Mawlers’ Big Adventure ’04:
Border City to Haines Junction

Wednesday, 11 August 2004

By the Numbers
  • Distance Driven Today: approx 365 km
  • Gas Purchased Today: 13.22 gallons (we think that is almost an entire tank)
  • Total Cracks in Windshield: stable at 7 or 8, we think
Wild Woolies
  • None!! Still wearing resperators!
    Can we count dead stuffed things?

When we finally get moving (early, as usual), we take advantage of the fact that the Border City Motel serves breakfast, carries souvenirs, and sells gas. The car takes almost 14 gallons of gas – about the whole tank, so it was good that we stopped when we did. The Motel/Store/Restaurant-owner’s child seems to think that breakfast would be better with some Styrofoam, but we manage to get that away from him before he swallows it all.

After all this activity, we just put everything, room, gas, souvenirs, breakfast, and small child all on one bill. They made us give back the small child. You know, the exchange rate between Alaska and the lower 48 is not that great.

Just a few kilometers down the road from Border City, we pass the US Customs House and then stop at the International Border markers.

While we are stopped at the border, marveling at the fact that someone actually cuts down the trees all along the border (no kidding, look at the picture of me leaning toward Canada), a guy pulls up on a motorcycle. He too, is admiring the welcome sign, so Stuart asks if he wants his picture taken with the sign and he says sure. Or rather, he says something and I had no idea what it was. When he finally gets the helmet off, he begins to make more sense and it is clear that he is speaking English. Phew.

Not only does this guy speak English, but he is from Easton, Maryland (on the eastern shore of Maryland). He rode all the way to Alaska in two weeks. And he has no windscreen. I know he has a helmet with a visor, but still, it must be shocking when one of those 747-sized dragon flies smacks your visor at 70 mph.

Marylanders, Go West!
Everywhere we go up here, we meet people from Maryland. How is this possible? Maryland is a small state! We met a couple from Silver Spring and this guy from Easton!

This fellow tells us that this is the second cross-country trip he has made. He stores his bike in Anchorage and comes back to get it later. For this trip, he was looking for a more interesting road than the Alaska Highway, so he came up the Yellowhead and Stewart-Cassiar Highways through British Columbia. He says it is beautiful.

We add the Stewart-Cassiar Highway to the trip.

With this change decided, we continue on. While it was grey and threatening when we left the motel, it is getting downright miserable as we progress.

One of the stops on our “passport” scavenger hunt is Burwash Landing. There is a natural history museum there, with donated stuffed (taxidermied) animals from the area. The museum is small, as is the entire “town” – town seems like such a stretch. But, it turns out the museum is excellent. Their animals are fabulous, and they have great displays with buttons you can push to hear some of the animals’ calls. It was a lot of fun! Who knew?

Geographically Challenged
Did you know that the US border is west of the Canadian Border, by several kilometers? And I bet you thought they touched.

Having stopped in the museum just long enough for the rain to fully settle in, we set out. In addition to the fabulous weather, we run into some heavy road construction. A great deal of the highways are under construction of one sort or another, but in this section of the Alaska highway, it’s kind of frightening just how flat and straight the road has become.

Stuart is excited because we get to drive along the original road bed along Kluane Lake. Good grief this is a large lake. We stop at one point to get a better look, and we are bummed by the weather. It’s a beautiful lake with picture book mountains surrounding it, but the clouds and mist are blocking most of the mountains, and the lake isn’t as blue-green as it would have been in the sunshine. C’est la vie.

We pass the Stone Sheep visitor’s center, which is on the map as Stone Sheep Visitor’s Center, but in person it has a new name. We think this is now the native name for the area. We continue on, and although the weather isn’t great, it does at least stop raining, and as we drive into Haines Junction, the weather can’t obscure the size and majesty of the surrounding landscape.

Kluane National Park is a huge park (we’re told later that it’s roughly the size of 3 Switzerlands) that has dozens of mountain peaks over 12,000 feet. Mount Logan, the highest point in Canada, is inside the park, and comes in at a resounding 19,xxx feet. We can’t see much of the mountains from the road because of the smoke and weather, but we can see that they’re massive.

The "Rendezvous" Phenomenon
Whenever we go somewhere in Canada without firm plans (and sometimes with), we find that we have arrived in the midst of some huge festival or other. Usually, this takes all the hotel rooms for miles around. We first identified this phenomenon on a trip to Nova Scotia. On arriving in Halifax (with no reservations), we tried several hotels before being told that no rooms would be available because it was "Rendezvous Canada". It is some kind of gathering of "all the small towns in Canada" -- isn’t that all of them?

We think there must be some "Rendezvous Kluane" since we try three hotels before getting a room. And the Kluane Park Inn is definitely not the Ritz.

Once in the Kluane Park Inn, we find that this is the very week that Haines, Alaska will be hosting the Southeast Alaska State Fair… Rendezvous Haines!

How is this possible? Well, we could try planning, I suppose.

Fortunately, we are able to get a room by calling ahead to Haines.

When we get into town, we stop at the Haines Junction Bakery and Café. Fantastic. I have my first cold smoked Salmon here, and it is (as Stuart has told me) fabulous – not at all the salmon jerky I was fearing. At the bakery, we get a couple of apples, a loaf of yummy oatmeal bread, and a couple of espresso drinks. (How long did you really think we could go without espresso???) You should definitely try this café...

We don’t have any motel reservations for the night, so we set about looking for a place to stay. We have to try three places before we find vacancy at the Kluane Park Inn. A bit "rustic".

We were planning to go to Haines the next day or the day after, and then going from Haines to Skagway on the ferry, but this is dependent on the ferry schedule. Sitting on the bed (or sort of "in" the bed, due to the advanced sag), we decide that there is just too much coordination involved, so it might be simpler to just drive back up to Haines Junction from Haines. We hate back-tracking, but oh well. It is better than struggling over ferry schedules and what that will do to the remainder of our trip, now that we have added most of northern British Columbia to the itinerary.

We have found many fliers for the cool things to do in the Haines Junction/Kluane area, and there is no denying that the scenery is grand. So, we go to sleep agreeing to get up early and try to take a flight over the park. We go to sleep hoping for some sunshine.

see it on a map

The previous installment:
Dawson City to Border City - The Pictures

The next installment:
Border City to Haines Junction - The Pictures

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All materials © 2004 Lea Ann Mawler & Stuart Mawler