Friday, June 3, 2016

Skagway to Tok – Pretty, Bumpy, Amazing, Difficult

Summit Lake

You go into Skagway on a highway, and come out of Skagway on the same highway…this is a theme with many Alaska coastal towns.  Twelve miles away from Haines, but you cannot drive to Haines without going back into Canada to the Alaska Highway, get on the Alaska Highway to Haines Junction, and then down to Haines…a 20 mile coastal trip becomes a 350 mile inland trip.  So you take a ferry, or drive…and if you have a motorhome, driving is far cheaper.  But we are holding off going to Haines until later…for now, leaving Skagway, Tok is our destination…500 miles away.  We need to be in Anchorage around the 15th to refill our meds at Walgreens, then we want to be in Homer during the 4th of July after a visit to Seward.  Before Anchorage, we will probably drive down to Valdez. 

Summit Lake

Leaving Skagway we once again enjoy a visit to the Summit Lake area, where we once again find the lake in a mirror like condition.

Lone bird ruins mirror effect, Summit Lake

Except when a feathered friend lands right into the lake.  Look at what this one bird did to the reflective aspects of the lake.  Just as we are leaving, a small mist starts to fall…and a last glance to the lake shows a disturbed lake.  We are already on the highway and did not get a shot…but nearly all the reflective qualities were gone.

Cinnamon Black Bear     Cinnamon Black Bear

We saw this brown black bear, also called a cinnamon black bear, along the road.  It did not stay around very long, a bit shy, and took off into the woods.

Mountain Goat, Klondike Highway near Fraser

Between Fraser and Tagish Lake there is a pullout where you can look up on the mountainside…and way way up there are mountain goats.

Mountain Goat, Klondike Highway near Fraser

They are so far away…they are out of reach of our camera zoom…we saw at least one with a baby, and three or four more adults.  This is our first capture in a picture, and my first view of a mountain goat, Marcia saw some back in 2012 in Glacier National Park.

Tutshi Lake

Tagish Lake      Tagish Lake

The views of Tutshi and Tagish Lakes…all repeats from our drive to Skagway.  We then passed through Carcross again, and pass the Tagish Road that we came on from the Alaska Highway…now, as we stay on the Klondike Highway, we are seeing things we had not seen previously.

FAKE sheep at Caribou Crossing Trading Post

From the highway Marcia spots these two up on the rocks…conveniently right at the Caribou Crossing Trading Post…where I pull in.  I get the camera on them…and quickly realize that they are fake, a ploy by the Caribou Crossing Trading Post to bring in traffic off the highway.  We pull through the parking lot and exit…

Emerald Lake near Carcross

Next we come to Emerald Lake…you can see why it gets its name.

Emerald Lake near Carcross

The color is from light reflecting off white deposits of marl, a mixture of clay and calcium carbonate, at the bottom of shallow waters, which came into the lake from limestone gravels eroded from the nearby mountains, deposited years ago by the glaciers.

SS Klondike, Whitehorse Yukon

Soon we are in Whitehorse, Yukon, sitting in the Walmart parking lot.  We look things over, and decide we would have a better nights sleep in a RV Park and program the Pioneer RV Park into the GPS and off we go…right by the SS Klondike.  This is actually the SS Klondike II, since SS Klondike I went aground in 1936, was salvaged and used to build SS Klondike II.  The SS Klondike(s) traveled between Whitehorse and Dawson City for around 30 years running freight between the two cities along the Yukon River.  Unbeknownst to us, the GPS was running us on a bunny run…had the park on the wrong side of the Yukon River, took us down a nice dirt road for miles and had us less than 1/4 mile from the park, telling us to turn into the woods (really, no road there at all), and how it was going to get us over the river we will never know.  Of course, found a place to turn around which was just short of allowing us to turn…had to unhook the car…and the rain started to come down.  (see the rain clouds above the boat???)   Anyway, we did take the car to Walmart and then to the Canadian Super Store (think Walmart Superstore only cleaner and wider isles), and decided that Whitehorse would have to wait until our trip back through in a few months.

Saint Elias Mountains, Haines Junction

Haines Junction is the next community (population 600) along the Alaska Highway.  We filled up with enough fuel to get us to Tok, Alaska … although our intention was to stay in Destruction Bay if we liked what we saw. 

Saint Elias Mountains

We enjoyed the Saint Elias Mountains which ran along the Alaska Highway coming into, and leaving Haines Junction, and running all the way to Kluane Lake.

Kluane Lake

Our first view of Kluane Lake.  It is the largest lake in the Yukon, and the Alaska Highway runs along its southwestern border.  Two very small communities, Destruction Bay and Burwash Landing are located along this side of the lake.  Both have RV Parks, the only quality of both is that they offer electricity.  There is a nice Yukon park which offers a great view.  We choose none of the above…the air card signal was showing a weak 3G, it was 1:00, and we decided to travel on.

Kluane Lake 

But I got a great shot of the southern portion of the lake…

Parked along Kluane Lake, near Soldier's Summit

Soldier's Summit…and our dirty, soon to be much dirtier motorhome and HHR.  It was along this ridge that the completion of the Alaska Trail took place at Soldier’s Summit.  The summit is up higher than the existing road, and people do hike up to it from the parking lot on the other side of the road (see the motorhome in far distance left above).  There are many parts of the Alaska Highway which run near, but not on, the original trail.

Kluane Lake

Another look of Kluane Lake, about half way through the drive along its banks. 

Alaska Highway, Froast Heaves and closest thing to a traffic jam

This is where the “Difficult” comes into play.  From Destruction Bay to Beaver Creek Yukon, just short of the Alaska border, is the most difficult, frustrating, hard part of the entire drive.  You face many many frost heaves, (the uplift of water-saturated soil or other surface deposits due to expansion on freezing), and then 50 miles of road construction, some of which is very, very difficult to deal with.   As before, you get Construction Warning Signs, the a couple of miles later, the asphalt disappears and you are running on what feels like a washboard…

Washboard to clean clothing     Roadway Washboard

On the left you see a washboard…on the right, you see a “roadway washboard”.   The road was like the picture on the right that we drove on for miles and miles and miles.

Road Construction Equipment causing Washboard effect

It was something similar to this that was the culprit.  It was so hard to drive on, and Marcia was in no mood to take pictures or even look at the roadway, that we did not get a picture of the real machine, but got a picture of a better stretch of gravel (picture below).   Now there were stretches of this type of road, and it was the first long stretch which was the worst.  At times, I could only drive 12-15 mph, and even then the shaking was earth shattering.  Then large trucks would come shooting by the other way, at about 40 mph.  Many cars passed us, along with some motorhomes. 

Alaska Highway Road Construction, between Destruction Bay and Beaver Creek

Then we ran into the construction which required us to follow a pilot car, then it turned into normal road for a couple of miles, then back to gravel…but the washboard syndrome was gone.  They had put a layer of dirt over it, which filled in the gaps, and lesson the shaking, and increased our speed to 30-35 mph with only short spurts of slower speeds. Finally it was over, finally we were at the border.  After being cleared through, I asked the agent if I could ask him a question.  “Sure,” he said.  “Are the roads better here in Alaska?”   He looked at us, smiled, and said, “Better than what you just traveled through…but not as good as the lower 48.”   Well, after arriving at Tok, I have to say that he was wrong…the roads are better than many roads in the lower 48, as long as you slow down for the dips and sways. 

Canada Alaska Border Flags     Alaska Border Sign

FINALLY, we are there!  We have gotten through the worse part, and when we return, we hope they will have much of the road construction finished…after all, they have two full months, and 20 hours of daylight each day.  Smile

Alaska Range over Midway Lake, east of Tok, Alaska

Looking to the south at the Alaska Mountain Range over Midway Lake.  We arrive in Tok around 7 pm, Alaska Time.  Yes, it took us 7 hours to travel 225 miles.  (Yes, 1 pm to 7 pm is only 6 hours, but we changed time zones.)  We are staying in Tok for two nights to rest up, clean up, and east at the famous Fast Eddies Restaurant.  (We had breakfast there today, and intend to return for dinner tonight.)


  1. Replies
    1. That area has so many spots to take reflective photos at, it is amazing, just amazing.

  2. When we came back from Alaska, the stretch of highway from the border to the bottom end of Kluane Lake was worse than any we drove on in Alaska, even the Top of The World Highway.

    1. Don't tell Marcia that, she might fly home instead!

      I have heard stories of it being better, and stories of it being worse. I am hoping for the better. It will be what it is, not much we can do about it.

  3. When they bring out the equipment to fix a road, they fix as long a portion as possible!! We went through many 10-12 miles sections. They also put down a layer of water with sealant in it to keep the dust down. Wash the bottom half of your rig as soon as possible, or that sealant become like concrete!! I'm still cleaning it off my bay doors.

    1. It all came off real easy. Never did see any sealant on the roads that were tore up, perhaps it is too early in the process when we went through.

  4. Welcome to Alaska, slow down and enjoy the view. Loved the fake goat pic.

    1. Thanks, we intend to go fewer miles, and stay in some areas for a week or more.

  5. Your tales are just what I needed, trying to decide if we take the alaska hwy or the top of the world. there seems to be much prettier views below. THANK YOU for posting

    1. I don't think you can go wrong either way...but Top of the World is not paved the entire way...


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