Part 1: Spindrift; Ghosts of the Greyscale and travels to the Other Side.
Bed and Breakfast operations are, in principle, a fine idea. Truth be told, I have not stayed in many… perhaps for a reason. Last night’s stay was not bad really, but neither was it overly conducive to sleep; very small room, incongruously noisy neighbors, banging water/baseboard pipes. The hosts were congenial enough, and breakfast was good, though a bit more spartan than I might have liked. The coffee was good at least.
We made our way to Front Street in downtown Whitehorse as I wanted to see the Yukon in that place, given that we got to see it in Dawson and Eagle this past summer. It was worth it. There, at the White Pass train depot, once again, and perhaps even more dramatically, the sunrise pulled out all the stops.
From there we headed ever eastward, winding through a monochromatic wilderness. Persistent winds blew what was left of the sparse snow around, snaking across the road surface and leaping and swirling through the air currents on the roadside like some frigid, elemental beings, dancing off into the wooded hills beyond. Hills that at times appeared either very young or very old; dramatic, jagged peaks or rolling, knobby ridgelines. The sun, all the while, darting among them, splashing the country in scattered light. The road, rolling and winding, and undulating seeming to embrace the landscape rather than trying to control it.
As we began to descend into Teslin River country, the veil between this world and another began to waver. The sun, leaping above the mountains to the south, adorned the scattered tree tops and rugged knobby hills to the north in a brash, golden light. Mining country coming into its own. As we approached the point where the river begins to masquerade as a lake a fog came up and the whole of the country was bedecked in a shimmering, ethereal gown. Without a doubt we seemed to be crossing over, into what was uncertain, but then the Wife read briefly from the book and it began to make sense.
Teslin is the home of a historic band of interior Tlingit; peoples that are notoriously coastal, peoples that, to some, are synonymous with this northern land. Think totem poles and raven masks, dugout canoes, ceremonial spruce root blankets, and killer whale effigies. The confluence of these people in this place is just that, a confluence; a crossing over. The bridge across the river, up and out of the place, seemed to waver in the mists.
From there, up and out of the Teslin River/Lake region, through rolling hills and forests, with rugged mountains in the distance. A surprising paucity of wildlife, though we have seen considerable sign; mostly the shadowy, meandering paths through the snow along the roadside, but also the yellow reflective version. Only once, Red Fox, busy rooting in the snow; a solitary magpie, a handful of raven.
On towards and along the Swift River and up, up to the Continental Divide. Once across this not well marked demarcation, we passed into yet another world; one not immediately affiliated with the Yukon River. We had officially left The Country. As we rolled on down the other side, more changes. One we had noted previously, the changing flora; here there be Lodgepoles. And the road wound on, and the mountains softened, and the forests grew closer.
Along the Rancheria River, down into Liard Country, which feeds the Mackenzie River, which drains this country much as the Yukon does back away behind us. On to Watson Lake. Here, the forest stretches on, seemingly forever. Without a doubt, despite the over-enthusiastic efforts of the local road service crews, we are merely borrowing the winding, sinuous path we call “highway” Without a doubt, one day, the forest will take back its own.
Part 2: As it ends, so it began.
The sun sank behind us, the shadows wavered and finally melted into the flat black and white world. The upper reaches of the Lodgepoles, needles shaped into puffballs, festooned with snow, looked not too unlike something out of Dr.Suess’ universe; the young spruce trees, along the roadward edge of the forest, similarly adorned, trying their best to mimic snowmen; the light fading, the monochrome descending. We top a last rise before rolling down into Watson Lake, the truck thermometer reading -11, the radio saying this is the cold spot in the Territory at the moment, only to be confronted by a small pack of local dogs, 6 or 7 strong, frolicking in the highway with reckless abandon. Watson Lake, home of the Signpost Forest, as noted yesterday, and what we find to be a curious, shoddy place.
And then, at dinner, headlights through the window. A reminder of dining at Fast Eddie’s, back in Tok, and there, again, in the booth behind us, the elderly woman with the little dog. Fellow travelers, oddly also bound for Arizona. This roadtrip, this river through life.
For our turn, we look forward to tomorrow… and the truly fabled hot springs at Liard and ceremonious festivities at Muncho Lake.
…aaannd Day 4…
Day 4, Muncho Lake
Part 1: The Best Place on Earth… what else can you say?
After taking the obligatory stroll through the peculiar signpost forest, under yet another incredible sunrise, we fueled up and headed out of town, more or less quite ready to be leaving Watson Lake behind us. Not the most terrible place we had ever been, but it seemed to me, in the words of Frank Zappa, “a little bit cheesy, though nicely displayed.”
And then, there were bison. First one, then two, then a few scattered here and there, then whole flocks of ‘em. Lumbering malingerers munching away at remnant grasses on the side of the road. The only ungulates we had seen thus far, this side of the border, despite warnings of moose, elk, caribou, horse… it was like driving back into the Pleistocene. Well, not really, although it was often windy.
Anyways, we spent the day winding back and forth across the YT/BC border (BC by the way is the self-proclaimed Best Place on Earth…), through Liard River country where, for much of the time there was not that much to see. But then, perhaps we were feeling a bit blasé, as we were bound for Liard River Hot Springs, which is a very fine place indeed. From there we would head into the Northern Rocky Mountains, but more on that later.
Liard Hot Springs is a place not to be missed. When traveling the Alaska Highway, it is my opinion that one is either a fool, or very unfortunate, to pass by this place. I have been every time, except the first, as we took a different route. That said, I have never been in the winter. As expected, it was pretty magical. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.
It was a short day, and there are festivities tonight, here at the Northern Rockies Lodge, on the shores of, now frozen, Muncho Lake; a glorious place to spend an evening. Only moreso this particular evening; the end of the year, and, as we will very shortly turn due south and head to more “civilized” locales, the end of… well, I’m not sure. Maybe it is better to look at it simply as a turning point. Either way, tonight is our last night in “The North”. A new beginning. Tomorrow, on to Fort St. John.