The Haines Highway connects Haines Junction in the Yukon to Haines, Alaska. On the way it passes through a short section of British Columbia. It follows the route of the old Dalton Trail that is based on an ancient indian trading route and is about 244 km long.
We were advised that we needed to be on the road early so as to avoid road closures because, today, the 24th annual bike race from Haines Junction to Haines, Alaska was taking place. The cyclists form eight-person, four-person, two-person and solo teams that cycle through the stunning mountain scenery along the 240 km race. As it turned out, we were up very early and on the road by 7.30 am. We travelled at our usual ‘pottering around’ speed and managed to easily outpace the cyclists for the entire day. We crossed the border back into Alaska and we were in downtown Haines by 10.00 am. We haven’t ever arrived at any of our destinations this early before. The earliest group of cyclists arrived into Haines at about 2.00 pm.
The route we travelled today was originally a trail used by Chilkat Tlingit traders, and eventually became the Dalton Trail. The British Columbia provincial government converted its portion of the trail to a wagon road in 1909 when copper mining began at Copper Butte and Mt. Glave. In 1911, 30 tons of ore were shipped from the mines. The entire highway was built by the U.S. Army in 1943 as an alternate route from the Pacific Ocean to the Alaska Highway, in case the other routes such as the White Pass and Yukon Route railway from Skagway should be blocked.
Again, we saw some fascinating scenery as the road follows the Kluane Range and then the Chilkat range nearer the coast.
We were also happy to see some more wildlife today. On a straight stretch of road, we saw our first black bear a few hundred metres in front of us, but it moved off into the scrub well before we could get near it. Two swans were nesting on a small pond and we saw a couple of water birds in other areas of wetland. The cute little ground squirrels that I wrote abut yesterday were everywhere.
The Klondike Gold Rush of 1898–1899 changed this region greatly. The population of the area then reached 30,000. Haines grew as a supply center, because the Dalton Trail from Chilkat Inlet offered a route to the Yukon for prospectors. Fort William H. Seward, a United States Army facility, was constructed just south of Haines in 1904. It provided both protection and a policing functioning with the army sorted out many disputes between miners and the native indians. In 1922, the battalion strength fort was renamed Chilkoot Barracks. It was the only United States Army post in Alaska before the second world war. During World War II, it was used as a supply point for some U. S. Army activities in Alaska as well as a rest centre for soldiers who had seen active service. The fort was deactivated in 1946 and sold as surplus property to a group of veterans.
The hotel in which we are staying tonight was originally the officers mess. It is situated at the side of a large grassed area that once was the parade ground. One of the large barrack buildings, where soldiers were housed, is below the parade ground while a street of rather nice houses (Officer’s Row) sits above it.
Haines is a bit unique for Alaskan towns in that it actually has a main street and the buildings have some character. It gets very few visits from cruise ships each year so it is not full of crappy tourist shops. It actually seems to be very ‘arty’ with quite a large community of artists and musicians. Judging by the standard of meals at or hotel, there are also some strong culinary skills in this town. Our meal tonight was excellent – worthy of any nice restaurant in a large city.