Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Some Truly Amazing 'Stuff'

The Alaska Highway - It is hard to believe that as little as 70 years ago there was no road (not even a bad one) connecting the lower 48 states with Alaska - which means there also was no road in this part of the Yukon territory! Although the potential of such a road had been studied as early as 1930, under President Herbert Hoover, it was not until the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, that it was deemed a military necessity. President Roosevelt authorized construction of the “Alcan” Highway (the military acronym for the Alaska-Canada Highway) on February 11, 1942. The US secured rights-of-way through Canada in March. The formal agreement between the 2 countries stipulated that the US pay for construction and turn over the Canadian portion of the highway to the Canadian government after the war ended. In turn, Canada furnished the right-of-way; waived import duties, sales tax, income tax and immigration regulations; and provided construction materials along the route.

Also during that first month was a massive mobilization of men and equipment. There was the organization of civilian engineers, trucks, road-building equipment, office furniture, food, tents and other supplies - all to be located and shipped north. By June (less than 3 months from the start) more than 10,000 American troops had poured into the Canadian North. Guess they didn’t have a Congress and media to debate all the pro’s and con’s for 2 years before they went to work!!!!

Some sections of the Alaska Highway followed existing winter roads, summer pack trails and winter trap lines. Where no trails existed, reconnaissance parties scouted through river valleys and mountain passes, often struggling through waist-deep snow and climbing over boulders as big as boxcars, to find the best route. Recon parties often depended on local guides to help locate possible routes.

In June, 1942, the Japanese invaded Attu and Kiska Islands in the Aleutians, adding a new sense of urgency to completion of the Alcan. Crews working from east and west connected at Contact Creek on September 15, 1942. By October, it was possible for vehicles to travel the entire length of the highway. The Alcan Highway was officially renamed the Alaska Highway in March, 1943, and opened to the public in 1948.

If you travel in this part of the world and see how huge this territory is - it is unbelievable to think it possible to lay down 1,534 miles of highway through this wilderness in just 8 months and 23 days!! Especially when it is not in your country - not on land you own - and not close to any normal supply outlets! An amazing feat. Today, we can’t resurface an existing road of this distance in that amount of time;-(

Ah, we have finally made it to the Al-Can Highway.

The Yukon Territory & Whitehorse - Perhaps the following information on the Yukon Territory will help put the enormity of the above project in some kind of context. As one drives into the Yukon, the welcome sign says “Larger than Life”!

The Yukon Territory certainly is larger than life.

This is true. Not sure I can explain, but when we turned the corner onto the Alaska Highway into the Yukon Territory it DID appear that the land went on forever. That it truly is “Larger than Life”!! The area of the Yukon Territory is almost 190,000 square miles - the approximate equivalent of California and South Carolina added together. Yet the total population of the entire area is 33,000!! AND, 26,000 of those people live in the capital of the Yukon - Whitehorse. (I have NOT missed any ‘0’s’ here. The population of the entire Yukon Territory - an area equivalent to the combined area of California and South Carolina - is approximately that of the county we live in!!) And this is today - imagine the population back in the 1940’s when the Highway was being built. Not much in the way of man power in the area to call on for help.

A side note - 33,000 is the human population. The moose population is 50,000 and the caribou population is 160,000! (Not sure how they get these counts - but, it is on the list of Quick Facts from the Yukon Tourism and Culture.) So far - this is the only moose or caribou we have seen -

ANOTHER day where this is the only sighting of a Caribou/Moose/Elk.
We know they outnumber humans by a large multiple, but so far they have laid low.

Whitehorse is the Yukon’s capital city and is known as “The Wilderness City” due to the spectacular surroundings.

Welcome to the largest city in the Yukon Territory

It sits on the Yukon River and is named after the historic rapids which resembled the flowing manes of charging white horses. On the “Trail of 1898”, the stampeders had to bypass the treacherous water of the White Horse Rapids, which became known as the greatest peril on the trail. Unfortunately, construction of the Whitehorse hydro-electric dam in 1958 tamed the rapids - BUT, didn’t diminish the Yukon River’s place in the stat books as the fourth longest river in North America - measuring nearly 2,000 miles.

Headwaters of the Yukon River.

Whitehorse came about because of the Gold Rush and grew because of the railroad. Two entrepreneurs capitalized on the obstacles presented by the rapids in 1897 by building tramways to carry goods and small boats around the rapids. A roadhouse and saloon provided lodging and refreshments (and whatever else) to the tens of thousands of gold seekers on their way to the Klondike. In 1900, construction of the White Pass & Yukon Route railway from Skagway to a point past the rapids was completed and Whitehorse became a railhead. For years, Whitehorse continued its role connecting rail service from Skagway to the south with riverboat traffic to Dawson to the north. Then in 1942, the thousands of American Army personnel arrived to build the Alcan Highway and Whitehorse was the western base. After a bit of a lull for Whitehorse, the Alaska Highway was opened to civilian traffic and people like us began making treks to Alaska;-) This maintained the survival of Whitehorse - as it became a major stop on the journey, since it is the only city of any size on a 750 mile stretch of highway;-)

Many of the buildings still in use in Whitehorse emphasize the many lives - from gold rush days to transportation days to the tourism of today. One of the local restaurants (a lunch spot of ours one afternoon) is housed in just such a place. The Klondike Rib & Salmon is housed in the two oldest buildings still in use in the Yukon’s Capital. The dining room was originally opened as a tent frame bakery around 1900 to serve all those miners. In 1929 the building became a mail and freight business - Klondike Airways. Using snowmobiles and caterpillars, the company carried about 110,000 lbs of mail north to Dawson City each year. Before 1921 only first class mail was delivered in the winter. The rest of the mail waited in Whitehorse for the ice to break up and the steamers to sail - this usually happened sometime in May!!!! No FedEx back then!! In the 1930’s the building was used as a carpentry shop making, among other things, coffins. Thankfully for the restaurant - that business ‘died’ to allow the current quaint restaurant - which we thoroughly enjoyed;-)

The halibut fish and chips and caribou burgers were tasty.
The historical photos inside gave a good sense of the city over the last century.

Whitehorse sits at or close to many junctions, which allow for beautiful and interesting side trips.

Skagway - The oldest incorporated city in Alaska (1900), owing its birth to the Klondike Gold Rush. Skagway boomed as thousands of gold seekers arrived to follow the White Pass and Chilkoot trails to the Yukon goldfields. In July 1897, the first boatloads of stampeders bound for the Klondike landed at Skagway. By October 1897, according to a North West Mounted Police report,, Skagway had grown “from a concourse of tents to a fair-sized town, with well-laid-out streets and numerous frame buildings, stores, saloons, gambling houses, dance houses and a population of about 20,000.” Customs office records for 1898 show that in the month of February alone 5,000 people landed at Skagway!! By the summer of 1899 the stampede was all but over - and by 1903 the population had dwindled to 500. Fortunes come and fortunes go!! BUT, during the stampede that good old railroad - the White Pass & Yukon Route railway - turned Skagway into a terminus for the connection to Whitehorse. This coupled with its port allowed Skagway to persist. The port is Skagway’s mainstay even today as cruise ships line the docks in the summer making the town look as it might have during those stampede days -

Downtown Skagway, AK with one of the the five cruise ships that were in port while we were there.

For those of us who arrive by car instead of cruise ship, the drive on the South Klondike Highway from Whitehorse is beautiful and scenic as it crosses the border back into the US. It consists of lake after lake surrounded by the glacier capped mountains. And - if you are lucky as we were - the lakes seem like mirrors doubling the magnificence of the scenery!!!

Rainbow Lake perched alongside the Klondike Highway from Whitehorse, YT to Skagway, AK.

Old mining mill on the banks of Lake Tutshi.

The Windy Arm branch of Tagish Lake .

Windy Arm goes on for awhile.

And - maybe - there might also be a bear or two along the way -

We found this black bear grazing along side the road. It didn't seem too concerned with our presence ...
until another car, a truck, and a bus stopped to take a look.

It decided to try and leave by way of the steep rock wall...

After a couple of minutes, changed its mind and came back down to continue eating.

On our return drive to Whitehorse, we ran into this bear.
We are fairly sure it was the same one we saw that morning.

Atlin - A side trip to Atlin, a small community of 500 residents, will take you back into British Columbia (BC) to the northernmost town in the province. Most of these residents, however, consider themselves Yukoners, with the town’s designation as BC as a mere ‘accident of geography’. It is geography, though, that gives Atlin its beauty as it sits on the crystal clear water of the 90-mile Atlin Lake. Surrounded by spectacular mountains, Atlin Lake is the largest natural lake in BC.

A view across Little Atlin Lake.

Atlin was also ‘made’ by the gold rush. The Atlin Gold Rush is considered BC’s last great stampede, occurring after two miners hit pay dirt nearby in 1898. The news of the pair’s discovery brought nearly 5,000 gold-seeking hopefuls to Atlin. By 1899, Atlin was booming with trading posts and services that catered to the influx of residents - whose numbers were pushing 10,000!! Just as with Skagway - the population dwindled as quickly as it rose.

However, in the 1920’s Atlin was a popular vacation destination for the world’s wealthy elite. A local English Inn was particularly popular with the 110-passenger steamer making trips to the remote Inn twice weekly! In the roaring ‘20s the Inn hosted such notables as President Roosevelt and Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales. Many of the old historic buildings were a ‘feast’ for Gary’s trigger finger -

Good lunch at the Pine Tree. The tire repair shop also served the local's hardware and auto parts needs.

Just liked the looks of these old buildings in Atlin.

Boats such as this were workhorses on Atlin Lake.

Seemed like most of the miners laid to rest here were in their 20's and 30's.

Much of the area around Whitehorse has the fingerprints of the US Army. Since there was little (or no) development in this area until the Army was here creating the Alcan Highway - they took the opportunity to name the various lakes, mountains and streams. For instance - on the way to Atlin we passed over the Snafu and Tarfu Creeks. Many of you will know that these are Army acronyms for “Situation Normal All ‘Fouled’ Up” (or whatever “F” work you think the military might use) and “Things Are Really ‘Fouled’ Up”!!!

In between these day trips there was plenty to do in Whitehorse - golf a couple of days, local artists galleries, museums - and, of course, the obligatory restocking at WalMart;-)

Today was 4 weeks on the road - and we are still speaking and enjoying each other. Tomorrow we begin traveling again and not sure when we will have another internet connection. So - love to you all - and hope to ‘talk’ to you again in a few days -


Elizabeth & Gary

1 comment:

  1. Love the bottom 'Reflection' photo of Tagish Lake. Great composition and content. The bear's a cutie - Looks like he's having a tough time gettin where he's goin...

    Keep on truckin, or busin... :))