Day 7 – Up the Dempster to the Arctic Ocean and Tuktoyaktuk

From the junction of the Klondike and Dempster Highways, it’s 456 miles (734 km) to Inuvik, North West Territories and then an additional 86 miles (138 km) north to Tuktoyaktuk, North West Territories beside the Arctic Ocean.

The Dempster Highway is only paved for the first 5 miles (8 km) from the Klondike Highway and the last 6 miles (10 km) into Inuvik. The road is open year round but it is a hard road on vehicles and tires, its gravel surface has sudden changes, potholes, becomes boggy and slick in wet weather and is made of crushed shale, which is very damaging to tires. You will need to use 2 free ferries on your drive to Inuvik. Calcium Chloride is used to stabilize the road during wet conditions so it’s advisable to clean the vehicle as soon as you can after traversing this road.

Woke up the next morning and there was a light rain falling. It lasted for a few hours in the morning then cleared up.

Making our way up the Dempster we pass Engineer Creek Yukon Government Campground at mile 120 (193.8 k) where it was decided a short break was needed. We drive around the loop of campsites to explore the possibility of this being a stop on the way south. It was fortunate that we went through as I noticed a gentleman’s vehicle I knew from Instagram that was also making the trip north. He had already been to Tuktoyaktuk and was making his way south. Stopped for about 30 minutes exchanging tales of our adventures so far. The campground is full and very quiet although quite soggy from the rain and has many mosquitoes swarming about, no doubt from the rain. This was an area with he most mosquitoes experienced on the trip.

You must go all the way to Eagle Plains for gas, food, and lodging. This small outpost is located 229 miles (369 k) form the the gas station at the intersection with the Klondike Highway. Remember to fill up with gas when available along the Dempster, there might be long distances between services.

At 252 miles (405.5 km) from the Junction with the Klondike Highway you arrive at the Arctic Circle.

At 289 miles (465 km) you pass into the Northwest Territories. This Territory has approximately 519,734 sq mi (1,346,106 km2 ) with a population of only 44,420 residents (estimate for 2019).

Just a short distance takes you to the first ferry crossing at the Peel River. We are the only vehicles on this northern crossing of the ferry.

Video by H. Berge

Video by H. Berge

One mile past the ferry crossing we arrive at our camp for the night, Nitainlai Interpretive Center and Territorial Park Campground. The center has very nice exhibits and displays of the Gwich’in culture. The adjacent campground has water, firewood, toilets and wonderful warm showers. It is a nice respite after a days driving.

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Before settling down for the evening gasoline is required in the vehicles and as tomorrow is Sunday the stations won’t be open till about noon. It is a short drive north into Fort McPherson, a town of a population of approximately 791 people with a Café, 2 grocery stores, 2 gas/diesel stations and an 8-room hotel 342 miles (465 k) along the highway.

 

Day 6 – Campbell Highway, Klondike Highway and onto the Dempster.

After an easy breakfast we left camp about 8:30 to continue along Canada Highway 4, The Campbell Highway following old fur trade routes. This 362-mile (5983 km) paved but mostly gravel road will lead to Highway 2, the Klondike Highway,  for the adventure to the far reaches of the Northwest Territories and the Arctic Ocean along the Dempster Highway.

The highway is 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 distance 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.

Stopping at several overlooks of the Yukon River we noticed several small dots moving along the river. Canoeists were floating and paddling with the current, their boats loaded down with camping gear. Now that looks like a great adventure to make (another bucket list item).

We are now in a landmass named Beringia stretching from eastern Siberia, through Alaska, and to the Yukon. This area was not covered in glaciers at the time of the Ice Age but was an area of dry, dusty, treeless Steppe where you could see Bison, wild ponies, Wooly Mammoths among other animals. During the ice age the water level dropped 425 feet (130 m) creating Beringia, the land bridge between Russia and North America.

Making it to the the Klondike Highway I stopped at a scenic overlook and made lunch. What a delightful place to eat.

It was decided early that this day would be another drive day to make it to the Dempster Highway quickly as a storm was moving into the area. Wanting good weather in Tuktoyaktuk we pressed on making it to the start of the Dempster at about 4:30 in the afternoon. Filling with gas at the intersection we continued about 70 miles to stop and camp at the end of a emergency airstrip. Pulling far off the end of the runway and completely off the marked airstrip we set up camp at 7:00.

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.

 

ALASKAN HIGHWAY (THE AL-CAN)

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A road that was proposed for years became a military necessity due to the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is a road that has been dubbed “a significant feat of time critical engineering and construction” by The American Society of Civil Engineers. In 1995 it was awarded the Historic Civil Engineering Landmark Status” and is a 20th century engineering achievement.

Viewed with by congress as an urgent matte,  it was February 11, 1942 that a Special Committee and President Roosevelt authorized the construction of a joint United States/Canadian effort to build the road north. During it’s construction the Japanese also invaded Attu and Kiska Islands in the Pacific adding to the urgency to protect this state of America and the Pacific shipping lanes.

Even though it was only a dirt/gravel path through the wilderness during the war this historic road was needed as a vital military route to provide supplies, troops and equipment safely to Alaska. An engineering feat to get this 1,390 mile (2,237 km) road completed in such a short amount of time, not just because of it’s length but also for the terrain and environmental restrictions placed by the regions it traversed; then finally that Canada was deeded the access road after the war to gain access into it’s remote northwestern region that was difficult to access at the time.

Construction of the AL/CAN (Alaska-Canadian Highway) officially began on March 9, 1942 with a mobilization of men from the United States. Work along the route was to be provided by American troops and individuals. The Canadian Government provided the right of way through Canada, waived import duties, sales tax, income tax, immigration and provided construction materials along the route. After the war the portion of the highway in Canada was to be turned over to the Canadian Government. America would provide all the manpower and equipment to build this road through the wilderness.

During construction there were numerous rivers to cross. At the time of original construction there were a total of 133 bridges along its route, 64 were more than 100 feet (30.5 m) in length. Pontoon bridges were first constructed to continue work on the road while a timber truss or timber trestle bridge was being constructed. These timber bridges were no match for the winters and the water flows of these untamed waters, so 99 of the 133 bridges were replaced with steel truss bridges, steel I-beam bridges, plate girder bridges, suspension bridges, and reinforced concrete bridges.

More than 10,000 American troops poured into Canada to locate, survey and construct this path north. No formal roads existed north of Dawson Creek, B.C. so the army was instructed to push north from that railhead.

Following winter roads, summer pack trails and winter trap lines a route was surveyed by using local information about the makeup of the topography. With skimpy rations and harsh conditions these individuals completed the road on October 25, 1942 just 8 months and 12 days after the start of construction. Finally opened to the public in 1948 it is one of the iconic adventure road trips for many people.

 

Day 2 – Onward toward Dawson Creek and the Alaskan Highway

After waking up and eating a good breakfast we continue north on Canada Hwy 97 and take a side loop road to Chasm Ecological Reserve. This canyon was carved by a stream 10,000 years ago at the close of the Ice Age. You can see the layers of lava in the walls of the chasm.

Along this section of Highway there are Mile Houses. These were so named because they are located that many miles from Lillooet (Mile 0) of the Cariboo Wagon Road. As the gold rush subsided, ranchers began to settle the surrounding areas and the towns held onto those names.

At the town of 100 Mile House, the worlds largest pair of cross country skis, as stated by the plaque in front, stand in front of the Visitors Center. 100 Mile House’s origins as a settlement go back to when Thomas Miller owned a collection of buildings serving as a resting point for the traffic of gold seekers moving north to the gold fields.  It acquired its name during the Cariboo Gold Rush when a roadhouse was constructed in 1862 at the 100 mile (160 km) mark up the Cariboo Wagon Road from Lillooet.

Giant Skis

And the first revision to the trip, it was decided to not stop at Barkerville and continue north. Barkerville shall be saved for a future adventure.

After passing through the large town of Prince George it was time to visit another site just off the highway, The Huble Homestead Historical Park.

Getting there right before to closing we had about a 1/2 hour to hurriedly walk through the Farmhouse, and Barn before looking around at the farm equipment in the fields surrounding the homestead. The farmhouse is a typical Ontario Farmhouse that took nearly a year to complete. Mr Huble later relocated and connected the old smaller family cabin to the side of the house to be used as summer kitchen. The house consists of a parlor, dining room, an office, a first floor master bedroom, and four upstairs bedrooms.

A barn, equipment shed and several small individual workers cabins surround the homestead.

Al Huble and Edward Seebach partnered to set up a business selling goods to trappers in the area and people passing through. After 10 years the business became so successful they built a false front General Store facing the river, painting it white to draw attention to it. This building, relocated closer to the Homestead Historical Park, served local land owners, travelers on the Fraser River and construction crews for the new Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad.

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Continuing the northward trek, the nights campsite was at Crooked River Provincial Park along side Bear Lake. After setting up camp and having a quick bite to eat it was time for a stroll down along the lake shore to again be witness to a beautiful sunset.

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.

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

Lassen_Volcanic_National_Park_map

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.