In the Yukon territory, we decided to hike the Spruce Beetle Trail. The spruce beetle is taking a toll on the spruces in this area much like pine beetle is on the pines in the U.S. Rocky Mountains. However, the response evidenced through the very informative trail signs somewhat surprised us. In forests here seldom hit by fire, the spruce beetle plays the role of selective recycler. By killing older or less robust trees, the beetles trigger change and rejuvenation. An interesting bit of information stated that spruce beetle adults can survive winter temperatures of -23° C. and larvae even colder -32° C. That is because they develop antifreeze in their blood as the days get shorter. The antifreeze prevents the formation of ice crystals that would pierce their cells. However, if severe cold hits in early winter before the beetles have produced enough antifreeze, mortality can be high.
The Kluane Lake area provided us with our first close view of a moose. This cow moose definitely had a goal in mind as she took off and it was amazing how fast she could travel. Kluane Lake itself was still partially covered with ice.
At the Tachal Dhal Visitor Centre, Ranger Pauley was extremely knowledgeable and very personable. She answered questions and encouraged us to use the spotting scopes. The southern slopes of Tachal Dhal (Sheep Mountain) are the primary winter and spring range and lambing area of a Dall sheep population. We were fortunate to be able to spot numerous ewes and lambs on the mountainside.
Whichever of us was not driving had plenty of time to observe the surrounding countryside as the road was absolutely terrible – huge potholes, frost heaves, sections of gravel washboards where the pavement was gone completely. An average of 35 miles an hour was about the best to be hoped for here. This was undoubtedly the worst road of our entire trip.
Continuing slowly on north we saw another moose, “drunken” trees, and trumpeter swans.
At the U.S.-Canada border, we paused for the standard photo op standing in both countries at once. There is a monument celebrating the longest unfortified border between two countries anywhere in the world.
At the Seaton Roadhouse Interpretive Site and Trails, we took a hike and I had the opportunity to photograph nesting trumpeter swans. They were fascinating to watch and to hear their trumpeting.
The town of Tok is the major overland point of entry to Alaska. Highway travelers arriving in Alaska or leaving Alaska must pass through Tok. The visitor center offers tourists a friendly welcome to Alaska and as much information as you could possibly want. From Tok, we headed southwest on the Tok Cutoff.