Monday, 10 August 2015

Through BC to The Alaskan Highway

After we left Grande Cache, the road became more interesting,

Beginning to see mountains

and quite surprising. We passed a coal mine outside Grande Cache.

Grande Cache Coal Corporation

On our way north, we stopped for lunch in Grande Prairie. This is quite large, and even had a Costco wine store! The countryside outside Grande Prairie is very flat, excellent farm country, some herds of cattle, and canola fields

Huge fields of canola

Beautiful yellow flowers lining the highway

as we drove into BC to Dawson Creek.

The original Mile '0' pointing North, as you enter Dawson Creek
The original Mile'0' sign post

We drove around Dawson Creek, Mile “0” of the Alaska Highway, originally called the Alcan Highway, and hunted for the Northern Lights RV Park,

Our site

Sunset the first day from the RV Park

supposedly at Mile 2.4. We finally found it, 2.4 miles from Mile “0”, but off the main highway. Our directions had been wrong. The Milepost. This is a “catalogue-sized” book with all the historic information of significant kilometres/miles along the highway- where to watch for wildlife, campgrounds, lodgings, what to stop and see, locations of all the pull-outs and what is at each one [garbage bins, information panels, washrooms,…], and information and maps of all  cities and large towns.

Looking at Dawson Creek from the RV Park
We were spending a couple of nights here as we wanted to see the Visitors’ Centre, the museums and the Alaska Highway House. This was the first day we could smell smoke from the forest fires. One of the first stops was the Visitors’ Centre to buy

We walked around Dawson Creek

Main Street from Mile '0'
Unused buildings have been repurposed

looking at their historic murals,

and the Mile “0” cairn and arch,

The first Mile "0" marker
had our photo taken at the iconic Mile “0” marker,

Mile '0' iconic marker today
The original Mile'0' Marker

and viewed the interesting history of the building of the Alcan in Alaska House

Alaska House

The Alaska Highway route

[later called the Alaska Highway] in 8 - 9 months in 1942, depends on what you listen to or read. Dawson Creek was the end of the railway in 1942, when Japan bombed Pearl Harbour, bringing the US into WWII. The U.S., fearful of an attack, decided they needed defence in Alaska. Getting the support of Prime Minister Mackenzie King and the BC government, the US Army Corps was charged with the task of building a road. Since Canada had built a series of airports called the NW Staging Route, [for defence and supplies], this route was chosen rather than a coastal or interior BC route. The route was divided into two parts, with work beginning simultaneously. Each section was subdivided into 3 sectors, each containing 6 construction crews responsible for building 32 miles of road each.
The route divided
Working on the highway was no picnic!

Part of a letter home...

We met a family from Utah who were having trouble with their bank cards being rejected, and their phones and iPad [internet] were dead. We offered them our phone to contact their bank, but the Visitors’ Centre said they could use theirs. The bank told them that they noted that the family was driving to Alaska, but didn’t know they would be in Canada! How did they think they were getting to Alaska!

From Dawson Creek, we headed up the Alaska Highway. We decided that we would only go as far as Fort St. John, so we could stop at important mile markers on the way.

Much of the highway has been straightened out and rebuilt. Our first stop was at the Mile Marker 21 on the original road to see the Kiskatinaw Bridge, a 162-metre curved and banked wooden bridge, the first of its kind in Canada.

Kiskatinaw Bridge
It is banked as well as being curved

It is the only original timber bridge in use today.  The old road and bridge are bypassed with the newer highway, but there is a Provincial Park and Campground there, so it is accessible via a loop road.
The original highway

We stopped in Taylor
The Peace River driving into Taylor
to visit the Information Centre there.
Taylor's Information Centre

The Log Cabin

Chainsaw wood sculpture In the garden
The woman on duty was very helpful, and we left with many booklets and lots of extra information-like where to buy gas, get the best cinnamon buns, eat, and in some cases ‘stop, but don’t stay there!’

Then we drove to Fort St John, passing a number of work camps.

Accommodation for oil work crews
Road to Fort St. John - Peace River Valley

We drove around Fort St. John looking for the Information Centre marked on the map. The roads were in poor shape, so we left. Unfortunately, we later found out that it was inside another building! We did stay at the Rotary Campsite on Lake Charles.

Looking through back to the Rotary RV Park

Looking to the site of the barge sinking

The story...
This is the lake where a pontoon barge carrying heavy equipment and trucks sank killing 12 soldiers. There is a memorial to the soldier on the side of the lake.

We continued north initially, through drizzle and fog

Beautiful country, but miserable weather
then clear skies
The road is being improved

Finally clear beautiful blue sky and sun
to Buckinghorse Wayside Provincial Park, past many construction camps.

One group of signs indicating companies working in the area

This is a small park, just off the highway, but we backed right onto the Buckinghorse River.

It was beautiful and relaxing.

Calm and relaxing

There is lots of smoke, but the rain stopped and the sun came out so we enjoyed watching the river, as we enjoyed our evening cocktail.

Enjoying our evening cocktail behind the RV, beside the river

We are getting a little discouraged by this point, as despite all the signs on the road which warn of wildlife and drive responsibly, we have seen nothing but a couple of ravens and butterflies.

On the cover of Milepost, this is the only grizzly we have seen- no moose or black bears or sheep either
And so on to Fort Nelson… We are a little concerned about all the smoke, as it is quite strong most of the time, and looks like fog in pictures.

Driving into a valley

This is smoke!
We passed more construction camps, and drove on patches of loose gravel for several km.

There are five fires burning in Fort Nelson area, accounting for all the smoke. We stopped at the Visitors’ Centre to get local information, and to use their wifi. It was part of the beautiful Northern Rockies Regional Recreation Centre. This has a community hall, 2 ice arenas, a curling rink, fitness and meeting rooms and a large Aquatic Centre with a huge water slide, a 25m lap pool, a recreation pool, a children’s pool and a shallow pool. We decided to treat ourselves to lunch at the Gourmet Girls Cafe. They do excellent wraps and sandwiches, and lattes. They had a dinner special for $25 for 2, so we ordered ribs to be picked up at 6:30. They were not bad, tender with lots of sauce with mashed potatoes [John’s favourite-not!], butter dill veggies and Caesar salad. We camped for the night at the Triple “G” Hideaway.

From here the Alaska Highway veers west and winds through the Rockies for the next 200 miles-330 km. On our way early the next day, we first climbed winding 10.8 km at 8% grades up Steamboat Mountain
Up Steamboat Mountain
to a beautiful look-out,

Smoke in the Valley

Indian Head Mountain
then down 8% winding grades for10.8km. Shortly after, we came to a 7km stretch of construction, which meant waiting for a pilot car, and gravel and dirt roads.

Following the pilot car

 The country has become really interesting, mountainous,

high hills covered in firs,
Fir-covered hills
a huge rock cut

Rock cuts here too!

and into beautiful valleys. We stopped at Testa River in early afternoon to get a “world-class cinnamon bun’- a ‘MUST STOP’ said the little lady in Taylor.

Testa River

Testa River Bridge
It certainly was too! Delicious! Although there were frequent signs reminding drivers to drive cautiously to avoid Stone sheep and bison, we did not see even one. The northern Testa River flows by the road, and then flows under it through huge culverts, and on into Summit Lake

Stone Mountain at the Summit

Summit Lake

and Summit Pass. At 4250ft, this is the highest summit on the Alaska highway. We looked at the campground, but decided to carry on.

We came to the very pretty Toad River where we stopped for gas.
There is a Lodge, cabins, and  tent and RV sites
Inside the store and restaurant, they have over 10,000 hats [and counting] on the ceiling.
We looked at the RV Park on the lake and decided to stay there.  We walked around the park, to choose a site, and stopped and talked to a couple from Victoria, and a couple from Colorado who were on their way back from the Yukon. He was a Robert Service aficionado and loaned us a copy of Robert Service’s poems, and gave us tips on ‘must sees’ in Dawson City. The site we finally chose backed on to the Beaver Pond, at one end of the lake.

Across the lake we watched a moose and her calf in the water, and later there were two moose in the same spot. The beavers behind us entertained us as they busily gathered logs to build up their dam. This was our first wild life sighting! Finally!
Taken at 11:30 pm
We made the long trip to Muncho Lake, all 50km of it, the next day through a beautiful river valley
with treed mountains sweeping down to the rocky river-bed.
River levels are low
There’s not much of a river here now though, although this area is prone to flash floods. Above can be seen the rocky peaks of the higher Sawtooth Mountains of folded limestone.
Sawtooth Mountains

Road around Muncho Lake
We stayed at Strawberry Flats Provincial Campground, in a site backing right on to the lake.
A beautiful site!- the best yet!
We were sitting outside with our evening cocktails in the smoke, and a couple from Nova Scotia stopped by to chat. They couldn’t talk for long because they were off to go fishing! [Someone had told them bacon was good bait…]

Muncho Lake is a deep, cold glacial lake, known for its deep green and blue waters.
To the South
To the West across from us
the calm still water
The blue-green seen best at in the evening or in the morning
The colours are due to copper oxide leaching into the lake. It is 12km long and a mile wide, and said to be 700ft deep, although it has only been measured to 400ft. We were only going to stay for one night; however, it rained during the night and in the morning, so we decided to stay another night.

Rain stopped by noon, so we decided to drive to the fabulous Liard Hot Springs. On our way up, we got our first sighting of wildlife- Stone Sheep, right by the road licking the salt beside the road.

Stone Sheep Ewes and a lamb
The Hot Springs are beautiful. You walk from the parking lot along a boardwalk

A Boardwalk all the way to the Hot Springs
to the Springs. There is one large room for men and one for women to change in. You walk out onto a beautiful wooden deck with steps down into the water,

Resting on the steps, hearing about the road closure due to a fire
the small side upstream is hot and the lower downstream section is slightly cooler. We started in the lower section.

The lower cooler pool
The upper pool
Opposite the steps and the bottom are completely natural, stone bottom and natural stream banks.

An Oasis of relaxation

We were warned not to leave silver jewellery on, as the minerals will react with it. However, even the white gold band of my ring changed colour. [Jewellery polish returned this and the silver band in my wedding ring to their silvery colour!] We just lay back and relaxed. Then we took a short walk up to the hanging gardens.

A bit of a walk up...

Beautiful even without the colourful flowers
Few of the flowers were out yet, or had finished, but apparently it is a riot of colour in the summer.
We headed back to Muncho Lake only to come to complete stop on the highway behind a line of cars and trucks. A herd of bison were crossing the road, at their own pace, in spite of the semi drivers honking and yelling. We just had to sit and wait until they decided to cross the road.

They rule the road!


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