Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Haines Highway

Karen and I have several favorite drives in America, whoops -- better add the adjective North to the location.  That’s because one near the top of the list is the Haines Highway connecting Haines, Alaska with Haines Junction, Yukon.  There’s no relationship, as far as I know, with the Haines’s of the north and the Hanes brand of BVDs.

The Haines Highway as seen by a ground squirrel doing what ground squirrels like to do -- sit in the middle of the toad.

An Arctic Ground Squirrel contemplates when it should head for the middle of the highway -- probably to show off for Karen.

Since you must be curious, both Haines’s were named after Francina Haines (really -- a guy with a name ending in “ina”) who in 1879, along with S. Hall Young was one of the first missionaries (Presbyterian to be exact) in the area.   Back then, if you were the first to do something, you could get a spectacular road and a couple of towns named after you.  It’s harder these days since most of the best places have already been spoken for.  

Google maps pegs the distance between the two Haines’s at 148 miles.  However since most of the road runs through British Coumbia and the Yukon, you should think of that as 41 miles plus 172 kilometers.  Our favorite section is the Canadian portion of the road running above timber line, but then the backdrop in the US portion, the Chilkat Range, is so stunning that movie director, Randal Kleiser, chose it as the backdrop for the movie, “White Fang.”  For those of you unfamiliar with Jack London’s novel, White Fang is a dog -- albeit a pretty smart one.

We spent a day driving each way along this section of highway.  Over the little more than two weeks between our traverses the season changed from pre-green up spring in late May to summer (sort of) in early June.  I say "sort of" because fresh snow fell on nearby peaks as we motored south.  Come to think of it, it also made an appearance on our northward journey.

Hikes on the wide open tundra easily topped the list of our favorite activities going in both directions. Both were precipitated by a desire to photograph willow ptarmigan.  Of course Karen proved most adept in finding and photographing them.

                                    Don, I think I may have found a male willow ptarmigan in breeding plumage. 

                                                  No way, sweetheart.  It's a female willow ptarmigan.

  Oops, guess we're both right.  For the record, the third critter (the one in the blue checkered shirt) is not a ptarmigan.

We’ve driven the Haines Highway multiple times over the years and our track record for conversations after every trip remains 100 percent along the same line of thinking -- how can we spend more time there?  This trip was no different.   

A cottonwood tree surrounded by equisetum growing along the Alaska portion of the Haines Highway provides quite a contrast with...

                            Reindeer Lichens growing in the tundra on the British Columbia side of the border.

  Lofty unnamed peaks in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Wilderness Park close to the Alaska/BC border contrast with...

       Rolling tundra further into Canada.  Note the sole distant ribbon of highway bisecting this wild corner of the world.

From a distance the tundra looks barren, but a closer looks reveals it is anything but void of beauty -- for example these Alpine Azaleas -- appear so delicate yet able to survive the harsh climate which can dip below freezing any month of the year.

              Look closely and even a seemingly bare rock will be covered in lichens framed by other tundra vegetation.

Back in Alaska, on our homeward journey, we make one last search for an NPR (a near perfect rock).  Karen's pockets will soon be bulging and the springs on our car sagging as we leave one of our favorite places in all the world.


Terri Mappin (Seasons 365 Project) said...

What a beautiful post Don and Karen! My relatives have been on this very same trek and I hope to make it down this highway someday soon! There is certainly a mystic appeal to the Yukon and Alaska! The plaid ptarmigan looks like a jovial individual! ;)

Don and Karen Cornelius Artwork said...

Thanks, Terri: I suspect your ranch keeps you pretty tied down, but it's definitely worth the effort. Fortunately for you, you live close to Jasper and Banff National Parks, certainly one of the most spectacular areas in North America.