Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Haines, Alaska

We chose to return to Homer via Haines rather than Skagway on the recommendation of a friend. It cuts 55 miles off the trip (not very much), but the ferry ride was 2 hours shorter and thus cheaper. I am glad we went this was because it was so incredibly different from the drive down the South Klondike Highway to Skagway.

Haines is a town I have little desire to go back to. I would like to check out the Chilloot Lake State Park, just out of curiosity, but besides that, there didn't seem to be much of anything there. The Southeast Alaska State Fair is held in Haines each year, which I can understand, because it has more space than Skagway (though I'm surprised they don't hold it in Juneau, which is centrally located)

We stayed at the Salmon Run Camping and Cabins. The plan had been to camp, but our tent was still wet from a rainy night in Skagway 2 days prior, and it was pouring rain when we left Juneau, so we tracked down a reasonably priced place as we sat in the queue to board the ferry (they were an hour late leaving Juneau because of a medical emergency in the car loading area). Every hotel and cabin we called was $130/night, which was definitely not worth it for us, but the Eagle's Rest had very nice new camping cabins for $60/night. We got the best night's sleep there that we'd had in weeks, we got all of our stuff dried out, and so we didn't feel about about the fact it wasn't raining in Haines! A black bear had wandered through the campground 10 minutes before we got there, so the kids were very happy to be in a cabin rather than a tent!

It is estimated that you will need 4 hours to drive the 152 miles of Haines Highway from Haines to Haines Junction (where you're back on the Alaska Highway). That turned out to be just about right, with a 45 minute wait at the border crossing into Canada (they had a mean, drill-sergeant type lady who was grilling everybody that came through; there were only 8 cars ahead of us for the 45 minute wait!) and an hour stop for lunch and a quick hike at the Million Dollar Falls in the Yukon.

There were not the steep, tree-covered canyons of the S. Klondike Highway into Skagway, and the two highways, separated by not more than 50 milesas the crow flies, could not be more different. The Three Guardsmen Pass (at 3,215 feet) and Chilkat Pass (at 3,493 feet) were up above treeline, and though the mountains on each side of the road towered above us, it still felt like we were driving on the top of the world. The road reminded me of driving out the northeast entrance of Yellowstone: wide-open vistas, rocky mountains, snow patches along the road and just that sense of being high (I just re-read what I wrote, and John Denver's song, Rocky Mountain High, comes to mind!). As we crossed the passes we gradually made our way back into the trees and it became what I consider typical Canadian Yukon wilderness: trees, trees and more trees, with mountains in the distance.

The wildlife of the day was a grizzly on the side of the road gorging itself on dandelions. (Are you wondering why I have a picture?? The kids were looking at pictures on camera as we drove along, and so on a whim I decided to see if it worked, and it it did! I was back in picture business!). When we got up in the Yukon we also saw a baby mountain goat cavorting along on the side of the road (we thought it was a baby sheep at first!), a black bear and swans.

We nearly made it back up to the US border, despite an hour long roadwork delay along Kluane Lake where we got out and played catch with the softball, broke out the snacks, and chatted with people from all over the U.S. who were in the cars around us. (As we were told, the blasting crew made more of a mess than they bargained for and it was taking them a long time to clean up. We had a 45 minute wait at the same spot last year when we came through with our U-Haul. On our way through a week before it was about 11 pm, so we cruised on through without a hitch.) We couldn't trust our Milepost Magazine since many of the places they said had restaurants, gas, etc. were closed. We finally found a campground that wasn't in our Mileposts and had a good night's sleep until the crows woke us up the next morning.

No comments: