Saturday, October 14, 2017

usbackroads--Section by Section Review of the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek to Whitehorse.

usbackroads--Section by Section Review of the  Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek to Whitehorse

mileage: 872 miles: 17 hours total driving time.

Section One: Dawson Creek to Fort Nelson: 282 miles: 5 hours 30 minutes drive time.

It is only 282 miles between but it feels much longer than that. Maybe because it was cloudy and cool all day with rain showers. However, it probably was the fairly boring scenery and a landscape dotted with man camps and natural gas development projects. The first part of the trip goes through a fairly urban area for an hour or more. It is not until you head north of Charlie Lake that you clear the traffic.

I was heading south on this portion of the highway. And drove only 280 miles since I took the cut-off for Prince George a couple of miles short of Dawson Creek. So I missed all the tourist stuff in Dawson Creek related to the Alaskan Highway. I would definitely stop there if your starting the trip there.

My advice do not linger on this stretch of highway. Easily the least interesting and most boring part of the entire trip.

Here is the link for this section of the trip:

Section Two: Fort Nelson to Liard Hot Springs: 190 miles: 6 hours drive time.

This stretch of road is pretty as it crosses the Rocky Mountains. I did remind me of the Canadian Rocky Mountain National Parks like Baniff, Jasper, and Yoho. Not quite as pretty, but there is definitely a familial resemblance.

The initial stretch of road from Fort Nelson is pretty good and it climbs up to Summit Lake the highest point on the Alaska Highway. Summit Lake is definitely worth a stop even if it is right next to the highway. There is a campground and picnic area there. I had cell service with the amplifier. It is an exposed site. While I was there a front was blowing in making it windy and cold. However, in better weather it would be a great spot to camp and watch the evening colors as the sun sets and have a hot cup of coffee as the sun rises behind you.

The highway drops into the McDonald Valley and the town of Toad River. Very pretty country. It makes you want to drive slow just to take in the scenery. There are plenty of spots to pull out and camp. Google Earth shows additional camping possibilities just off the highway. A interesting area to explore at slow speed.

The road continues and reaches Muncho Lake. A large blue-green glacial lake with lodges and campgrounds. From there it is a fairly short drive to Liard Hot Springs. I spent three nights at the Provincial Park. Lots of interesting country to explore in the area from the park.

Take your time on this stretch of road. It will be one of your favorite parts of the Alaska Highway.

Here are the postings for this stretch of road:

Section Three: Liard Hot Springs to Watson Lake: 129 miles: 4 hours drive time.

The spectacular scenery of the previous section is gone, but this section starts feeling like the Alaska Highway. The scenery is nice, and you do get the feeling that you are far, far away from all the madness to the south of the highway. There was less traffic on this section than any other stretch of highway, but that might have been just the days I chose to travel this stretch.

Watson Lake is definitely a tourist community and home to the "world famous sign forest". I thought it would be a ugly spot. A forest of signs. The town has done a great job managing this "organic" tourist attraction. It was fun looking for signs of very small towns in Idaho and Washington. The sign forest is worth the stop. Plan on at least a couple of hours to find those signs from places you have visited in your previous travels.

Watson Lake is also in the Yukon. Which meant their Government Liquor Store had a different selection of wines than British Columbia. The only disappointment was that a good grocery store not to be found. Oh well, it is the Alaska Highway after all.

Here are the postings for this stretch of road:

Section Four: Watson Lake to Whitehorse: 272 miles: 5 hours 30 minutes drive time.

This stretch of road goes between the Yukon and British Columbia, but rest assured it is part of the North. An interesting stretch of road, with some attractions and spots to camp. I drove it twice both coming and going.

This is one of those stretches of road with some interesting spots to stop. Fishing appears to be good in the area. It is also a good stretch of road to make time.

Here are the postings for this stretch of road:

Thursday, October 12, 2017

usbackroads--Thoughts on Traveling to Alaska

usbackroads--Thoughts on Traveling to Alaska.

I have been to Alaska several times before courtesy of the Forest Service, but had never driven the Alaska Highway to Alaska until this trip. I am 155 miles from the Canadian border in Wenatchee. It is the same distance to San Francisco as it is to the start of the Alaska highway from Wenatchee. Since I grew up in the Bay Area I always thought it would be no big deal to drive north into Alaska.

The total distance on our trip was 6850 miles from our driveway into Alaska and back down to Wenatchee in about 55 days. That equates to 125 miles on the road EVERY day. The rule of thumb for RV'ing is 200 miles a day maximum. I would like to have one day on the road for every two spent exploring an area. So from my perspective for a our trip I should have taken 110 days to do the trip. I did it in 55 days which was way to short. It felt like I was on the road all the time.

Go to a mapping program and put in your proposed route. Get the mileage and divide by 200 miles. Now triple that number and that gives you the number of days for a enjoyable trip with out time to explore and enjoy northern British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska.

IF this is a once in a lifetime trip don't forget to go by the Canadian Rockies and plan on spending at least a couple of weeks there. The Canadian Rockies are like few places on earth. Don't speed by them heading for Alaska. The scenery is much grander in the Canadian Rockies.

The Alaska Highway passes through a "extensive wilderness". That is lots and lots of country with nothing special. Then some really cool spots. Remember the Alaska Highway was not built as a tourist highway. It was built as a rush job to get military supplies and men to Alaska before the Japanese conquered it in World War II. It is basically I-5 with one lane in each direction instead of two and no off or on ramps. Didn't see a one on the entire length of the highway.

I would carefully plan places to drive and make miles and places to stop and savor the country. Hmm, I will make it a complete separate blog posting.

I was always much more impressed with British Columbia and the Yukon than Alaska. After looking carefully at a map I believe most people would be much off splitting the trip into two and doing it in separate years.

The first trip would be northern British Columbia and the Yukon. This trip I would go to Prince George and head up to the Watson Lake via the Stewart-Cassier Highway. This is what the Alaska Highway was years ago. It is a 1,000 miles from start to finish plus you have to get to the starting point. That takes a few miles. From Haines I would double back to Dawson City and probably make the trip up the Dempster Highway until I got bored or reached Inuvik. Then I would return to Whitehorse and do the Alaska Highway back to Dawson Creek. That in itself is a LOT of miles.

The second trip would be Alaska. Pay the money and take the Alaska Ferry through the inland passage. Be sure to stop and  spend some time in Ketchikan, Wrangell Petersburg, Juneau and ending up in Valdez or Whitter. In the Escapees magazine there was an article on paying the RV fee and comparing it to driving up the Alaska Highway and it is a push.

You can also do the marine portion earlier in the year since the weather is much milder in south-east Alaska than the interior. I would definitely do Homer and the Kenai Penninsula,  Valdez, the Denali-Richardson highway, Anchorage (particularly the 1964 earthquake damage south of town, Vadez and Fairbanks. I would be tempted to drive the Dalton (Pipeline) Highway to the Arctic Ocean, but the word it is an adventure than is not that special. Then I would head back down the Alaska Highway to the lower 48. Take the ferry up and drive down. That way, you are not worried about making your ferry connection and can explore at your leisure.

By splitting the trip over two years you get enough time to really explore the northwest part of the North American continent.

Alaska and northern Canadian wildlife is one of the special things about visiting this part of the world. Wildlife in can be split into two categories. Category ONE is wildlife that will kill you and maybe eat you dead. Primarily bears. Though there are plenty of things besides your own stupidity that can kill you. A friend took a very similar trip in late May and early June and raved about all the wildlife he saw. IF you want to see wildlife, go once the valley's melt out and the high country is still covered in snow. Everything will be down and moving along the road.

Category TWO is wildlife that sucks the blood out of your system. Namely the mosquito. Remember that friend that raved about all the wildlife in the paragraph above. Well he also on occasion bicycled at high speed just to get away from the mosquito's. He also would every few days kayak out in the middle of a large lake just to get away from them!!! He said it was awful. My trip, arriving in the north country by late July was pretty much free of buzzing. A few place, but nothing much out of the ordinary.

So those are your choices. Wildlife and mosquitoes or less wildlife and fewer mosquitoes. Be honest about your tolerance for mosquitoes. Alaska is different. There is a reason why it is the state bird. Here is a short video:  A friend of mine was a helicopter pilot working the fires in Alaska's bush country. Every few days everybody in fire camp would wander a ways out of camp and he would hoover with his helicopter  so that the prop wash would blow away the mosquitoes and the fire fighters could have a few minutes without bugs. Thirty-five species and almost all want some of your blood.

Have a plan for dealing with them.

I will cover detailed planning for the trip, must have supplies and equipment, and must stops in future postings.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Dawson Creek, Canada to Nighthawk, USA

cabackroads-Dawson Creek, Canada to Nighthawk, USA

dates of travel: August 27th to September 1st 2016

The rain increased to the point it was steady and the decision was made that stopping was only an option if it turned sunny. I decided to pass on seeing the start of the Alaska Highway and decided to turn just two miles from its beginning. It pretty much rained all day. The road signs indicated interesting country just off the road, but the clouds were low and dark and visibility very limited.

Looking for a nice place for breakfast proved futile. Given Canadians tendency to enforce all sorts of silly rules such as NO BREAKFAST served after 10:30....and they did not believe that my watch said 10:29. Not good enough. No breakfast for you!!

A crowded, no parkling lot Tim Horton's ended up the breakfast place. They do serve doughnuts after 10:30.

The rain picked up after breakfast and the clouds continued to lower even more. The road to Carp Lake was tempting but it looked like the scenery would remain gray. So I decided to pass.

At this point it became a search for a place to spend the night. Whiskers Point Provincial Park on McLeod Lake had a perfect waterfront campsite for $25 Canadian. Done. Enough with rain. And at that point it cleared for the night, stayed clear for a few hours in the morning and as soon as I hooked up it started raining.

In Prince George it was grocery shopping. Several motels with hot tubs were eyed very carefully for vacancy's. The days of cold rain were starting to seep into the bones. The road won out.

Close to nightfall I pulled in to Ten Mile Lake Provincial Park. It was cold and rainy all day long. Pulling into the campground mosquitoes were added to the mix. The furnace ran on high, but a hot tube would have been better.

Next day, it was once again cold and rainy. But the farther south the road went patches of blue sky started appearing and finally it was a sunny day. I took Highway 24 and started looking for a camping spot. Lots of private land and some BC Forest Service lands. There was a campground at a good fishing lake named Crystal Lake. The price was right. No charges. It was a rough and crowded campground, but at least it was sunny. It stayed that way for two days. Then a threat of rain and it was time to move on.

From Crystal Lake I continued east on 24 and then south to Lac Le Jeune Provincial Park. This lake is a famous fly fishing lake, so I was hopeful that I might get to do some fishing and stay for a couple of days or However, the wind was blowing a gale and a half. So it was just a one night stand and a run for the border at Nighthawk.

Ah, the border. A nightmare for the past few years. I knew they were keying in on my birth in Venezuela and that was the reason for my trips to the little room. I kept asking why, but was never given an answer.

After Trumps inauguration he put in a travel ban from certain countries, but I never gave it a second thought. Then I was reading the comment section and one person asked why "nobody got upset when President Obama required extreme vetting of Venezuelans" at ports of entry.

A quick search of Executive Orders quickly found the reason for my delays at the border. Then to an insult to injury in the revised Executive Order President Trump added Venezuela to the list. Oh well, it looks like I should plan on spending at least an hour in the little room when I return back to the US. Looks like nobody is going to want to ride with me to Canada for a few more years.

I just need to remember to bring a book to read while waiting in the little room.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

cabackroads--Fort Nelson to Dawson Creek

cabackroads--Fort Nelson to Dawson Creek

travel date: August 26th and 27th. 2016

Rain. Then more rain.

Fort Nelson is a nice little town. There is a wonderful dump station on the edge of town as you enter from the west. Well designed, easy to use. It made me like Fort Nelson from the get-go. Unfortunately, there was very little time to spend in Fort Nelson so after filling the truck with diesel it was southbound and hopefully out of the rain.

The trip south had a few "ponds" right next to the highway that allowed camping. They were closer to Fort Nelson than Dawson City so I kept going.

There were several sets of Provincial Parks. One park, Buckinghorse River made an excellent lunch spot since it was totally empty. The rain also stopped so the dogs could run free.

From there it just started raining again and the scenery switch to large expanses of even aged trees, broken up every once in awhile with man-camps. It seems this part of British Columbia is all about natural gas development so it becomes more of an Industrial appearance that driving the Alaska Highway.

The farther south I drove the more tired I got. I was looking forward to the small town of Charlie Lake and the  campground on the edge of the small town. Rotary RV Park.

Charlie Lake is now a suburb of Ft. St. John. The population is said to be just under 20,000, but it felt like much more than that with all the traffic and development.

The next day it started raining hard again, so instead of heading to the center of Dawson Creek I turned south and headed for Prince George. I did not complete the Alaska Highway, missing the first two miles. With the traffic and rain, it was well worth it to miss it.

The Alaska Highway has spots of incredible scenery, but in between the scenic sports there are stretches of road that are best driven at high speed so you can spend more time on the scenic spots. The stretch from Dawson Creek is part of the Alaska Highway that is best driven as fast you can. It is, unfortunate, since it is the start or finish of your trip in most cases.

Drive fast and spend more time on the stretch between Ft. Nelson and the Liard River.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

cabackroads--Liard River Hot Springs to Fort Nelson

cabackroads--Liard River Hot Springs to Fort Nelson.

travel date: August 25, 2016

The weather forecast was for rain and blustery weather. So the objective for the day was to get as far east as possible and hopefully have the mountains wring out the moisture before it dropped on my head.

So the objective was speed. That fell right off the table since as I left Liard River Hot Springs I promptly parked the truck on the Alaska Highway for about an hour waiting for the escort vehicle to get me pass the highway construction.

This day was about making miles, but as I got on the road I did notice that the scenery was pretty special and it was rather interesting country to travel through. Don't make my mistake. Plan on doing this part of the trip not in one day, but plan on spending at least two or three nights minimum. I would definitely return to this part of the world again.

The first clue that this was special country was the out wash plain from the mountains along the road. This was pretty impressive ecologically, It must have have some event when all these rocks came to their current resting place. These are interpretative signs at this location and a very large turnout.

Next stop on the road was Muncho Lake with its beautiful green and blue water. I did stop at the Northern Rockies Lodge to get diesel and encountered a sit a squat person that took 20 minutes to fill up and check his fluids. Thank god, I am retired and have nowhere to go in a short period of time!

It was worth the wait to see this fellow pull into the service station. How knew that Canada has a military?  Of all the NATO countries Canada spends the least on it national defense. It was nice to know that at least they had one military vehicle.

From Muncho Lake the road goes through some very pretty country and there is always the possibility of running into some interesting wildlife.

The first possible spot for a campsite was Summit Lake inside of Stone Mountain Provincial Park. It has twenty-eight campsites for $18 a night, but I kept looking at the clouds blowing in from the west. It was very windy and the forecast was for rain. This is a popular spot with plenty of neighbors. Cell service was spotty even with the amplifier, so the decision was made to head farther east and hopefully find a more sheltered spot with decent cell service.

I kept going looking for a boondocking spot, but the better ones were taken and the others looked a bit wet. Pretty soon we were down to Testa River Campground Regional Park. On the highway there was great cell phone service, but after the turn-off to the campground the "bars" kept disappearing at a rapid clip until the no service notification appeared a couple of miles before the campground.

It is a very pretty spot. Sheltered. I was hopeful that the mountains to the west would capture the clouds and keep the rain mainly in the mountains.

The weather was nice when I pulled into the campground. So I took Bugaboo and headed to the river for some grayling fishing. I did catch three or four small fish before it started getting dark.

It started raining at about mid-night and continued on a pretty steady basis for the next four days.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

cabackroads--Liard Hot Springs

cabackroads--Liard Hot Springs.

trip dates: August 22 through August 24, 2016.

There were only a couple of must visits on this trip. Liard Hot Springs was one of those. The attraction was the hot springs which are pretty special, but also design of the visitor facility which in the past has won awards. It is difficult to find facilities that protect the environment and provide a quality visiting experience for the public. I was pretty excited about seeing the facility first-hand.

I believe the facility was rebuilt in 2014. Here is a link that discusses the rebuilding of the facility:

There is a boardwalk that leaves the parking area and it takes about a 10 minute walk to reach the hot springs. Notice that the boardwalk does not have any small rails to keep wheelchairs from rolling off the boardwalk.

After a short 10-15 minute walk you come up to the hot springs changing room and the bathrooms. The Canadians have yet to discover SST toilets.  I am sure this part of the facility did not receive an award!

The hot springs are a very special place as these interpretive signs show. Interesting to have a snail only found in the area of the hot springs. It would be interesting to see the evolutionary history of the snail.

The bottom of the hot springs is lined with small round crushed gravel. Which makes it easy to walk inside the hot springs area. As seen in the photo is hot. The upper end of the hot springs might be approachable if your really tough. In the three days I only saw one person that managed to get to the upper end.

The water temperature drops the farther downstream you go. So it is pretty simple to find the perfect temperature. Out in the middle of the pond there are even a couple of benches that you can sit on and be pretty much totally submerged.

There are plenty of steps to get you into "hot" water. I was sitting on one of the underwater benches and started looking around for handicapped access to the hot springs.

It didn't take but a few glances around the pool to notice that there was NO access for people not blessed with perfect health. I found it hard to believe that a recreation facility built only a couple of years ago in a advanced country like Canada did not provide universal access to one of its most important recreation sites in northern British Columbia.

A Park Ranger came through patrolling the site a couple of minutes later and I asked about access to the hot springs. His reply was the boardwalk was the "accessible" facility on site. That folks with disabilities could use the boardwalk. I pointed out that this was a hot springs and it seemed pointless to provide access up to the hot springs, but not the hot springs itself! He just shrugged.

I lived in Canada for a couple of years and I understand that most Canadians really do not want to be like the United States. But there are a few things from the states that could be incorporated into Canadian life. The Americans with Disabilities Act would be a wonderful place to start.

Universal access I first ran into it at a junior college in California that was built in 1968. The entire campus was accessible and the design so good that NOBODY noticed except those that needed the universal access. In fact, I first became aware when I asked an instructor why the campus had some many folks with disabilities attending the college.

That was 1968. Twenty-two years before the American with Disabilities Act passed in 1990. It is ok to do the right thing before it is required by law.

So a professional stop that I was looking forward to seeing, became a major disappointment. The design awards should be rescinded. There is no excuse for building facilities in 2014 that do not provide universal access.

The weather forecaster kept talking about a major change in the weather coming soon. It was late August, and that means in the mountains fall was getting ready to make its debut.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

cabackroads-Liard River Hot Springs Campground and Area

cabackroads-Liard River Hot Springs Campground and Area

travel dates: August 22nd through 24th, 2016.

The plan was to hit Liard River Hot Spring campground during the week. I was hoping to find the campground empty. As it was we arrived just as other campers were leaving and managed to get a campsite fairly quickly. The campground was full that night.

This was the campsite for three nights, campsite 50.

Here is a map of the campground. The units by the highway were noisy. The units on the north side of the campground were fairly close to a wetland and  probably buggy.

If you notice on the information board "You are in bear country". There was one bear hanging around the campground. He tried to move through our campsite, but Bugaboo and Snowpatch started that low growl that meant business. He never did show that time, but later on did wander through the adjacent campsite and several times during our stay we heard the shots of the rangers firing harassing bullets at the bear. At some point, this bear will end up a dead bear.

Driving the highway close to the campground we spotted these three bears eating berries. Campgrounds have a lot more food, for a lot less effort.

As you can see in the top pictures the bison wander the highway foraging on the grasses next to the highway. We did run into this poor calf that ended up on the short end of a collision with a vehicle. It appears the fatality rate for bison is more related to automobile traffic than wolves.

Walt Disney painted a world of nature being peaceful and safe. In reality, it is brutal and uncaring. Death is never pretty and in this case the "recycling" crew namely carrion eaters have not yet made their discovery.

There are some scenic overlooks in the area. There is a narrow road to Smith Falls. I was hoping to fish for grayling at the bottom of the falls, but the trail was in horrible condition. The road was so narrow that when I met a class C coming out I had to park the Ram truck and carefully guide the class C around the Ram. Hey, I had a good six inches to spare.

I did fish a river in the area, but it was not as inviting as the falls above and the grayling's decided to take a pass on my fly.

The other highlight in the area was the original Alaska Highway. Traveling the Alaska Highway in 2016 is very similar to taking US 50 across Nevada, but with much more traffic. Now this road was much more of an adventure! I do hope that there were inter-visible turnouts built in to let oncoming traffic pass easily.

Back at the campground I was ready for a hot soak at the hot springs. The following sign lead to the springs. Notice the handicapped sign on the board. It looks like it was put there as an after thought. That turned out to be totally correct. That story is covered in the next blog posting.

As always double click on the picture to view full size on your screen.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

cabackroads-Watson Lake to Laird Hot Springs

cabackroads-Watson Lake to Laird Hot Springs

travel date: August 22, 2016

It was a fairly short drive from Watson Lake to Laird Hot Springs. The road was good. The traffic light and the scenery kept improving as the miles kept rolling.

The weather cooperated with sunny, warm skies. And being farther south the golden hue that graced the trees was still green this far south. I was hopeful that this meant the trip south would not be spoiled by cold, wet weather.

It was a very pleasant drive and I was hoping to see the famous Woods Bison found in northern Canada. Coming around a corner I noticed that traffic was stopped up ahead for no particular reason. Well, there was a reason and it was found along side of the road.

Somewhere I read that about 10% of the herd is killed each year by vehicle traffic. The Province does mow and remove the vegetation along the road. The keeps the area in grasses which appears to be the preferred food of  the bison. It appeared that the bison were headed east along the highway. A couple of days later while camped in Laird Hot Springs Provincial Park the Bison finally made to the Hot Springs but kept moving east.

The traffic issue is fairly serious. I did find one dead bison calf alongside of the road. Even a small bison calf can wreck serious damage to a car or truck. The Wilki-pedia article indicates that the Woods Bison is the largest land animal found in North America. These bison appeared to be smaller than those in Yellowstone National Park. Maybe the big boys were just hiding out.

They do add a element of surprise and wonder while traveling the Alaska Highway.

This was one of my favorite stretches of the Alaska Highway. The good road conditions coupled with excellent weather and fine scenery makes this stretch worth driving.

Next stop. Laird Hot Springs Provincial Park.