Whitehorse, the wilderness city

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Whitehorse is the capital of the Yukon Territory, the Land of the Midnight Sun. Whitehorse is tagged as the city ten minutes drive from nowhere for it is just minutes away from a vast and pristine backcountry.

We had a long drive  today from Watson Lake to Whitehorse which took us  6 hours and covered 269 miles. We travelled thru lush river valleys and crossed low mountain passes in the Yukon Territory. We drove slowly not because of wildlife (which were not present on this drive) but because we were  warned of  several areas where there are frost heaves and gravel breaks. We experienced three things on this stretch, Frost heaves ; dry camping and the midnight sun.

Its hard to wrap our minds around the fact that we are driving over permanently frozen ground. The Yukon portion of the  highway is built on top of the layers and the freezing and thawing of the frost underneath creates the frost heaves. That is just our little description of  it, nevertheless we heed the cautionary signs and slowed down. We also passed the washed out highway, which caused the Alaska highway to be closed for three days and caused us to stay longer at Dawson Creek. The drive is still scenic and the Yukon has its own character.

We arrived at our chosen RV park  at the Hi Country RV park without a reservation. Oh well, the only spot available is unserviced, meaning no power,  no water and no sewer. We took it and experience our first dry camping (boondocking) in an RV park. As Betsy is self contained , we can generate our own power (generator) had enough water in the tank to last us a few days and we just recently dumped at the last stop. The site is only available for a day, so instead of going through the trouble of moving to another site the next day, we packed up and moved on.  We saw several sights around Whitehorse and feel we’re ready to move on to the next milestone – Alaska is only a couple of days away!

The midnight night sun is truly fascinating. Since we arrived in Canada we have had long days, but today happens to be the Summer Solstice. There were a lot of events in Whitehorse to celebrate it. For us we stayed outside and read  to experience the sun at midnight. Then the next day  after only four hours the sun shone again at  430AM. Wow!

Since we only have a day here we took a stroll at the downtown area and a quick hike at Miles Canyon. We checked out the SS Klondike, a national historic site  but was not able to climb aboard as it was past closing time. SS Klondike is the largest sternwheeler to ply the Yukon river  bringing in freight and supplies to remote areas before construction of the highways.

We took a quick short hike at Miles Canyon originally called “Grand Canyon.” The canyon was an imposing challenged for the  gold stampeders or miners on their way up the Yukon to the gold fields due to its narrow channel followed by the whitehorse grand rapids. The image on the canyon was taken around 7PM a very bright sun was still up there.

Mile 0 on the Alaska Highway

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As we were studying and planning for our trip of a lifetime, we had occasional discussions about the city of Dawson Creek.  It seemed to be almost a magical waypoint – so far away!   But here we are now, 1,628 miles and several months from Tracy, CA.

Dawson Creek is centrally located between four highways; the Alaska Highway (97 N), the John Hart Highway (97 S), Highway 2 and Highway 49 (to Alberta).  It is also known as Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway.  The image below was typical of one we would see for “Mile 0”, and now we were here!

Mile 0 Alaska highway

This cairn is the location that the US Army surveyors designated as the beginning of the Alaska Highway

What about Mile 0?  Dawson Creek is famous for being located at Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway, where it begins and ends in Delta Junction, Alaska.  The Mile 0 cairn is the exact spot that the U.S. military surveyed as the starting point for the construction of the Alaska Highway.  All mileages on the Alaska Highway were and still are measured from this actual spot.

A scrap iron Surveyor sculpture is pointing the way to Alaska.

A scrap iron sculpture of a surveyor pointing the way to Alaska.  OK, off we go!

We strolled around the city’s downtown to get a flavor of its historical past.  Next we dropped by the Alaska Highway House to learn how the history of the highway unfolded.

It was quite an epic tale of hardship.  The original Alaska Highway consisted of 1,528 miles and was completed in just eight months on Nov 20, 1942.  Seeing the movie/documentary made us appreciate the incredibly hard work and hardship of the men who built it.

Alaska Highway

The famed Alaska Highway, from Dawson Creek, BC to Delta Junction, Alaska

Also in the downtown area was the post that symbolized designation of Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway.

Mile 0 Post Alaska Highway

Mile 0 post landmark

We intended to visit here for just a couple of nights, but because of torrential rains up north in the Yukon territory, a portion of the highway had been washed out.  So we extended our stay for several days to explore more of the city and the surrounding area, while waiting for the road to get fixed.  Just part of the adventure!

We also took this opportunity to do some small maintenance and preparation projects on Betsy and the car, to make them ready for the challenging trip ahead.  The park was quite packed, as everyone was waiting for news that the highway ahead had been repaired and reopened.  We mingled and made friends with our neighbors, exchanging stories and plans about our upcoming adventures.

This is where Betsy got her wash

Steve getting a good work out

To kill some time while at Dawson Creek, we drove out of town and explored the Bear Mountain Wind Farm, which is a 30-minute gravel-road drive.  There were 34 wind turbines on the farm, each weighing 236 tons and standing 256 feet tall.  At the base of turbine #34 was a trail that lead out to a meadow.  In Tracy, CA where we used to live, there were hundreds of wind turbines adorning the Altamont Pass just a few miles away.  We came to this farm to hike and enjoy the view that our hometown turbines can’t match.

After hiking down to the meadow, we stopped for a quick lunch.  We rate this trail as “strenuous”, since the climb up/down was every bit as steep as the one to Vernal Falls in Yosemite.  When we got back to the trailhead an hour later, we saw another trail which led to the rim of the rocks and offered spectacular views west to the Rocky Mountains.  We did not encounter any wildlife, but the views were amazing.

Base of the 256′ tall steel tower of #34 Wind Turbine

That’s way up there!  Up close, the blades make an unusual sound as they spin

Steep climb up and down this trail

Dawson Creek, BC

Taking it all in

Dawson Creek, BC

We walked across a beautiful meadow

Next we drove north to check out the the only remaining wooden bridge on the Alaska Highway.  The Kiskatinaw bridge, at 534 ft. long, is sloped and has a 9-degree curve to conform with a bend in the highway.

Kiskatinaw Bridge

Historic curved wooden bridge and the only original Alaska Highway bridge still in use.

Pay a dollar for using the shopping cart and get reimbursed afterward.  Some places charge for plastic bags, too.

After four days of waiting, the road finally reopened with limited traffic and warnings to expect long delays.  Most of our neighbors left, but we decided to hang out another day to avoid the rush of RVs and trucks going in and out of Alaska.  We will be leaving on the 15th and pick up the pace a bit until we arrive at our next milestone stop, Whitehorse in the Yukon territory.

Canadian tidbits:

Diesel fuel is about a dollar more per gallon than in the USA.

Blinking green lights warn of pedestrians crossing ahead.

The sun rises at 5:43AM and sets at 10:46pm right now, long days are ahead!

A six pack of beer costs $12.00-$15.00, and we had to go to a liquor store to get it – grocery stores do not sell alcohol here.

You pay $1.00 to use a shopping cart, but get reimbursed when you return it.

Be ready to cough up 5 cents for each plastic grocery bag if you don’t bring our own reusable bags.



 

Beautiful British Columbia

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Our first milestone of our Alaskan adventure places us at Dawson Creek,British Columbia  where Mile 0 of the Alaskan Highway begins.

We took the classic itinerary to Alaska  via the West Coast route  starting at Vancouver . The drive towards Dawson Creek took us  along amazing sights and  scenic highways known as the Trans-Canada Highway 1  that  links to  the Cariboo Highway (97) and  finally on the  John Hart Highway. The drive in every turn reveal to us  canyons,  tunnels, sweeping vistas, waterfalls, rivers, lakes, green  valleys, Canadian rockies, wildlife and on and on. It was just beautiful ! However it was not your normal drive on a highway. Since it is mountainous we were cautioned with steep grades, winding curves, narrow steep climb, truck traffic, sudden changes in weather  and most importantly to watch for  wild animals. This league covered 732 miles, with overnight  stops at Cache Creek, Quesnel, Chetwynd and finally at Dawson Creek.

After visiting the Visitor center at Dawson Creek we were told that a portion of  Alaska Highway in the Yukon territory is closed due to mudslides. Since this is the only major highway in and out of Alaska, the Canadian crews are working non stop to repair the damage,  and we are keeping our fingers crossed. In this part of the world weather and highway conditions are major factors  and travelers  must be on the know or you will be stuck in the wilderness.