August 9 Day 35 Bougie Creek to Grand Prairie

some hard rain along the way this morningPassing 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.

the air is dirty between Fort Nelson and Dawson creekWhen 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. 

downtown Fort St John isn't exactly beautifulI 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.

the working guys have dirty pantsSouth 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.

the bosses have clean pantsSo 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 are not impressed with the Fort Nelson to Dawson Creek corridorWe 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.

The Peace River from the bridge.  sigh.  I would have liked to see moreAfter 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.

Kiskatinaw BridgeAbout 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. 

Grand Pra Day 35_4625Within 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.

settling in for the night in Grand PrairieJust 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.

CaptureMiles traveled today: 306

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

August 8 Day 34 Muncho Lake to somewhere along 97

leaving Muncho Lake at 8amI suppose days like yesterday only come one at a time.  We woke at Muncho Lake this morning, same place we went to sleep last night, but it didn’t take long for the magic to dissipate as we traveled east and south, leaving the Rocky Mountains behind and moving onto the great inland plateau that makes up a large part of British Columbia.

South of Muncho LakeWhen we settled in for the night, Mo wanted to load the kayaks, but I had visions of a silent morning paddle on that beautiful lake.  Instead morning brought strong winds, even in the early light, and we loaded up the boats and were on the road by 8am. This part of BC is gorgeous, and the road passes through Muncho Lake Provincial Park and then through Stone Mountain Provincial Park.  It’s a narrow road, but not bad, with a few curves here and there and a natural, meandering kind of mode that was fun to drive.

Ft Nelson Day 34_4495We saw more Stone Mountain Sheep at their namesake park, all standing in the road along the highway and in the highway, looking almost exactly as they do in the Milepost photo.  Very cute critters, but I’m not sure what it is that they find along the road that is so interesting.  Once beyond the park, the road dropped down to follow the Tetsa River, and the views in all directions were wonderful. 

We pulled into the Tetsa Campground with the promise of fresh baked bread, and I checked in at the camp store to find perfect round loaves of fresh sourdough bread and a warm cinnamon bun that was hands down ten times better than the famous buns on the Klondike Highway.  On the counter in the crockpot, was a bubbling pot of incredibly good smelling soup, so I bought a bowl of that as well for our supper to go with the bread.  The owner was charming and conversational, with that far northern accent that I am getting used to.

the Macdonald RiverContinuing east we crossed the last of the Northern Rocky Mountains as we moved onto the plateau.  The trees were thick and the aspen and birch was dark green, but there wasn’t much else to see all the way in to Fort Nelson. Some agenda items: get water, dump, get gas, get money, get food, wash the rigs.  We succeeded in the first few, with a stop at the visitor center that yielded information about where to find an ATM.  Right next to the ATM was a pizza place, and we haven’t had pizza in more than a month, so we ordered one to go. 

The city operates a free dump and water station near the museum, so we took advantage of that, planning to boondock somewhere tonight and wanting to be sure we had enough water for baths.  I still have sulfur in my hair and it does feel a bit weird.  While parked at the pizza place, I discovered a hot spot and managed to upload a few photos and a single blog post while checking email and doing some more banking.  Mo was anxious to get the rigs washed, so after I stopped into the IGA for supplies, we headed over to the car wash.

Ft Nelson Day 34_4500It’s hard to explain just how these kinds of chores can seem to take so long, can be so tiresome and can really take the shine out of a day.  Before we washed the rigs, we needed fuel, and I paid the highest price ever at 1.46 per liter. I put 225 Canadian into the tank and it was still only 3/4 full.  Trying to get out of the station added more frustration as some woman from Alaska seemed to think the middle of the driveway was the place to park while she shopped and took on water.  When I asked her to move so we could get out, she pulled forward a few feet and then got out to do more stuff.  Duh!  Excuse me, but please, we would like to GET OUT OF THIS PLACE!

from steamboat mountain summitNot so fast, we still have the rigs to wash.  Just a couple of doors down from the FasGas was a car wash with a bay big enough for both rigs and we just slid into position without a hitch.  I went to get loonies, and the proprietor informed me it used only toonies, with each toonie giving one minute of wash time.  I looked at Mo, we looked at the MoHo, and thought about just how far ten bucks would take us in that filthy mess.  Maybe not.

We pulled out of town in a ton of traffic, lots of pickup trucks driving south to work the second shift on the huge natural gas plant south of town.  In 1957, Fort Nelson didn’t even have power, but now with oil shale and natural gas the place it starting to really boom.  It was actually hot for the first time since we left the lower 48, with a humid 90 plus degrees showing on the thermometer.

leaving the northern Rocky Mountains behind usWe are now driving south on the Alaska Highway, BC highway 97.  Advertised road condition says wide road, 2 lane good pavement all the way to Dawson Creek.  As the miles pass I think we are both feeling a bit better.  It does make me wonder how things will feel when we have to deal with reentry into traffic and the frustrations of a populated world.  For the time being, we plan to find another wide place in the road to boondock tonight, eat our pizza and drink a well deserved beer.

Later:  Around 4 pm, maybe 40 or 50 miles south of Fort Nelson at an unnamed creek, Mo suddenly said, “Hey, this looks good!”.  We crossed the little bridge and turned down the tiny road on the east side of the highway toward a nice wide area along the creek.  Perfect.

utter boredom as we leave Fort Nelson, although I see mountains in our futureIt was hot.  After settling in we made sure the fan was on before taking Abby for a walk down to the stream.  Not sure why, but the stream was a dull brown color, hopefully not some sort of runoff from the oil fields.  We heated up our pizza and relaxed with dinner, turned on the water heater for a good shower, and then, bam.  Two big rigs saw that little narrow road as well and rumbled down into “our” campsite, jumped out, hollered at each other while backing and proceeded to set up their nice little camp, chairs and all, right out our front window.

stop for the night at an unnamed creekOk.  Right.  I’m a jerk.  It’s NOT my campground, it’s not my creek, and they have just as much a right to be here as I do.  Bummer.  I have been spoiled rotten, and its time to get back to the real world.  ugh. Little black flies are buzzing around INSDIE the MoHo, and I’m not sure how they got here.  Big black spruce beetles are hanging out on the screen.  Did I mention that it’s hot?  Mo is hiding away in her book on the sofa, oblivious to my grumblings.  Smart.

Capture2Miles driven today: about 230 from stop 20 to stop 21 on the Streets and Trips map to the left.

Road conditions: variable, but mostly good 2 lane highway.  A bit of construction in BC, a bit of narrow stuff here and there, some frost heaves here and there, but we still traveled at 50mph most of the time.

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here

August 7 Day 33 Irons Creek to Muncho Lake

on the road at dawn from Irons creekIn 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.

we are in and out of the fog along the Llaird RiverOur 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. 

whirlpool rapids on the Llaird River ValleyThe 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.

sloooooo wifi for five bucks but a cute little placeAt 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.

another massive faceWithin 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. 

To Muncho Day 33_4315The 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.

toward Llaird Hot SpringsThe 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.

To Muncho Day 33_4374We 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. 

To Muncho Day 33_4385I 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.

To Muncho Day 33_4391 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!

Janet from Healy AlaskaOnce 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.

Muncho Lake from our campsiteNot 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.

campsite 14 at Muncho LakePulling 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.

electric chain saw hooked up to the MoHo with the generator going!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.

great campfireI 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.

moonrise over Muncho LakeEarlier 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.sunset on Muncho Lake

CaptureMiles driven today: about 230

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

August 6 Day 32 Robinson Roadhouse to Irons Creek

South Klondike HighwayRainbow LakeWe spent a surprisingly quiet night at the rest area at Robinson Roadhouse and were once again on the road early in the morning with hot tea, deciding that breakfast wasn’t needed.  The sun was still low in the sky, which most of the time is great, except as we passed the beautiful Emerald (also called Rainbow) Lake, the colors weren’t yet illuminated with the sun still behind the high mountains to the east.  The road to Carcross is beautiful, winding through the mountains with vistas of White Pass.  The history of this road is woven tightly into the story of the Klondike gold rush, as it was at Bennet lake west of Carcross that the minors boarded the lake steamers. 

We walked around the burned hull of the Tutshi sternwheeler, reading the sad story of her attempted restoration, only to tragically burn in 1990 before the fire suppression systems were installed. Perusing Mo’s photos of her 1974 journey, we found a shot of the boat before the restoration began. I also found a photo of the Caribou Hotel which was still in operation back then. Today, it appeared empty although it looked as though it was in the process of restoration.

looks like the Caribou is being restored Caribou in Carcross
a great memorial Tutshi in Carcross

The White Pass-Yukon Railroad Depot provided an important route from Skagway to Whitehorse, where it no longer goes, now ending here at Carcross. It was just after 8 as we pulled into town and all was quiet. 

Continuing east along the Tagish Road past the post where the miners were required to check in and have their full ton of provisions documented by the RCMP before they were allowed to continue north to the gold fields.  The circle route adds an extra 27 miles back to the Alaska Highway, but it is beautiful and well worth the trip.

back on the road with only one other rig, not so badWe were back in the Yukon, on the open road with wide vistas spreading out before us on a perfectly clear morning.  There a so many museums at nearly every town, it is hard to see them all.  Reading about George Johnston’s Museum at Teslin, however, was intriguing, and we chose to stop.  I’m so glad we did.  George Johnston was  Tglingit Indian with a story as wild and romantic as the Yukon itself.  As a young man, he was intrigued with automobiles and went to Whitehorse to buy the first automobile brought to Teslin.  Or course, there were no roads in Teslin, so he used the 70 mile long Teslin Lake in the winter and built his own 3 mile road in the summer.

George JohnstonI had read all this in the Milepost, but I must say that the museum brought George to life in a way I would have never understood without our morning stop.  In Teslin Lake 72 miles longaddition to his story of the car, he was a self taught photographer and for 40 years documented the life of his people in Teslin.  As we left, a sign board told the story of the lost language, and how now at last it is being restored.  I would say this is a “don’t miss it” museum, aka the Milepost.  Of course, it says that about lots of places that aren’t necessarily so great.

shiny black bear with a brown noseNot far beyond Teslin Lake we were surprised to see a young black bear grazing for berries on the slope above the road.  He wasn’t the least bit concerned that we stopped for photos, and again, I was glad for a telephoto lens to catch his sweet face up close.  If you look at  the rest of the photos, you might see his crooked little nose.  I swear it is a bit crooked, or plastered on a bit sideways.

Mid afternoon found us at Watson Lake and the famous Signpost Forest.  When Mo stopped here in 74 there were only a few posts along the highway and she took a couple of photos.  The forest now is nothing if not overwhelming. 

Irons Day 32_4229We walked among all the signs from all over the world, amazed at some folks creations and wondering just how many of those city signs were stolen from their local burgs.  We tried to find some of the early signs but could make no sense of it.  Back into the visitor center to find out the 150 of the original posts had rotted and were removed.  All the signs on those posts had been nailed up hither and yon wherever there was a space.  Mo was glad she didn’t have a sign to find.  We added Mo’s sign that we brought from home to the melee and moved on down the road.

gravel road and construction anad we are in a line againWatson Lake is the last major community in the Yukon and as we entered British Columbia the road conditions started going downhill.  We got caught in a long line night camp at Irons Creekof cars in very dusty gravel for about ten miles.  It was time to find a boondock site, and sure enough there was a wide place along a creek just beckoning us to spend the night.  We slipped out of the long line of cars and big trucks to the long gravel road and realized that in order to get level we would have to unhook. 

It was worth it, and eventually all the pilot cars stopped coming, the grader finally quit after 6pm, and we had a beautiful quiet evening reading and enjoying our free spot along Irons Creek.  I did a little bit of reading and found out that at one time the bridge over Irons Creek was a 25 foot diameter culvert, one of the largest in Canada, and it had failed a few years ago requiring that a new bridge be constructed.  The creek didn’t look at all threatening at this time of year, but we were far enough above it that it wasn’t a worry anyway. 

CaptureMiles traveled today: about 317 from point 15 to point 18 on the map at left

Road conditions: good all the way through the Yukon, ten miles of dusty gravel into BC

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here.

August 3 Day 29 Kluane to Haines

We woke to brilliant sunlight streaming in the east facing windows around 5:30 and with hot tea in the cupholders  were on the road by 6.  At last the Alaska Highway filled all my highest dreams of what this road could be. We were all alone and the Yukon pavement was smooth and silent.  When I lived in a beautiful part of the MotherLode in California, near Sonora, I dreamed of a road to myself.  I couldn’t often see the beauty because there were usually 7 cars behind me wanting to go faster and 7 cars in front of me trying slow me down.  Our drive today filled my yearning for the open road, a highway uncluttered with vehicles, wild and open and all my own.

Take a minute to watch the show and get a taste of what it felt like

this is the world heritage site we have been passingSt Elias MountainsWe took our time and pulled off often to catch the spectacular views of the St Elias Mountains.  A stop at the Kluane National Park of Canada gave us just a taste of the wild expanse of ice that makes up more than half of this magnificent land. Adjacent to and combined with the Wrangell-St Elias, these two parks make up the largest contiguous extent of protected wilderness in the world, and are recognized by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site of great significance. Ice fever called, and I dreamed of returning and taking the time to fly over that vast icefield with glaciers radiating down on all sides.

the St Elias Mountainsthat is a very big grizzly eating berries on the hill above usTo Haines Day 29_3390The road was perfect, except for a short stretch after we crossed into British Columbia, and when we saw the construction signs we pulled to a stop, with no idea what waited for us there. 

After a few moments, we noticed the flagger scanning the slopes to our east and of course, we looked up too.  High on the hill above us, oblivious to the world below, a grizzly grazed intently for berries.  The road folks exclaimed in awe that he was really a “big one”. It was thrilling to watch him move, so quickly and full of grace and power, even through the binoculars. The 300 lens could just barely capture him, but there he is, a real wild grizzly, no collar, no bands, unexpected, in the middle of nowhere.  Without the construction slowdown we would have missed him.

shifting habitats on the Haines HighwayWe crossed Haines Pass, with more wonderful interpretive signs about the gold rush and an especially well done description of the habitat variations from tundra to hemlock forest as we descended into the valley.  the river where 3500 eagles gather each springThe rapid change was dramatic, and beautiful, as we suddenly were surrounded by the thick, dark forest and the broad glacially fed Chilkat River, home to more than 3,500 eagles in the fall at the Eagle Reserve.



Fort Seward at HainesOnce we arrived in Haines, we took advantage of the sunny afternoon to walk around Fort Seward and explore the shops and galleries on the Fort grounds.  Fort Seward was built in 1902 and operated until 1947.  Eventually it was bought by a group of war veterans and  the grounds and buildings are privately owned with hotels, restaurants and galleries.  I especially enjoyed walking through the Native Arts Center and seeing the huge mess of artistic creativity in the main carving room.

But the main reason we took the extra time to come to Haines was for the bears, and it was time to go find them.  There is a large population of both black and brown bear in Haines, but it is especially famous for the bear viewing along the Chilkoot River at Chilkoot State Park just 9 miles north of town.

Bears at Hainespeople were really obnoxious fighting for position and then stopped and blocking the roadthe bear guard having trouble with the dumb people We unexpectedly drove in Haines on a “cruise ship Wednesday” the only day that ships dock here, so the bear viewing site was full of people in cars and buses, with tour groups and people walking along the road.  It was a zoo, just without fences.  Even so, it was wonderful to see these big brown bears up close and personal.

The only ‘fence’ was the park officer walking around trying to corral all the folks who would think of getting to close to a momma grizzly and her babies.  She seemed somewhat frustrated with some folks especially, and said to me, “Fine, let them get mauled, they deserve it”.  She was saddened especially by the fact that the two cubs will no doubt end up being killed from their exposure to too many people.  They can’t relocate these big brown bears because they stubbornly return to their homelands in record time.

Bears at Haines1If you look closely at the lower right photo in the collage, you will see a salmon fisherman of the human variety.  These fishermen compete with the bears for the spawning salmon, but if a bear comes too close they will run away, leaving behind their catch. This results in bears discovering that humans are a great source of food. The saying goes, “A fed bear is a dead bear”.  Sad

wen had burgers here last nightStill, it was thrilling to watch Mama and her little ones, a male and a female just a year and a half old. Mama was a great swimmer, and her babies were carefully staying in the shallow water as they watched her fish.  The boy cub was much braver than the light boned delicate little girl but he still didn’t go all the way out to fight the strong current with Mama.  Even with her collar and bands, it was wonderful seeing this great wild 7 year old bear fishing in her world, traveling the same routes her mother did and fishing the same waters while she taught her babies.  There is another mom with 3 cubs in the area and 2 other males but we didn’t see them on this trip.

After our bear time, we went back to town to our home on the water at Oceanside RV Park.  It’s not fancy, but it has full hookups, TV and WiFi and with our planned two day stay, it’s nice to have amenities. Our freezer stores are getting a bit low, so we went to the Lighthouse Bar just down the road for great burgers while we watched the light change over the inlet.  Somehow coming to Haines was a full circle return from our cruise last summer when we watched Haines in the distance as we passed by on the Princess.  It was fun to watch the cruise ships pass  on the Lynn Canal as we settled into the evening.


CaptureMiles travel today: 214

Road condition: excellent 2 lane paved highway with a short stretch of gravel construction in BC

The rest of the photos for this day are linked here

A LOT of photos of the bears are linked here