Today we planned a long driving day. There is not much between Ft. Nelson and Watson Lake except for Laird Hot Springs so we decided to take it in one long bound. It is a pretty drive normally through the Northern Rockies, but our old nemesis the smoke returned for the day. Visibility was extremely limited most of the day so we do not have much in the way of pictures.
We also burned a budget busting amount of gas for the day. Hopefully it will be less tomorrow. It was a good day for critter sightings though. We had a grizzly bear run across the road right in front of the truck. It is remarkable how fast he was moving. Later we saw a black bear standing on his hind legs next to the road. In both cases it happened too fast to get pictures. Later we passed a couple of herds of bison next to the road, and one herd crossing the road. Also note the smoke in the background. The smoke really is phenomenal.
We arrived in Watson Lake about 5pm and visited the sign post forest next to the visitor center. Everyone who passes thru is encouraged to post a sign from their hometown. I think the current count was over 40,000.
Tonight we are in a Yukon territorial park for $12. This will help offset the $140 in fuel today.
We have moved to the capitol of the Yukon Territory Whitehorse. It is a town of about 30,000 with all of the amenities of any large town in North America including a Walmart. We took care of some maintenance stuff today the primary one was knocking all of the dead bugs and dust off of Scout. A $10 investment in the local truck wash got us about 80% of the way there, Ton declared that good enough as we have some of the toughest travel coming up.
We also visited one of the local breweries, Yukon brewing company which we had visited seven years ago. The beer was good and we particularly liked their lager.
Whitehorse is the hub of travel on the Alaska Highway and you see a great many different campers from giant luxury buses to homemade converted school buses. There are quite a few European RV’s running around town also. The visitors center is the hub of activity, as in addition to dispensing useful information it also offers good free internet. I think we are going to take advantage of it tomorrow to try to post an update to the blog.
We have been doing some planning and after a down day tomorrow will be heading to Dawson City and then if the conditions are good on to Inuvik in the North West Territory. We are also planning our first stay in a Wall Mart parking lot tomorrow to try to get us back on budget, and to check something else off our camping bucket list.
Today was a day to relax and explore Whitehorse. After a sleep in we started out with laundry. After that we headed over to the visitors center to use their free internet. Ton checked on the status of things back in Oregon and let everyone know we were ok. Ron published the blog and did some research on the Demptser Highway.
After the research was done we walked along the waterfront and visited the SS Klondike. The Klondike is the last paddle wheel steamer that ran on the Yukon River. It was retired in 1955 but has been beautifully restored by Parks Canada. On top of that due to it being the 150th anniversary of Canada all National Parks are free this year.
There was one more brewery in town so we had to check it out. We tried a taster of all of their beers and they were quite good.
The last stop for the night was Walmart where we are sitting for the night. The price is right and there are about 20 other campers including ones from Germany, Austria, and Romania, so free is a good price all around world.
After relaxing yesterday we had a fairly long drive from Whitehorse to Dawson City. The road was better than we expected and we arrived in Dawson City about 3:30 pm. For the first time on the trip we experienced a little bit of rain, and the temperatures are cooler than normal for this part of the world. The lows later in the week are forecast in the mid-30’s.
The first stop was the Northwest Territory Visitors Center to check on the status of the Dempster Highway. We were told that the road was in fair to good shape and the weather was forecast to not have any real impact on the road. So we are going to give it a shot tomorrow.
We signed up for a walking tour of Dawson City put on by Parks Canada. It was fun and well done with one of the rangers playing the role of an American heiress who visited Dawson during the gold boom. After the tour we visited the Jack London Lounge to see a Sour toe drink made.. We decided on beer instead. We will probably spend another night around here in a few days after we return from the Dempster.
Today we set out for the Arctic Circle on the Dempster Highway. It is a spectacular drive even though the weather was not cooperating with us. It was raining with quite a bit of cloud cover so a lot of the views were covered in clouds. It was quite beautiful but not super photogenic so pictures were limited.
The first 200km’s of the drive were pretty easy, but at the Ogilvie Summit we ran into about 80km’s of muddy rough road that was a test. We made it through all of that and on a nice smooth pull into the Eagle Plains Campground we lost our rear tire and even more unluckily it was the sidewall so the tire was not repairable. We must of caught a rock going up the hill. At Eagle Plains there is a tire shop and we were able to find a used tire that is the right size to use to head back to civilization.
It looks like Inuvik will have to wait until next time. And though we had bad luck the first 350km’s of the Dempster are stunning and I will highly recommend them to anyone.
Today was an adventure. We decided that the Arctic Circle was only 30km North of us so we started the day heading there. We also figured it would be a good test for the used tire we had mounted. We made it with no real problem and have now driven across the arctic circle.
On the way south after about 15 km’s there was a loud bang and the used tire had blown. Fortunately we were at a nice flat spot and on a long, dry, firm stretch of road. But for the first time Ron was going to have to change a tire on Scout. A sparsely traveled road 10 miles south of the arctic circle and 220 miles from the nearest paved road was not the ideal place to test our tire changing equipment. Ron was regretting not doing a dry run before with the tire changing equipment. Everything was going ok until it was time to position the bottle jack to lift the truck. Because the tire had failed completely the rear axle was too low to put the heavy duty bottle jack Ron had bought under the axle. But luckily two fellows who worked for the Yukon government came along and stopped to help. They had a jack that would fit under the axle, but was only rated for two tons, which was not enough to lift the truck. But it would lift the axle enough to get the heavy duty bottle jack under the axle, so success. The tire was changed with the help of a third guy who worked at the Eagle Plains gas station who wandered by with a water truck. I never did get the names of the two guys who had the jack that made the repair possible but I really appreciate them taking the 45 minutes it took for me to use their jack.
The next stop was Eagle Plains to assess the situation, as we were back to the same problem as the night before, 365 kilometers from the nearest pavement and no spare. We were forced to make the budget busting decision to buy a new spare tire that worked in a pinch, but we will be discarding when we get to civilization and can buy a matching tire for the one we lost.
After getting everything sorted in Eagle Plains we took off for Dawson City about noon and after a very cautious drive arrived about 730pm. A very long day.
We debated our next drive; do we do the Top of the World Highway which is a mixture of asphalt and gravel with our mismatched tires, or do the 750 mile detour back to Whitefish and drive the Alaska Highway. Ultimately we decided on the 176 mile Top of the World figuring the road could not be any worst than yesterday and the mismatched tires held up yesterday.
The drive was really beautiful. A great road running across ridges with super views on each side. We crossed back into the US in the most northern most land border crossing. They actually seemed happy to see us at customs, I think it was a slow day.
After an uneventful drive, the first in a couple of days , we arrived in Tok. We spent part of the afternoon knocking the large chunks of Dempster mud off of Scout, kicking back and researching how to find Nitto Terra Grappler tires in Alaska.
Today was planned primarily as a driving day. We are headed to Haines Alaska, and there really is not much between us and there. Along the way we ran into a German couple we had camped next to last night. We were stuck waiting for a pilot car when we realized they were in front of us. We followed them thru the border crossing back into Canada and ended up at the visitors center in Beaver Creek. Ton and the wife Anna ran in to use the internet, while the husband Hubert and I tried to carry on a conversation about trucks and Volkswagens. When we went in Ton, Anna and the two ladies at the visitors center were gushing over pictures of Anna’s two week old grandchild.
Today we covered only about 200 miles, but it took about 6 hard hours of driving. There is one section of the road around Beaver Creek where the tundra has always wrecked havoc with the road. The tundra melts because of the heat generated by the road, and engineers have tried multiple ways to stop it, so far unsuccessfully. There has even been talk of going back to gravel for that section as it generates less heat and thus less frost heaves.
I want to end the day by praising the Yukon tourism board. The visitor centers every where are just fantastic. The people manning them are uniformly well informed and friendly. The internet is always strong, and they recognize that travelers up here need a place to connect, so they have seating areas for internet users. Because of this we stop in nearly every town’s visitors center. The other thing that Yukon does well are their Territorial Parks. They are not fancy but they are well laid out and clean, and best of all cost only $12 per night.
Really very little to talk about today. Drove about 300 miles thru pretty country. This was the one major section that we doubled back on so we have already covered the road earlier. Tomorrow we will begin heading south in earnest on the Cassier Highway.
Ron always had fond memories of Hyder AK from our last trip to Alaska, so the plan was to drive the Cassier Highway to Hyder. Hyder has this frontier town feeling which was very fun for Ron. There is no US customs at the border in Hyder, and there is no police or fire, those services when needed are provided by Stanley British Columbia. The Americans in Hyder can be paid in Canadian currency as there are no banks in Hyder and the nearest American banks are over 1000 road miles away.
On our last trip we were held up for several hours at the junction of the Alaska and Cassier Highways due to a very large wildfire on the Cassier just south of the Alaska Highway. When we were finally allowed thru it was in a convoy led by a fire vehicle, and we actually passed thru areas where we could still see flames near the road. It was quite a memorable experience.
This trip we had nothing that dramatic, but we could still see the effects of the fire from seven years ago for the first 50 or so miles. Other than that the Cassier Highway was pretty uneventful but pretty. We did see a black bear on the road but otherwise it was mostly covering a lot of miles.
I would like to say that Hyder lived up to the memories we had, but it did not. It had a ghost town feel, we could not tell if it was because they had closed up for the season, or because the town was in real trouble. We went down to the fish creek Forest Service observation deck, but there were no bears. By now it was a long day so we went to the only open RV park near by and paid for a commercial campground.
We were discussing options last night about what to do next. Our initial thought was to take it slow going north and spend another day in Washington before spending a couple of days traveling around the Okanagan Valley in BC looking at wineries. But the smoke and heat was getting to us. The air quality was categorized as unhealthy in Wenatchee, and unhealthy in Kelowna so we made the decision to just try to get north of the smoke. Below is an example of the smoke obscuring the views.
Today turned into a travel day with the priority being getting in some miles. It was an uneventful drive north except we came upon a very severe accident that stopped us for about 40 minutes, and then after entering BC we came upon another accident where the truck involved had caught fire and burned totally.
We decided to wimp out and stay in a place with power so we can run our AC. Between the smoke and the high heat we decided to put comfort over cost. Luckily we called ahead to find a place as it is a holiday in Canada today, and even more lucky the place we called had just had a cancellation and we got their last spot for the night. It is a very nice campground above Kelowna on a working farm called Orchard Hill RV. We highly recommend it.
Another lazy start to the day. The original plan was to head towards a Provincial Park to spend the night and take in some sights, but as we were heading north out of Kelowna the smoke from the fires continued to get worst. Ton finally said that maybe we should just get to Alaska and come back and see British Columbia after the fires were out. It made a lot of sense as the intensity of the smoke is hard to describe.
We rerouted ourselves towards Dawson Creek on the most direct route which took as thru Kamloops. Kamloops had the most intense smoke we had seen so far on the trip, with visibility down to a mile or less in some places. As we pulled into Kamloops there was a sign showing that Route 97 was closed due to fire activity. As you can guess Route 97 is the direct route to Dawson Creek from Kamloops so we needed to reroute. We ended up on a 80 mile detour around the fire to rejoin route 97.
The impact of the fire is massive. Tonight we are staying on the grounds of the Williams Lake Stampede(Canadian for Rodeo). Sharing the grounds with us are about 10 fire engines from various towns in BC and Alberta. A helicopter with a water bucket just flew buy, and in the mall in town is a large Red Cross evacuation center staffed with about 20 people. Talking to a local this is the biggest heat wave BC has had since the late 50’s and the most fires in one season since 1961. Right now they have fire crews from all over Canada, the US, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, and Chile. It really is something traveling thru the middle of a natural disaster.
So despite our best intentions of taking it slow we are back in the miles per day race until we get north of the fires.
We woke up to a very smoky morning. We thought we may have been thru the worst of the smoke when we went to bed, but sometime during the night smoke blew in and it was as bad as we had seen yesterday.
We planned a long day driving today to get out of the smoke. We had targeted a town called Chedwyn, but as we pulled in the two parks in town were packed. It seems Chedwyn and Dawson Creek are having an oil boom with all of the good and bad that comes with it. Both towns were noticeably bigger than 5 years ago, and the quiet RV parks that were thrilled to see tourists are now very full with oil workers. Chedwyn was offering temporary parking in a parking lot in town. We decided to push on to Dawson City. As we pulled in it looked like the same problem. We checked in with the visitors center and they said it was rodeo week and they recommended we head up the highway.
The good news is that we are well out of the smoke and we have blue sky for tomorrows drive. Now we can try to slow down, even thought the next town is about 300 miles away. Also today we reached the official beginning of the Alaska Highway.
Today was a driving day. There is not much to see between Dawson Creek and Fort Nelson so we got up and headed up the road. We made a short diversion to the last of the WW2 era wooden bridges. It is no longer on the main road and is being preserved by Canada as a historic site. Ron liked it but Ton was not too impressed.
The big change since our last trip is a natural gas boom in the area. There is much more traffic on the road from Dawson Creek to Ft. St. John and a little beyond. It reminds us a little of the Bakken area of North Dakota where Ron just finished up working.
The other change is an overall improvement in the quality of the road. It is much better than we both remember, even though there are some rough patches on it.
We arrived in Fort Nelson around 2:30 pm and stayed in the same RV park we stayed at on the last trip. As usual in these small towns we went to the visitors center, and were told enthusiastically that there was a program on the history of Ft. Nelson in 20 minutes. The air conditioning was good and the staff looked so happy to have someone that we stayed and were the only attendees. It was well done and interesting so we were glad we stayed.
Across the street is a museum that we think is a must see if you make the trip. It is full of interesting stuff and vehicles. We had stopped on our last trip to Alaska and had fond memories. The staff is very proud and glad to answer questions. If you have a chance check it out.
Ton has begun to refer this trip as the Fire and Rain tour, with all due respect to James Taylor.
Today we began by debating our next designation. The direct route would be to Prince George BC, but we had been reading about Prince Rupert so we decided to head there. As we were discussing Prince Rupert Ton mentioned that maybe we should check the weather there. We did not have any service at that point, and by the time we did have service we were already committed to Prince Rupert. As we got closer to Prince Rupert the rain was coming down in sheets, and the wind was blowing a gale. It was a serious storm. When we pulled into town it looked like a nice enough place, but there was no way to walk around town without getting drenched and blown around. The campground situation was not so good, and the BC Park we had as our backup was soaked, so we made the decision to double back to Terence BC.
By the way the road to Prince Rupert from Terence is spectacular. You are going to have to take our word for it as we could not get any pictures thru the rain. There are a great many ribbon waterfalls, and a couple of proper waterfalls. The road follows the gorge formed by the Skeena River, and near the end broadens out to an estuary with mountains on either side and multiple islands. It is really a nice drive.
As the trip winds to an end we are getting focused on miles over seeing things. Today we found ourselves on good roads where cruise control was the norm. When we arrived in Prince George we did a little poking around the town before finding ourselves in the Walmart parking lot for the night.
While there is not much to talk about we actually enjoyed the day. The sights were nice and while not as spectacular as Alaska still varied and pretty. We have found we are getting comfortable with a variety of places to stop for the night, even urban camping in Walmart.
Today we headed to one of our favorite campsites on Naval Airstation Whidbey Island. It is located right on the Puget Sound and is really a great place to camp.
The initial drive was down the Fraser River Valley and is quite spectacular. I know we are sounding like a broken record but the trip to Alaska is full of spectacular drives.
Ron was focused on making it to the US before buying any more fuel. We made it but only just. Ron was sweating bullets in the line to clear customs, wondering what the punishment would be to run out of gas at the border crossing. When we pulled into the first gas station available after the border it took 33 gallons to fill the truck, a new record by 5 gallons so we really were on fumes.
We arrived early at the campsite at Whidbey and got the last space available. The Navy has spent a lot of money upgrading this park and it is the equivalent of the best campground you would see anywhere. On top of that the camp host does an incredible job both keeping the place clean and keeping gardens throughout the place. It really is special.
Today was a relatively lazy day. We started out a little later than usual, and parked for the night around 3:30 pm. As we drove south we saw signs of the fires that had closed the roads when we were heading towards Alaska. The firefighters did a great job saving property, but the land along the road showed that the fires must have been quite intense.
We targeted Spences Bridge because Ron had read that there was a log cabin pub there worth checking out. It turned out to be a real jewel. It is a very interesting building, much larger on the inside than it appeared from the outside. The owner was fun to talk to, and had a very refreshing view of life. It had been a tough year for them because the fires in this area were very intense and had the highway closed for long periods of time.