Our Alaska Trip Part X The Story of the Highway

This entry is part 11 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

June 21, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 9 Comments

This is the tenth in a continuing series about our trip through Canada to Alaska 

Busy day, both as members of the caravan and on our own.  The day began with a paradeMile 0 - 7474 of our cars to the downtown section of the Town of Dawson Creek, British Columbia, where we took advantage of the Sunday morning peacefulness to gather under the sign at the start of the Alaska Highway.  Once the last camera clicked, we dispersed into the quaint, quiet town or down the road to take in historic sites.  Free time.  We enjoyed our walk around town, particularly seeing the historical murals on the sides of many buildings.  Then Monique’s innate talent for finding European delis took over and led us to one of the very few businesses open on Sunday, a deli with good coffee and good ham and cheese croissants.  I know that sounds a little too “bloggy,” but it’s included as a suggestion that if you roam just about any town for a few minutes, no telling was surprises you’ll discover.

Murals throughout Downtown Show the Town's History

Murals throughout Downtown Show the Town’s History

Here is my most important advice of the day:  in addition to keeping mosquito repellant handy, if you’re heading for Alaska don’t start your trip up the Alaska Highway without stopping by the Dawson Creek Chamber of Commerce to watch the PBS film on how the Army did the impossible task of building the highway ahead of schedule.  Once you see the film, you’ll better understand why this road has been named a Historical Civil Engineering Marvel by the American Society of Civil Engineers.  After seeing the movie, in addition to driving the road, you will be ready to feel the pain and pride that built it.

The Curved Bridge, Built with the Highway in 1942, Has Been Bypassed

The Curved Bridge, Built with the Highway in 1942, Has Been Bypassed

Monique and I returned to our trailer in time to do a little more cleaning up from the disastrous bumps we hit the day before – which, Wagonmaster Ken Adams clarified as being just bumps, not frost heaves as other travelers had told me.  Those will come later, when we do reach colder weather.  Incidentally, today was in the 70s with mostly clear skies.

Before writing about the final stop of the day, since this is not only about the trip to Alaska, but also about traveling as part of a caravan, I should give you a little more information about the roles of the Wagonmaster, Tailgunner and their wives.  Some time before each travel day, Ken gives us a briefing on what’s ahead.  While he’s doing that, we’re following along making notes in our Travel Log, which was given to us on Day 1.

The comb-bound guidebook tells us distances between the RV park we are in and stops along the way, including sights we might want to check out, fuel and eating spots, steep downgrades, curves and bad sections of road, and how to get into the next night’s campground.  It includes maps of towns and campgrounds.

Then Carole Adams, Tailgunner Spence Schaaf and wife Madeline add to the briefing, as needed.  Now, much of this information and more is in “Mileposts,” which we are encouraged to use to supplement their information.  I assume that Adventure Caravans isn’t the only company that provides this type of information to its “guests.”  One of the primary reasons we decided to sign up with the caravan is that we expected them to reduce the amount of planning and stress for us.  It is working out that way.

No need to mention other functions of our staff now.  I’ll just assure you they have many duties, including things like preparing and serving us breakfast a couple of days ago.

The Caravan Took a Hayride into a Bison Pasture

The Caravan Took a Hayride into a Bison Pasture

Our final stop of the day began with a bus ride to a wild animal farm.  After a buffet dinner of bison, venison and wild boar, we took a walk along a row of

pens and then climbed aboard a wagon for an old fashioned hayride into the fields.  Bison,Mtn Goat 7604 elk, musk ox, reindeer, mountain goats and a host of other interesting beasts milled around watching us as we invaded their pastures and habitats.  Monique and I found the wildlife interesting, but we mostly enjoyed the camaraderie at the dinner and during the hayride.

 

Two Bad Signs: Pub for Sale and Bumps Ahead!

Two Bad Signs: Pub for Sale and Bumps Ahead!

Tomorrow is a long ride from Dawson Creek to Fort Nelson, B.C.  The days continue to get longer.  I awoke at 4:10 this morning to find the skies hazy bright.  It’s10:30 p.m. now and dusk seems to be setting in.  We continue to climb northward.

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

Comments

9 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part X The Story of the Highway”

▪.  susan on June 21st, 2010 4:46 pm  
Still reading your every post, even if I don’t respond.
Enjoying them immensely..Keep up the good work!
Enjoy and safe travels…Sue

▪.  Stan Zawrotny on June 21st, 2010 6:42 pm  
I concur. The film on building the Alaska Highway is a must. Don’t miss it.

▪.  Billk on June 21st, 2010 7:32 pm  
Wait till you find the Huge Honey Buns, as BIG as your HEAD.
Your Blog brings back a lot of great memories.

▪.  MikeA on June 21st, 2010 9:47 pm  
Thank you so very much for doing your travelog. I so want to take the trip-but haven’t due to a number of reasons. Some day! But living vicariously-thanks to you.

▪.  Bill on June 22nd, 2010 8:28 am  
I haven’t actually made it to Alaska but I have seen a show on TV dedicated to the building of the Alaska Highway. I believe it was one of the Modern Marvels shows on the History Channel but it might have been a show on National Geographic.
Anyhow it was very interesting and pretty amazing how the road was built and what the people who built it had to go through.
Thought I’d put this in for people (like me) who have never been there but want to know more about it. That stuff repeats so the show will be on again sometime. You might also be able to view it on the internet if you know how to find and view that kind of stuff on line.

▪.  William Stanley on June 22nd, 2010 12:38 pm  
It’s from the PBS series AMERICAN EXPERIENCE. “Building the Alaska Highway”
It’s a great production!

▪.  Rob Hughes on June 23rd, 2010 6:25 pm  
Interesting blog. Hope to make that trip in about 5 years. Am following your comments intently. Thanks!

▪.  Mike Stoneham on June 23rd, 2010 7:01 pm  
Great blog. Very interesting. My wife and I plan to head out Spring 2012. Trying to decide whether or not to caravan.

▪.  Gerald Hennings on March 18th, 2012 2:53 pm  
My wife and myself and another couple are planning our trip to Alaska starting June 1st, 2012. We are from the interior of British Columbia and are looking for a couple of more rigs to come along, maybe 7 rigs max. trying to keep it small and simple for camping etc. There is no extra costs attached but just come with your ideas etc.

Our Alaska Trip Part XIII The “Fireweed” Highway

This entry is part 14 of 36 in the seriesNorth to Alaska Series

June 28, 2010 by Barry & Monique Zander · 11 Comments

This is the 13th in a continuing series about our trip through Canada to Alaska

Good news!  If you’re looking forward to driving across vast expanses where you can still find opportunities for adventure, the Yukon is the place.  And obviously if you plan to drive to Alaska, you will see the Yukon.

Fireweed Aside the Yukon River

Fireweed Aside the Yukon River

While previous travelers say the road has improved over the past 10 years, it’s nowhere near as easy to drive as even rural state highways in the U.S.  Is that good or bad?  I’m in agreement with those who want the Yukon to be unrefined forever, a territory where the frontier spirit lives on.

Where we were Sunday was remote.  There was a cabin down a dirt road every 20 or 30 miles.  Few settlements, gas stations or restaurants on today’s route and other than the Five Fingers rock formation on the Yukon River, very few photo op stops.

Five Fingers rock formation on the Yukon River

Five Fingers rock formation on the Yukon River

This was our caravan’s longest travel day of the 58-day tour in miles:  339 miles from Whitehorse to Dawson City.  The road we followed is the Klondike Highway, a.k.a. Hwy. 2, but at this time of year it could also be called “The Fireweed Road.”

Fireweed All Along the Klondike Highway

Fireweed All Along the Klondike Highway

Fireweed, the magenta and pink official flower of the Yukon, grows profusely along the miles of two-lane highway, intermixed with white, yellow and blue wildflowers.

Historically, this road was built in the Tintina Trench, a natural geological canyon caused by shifts in fault lines.  When the route was first being considered, running it in the trench was the easy choice.

Arctic Ground Squirrel

Arctic Ground Squirrel

It was another slow day for wildlife.  Several members of the group, including us, saw only perky little Arctic Ground Squirrels scurrying across the pavement in our 8-hour drive.

The most important observation I can pass along to future Alaska-bound trekkers is stay alert for bumps.  A few are marked with signs but most aren’t.  After an hour or two of blacktop observation, dips, potholes and gravel are easier to see, but I doubt that anyone won’t get jolted unexpectedly a few times along the way.  It didn’t seem like we had any bad bumps; yet, our radio/TV /DVD player combo remote in the trailer fell and was shattered under the weight of a recliner that obviously jumped.  It could have been while we were on the 15.6 miles of gravel we encounter halfway along the trail.

Enough about the trip for the moment.  Time for a vocabulary lesson:

You must get used to “loonies” and “toonies.”  In Canada there are not dollar bills, but rather, copper-colored $1 coins called “loonies” because there is a loon on the back.  A small loonie inside a larger silver ring is a “toonie” because it is two coins equal to $2.

If you go into a restroom in a store, do you rest?  Probably not.  Or if you ask for the public bathroom, are you planning to take a bath?  Probably not.  Up here they are called “washrooms,” which makes sense, since calling it by what you really plan to do isn’t polite.

RVers see signs along the road saying RV parks have “full service.”  Translation: “Full-Hookups.”

We arrived at our Dawson City RV resort in the rain this afternoon, happy to be able to squeeze into a parking spot.  As mentioned before, every campground up here is full or close to it every night.  For us, the caravan staff has made the arrangements; for the independent traveler, it seems like a good idea to make advanced reservations or just hope for the best.  There are alternatives, including dry camping in provincial parks and off-road pullouts, but we haven’t experienced them.

Weed 1-8013And finally, did Einstein visit the Yukon?

“… escape from everyday life, with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness from the fetters from one’s own shifting desires.  A finely tempered nature longs to escape from his noisy, cramped surroundings into the silence of the high mountains, where the eye ranges freely through the still pure air and fondly traces out the restful contours apparently built for eternity.”

1918 speech by Albert Einstein    [Contributed by Brent Puniwai]

From the “Never-Bored RVers,” We’ll see you on down the road.

Comments

11 Responses to “Our Alaska Trip Part XIII The “Fireweed” Highway” (+ several spam comments)

▪.  Jim Sathe on June 28th, 2010 4:49 pm  
The next phase of your trip is the ferry crossing of the Yukon River followed by the Top of the World Highway to the Alaska Border. There the road turns from asphalt to gravel and it is about 60 miles to Chicken, Alaska. A great drive.

▪.  Lynne schlumpf on June 28th, 2010 5:27 pm  
You think the roads were rough in the Yukon? Wait until you drive the potholes and loose gravel of the Top of the World Highway, then the washboard dirt and gravel roads to Chicken. We make that trip every year from Anchorage to the Taylor Highway and on to Dawson City. We love it, but it is a kidney puncher. We chuckle at the Chicken General Store when we hear other RVers say it was the worst drive of their life.

▪.  David Rohwer on June 28th, 2010 6:13 pm  
I just rode up to Dawson City and back from Fairbanks. Your next leg after crossing the Yukon on the ferry is 65 miles to the US/Canadian Border on a mix of gravel and chip seal. It is then 43 miles from the border to Chicken on gravel/dirt road that can be slick when wet. Be cautious and watch the edge carefully. We saw lots of RV’s on the road. The Top of the World Highway is a visual treat! From Chicken to the ALCAN is 66 miles of reasonably good chip seal and asphalt. Chicken is a cool town and I recommend stopping at the Chicken Creek Cafe/Saloon/Mercantile Emporium, a very short drive on the right just past the main lodge on the road. And there is a dredge there too to see.

▪.  Don & Irene Ritchey on June 28th, 2010 6:15 pm  
Oh! the Top of the World/Taylor Highway. Spectacular drive, we have traveled it both directions from Dawson to Chicken and Tok and the reverse. Definitely not for the faint of heart and those that are not good judges of where the right side of their RV is in relation to the edge of the road.
Yes potholes are a fact of life on many northern roads part of what makes the adventure. There`s been thousands before you and there will be thousands after you have left.
Guaranteed many will repeat the trip but likely on their own rather than a caravan. The Yukon and Alaska are very safe places to have the travel and adventure like this unlike the crime that seems so much a part of the lower 48.
When you are in Chicken be sure to take a few minutes to see the “post office” and the big dredge if you missed the dredge #4 at Dawson.
Not sure of your return route but it could be by highway 37 south from Watson Lake heading back into British Columbia. Another venture in itself. Please enjoy and come back.

▪.  Merrily on June 28th, 2010 6:56 pm  
When I drove up to Alaska, we stayed mostly in provincial parks and boondocked and had NO problems getting sites. We did book for our stay in Denali (way ahead of time) & in Anchorage at a RV park w/hook ups!
Love hearing about your adventure!!

▪.  Old Gray on June 28th, 2010 8:08 pm  
I love hearing about Canadianisms! As a Canadian traveling along the east coast of the U.S. somewhere in the Carolinas, I once asked directions to a marina’s “washroom”. I ended up in the laundry. 
Things like that make a trip more memorable.

▪.  Brian Morris on June 29th, 2010 6:59 am  
Reading about your trip brings back some great memories. Although I have not read all of your “travel logs” what I have read reinforces our decision to travel with the benefit of another trailer or two along with us but not to be a part of a “caravan”. 
The trip from Whitehorse to Dawson City passes by so many interesting places to “wile away” a little time here and there, while learning about some of the fabulous places and people we met and how they landed up in the Yukon. I am not sure if your writings are representative of the things you are seeing and doing along the way, and of necessity when you are making such a long trip as part of a caravan I am sure there is not much time to “dally” along the way. I have learned from my travels however, that it is often in the “dallying” when you have some of your most memorable experiences. Also for those who have never travelled to/in the Yukon you are missing one of the great adventure of your lives, and every Canadian should make the effort to see this part of their country and it’s people. Although in peak season some of the campgrounds can be very busy, there are many, many opportunities to safely boondock and spend time with the wonderful pioneer spirited people you will meet along the way. While I don’t always recall without some prompting from my sons the names of every place we visited in the Yukon, I sure do remember the people I met and the interesting conversations we had and the places we saw in the “back of the beyond”.
Although you mentioned the profusion of Fireweed all along the road, what was not mentioned was the origin of the name “Fireweed”. This name comes from this plant being in the forefront of new vegetation that appears shortly after a forest fire, of which there would have been plentiful sites in various stages of regrowth along the road to Dawson City.
The only other thing I can say is I wish I were making the trip but without the caravan. Have a safe, enjoyable journey.           

[Thanks for your input (every comment is appreciated).  I am not working for the caravan companies, just enjoying the trip and the opportunity to share it with so many readers.  Go with a group or alone, it’s up to you, but Monique and I are really enjoying meeting the locals – even some natives – and seeing some of the offbeat places not seen by most travelers.  We enjoy “dayllying,” also.]

▪.  Ali Shumate on June 29th, 2010 7:52 am  
I have a great fear of heights, especially on the edges of any. Would you advise me not to take the ” Top of the World/Taylor highway”?

 .

[I think the risk is worth the reward.  You’ll be talking about that road for years.]

▪.  levonne on June 29th, 2010 4:07 pm  
I would love to campground host in Alaska. You’re having a great time! If you have a minute, come visit my blog: A Camp Host Housewife’s Meanderings.

▪.  Don & Irene Ritchey on June 29th, 2010 6:24 pm  
Nervous of Heights?? This is to Ali Shumate the trip in reverse from TOK up through the Taylor Highway is a lot easier to take if fear of heights is a factor. Been both ways.
Going up Beaver Creek, Burwash Landing to Tok you are on the inside for the most part heading over the top and down to Dawson City. It is so memorable you just got to grin and bear it. It’s driven every day … no reason really not to go. It’s an adventure you will cherish forever.

▪.  marianj on July 25th, 2010 5:41 pm  
Just read of your trip to Dawson, YK. Great pictures of Fireweed. We live in Alaska so find it interesting to hear a newcomer take on the Alcan. Hope you have a great time. Come back soon. Marianj