Alaska Highway southbound

from Whitehorse/YT to Dawson Creek/BC

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A few kilometres on we came across a large RV going our way, but parked on the opposite side of the road. This sparked my interest and, sure enough, there was a big black bear eating on the side of the road - bear sighting number 12. The other vehicle drove off as we stopped, but the bear decided that he had been looked at enough for one day and started to wander towards the forest, eating on the way. He was in no real hurry, but he limited our photos to two! Twenty minutes later and we were stopped in our tracks again - this time by a herd of bison (they call them buffalo in Canada). There must have been at least 50 of them grazing along the side of the road. That certainly made this part of the journey more interesting - seeing such large quantities of wildlife here is always exciting.
Since we left the Dempster Highway we have been driving through mostly forested areas, with more or less signs of autumn. In some places, the trees were still primarily green, while a few kilometres down the road the yellow was interspersed with brilliant orange and even some red. We stopped frequently along the way to try to get good photos of the colour - often with limited success. It seems you have to get the light just right to really capture it. Late in the afternoon, we drove off the road along a track, about 140 km south of Watson Lake, and found an almost level spot to spend the night.
Sunday dawned bright and sunny where we were camped, yet as soon as we headed down the highway we drove into some very dense fog. When we came out of it again, the sky stayed cloudy in places, but we also found some sun. Apparently this is how the weather is at this time of the year in this part of the world - alternating cloudy, rainy and sunny. We were still following the Liard River, which runs parallel to the highway from before Watson Lake to the hotsprings, and when the fog lifted we had some stunning views of it.
Liard River Hotsprings were our goal; just before we reached them we came upon another herd of bison. Once again they were grazing on the roadside, but started moving slowly toward the forest when we stopped. The roadsides here are very wide - perhaps a space as wide as the road is cleared either side of it up to the forest. I wonder if the reason is to give motorists a clear view of any wildlife that may be on the road.
The hotsprings were lovely. With a temperature ranging from 42 to 52 degrees, we soaked until we were warm to the bone. We had been cold to the bone so frequently of late that it was a welcome change. And the heat seemed to stay in the body for some time.
At Liard River the road enters the northern Canadian Rockies and the scenery changes quite dramatically. This continues all the way to Fort Nelson - about 200 miles in all. The mountains become higher and not surprisingly rockier! The road winds its way through more ups and downs compared with before and after this section. There were amazing alluvial fans to be seen, where rushing water brings gravel and larger rocks down the mountain sides to spread out along the rivers. It is also the area with some of the most impressive rivers and lakes. For us this was perhaps the most interesting part of driving the whole Alaska Highway - it is certainly true of the Canadian section of it, from Whitehorse south.
This part of the Highway is also well-known for wild-life spotting - stone sheep, caribou, bear, moose - so we were unsurprised but pleased to spot our first sheep. It was a mother and her lamb, right on the edge of the road. (They lick the edges of the roads because there are minerals in the soil that they need.) These two were not at all afraid of Juergen and he got quite close before they moved away. We also stopped at a trail head (Mineral Lick) that was recommended by the 'bible' - “a 5- to10-minute loop hike takes you to viewpoints overlooking the Trout River valley and the steep mineral-laden banks frequented by sheep, goats, caribou and elk.” Unfortunately the hike was considerably more than 10 minutes, and the terrain was not very comfortable for Juergen with his ongoing foot problem. And there were no animals to be seen, although it would probably have been better to be there later in the day.
Muncho Lake, one of the many along this route, is purported to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. It has blue-green waters and the highway follows along its 11 km length. However it is Summit Lake that is probably more renowned as it is the highest lake on the Alaska Highway and sits on the highest point of the highway - at 1295 m. As we were approaching the lake we saw a caribou on the road. It was not the first and wouldn't be the last we saw up close, but it was the one that stayed around to be photographed - well almost. He was also licking the side of the road. Juergen would walk towards him and he would turn around and look, but as soon as Juergen got too close he would walk away, and then stop again to lick. This process was repeated many times until he finally crossed the road and ran away. I wished I had a video camera to record the scene!
We spent the night at a nice little regional park on the Tetsa River, about 100 km from Fort Nelson. Today we are hoping to cover most of the remaining 550 km of the Alaska Highway.

Monday, 4 September 2006, Charlie Lake Provincial Park, Fort St John, BC
It's 7.00 pm and we have just arrived at Charlie Lake for the night. We are now only 86km from the start of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek. Soon after passing through Fort Nelson this morning, we drove through an industrial area that seemed to have concentrated all the smelliest industries in one place. There was sulphur pelletising plant with a sulphur gas pipeline across the highway to a gas processing plant on the other side. Then there is also a sawmill, plywood plant and bulk fuel outlets. This made us even more aware that we had left the beautiful, pristine scenery of the northern Canadian Rockies!
The drive after that felt very much like being in a film loop. The road didn't change much, the forest along the road didn't change much, none of the promised wild-life appeared except a lonely deer (they put up these warning signs along the highway to tell you that there may be moose or caribou on the road - I take them as a promise and if I don't see the promised animal I feel let down!). We were actually relieved to see some farm activity as we came closer to Fort St John! To add to the scenario, we had woken to a very foggy day and the low, grey cloud stayed around almost the whole day. We stopped for coffee and pie at the Buckinghorse River Lodge and when we left at about 4.00 the sun showed its face for the first time all day, and it has followed us here to Charlie Lake, just outside Fort St John. It is now a mild 17° with a light wind.
The interesting thing about us becoming a bit bored with the scenery is that it is the typical Canadian scenery that we had in our minds or imaginations when we came here. On the drive up to Prince Rupert to catch the ferry to Juneau, we actually commented that this was what we had expected of Canada - the forested rolling hills covered in some sort of conifer - pine, or fir or spruce - with deciduous trees intermixed - birch, poplar, aspen or willow. Of course, the most interesting thing about it at the moment is the onset of autumn and the changing colours, but in the grey today even that didn't grab our attention. I think we just need to head somewhere new!
We keep saying Canada is like Australia in that you can drive all day and the scenery doesn't change - most of the Alaska Highway certainly attests to that. We have now covered almost the entire Alaska Highway, and probably 1600 of the 2237 kilometres were grey tar bordered by very similar forest, with the only highlights being some beautiful lakes and rivers from time to time and the unexpected spotting of wildlife… It was different in the US and I think we got a bit spoiled by the amazing variety we saw there. I guess there will be more days like today as we cover long distances in order to cross this huge continent.

Friday, 8 September 2006, Whistler Campground, Jasper NP, AB
On Tuesday we drove the remaining kilometres in about an hour. There was nothing to see that gave us anything like the 'wow' factor, but the scenery was no longer forest - this area was mostly farmland, except for the occasional very smoky factory, like the one we came across in the town of Taylor.
We were happy to arrive in Dawson Creek for a number of reasons. Firstly we had completed the Alaskan Highway which meant it was time to move onto another part of our journey, which will take us further south but predominantly east. Secondly, it was warm, and I mean t-shirt warm! Juergen was very happy to change into a t-shirt at the earliest opportunity. We found ourselves a mechanic first of all. We wanted to get the water pump replaced before it caused us real trouble and we also wanted to have an exhaust leak repaired which has been getting constantly worse for about 4 months! We found Minute Muffler & Brakes on 8th Street and he could take care of the exhaust that afternoon, but had to order a new water pump that would come in on Wednesday morning.
We had a couple of hours before he wanted the truck so we checked out a few RV Parks and chose the Mile "0" Campsite which we had passed on the way in. The place was clean, with a nice environment and the staff were very friendly. And they had free wifi, which would give us a chance to catch up on some internet stuff. While the car was being repaired we went shopping in a large supermarket. We had been looking forward to filling our fridge again at a reasonable price and with more choice than we had been used to in recent times.
On Wednesday morning we dropped the car off and went into town. We thought to do a self-guided walking tour that we had picked up a brochure for at the tourist info office. But first we went to one of the local chiropractors to see if he could fit us in. Dr Irwin is on 105 Avenue and he told us we could come back that day at 11.45. By the time we had filled out some paperwork for him, we had about 45 minutes to find a coffee shop and have a snack. Dawson Creek displays its history prominently in the town by way of murals, statues and original photos. We got to see a few of the murals on the way back to the chiropractor, and they were very well done. Altogether, including the paperwork, we ended up spending about 3 hours with Dr Irwin. He was supposed to finish for the day at lunchtime but spent so much time with us that we left there after 2.30! It was nice that he could spend the time and he showed us some great exercises and stretches to help us along with the physical discomforts that we sometimes experience. We learn a little more, every time we see a different chiropractor, about how we can take care of ourselves a little more without the adjustments we have become used to. But unfortunately it was then time to pick up the car and the rest of the self-guided tour just didn't happen!
We must also praise the friendly and efficient service given us by the guys at Minute Muffler. No one ever likes handing over large wads of cash for car repairs, but when you feel like you can trust the guys doing the work and they get it done as promptly as possible, it makes it a bit easier. They even let us leave on Tuesday without paying for the work already done - this increased our trust in them because they showed such trust in us. Our truck now runs more quietly than I can ever remember it doing and I can turn on the heater or vent for fresh air and not smell exhaust!
On Thursday morning we left fairly late - wanted to make the most of the internet connection - to travel over the border into Alberta and on in the direction of Jasper National Park.

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