The Golden Loop

Days: 397-398 (27 July 2015 – 28July 2015)

Total distance travelled: 101,641.7 kilometres (63,131.47 miles)

What better way to kick off a two day road trip, than with a sweet stop at a rural bakery, in this case, at Haines Junction.

We’d in fact been worded up that this place was worth halting for, and it was doubly good as it allowed us a chance to sample the other of Canada’s two must try delicacies (the other being Poutine which we’d already indulged in), the Nanaimo Bar.

Nanaimo Bar! ...although back home, we'd call it a slice

Nanaimo Bar! …although back home, we’d call it a slice

Sadly we weren’t truly won over by our first sample of this slice.

It was decadently sweet, however it had several strong flavours that felt like they were fighting it out to see who was number one!

So sweet was it in fact, that we were forced to save the giant ginger cookie we’d also bought for a later time, the prospect of ingesting more sugar just too much for either of us at the time.

Not your average backdrop behind Haines Junction

Not your average backdrop behind Haines Junction

The cruise south towards Haines and Alaska (for Haines Junction is still within the Yukon and Canada) presented an unexpected treat for us in the form of an unplanned UNESCO World Heritage site.

This was the Kluane National Park, home to the worlds largest non-polar ice field and spread across international borders between Canada and the United States.

We couldn’t really delve any deeper into it, but the views from our highway viewing point, gave us a small teaser and ideas for adventures in the future!

The lovely scenic drive south (left) & Fireweed giving colour to the Yukon (right)

The lovely scenic drive south (left) & Fireweed (which is also the territorial flower) giving colour to the Yukon (right)

The closer we travelled towards the Canadian – US border, the darker the day became, so that by the time we got to the international boundary (where we simply drove post the Canadian post), we were beneath a steady drizzle.

We’d come prepared with a signed letter from our friends, just in case there was any puzzlement as to why we were two foreigners driving along in a non rental, Yukon plated vehicle, but we needn’t have worried.

Unlike many of the US border officials at the San Francisco airport roughly fourteen months ago, these guys had both good humour and even a touch of mischief about them, and very quickly we were processed as only the fourth non American vehicle to cross the border for the day (this was by now early afternoon).

Welcome to the 'Frontier State'

Welcome to the ‘Frontier State’

We cruised into town (that would be Haines) alongside the Chilkat River, which is also home to a massive Bald Eagle conservation program (not to be confused with the parallel running Chilkoot River where we’d later be camping), however none could be spied on this dull July day.

Our first order of business was to get ourselves somewhere sorted to camp for the night, especially as the rain, light as it was, looked as though it was set in for the day.

Our first option was the just mentioned Chilkoot River, upstream of which lies a campground situated on a lake that creatively shares its name with the river.

It was obviously also very close to the river, which gave us a better chance of being able to wander down and hopefully have the privilege of viewing a bear, be it Black or Grizzly in nature, in the wild.

In this pursuit, we got really lucky (the search for a campsite, not the bear hunt), as we found an empty lot that was also well sheltered amidst the trees, as well as close to both the lake and river!

With our first order of business attended to, we decided to head back in and explore the town proper, a task made more difficult as the rain had by now decided to get a little heavier.

Our first point of business was the important task of tracking down the Haines Brewing Company, a feat we managed with only a little difficulty, eventually discovering it tucked away at the back of the Southeast Alaska State Fair grounds.

We sampled a few of their wares (they didn’t compare to Winterlong Brewery back in Whitehorse), resolving to return and grab ourselves a growler of their Spruce Tip Pale Ale to go with our dinner, whatever that may be.

In truth, there wasn’t much else happening in town, with many stores seemingly closed (possibly heralding the end of summer), we did check out their award winning community library (where we grabbed ourselves some free, years old science and travel magazines), wandered an old pioneer cemetery near the waterfront whilst gathering firewood, as well as spotting ourselves a couple of Bald Eagles overhead.

It was with a little amusement that we stood outside a small food truck later, awaiting our order of Fish and Chips (to go with our beer of course) that we happened to overhear an American place his order, then ask if he could have fries with that… (for those Americans who don’t understand the funny side, ‘chips’ are essentially a chunkier french fry, not to mention essential for the dish of ‘Fish and Chips’.

The charming neglect of this pioneer burial ground in Haines (left) & Keeping warm by Chilkoot Lake (right)

The charming neglect of this pioneer burial ground in Haines (left) & Keeping warm by Chilkoot Lake (right)

All quiet on Chilkoot Lake

All quiet on Chilkoot Lake

Sadly, back by the river, there were still no bears to be sighted, so we hit camp with our beer and hot feed, whilst I did my best to raise a campfire in the damp conditions.

A blaze was eventually had, however with no really large wood around (I’m sure every camper had already scrambled trying to find any free stuff), it was never going to be a blaze that burned forever… which was fine as we were by now ready for bed!

Conditions remained damp, however it wasn’t really raining when we woke so we breakfasted before quickly breaking camp, and heading back into town with an eye on the river the whole way, in the by now vain hope of spotting a bear.

The beautiful river and not a bear in sight!

The beautiful river and not a bear in sight!

We had a mission in town to collect some dry smoked salmon for Cyd, so we took a wander around the historic Fort Seward to pass the time.

When one thinks of a fort, immediately battlements and big guns come to mind, but this place was none of that.

Sure there was a former parade ground, but the buildings that comprised the fort, now constitute some of the grander homes in the entire township!

Stunning former officers homes in Fort ? (left) & My new favourite American state flag (right)

Stunning former officers homes in Fort Seward (left) & My new favourite American state flag (right)

With some smoked salmon now in our possession, and having sampled some of both it and a smoked cod, we drove ourselves up to the ferry terminal (outside of town) to check in.

At this point, a kind attendant advised us that we didn’t need to wait around the two hours pre-departure we’d been advised, just come back in an hour.

With time to now kill, we figured we’d have one last go at the river in our search for that elusive bear.

A brief peek at the stunning mountains which loom over Haines

A brief peek at the stunning mountains which loom over Haines

We slowly cruised alongside the river without any joy, reaching the lake which meant we’d now have to turn around.

I took the opportunity to duck back into the campground here to utilise their toilet facilities, before we began our slow crawl back to the ferry dock.

Suddenly as we gazed intently towards the river, we saw a small but animated group of people.

At the time we didn’t realise how fortuitous my toilet break would prove, however it now meant that we were finally in the right place at the right time to get a glimpse of our bear, and a Grizzly at that!

But why settle for one, when you can have the whole family?

Up close with a Grizzly on the Chilkoot River

Up close with a Grizzly on the Chilkoot River

Let's not forget her little ones!

Let’s not forget her little ones!

We followed this small posse as they made their way down river, watching with curiosity as the fisherman who’d waded waist deep out into the frigid waters in their pursuit of salmon would whistle down river to the next unaware fisherman to get out of the way.

There was by now also a fair crowd following this small family, as it ambled its way towards the rivers mouth.

Eventually it was time to go, lest we miss our ride, with us reaching the ferry port just as loading was about to commence.

We were asked the unusual question did we have any firearms or ammunition (at least to us Australians who have no gun culture, it was unusual), then we drove aboard ready for our hour long journey to Skagway.

The journey itself was just a small part of what is known as the Alaska Marine Highway System, a series of ferries running from Oregon, all the way up the Alaskan coast linking the various islands and their respective towns (indeed the Alaskan capital Juneau, can not actually be reached by road, but rather by ferry).

After the pleasant journey, our arrival at Skagway proved a bit of shock…

Even having read online that there’d likely be four cruise ships in town, nothing had prepared us for the reality.

The place was mayhem, and finding nowhere to park downtown, we abandoned our plans for the place, but for a brief visit to the very cool and historically interesting Goldrush Cemetery on the outskirts of town (it’s pretty much a who’s who of anybody of fame or ill repute you can find here).

What makes it a little more interesting is that nobody has been newly buried here since around 1908, so it really is an aged and peaceful place.

The horror of the approach to Skagway (left) & Klondike history at the Goldrush Cemetery (right)

The horror of the approach to Skagway (left) & Klondike history at the Goldrush Cemetery (right)

The last leg of our Golden Loop felt like a bit of a rushed affair (we needed to be back in Whitehorse for an evening performance in town with Dave and Cyd), and a not so brief and failed attempt to locate the old goldrush settlement of Dyea only compounded our anxiety of running late (we also had an hour time differential to consider between Alaska and the Yukon).

We had another fast border experience, after driving through, yet not truly appreciating it at the time, stunning mountain terrain, where after a very, very brief stop at the Carcross Desert, we continued on our way back to Whitehorse… and we did make it back in time for that nights show!

 

Notes:

* To camp at the Chilkoot River Campground cost us $15.00 US per tent (or RV) per night.

 

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