Friday, May 21, 2010

May 21, 2010

Three Weeks


We again woke to light rain.  Cold light rain. Too bad.  The section of road we were to travel is the most picturesque and has the most wildlife of all the Alaska Highway – on a sunny day. 

Here is the road shortly after we left campground.

02 rainy road 03 road

Gray and damp but still pretty.  Note the darker gray area at the side of the road.  That is the edge of the roadbed.  It is not paved and is about 18 inches wide. It also slopes away from the paved portion pretty quickly.  There really is no shoulder.  ALSO, when it is wet it is down right scary.  A tire drifting in to that would instantly sink in several inches of mud.  All the roads leaving the highway are dirt and all have ruts that would cover the tire if not go to the axles of many cars.  Even the graveled turnouts are very slick with a layer of muddy ooze.  Needless to say you pay attention all the time to be sure you don’t drift even to the white line.  See the lighter colored trees in the distance in the top picture?  Here is the road a few miles further on and higher.

01 n or Skianni River

Note the windshield top left and bottom center. 

The road was wet but no snow sticking and no problem driving.

The road goes over two summits in this section.  Here is the view coming down the first and lower summit.

04 road view down from Steamboat mtn

Most of that is cloud but it was snowing pretty good for a bit.

Here is a lake at the top of the second, higher summit.

05 summit lake

The white in the middle is the very frozen and snow covered lake.  There is a provincial campground at this lake.  It was open.  :)

Coming down the other side of the summit.

06 down from summit lake

Pretty but still cold and wet.

We are staying at the Toad River Lodge RV Campground.  Lodges along the Alaska Highway are a little different than lodges other places.  They are small clapboard buildings with a gas pump in front and several ‘cabins’ (think motel room in a building) next to or behind.  This one is a bit different.  It has a small restaurant (three tables), a small store with some nice (but pricey) clothing and some interesting souvenirs.  Most of the ‘lodges’ have some sort of gimmick.  We passed one yesterday with a sasquatch theme.  They advertise guaranteed daily sasquatch sightings.  The Toad River Lodge gimmick is hats.  You have probably heard of places that have dollar bills stuck to the ceiling.  Here it is hats.  They cover every ceiling in the place except the kitchen and the restrooms and part way  down every wall.  It is not random either.  The hats are neatly folded and placed in an orderly way.

08 hats 

DSC03754 DSC03755

These three pictures are only a fraction of the collection.

I said this lodge is a bit different.  It also has an airstrip.  Looks to be 100 yards long.  Not much more.  There are two small planes parked beside it.

All of these small businesses along the highway have to make their own electricity.  This one has a very large and very quiet power plant.  The plant is as large as a 25 foot RV and the fuel tank next to it is even larger.  The benefit to us is good solid to run heater, microwave, etc.

The campground is off the highway, very nice and backs up to a very pretty lake.

07 campsite

The lake has ducks.


Sue and neighbor identifying ducks.


A bit of Alaska Highway humor.  Enlarge to read.

12 buffalo

May 20, 2010

First Day on the Alaska Highway



We woke up this morning to rain.  First daytime rain we have had on our trip.  For a while it rained pretty hard.  We delayed our start by an hour in hopes it would let up a bit which it did.  It was cold though.  Weather forecast for Dawson Creek for the next few days is rain and possible snow off and on.  We packed up, dumped tanks, and filled up with gas and began our adventure on the Alaska Highway.

A few miles north of town the rain stopped completely and we just had overcast sky. 

First stop was a detour to drive over a piece of the original highway that had been bypassed. 


This section of road crosses the Kiskatinaw River on what is now the only remaining wooden bridge on the Alaska Highway.  This is an impressive structure even if it had been been made of steel and concrete which it is not.  Even more impressive that it was built in just a few months.  The bridge is hundreds of feet above the river and instead if going straight across from bank to bank it curves across in a gentle arc.

Carbus about three quarters across bridge


DSC03745  DSC03746

Roadbed is wood planks

DSC03747 20100520-22

All wood.  Only metal is guardrail which was added later.


We could not easily get to a good spot to take total picture of the bridge.  This is a picture of the river below from the deck of the bridge. 


Sue did get a pretty good partial shot


To see the whole bridge google “Kiskatinaw Bridge”.

As we drove up the hill from the bridge I saw a moose just off the road.  Sue was looking the other direction and we were past the moose before she could turn around.  There will be more.

Several miles up the road we came to Charlie Lake.  This was the location of a tragic event while building the Highway. 


In the rush to move materials and machines ahead to build the road, pontoon floats were quickly improvised to move to the other end of the lake.  The lake looks pretty placid in the picture but weather changes here are quirky and rapid.  While the barge was on the lake one day the weather changed and soon the barge was in three foot waves.  One pontoon swamped which caused the barge to tilt and finally capsize.  This was in April and the lake was just a few degrees above freezing.  The heroic efforts of a local trapper who made three trips onto the lake in a small rowboat saved five men.  Twelve died.  This is a monument to their sacrifice.


About 160 miles from start we came to the Sikanni River and the Sikanni River Campground.  Quaint little wide spot by the river.  Store (minimal), three cabins, RV and tent camping, play equipment for kids, gas pump, and that is it.  20 amp electric(that’s  like plugging your whole house into one socket in your living room) that is generated on site.  Single water hose for filling tanks and central dump station.  Not quite forest service campground camping but pretty rustic.  The highway is a couple hundred yards away but not very noisy (also not very busy :)   ).  Best thing is location – right on river.  And, we are in the prime spot in the campground.


View from our dinette.


Sue did not get to see a moose today but there is a local moose here and she is hoping.  She did get to see some moose evidence though.




If you haven’t figured it out, that is moose poop.  It is all over the grounds here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

May 19, 2010

Layover in Dawson Creek

I have added a link at right that goes to Sue’s photos thus far.  There are a lot of things to see there.


It did rain last night.  Pretty steady too.  Not hard enough to wash the vehicles though.  This morning was crystal clear, bright blue sky, no clouds, and temp about 50 degrees F.  All through Alberta we had morning lows at or below freezing.

Went back to Mile 0 in Dawson city and got our first real taste of Alaska Highway tourism.  The parking lot of the visitor center (quite large) was filled with RVs.  All exactly alike.  Small Class C’s.  All same manufacture and all with Alaska plates.  I guess some sort of tour group, Possibly overseas organized.  We saw a similar group in Banff of about twelve RV’s all the inhabitants were from Germany (they had the first name of the occupants on a card taped to the rear of the RV).




Mile 0 cairn and sign in the sun this time.  Hint of RV crowd in background.







Center of traffic roundabout (original  Mile 0 sign post was at this location. It was destroyed by inept local driver.)






Metal sculpture at start of Alaska Highway.  It depicts a surveyor pointing toward Alaska.







An interesting and fun and well done thing that Dawson Creek has don is commission a large number of murals painted on the sides of buildings around town.  There is a self guided walking tour of the town that takes you by a number of the murals and points out many historical locations.  The murals are very good and add to the charm of the town (what there is of it).

The three shots below are one short alley in town.  The second picture is a block long mural depicting the town in the 1040’s.  The bottom picture is of the wall at the end of the alley.  Some of the buildings in the painting are still there.

DSC03731DSC03729 DSC03730 


I spent much of the afternoon studying the next couple of days route while Sue wrote a letter to send to her mother.  Basically a typewritten description of our trip so far so she can follow along.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

May 18, 2010

On to Dawson Creek



Drive north and then east on Canada (and US further south) 97 again.  Very good road most of the way.  Wide, smooth two lane with many passing lanes.  The country side ranged from forests, mountains, and rivers, to rolling hills covered with agriculture, farms ,and ranches much like the Sierra foothills.

The day started out overcast and stayed that way much of the time. 

Notice I said most of the way and much of the time.  There is about ten miles of the road through the mountains that is undergoing major construction to widen and straighten it.  We had nice overcast weather all day except a short period of drizzly rain.  Guess when it rained.  Just before we got to the construction zone.  As a result the carbus is pretty dirty and the car is filthy.  We had to do a major washing of just the windows of the car so we could drive to town after setting up in the campground.  The large RV next to us and the car it is towing are sparkling clean.  They must have had them cleaned in town or they came from a different route.  We are about to drive 1500 miles, parts of which will be wet and dirty.  Guess the carbus and car will stay dirty for a while.  Supposed to rain in the next few days.  Maybe it will rain HARD.  :)

About 40 miles west of Dawson Creek we passed through the town of Chetwynd.  Chetwynd calls itself the “Chainsaw Carving Capitol of the World”  The streets of the town are lined with chainsaw art.  Here is a link to last years carving championships.  Watch the videos.

Dawson Creek is the beginning of the Alaska Highway.  Two and a half weeks and 1500 miles of travel and we just reached START.  :)   I will not relate the history of the highway here.  It is easily researched but probably not fully appreciated ‘till you see some of what the builders endured and what they accomplished in such a short time.  There is museum here devoted to the building of the road.  Very well done.

There are two “Mile 0” landmarks in town a couple of blocks apart.  The first is the original, historical beginning of the road.



The stone monument under the sign commemorates the original beginning of the Alaska Highway. 




Several years after the highway was completed the local chamber of commerce placed a second “Mile 0” a couple of blocks away, right in the center of downtown.  Imagine that.


Monday, May 17, 2010

May 17, 2010

Leaving the Canadian Rockies and Heading West



Back west through the mountains over an amazingly gentle road.  Hardly knew when we reached the high point.  The crest is the border between Alberta and British Columbia.  We got that hour back!  On the west side the road follows a canyon that goes by the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, Mount Robson.  There is a nice visitor center that has a picture window that looks at the peak.  Unfortunately, although we never got rained on we were under cloudy skies much of our drive including when we were at the center.  Here is a picture of 80% of the mountain.


This is what it is like on a clear day.


There is a score sheet by the door where they tally days they saw the summit.  Guess what.  Every day in May until today.  Oh well.

The people in the visitor center told us about an ancient cedar forest that was about a hundred miles further down the road.  Surprisingly this grove was found only in the last few years.  A rough trail has been developed by a local friends of the trees group.  We stopped and took a short hike through the grove.


This is the base of what they call The Big Tree


View up inside a ring of trees



Another 50 miles and we reached Prince George.  Big town/city at the intersection of two major Canadian roads.  Found a really full service RV park.  It has everything.  Electric, water, sewer, cable free WIFI, laundry, free showers, and a few other amenities.  A chance to clean up and reconnect.  The town is large enough that it has a super Walmart AND a Costco.  Restock time.  Tomorrow we head to Dawson Creek and Mile “0” of the Alaska highway.

May 16, 2010

Icefields Parkway



We got an early start today as we had nearly 200 miles to cover with many potential stops for sightseeing.

The Icefields Parkway goes north along the Canadian Rockies from Lake Louise to Jasper.  It is pretty much nonstop view.  Mountain after mountain after mountain on both sides of the road with glaciers on or between most of them and lakes at their bases connected by rushing mountain rivers.


Much of the Canadian Rockies, of which the Icefields Parkway is just a small (200 mile long  :)  ) section is preserved and managed by a series of seven national parks, five of which border each other.  One of the parks is named Yoho National Park.  Yoho is a Cree Indian word that means WOW!  That pretty much describes everything we have seen for the last week.  WOW!

The rivers that flow along side the parkway often run through wide gravel valley floors.  Where the rivers flow through narrow spots in a valley things get interesting.  The rock here is very hard with veins of softer rock.  Instead of wearing down a broad canyon the rivers follow the thin veins and wear mostly the soft rock.  This results in very narrow, often very deep slot canyons some with very dramatic falls.  It is possible to have an impressive waterfall without a lot of water flowing in to it.  Not so here.  There is a lot of fast moving water moving and falling in a very narrow space.  The sound and power of these falls is amazing








Hard to show the power of this falls in a picture.  That water is dropping nearly 100 feet to the base (out of sight).






Another falls that is nearly 100 feet high.





At one of the falls we saw our second (live) black bear.


The other big event of our day was a ice bus trip onto the Athabasca Glacier.

About two thirds of the way up the Icefields Parkway the Columbia Icefield sits on top of the mountains to the west.  It is huge.  Larger than some states I think.



Model of Columbia Icefield.  The fingers radiating from it are glaciers.  The Athabasca Glacier is in the center of the of the lower edge.  There is a mountain top just to the right of Athabasca Glacer that is completely buried under the icefield.  It is unique in that drainage from its’ slopes flows into three different oceans.

From the Icefield visitor center you can take a tour onto the glacier in a very special vehicle.



Six wheel drive, five foot tires, top speed of 18 km/hr.  Geared to go down and up slopes of greater than 34% (we did it).  Each one costs $1.2 million.



Precursor to today’s ice bus.







The river of white in the center is Athabasca Glacier.

The wall of white at the top is the edge of the Columbia Icefield.





Athabasca Glacier in center of picture.  In the 1840’s the glacier extended down to where the green sign is in the foreground.





Our driver was very knowledgeable and gave a running educational dialog on our trip and down the glacier.  Quite interesting.   Riding and standing on a sheet of ice over 100 meters thick was novel.  We’ve now done it.  On to the next thing.