The Alaska Hwy was constructed in 1942 whilst WW2 was raging in order to create a transport corridor for the movement of troops and equipment should nearby Russia or Japan decide to make any surprise moves on Alaska during the war. It connected the contiguous US to Alaska via Canada. This amazing feat of road building in many ways opened up the country, through which its 2237km length passes, from Dawson Creek to Delta Junction with an interesting stream of townships in between. It was built in an incredible 8 months!
Constructed over tundra, permafrost, countless rivers, marshland and every other imaginable hazard, this road really did pump fresh oxygen into the north and allowed easier transit of provisions and gave access to previously inaccessible land. However, it also firmly knocked another nail into the era of the riverboat, which had been the trade and people carrying mainstay for decades.
Another advancement with its roots in warfare I guess!
Roadside interactions are always great fodder! Often in the north, there is time to contemplate ones own place on Earth as there is a lot of road construction and repair going on, often with a wait of some duration before the lollypop man spins that little sign around displaying that glorious word – Slow. Life moves on again!
At one such stop of longer than normal duration, a leg stretch was in order and obviously considered normal behaviour as everyone was out of their cars! The truck driver behind us wandered over and asked “So what part of Europe you from?” Ahhhhh “the new part” would have been the best answer but as happens often when caught off guard, you think of the witty response some time later!
“Australia” About then he noticed the steering wheel was most definitely on “The Wrong Side!” Alas the poor soul was completely overwhelmed and totally unable to believe what his eyes were showing him!
“It must be difficult to drive on the WRONG side of the car”
Again I should have responded “well actually its on the Right Hand Side and hence the Right side”!! hehe
I’ve not yet found a short pun which I can pull from the grey matter when I require it in order to help ease the minds of some of the people that we meet into the realisation that residing upon unusual and distant lands there are many curious mysteries!
Over the next few days we wandered along a flattening landscape, mountains replaced with acres of evergreens of the pine variety. A rather notable campsite turned out to be an abandoned campground with a few “living rough tenants”. We’ve seen this style of life rather frequently of late!
A crystal clear ground water spring provided us with a needed top up of water and we even had a nice level concrete foundation to park upon! None of that however is the notable part!
Waking the following morning, I happened to slide the front curtains apart to reveal a big fat Black Bear munching his way through the undergrowth in front of the car! Yep that’s the notable part!
It might not be overly exciting to a local, but certainly had us going. We strapped on the Bear Spray before venturing outside!
Roadside bear sightings were becoming quite frequent and the more we saw, the happier it made us! Also lots of enormous Wood Bison along the way.
Liard River Hot Springs really is a “must do” on the Alaska Hwy! These natural hot springs enjoyed heavy patronage during the building of the Alaska Hwy and that appears to have increased with every year since. How lucky the workers on that section of the road were to be able to soak in an unlimited bath of hot water after working all day in freezing and uncomfortable conditions! It really would have been a lifesaver.
From their natural state, these springs have been modified into more of a plunge pool experience, but with high numbers of visitors it’s probably the best way to ensure they remain for generations to come!
There were quite a few bears roaming around the area and Jen observed one very close to the springs! Unfortunately the scourge of humans has become the downfall of many of these wonderful animals! People pouring out tuna tin leftovers and the like onto the ground in the day use picnic area and a general disregard or inability to understand how to dispose of rubbish over the many years that this site has been patronised, has resulted in the local bears becoming food conditioned. This sad lack of brainpower from detestable humans resulted in 3 bears being euthanized in one week! Education programs and signs constantly push the message that “a fed bear is a dead bear” as once they have lost their natural foraging behaviour and fear of humans, they become aggressive and potentially dangerous. For sure it’s the extremely small disrespectful ignorant minority, and it’s that extremely small minority that I thoroughly loathe.
Anyway that was nice and depressing, so best we move along!
Often towns and cities have some sort of tourist attraction specifically designed to stop you, entice you in, spend a little time and support the town!
Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Sydney the Opera House, Rome the Colosseum and although more grandiose than, say, the Big Sheep statue in Wagin (SW of Australia) or the tanks on poles you see all across Russia, the strategy is the same!
Well Watson Lake has the Signpost Forest! Steal a sign from some far-flung destination or make your own and nail it to a post in the town of Watson Lake! Hilarious and yet worth stopping and having a wander without doubt! 80,000 and counting…
Camped just outside of Watson Lake alongside the airport, we were woken in the dead of night by what I can only describe as a blood curdling scream/screech! Scared the piss out of me! Haha.
Gingerly opening the camper door the next morning before peaking out,we found that our shoes had been dragged 10metres from the car! U-huh – probably a fox!
Turned out to be the screech of a Red Fox! During one of our walks whilst camped here, we came face to face with one of these creatures and I put my hand out as if I had some food. The wily animal made a B-line toward me! Obviously not frightened and used to receiving treats! The things you see when you don’t have the camera!!!
Now when I say blood-curdling screech, I’ll set the scene. It’s 3 in the morning, pitch black and absolutely silent. Picture that and click the link if you would like to see and hear a recording of what we heard!
I’ll tell the story of the next few days in pictures…
There are 2 roads that will take you north of the Arctic Circle in this part of the world – the Dempster Hwy in Yukon country and the Dalton Hwy in Alaska! These roads are both primarily supply roads, good quality graded dirt running north thorough some gorgeous terrain and tundra as they meander along.
Jen and I decided to head up the Dempster, as the chances for animal viewing are said to be excellent and we were rewarded! The highlights being 3 wolves crossing the road ahead of us, our first moose and another big fat bear! And of course reaching the Arctic Circle!!!
The drive was spoilt for me a little, however, by the lack of respect shown by other road users! Loose gravel indicates to me that you respect those coming toward you (and their windscreens!) and slow down. It was our observation that, on the Dempster, if you slow down and move over your opponent will most definitely speed up and move to the centre!
I can’t recall such a lack of driving etiquette on dirt roads anywhere I’ve travelled!
I must say the worst were the road maintenance crews obviously making smashing your windscreen a challenge but they were closely followed by a group of European tourists in 10 Mercedes G-Wagons on a high speed, 6 week, Anchorage to Texas, fuel burning, see nothing jaunt!
They managed to damage a Tacoma (Hilux) with their high-speed antics much to the disgust of its owner!
I honestly don’t know why they left home. Prior to them almost smashing our windscreen, I’d chatted to one of their party at the Arctic Circle view point before I realised I didn’t like them. They had previously completed a 6 week journey with their G-Wagons from Darwin, south to the rock and across the Simpson where they were constantly bogged (I guess sand driving isn’t’ their thing!) and shipped out of Sydney! Obviously too much disposable money! They had very limited gear with them, so likely travel hotel to hotel most nights and when combined with shipping expenses, is absolutely ludicrous in that time frame!
However I guess its whatever floats your boat right…
It was inevitable that we would also succumb to such disrespectful driving and a semi trailer left it’s star shaped imprint on our windscreen, which I was really thankful and appreciative of – not!!!
Overall we were lucky though as one car that we came upon had its sunfoof shattered in a large explosion of rocks and gravel and yes, it was raining!
Once off the Dempster, we made for Dawson City.
On arrival, we headed up to Midnight Dome, a viewpoint overlooking the town and the mighty Yukon River.
With a bit of effort, we managed a great campsite near a public gold panning area along Bonanza Creek where Jen spent all of her time in search of that elusive treasure, and elusive it was to remain! Another hopeful punter did manage a couple of small flecks however!
A local guy by the name of Stan that we got chatting to, gave Jen a few pointers on how to pan, all of which may have come in handy a little later on, but you’ll have to wait to hear about that!
I asked him about any grievances between mining leases and so on in the area as we had spotted 2 fairly new machines that seem to have been vandalised!
So it was that the equipment had indeed been vandalized and burnt as the result of a feud over mining rights!
But it gets better. Apparently just down the track there had been another rather vicious dispute over a claim resulting in one miner emptying his 45 calibre handgun into his opponent which resulted in his death and a 15 year jail sentence for said assailant. He served his time and is now back on his patch! Yep that’s gold fever for you!
Departing Dawson City, a car ferry transports you across the Yukon River where you can begin the “Top of the World Hwy”. A good quality seasonal dirt road that really feels like it’s the Top of the World at times! It’s along this road that we re-entered the USA and began our exploration of Alaska!
Cheers till then…