Alaska Highway pt 2 and BC

After a rest day at Chena River doing not much but sitting in the sun and enjoying the summer weather (it was up to 72 that day) I leave heading back along the Alaska Highway to Canada. The weather is still good so it’s a different trip than on the way in when it was mostly raining. Since I’ve been through it before I decide to make the trip back to Watson Lake in 2 long days.

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Stopped for the night in Haines Junction BC then next day leaving the Yukon into British Columbia just before Watson Lake.

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At this point highway 37 runs south and west toward Vancouver. It’s about 400 miles long and very scenic, passing through mountains, forests, tons of lakes and rivers.

I stop for lunch by one of the many lakes then decided to go for a swim since it was such a nice day, almost 68. When I get in I realize that although the beach was small gravel rocks, the lake is filled with millions of sharp edged rocks. That’s when I notice that all of the little kids swimming around me are wearing crocs. Not having any crocs, it was a very short swim.

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It’s a beautiful fall day, upper 60’s and sunny, the leaves on the aspens are turning gold and starting to fall on the road. Hard to believe it’s the beginning of August.

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I camp at Bell Crossing 2, just a single resort in the middle of nowhere. It’s very nice, it has a main lodge with a fancy restaurant, a bunch of alpine style cottages and chalets.

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Also has laundry and exercise room, but best of all the hot tub. I sat in here for half an hour or so just soaking and looking around at the mountains.

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Next morning is a little overcast but still a nice fall day. I’ve only had one day over 70 in the last couple of weeks.

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There is a 63km side road to Stewart BC which I decide to take as it passes through a lot of glaciers and waterfalls.

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Just past Stewart is the town of Hyder Alaska. The only way to get here is though many miles of Canada. The downtown is pretty dead, I guess all of the 87 residents are at home.

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After 10 minutes touring Hyder I turn around and re-enter Canada. There is no US customs entering Hyder but there is a regular Canadian customs checkpoint going the other way. The customs agent is very thorough, I was tempted to point out that had she been looking out her window just ten minutes ago she should have seen me passing by into Hyder. After a few minutes I am back into Canada.

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The Canadian Railway Museum in Prince George.

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The engineer’s station in a locomotive. I would have thought there would be more levers and switches.

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Continuing south, river campground near Quesnel BC

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And finally at Cache Creek BC. This is Lisa the alpaca.

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I had been thinking of spending a couple of days in Vancouver but decided to skip the big city for now and return to the US.

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Yukon

Leaving Fort Nelson I enter the Yukon Territory. The highway follows the border between BC and Yukon for awhile. The first stop in Yukon is Watson Lake. It was an old gold rush town then revived in WW II as an airport on the way to Alaska. They flew planes here destined for Russia on the Lend-Lease program and the airstrip has the only log cabin control tower anywhere.

The famous sign forest, started in 1942 by a soldier from Darien IL who nailed up his hometown sign onto the local signpost, since then it has grown to over 82,000 signs at last count. The visitor center has a box of hammers and nails so you can add your own.

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Rancheria Falls west of Watson Lake

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Here is my driving setup. Phone with bluetooth music streaming and handsfree calling, Toyota info center with MPG, range, temps and time, Android tablet running OSMand offline navigation. I download OSM maps for the region I am traveling through and have full navigation without any internet access. There is also an iOverlander project which maintains a database of camping, food, trails, etc which currently only works on iPhone but you can export all of the points for a particular country to a GPX file and import into OSMand. It’s seamless, all of the good camping spots, craft breweries, etc show up right on the main navigation screen.

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Stopped in Whitehorse and toured the SS Klondike. It’s a stern wheel paddle boat that plied the upper Yukon River in the 1930s-1940s. It’s amazing that Yukon is 3 times the size of Illinois and has a population of 37,000, 25,000 who live here in Whitehorse.

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Camped for the night in Haines Junction. Spent awhile chatting with the guy in the RV next to me, he spent 4 years working in Prudhoe Bay. When I tell him I’m driving there he says the Dalton Highway is very nice in winter, the ice and snow pack down and it’s smooth. Summer is nothing but dirt, dust, rocks and potholes. He tells me about some of his favorite experiences up there: watching the start of the caribou migration in the fall, polar bears on the ice, and that one day when it was -105F with the wind chill and nobody went outside.

Morning in Haines Junction

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British Columbia

Stayed in Dawson Creek BC at Mile 0 of the Alaska highway. It starts here and runs 1387 miles to Delta Junction AK, almost to Fairbanks. The highway was built in WW II to connect the lower 48 states to Alaska and for a long time was unpaved. It used to be quite an adventure to drive this highway but it’s not bad now. Since it’s summer there is a lot of construction going on with loose gravel everywhere on the highway.

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From Dawson Creek to Fort Nelson it’s mostly open road through the fir and aspen forests.

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Camped in Fort Nelson, then next day the highway turned west into the Rockies. Speed limit is 80 km/h the whole way. Saw a lot of wildlife along the road, a caribou:

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Lunch spot at Muncho Lake

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Saw a lot of goats along the road, I’m not sure what they’re eating; it looks like just gravel.

 

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In the more mountainous section a lynx walked across the road right in front of me, too fast to get a picture. Also saw a bear along the side of the road. It was digging at something, I couldn’t really tell if it was a black or brown bear.

Traffic jam with a small bison herd:

Alaska Highway – Bison

Alberta

Entering Canada it turned rainy and very windy for the drive up to Calgary. For a change of pace I decided to stay a couple of days in Calgary at an Airbnb place. I found a room in a townhouse on the NE side for $45US per night. My host Brandi is a flight attendant/musician; she was attending flights when I arrived and let myself in with a combination, then later that evening she came home, changed, clothes, and was off to the Calgary FolkFest. It was very nice, I had the run of the townhouse for the weekend.

First night I relaxed in the incredibly comfortable bed and enjoyed fast internet for the first time in awhile. Next day it was off to Tim Horton’s for a late breakfast, hit the ATM for some Canadian currency (when did it change to plastic money?) got some of the dirt off the Land Cruiser at a car wash and took a little tour of Calgary. Back to the townhouse and did some laundry while watching a movie. Had an excellent margherita pizza at 4th Spot Kitchen and Bar then made some reservations for the National Parks camping. I’ve found that in the middle of summer you can’t just show up at a National Park and expect to find a campsite available.

Off to Banff NP, only about a 90 minute drive from Calgary but it’s pretty  busy for a Sunday afternoon. Long lines to pay the park entrance fee then more lines to check in to the campground.

Went to the town of Banff and walked around, nice but crowded.

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On a scenic drive through nearby lakes

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Next day on the Ice Field Parkway to Jasper NP. Stopped at Lake Louise

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All of the people lined up at the Lake Louse picture spot

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The parkway is very scenic, it’s like this for the whole 3.5 hour drive.

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Further along the parkway, a short but steep hike leads to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier

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Visited the town of Jasper, much smaller and not as touristy as Banff.  As I was sitting at the campsite reading after dinner, two caribou came walking through the camp right past me. This one stopped for a few seconds and watched me before continuing through.

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Leaving Jasper I decided to stop at Miette Hotsprings. It’s a 23km detour up a very twisty mountain road but I have always wanted to soak in a hot spring. When I get there it turns out that you don’t jump into the actual hot spring, there are some swimming pools that are fed by the hot springs. There’s a large shallow one and a smaller deep one. Today’s water temp is 104F. They also have two small deep pools filled with ice cold water behind the hot spring pools, so you can go back and forth between steaming hot and icy cold. It was pretty relaxing.

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