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Alaska Highway Road Trip, Spring 2007

by Murray Lundberg


Alaska Highway Photo Album
A Guide to the Alaska Highway ("Alcan")

    There may still be 4 feet of snow on the ground, but it must be Spring, because I have an overpowering wanderlust. Thanks to a couple of well-timed out-of-town meetings, though, that wanderlust is getting soothed. On Friday I drove to Liard Hot Springs, a few hours early and a couple of hours beyond the Association of Yukon Communities meeting at Watson Lake, and on Tuesday I'm flying to Juneau for the 4-day Southeast Conference.

Click on each photo to greatly enlarge it.

I got an early start on Friday (March 23, 2007), and met the school buses coming in to Whitehorse from Marsh Lake just after 08:00. The weather forecast and road report both showed a bit of everything, from sunshine and bare/dry to snow and ice, and the back of the Subaru was well stocked with survival/safety/mechanical gear.

A breakfast stop was made at the Yukon Motel at Teslin, 2 hours out - the $9.95 omelette was okay, but some milk to give it "fluff" would have been a good investment for the cook. With the temperature at -1C the car was still clean at 10:25, so the Teslin viewpoint provided a good photo op.

I imagine that Yukoners realize that most of the highway lodges are closed this time of year, but it must come as a shock to tourists using The Milepost to see lodge after lodge still snowbound and boarded up (this is the Morley River Lodge, shot at 10:50).

This trip was planned as a major photo expedition, with no real time schedule, and many stops were made. Traffic is still very light on the Alaska Highway, and of course Murphy's Laws were usually being enforced when I wanted a vehicle in a particular image. One thing that surprised me was the mumber of cars and light trucks towing cargo trailers - they made up almost 50% of the traffic. Most of the other half was semi-trailers - these are seen looking northbound at Km 1143. A handful of RVs are on the road already, mostly snowbirds heading home to Alaska, with the others probably seasonal employees in the state.

Seeing caribou and bison is pretty well guaranteed this time of year, and I met this group of caribou from the Little Rancheria Herd at Km 1054 just before 1:00. I try to stop well outside their comfort range and then move the car up bit by bit, shooting as I advance. That's where digital technology is really nice, since all those shots cost me nothing. The animals must be having a really tough this year with the exceptionally deep snow.

Another 42 km down the road, I met this fine herd, and spent several minutes with them. Most of the animals took a well-travelled path off the highway when I inched by them, but one older male charged off into deep powder and had quite a struggle getting up the small hill to rejoin the others. This shot was taken at 1:25.

I stopped in Watson Lake just long enough to register at the Big Horn Motel and put in enough gas to get to Contact Creek Lodge, where it's always 2-4 cents cheaper. Beyond saving a buck, it's in the best interests of winter travellers to do what we can to encourage these lodges to stay open - when the weather gets ugly, the few who don't lock up offer very welcome refuges.

A few miles south of Watson, I took the short side road into the Native village of Lower Post, which sometimes offers some good photo possibilities. A trail of beer cans along the road spoiled "the moment," though, and I didn't get anything other than some deep-snow record shots.

The Liard River, looking north from Km 877 at 3:35. This region was scarred forever by a forest fire some 35 years ago, but the contours and old river benches that can be seen on the still-barren hills are quite interesting. The beautiful weather seen here didn't last very long - as hinted at in the weather forecast, I also hit some really nasty though short-lived snow storms. The temperature stayed around +6-7°C for most of the day, however.

The mountains close in as you get near Liard Hot Springs, and they often gather clouds. This shot was taken at Km 781 at 4:35. This is bison country, and I had seen a few by this point - for several years two bulls have stayed by themselves far from any other members of the herd (including each other) - I met the first one north of Iron Creek, the furthest north I've seen him yet.

The differences in snow are dramatic this year - with perhaps 5 feet of snow on the ground at Watson Lake, there is lots of bare ground already just north of Liard.

This was the closest I've ever been to a bison - she was in the middle of the road, perhaps 6 feet from my car window, and showed no nervousness at all - if she had, I wouldn't have risked taking this shot! Altogether I saw about 150 bison, with 2 large herds and many smaller groups and stragglers, most of them within 50 km of the springs.

Liard Hot Springs - aaaaah! I started up at Beta Pool, which is much deeper (8 feet?) but not as hot. As usual, I had it to myself (the trail through the forest is officialy closed and gated), and spent half an hour or so swimming and relaxing. Then I went down to Alpha Pool to get some serious warmth. There was nobody there when I arrived, but a couple and then a large family group arrived. In the summer during the day the springs are barely worth stopping at because of the crowds - very early mornings are the only time to really experience the springs properly (which means silently).

The quarterly Board meeting of the Association of Yukon Communities was held at the Watson Lake Recreation Centre. These meetings are attended by the mayors and CAOs of all the municipalities as well as councillors from the Local Advisory Councils from unorganized areas. Topics of discussion range from property assessments and marketing to networking and training.

Before starting the drive home, I did a bit of wandering around Watson Lake. The first stop was the airport, where this World War II hangar may soon become the home of CAP YUKA Aerospace, which hopes to manufacture aircraft floats there.

I drove out the Campbell Highway for 20 km or so for no particular reason other than looking for photo opportunities - this was the point where I turned around. On the way back a stop was made at Mt. Maichen ski hill. I hoped a downhill skiing competition would provide opportunities, but the hill was quiet, so I fueled up and headed north.

The dramatic evening light resulted in many photo stops - this was shot at Km 1078 at 5:20 pm.

The temperature dropped to freezing at about this time. While the road was still wet, the spray from the tires froze as soon as it hit the car, and the glaze of ice got to be 3-4 inches thick on the lower part of the body.

This is Lower Hazel Creek, Km 1153, at 6:25 pm.

It was a great trip. I was away from home for 38 hours, covered 1439 kilometers, took 240 photos and had 6 hours of very productive meetings. Two days of catching up at home now and I'm off to Juneau.