Day 9 July 14 The Alaska Highway into the Yukon

sometimes we see other rigs on the road, maybe every ten minutes or soVast. The Yukon is vast, and we have only touched on a tiny part of this huge province.  There are only 30,000 people living in all this space, and half of them live in Whitehorse.  British Columbia felt big and yet somehow welcoming, but the Yukon feels vast and formidable.  This is the true north, a land of hundred mile views and dark boreal forests of spruce and aspen.

goodbye to Boya LakeWe slept all night in intermittent downpours and woke to the clouds parting just enough to let the sunlight paint dancing lights throughout the interior of the MoHo. Mo and I sat in silence with our tea and the light on the lake.  I expected to find beauty on this trip, but wasn’t expecting the awesome tranquility that enveloped me this morning.  I walked again to the shore of the turquoise lake, trying to capture that amazing color one last time before we buttoned up the rig and drove north.

burn mosaic on the northern Cassiar 37 mushroomers are camped all along this sectionOn the road by 7:30, it was again raining, and in a very short time we reached the dark ghostly spires of burned trees.  The fire in 2010 burned for five weeks, and last month the second fire only burned for a week.  It’s part of the cycle but still hard to think of the huge numbers of displaced animals and miles of blackened forest.  The caretaker at Kinaskan Lake talked of problems with bears who have lost their habitat and are now roaming into new territory to find food.

The road conditions were the worst of the 37, with rough gravel surface, no shoulders, and steep climbs and curves. In the burn area we saw a lot of older cars parked along the road, and couldn’t figure out what it was about until we saw the big tent with a sign on it that said, “Mushroom Buyer”.  The shrooms must be thick in all that recent burn.

Yukon day 9-5It was less than 50 miles to the Yukon border and just a few short miles beyond was the Alaska Highway, the mythical ALCAN.  We approached the junction with Highway 37 and marked our mileage to zero.  Since mileage on the highway starts from Dawson Creek, we have to add 626 miles to our odometer to follow along in the Milepost.  We stopped at the BeaverLodge resort for gas, again paying around 5.47 C$ per US gallon to fill the MoHo for the stretch to Whitehorse.

I can't believe how good this road surface is through the YukonOnce on the highway, we were amazed at the road itself.  Wide lanes, freshly painted lines, broad shoulders, it was as smooth and good as any highway anywhere all the way to Whitehorse.  We have Mo’s photos from her 1974 Alaska trip, and I opened up the files to track her route so many years ago.  The entire road was all gravel, rutted and narrow and wild.  I think traveling the Alaska Highway in 1974 was much more of an adventure than it is today.  We covered in one day what it took Mo two and a half days to cross back then and drove the 300 plus miles from our campsite to Whitehorse in just a few hours.

the second Rancheria FallsA small delight in the early part of the day was a short walk to Rancheria Falls, along the Rancheria River. There is an interpretive trail and sign at the stop and its well worth doing.  There is a boardwalk designed for access for everyone through the forest to the falls, a nice touch in a wild and lovely place.

The landscape of the Yukon is so broad, and filled with water, huge long lakes along the highway almost at every turn.  Maybe because the skies were stormy, it seemed to be a dark and brooding place.  I can’t imagine what living here must be like through the long dark winters.  It is so beautiful, and so vast, and so empty.

Yukon day 9-40I love that feeling of emptiness.  I think being in a world crammed with people and cell phones and computers and televisions has an effect on us in ways we don’t imagine.  After several days of an absence of all that, I felt something shifting in me.  The north is quiet in a deep way that isn’t found in many places.

Later we stopped at the rest area and information kiosk overlooking Teslin.  It was wild, and looking north into the river wilderness I imagined how exciting it would be to put the kayaks in that river and paddle upstream to the wildlife refuge. 

TeslinWhen we reached Whitehorse, it was raining, and we decided to stay at Hi Country RV, just on the south edge of town.  Again, we had no reservations, but here we were lucky to get a place, and at 3pm we snagged the last full hookup site which also turned out to be a pull through.  Didn’t really matter much since we planned to go to town anyway with the car, but it was an easy setup.  With our AAA discount, the park cost 34 C$ per night and we took two nights.  The laundry room looks big and the WiFi is free and fast, two important factors for our first two night stay of the trip.

Here we are and raining in WhitehorseWe drove down to the information center in downtown Whitehorse, which is quite lovely, and gathered bits of information that we thought we might need.  Tomorrow we plan to see a few things around town after essentials are done, including a tour of the Yukon Brewery, and the Klondike paddlewheeler. 

cornus canadensis just like Northern IdahoBack home, I cooked some supper while Mo checked out the news.  Mo usually goes with the flow in almost every situation, but she shook her head and said, “I can’t believe how big and developed Whitehorse has become.  I suppose they have even paved the roads at Dawson City!”  I guess we will find out.  Right now in this very large, very nice RV park it feels like we are just about anywhere USA, not in the wild north of the Yukon on the Alaska Highway.  I guess a lot has changed in 35 years.

There is rain predicted for the next few days, but hopefully it will open up in between storms as we continue north to Dawson City and the Top of the World Highway.  For now, I will enjoy the cushy comforts of RV life and crawl into my soft bed with real sheets and running water and a toilet nearby that doesn’t require braving hordes of mosquitoes.

map day 9Miles driven today: 313

Excellent road conditions, smooth pavement, minor bridge construction, no delays

The rest of the photos are linked here

Day 8 July 13 Northern part of the Cassiar Highway

Cassiar N  Day 8_930Our wonderful lake respite just happened to be near the midpoint of the Cassiar Highway. We were on the road again this morning by 7:30, feeling well rested and refreshed from our long afternoon on gorgeous Kinaskan Lake.  From this point on, the road conditions began to shift and we started to encounter more and more rough chip seal with sections of gravel, even a section of rough dirt that was in the process of construction, and several construction zones along Dease Lake.

Gnat Valley looking north the RR was started but never built hereDecided to stop at Iskut for fuel, and paid a whopping $5.40 per gallon (C$) adding $192.50 to the tank to be sure we had plenty of gas to get us to the Highway this afternoon. The scenery north of Kinaskan Lake was again beautiful, with several long narrow lakes parallel to the highway before we climbed into a higher landscape thick with spruce and sphagnum soils and wetlands.  We stopped for photos of the lush, green Gnat Valley, with a large beaver lodge along the creek in the distance. 

more gravel but smooth towards Dease LakeBy mile 294 the construction zone took over and the grades were usually 8 percent and the road was very narrow with NO shoulder, dropping immediately from the road surface nothing.  No room for an oops on this road! Dease Lake was just a small community but was alongside the brilliantly blue and very long Dease Lake to the west.  Again, because of the construction, the rest areas and pull outs were less than inviting, so I didn’t get any shots of Dease Lake.  We crossed the invisible summit of the Arctic Divide, and now all rivers that we see are emptying into the Arctic Ocean instead of the Pacific.

Around mile 330 we entered the Cassiar Mountains, and this time I know the name of the range.  Again, this range has it’s own unique personality, huge like everything in BC, but dominantly formed in serpentinite rock, the source of the Cassiar N  Day 8_971asbestos from the Cassiar Mine, that is no longer in operation.  Where there is serpentine, there usually is jade, both rocks hydrothermally altered from old ocean crust rock at great depths and then squeezed to the surface like a watermelon seed.  Yeah, I stole that line from an old geology book about California’s serpentine belt, but I love it, because it describes it so well.

Because of the construction, we were in a line of vehicles when we passed a beautiful green marsh to the west, punctuated by a cow moose and her calf.  The fifth wheel from Texas pulled into the only available space.  I sure hope they are bloggers and got the photo!  We couldn’t stop so just kept crawling along the gravel road with the rest of the line of cars. 

We are now in the Cassiar Mountains, on smooth gravel, with many lakes and marshes parallel to the road beside us.  I managed to make tuna sandwiches with some chips and a pickle while Mo was being piloted at a reasonably slow pace through the construction.  The gravel Good Hope Lakeis smooth, but dusty, and every time one of those big aggregate haulers goes by, it takes a bit for the dust to settle.  Now THIS is what I thought this trip would be like!

wildflowers in the Gnat ValleyWhat I have learned so far is that it’s possible to see the beautiful wild wilderness of northern British Columbia without ever touching a difficult route.  The Yellowhead Highway all the way from Edmonton to Prince George to Prince Rupert is beautiful, in great shape, and there are state of the art facilities just about everywhere you might need them.  You can then drive north on the Cassiar more than half way to beautiful lakes and provincial parks still on great roads.  Some folks recently discussed avoiding the Alaska trip because of how hard it might be on your rig.  I suggest that those folks check out this beautiful, amazing, fabulous part of British Columbia and the north.

Cassiar N  Day 8_965We, however, still want to do the road, The Alaska Highway, even though I am not entirely sure that I haven’t already seen the best part of the trip. It’s now 1 in the afternoon, we are 78 miles south of the Highway, and plan to stop in at Jade City before continuing north.  More later

It’s now “later”, 3:30 in the afternoon and once again a pristine northern lake has called us in.  After only 180 miles we decided that we needed to take on some water and drove down to Boya Provincial Park.  The park attendant at Kinaskan talked poetically about the beautiful turquoise lake that was right on our route north and said we shouldn’t miss it.  Our night destination was to be somewhere between where we were and Whitehorse, but we knew we wouldn’t make it to Whitehorse.

Checking the maps for campgrounds along the highway between Upper Llaird and Whitehorse yielded a few spots, but not many.  We also aren’t sure of the boondocking options along the main route, and really don’t feel like paying top dollar for a regular crowded RV park tonight. We plan to stop in Whitehorse for a couple of days anyway and will pay the big bucks then for the opportunity to do laundry and get caught up on the internet.

If you look closely, you can see me in the center in the waterCassiar N  Day 8_997

Cassiar N  Day 8_1020Once again we are camped on a lake, and within minutes of setting up the rig, Abby and I were in the water. This time I decided to go for a real swim.  Boya Lake is warmer than most northern BC lakes, and the outside temperature this afternoon hit 82 *F!  Pretty darn warm, and I needed a good bath. Boya Lake is underlain by white marl and is so clear that you can see fish swimming beneath you.  There is an interpretive trail here around the lake that we plan to walk later this evening, but not before I try one more dip in that gorgeous water.Cassiar N  Day 8_1026

I think tonight we won’t unload the kayaks, and just enjoy this beautiful place from the beach.  Might be time for a bit of relaxation that doesn’t include paddling for several hours. The park information kiosk posted weather information for the days ahead, and if they are correct, we will be driving into rainy wet skies as we approach Whitehorse for the next few days.  It will be a good time to clean house, clean ourselves, and do a bit of town stuff before we continue north to Dawson City.

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here

Tomorrow: Whitehorse, Yukon Territories

Miles driven today between stop 13 and stop 14: 180

a mix of chip seal and about 1/3 gravel, with several construction zones, no delays.

Kitaskan to Boya lake

Day 7 July 12 The Cassiar

Cassiar  Day 7_744At the moment, I am trying to mentally and emotionally process the difference.  I have traveled and worked in mountains all my life. The big named ranges in the US are familiar to me: The Cascades, The Sierras, The Bitterroots, The Bighorns, The San Gabriel Mountains, The Colorado Rockies, The Smokies.  All magnificent mountains in their own right, each with a distinct personality.  Here I am unsure of the ranges, the names are not even on the scale of map I am using for British Columbia. 

north from Meziadin LakeI have finally decided it is the glaciation that makes the difference.  Huge sheets of ice, miles thick, extending hundreds of miles in all directions once covered these mountains and it shows.  Continental glaciation from 10 to 100 thousand years ago has rounded even some of the highest peaks, and huge piles of glacial debris line the river valleys.  More recently, alpine glaciation has carved jagged ridges, peaks, and hanging valleys.  Avalanche chutes scar slopes that are close to 100 percent, rising at least 1000 feet from where we are driving along the highway to the top of the ridge.

Bell-Irving River southeast Big.  Such a small word for such a concept.  These mountains are big, and they go forever.  We have been driving for days now through the bigness of British Columbia, with not just miles, but hundreds of miles of breathtaking landscapes around every curve. 

Cassiar  Day 7_777The magnificence of the mountains is reflected over and over again in brilliant blue lakes, lily covered ponds, and wild rivers.  British Columbia is also a land of big rivers.

Again, the big word isn’t really “big” enough to describe the power and size of the Skeena River, the Bulkley River, the Bell-Irving River. The “creeks” we cross on one lane wooden platform bridges are as big as many rivers at home. Huge glaciated mountains, small glaciers resting in the summits, powerful strong rivers, wild creeks milky from glacial melt, and forests.  Miles and miles and miles of forests, lodgepole, northern spruce, sitka spruce, fir, and into the subalpine firs of the higher mountains, all shades of green.

Nass River BridgeWe are traveling through all this magnificence on a highway only completed with the building of the Nass Bridge in 1972.  At the moment we are about 175 miles north of the Yellowhead-Cassiar junction and have yet to see a speck of gravel or a single construction zone.  The pavement is smooth as glass, with newly painted yellow lines everywhere except for the few areas of fresh chip seal road.  Even the minimal extent of chip seal is solid and smooth, they just don’t have the lines painted yet.

We woke this morning to utter silence. Surprisingly, with the late night sunset, the sun wasn’t up until 6am this morning. We woke about 5 and after hooking up the Protect-a-Tow were on the road by 7:30.  Not before a moment of entertainment, however.  As we sat sipping our morning tea in the dim light, a pick-up drove up and parked not ten feet from our rig.  We watched for a moment while a man got out and stood on the highway side of his truck looking around a bit strangely.  I finally opened a window and asked if he needed to get past our rig and he said, “No, I’m just taking a whiz”.  Mo and I laughed in astonishment.  Why now, and why here?  There are ten miles in either direction of us with plenty of places to stop.  Did he just need to mark his territory near our truck?  Was he checking to see if anyone was around the rig?  Was he just oblivious?  Too too funny.

First day using the Protect a towEven though Mo drove yesterday, she asked if she could drive again today.  She knows that I want to be taking photos, and day before yesterday I made the mistake of shooting a couple of shots while driving.  Not a good plan.  I promised I wouldn’t do it again, but she said she would rather drive than have to sit doing nothing except letting Jeremy crawl around on her lap.  So Mo is driving and I am finally taking some time to write.  It’s hard to do, however, I keep thinking I will miss something, but magnificence just keeps showing up no matter when I look up, and after awhile I suppose that one more gorgeous glacier on a gorgeous mountain will eventually become redundant.

The bears haven’t read the Milepost, I guess, because so far, except for the two young ones we saw last night, there haven’t been any wildlife sightings on the highway. The sky is such a brilliant gorgeous blue, with tiny puffs of cloud very far away over some of the mountains.  The temperature is about 63F, and every few miles we see another more perfect boondock site or another lake.  Ever few miles or so we see another rig, and have passed a few loaded logging trucks coming south.  One unloaded truck flew past us while we were stopped at the Bell-Irving rest stop, but we have yet to encounter any of the big aggregate trucks that ply the highway.

Meziadin Lake PP campsiteCassiar  Day 7_752We stopped in for a drive-through of Meziadin Provincial Park and Meziadin Lake, a place where we originally planned to camp last night.  It was lovely, $16. Canadian for no hookups, but sites right on the lake.  Manicured, a bit crowded, and nice.  There is a tiny store and supposedly there is WiFi there.  We were glad to have camped free at our silent roadside stop. A bit beyond the Bell-Irving River we came to the Mehan Lake rest stop.  There were picnic tables and trails around the lake, and a spot where we could have launched the kayaks.  Instead, Mo thought she wanted to keep driving, and we know there will be more lakes along the way.  We will see what happens next.

Note: first fairly bumpy chip seal road at mile 208.

Cassiar  Day 7_795Kinaskin Lake our stop for the nightMuch later: I am so glad that we didn’t take the time to kayak Mehan Lake.  We continued up the highway enjoying the changing scenery and at mile 227 the sign for Kinaskan Provincial Park invited us to drive in and take a look.  We certainly didn’t plan to stop this early in the day, after all, it was only noon or so and we had only driven 175 miles since we left. We wanted another boondock night, both to save money, and to enjoy the solitude.

Cassiar  Day 7_892 Kinaskan Lake had other plans for us, though.  The park was nearly empty, with site after site nestled along one of the prettiest lakes I have ever seen.  The sun was shining, it was in the mid-70’s, and a lakefront campsite with free firewood beckoned.  We couldn’t resist.  We had our very only kayak launch just feet from the car, and decided that a relaxed afternoon of boating and relaxing shouldn’t be missed.  Huge clouds were threatening a shift in the weather, it could even be raining by tomorrow, so I didn’t want to give up a gorgeous day on a gorgeous lake when we had the chance.

Cassiar  Day 7_804It has been perfect.  We set up, and decided that the lake was so smooth we wanted to go out right away.  A couple perfect hours out on the lake exploring yielded another loon pair, and I practiced with my 200 lens, still unable to get close enough to really catch that great red eye. We then we came home and decided to make an afternoon supper.  After steak on the grill and yummy salad, the gorgeous lake beckoned us again and I said, “Maybe we could just go out and float around and enjoy the reflections?” The paddling was so incredibly perfect, we decided instead to cross the lake, about 2 miles according to the paddle garmin, and we found a beautiful rocky cove on the far side. On the way back, we passed another loon, and later closer to shore, another one serenaded us with his magical call.  The stillness and the reflections on the lake of the wild clouds was incredible.

As perfect as it getsIt only took half an hour to cross the lake, even with me stopping every little bit to take photos.  On our earlier kayak I took the big camera with all the lenses in the Pelican case, but this time I just took the baby camera. This evening has been spent deciding which photos are keepers and which need to be ruthlessly culled. It’s only 8:30 and I had visions of waiting for sunset after ten, but something tells me that a few hours of kayaking and a couple hundred miles of riding is enough for one day.  Mo built a hot sparkly campfire with the free wood provided just across from our site.  It was hot, dry wood and lit immediately, of course we had a couple of fatwood sticks to help it along.  I think I won’t make it to sunset and as soon as the fire dies down I am going to draw the shades against that gorgeous bright sky and go to sleep.Cassiar  Day 7_915

Miles driven today from stop 12 to stop 13: 175

Excellent 2 lane smooth paved with a couple 20 mile sections of well done chip seal, no loose rockCassiar to Kinaskan

Some truly gorgeous photos that you may not want to miss are linked here

Tomorrow: Northern part of the Cassiar Highway