An Evening/Night Drive to Kluane and Back

Sometimes things don’t work out the way you’d planned, but as long as you’re adaptable, what happens can still be enjoyable. That was certainly the case with this 11-hour, 585-km drive to Burwash Landing on Kluane Lake and back.

The aurora forecast for Sunday night called for a very strong show, and after the aurora we’ve seen in the past month (see some past aurora shoots), I had high hopes for another spectacular night.

Aurora forecast
There was only one problem – but it was a big one. The weather forecast called for clouds with a possibility of snow flurries in Whitehorse. Looking at forecasts around the Yukon, I only found one place with clear skies, both current and forecast – Burwash Landing. That’s almost 300 kilometers one way (186 miles), about the limit I’m willing to drive for something like this, but with hopes that the clear skies would be nearer, I prepared for another all-nighter shooting amazing auroral displays.

Weather forecast - Burwash Landing, Yukon
I left home at 7:15 pm, with the temperature at +7°C (45°F) – there would be no suffering through bitter cold on this aurora shoot! πŸ™‚ By 8:00 when I took this photo looking west on the Alaska Highway (35 minutes before sunset), it appeared that the drive might be a bit slower than planned due to the gorgeous sky.

Evening sky over the Alaska Highway west of Whitehorse, Yukon
I made the next stop just 5 minutes later, at a spot where I shoot fairly often. This looking back towards Whitehorse from Km 1475.3 (Mile/Km 0 is at Dawson Creek, BC).

Alaska Highway Km 1475.3
As the skies started to clear, I noted that light from the moon, which was about 3/4 full, would be a bit of a problem with aurora shooting.

3/4 Moon
Looking west from Km 1493.7 at 8:22 – 13 minutes until sunset.

Sunset at Alaska Highway Km 1494
Ten minutes after sunset, at Km 1531. A few minutes later, I stopped at the Otter Falls Cutoff lodge to fill my gas tank and get some water and junk food for the night. With almost no traffic on the highway I don’t know how they stay open 24 hours, but it’s a quality operation and I’m happy to spend a few dollars pretty well every time I go by to help keep them open.

Sunset at Alaska Highway Km 1531
Haines Junction was very quiet when I went through at 9:15 – the 6 motels had less than a dozen cars total in their parking lots. This is the Cozy Corner Motel.

Cozy Corner Motel, Haines Junction
I could see from Haines Junction that there was clear sky ahead, but it seemed to stay many miles ahead of me. At the viewpoint overlooking Kluane Lake, it was still a few miles ahead, and not as clear as I’d expected.

Kluane Lake viewpoint at night
From miles away I could see 3 vehicles coming around the lake, so I set up my tripod and waited for them. The cloud layer was thin enough to let sufficient moonlight through to light up the mountains beautifully.

Night traffic around Kluane Lake, Yukon
I set up the tripod at a pullout at the base of Sheep Mountain with the idea of doing more traffic shots on the curves around the lake south of there.

Alaska Highway at Slims River at night
After 20 minutes waiting for a vehicle to come along, I gave up – there was a very strong south wind blowing up dust from the dry lakebed, and it just wasn’t a comfortable place to be despite still being +1C (34F). Of course, seconds after knocking the tripod down, a car arrived! I tried a hand-held 20-second exposure, knowing that it wouldn’t get what I wanted, but… πŸ™‚

Night traffic on the Alaska Highway
I did go as far as Burwash Landing, arriving just after 11:30. The skies were no longer clear, and there was no aurora visible through the thin cloud layer. I’d heard that the historic Burwash Landing Resort was closed and going to be demolished, so I took a few photos, knowing that I may never see it again. I’ve spent a lot of time at the lodge over the past 25 years, including many overnight stays, and even stopped in on my first visit to the Yukon in 1985. The owners for a few decades, Ollie and Helen Worth, were a big part of the lodge’s fame, and when they sold a few years ago it went downhill pretty quick. *sigh* – another one bites the dust πŸ™

Burwash Landing Resort at night - closed and abandoned in 2015
I headed back towards Whitehorse, and stopped along Kluane Lake for a 3-hour nap, hoping that clear skies and aurora would both arrive, but though I opened my eyes a few times, they never did. When I reached the Aishihik River at 04:00, there was a very faint glow to the north, so I stopped and got the only aurora photos of the night.

Looking back at the highway, the Aishihik River bridge and the moon.

I was home by 06:00, disappointed that the night wasn’t what I’d hoped for, but pleased with a beautiful night on the road that got some images I’m pleased with.

Now, I have a lot to do to get ready for a 5-day Easter weekend in Haines. The biggest job is getting all the necessary equipment installed so we can tow Cathy’s Chevy Tracker behind the motorhome.


An Evening/Night Drive to Kluane and Back — 8 Comments

  1. Thanks for your night drive shots. It’s not likely I’ll ever be in a position to take them. Is there only one motel in Burwash? My son was in terrible accident with drinking driver there Sept.5, 2011 leaving him a quadriplegic. Changed all our lives.

  2. That shot you got of aurora peaking above the clouds is really pretty! Can’t tell you how many times I have driven out of Winnipeg on a good forecast night only for clouds to roll in (and it’s not common for that auroral oval to stretch so far as my neck of the woods!). I really enjoy your drives to Kluane. Hope you and Cathy have a great Easter!

  3. murray , thank you for the beuatiful pictures. Have a wonderful Easter with Cathy and your four legged children.

  4. Neat little off season adventures are the best, no crowds, good weather, great photo ops. And now a ‘giant mobile warming shelter’ to boot! (re the Easter trip)