39 Yukon, Alaska
YUKON AND ALASKA Jul. - Aug. 2008
Yukon is 80% wilderness. Like northern BC and Alaska, the rugged splendour consists of mountains, ice fields, forests, lakes, fast flowing rivers and tundra.
The opportunities for exploring the wilds and kayaking for weeks are boundless.
Next to the desolate road, some of the few remaining historic road houses had fuel and served huge sourdough pancakes with maple syrup. We saw moose and deer.
At an RV Park in Whitehorse we washed all the stuff, muddied by the accident. We enjoyed the “Frantic Follies”, a show with the goldrush theme when fortune seekers had come in river boats, on horse back and on foot through snow over mountain passes. Dawson City, once called “the Paris of the north” had a population of 30 000 opportunists in 1898. Now the charming restored historic town has 1800 inhabitants. There is still placer mining and gold- panning in the area.
The legendary Alaska Highway brought us into Alaska. In 1942 during WWII when Japan was considered a threat, it took just 8 months, in spite of floods, ice and treacherous terrain, to complete the 2450 km gravel road.
On Jan’s birthday we stopped at a lake called “Jan’s Lake”!
The 4th of July celebrations took place on a hot sunny day. For the next 6 weeks we hardly saw the sun. It was our luck to be in Alaska during the coldest Alaskan summer in living memory!
The World Eskimo-Indian Olympics was a captivating spectacle. Many of the elders and cute kids were in traditional dress, wearing “mukluks”, reindeer hide boots. The competitions were in unusual games like, knee jump, ear pull, toe kick and blanket toss, where scores of men holding a moose hide blanket, would fling competitors high up into the air. Trinkets from whale bone, moose hide and birch bark were for sale.
The indigenous North Americans migrated, during the Ice age when Beringia provided a land bridge from Siberia. Then there were gigantic woolly mammoths, giant beavers and scimitar cats. In a museum we saw the well-preserved remains of “Blue Babe”, a steppe bison of 30 000 years ago. Fur-seeking, whale-hunting Europeans and Russians arrived in the 18th century.
The biggest bargain ever was when the U.S. bought Alaska from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million – less than 2c an acre. The land’s riches soon revealed themselves: first whales and furs, then salmon, gold and finally oil.
The book ‘Alaska’ by James A. Michener gives an excellent historical and environmental background about Alaska, even though the main characters are fictitious.
We followed the silvery ribbon of the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline over 3 mountain ranges all the way to the furthest North one can drive.
It was a roller coaster ride with frost heaves, washboard-gravel and pavement breaks. Through boreal forests and taiga, with pink fireweed and fluffy cotton grass bordering the road. We were well-prepared for the adventurous 800km with no services. There was no internet and no cell phone reception but we found a pay phone near the
Arctic Circle, where we were happy to hear that our daughter had just had a baby girl. North of the Arctic Circle, our old GPS was confused. When we wanted to check sunrise and sunset times, it hung up, because there was neither, as the sun was up for 24 hours/day! We were also befuddled: Is it morning or is it evening?
After the last pass, as warned, the weather turned dire on the treeless tundra. We reached the blustery dystopia of Dead Horse.
the service town for the oil industry, which consists of an expanse of aluminium-clad warehouses and machinery laden lots. Forlorn Caribou were licking the salt on the gravel roads.
We tried to drive to the end of the road but fierce guards stopped us. The next day we took the new GPS (without Dipli) on a tour of Prudhoe Bay oil fields and to the Arctic Ocean – furthest North, by road, (N70º 22,87’ W148º31,81’) on the North American continent.
It had taken us 58000km (18 months on the road) to get here from Moat (S54º 58,55’ W66º 44,67’) on Tierra del Fuego, the furthest South on earth, by wheels.
Workers come to the oil fields on contract to work for high wages. Accommodation and clothing are provided. They toil long shifts for two weeks and then have to go away for two weeks.
It was back the same arduous way. Patches of melting permafrost create “drunken” leaning trees. Because the warm oil melts the frozen ground, more than half of the pipeline is above ground. Special provision is made for wildlife to cross. To prevent damaging the environment most maintenance is done in winter. We admired this but were distressed to learn that drilling was going to commence on the pristine Arctic National Preserve.
On the Kenai Peninsula, anglers were lined up next to rivers and camped cheek-by-jowl on beaches. Freshly
smoked salmon and catch-of-the-day halibut tasted real good. We saw seals and Puffin seabirds with painted-clown-like faces, and walked to some glaciers but clouds concealed the fjords, mountains and snow covered Aleutian volcanoes.
On the Kenai, Jan of course had to drive to Anchor point, the furthest West by road on the American continent (N59º 46,38’ W151º 52,06’).
In Anchorage we learned about the 1600km Iditarod dogsled race through snow every winter. The dogs wear protective booties which have to be changed every 160km. We saw that many Husky sled dogs have blue eyes.
Owning a Land Rover brought about some interesting encounters:
We stopped for coffee at a remote heli-skiing resort. We were welcomed and photographed by the manager who is an ardent Land Rover enthusiast.
One cold drizzly morning we were parked next to the road when an invitation came for South African tea. We followed to an awesome location next to a blue lake with float planes on it and mountains as back-drop. He was a float plane trainer and had a Land Rover in SA where they go for a holiday each year. We enjoyed SA wine and a braai at Moose Pass.
In the mean time, we had received an email from someone who had seen us drive by and had recognised the vehicle. He and his wife had been following our travels on the internet for a long time. They invited us to Eagle River and once again we were wowed at the setting. There were mountains on two sides and a river below. We walked in the adjacent state forest and saw the most astonishing variety of mosses and lichens. He was refurbishing his own Land Rover SII. (Their buddies with a Land Rover SII had also seen us drive by in Vancouver).
They were so enthusiastic about our journey that Leoné was inspired to take up the mouse again.
Near the Yukon border, beyond the village of Tok we heard Klunk! Klunk! from underneath us. A tow truck returned us to his yard in Tok. It was a broken front drive shaft caused by the front diff locking this time.
We organised for the spare differential to come from South Africa. (Sons in law to fetch it and take it to our friends with a Postnet air freight). With a hand winch and a stake-rope-rigging system Jan removed and replaced the 75kg rear diff. After 20 days in Tok, a 2wd Dipli was on the road again.
We took the “Top of the World Highway” and crossed into the Yukon Territory of Canada at 1300m. We were reminded of the “Spell of the Yukon” by Robert Service.
“It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder
It’s the forests where silence has lease
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace…”
This journey up to August 2008:
Time on the road (excluding home visits): 5 years, 2 months
Kilometres driven: 220 000 Countries visited: 88 (with Dipli).
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