Passing through the city of Fort St John brought up some questions. This town is the oldest white settlement in British Columbia, established in 1794 in the low rolling hills of the Peace River Valley. In the early 70’s, when I lived for a short time in Edmonton, Calgary, and Prince George, the Peace River Valley was talked about with awe, a mythical place where the nights were long, the soils fertile, and where an ordinary family could still come and homestead to make a good living.
When the Alaska highway was started in 1942, Fort St John had a population of 200, swelling overnight to more than 6,000 people as the army used this area as the southern base for building the highway. We took the side route through downtown Fort St John, a community now called “The Energetic City”, a boom town bursting at the seams with oil and gas money. I’m not sure why the air here is so dirty. The gray brown haze stretches for miles in the distance to the east, and the beautiful broad agricultural fields south of the city are dulled by the smoky skies. maybe there are forest fires somewhere in the west, maybe it’s humidity, or dirty foggy haze.
I just know that it’s ugly, and today Fort St John looked pretty darn ugly. You can tell that most all the building is new, and most of it is related to oil. We didn’t see any oil wells, but many storage tanks, lots of trucks, and many square utilitarian buildings. I can’t help but wonder why money brings such ugliness. It seems that it is all about build and buy and use and grow, with no rhyme or reason to the growth and no concept of beautifying the area. I guess I should give credit to the folks that planted big planters of brilliant petunias to hang along the main streets of town, they were pretty in the midst of wires and concrete.
South of town, we were again stopped by a construction zone, this time for more than 20 minutes. We were entertained during our wait by some guys trying to get a big Barber Green something or other unclogged. Mo and I laughed, you could tell the foremen from the workers by how clean their clean pants. We also wondered if they actually washed their clothes or just threw them away.
So far, this has been the best entertainment we have had along this route between Fort Nelson and Dawson Creek. A moose cow ran out in front of us with her calf, choosing for some unknown reason to cross the highway at a lope, baby in tow. I have no idea why she thought crossing the road in traffic was a good idea, but she was fast enough that the telephone couldn’t catch her through the windshield.
The scenery has been simple, rolling tree covered hills, gentle landscape, hazy, smoky, or whatever it is skies, and the road, stretched out in front of us broken only by an occasional bridge, a frost heave, or construction.
We stopped at the Esso at Wonowon, surprised to find the shop well stocked and interesting. They even had 5/20 oil, what we use in the MoHo, and sometimes it is hard to find. They had a well stocked snack area and deli with lots of goodies of every kind. Too bad we didn’t need anything. Gas was down to 1.419 per liter, and I am glad we shouldn’t need gas again until we reach Alberta where it should be cheaper.
After stopping at Taylor for information about Peace River Country, we crossed another “mighty” river, the Peace. Mythical, magical rivers that lead into the north fascinate me. I loved looking down into the fertile valley, but at 50mph on a steep uphill with lots of trucks and no turnouts, it was just a momentary glance and no chance for a photo.
About 21 miles north of Dawson Creek there is a turnoff to the Kiskatinaw River Bridge, and for about 3 miles we had the opportunity to meaner along a piece of the original Alaska Highway. The beautiful curved bridge is the only original timber bridge built along the Alaska Highway that is still in use. It was a lovely bridge, with wide wooden planks over the Kiskatinaw River. It was just a few moments respite from the monotonous drive from Fort Nelson to Dawson Creek.
Within a few minutes we were in Dawson Creek, location of the famous Mile 0 marker. Trouble is, there is more than one marker. Stopping at the visitor center near the grain elevator museum for photos, Mo kept insisting there was another marker somewhere right in the middle of town. Couldn’t figure it out at all, but while there we ran into another person sharing their life story, this time a guy from Virginia in a truly antique motor home. When I asked if he had experienced any trouble on his way north, he launched into some very long, complex stories. He then offered to take photos of the two of us and it wasn’t until later I realized that he hadn’t actually managed to get a single photo.
In the mean time, we were still trying to figure out where that original marker was in the middle of town. A closer look at the Milepost map revealed it’s hidden location and we backtracked for a photo to match Mo’s photo from 1974. Where! that felt better. Mo was thinking maybe they demolished the whole town when they put up the new marker. At this point we have covered the entire length of the official Alaska Highway, although our route started in the middle, backtracked a bit, took a few side roads and then finally ended up finishing at Mile Zero.
We didn’t dawdle in Dawson and made a beeline for Alberta on Highway 2, headed east through beautiful prairie and skies that opened up toward the horizon. That stretch from Fort Nelson to Dawson Creek was pretty ugly today, and I am glad to once again be breathing clear air and seeing fresh blue skies.
Just a short 80 miles east of Dawson Creek is the sparkling clean city of Grand Prairie. There was every box store you could imagine along the highway, but still somehow things felt clean and fresh. We didn’t bother to check out the town and turned south on Wapiti Road, Highway 40, our route south to Grand Cache and Jasper. Not far out of town is the delightful Camp Tamarack, with full hookups and the words that made us go there, “hi pressure RV wash”.
It was definitely high pressure, and after $18.00 Canadian we had a reasonably clean set of rigs. I am sure that when we get home we will be cleaning things up for a long time, but for now it felt good to get all that road grime off the surface at least. There is a laundry, with nice big machines that were available, and I caught up on wash and cleaned out the MoHo again in readiness for the next few days exploring Jasper and Banff as we continue south toward home.
Road condition: paved 2 lane highway, with frost heaves, gravel sections, and bumpy frost joints until we got to Alberta and then the road was like a wide Nebraska freeway without the wind.
The rest of the photos are here, but they are really really boring today, so it might not be worth the time