Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Great Yukon Plateau

The last installation of this blog found us in the city of Whitehorse's public library the morning that we were scheduled to take the ferry from Skagway to Haines. It was a beautiful day. We did the self guided tour of the stern wheel paddle boat, SS Klondike, one of several that plied the waters of the Yukon River bringing passengers, supplies and ore in Yukon Territory between Whitehorse and Dawson. We then returned to Skagway to catch the afternoon ferry to Haines, AK.
SS Yukon

Once again, our time table got turned upside down. Upon arrival in Haines we found that the salmon were running in the Chilkoot River.  Originally planned as a one night stop, we ended up staying for four days. Sarah purchased a one day fishing license and this inexperienced fly fisherman gave her a rudimentary lesson in how to cast a fly. Sarah enjoyed it so much that she purchased her own waders, vest and annual license the next day. While she was shopping, I trolled the lake for Dolly Vardon, a type of trout/salmon that is common here. I hooked two pink salmon but they both got away which is alright because salmon caught in the lake must be released. But, they were big!!!
Arrival at Chilkoot Lake at the head of Chilkoot River, Haines, AK

Being sailors, we know that one cannot always trust the GPS. In many parts of the world, the chart coordinates are not very accurate. We know other sailors who have experienced this first hand when the chart plotter placed the boat on dry land. We had just the opposite experience in Haines. The GPS would try to put us roads that didn't exist. And  as the picture shows, placed the road on the water. Also note how far off the actual road our track appears.

Sarah fished most of the afternoon, but only got one strike with her dry fly. Using flies, my experience matched hers. I switched to lures on spinning tackle in hopes of landing a salmon. I didn't catch any salmon, but I did land three nice Dolly Vardons. Just enough for dinner for two. As Sarah was exiting the river, she got baptized. She fell into the stream and was thoroughly soaked. After the shock wore off, she laughed as much as I.
Fishing the Chilkoot

The Chilkoot River is the valley of the eagles. There are hundreds of Bald Eagles here. All the while fishing, one hears the squall of this mighty bird. They chirp to one another from the highest Spruce trees. In this place they are as common as Blue Jays in Massachusetts. We are told that in another month, the population will increase dramatically when the spawning salmon die.
Fishing Companions
Haines is situated on the peninsula formed by the Chilkat and Chilkoot Rivers. While it is also visited by cruise ships and has the requisite tourist sites, it felt much more like a living community than a tourist destination, though clearly it was that also. In contrast to Skagway, this town felt more vibrant. When we arrived, there were no cruise ships in town so we got to meet the local residents. Of course, the best place to do that is at a bar. In Haines, the Fogcutter Bar is just the place. We did visit two of the museums. One unlikely treasure was the Hammer Museum. When I read about this in the guide book I thought it was a tourist trap I would certainly avoid. But, with only a three dollar admission, Sarah and I gave it a go. We were quite surprised. This tiny museum of only 3 rooms kept our attention for over and hour. It is not to be missed.
The hammer museum

From Haines we drove north on the Haines Highway toward Haines Junction and our return to the Alaska Highway. The scenery was as wondrous as we had been led to expect. Most exciting was the sight of Grizzly and Black Bears. We observed a Grizzly with two cubs. The cubs were frolicking in a grassy meadow alongside a creek and the Black Bear was browsing on dandelions in a patch of grass near the road. Unfortunately, in my excitement of seeing the Grizzly, I didn't set the ISO on the camera correctly for the lens I was using and we don't have pictures of them to post. Oh well, the quest for Grizzly pictures will continue.

A short 120 miles took us to Lake Kathleen, in the Kluane National Park, our next overnight stop. Before coming to Alaska and Yukon, we had heard horror stories about the vicious mosquitoes. But, they have not been as bad as we feared. On the contrary, they have been a minor nuisance. In fact, the worst mosquitoes were in Pennsylvania. In Hyder, AK, Sarah found an all natural mosquito repellant that has been working very well. Stay Away Insect Spray made by Back Bay Botanicals in Sitka, Ak is great. The campground at Lake Kathleen was also infested with black flies and this product worked equally well to repel those pests.

The drive from Lake Kathleen to Beaver Creek took us along Lake Kluane, the largest lakes in Yukon. This is the north west tip of the high Yukon Plateau. We marveled at the difference between the mountains on one side, steep and jagged versus soft and rounded, on either side of the lake. From one of the roadside information areas, we learned that we were straddling a major geological fault. The steep and sharp mountains to the southwest are part of a tectonic plate that in the past 50 million years has pushed 150 miles northeast from Haines up against the much older mountains to the east.
Rain Squall in the Kluane Range

The final push to Beaver Creek, near the Alaska/Yukon border was on the Yukon plateau. A vast plain stretching across the land of perma-frost. Here we experienced the roughest roads yet. Pot holes, frost heaves and stretches of gravel road forces us to slow down. Despite that, we were occasionally caught unprepared for changes in the roadway. We chose not to cover Mary Joan with fabric to protect her and so far she has only received minor dents on the stainless steel stone guards. I will accept these as battle scars and right of passage on the Alaska Highway.

Tonight we stay at Beaver Creek which puts us just a short way from Alaska.

Stay tuned.

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