Comin’ on down

From Dawson City, we drove across Alberta on the highest road possible: Highway 55. It crossed both farming country and some low mountains with a few logging operations. We also encountered several buffalo and alpaca ranches! A number of restaurants serve buffalo burgers. Most of the ride was through winding roads and low growth forest.

You could see where forest fires had come through in years past. Some areas still were black with tree skeletons and you could see for miles through them. Others had begun the process of regrowth and displayed bushes of varying heights and young trees about to reach over the burned shells of older ones.

While enjoying this, I was unable to listen to news reports of the raging fires in Saskatchewan. So we rode blithely over the province border and were taking in scenery when it started to get smokey. I asked about the roads several times and was always told that they were passable. However, when I got to Valleyview, SK there were busloads of people who were being evacuated from the north. I got a hotel room (run by the First Nations) and was updated on the situation. Over 7000 people were being temporarily relocated (mostly tribal groups) and the military had been called up. It was a HUGE situation. After a comfortable night, I resumed travels in the increasing smoke, but headed directly south.

The smoke stayed with me for two days, let up one morning, and then came back as I entered Manitoba. Apparently it had been worse there the previous day. In Winnipeg, where we stopped to rest for two nights, people remarked about how it was finally lifting. Ach.

Fortunately, during these long driving days, Charlie has finally relaxed enough to keep us both sane. He had not had much exercise, so, while taking some photos of an abandoned church, I let him run free. Dang. You’d think he’d been in prison! He did his floppy ear bounce quickly and with great gusto around the truck and camper several times. Then he started teasing me with running close by, but not close enough for me to catch him. Finally, he ran toward me, rolled up in a ball and threw himself at my feet. This, with having thrown up his dinner the night before. Yes, he really needs to be home or at the dog park!

Today we went straight south from Winnipeg and crossed the border at Emerson, North Dakota. We’ve passed Great Falls and Fargo and are spending the night in a Lion’s Club campground near Fergus Falls. There are lots of dogs here and Charlie is enjoying the socializing. Yeaaaaa

This trip has lent itself to lots of reading time. Mostly, I’ve consumed murder mysteries and police procedurals by David Baldacci, John Grisham and a few things by Robin Cook (medical sci fi). But last night I started Creek Mary’s Blood by Dee Brown. I missed it years ago. It’s sort of a family saga and sort of historical fiction…..reasonably well written and engaging.

The Alaska Highway, the end.

Fort St. John to Dawson City

It starts just outside of town. Stripped, Devastated. Assaulted. Raped. Pillaged. The land is being ravished by Big Oil. You see it first with road repair and construction. Tons of rock and stone piled high along each lane. Bull dozers, diggers, tar trucks and rollers work in harmony to destroy anything natural that existed. There is only one lane, so you wait for 15 to 30 minutes for the pilot car to lead you down the freshly tarred dirt. You stop every few minutes to let trucks roll out of small trails. Looking up the trail, you’ll likely see more road equipment. But as you move further down the highway, refineries and storage areas peek back at you…..stacks spewing fumes in the air. The smell of tar is stronger. Occasionally, settlements have sprung up for the workers. Most are fields of mobile homes. A few have retail gas stations and a liquor store.

Then you reach Pink Mountain. Civilized Hell. All sorts of businesses related to “oil services”, including fracking, trucking, road cones, and piping. Entrepreneurs have put up concrete block buildings and hung out a sign. There are a couple of rooming houses, newly built. And it’s loud. The machines are always moving alongside the road.

Then the signs start: Rural Crime Alert. Report Rural Crime. On television the government runs an ad campaign called RAPP (Report All Poachers and Polluters)…..but I don’t think this is what they are referring to on the roads.

This stretch of highway is only about 50 miles, ending in Dawson City. Dawson City bills itself as Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway. They have a sign over the road at each end of town and a tall marker at an intersection in the middle of town. Yes, history was meaningful here.

Enough said. It’s maddening, disappointing, heart breaking and a very loud statement about oil in Canada. From being so enthused and appreciative of the land just a few days ago, it has been a long fall down.

Canada Day

It was a long drive to Fort St. John and it’s looking like rain. I’ve decided to stay here for a while and also celebrate Canada Day with them. The truck checked out ok…just some issues from the guys in Watson Lake who changed my oil.

Dad would be so happy. I’m staying in an RV park run by the Fort St. John Rotary Club! It sits right next to a wetland area that has been covered with metal pipes for mallard duck habitat. Apparently, they enjoy nesting in pipes….who knew? The lake itself is over 10 miles long and was also a place of historical significance.

When the U.S. entered World War II, there was concern that the Japanese would invade through Alaska. Canada and the U.S. partnered in a project to seriously improve the Alaska Highway so that machinery and goods could be transported by land to strategically critical areas up there. In May, 1942, seventeen U.S. servicemen got on a pontoon boat to ship road building equipment from one end of the lake to the other. They got caught in a storm and their pontoon boat went down. A local hunter and trapper had been watching them from shore and went out in his rowboat, saving only seven men. Now there is a monument to all involved at the south end of the Lake. Imagine that. A monument to American soldiers in Canada! Are there any sites like that in the U.S., honoring foreign military? I think not, but would enjoy being proven wrong!

Canada Day is celebrated in ways similar July 4th. There was a big (relatively speaking) parade in downtown Fort St. John. Tractors pulled farm scenes and trucks had pictures of winter beauty. Lots of fire engines, ambulances and police cars joined in. Unfortunately, some kids started celebrating with fireworks at midnight last night and most of us were damned tired today. But a good time was had by all. The focus was on history and lifestyle, not the military. I wonder if this is true in small towns across the U.S. this weekend….

 

The Alaska Highway, part 2

After a very restful sleep, we left the campground around 6:30 a.m. The gas station was just up the road at the Northern Lights Lodge. The gas pumps weren’t open until 7, so I chatted with some of the construction workers (from Northwest Territories and Whitehorse, Yukon) and got a view of the accommodations. You can find the Northern Lights Lodge online, but the website does not do it justice. The log buildings and the way the whole resort kind of grows out of the hillside makes it especially attractive. And check out the adventures they offer!

So we start driving the Alaska Highway east. It’s early in the morning and what do we see? Caribou!! Young ones!! They are eating the good grass along the side of the road. I stopped the car and Charlie immediately jumps up on the window pane to get a good look. He’s panting wildly with excitement. “Charlie, be quiet” I said. “You sound like a hungry wolf!” Well of course, Charlie did not listen to me (oh, he’s deaf) and the little caribou got twitchy. They walked by the car. Charlie wiggled with joy and made squeaky noises, scaring them off into the bushes.

The rest of the day along the Alaska Highway was simply oooohing and awwwing at the vastness of it all. More huge, pristine lakes, tall looking mountains, few people. I did talk with a man who owned a service station who told me that this part of B.C. had very little snow last winter…..one foot as compared to six or seven normally (I told him it all went down to Chicago). Consequently, the caribou were coming down from the high mountains early this year for rutting season.

In some ways, these were the apex views….everything I’d wanted to see if I’d gone into Alaska. But as I looked at my map, it became clear that I had chosen a better path. Yes, I’d like to say I went over the Top of the World road. Yes, I’d like to have seen Denali. But truly, I feel like I’ve had a more enriching experience and adventure over the past two days in the Northern Rockies. The drive from Watson Lake to Fort Nelson was honestly one of the two best I’ve seen on this trip so far.

Now I forgot to tell you that I met a bunch of people from Florida….Sarasota, Clearwater and St. Pete. They were all headed for Alaska, but like me, figured they could take a cruise if they wanted to see the west side of the state. Several had already done so! We all agreed that this was one road trip to “take while you still can” and leave the rest to later years.

Tomorrow I will be in Fort St. John, having the truck checked out and figuring out where to go from there. There’s a part of me that can’t wait to get back and join the growing forces of Bernie Sanders supporters in Central Florida. But there’s also a reluctance to leave this beautiful part of the world. I know I’ll never be back. I’m grateful to have seen it while it is still relatively untouched. Everybody has their own concept of beauty in nature. I guess, having been raised in Michigan, forests with lakes and streams are my favorite. Add mountains, like in Colorado, and it is a cocktail that makes my head spin. I love it.

The Alaskan Highway

Hello again from the Yukon.  I’m feeling a little better; Charlie is not.  Vet thinks this trip is too much stress for him and I tend to agree. Because of that, and the limited access I have to various sites and attractions since he’s with me, I’ve decided to head east and see what happens.

Today, we went from Watson Lake to Muncho Lake along the Alaska Highway (Hwy 97). The sun was shining, we were in the mountains, all seemed well until about 80 miles into the wild. One of the warning lights came on the dashboard. I stopped at the next service area and the owner checked out the basics, suggesting that I see the Honda dealer in Fort St. John. That sounded ok.

Just as I drove out onto the highway, we spotted a mother and baby bear feeding on berries! I wasn’t in a position to get a photo, but 50 yards down, a big black bear was lumbering along beside the road. Charlie was awestruck and practically climbed over me to see it. This was our first really good wildlife sighting and I did get a few photos!

So we’re cruising along this sumptuous road, going up higher in the mountains, seeing more and taller fir trees when I see something on the road some distance ahead. “Hmmmm” said I. This looks familiar. And what do you know, it was a small herd (6 – 7) of buffalo! Now that is a very common sight in Yellowstone, but up here?! One mother had a small calf that was able to keep up with her when they started jogging away. Mom kept one eye on the calf and the other fixed on the car….or maybe Charlie, who was staring intently at the herd’s antics.

We only drove about 125 miles, but it took over 4 hours since we were in the mountains. Then we came to Muncho Lake….huge, clear, surrounded by mountains and hills and apparently uninhabited. It was gorgeous! There was absolutely no sign of life on it, but I’d heard that large trout, char and whitefish were easy catches here. We finally found a small campground, where sites were terraced down a slope to the water’s edge. The photos will tell much more than I possibly can.

Great day, fantastic place.

The Great Northern…..Highway 37

It runs hundreds of miles, crookedly up from southern to northern British Colombia (and north to south if you are going the other way). It has some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever seen. And it has a wonderful way of bringing people together.

More to the west of the province than the east, The Great Northern follows the Rocky Mountains until they veer over into Alaska. It’s length is about 700 miles and very few towns—if you can call them that—thrive. There is a cluster every 70 miles or so that includes a gas station and some sort of food vending…usually a locally owned convenience store. As get more toward the middle, the cluster may also include a small motel and a campground…possibly with RV hookups.

Otherwise, sit back and enjoy tall firs, shimmering aspen, a rainbow of mountain wildflowers and sky…lots of sky…unless it is blocked by mountain peaks. This is the true wild. You can go for 20 minutes at 45 mph and see no cars. In your imagination, you can be a native person, clad in furs, hunting caribou and elk. I think about my grandkids…will this still be here for them in 50 years? Will there be any truly wild places in the north? Once it’s seen, it becomes a product to sell….and even the Yukon is slowly growing more .
commercial.

Few people venture on this road. “It’s too long,” whined a lady from Texas. Those who drive the distance keep running in to each other. But of course, there are no outlets! So rest stops become places to congregate and share. By the time you get to Watson Lake, you know at least everyone’s home location, their past travels, their family and several antectotes about their trip so far. If they have a dog, which many do, you will have exchanged several canine stories and your pets will have become buddies. You might even get together later for an after-dinner walk if you’re staying at the same camp.

The last 200 miles of the Great Northern are tough. There are no RV sites with hookups and there is a LOT of road repair going on. One bright spot is Jade City. Remember that name!! If you are a fan of Deadliest Catch or Alaskan Bush People, the Discovery Channel will soon be bringing you a new series, Jade Somethingorelse….filmed here and featuring the residents of Jade City!! It’s about a mining town.

We did see a few bears along the way. One of them had a great fondness for coming out of the bush to see vehicles stopped (or the traffic controller) at a road repair site. When he came too close, the workers pointed this thing that looked like a bullhorn at him. It made a sound like you heard during air raid drills. High, scratchy, screetchy and very loud. After a few bursts, the ol’ bear would fumble back into the bushes, only to wait until the next group of vehicles had to stop. Maybe it was the fragrance of all those un-dumped Rvs.

I need to take a few vacation days from all this driving. It’s a lot of work and both Charlie and I seem to have picked up a bug. Look for us at the Baby Nugget RV Park if you need anything….

Alaska

Decided to make my first entree into Alaska through Hyder. It’s a six block town between Ketchikan and Sitka, down in the south. From Highway 37, it’s an hour drive west on 37A….which HAS to be the most gorgeous canyon I’ve been in. Mountains jut up on both sides, a stream runs by the road and there is about 100 feet of trees between the asphalt and the mountain granite. It’s terribly quiet. You just hear the leaves blowing slightly. Many curves in the road. Absolutely no businesses for 55 minutes. Gorgeous. What a lovely introduction to Alaska.

K’San

June 19: aboriginal day. The front section of K’San offers camping sites without hookups. The sites are in a large circle and many of them have a small shelter by them.

This morning I was awakened by the sound of drumming, followed by Johnny Cash singing Folsom Prison Blues. It is Canada’s “Aboriginal Day.”! There are numerous tribes and clans throughout northern British Colombia. Indeed, the Nanuvat nation has its own province. It’s great to see people preserving and celebrating their culture, but good grief…couldn’t the Canadian government come up with another name for this holiday!! It’s so condescending…aboriginal.

Anyway, the festivities took place in the front section, with small booths set up to sell food, enter raffles, buy jewelry, get your blood pressure checked, learn about HIV, etc. Most of these were staffed by middle aged women. There was a special tent for the older people, complete with chairs for all. No children were in sight. One of the bands had some scruffy young men.

I purchased some fish soup broth and a piece of bannock (bread) and entered a raffle. It was nice to chit chat with the women….warm and mild mannered. Everyone seemed to be having a good time despite on going drizzle and temps in the 50s. Later, I learned I had won a journal in the raffle.

Yellowhead Trail

Highway 16 runs from Prince George to Prince Rupert on the Pacific Coast. If you take it east from Prince George, you will pass just north of Jasper…where I’d originally hoped to begin the journey north.

Logging is big in this area. Trucks and more trucks haul freshly cut timber along the road to huge storage yards. The logs are pre-cut to specific sizes and are grouped together in the yards by their size. A separate company does the cutting into planks, creating yet other storage yards of ready-to-use timber. My instinct tells me the planks are moved by train.

I think that is because train tracks run beside highway 16. Rarely are you out of sight (or sound) of these long locomotives. They don’t use boxcars, but rather oblong boxes, stacked two high on the bed of a rail car. Many have Hyundai labels, but most are plain.

This midsection of British Colombia is noted for its many vacation ranches and resorts. Fishing is huge here. I would guess that hunting is big during its season. The towns are small, tho…at most a few blocks along the highway with trailer homes lined up behind. Most have a golf course within driving distance.

I noticed a number of Mennonite churches too…in fact, there were few others.

Delightfully hilly. Tonight I’m parked at the K’San RV campground. It’s run by Native People in the area. There is a spectacular view of the mountains…one with a glacier. I am told that the name of the mountain means “rocks falling down.” They say that’s what happens when one of their chiefs dies.
It sits at the intersection of two rivers.

The Gold Rush Trail

From Kamloops (really, nearby Cache Creek) I jumped on Highway 97,….also known as the Gold Rush Trail (or, if you’re with the Department of Transportation, the Cariboo Connector). It started as a two lane road, all paved, with lots of passing sections. Interestingly, the landmarks along it are identified by miles….the American way of counting. The road signs, however, told distances in kilometers. So, the 100 Mile House is about 140 kilometers from point zero.. Confusing for a foreigner.

Looking for free p.r., people have used the mile phrase to identify their businesses. There is a 70 mile house and a 49 ½ mile house. Some people just put out signs, so you see 55….who knows for what?

At 108 miles, a settlement has been preserved that showcases stops along the trail. A large family home (now a museum) sits in the middle of the property. A bunkhouse for traveling guests is near the barn. On the far side of the family home, farming machines and tools lie rusting in the tall grass.

It all seems distant now, but think about when people were actually walking this trail to the gold fields. Up and down mountains, through valleys, in sun and sleet. I wonder how far they went each day. In addition to everything else, there was a law that prospectors had to have at least 1000 pounds of supplies to get them through the first year. The government had grown tired of finding frozen and starved bodies each spring.

So they trudged along this very road with all of that stuff. I can imagine what it looked like. Families, husbands and wives, with heavy leather shoes and long skirts, putting one foot in front of the other day after day. It’s well over a thousand miles to the Yukon! But they followed their dreams.

What would we find if we dug up the road today… if we took off the asphalt, the blacktop, the paint and gravel. What would we find that would show us their trials? The detrius of daily life? A fork? The one that Rebecca dropped when she sat around a campfire enjoying a dinner of freshly killed moose and wild blueberries. A hat? The cotton bonnet with a large brim that kept the sun off of her face on bright clear days. Rebecca…laid out in her finest gingham dress, holding her still born baby girl and covered with the quilt her mother gave them on their wedding day. We would never find his tears, but maybe a tattered handkerchief he used to wipe them away.

Travellers all, each with a vision of what lay ahead. My gold is a mountain with tall spruce and birch. A mountain lake, ringed by rock beaches. Rabbits jumping through the bushes and elk warily taking a drink from the cold water.

But I digress.

Again, it is spectacular scenery along this drive. You must remember that the forests, lakes and mountains are teeming with wildlife. There are all sorts of signs that tell you to watch out for them…even if you never see them.

Did I ever tell you about my moose encounters? I’ll save it for next time.