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Friday, May 28, 2010

The Stunning Klondike Highway

Location: Skagway, Alaska
Population: 892

Today we actually headed south along the Klondike Highway which connects Whitehorse of the Yukon to Skagway, Alaska. It's a good thing we didn't have as many miles to cover today, because we had to stop a lot to take in the breath-taking scenery. The road traverses the southern lakes region of the Yukon, so you're looking at a winding series of lakes surrounded by the boreal forest with snow-capped mountain peaks surrounding it all.

The wildlife was comparatively sparse today, though we did see a cinnamon phase black bear. We also saw our first Arctic ground squirrel of the trip, as well as our first mountain goats far away up on the rocky slopes. Not many birds to speak of, though as you'll see the landscapes more than made up for that.

Our first stop was Emerald Lake, which reflects all kinds of amazing greens and blues due to the presence of marl, or a calcium carbonate clay-like substance on the bottom of the lake that forms when limestone dissolves and reacts with the calcium in the water. The scene was completed by the eerie calling of a pair of common loons that nests on the lake, a sound that echoed off the hills and evoked a true feeling of wilderness. Listen to the wail call here if you're not familiar with it.

Our next stop was the supposed smallest desert in the world, measuring in at about one square mile: the Carcross desert. It wasn't a true desert, since we aren't in dry climate here, but it was very strange to see sand dunes in the middle of the forests and mountains. The sand was mostly deposited by the silt that dropped out of melting glaciers when the region was a lake formed by an ice dam during the end of the last ice age. The desert is in a small rainshadow, which has allowed a unique micro-climate to form here. There are several unique plant and insect species that live in this little desert-like area:

One of the best stops of the day was at Windy Arm, a branch of Tagish Lake that was not living up to its namesake today. The water was glassy calm, making for some amazing reflections in the water:

We then climbed up into the mountains where there was snow alongside the road and some of the lakes were still mostly frozen. This was especially amazing considering we were experiencing the warmest temperatures of the trip and record highs for the region in the upper 70s! I would never expected such warm weather up here at this time of year, but here we are wearing shorts and driving with the windows down through the Yukon.

Then, after seven days of traveling, we made it to Alaska! I'm amazed at all we've seen in Canada before arriving here: 87 bird species and 13 mammal species, including 16 black bears! Now, what will Alaska bring?


Lancs and Lakes Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

Hi Monika - we're back home in the cold (10C - really prefer FL's 30+) and wet. 'Our' woodland bison are in eastern Poland and Belarus extinct in UK for several thousand years like most of our big stuff!
You really are having an awesome trip - you in a RV, trailer or just a standard car?

Loking forward to Alaska - you up in the land of the midnight sun yet?



Warren Baker said...

Absolutely stunning scenery photo's Monika. Those water reflection shots are, as you said, breathtaking!

Julie said...

i, too, am totally enjoying the "ride"! what a crazy thing to find a desert up there... and some very cool animals too!