Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Al-Can Adventure Part 7: The Prettiest Spot on Earth

What is the prettiest spot on earth?

That's a hard one.  I've been on a boat out in the middle of the reefs surrounding Bermuda, and that's awfully awesome.  I've stood on a pullout on the Richardson Highway just north of Valdez and stared, awestruck, at that area's "Bridal Veil Falls."  Speaking of Valdez, I've been there when the cloud cover lifted and the sun hit the rocky crags that surround the town.  Outside of Alaska, I've witnessed plenty of incredible beauty in California, in Montana, in Tennessee, and several other elsewheres that definitely deserve a shot at that title.  It's a tough call, absolutely.

So, narrowing it down a skosh: what is the prettiest spot on the Alaska Highway?

That's easy, for me.  It's Kluane Lake.  Don't get me wrong: Liard Hot Springs is an awesome place to visit.  Muncho Lake is spectacular; I stayed in that campground once and was mesmerized as the sun lit up the hills on the opposite side.  As beautiful as both of those are, though, Kluane Lake has 'em beat.

Unless there's a forest fire going on, anyway.

My fourth trip, back in 1999, we were headed south, and as we muddled along closer and closer to Kluane Lake the sky grew ever darker and the aroma of burning forest filled the truck.  We were told at the stop just before there to be cautious; a major conflagration was ahead of us, just off the road, and the firefighters were all over the place.  Of course, they had the right of way.

The warning proved salient.  We pulled into one of our favorite pit stops, the Destruction Bay Shell station/bar/cafe/convenience store/etc., topped off on fuel, and continued smartly on our way.  It wasn't that we didn't feel welcome, but it was clear from the activity of hundreds of firefighters that the place we most needed to be at that moment was out of the way.  The sky over the lake was dark, anyway, with all the smoke hanging in the air.

That's an example, by the way, of what can happen on the Al-Can.  Every trip is unique, every journey has different stops and challenges along the way.

That said, the other five times Kluane Lake has been awesome, even when it's fairly windy as it was this last time (when we took the picture--hence the choppiness of the water).  It's the largest lake in the Yukon, and the Alaska Highway winds completely around its southern border.  For most of the drive, assuming it's a calm and clear day (and most up there are), you can see clear across the bright blue water to the mountain rising tall on the other side, and a reflection of the mountain dives down into the water just as deep as the original rises.  A rough gravel beach surrounds the lake on most sides, and ancient polished limbs of northern trees lay everywhere, having drifted up off the water's surface.  There's a huge turnout on the south side, and it's a popular place to stop and look and take some pictures, but there are other smaller turnoffs where it's easier to get down to the water if that's your desire.

Destruction Bay sits at milepost 1083, roughly 130 miles from the border between Alaska and Canada.  The distance doesn't sound like much, just a couple of hours at normal freeway speeds.  Taking it as slow as we were with a truck that liked to bounce off of the trailer with every orange flag opportunity, it took us the better part of a day to get there.  There are a few buildings in town, but the great big yellow building with gas pumps out front is where we've always stopped.  They've got a reasonably large shopping area with snack food and stuff, so it's worth wandering around inside too.  But....

But that lake....

Kluane Lake is spectacular.


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