Friday, May 21, 2010

Alaska Expedition 2010 - Day 10 (May 21, 2010)

Burwash Landing: Southern Tutchone people, who have lived in the Kluane Lake area for generations, gave the lake here the name Kluane, which means “Big Fish Lake”. It was a prominent fishing place for native people before the arrival of Europeans in the 19th century.
On the way to Burwash Landing from Haines Junction, the Hwy crosses Slim’s River. The river gets its name from a miner’s packhorse that drowned while crossing the river during the 1903 Kluane Gold Rush. A mile north of the river, a small white cross marks the gravesite of Alexander Clark Fisher, who was a prospector who stayed on until his death in 1941. As we drove past the white cross, Dave spotted several Dall Sheep up on the mountain ridge to our left (west). At this spot, where the Hwy winds along the shores of Kluane Lake, is one of the few remaining segments of the original road, a short stretch of trail cut through the wilderness.

The book, Alaska & Yukon History Along the Highway by Ted Stone, states that Burwash Landing seemed to be an oasis in the wilderness for the US Army troops when they arrived here during the building of the Alaska Hwy in 1942. At Burwash, troops, who for months had known nothing but camp life, suddenly came upon an established community. There were well-tended gardens, horses and cattle, fresh milk, a sawmill and a well-stocked trading post. Today, the only thing in Burwash Landing is the resort where we stayed and a couple of houses. The Burwash Resort/Lodge is for sale too. The owners have been here for 28 years and according to Helen, once the place sells, she’s going to sleep for the rest of her life. The resort is closed in the winter when the owners head down to Arizona. Tourism is down considerably, according to Donna, our waitress. We’ve seen several RV parks and motels with closed signs along the way, but we thought they were closed for the season. Not so, says Donna. The economy has hit everyone here very hard. The traffic on the Hwy isn’t what it used to be. They used to have a Spring Break Snowmobile Regatta every spring at the resort, but the people just stopped coming.  The lodge is nice, but dated.  Dave barely fits through the bathroom door!

The only alcohol available is Budweiser and a Canadian Red beer, so last night at dinner, Dave decides to honor Uncle Jim and drink a Bud in his honor!

We ate breakfast at 9am – the boys had the ham and cheese omlette special for $9.95. I had pancakes and the best fried eggs ever!

I stuck around in the restaurant while the boys wandered outside taking pictures and uploaded photos and our travel log to our blog site.

There are two couples speaking German staying at the resort and a family with 3 little girls that could have been triplets, but I hear the dad say that they are all a year apart. Donna has been here for 20 years and loves the place. This winter was pretty mild – only one week when the temp was -30C. She tells us that she wouldn’t live anywhere else on earth. I hear ya girlfriend! I’d live here too if my husband would just say the word. But, he’s a social butterfly. He loves people and is a pack animal. Me on the other hand, I could quite happily be a hermit. Give me a place in the wilderness where I can conduct research and have the internet, and I’ll be a happy camper for the rest of my life.

On the road to Tok by 11:30am. We are getting later and later starts in the mornings. Last night I was up well past midnight working on our travel log. It is light for 24hrs now, and we have to draw the curtains to sleep. We cross bridges over dry washes that have small creeks flowing through them. But the washes are up to ¼ mile wide and Donna says that when the glacier lets go, the water floods with such force that the washes fill within minutes. The road is very uneven here, with bumps that bounce us so hard that everything in the truck falls onto Rafael in the back seat. We have to take it slow and easy.

Mile 1155 (on the truck) right before the Donjek River bridge. Our mileage is not the same as the mileposts due to our little side jaunts, but it is the only way I have of recording where we are. Dave spots a bear crossing the Hwy up ahead and we canvass the area for about ½ hr but no luck – it’s gone. We’ve been told to watch in this area for cinnamon grizzly bears, and are keeping our eyes peeled. Well, the boys are keeping their eyes peeled. I’m blind as a bat, so my job is to keep the travel log and provide comic relief.  Dave and Rafael found this pasque flower.  So beautiful!

Glacial rivers created problems for the engineers and builders of the Alaska Hwy here. When the glaciers melt, the rivers flood and deposit huge quantities of silt which alters the paths of the rivers. Permafrost was another problem encountered by the highway construction crews in this area. Swamps and muskeg lie only a few feet above the permafrost. When the road was cut through the area, thick layers of insulating material were removed to make a road bed. This quickly thawed the natural bed of permafrost, turning long stretches of the road into muck. This problem is quite apparent, as we travel across paved, road and then patches of dirt road, obviously damaged by water and silt.

Many soldiers who built the Alaska Hwy lost their lives accidentally in vehicle accidents or drowned in the lakes and rivers along the route. Truck and equipment accidents accounted for most of the deaths, and the vehicles were sometimes called “widow-makers’ because of how frequently they went off the road.
Along the road we see little lakes nestled amongst the pine forests and marvel at the clarity of the water.  The aspens are in bloom too.

Mile 1187 on the truck odometer, we spot two moose about 150 yards off to the right side of the Hwy. We stop to video and snap photos of them. They are HUGE!

Beaver Creek – Pulled into Buckshot Betty’s at 1:30pm. Sunny and in the high 50’s or low 60’s. Some locals had told us that this is the place to go for the best food in Beaver Creek. Neither Rafael nor I are hungry, but Dave is starving, so we come in and grab a coke. The road has been incredibly bad to this point. Three times we hit dips that caused the shocks to bottom out and bang. Uneven road and construction flags are everywhere. Dave’s been averaging about 45mph, but at times we just crawl along trying to dodge the deepest ruts in the road.

Between Beaver Creek and the border, we saw several Trumpeter Swans sitting on nests. The nests are on the top of beaver dams, located in the marshy areas near the hwy.

Alaska - 1:51pm we arrive at the border and customs. We hand over our passports, are asked a few questions about where we were from and where we are going. While looking at our passports, the border patrol guy asks Dave where he’s from, and Dave replies, “Cincinnati”. The man looks confused and asks again, where Dave’s home is. Again, Dave says Cincinnati. I quickly say, “Liberty, Indiana”, and then Dave says, oh, yeah, we live in Indiana, but it is near Cincinnati. At this point, the border patrol starts questioning us about EXACTLY where we are going and what we have in the truck. Great. Now we’re in for it. He then tells us that he needs to talk to Rafael inside. We pull over, park and go inside. Apparently, Jose Herrera-Herrera is a very common name, and they verify that Rafael is who he says he is and let us go. They are very nice and friendly, and I'm thankful that they don't think we're drug smugglers or something.  Cincinnati!  Doh!

Tok, Alaska – We arrive at Caribou Cabins Bed & Breakfast at 4:30pm. We are staying in cabin #3 and it is very, very nice. The owner’s daughter is so curious, she sneaks into the woods between the owner’s home (the office) and our cabin, and watches us unload our suitcases. She is adorable – maybe 5 years old. She hides behind the trunk of a tree and peers at us so shyly. We grab a beer from the cooler and celebrate our arrival to Alaska. We each grab our cell phones and call our parents and children. Too funny. Here we are in the middle of the wilderness, and all three of us are on cell phones!

We head to Fast Eddy’s for dinner, and laugh as Rafael orders extra peppers for his Mexican burger! He eats so many peppers, his eyes are sweating! We head back to the cabin to go for a walk and look for grouse and relax. But, as soon as we back to the cabin, Dave lies down and starts watching baseball and falls asleep – a nap. The owner’s daughters are by the cabins again and tell us that they are selling cupcakes for $1 tomorrow at their yard sale. I’m going to buy one from them tonight after they finish icing them. We want to leave pretty early in the morning so we arrive in Fairbanks (about 200 miles away) before noon.


Dave Dankovic said...

Well I hope you picked up a copy of The Milepost for the Alaska part of your trip!

mrsbirder said...

LOL! Yep, we had it, but it was buried somewhere in the truck!