

Nearer to the highway the bright golden aspen, poplar and birch,
celebrated the early Alaska autumn with another feast for our eyes.

Crossing back into Canada, we still had several days of travel and adventure ahead of us.   Our first overnight stop was about 100 miles into The Yukon.   Wednesday morning we enjoyed meandering beside the 30-mile length of Kluane Lake.

This huge, unspoiled lake is still great for wilderness fishing, they say.

On Thursday afternoon, just before reaching Watson Lake, YT, we turned right onto the Cassiar Highway, now a good alternate route for the eastern section of the Alaska Highway that shaves 124 miles between Prince George, BC and Alaska.   About a third of the highway is still unpaved, despite the 80-mile claim of one highway directory.   So the back of the van, and the front and back of the trailer became coated with a dull, gray-brown finish.

"The Cassiar" has much less traffic than the "Alaska Highway."   It can't handle as much.   Some of the paved portion is narrow with steep drop offs on the sides.   However, about half its 446-mile length is really nice if you don't mind not having the center and the shoulders striped.   All of this should improve dramatically in a year or two as active construction is going on.

When World War II broke out late in 1941, the Japanese seized some Aleutian islands.   It seemed imperative that measures were needed to protect Alaska, so a road to transport supplies to Alaska was planned.   The Cassiar route was a contender for the war supply route to Alaska to be built in 1942, but was more vulnerable as it was nearer the Pacific Ocean than the Alcan, now known as the Alaska Highway.


The Cassiar Highway is defined as British Columbia highway #37.   The south end connects with BC #16, The Yellowhead Highway.   The only full service community on this stretch is Dease Lake.   Stewart, BC is another, but is on a 40-mile spur road.

After traveling about 100 miles on the Cassiar, we stopped for the night at Moose Meadows, a quaint, but tidy spot beside Pine Tree Lake and about 60 miles north of Dease Lake.
The next day, we left the Cassiar on a 40-mile side trip to the border towns of Stewart, BC and to Hyder, AK. Hyder is a port on the Alaska Marine Highway.   Sea access is via the Portland Canal, a natural 90-mile inlet.


It was a slow, bouncy drive north from Hyder along Fish Creek to the bear viewing area where quite a group had gathered.   Perhaps I'd misunderstood.   Maybe it was a people viewing area; we saw no bears.   They (the bears) supposedly like to come here to feed on the salmon.   We do know there are bears in the area; we saw one browsing by the highway on our way down here from the Cassiar.   But it was fun watching the birds.

That afternoon, we returned to cover the remaining miles of the Cassiar Highway.   The next day we had come full circle back to Prince George, with just another 1000 miles left to drive home to Oregon.

Background image is from a hillside south of Tok, Alaska, blazing with autumn color.
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