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The Alaskan Wilderness Odyssey - Welcome to Bear Country!

Updated: Jan 23

Part 2

Tuesday - June 27th

We left Three Sisters Campground in Canmore and headed for Kluane, but it's not quite that simple. This is a three day journey to get there. If things go according to plan - 12 hours - 12 hours - and then 9 hours on the last day. Today we drove up the Icefield Parkway Drive to Jasper. Then we headed west on 1, and this section of the mountains was very different. They towered over top of us, but it ran as a straight ridge line, rather than the one mountain peak after another that you experience between Banff and Jasper. We drove through a valley that had wheat fields and farms scattered along the way. Today's highlight was stopping at the ranger station at Mt. Robson, Canada's highest mountain peak - a beautiful field of purple flowers at the base as you looked up to the snow capped peak off in the distance. We used this as a lunch break, but while we were there, we got a very nice rain proof map of Alaska. We spoke with the rangers about the best route to get to Alaska, and they suggested taking a different route in than we would be taking out for variety sake. Why do the same route twice, right? Instead of opening up the camper and setting things up, the girls put up their own tent to sleep in at Beaumont Provincial Park, while the rest of us slept in the truck.

Wednesday - June 28th

We had a good night's sleep, and the girls enjoyed the tent, saying it was warmer than when we had camped at 3 Sisters. I'll just take their word for it. After a breakfast of coffee and oatmeal, we took the road west and eventually split off on 37 North. This was a drive we were told that would be scenic and show the true wild country that's here, and boy were we told right! We gassed up at the intersection with 37 and listened to bikers talking about the numbers of bear that they had seen on 37. We thought that that we had already entered into pretty wild country with practically no towns anywhere, but 37 would exacerbate that. Between two days, we put in ten hours of drive time on it. It was hyper hyper remote! At points the road was nicely paved - then it turned to course pavement - then it turned to gravel. Most of the road was 1 1/2 lanes, but again, we entered a different kind of mountain range. We were within about an hour and a half of the Pacific Ocean, so we actually dropped in elevation, which made the mountains seem even bigger. The mountains seem immense - not just in height but in girth too. Our drive on 37 had shrubs that lined both sides of the road (again remember for ten hours).

The area is extremely remote. Signs show the next town being 300-400 Kilometers away - and when you get there, it's a tiny rustic general store - of which it contains a tiny diner, a gas pump, the post office, a party store, and showers that you pay for - all in one building. At one stop, we were in the middle of an Indian Reservation (in Canada - First Nations people) where we found one such town; we were in the middle of nowhere, and there was a beautifully enclosed ice skating arena. We were 4 hours from the closest "town". How in the world does that even exist there? Another option for these "towns" that appear on the road signs is that you get to the "town" and it's now gone - apparently, a thing of the past.

Cars are far and few between! But the views - the views are spectacular! Everything is big...the mountains, the valleys, the rivers, the trees, the bear...By the time we got to our campground the first day, we had put in six hours on 37 and had seen 13 black bear. At one point, we had a black bear crossing the road in front of us, and all of a sudden, the front right brake on the truck started screeching - the kind where you shrug your shoulders and cringe, because you just can't stand the sound of it. It was a terrible feeling, because we had NO cell service, and we were probably four hours from anyone who could help us. Caleb and I got out to check the caliper and see if we could see anything stuck up in there - since we'd driven on gravel at points. But the bear was still there about fifteen yards away - literally eyeing us up as we laid down to see up under the truck. Eventually the black bear turned and jumped into the shrubs, never to be seen again. We were super fortunate as we hopped back in the truck to pull ahead a bit, and the noise was gone. I had thought a rock had gotten caught up in the brake, and that surely seemed to be the case. Somehow someway, the rock became dislodged as we pulled over - that was a close one - especially with the bear being right there.

We pulled into a Lions Campground that was actually very nice. It was located by a river, and there were probably 4 or 5 other campers scattered around the campground. It was a long day of driving. Lunch and dinner were eaten in the truck while we traveled, and the kids played a new game for awhile (like Scrabble). By the time we got there, it was between 11-11:30pm. But, the sun was still up - like twilight. We are now 3 time zones away from home. Oh, and one more sighting for the day, we did see a lynx walking along a pull off of the road and later on we saw two black and gray wolves.

Thursday, June 29th

Again, up and at it on 37. Four more hours of driving and 3 more black bear sightings. Most of the black bears that we have seen have been about double the size of the ones I would see in Michigan. I would guess that they have generally ranged from being 400-500 pounds. After the four hours of driving on 37, we finally got to the Alaskan Highway. We stopped to get gas at the intersection, and the thing that stood out to me was that the station was advertising that they would be closed after Labor Day. I guess you make money while you can; I can only surmise that it's because of the change of weather and lack of tourists at that point. At this point, road weaves back and forth between British Columbia and The Yukon - one minute you're driving in one province - the next the other. Eventually, we drove past White Horse, the capital of The Yukon (population 25,000). Shortly after that, we came up on a herd of Elk. We stopped and went for a walk as there was a darker elk laying down off in the distance. The rest of the herd had skirted us, but there was a dark colored Elk that was laying down, and it never flinched or moved. We got to within about fifty yards of it and decided to leave it alone. It acted like something was wrong with it. I don't know if it had a broken leg or was sick, but for an animal to allow us to get that close, watching us come up all that way...something's not right with it. We hopped back in the truck and continued on until we finally got to Haines Junction. Haines Junction was a cute little town....rustic hippie vibe. Found a coffee shop there with pastries that were delicious! The Al-Can goes north up to Kluane from there, but the Kluane National Park and Reserve has come into view. The mountains are all white, as a glacier runs along the top of all the mountains here. We continue on north up to Kluane Lake where we land at Cottonwood Rv Park. We rolled into Cottonwood at about 11:30pm in broad daylight. Signs were put out for incoming travelers to simply settle up in the morning at the office. Cottonwood has electrical sights, an office with a store in it, bathrooms with electricity and hot showers, which are badly needed again.

As we set up for the night, we hear the hum of the generators - the power source for the entire camp. This area seems apocalyptic. Right before we got to Cottonwood Lodge, we drove around the SW corner of the lake (52 miles long), and the road was ten to twelve feet up off the mud flats that surrounded it. A glacial river drains from the surrounding mountains there into the lake. But the expanse is vast...the mountains are enormous, the lake is massive, the expanse of the mudflats is wide... We also came upon another ranger station. It was simply a dot back off the road with Sheep Mountain looming over top of it. Kluane will be home for a few days as we take another break and explore the area.

***This next entry is one of my favorite memories for the trip. Buckle in for an adventure at Sheep Mountain.

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