“We Want Speed, Not Character!”

Last Saturday (the 6th), Cathy and I loaded the dogs into the Outback and headed out to “D-Bay” for lunch (it’s offically Destruction Bay, but nobody around here uses that name). The weather wasn’t particular nice and it might seem a little odd to drive 170 miles to have lunch at a roadside “greasy spoon”, but we were badly in need of a road trip, even a short one. For day trips out of Whitehorse, it’s pretty tough to beat Kluane Lake for scenery.

Every local and everyone who has driven the Alaska Highway in the last 20 years or so knows about the Shakwak Project, even if not by name. This is the massive rebuilding of the Alaska Highway that’s going on between the Aishihik River and the Alaska border. It continues to be the source of huge complaints from those who use the highway as well as being a significant driver of the economy of the Yukon. Fewer complaints are heard from those of us who loved the road the way it was.

The section of highway that wraps around Sheep Mountain, at the head of Kluane Lake, is the last major section to be done, and the most impressive section of the rebuild due to the amount of blasting rquired. Back in 1991, I stood by the side of the highway there for a couple of hours, waiting for a large blast to be detonated to remove a dangerous overhang of rock, but it’s been pretty quiet there for the past 16 years. In the first photo here you can see that the highway is now being moved out into the bay to lessen the curve at the Tachal Dhal (Sheep Mountain) Visitor Centre (click on each of these photos to enlarge them).

In this photo is a cabin that has stood beside the lake since before even the first tote road was pushed around the lake on the slope far above. The owner, Alexander Fisher, died just after the road opened, and was buried above the cabin. How many people have ever walked up to Mr. Fisher’s grave and contemplated what his life must have been like? If you keep your eyes above highway level, the view from that point has changed little in the last century or the last millenium.

We were in no hurry at all, and rather enjoyed the 15-minute “delay” waiting for a pilot car to lead us through the construction zone. I asked Cathy to drive so I could add to my collection of hundreds of photos of the highway rebuild. It started snowing as we crawled across the rubble that used to be jagged cliffs towering over the road.

We had a pleasant lunch at the Talbot Arms in D-Bay, took the dogs for a romp on the lovely gravel beach (the temperature only hit -1°C at D-Bay, 7 degrees colder than Whitehorse), then headed east again.

Cathy got the next couple of photos as I drove – here a rock drill is boring holes in preparation for more blasting. Seeing some of the equipment working far above us, it’s hard to envision that in a year or so they’ll have blasted all of this away and travellers will be able to tear through here at 100 kmh instead of 40. Though I know that most people think that’s progress, I think that it’s ultimately doing harm to the tourism industry of the Yukon and Alaska.

Each year we move closer to the time when “the magic and mystery” have disappeared as completely as that old tourism slogan. While there certainly are folks who want to get through here as quickly as possible without having curves and bumps to slow them down and maybe even knock the colour adjustment off on the satellite TV, there are others who want to really experience the country. I think we’re making a mistake catering to the first group.

A few years ago Cathy and I came across a Class C sitting beside a remote side road alongside the Salmon River near Hyder, Alaska. The view was stunning, the silence broken only by the flow of the river. In the motorhome, all the curtains were drawn and the satelite dish was cranked up. I wish people like him would stay home.

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