Note: Like many of us practicing social distancing, I’m catching up on things I should have gotten to long ago. So here is the first installment of our trip to Alaska last summer. It was quite the journey–3 months, 9000 miles and more than a few obstacles along the way. This series will consist of entries from the journal I kept at the time and, of course, some of Chuck’s great photos. Hope it provides a welcome distraction. Safe travels everyone, even if that is just the distance between your couch and fridge 🙂
Day 1 — June 3, 2019
Caldwell, ID to Kennewick, WA
260 miles, Travel time 4.5 hours
Wildlife: 2 pronghorn, a deer, a couple of prairie dogs
Today is Chuck’s birthday so the first order of business is buying his Senior Lifetime National Park Pass. We usually buy the yearly pass, but now we are set “until he expires” as the ranger at Deer Flat Wildlife Refuge said. It was the closest spot to buy a pass from where we’ve been camped at the Airstream dealer. We’re excited to hit the road.
Kennewick, WA to Oroville, WA
240 miles, 5 hours
Today we made it nearly to the Canadian border. The drive was mostly rolling hills of farm fields, ranch lands and rocky sagebrush scrub. Luckily we still had a few hours left of our book on tape, The Martian by Andrew Weir. Highly recommend it even if you’ve seen the movie. We’re camped at a free BLM a few miles outside of town next to a river. We sat outside listening to the birds sing and enjoying the views of the hills. One bird performed some sort of mating dance of flapping in the dirt. Seemed to work cause it attracted a mate. Got my first mosquito bite of the trip.
Oroville, WA to Williams Lake, BC
360 miles, 8.5 hours
Whew, a long day! Crossing the border was a piece of cake. I read all the border crossing information about what we could take across so I left a plant and our mace with family and made sure our alcohol was within limits (2 bottles of liquor, 2 bottles of wine, and 15 cans of beer per person if you’re wondering—we were well under our limit). I was worried the agent would want to look in our fridge or ask about our produce or meat, but nope. They just wanted to know about weapons, alcohol and tobacco. They asked where we were headed, how long we’d be in Canada and if we had gifts for any Canadians. Since we were pretty boring they sent us on our way.
We drove along Osoyoos Lake for a bit then west over a mountain pass to Merritt. From there we headed north to Kamloops and west to Cache Creek. After that we started looking for a spot to stop. We pulled into Lac La Hache Provincial Park but when we stopped to talk to the campground host we were swarmed by mosquitoes (got 2 more bites) and decided to skip this dark, wooded park. We continued on to the Williams Lake Visitors Centre arriving just as they were closing up. We had read they allow overnight parking in their lot if you check-in with them and went inside to give them our information. Although there was some traffic noise, it was a safe, comfortable spot for the night and another freebie!
Williams Lake, BC to Bear Lake, BC
195 miles, 4.5 hours
Planned a shorter day today. First we went inside to check out the visitors center. It’s a really cool log building with an impressive single tree supporting the two story atrium. There’s even a smaller log building inside and lots of local history, plus a gift shop, coffee bar and loads of information. After checking it out we headed on our way.
Today’s drive reminded me of going through the mountains of Washington, little logging towns, some farms, loads of evergreen trees and rain. Saw a couple of bald eagles and a deer crossing the road.
We pulled into Crooked River Provincial Park and took the first spot we saw that would allow us to stay hitched since the mosquitos were swarming. It isn’t perfectly level, but will be ok for one night. We took a walk around the campground (after donning mosquito repellant clothing) and found some nice spots with views of Bear Lake, but we were too lazy to move. Plus with the bugs and a threat of rain I don’t think we’ll be spending any time outside. At least this park isn’t so dark. There are lots of trees, but not overhanging the campsites.
Bear Lake, BC to Dawson Creek, BC
199 Miles, 4.5 hours
Spotted our first bears just north of McLeod Lake, a momma and cub munching grass on the side of the road. Shortly after I saw a moose in a creek. Then we saw an elk outside of Chetwynd. Exciting wildlife day! The scenery remained Washington-like as did the weather, cloudy with a few sun breaks and sprinkles. I didn’t realize there are so many lakes in BC. We passed three more before hitting the western edge of the Rocky Mountains, beautiful snow-dusted peaks that were shrouded in clouds.
Chetwynd was a surprise. Amazing chainsaw sculptures flank the highway. I wish our guidebook told us where to park to walk through town for a closer look, but we just enjoyed as we drove. The annual International Chainsaw Carving Championship was just getting underway so I’m sure they’ll be adding to their collection of over 150 carvings throughout town.
After endless curves and ups and downs following the rivers through the mountains, we hit an open landscape of farms and then the town of Dawson Creek, known as Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway. More on that tomorrow. Staying at Mile “0” Park and Campground for some full-hookups (i.e. long, hot showers, yay!). Took a quick walk through the adjacent pioneer park. Lots of old buildings from the area including a few log cabins, two schools, churches, telegraph office and blacksmith shop all furnished with original artifacts. Old cars, a railcar and farm equipment too.
Dawson Creek, BC
Went out to explore town today. Started at the visitor’s center where the gal loaded me up with maps and info for the road ahead. Not a lot to this town, although there are some cool murals on the downtown buildings. Mostly we took pictures at the Mile 0 markers and then went to Safeway for groceries.
Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway begins here, also known as the ALCAN, its military acronym. While President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to establish a route for supplies to the north in 1936, it wasn’t until the bombing of Pearl Harbor that the U.S. and Canada really got serious. In February of 1942 army engineers presented a plan for a military road which was quickly approved by congress and the president. Canada was on board with the stipulation that the U.S. pay for the road and turn over the section in Canada to them after the war. Construction began March 9, 1942.
Dawson Creek, being a railhead, funneled supplies and equipment—600 carloads in five weeks during preparations for the beginning of construction. These supplies were taken by primitive road approximately 50 miles north to Fort St. John, the eastern base of operations. By May of 1942, 4,720 carloads had moved through Dawson Creek. The western base of operations was to the north in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.
It took nearly 16,000 civilians and 11,000 soldiers and engineers to build the road. They worked 16 hour days seven days a week while enduring harsh winter weather (70 degrees below 0!), summer mosquitos and shortages of equipment and food. On September 15, 1942 crews working from the east and west met in the Yukon Territory at Contact Creek. Construction ended on October 25, 1942 with an official ribbon Cutting ceremony November 20, 1942 at Soldier’s Summit. The 1422 mile road, including over 130 bridges, was complete.
Dawson Creek, BC to Prophet River, BC
217 miles, 4.5 hours
Pretty uneventful drive today through rolling farmland and young forest. The road is surprisingly nice. We’re staying at an abandoned provincial park. Nice boondocking just a half mile from the highway. No one else around. I’m sure there are a few bears hiding in the woods. Got the bear spray handy just in case.