The View from the Passenger Side

Patch of black spruce. They say a 2 inch diameter tree might be 60 years old.

Patch of black spruce. They grow slow in the permafrost and  a 2 inch diameter tree might be 60 years old.

We have three drivers on this trip and while Rebecca isn’t too keen on driving the narrow two lane roads especially when it comes to passing semis, we are able to enjoy the scenery in greater detail when passengers.

So what have we been seeing? As desert dwellers we first notice the green, in all kinds of different shades and intensities. From the deep forest of the tall pines to the silvery shimmer of the quaking aspen the landscape has been filled with verdant tones. Then we see that the two most popular flower colors are the lavender of lupines and sunny lemon colored dandelions. My favorite flower since we entered Alaska has been the pink wild rose. So delicate and dainty, yet managing to grow where few other plants can take hold. The ever popular fireweed is just about to bloom, yet another reminder that summer is not quite here.

Along the road, the tall pine trees of the Pacific Northwest were gradually interspersed with more fir and spruce evergreens, and, along with them, aspen and birch. The birch and aspen grow tall and straight. We think they would make good log cabins.

Driving north into the Yukon we noticed the trees became smaller and more scraggly. It’s hard to say what point the permafrost impacted the tree growth but suddenly we found ourselves in forests of thin, scruffy black spruce which we were told grow very slowly due to the long cold winters and permafrost. Those same skinny black spruce have shown up all across the state wherever we see swampy areas. It also sounds like they are ripe for burning as we saw a massive forest fire near Tok. The forest service was letting it burn naturally because it was so rural. Also, for those wondering, the moss appears to not know which direction is north and we see it growing on all sides of the trees.

So, we see a surprising number of trees in most areas but there are also many more swampy areas than we expected. We are here for the longest day of the year, which truly seems to mark the beginning of summer. Many trees and shrubs are just now leafing out and wildflowers just starting to bloom. But up in the Yukon I don’t think they are even at this point. Definitely a short summer season this far north.



Consistently sprinkled across the landscape are ponds, lakes and swamps. Oh, and large, sometimes meandering, sometimes raging, often muddy brown rivers. Spring breakup for the frozen rivers happened the end of May and we wonder if these rivers are always muddy or whether this a result of the continued snow melt in the mountains. Other rivers are an aquamarine green which comes from light reflecting off the glacial silt. And yet still other streams are so clear you can see fish swimming. The bottoms look muddy though and I wonder how far I’d sink if I accidentally stepped in.

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Yes, it’s crooked, but at least the car window isn’t in this pic.

Also we noticed a decrease in farm animals once we left the southern part of British Columbia. Occasionally we have seen horses out in the fields but farming appears on to be much smaller scale as we have traveled north. Interesting to note after we crossed the Alaska Range heading towards south central Alaska we did see more farming and even more cattle. We have friends and family out on the Kenai Peninsula who raise goats along with poultry.

One thing I am surprised to see out 100 miles from nowhere are bicyclists. Their bicycles are loaded with gear and we guess they camp whenever they run out of steam for the day. On the days when it’s rainy they are wearing ponchos and have covered heads. Honestly, I like the idea of riding but these roads are pretty skinny with little shoulder and between the iffy weather and ever present mosquitoes I’m not sure this will make my bucket list.

We were surprised not to see road kill until one friend explained that some people are on the ‘road kill’ list and they come rescue the meat of freshly killed animals. Ha, this is something I thought only occurred in West Virginia…

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Oh, and I did tell you about the mountains right? These windy roads aren’t just traversing a plain. Everywhere we look there are mountains. The hills are all tree covered but we can see tree lines on all the mountains. Interestingly, most of the passes we have driven over are around 3,000 feet, not as high as I had imagined.  And most surprising to us is that all the mountains, and many of the hills still have snow. We did imagine it would be cold but forgot that the hillsides often were permanently snowcapped.

Definitely a passenger side shot--the trans Alaska pipeline.

Definitely a passenger side shot–the trans Alaska pipeline.

Much of what we are driving through reminds me of the wooded areas of Wisconsin or Minnesota. Just without the mountains…and without any towns for hundreds of miles.

Next:  A Tourist in my home town.


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