Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Alaska Highway - North End

Emerald Lake

I'm currently in Arkansas, having driven from Alaska to the lower 48 through Canada for the 4th time. Given that not a small number of people consider this drive the road trip of a lifetime, it's becoming oddly familiar to me. This time I took a western route, following the Cassiar Highway then staying west from Prince George toward Vancouver, passing over scenic detours when possible. This post covers the northern end, until turning south at the junction with the Cassiar. Rather than leaving Fairbanks in the morning, I stuck around for a committee meeting then took a nap before heading out around 9:00pm to drive all night, where night isn't actually dark enough to see stars this time of year. I spotted a Great Gray Owl shortly after sunset:

Yeah, it's a terrible picture. But I shot that half an hour after sunset, at 560mm focal length, f/8, handheld. Actually rather impressive.

Great Gray Owls are very big (about a 5 ft wingspan), and the distinctive gray disc around the face funnels sounds to their ears so they can hear rodents under the snow. They then swoop in and dive, talons first, up to 4 feet down in the snow to pull their dinner out. They've even been known to chase black bears away from their nest! Driving overnight was an experience: The biggest (only!) highway around for hundreds of miles and I could still go for 1.5-2 hour periods without seeing a single other car. By morning I was at Kluane Lake in Yukon Territory for a photography break with the morning light (I planned that!):

  Kluane mist and iceKluane ice Kluane ice and island Kluane mud flats

It was still too early for the gas stations to be open (no 24 hour gas for about a 350 mile stretch through here) so I topped off using the gas can on my roof rack - see what I mean about getting familiar with this drive? - and continued on. The gas had been splashing out over the frost heaves in the road through this part of the Yukon, and there was some gross slimy gas-ice on the can. I have never seen gas ice before. Coming out of Haines Junction is usually good wildlife spotting:

  Roadside Bear

Near Whitehorse I took a detour that passed through the town of Carcross, and passed a beautiful lake, appropriately named Emerald Lake:

  Emerald LakePanorama: Emerald Lake

This was about a 60 mile detour, then back on the Alaska Highway. Near Teslin I found a group of Ravens and two Golden Eagles picking at the carcass of a Caribou:

  Golden Eagle

Golden Eagles can be pretty scary. This grizzly bear agrees. As would these goats, had they survived the encounter. And I must plug this picture of a Golden, because it looks like a freaking dinosaur:

  eagle talons
(Click for source)

Just before Watson Lake is the junction with the Cassiar Highway, a much less traveled road than the Alaska Highway. Next time...

  Cassiar Highway