Rising in alpine lakes of northernmost British Columbia, the Yukon River flows northwestward through the Yukon Territory of Canada and into eastern Alaska. There it curves to the southwest and winds across the flatlands between the Brooks and Alaska Ranges, completing its 2300 mile journey to the sea.
Along the way, this great river is fueled by melting snow and ice, alternately clear or turbid, depending upon the quantity of glacial debris; much of the latter is contributed by the White River, dropping northeastward off the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains. Descending from the pristine lakes of British Columbia, the headwater streams merge south of Whitehorse and are joined by the Pelly River (draining the west slope of the MacKenzie Mountains) north of the city. At Dawson, the Klondike River, famous as the site of the 1896 Gold Rush, joins the Yukon before it enters Alaska; at the border, the river is barely 1000 feet above sea level and will cross the entire State at a very low rate of descent. En route, the Yukon picks up drainage off the south side of the Brooks Range (via the Porcupine River at Ft. Yukon and the Koyukuk River west of Galena) and off the north slope of the Alaska and Wrangell Mountains via the Tanana, flowing up from the southeast and passing Fairbanks along the way. Finally, the Yukon splits into a vast network of braided channels, entering the Bering Sea across a delta that is forty miles wide.
There are few words that evoke a sense of wilderness more than Yukon. Draining rugged mountains, boreal forests, glaciated valleys and sub-Arctic wetlands, the river remains of symbol of what once greeted man across the globe. Yet, even this remote and powerful stream is threatened by our thirst for natural resources and time will tell if we are truly committed to its welfare.