I thought the drive through the Peace Valley and the first part of the Al-Can was beautiful, but it just keeps getting better and better. The stretch of the Al-Can up and over Summit Pass and down along Muncho Lake was beyond belief. I kept muttering “Oh my god” at each new mountain ridge, at the intricate coloration of the rocks, at the surprise that appeared around every corner. Daisy was simply speechless.
Not only was the scenery getting more beautiful with each mile but the wildlife was putting it in full gear also. We’ve seen at least 7 or 8 black bears grubbing along the grassy banks of the highway, a dozen or more rock sheep on the cliffs, including 3 lambs that were so well camouflaged against the grey and sand hued stones that you couldn’t discern them through the camera lens, a rich and luxuriant brown moose munching saplings along a marsh, and two male bison jousting on the gravel shoulder complete with the ringing sound of horns colliding.
But the best was the grizzly.
We had just pulled onto the highway after a snuggly, rainy night in a tent cabin along the White River, when there he sat, smack in the middle of the highway. We stopped 50 yards away and waited. Eventually, he came to a conclusion about whatever weighty subject he had been pondering and ambled his way underneath the guard rail. We rolled slowly past, and I was hoping that he hadn’t gone too far so I could get a better look at him, when there he was. He wasn’t three feet on the other side of the rail, fully upright on his hind legs, giving us the once-over. And I’ll be damned, but I swear he was admiring Daisy and thinking “Nice ride!”
What have Daisy and I done with our extra time? Had a blast! First we camped at Liard Hot Springs. The pools were crowded and boisterous in the evening but waking to rain meant that I had the pools all to myself for an early soak amid the rising steam and raindrops. From there we decided to take a side-road to the little town of Atlin. One of the guide books said it was the “most prettily sited town in Canada” and I cannot disagree. A lovely gold rush town on the edge of a large lake, it looks directly across to mountains which seem to rise straight out of the water.
But wait, there’s more! The Expeditioneers will be ending our rafting trip within sight and sound of the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay, where the Trans-Alaska Pipeline begins, so I decided it would be interesting to drive to Valdez and see the southern end where the oil comes out of the pipeline and is pumped onto oil tankers for global consumption. It would give economic context to the trip, similar to how following the Rockies up gave geographic context.
All that sounded fine intellectually, but what I hadn’t counted on were the mountains. Peaks and peaks of them. Ridges piled upon ridges of them. Glaciers pouring out of them. They say it is the most spectacular drive in Alaska, and you will get no argument from me. At one point the road seemed to be heading directly, and I do mean directly, into the face of a glacier. This is where “Holy Cow!” turned into “Holy Shit!” It was so powerful and so immediate, I can hardly describe it.
Now I am on the final leg into Fairbanks. I was hoping to see Denali on the way by, but she has lived up to her reputation and has hidden behind clouds and mist. Maybe in the morning I will catch a glimpse of her waiving a farewell to Daisy and me as we head into civilization for last minute preparation and re-adjustment of gear and mindset from road trip to rafting. If Alaska by road has been this incredible, I can only imagine what Alaska by raft will be like. I wish Daisy could come along. I bet she floats.