By the time we arrived at the Canadian border (again) it was sprinkling. A female inspection officer came out of the building after running our license plates and asked the usual questions. This time when Kathy reported we had pepper spray with us, the she asked to see it. She decided it was concealable and that we could not bring it in to Canada. We had the options of turning around and leaving back in the US, or voluntarily surrendering it to her for destruction. Kathy filled out the proper forms and we were back on the road. Right after the Canadian crossing, the road began a “slight” incline – a “slight” incline that lasted for at least 15 miles. Soon we were near the Wrangell and St. Elias mountain ranges. Snow was within hiking distance which meant the temperatures were much colder now. We thought that the roads weren’t as bad as people had warned us they would be and we figured we had missed the worst ones because we had avoided Whitehorse by cutting west to Skagway. When we got to the juncture of Highway 1 again, at Haines Junction, we realized we just hadn’t gotten to the bad parts yet!
We saw very few trucks or RVs and even fewer cars that day. The road was lonely and desolate as we came upon Kluane Lake. It looked like fog was hanging over part of the lake but as we neared we realized it was dust blowing in very strong winds along the top of the water from the sandy, shallow end of the lake. Like most lakes we’d encountered so far, Kluane Lake is huge!
You arrive near the south edge and turn left following the edge around and across an area where the lake bed is exposed. This is where the winds blow the glacial flour across the top of the water and it looks like a sand storm in the Sahara – over a lake. As you round another corner, the interpretative center sits near a roadside turn-out which is where we stopped to walk the dogs. Joy wanted to take them down to the waters’ edge but the shores were gray rock looking ready for a landslide. We drove fifteen more miles and found a provincial park right on the shore of the lake and decided to camp there for the night.
Like most of the Canadian parks and recreation sites that we’d camped at, this was beautiful, clean and well maintained. The Canadian parks provide free fire wood and that’s always a plus. This park had 60 sites but we counted only 39 accessible because the park was closed to tent campers due to increased bear activity. We had been told that there had been an increase in brown bear (grizzly) activity in this area and had kept our eyes peeled for one the entire drive without success.
We chose site #1 one tucked back in the woods with a view of the lake. After we parked, a young German woman asked us for change so that she could pay the $12 instead of $15 for her site. Canadian parks are paid by leaving money in an envelope and drop box. We initially thought we didn’t have any Canadian change to pay the $2 (Kathy had a $10 Canadian bill on her) but we then remembered that we had several loonies ($1 Canadian coins) in the front of the RV. Kathy took the 5 loonies over to the German couple’s site and gave them 2 loonies asking nothing in exchange – figuring she still had 3 loonies left to pay for our site. Somehow, she ended up a loonie short and had to use 4 U.S. quarters to pay $1 of our $12 fee. We still have no idea what happened to the other loonies and think we’ll find them at some point in the oddest place.
After setting up, we walked down to the lake. The wind was blowing pretty good and the lake actually looked more like an ocean, with waves and white foam, than a lake. It was also pretty darn cold! The view was extraordinary! Standing on the rocky beach, you could turn in around in a circle and see mountains that surrounded you for 360 degrees. It was the most beautiful place Kathy has ever stood and it brought her to tears.
For Joy, it was a rock hound’s delight! She’s discovering that she’s a closeted geologist and while Kathy keeps her eye to the sky for mountains, Joy keeps hers to the ground for rocks (and gold.) We built our version of a Native American rock sculpture, as did several visitors before us, and then walked along the beach looking for agates. Joy reminisced about a childhood trip to Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota and agate hunting with her mom. We returned to our site, ate dinner and built a fire.
Kathy had a wonderful roaring fire in no time so we decided to make S’mores. I was leery with bear activity and marshmallows and chocolate but we cooked quickly and enjoyed the fruits of our labor. We were exhausted from the drive so we went to bed early. Frances was ready to play at her usual 5 AM and we decided to get an early start on the road so we were off by 8 AM.
The road led to Destruction Bay, a town that was named during the building of the Alaska Highway for all of the equipment it destroyed during construction. Let it be known that it continues to live up to its name as it has some of the worst roads we’ve ever driven on. Apparently, the US definition of the word “paved” and the Yukon definition of the word “paved” differ quite significantly. Not only were the roads not paved for several miles, they were gravel with a washboard base which shook the RV to its very core, even at 20 mph. Kathy kept looking up at the new flat screen TV that was installed this past summer and hoped that wouldn’t fall on Joy’s head!
When we finally arrived at the actual “road construction,” we had to wait in line for a pilot truck to lead us beside the shoulders they were working on. Yes – the shoulders, not the frickin’ roads! We are still trying to figure out how to get back down to the lower 48 without driving that section of the Yukon again. Kathy keeps picturing a helicopter with the RV and Jeep dangling underneath as it flies back to Kluane Lake! When we neared the end of construction we were almost at the Canadian border. Kathy swore that once we crossed border we would be driving on blacktop again and threatened to stop the RV, get out, and kiss it.
Entering Alaska USA was a quick meeting with a friendly smiling border patrol agent who simply asked about any fruits and vegetables. We had purposely not stocked any but did tell a small white lie as we said “no” and then remembered we had two plums in the fridge.
About 9 miles after the checkpoint we rolled upon the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge Visitor’s Center, the place we would call home for the next 2 months. Although we were driving another 83 miles to the refuge headquarters, we decided to stop in and take a look around. We also knew that our future boss, Kay Lynn, might be at the center.
The building is almost as spectacular as the view from its deck. It’s a huge cabin built in the trapper cabin style only much larger and with a much nicer and larger food cache (not used for food.) We walked in the front door and heard a cheerful voice say, “Welcome to Tetlin”.
Traveler & RVer » About J.L. Wright
J.L. Wright is a fulltime RVer enjoying learning about the United States through exploration. Recent publications include Unadoptable Joy: A memoir in poetry and prose, Heal(er) online magazine, GNU Journal, Whatcom Watch, Solstice Magazine, and Peace Poets Anthology and chapbook. J.L. wishes to start conversations about current issues through a poetic voice. // See J.L. Wright’s Work In TWD Magazine’s 2nd Collection