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September 1st 2018
Published: September 1st 2018
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We left Denali and drove north to Fairbanks, hoping for clear skies so we could see the northern lights. Not – clouds and rain again. I doubt we’ll do this long drive again, but given enough time and resources, I’d like to fly up here in the winter, as Fairbanks is one of the best places to see the aurora borealis. I have a very short bucket list, but seeing them is on it. About Fairbanks: we talked to a waitress who said, “It’s not the 40 below temps; it’s the darkness. We only get 3-4 hours of light each day.”

Fairbanks was as far north as we got on this trip, after we eliminated the Dempster Highway from our plan. (Oh, by the way, we checked the weather during the two weeks we were going to be on the highway – heavy rain, muddy road warnings, wildfires – and snow. Good call, huh?) We headed south again and crossed the border into the Yukon, one of my favorite places. Everything about the Yukon landscape is huge and majestic. I could live there, except for the winters.

As we crossed into Canada, we got the word that the Cassiar Highway, which we planned to drive down to Washington and Oregon is closed frequently due to wildfires and that the heavy smoke extended all the way to Seattle. We headed for our decision point knowing that a trip down the Cassiar would put us into heavy smoke for about two weeks. When we reached the junction (Upper Liard, just west of Watson Lake), we learned that not only was the Cassiar closed, but that our eastern option, the Alaska Highway, was closed due to fires right along the road. OK, now what?

Many folks don’t realize that there are only two roads back through Canada to the US from this point. It’s not like you can get off the interstate and take the back roads. Those are the back roads – and the front roads. They’re the only roads you’ve got. We dithered and decided to risk the closure of the Alaska Highway, knowing that it’s a top priority to keep that one east-west road open. We drove by fires and through heavy smoke for about 150 miles, but did not encounter any closures. Again, we were sacrificing a big part of the trip, but cooler heads sometimes prevail.
Northern Montana LandscapeNorthern Montana LandscapeNorthern Montana Landscape

Bison in the foreground; Chief Mountain in the background.

So we trudged east and south through Alberta and crossed back into Montana at Carway, Alberta, right near Glacier National Park. Driving through Alberta was discouraging, as it’s apparently sold its soul to the oil companies. Huge trucks dominate the highways: 20-30 wheels are common; I saw one truck with 44. We had our windshield replaced on the way up to Alaska and a star crack repaired on the way south. Fracking and the extraction of natural gas and “oil sands bitumen” have changed Alberta from a beautiful prairie to a place where if the oil companies rule. I’m conflicted about this, as it reminds me of the 1960s, when developed countries talked about how beautiful the developing countries were: keep that place beautiful so I can come from my industrialized home to enjoy it – with no regard for the economic status of the people who live there. When you talk to folks in Alberta and northern BC, you quickly learn that they love the money flowing into their economy – they’ll worry about the earthquakes and the environmental and health effects later. There are no easy answers.

To continue the rant about what we’ve done to
Lots of Hay!Lots of Hay!Lots of Hay!

As someone who's actually hauled and fed hay, Tom's comment was, "I can't even imagine how long it will take to move all that." Thousands of bales spread over thousands of acres in Montana.
the environment: Glacier National park is often called No-Glacier National Park now. The scars from old wildfires are everywhere, and when Tom rode his motorcycle up the road into the park, he was stopped along with everyone else by wildfires near the top. And in the Yukon, Kluane Lake is slowly drying up. The glacier-fed river that has fed it for thousands of years is gone. Just gone. As the Kaskawulsh Glacier receded, the river changed course and no longer runs toward the Bering Sea and the lake, but rather toward the Gulf of Alaska. Interesting story (https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/climate-change-yukon-river-piracy-1.4070153) a couple of years ago, with some devastating results today.

And a note about Montana: if you can’t afford the time or money to drive to Alaska, go to Montana. It’s the only other state that can come close to the hugeness, majesty and desolation of the Alaska landscape. It might be my favorite lower-48 state. Today, we’re driving east through Montana, heading for a couple of days at Custer State Park in South Dakota. Wow, it's windy!

Additional photos below
Photos: 11, Displayed: 11


Old Montana Grain ElevatorOld Montana Grain Elevator
Old Montana Grain Elevator

It's right next to the railroad tracks, but has been replaced by a modern elevator.
Home in the WindbreakHome in the Windbreak
Home in the Windbreak

In this area, homes and farms are surrounded and protected by belts of trees.
Smokey MountainsSmokey Mountains
Smokey Mountains

Not in Tennessee, but near Lake Watson, Yukon.
Low VisibilityLow Visibility
Low Visibility

And that truck was about as far as we could see.
Kluane LakeKluane Lake
Kluane Lake

Beautiful area with strong winds.
End of the LakeEnd of the Lake
End of the Lake

This is the beginning of Kluane Lake, but the dry end of the river that's changed its course. Sooner or later, Kluane Lake will be gone.

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