The ALCAN through BRITISH COLUMBIA and THE YUKON TERRITORY
We bid a reluctant farewell to Jasper National Park and headed north and west through Albert and into British Columbia for the official start of our Alaska journey: the Alaska Highway marker in Dawson Creek! The Alaska or Alaska-Canadian Highway, also called the Alcan, was built during WWII so that U.S. military supplies and personnel could reach Alaska by motor vehicle. It stretches from Dawson Creek in British Columbia to Delta Junction, Alaska – a distance of nearly 1400 miles. After snapping the obligatory selfie at the Mile Zero marker
we were off through British Columbia. It is beautiful rolling country, and there are a lot of spruce trees there. Lots. Millions of them, for as far as the eye can see. So while it’s very pretty country, there’s not a lot to remark upon. But British Columbia did mark the beginning of what was to become a trend: beautiful free campsites! At most any roadside turnout or wayside in Canada or Alaska you can pull in for the night and sleep without worry of being rousted by the constabulary at 3AM. Many of the turnouts in Canada also had bear-proof garbage bins, recycle bins, and pit toilets (there are issues with septic systems in really cold environments, so pit toilets are really common outside of cities). The views below were all from roadside turnout sites. We found our friends Nikki and Jason of Gone With the Wynns camped in the spot by the river (for an awesome quick video of the spot, click here and scroll down to the Racing River.). Eric and I knew we were catching up to them (they left Great Falls Montana a few days before we did), but without phone coverage there was no way for us to know where they were. Unfortunately for them, they have a very distinct logo on the side of their motorhome and I caught a glimpse of it through the trees – gotcha!
We pulled over just down the road & walked back to say hello, finding out that we were both headed to the same spot for the night. We left them to pack up and headed on to a picnic lunch at gorgeous Muncho Lake. I will never get tired of looking at the gorgeous blue and turquoise glacial waters here.
We all checked in to Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park later that afternoon and headed down for a nice, long soak. There is nothing like soaking in a hot spring after long days of driving – aaaah. I recommend that there be one at every single State/Provincial or National Park! One of the nicest features about Liard is that you can custom set the temperature you’d like to soak in: just move closer to or farther away from the spring source! I can’t help but think that the moose must love the hot spring in the winter when everything else around them is covered with snow and ice. Eric snapped this guy on the boardwalk heading to the hot spring.
We would have loved to linger at the springs for a few days but no cell service means no work, and no work means no gas money! So the next day we pushed on into the Yukon Territory, stopping at the Sign Post Forest in Watson Lake. Watson Lake was the site of an Army Corps of Engineers camp during the building of the Alaska Highway and it was common for such camps to have directional signs noting the mileage to surrounding camps and towns. A soldier at the Watson Lake camp stuck on a sign noting the mileage to his home town, and a tradition was born.
Later that day we arrived at our home base for the next 5 days: Pioneer RV Park in Whitehorse, Yukon. There’s nothing outstanding about the Park except that it has the working traveler’s gold: WiFi!! Eric really needed to catch up on some work and I got a few blog posts completed too. We were also having a lot of fun with the Wynns and our friends the Snowmads, whom we hadn’t seen since Mardi Gras. We all stay in touch via social media, but there’s nothing like face-to-face chat time over a few tasty cocktails! We also had some work done on our trailer hitch while at the Park: the frost heaves & bumps of Canadian roads are tough on any vehicle, and it turns out that our hitch had not been mounted to the RV properly in the first place. All the bouncing had taken its toll and caused it to bend & sag pretty significantly. Luckily the RV Park also runs a tour bus operation and has a big machine shop on site. They fixed us up by mounting the hitch correctly and, just to be sure, reinforced it with some additional steel plates. Hitch repaired and with everyone caught up on work and blog posts, it was time to move on.
THE TOP OF THE WORLD
We decided to deviate slightly from the Alaska Highway (never fear, we’ll still drive that section on our way out this fall) and instead headed up to Dawson City so that we could drive the Top of the World Highway and visit Chicken, AK on our way in. The Top of the World highway is billed as a beautiful drive and we are always up for “the road less traveled” so after a little research on road conditions, off we went! Why, you ask, would you research the road conditions? Turns out that “highway” is a bit of an optimistic term for 65 miles of gravel road. Along the way we stopped for the night at the Twin Lakes wayside, with beautiful lake views on either side of the highway and loons to serenade us. As we were looking around, we noticed that the hitch repair we’d had done in Whitehorse hadn’t worked (more on that later) and decided that we would un-hitch the Jeep and drive separately until we could reach Fairbanks. Good thing we have walkie-talkies!
The jumping off point for the Top of the World Highway is in Dawson City, Yukon. Dawson City is located just past the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers and is rich in gold rush history. The Klondike River had some of the richest gold deposits to be found, but the journey was so difficult that many would-be miners died, and others decided to seek their fortunes in places that were easier to reach. Luckily for us, the roads in aren’t too bad these days, although the city maintains only 1 paved street even now! There are some wonderful period buildings, fun saloons, and lots of places boasting that “Jack London slept/ate/drank here.” We had a fun evening in town before crossing the river on the George Black, the ferry you must take across the mighty Yukon. The George Black runs nearly 24/7 (being down for maintenance only 2 or 3 hours a week) between mid-May and October when the road is open, and I wondered why Canada didn’t just build a bridge. Surely it would be cheaper! Then I saw the pictures of the river during spring run-off, when it’s a good 30′ deeper than it was at the time of our visit. The river is also bounded by some tall, rocky cliffs and I imagine the velocity is pretty staggering. Add the large trees that are uprooted in every spring thaw and it would be pretty terrifying. So, ferry it is! We made the crossing without major incident, although the bumper and hitch of the RV did drag a bit. Good thing that hitch is already broken!
Having successfully negotiated the Yukon crossing, we headed up the Top of the World Highway. It is memorable for many reasons: mountain views that stretch on forever, blue lupine and fireweed all along the roadside and, more disturbingly, no guardrails & soft shoulders. But the road is in very good condition and we hardly met any other vehicles. Best of all, we found one of the best campsites we’ve ever had, free or paid! [For all you Milepost users, look in the Klondike Loop Highway section at D 31.8.] Situated almost precisely at the mid-point of ToTWH, at first glance it appears to be just a tiny dirt road off of a turnout. Since I was in the Jeep and could easily turn around, I drove down to check it out and was awestruck. Within a few minutes we were parked, and a short time after that we were relaxing with a frosty beverage. The Canada/U.S. border facility closes at 8PM Alaska time, and I don’t think we heard a single vehicle after 7 PM. We were both struck by how absolutely quiet it was: no cars, no airplanes, no voices, no barking dogs. Just the occasional bird chirp and the drone of bees on the lupine (and sooner than we’d have liked, the drone of mosquitoes as well!). We did eventually have a raven fly by during our Happy Hour to “chat” with us for a bit and, I suspect, see if we were going to leave any scraps lying around for him/her to make off with. Not seeing any, it soon tired of us and moved on. The first set of sunset photos below was taken at 12:30 AM; the second set at 1:30 AM. If we’d had cell service & the mosquitoes hadn’t been so big we might still be there now! The next morning we pushed on and crossed into Alaska at Poker Creek, the Northernmost border crossing station. Next post: Alaska!