Alaska Highway

Greetings from Alaska!  After six days and 1,700 miles through the appropriately-sloganed Super, Natural British Columbia and Larger than Life Yukon Territory, we arrived Thursday in Tok, Alaska, sled dog capital of the world, and small junction town splitting those finishing the Alaska Highway in Fairbanks with those taking Highway 1 south to the more populous part of the state.  Yesterday, after burritos for breakfast, we took the sign for Anchorage and embarked on our final 380-mile push to Girdwood.

As for the past week in Canada, wow — ultra wild, dreamboat scenery.  At Powell’s in Portland, we purchased Dalby’s Guide to Driving the Alaska Highway, a helpful book we referenced often for camping and dining recommendations, historic tidbits and offshoot excursions along the way.

From the No Country for Old Men motel in Prince George we drove five hours to Dawson Creek, mile 0 of the Alaska Highway.  At a cupcake shop in town we weighed our sleeping options for the night.  It was rainy and 40 so camping was out.  The only reasonable hotel in town was the the curiously-priced Alaska Inn at $55 a night, so I walked the two blocks down Main Street and popped in for a look.  The front desk, which was also the bar, was manned by a woman who resembled Rosanne Barr plus a thousand twinkies and a few cage match losses.

Me: Any rooms available tonight?
Bartender: I got one.  It’s $55, uh, I mean $62.  But even I don’t go up there anymore, on account of the people and stuff.  The rooms are pretty nasty and I think there might be someone living up there.
Me: {Looking like she just answered my question in Chinese}
Man in Bar: You want crabs?

I walked back to the cupcake shop and took a sip of my now-cold coffee.  The baristas looked nice enough, so I approached them with our quandary.  As I was shrinking as their blank faces, the only other people in the place, a youngish couple with a baby sitting behind me, spoke up and cheerfully offered their fifth wheel for the night.  We accepted instantly and drove around the corner to the trailer, which was equipped with a queen-sized bed, bathroom, electricity and iPod-connectivity.  It was perfect, and even more miraculous, it was free.  We owe Frank and Laura a mountain of gratitude for their kindness and hospitality.  People are great sometimes.


Quick aside on the cost of living in Dawson Creek.  We grabbed Frank a six-pack of Heineken at a convenience store, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t $22 after the -10% U.S. conversion and 5% international service fee.  Everything in Dawson Creek costs a mint, travelers beware.

***

The next day we began our trek up the Alaska Highway to Fort Nelson.  Outside Dawson Creek, farms give way to forests and the scenery becomes a tunnel of spruce, muskegs and ice-covered lakes.  During the entire Alcan we encountered remarkably sparse civilization.  Houses, cars and people were in short supply, and in some stretches we drove an hour without seeing anything but trees and pavement.

Six hours after leaving Dawson Creek we arrived in Fort Nelson, a dusty nothing of a town that boasts a handful of run-down gas stations and boarded-up restaurants.  Dalby suggests driving the 1,500-mile Alcan in five days and spending the first night in Fort Nelson. But uninspired and drunk on discovery, we continued two hours up the road to Liard River Hotsprings Provincial Park.

According to the park:

These springs could accurately be called thermal springs, hotsprings, mineral springs or all three.  Thermal springs have water which is 5 celsius warmer than the average air temperature; hotsprings have water warmer than 32degrees celcius; and mineral springs contain solids in concentration higher than 1000 parts per million.  The origin of these springs is unknown but may be related to a major geographical fault that parallels the valley on the south side of the Liard River.

We picked a wooded site near the outhouse and set up camp.  The hike to the springs takes only five minutes, but Jess and I made it in three after reading about a couple who was killed by a grizzly on the trail a few years back.  Having cheated death, we arrived at the hotsprings and set our eyes on a forested, lima-bean shaped lagoon, roughly 4′ deep and the size of a college touring bus.  The temperature of the water ranged from lukewarm to scorching hot, with the hottest corner marked with a rock altar for those brave enough to add a pebble to the pile.  We melted in the warmth as we chatted with other travelers, who like us, had made their way from somewhere else in the world to that very place in time.  Twas magical moment, yall, one I won’t soon forget.


***

The next morning, after a delicious stuffed green pepper at the lodge across the street (prepared by a chef who had cooked for the Queen of England, nonetheless), we continued north through the Canadian rockies to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.  Along the way we stopped in Watson Lake to check out Signpost Forest.  What started as a single sign commemorating the journey for a Illinois man in 1942 has snowballed over the years to include thousands of signs from creative travelers.  My favorite sign: Alaska to Argentina by bike.

Later in Whitehorse we grabbed a site at Caribou RV Park and headed into town for Chinese food.  That night we returned to find the only other camper in the park sitting around a fire with the campground host and a buddy.  We joined the ragtag bunch and swapped stories for a while before heading to the tent for a bitter cold nights sleep.

The following morning we arose early and returned to town where I replaced two blown headlights in a coffee shop parking lot.  New lights in place, we threw the leftover Chinese under the hood and drove the final stretch on the world famous Alaska Highway to the U.S. border, where we were greeted with a smile and $4.72 a gallon gas prices.

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One response

  1. Michael Brem

    Scott/Jess,

    This is in reference to your pic from Signpost Forest. If you look at the close-up pic from the blog entry, in the bottom right hand corner is a North Carolina vanity license plate that reads “Lake Royale”. FYI…..Lake Royale is located just north of Zebulon near the towns of Bunn and Spring Hope. Thought that was a cool little observation, and not sure if you guys caught it or not.

    Have a blast!

    Brem

    May 9, 2011 at 9:39 am

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