Day 5 – Into the Yukon Territories

Leaving the Northern Rockies Lodge we continuing traveling on the Alaska Highway heading toward the Yukon Territory.

 

 

Lower Liard Bridge built in 1943 is a 1,143-foot (348 m) long suspension bridge is the last remaining suspension bridge along the Highway.

Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park is a day use area with some camping. A short hike leads back into the Hot Springs Pool and has been a favorite stop along the highway to soak away those long days of driving. Passing through Liard River Hot Springs there are buffalo all over the road. It was like I was transported to Yellowstone National Park where I was stuck in a Buffalo traffic jamb. The buffalo here stuck to the shoulder of the road not creating a problem for traffic.

 

The Alaska Highway travels east and west for a portion of the route today so you pass into and back out of the Yukon Territory for a few miles until you enter it for good about the 7.5 miles (12 k) before the town of Watson Lake.

 

Next stop was Watson Lake, a town 612 miles (980 km) along the Alaska Highway is best known for the few acres of the offbeat at the Sign Post Forest. Designated in 2013 as a Yukon Historic Site, was started by Carl Lindley by adding a sign at this location pointing to his hometown with the mileage. Other G.I.’s added more signs to the post for their hometowns. started this collection of signs and license plates from all over the world during the construction of the AL-CAN. Numbering about over 80,000 signs travelers are still adding to this collection. Right behind is the Alaska Highway Interpretive Center, which has a video on Yukon history with photos and displays of the construction of the AL-CAN. This was town was important during the construction due to the airport and being one of the major refueling stops of the Northwest Staging Route.

 

Turning north along Canada Highway 4, The Campbell Highway, a 362-mile (5983 km) paved but mostly gravel road will lead to Highway 2.

 

Named after the first white man to explore the Yukon area, John Campbell, this all season road leads from Watson Lake to just north of Carmacks on Klondike Highway (2). This rougher road is shorter in mileage than continuing along to the junction of the Alaskan Highway and the Klondike Highway but it is much slower. Services are few and far between along this highway.

At Ross River, a supply and communications base for prospectors in the area that is now a jumping off point for hunters and canoeists, it was decided to stopper the evening at Lapie River Campground. Setting ups camp we took the short walk down too the river to enjoy the sounds.

 

Day 4 – Onward to Fort Nelson and Beyond

Waking up the next morning there was a light rain dropping on the tent. Packing up quickly and having a quick breakfast we cross the Kiskatinaw Bridge and link back up with the Alaska Highway a little further north from where we left it last night.

Here are some sights that are located along the drive today. Medium to heavy rain meant we continued on praying that it would stop for the evening camping.

H. Maclean Rotary RV Park at Charlie Lake has a memorial for 12 soldiers that drowned in May of 1942 when their pontoon boat sank transporting equipment to the job site on the opposite bank of the river.

The treacherous Suicide Hill was a grade that welcomed travelers with a signpost reading “PREPARE TO MEET THY MAKER”. Guess you had to have a sense of humor if you were traveling up here in the early years. The Highway now bypasses this hill.

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Suicide Hill

Sikanni Chief River Bridge was the first permanent structure completed along the highway. Built by African American army engineers it was destroyed by an arson fire in 1992. Only the original pilings are remaining.

The southern end of the Trutch Mountain Bypass is at Historic Milepost 191. This section of the Highway was bypassed in 1987 with a new road eliminating a steep mountainous winding drive. The original roadbed is a gravel road still in use by gas and oil patch crews.

Fort Nelson 283 miles (454.3 km) north of Dawson Creek is another town offering lodging, services, campgrounds and a few attractions. Originally based on the fur trade, the town was built in 1865 along the Fort Nelson River’s west bank after the second town was destroyed by fire after the local aboriginals killed the 8 inhabitants in 1813. A upward growing population in the 1940’s and 1950’s got the town recognized as an Improvement District in 1957 and finally a village status in 1987. Mile zero to clearing crews of the AL-CAN, this town is where the first clearing crews started work along the AL-CAN as a winter road already existed between Dawson Creek and Fort Nelson.

Arriving in Fort Nelson it was still raining pretty good so went into the Visitor Center for a break from the drive and to discuss the plans for the night. This is a very nice Visitor Center with a great information desk, a souvenir shop, visitor information brochures, a short movie on the area and a large sitting area for resting. Going onto WiFi it was shown by weather apps that the rain will not subside anytime soon and is scheduled to be pretty heavy at times.

Searching the road ahead it was determined to try and get a place to stay along Muncho Lake at The Northern Rockies Lodge. This is a nice lodge but a little expensive. Oh well, this might be the last time for a room and shower for awhile and the rain was coming down pretty good.

Asking the information desk on a nice place to have a late lunch it was recommended to try a restaurant just down the street. The Gourmet Girl is a small establishment that serves very good food in a quaint atmosphere.

Veering west for 200 miles (322 km) the Highway enters a dense forested area with distant wilderness vistas of 100 miles (161 km) or more.

Gardner Creek is named for local trapper Archie Gardner who helped recon this part of the AL-CAN. He is remembered in Earl Browns book “Alcan Trailblazers” by Harry Spiegal as “An old trapper….who has lived up here all his life, is the wrangler and is in charge of the string. He wears homemade moose-hide beaded moccasins; Kentucky-jean pants [and] a big beaten slouch hat. A hank of grey hair protrudes from his old hat and half covers his eyes. He sports a half growth of stubby grey whiskers and smokes a crooked, big bowl, sweet smelling pipe…..Archie is 62 years old and even though quite thin and weather beaten, he is as straight as a spruce tree and as nimble as a boy in his teens…..Archie knows this country like a book and I’m sure his knowledge of this terrain is going to be very helpful for our work.”

A required stop along the Highway is Testa River Lodge, Services and Campground for some world famous cinnamon buns. This is a very nice location with small souvenir shop, campground with showers and laundry, and a nice outside covered sitting area to rest.

At Historic Milepost 392 is the highest pass on the highway at 4,250-feet (1,295 m).

Another reroute of the original Highway is at Muncho Lake. The original highway is far above the lake on the mountaintop and required considerable excavation by the crews. It was relocated to a benched terrace right above the lake; hikers and mountain bikers now use the original road.

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Arriving at the nights destination, Northern Rockies Lodge, it is a lovely place. This historic highway lodge is open year round providing accommodations, a full service restaurant, gas, seasonal camping and a flying service.

Day 3 – To Dawson Creek

It was a short drive to Dawson Creek, B.C. from the campsite.

Along this section of Highway 97 is the Town of Chetwynd with its chainsaw carving project that began as part of the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Alaska (Alcan) highway. Located along the main roadway and at the Visitor Center these carved chainsaw statues are something to admire and are exquisite as you pass through.

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The Alaskan Highway formally starts in Dawson Creek, BC at Mile Marker 0. The 1,422-mile (2,288.5 km) long formal Alaskan Highway ends in Delta Junction, AK while the unofficial end is in Fairbanks, AK, 1,523 miles (2,451 km) from Dawson Creek, BC.

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Dawson Creek was incorporated as a city in 1958 and is a principal railhead of the British Columbia Railway and the intersection of 4 major highways in the area. Make sure to get your photo at Milepost 0 Cairn, visit the Pioneer Village, Dawson Creek Art Gallery and the Alaska Highway House to name a few of the sites in town. And if you have time visit the Northern Alberta Railways Park.

We saw the Mile Zero Cairn / Sign Post for a photo op, the Surveyor Statue, visited the Alaska Highway House Museum, walked the couple of blocks to see the Official Zero-mile Post a few blocks away and had a nice lunch at Hug a Mug’s Coffee House and Eatery.

It is sad the original, official mile post mark was a part of countless pranks and kidnappings with this new one replacing it in the 1980’s.

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Driving 20 minutes north of town, the stop for the night was at the Kiskatinaw Provincial Park. This campsite is located right next to the curved, wooden Historic Kiskatinaw Bridge. Kiskatinaw means “cutback” in Cree. Constructed in 1942-43 by the US Public Roads Administration it replaced an original 3 span timber trestle. With a 9 degree curve to accommodate the Steep grade change and the need to notch a cliff at the east end. It was one of 133 permanent bridges built to replace the temporary bridges built by the U.S Army. At about 122m (400 foot) long it was the first curved bridge to be constructed in Canada and one of the last in North America to remain.

 

 

Day 1 – The first push from Vancouver, WA

Planning this adventure has been a 2 year ambition of mine. Last year life got in the way of the trip so this year it was a go. I got some interest from a few people that would like to tag along and one did show up at my house the day before departure.

Leaving early to get through the Sunday morning Seattle traffic the first stop will be the border crossing into Canada. After an easy crossing at the border we headed toward Abbotsford, British Columbia  going north on BC 11 to Canadian Hwy 1.

The first section of the journey follows Canada Hwy 1 and the Frasier River. A 20-mile section of this road also includes 7 tunnels you must pass through.

Stopping at Hells Gate we elect to walk the 35 minutes down into the canyon instead of taking the Aerial Tram (Gondola). This abrupt narrowing of the river is located just downstream of Boston Bar. The rock walls of the river plunge toward each other forcing the waters through a passage only 35 meters (115 ft) wide.

The narrow passage has been a fishing ground for Local Native communities in the area for centuries. European settlers began to congregate there in the summer months to fish. This canyon became a route used by fortune seekers of Gold Rush miners accessing the upper Fraser gold-bearing bars and the upper country beyond. It was a dangerous passage where canoes didn’t dare its rapids. Ladders and shelf roads were constructed to get around its treacherous waters. Only one Sternwheeler successfully manuvered through this section of the canyon.

Continuing on Canadian 1 for a short time we decided to stop at Goldpan Provincial Park for the night. Finding a campsite along the river makes for an ideal location for the nights camp. After eating dinner it’s a short walk to the water to sit on the back with feet in the cool water and watch the sun set behind the mountain.

And this is what was heard in the tents all night long, what a sweet background noise to lull you into slumber.

A forest trail adventure to dinner at Tillamook Cheese Factory, May 4th, 2019

It was decided we will make a Cheesy Mud Run in the Tillamook State Forest to the Tillamook Cheese Factory located on the Oregon Coast for dinner and ice cream. It was a nice day, sunny warm but alas not much mud. We did find one mud hole in an old quarry the guys had to go through to get the rigs dirty.

Starting early we left Vancouver for the drive to the trail head at a staging area named Rodgers Camp. Gathering there most of us hit the last outhouse we would see until dinner and the headed out along the trail. This was to be an easy drive as this was my youngest grandsons first off-road excursion at 9 months.

Not much to write about but hope you enjoy the following photos and videos.

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We stopped for lunch on top a nice knoll. The kids played while we got sandwiches ready and had a nice leisurely lunch as the kids ate, ran and played.

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After lunch clean up we headed east to the coast and dinner.

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Sorry no photos at the Cheese Factory or the food, it was late in the day and we were all so hungry we ordered and sat down and just chowed it down. I must say the burger was delicious and the pizza my 4yo grandson had looked great. The ice cream was as good as always. It is so nice that this farmers Co-Op has fresh food and cheese and ice cream made right on premisis from local cows. If you get a chance stop by tour the facility, shop for some of the best cheese and have some great food.

Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, CA

I had just an evening and a few hours the next morning to explore the Alabama Hills. I got in after dark and it was very windy and cold Halloween night so I didn’t want to spend too much time outside. I shall return with more time to explore the Movie Road and Movie Flats to find the locations of the arches and television / movie shooting locations. The Museum of Western Film History in Lone Pine will provide a history and has information and self-guided tours of the area.

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Map of several of the Alabama Hills movie sites

These hills, arches and rock formations on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada are in the shadow of Mount Whitney just west of the California town of Lone Pine. Located right off the road to Whitney Portal, the starting point for climbing the 11th highest peak in the United States and the tallest in California, this BLM land is open for exploring, hiking, astronomy, camping and exploring. The formations are part of the same geological formation although geographically separate from the Sierra Nevada Mountains just adjacent to the east

Mines in the area were named after the Confederate Civil War ship the CSS Alabama by sympathetic confederate miners of the time and then it became the name of the entire area. When the Alabama was finally sunk by the USS Kearsarge in 1864 the mining district, a mountain pass and peak and a town were named Kearsarge by sympathetic union miners.

Used by television and movie productions for filming, especially Westerns. Since the 1920’s this rugged environment has been shown in approximately 150 movies and a dozen television shows. A few of the early television shows have been Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy, The Gene Audrey Show, The Lone Ranger, and Bonanza. While Gunga Din, The Walking Hills, Yellow Sky, Springfield Rifle, The Violent Men, Bad Day at Black Rock and How the West was Won are some of the Movie Classics. Current Films have included Gladiator, Django Unchained, Iron Man, Man of Steel, Firefly and Tremors.

Nighttime is just as impressive as the landscape during the day as the Alabama Hills is a Bortle Class 2 “average dark sky” site. On a clear moonless night many star formations and the Milky Way appear brightly in the night sky.

My visit to Lassen Volcanic National Park on a trip south to visit family.

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I left Vancouver for southern California and my first overnight stop was Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California. As the name implies it’s major features are volcanic in origin. Being the southern most volcano of the Cascade Range the prominent features of the park are the largest plug volcano in the world, Lassen Peak and it’s sulfur – thermal hot springs.

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Originally two separate National Monuments dedicated in 1907 by Theodore Roosevelt, Cinder Cone and Lassen Peak National Monuments were declared Lassen Volcanic National Park in 1916.

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I arrived late in the afternoon after an 8 1/2 hour drive and set up camp at Manzanita Lake Campground located in the northern section of the park. Then I proceeded to walk the loop trail around Manzanita Lake, ate dinner and enjoyed a nice campfire before retiring to my tent to read and fall asleep.

 

Accessible by five vehicle entrances the majority of visitors enter either from the north or south along State Route 89, named the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway or Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway, off State route 44 in the north and 89 from the south. Three unpaved roads enter the park but do not connect with the main road through the park, Highway 89.

The north-south 29-mile (46.6k) road, Highway 89, was constructed between 1925 and 1931. The road summit is the highest in the Cascades topping at 8,512 feet (2,594 m). This road is closed in the winter months due to snow, which can reach 40 feet (12.2m) deep.

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Early morning along the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway

 

I got up early, had a quick breakfast and packed up to head south along Route 89 to visit the sites of the park. It was very interesting stopping at the many informative signs along the road to read the history of the park.

 

The last minor to major eruption started in 1914 and lasted until 1921 creating a new crater on Lassen Peak. Releasing ash and lava it fortunately did not kill anyone. This eruption covered many miles of forestlands with landslides and the new growth forest today stands many feet above the old forest floor. These landslides also created Manzanita Lake as it damned Manzanita Creek.

The first blast was on May 19, 1915 and was said to be a night to remember with it’s steam explosion and subsequent mudflows. Had it not been for Elmer Sorahan many people might have died but he ran 3 miles (4.8k) to warn others after escaping the explosion.

 

Three days later on May 22, 1915 another explosion on Lassen Peak threw ash, pumice, rock and gas into the air that was more devastating to the area than the first. The pressure in the mountain built up like a lid on a boiling pot of water and finally blew. You can now explore this area on a ½ mile (0.8k) loop trail or take the strenuous 2,000 foot (609.6m) 5 mile (8k) round trip hike to the top of 10,457 foot (3,187m) Lassen Peak. Many other hiking opportunities exist in the park along with backpacking, auto-touring, bird watching, camping skiing, skiing, snow play, and snowshoeing.

There are 5 hydrothermal areas to explore within the park. Sulphur Works, Bumpass Hell, Devils Kitchen, Boiling Springs Lake and Thermal Geyser. I am limiting myself to 2 for this trip.

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My first hydrothermal area would have been the hike out to Bumpass Hell Hydrothermal Area, a moderate 3 mile (4.8k) round trip hike. This is the largest hydrothermal area of the park with temperatures of up to 322 degrees F (161 degrees C). I had done this hike with my kids back in the early 1990’s although I found the trail closed this season for maintenance of the trail and boardwalk through the 2018 season.

My next stop was Sulphur Works, a formation of mudpots, steam vents and boiling springs located right off the main road. This hydrothermal area in near the center of a massive composite volcano that collapsed many thousands of years ago. Mount Tehama or Brokeoff Mountain was estimated to be 1,000 feet (304m) higher than Lassen Peak. Active 400,000 to 600,000 years ago it is estimated to be nearly 11 miles (17.7k) across and had towered to 11,500 feet (3,505k).

 

My final stop was the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center at the south entry of the park to visit the small museum learning the history of the park, peoples and area and had a nice talk with the Rangers.

Now for the long 8 hour drive down the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains along State highway 395 to the BLM area of Alabama Hills outside of Lone Pine, CA.