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 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 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.

Homestead 12

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.

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.

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.

Fort Stevens and Ecola State Parks, Oregon

After a restful nights sleep I make a small breakfast, pack up and head out for the short 1-hour drive across the Columbia River into Oregon for a visit to Fort Stevens State Park. Located in the far northwest tip of the state this park is bordered on 1 side by the mouth of the Columbia River and on  second side by the Graveyard of the Pacific This 4,300 acre (17.4 sq km) park has much to offer to its visitors; walk or drive along the beach, hike coastal and forested paths, bicycle along bike trails, camp, beachcomb, birdwatch, visit a shipwreck, explore an abandoned military installation used during the Civil War and World War II. Or just relax and enjoy the area.

Fort Stevens Park Map

My first stop was to see one of the shipwrecks along this stretch of the Graveyard of the Pacific. Along with approximately 2,000 other ships since 1792, the remains of the Peter Iredale now rests on the sandy beach. Only a portion of this 275 foot (83.8 m) long steel ship remains, grounded where she came to rest in 1906 from a navigation error in dense fog by its Captain due to the areas treacherous weather and storms. It has become an attraction since the day it grounded on the sandbar.

 

Next stop was Fort Stevens. First built in 1863-64 during the Civil War it was in use up until the end of World War II, it was part of a 3-fort system at the mouth of the Columbia River to defend this waterway and ports from attack by sea. The other 2 forts were located in the state of Washington; Fort Canby at Cape Disappointment and Fort Columbia a few miles up river from Fort Canby. (For my visit to Fort Canby and Cape Disappointment see LINK)

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Fort Stevens installation map

 

 

 

During World War II a Japanese submarine fired upon Fort Stevens in June of 1942, making this fort notable as being the only military base on the Continental United States to be fired upon by an enemy since the War of 1812. 17 rounds were fired at the fort with no real damage being done.

After a full morning of exploring the buildings and small Fort Stevens Visitors Center – Museum I enjoyed a late picnic lunch and continued my journey south on Highway 101 to visit Ecola State Park. This 9 mile (14.5 k) long stretch of beach lets you enjoy hiking, picnicking, tidepooling, surfing and scenic coastal vistas. Located just north of Cannon Beach, OR I leave Highway 101 and travel the13 miles (21 k) of twisty narrow roadway into the north area of the park to see Indian Beach Day Use Area. This secluded beach is a spot frequented by surfers, beachcombers, and tidepool explorers and is reached along a short path down the hillside to the beach. Extending north is a network of trails that will provide a 2 ½ mile (4 k) loop trail to the top of Bald Mountain or continue north to Tillamook Head trailhead which is part of the Oregon Coast Trail. The loop trail is part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Tail, walked by Lewis Clark and a band of men from the Corps of Discovery to search for a beached whale in 1806. They were hoping to return to Fort Clatsop with whale blubber as they fought hunger from their time there. They sadly return empty handed.

Day 2 Ecola State Park Map

 

 

 

After this beautiful day of exploring I returned to my car and drove the 2 hours back to my home to plan the next trip in a few weeks, south to visit my family and friends at the home I just moved from.