Going into our next leg was something we weren’t excited about and can not to be taken lightly. Driving back over the Alaska Highway and particularly on the long stretch from Tok was jarring, tortuous and induced crankiness and a few expletives due to the many remaining un-repaired frost heaves. (Frost heaves are still an unresolved problem.) We learned from the first time driving here in June that going 6 long hours and 226 miles of rough road in one way was not a great idea for us and Betsy. So we sliced this stretch into three manageable segments.
Sure enough, after two months the highway had improved very little. It was quite funny that right after crossing the border into Canada, the road deteriorated very quickly. Our average driving was 15 mph for the gravel road and 30-35 between the frost heaves, dips, rough pavement and potholes. We were really slooooow, and that is the key thing to preserve Betsy from any damage. We heard from other adventurers that a few RV ‘s encounter issues along this stretch. We dont want this to happen to Betsy now that we are winding down our trip. A note to other adventurers – don’t let us scare you – a 40 ft RV towing a car will get tossed around much more (and possibly damaged) by frost heaves than a smaller, more nimble class-C motorhome or a trailer. Most people can drive this stretch of the road more easily and faster than we could.
The only thing that remained unchanged on this stretch was the beauty of the scenery which Steve unfortunately could not really enjoy as he focused on the road. Fall colors on the mountains and flowers along the highway are now starting to emerge.
The second time around brought us back into the history of the Alaska Highway and these are areas we missed the first time in June.
Our first stop was White River RV park in the Yukon Territory situated next to an airstrip and we stayed for two nights. Bob and Amanda are both great park owners and made us comfortable while we were there. In fact Bob, who is a history buff and collects antiques and artifacts, gave us a free private tour . He rounded up a few guests and off we went on his 1942 Dodge group hauler – which was originally used during the Alaska highway construction. This guy is quite a character and drove his truck literally over shrubs and small trees! He pointed out the remains of equipment and tools used during the highway contraction, which were literally just left behind when the project was completed. He took us to the White River and showed us the original Alaska highway as it was in 1942. As you may recall from our previous blog, the Alaska highway was built and completed in just under 10 months for military purposes. But it wasn’t the road we drive on now, it was basically just a bulldozed single lane road built over the top of timbers and gravel. It is amazing to learn about how tough those people were who completed such a massive project.
Our second 2-night stop was at the Cottonwood RV Park, situated along fabulous Kluane Lake. The park afforded us with stunning views of the lake, which is the longest in the Yukon at 43 miles long. Forget Tahoe, these lakes are huge! Five miles from the park is Soldier’s Summit at Mile 1053, where the highway was officially dedicated and opened on Nov 20, 1942, on a brisk -35 degree day. Did I say these people were tough? While we were there, a convoy of historic military vehicles pulled into the parking lot. We learned that they are currently celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Alaska Highway by driving it in original military convoys. Very cool!
Now the topper for Steve – we saw the Northern Lights!!! Bob at the White River Park mentioned that the Aurora Borealis lights are now visible as it is getting darker in August. We were so upset that we had missed them, so we set our alarm clock for 1:00am the next night to see for ourselves. Unfortunately the clouds were moving in so it was not to be. We tried again the following night but there was a storm moving through. Then on our first night at Cottonwood, Steve got up at 2:00am and there they were! Fantastic glowing flames of green dancing light shooting across the sky. We were prepared to come all the way back to Fairbanks this winter just to see the lights, but got extremely lucky on the 23rd and it was a good show. Check that one off the bucket list!
The last stop on this segment was the provincial campground at Million Dollar Falls, where we dry-camped for two days. Here we met two women, Nancy(Birdie) and Liz driving their own RV’s alone. We first talked to them at Kenny Lake then met again at Cottonwood RV Park and then here at the campground. We think they are quite adventurous and brave to be driving alone even if they were a part of a bigger group of women(Womenrv.com/fprum).
Our next and final stop here will be Haines, our jump off point to explore Southeast Alaska.