Haines Junction and Kluane National Park
We drove into to Haines Junction to buy some groceries and to gas up. The website describes it this way: “Haines Junction truly is a wilderness town, surrounded by a beautiful and rugged landscape”.
It turns out that there is no supermarket in the community and the nearest would be in Whitehorse 159 km away. It is definitely a wilderness town with mountain ranges, rivers and endless forest as neighbours. However, once again, one of those pleasant Yukon surprises. We bought gas at the station across from the Da Kų Cultural Centre. It has a small grocery store in an attached building with an interesting mix of products that on a tiny scale made me think of the American Whole Foods Store. They have only been open a few months and in speaking to the owner she told me that she had thought a long time about what to stock and yes – thank you for noticing the Whole Foods look! We bought Miss Vicki chips, the Mediterranean yogurt that I like, and a couple of pork chops.
Another nice surprise was the Village Bakery. It is a rambling log cabin with a garden and an art gallery attached. Not only is it a bakery but it also serves a good Lavazza macchiato which we enjoyed with an apple turnover. We also picked up some salmon quiche, some veggies with a hummus dip and a mixed salad- satisfying and healthy too! The bakery had good traffic – there were two women cyclists there who caught all our attentions. They had come in from Skagway and were on their way to Whitehorse.
Haines Junction started out as a construction camp and a supply and service centre for the US Army Corps of Engineers during the building of the Alaska Highway in 1942-43. In 1943 a second highway, the Haines Highway, was built to connect the Alaska Highway with the coastal town of Haines Alaska, over the Chilkat Pass. Hence the name Haines Junction.
Today about 600 people live there. It is mainly an administration centre for the Kluane National Park. The most striking building in the community is the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations’ Da Kų Cultural Centre which also houses the Kluane National Park and Reserve Visitor Centre and the Yukon Territory Visitor Centres.
The exterior is striking for its setting with a back drop of snow-capped mountains. The inside is flooded with light from large windows that offer a great view of those mountains.
There are display cases with the work of local artists and artisans, films on bear safety, a theatre showing a film with some spectacular aerial footage of the Kluane Park. The film explained that the park is now cooperatively managed by Parks Canada and the Champagne and Aishihik and Kluane First Nations, on whose traditional territories much of the park lies. There seemed to be a real spirit of co-operation too; the centre even had information about Alaska and we picked up a ferry schedule (Haines to Skagway) for the next part of our trip.
When the Alaska Highway was built the Canadian Government made a large area into a wildlife preserve and no one was allowed to hunt there, including the First Nations People that depended on the land. Not only were a lot of hunting, trapping and fishing traditions lost but in the process a lot of the First Nations culture was also “forgotten”. Now the importance of these traditions is recognized and this has led to the sharing of the responsibilities for protecting, preserving and respecting the land and to also re-learning these traditions.
Kluane National Park and Reserve, together with the Tatshenshini-Alsek Park in British Columbia, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska form the largest internationally protected area and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Kluane Park protects Canada’s North Coast Mountains including Mount Logan (5959 m/19,545 ft), Canada’s highest peak.
There are a number of short interpretive trails in Kluane.
We did the Spruce Beetle Trail. The interpretive panels said that there is a cyclic increase in the number of spruce beetles and at the height of the cycle the beetles can actually destroy a whole forest. A lot like forest fires, this starts the regeneration process for the vegetation of the forest floor, allowing sunshine to enter and new plant life to establish itself.
We also enjoyed the walk along the Dezedeash River Trail. The trail description tells us that: the Dezadeash River Trail is in the heart of “Bear Country”. Know your wildlife etiquette and always give wildlife the right of way.
The trailhead is right at the edge of town and it is just a 5km loop so we felt comfortable enough to do the short walk. I missed the sign for the parking lot but it turned out that there is an amazing viewpoint at the top of the next hill. So we stopped to have lunch because with the RV, we had our lunch with us, of course.
Armed with bear spray we headed down the trail.
The first part of the Dezedeash Trail follows the river and we enjoyed the view of the mountains across the marshes. Part of the trail goes though an aspen forest and the only sound was the rustle of the soft green leaves. The afternoon turned out sunny with a good breeze so again we were lucky – no mosquitoes. There were plenty of wild flowers and butterflies to admire but no animal sightings – the highlight was seeing morel mushrooms.
We only met two other people – a couple with their three dogs and they too were carrying their can of bear spray.