In life sometimes there are good days. Sometimes there are really great days. Then sometimes there are days that are written in golden memory, shining and brilliant for the rest of a lifetime. This was just one of those days. Since I woke this morning beside a creek in British Columbia, time seemed to crawl along in some sort of slow motion. Every single moment of this perfect day was drawn out long and still, a gift I suppose from the land and the water and the skies, a gift so that I could savor it.
Our boondock site last night along Irons Creek was still in an area of road construction, so we thought it would be a good idea to get on the road early enough so we didn’t need to worry about falling in line with a pilot car.The skies were still light when I woke at 11:30, but by 1:30 when I again woke and checked for northern lights it was dark enough to see stars. I haven’t seen stars since we left more than a month ago. It was 31 degrees when we opened the back blinds at 5:30 the only one we had closed during the long quiet night. After heating a pot of water for tea, we closed up the rig and were on the road before 6.
The drama of the morning light was accentuated with mysteriously beautiful drifts of fog lying in the low lands along the Llaird River. We drove for awhile looking for a nice level pullout to stop and cook Mo’s favorite Sunday morning treat, poached eggs on toast. Then another stop for a walk down to the river to view the Whirlpool Canyon rapids was rewarding with cool fresh morning air and the roar of the river.
At Coal Creek, there was a small café advertising WiFi, and I thought it might be a good place to try to upload the backlog of blog posts, but even with the $5. fee, I couldn’t manage more than a simple update post with no photos and a quick check of email and bank accounts. That was really all that mattered anyway, the blog will be there when we are eventually.
Within minutes of leaving Coal Creek we encountered the first of many buffalo grazing along the highway. Most folks traveling this route will see these buffalo, and they seem to congregate along the wide highway shoulders thick with grasses. I wondered if they were native to this area or if they have been transplanted here by the BC Parks. Of course, with no internet, I will have to find that out later. We enjoyed taking photos of the huge bulls with their massive heads and the little ones protected by their moms as they moved along with heads down, grazing.
The reality of cars and wildlife hit home hard as we passed a dead buffalo beside the road, and saw her little one grazing alone along the highway. Huge signs warn of buffalo in the area, but still many are killed. In all, we saw at least 4 dozen buffalo, many bulls and many babies, so even with the sad moment it was encouraging to seem them. Later I found out that these are “wood bison” and that the herd was once completely decimated. Only in the recent decades has the BC government protected them and the herd has grown to nearly 100 animals.
The wide road opened up before us, dropping down off the Yukon Plateau to the valley of the “mighty” Llaird River. Yes, it is another mighty river, according to the Milepost. I do love the mighty rivers of the Yukon and British Columbia. It’s a good word.
One of my important “todo” lists for this trip was a visit to Llaird River Hot Springs and it was less than 80 miles from our night camp to the provincial park. At first I thought we might stop and camp here for the night, but then decided that it was worth the ten bucks to dip in the springs and then continue down the road to Muncho Lake, another big “todo” on my list and camp there. I wanted to dip my kayak in those famous turquoise waters.
We settled into a parking space and turned on the fan for the animals since Abby couldn’t go out on the hot springs trail. They have a boardwalk that passes through hot mud flats and wetlands, through the forest, to the first pool. The second pool is now closed due to an endangered animal that lives there. There was construction going on, with a new dam being built, but somehow it still felt silent and calm around the pool. There were a few people around, most of whom seemed incredibly respectful of the special beauty of this place.
I slipped into the mid zone of the pool, knowing that 126*F would definitely be too much for me at the source of the spring. It was heaven, just pure heaven. There is a bit of sulfur, but not too much, and there is every variation of temperature in the water, from bathtub comfortable at the lower end of the pool, to too hot for me to handle at the upper end.
I marveled at the feeling of incredibly hot surface water, with cooler water at my feet. Perfect for hitting that lower back spot without getting too hot! Mo doesn’t like sulfur water so I swam alone while she rested on the benches. I’m not sure how long I stayed, but while I was in that water, nothing hurt, just nothing. You know how it is when the years catch us, something somewhere always seems to be hurting. Nothing hurt at all while I was in that pool, and as I sit here by the campfire tonight, still nothing hurts. I could use one of those springs in my own yard!
Once again I met an Alaskan willing to tell her whole story. All it takes is a hello and a simple question, and they are off and running. I met Janet, a woman who has homesteaded at Healy near Denali for 29 years. She is driving back to the ‘lower 48” for the first time since then. Her daughter is in Colorado and needs her. She is afraid of dealing with the city, laughingly telling me that in all her time at Healy she only had to deal with one crazed bear. She hates the idea of dirty snow and of paying for water. But her daughter needs her. She quit her two jobs and is going to Colorado. She last dipped in the Llaird pools 29 years ago when it was all free, but promised herself this one stop on the Alaska Highway.
Not far beyond Llaird Hot Springs the view opened up to the lovely blue water of Muncho Lake. I think I expected it to be a bit more colorful thnt it looked at first because it has been touted so much in all the literature. Still, it was a respectable blue with edges of turquoise and emerald in the shallows. There is a campground listed in the Milepost at the southern end of the lake, with 15 rocky beach sites. On the information map for the park, however, we saw another campground on the northern end and decided that might be more to our liking.
Pulling in to Macdonald Campground we found 15 beautiful sites, each with it’s own perfect small gravel beach, a table and a fire ring. It was still early in the afternoon, and it was warm and clear. We set up in our private, perfectly level gravel drycamp site, opened the awning to shelter our chairs against the afternoon sun, and looked forward to a long, quiet afternoon of beautiful views, gorgeous water, and peaceful quiet.
For the first time on this trip, Mo had a chance to plug in her little electric chain saw to cut up the pallet lying near our site in addition to a couple of downed dry spruce logs. She discovered that with the generator going, the chain saw would only run on the outlet set up for the microwave, and run it did. We had enough wood for a great long fire after supper into the evening.
I can’t explain why one day might be more perfect than any other. The litany sounds like any other day on the Alaska journey. I know we have seen more spectacular scenery, done exciting things all along the route, traveled more dramatic paths. But something about this day seemed golden, slow and perfect. I sat in the lounge chair for a long time just looking up at the light filtering through the aspen leaves listening to the lap of water on the shore.
Earlier in the day I relaxed for a long time in a clear warm pool surrounded by green peacefulness, and later in the day I silently paddled along the shore of a perfect lake surrounded by perfect mountains. We had a great home-cooked supper with simple chicken breasts, my favorite grated carrot and apple slaw, and some super sweet corn brought all the way from Medford Costco in our little freezer. After supper I slipped out again onto the lake, and then while Mo relaxed with a book I took Abby for a walk along the shore. I watched the moon low in the sky to the east and the long twilight as the sun set behind the high mountains to our west.
I felt more quiet inside than I have on the entire trip, as if the accumulation of all the experience finally settled in to a deep place in my heart. I guess that is why is was somehow the ‘perfect’ day for me on the Alaska Highway.
Road condition: beautiful roads most of the way with just a bit of construction here and there
The rest of the photos for this day of travel are linked here