The second time around – Alaska Highway, Yukon

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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.

Protection from frost heaves, Alaska highway

Crude and inexpensive way of protecting our car. It will be re-purposed into a regular tarp at the end of this trip.

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.

Canada Border

We are in Canada again.

Frost heaves

Frost heaves decorated with blooming fall wildflowers.

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.

1942 Troop Hauler.

A private tour with Bob aboard his 1942 Troop Hauler.

original Alaska highway

Posing on top of bridge remnants from the original Alaska highway (Yukon portion)

How the original Alaska highway was built

How the original Alaska highway was built in 1942 and what remained of it 70 years later as shown on the previous picture.

White River

Hiking at White River

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!

Soldiers Summit, Kluane lake

Stunning vista of Kluane lake viewed from Soldier’s Summit

Soldier's Summit

Dedication plaque at Soldier’s Summit

Alaska Highway Convoy

Convoy of historic military vehicles

Kluane Mountains

Kluane Mountains

Kluane Lake

Beautiful Kluane Lake looking north

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans along the highway

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).

Frost Heaves

Unchanged beautiful scenery

Yukon Territory

Non stop viewing of spectacular sceneries

Million Dollar Falls

Million Dollar Falls

Million Dollar Falls

Double Rainbow put up a show at the campground

Our next and final stop here  will be Haines, our jump off point to explore Southeast Alaska.

WooHoo…we made it to Alaska!

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We have arrived in Alaska in one piece!  We’re celebrating a very significant milestone in our journey, with a tale for this stretch of the drive.

Tok Alaska

Celebrating our most significant milestone so far, arriving in Alaska!

Mile 1083: Destruction Bay was the stopover we chose between Whitehorse and Tok. Getting there was a slow 4-hour drive.  The highway between Whitehorse and Destruction Bay was rough and required slowing way down and paying close attention to the changing road conditions.

Frost Heaves, Yukon Territory

One of the hundreds of frost heaves – slow down!

However, Steve complained that it was hard to focus on the road with the beautiful scenery surrounding us.  Leaving Whitehorse took us into about 10 miles of dusty gravel breaks.  Here our speed was between 17 and 20 mph, and we were happy to let other vehicles pass us.  Whenever they did, or whenever a fast-moving vehicle approached from the other direction, we simply pulled over and stopped to prevent rock damage.

We encountered several marked and unmarked frost heaves as we approached Destruction Bay.

Kluane IceField Ranges

Kluane Icefield Ranges

The highway skirted the shores of Kluane Lake, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world!   Wow, even my new favorite, Muncho Lake, was surpassed by its size alone – Kluane Lake is 43 miles long and gorgeous.

Kluane Lake.

Steve in front of Kluane Lake.

Destruction Bay has a place in Alaska Highway history – it was one of several camps built to supply the army during construction of the highway.  It got its name after an extremely violent storm destroyed buildings and much of the highway construction material that was stored there for the project.

Koidern

Koidern

We stayed overnight at Destruction Bay RV Park, and the owner Loren was very happy to see us, since we were the first customer to show up there in several days.  We got to pick the spot we wanted with a mountain and lake view.  Nothing fancy, just electric and we did not bother extending the slide outs, since we wanted to leave early the next morning.

The mosquitos were very excited to see us, too!  This was our first encounter with the big suckers on this trip, and they were living up to their reputation so far.

Destruction Bay

We had the whole RV park at Destruction Bay to ourselves, with views of mountains and Kluane Lake

We were aware of all the warnings and cautionary reminders of the tough road ahead, so at this point Steve placed a modified tarp cover over our Honda CRV to protect it from rocks and gravel.

Protecting the Toad

Steve’s crude way of protecting the Honda from rock damage. $30, and it worked!

Our drive from Destruction Bay to Tok, AK was 225 miles; about 100 miles of it being the worst Steve has driven.  Although not a problem for cars, the frost heaves and dips in the road gave Betsy’s upgraded suspension a real test.  It’s difficult to see the upcoming dips from so high up in the RV cab, and running through them with 60′ of RV and car caused some interesting moments for us.  However, we were moving very slowly and the vehicles seemed to have survived the ordeal.

The bummer is that we will need to travel most of this stretch of road again when we return to Haines to catch the Maritime Highway in September.  Our average speed on this stretch was 39 mph and it took us seven hours – including a lunch break and a 30-minute wait at the U.S. border, to get into the state.

This stretch of the Alaska Highway remains the wonder of the north, for it has been rebuilt and straightened several times.  The annual outbreak of frost heaves is a never-ending challenge for road maintenance crews, and they have a short window of time to repair them before the “crowd” of summer travelers arrives.  We can see they are trying their best to patch them up.

We were so happy to see the U.S. border, thinking the road would be better on the American side.  However, we were given only a 14-mile reprieve and after that the frost heaves and dips prevailed for the next 91 miles.

We gave each other a “high five” right after crossing the border – we were so pumped to finally be in Alaska.  After over a year of planning we had arrived to fulfill our trip of a lifetime.  We had arrived at Tok, the first community in Alaska that weary travelers like us see after crossing back into the U.S.

But hey, where are the Walmart and Costco stores?  Oh, I guess we need to wait until we get to Fairbanks in a few days.

US Border, Alaska

A 30-minute wait at the U.S. border

We are staying at the Sourdough RV Park, very quiet and big-rig friendly.  There was power and water available, which we are learning is fine for short stays.  We simply dump our tanks at the dump station when we leave these parks.  And it’s usually a few dollars cheaper when using partial hookups.  But for stays of a week or more we still prefer full hookups so we won’t risk filling the waste tanks and having to move the rig just to empty them.

Sourdough RV Park,

Our site at Sourdough RV Park, very quiet and lots of privacy.

One thing we’ve learned about RV parks in Canada and Alaska – sewer is optional or not available, and 30-amp power is standard.  Since we don’t need air conditioning this time of the year (which pretty much requires 50-amp service if running at full power) the 30-amp service with water is fine.

Bike path at Tok

We took a 13-mile ride on this bike path in Tok

While in Tok we checked out the Visitor’s Center, a required stop for getting information ranging from road conditions to “things to do” around town and in the state of Alaska.  We also took a 13-mile bike ride along the highway.  We’re just relaxing for a few days and taking a break from the tedious drives.

Biking in Alaska

Taking a break and a pose 🙂

The sun rose at 4:30AM and set at 12:30AM…the long days enabled us to enjoy every minute of our summer in the Last Frontier.  We haven’t seen darkness and stars in quite a while.  And oh, Alaska is on its own time zone, an hour ahead of Pacific Standard Time.

Stay tuned for good stories ahead!