270 Alaska Hwy, Haines Junction, YT Y0B 1L0, Canada
Photo by View from Haines Highway, Yukon
Haines Highway- a misplaced landscapeThe most surprising thing about most of this drive through the mountainous north is the absence of mountains. This approximately three hundred and forty seven kilometer (215 miles) single lane highway links Haines Junction Yukon and Haines Alaska. It is a strangely isolated drive; no towns or settlements, no gas stations and very little traffic. A short distance out of Haines Junction the mountains suddenly retreat into the distance and you find yourself wondering, “Are we still in Canada, Toto?’
Unlike Dorothy’s yellow brick road that led her into quite a lot of trouble, the Haines Highway wanders peacefully through a country side that gives the distinct impression that you just may have been transported to somewhere else. You may even find yourself expecting to see a herd of Highland cattle grazing in the heather or a lonely shepherd tending his flock on the moors. Could that be Frodo scampering through the shires of Middle Earth?
Rolling hills in every shade of green in the spectrum fold in on each other. Streams spring up seemingly from nowhere and tumble down the ravines in between. Stunted evergreens have given up the attempt at being a forest and are content to hang out in small clumps. Shrubs and grasses complete the mosaic in shades of green, brown and orange. Scarlet fireweed lines the highway but for reasons of its own does not venture out into the hills.
If you’re driving alone, as I was, you may start to feel as if you are the only living being left in the universe. The only thing that stirs outside the car is the wind. Then almost as quickly as it appeared this landscape disappears and you’re surrounded by mountains once again.
In 2009 the Haines Highway was awarded the distinction of National Scenic Byway. It follows the original trail used by the Chilkat and Tinglit First Nations for trading with the Athabascan First Nations in the interior of the Yukon. It is now part of the ‘Golden Circle’, which links Whitehorse, Skagway, Haines and Haines Junction. There are three campgrounds and approximately six stopping places equipped with toilets and garbage cans.
If you make it as far as Haines Junction, whether you’re heading for Alaska or you took a wrong turn and just realized you’re really lost, the journey down the Haines Highway is well worth the time it takes to drive it. The eerie seclusion is tempered by the serenity and the unusual beauty. The photo opportunities are endless. If you’re of a fantastical turn of mind you might just see that herd of Highland cattle stampeding through the heather, or that lonely shepherd daydreaming on the moors. I know I did. And I’m pretty sure that was Frodo on the road side trying to sell some old ring. Yes, the Haines Highway really is worth the drive.