After spending the night in the Whitehorse Walmart parking lot, we stopped at the Miles Canyon. Before the dam was built, this canyon contained a treacherous set of rapids. The Klondike gold rusher stampeders had to navigate these rapids on their way to Dawson City. The stampeders thought the rapids looked like large white horses, thus the name of the nearby city. We walked the foot bridge crossing the narrow canyon. It was originally built in 1922 but was recently refurbished.
With our side trip to Skagway earlier in our trip, the stop at Miles Canyon make more sense….the stampeders came by boats to Skagway. They hiked White Pass, built a boat at Lake Bennett. They had to have at least 1200 lbs of supplies or Canada would turn you back as they wanted to make sure you could survive for a year. With the boat they sailed across Lake Bennett to the Tagish river, which flowed into the Yukon River. If they survived the rapids of miles canyon, they continued on the Yukon River for another 300 miles to Dawson City. When they arrived, they most likely found the gold claims were all taken.
From Whitehorse south-bound the road becomes decent. North-bound the road is rough as it is built over perma-frost. We stopped just south of Whitehorse to let Jerie touch the Yukon River. Since she was not with us on our north-bound trip, we are trying to include her on a few things she missed.
Two funny things occured…we got stuck behind a line stripping crew, when we passed them, we noticed that we now have yellow tires, 🙂 and at Teslin, the town has setup a “fake” police car, but it sure slows down the traffic!!!
The Nisutlin Bay Bridge is the longest water span on the Alaska Highway. It is a grated bridge so it makes the coolest sound when a vehicle drives over it. You can hear it from the viewpoint.
We stopped at the continental divide for a symbolic picture. All the water to the east flows eventually into the MacKenzie River and then north to the Beaufort Sea. All the water to the west flows into the Yukon and eventually into the Bering Sea. Jim wanted to make sure the pick-up was halfway over the “line”.
Along the road to Watson Lake you will notice numerous rock messages spelled out. This was started in 1990 by a Fort Nelson swim team. People stop and leave their own message. Some bring painted rocks. We found a message that had fallen apart and was unreadable. So re-purposed the rocks and left our own message.
On our way north, we did not stop at the Signpost Forest in Watson Lake, as we wanted to do this with Jerie. We walked through the “forest” and looked at the signs. There were actual signs, home-made signs, and spur of the moment signs.
We walked to the visitor center and watched a short movie on the highway construction. Work was began by the US Army in March of 1942, one month before Canada gave permission. There were 11,000 men who blazed the highway, 47 contractors with 7,500 workers, finished it so it was driveable. Canada took possession of the highway in 1946.
The visitor center had some very interesting exhibits on the highway construction but also on the Signpost Forest. It was started in 1942 by Carl Lindley, a homesick GI, who erected a sign from his hometown of Danville, Illinois. At the time we were there, it was over 100,000 signs. The staff was very helpful and answered all of our questions, even giving us a packet of information.
We did not have a prepared sign, so improvised with what we had.
Unfortunately the Northern Lights Center in Watson Lake had closed for the season, but just west of town, we saw a bear. Most of the bears we had seen to this point were a bit scared and ran off. However, we encountered one that was more interested in searching for grubs then paying any attention to us.
We wanted to stay the night at Liard Hot Springs. However, we kept finding things of interest to stop at. One was Whirlpool Canyon…it was absolutely gorgeous. We were at low water, so can only imagine what the whirlpool looks like in high water. However, the fall colors made up for the lack of water.
We stopped at the Liard Hot Springs campground, but they don’t have showers and we really wanted a shower. We stayed at the commercial campground across the highway. It was their last night to be open for the season. Nothing fancy about the showers, but it sure was nice!!! Jerie’s hand is still tender from her accident at the waterfall near Valdez, so we wrapped it in a plastic bag to keep it dry. We had dehydrated Chicken and Noodles, corn on the cob (last of the season so was on sale in Watson Lake), garlic bread, and salad.
After a restful night, we drove across the highway to Liard Hotsprings for an early morning soak in the hot pool. It is $5.00 Canadian dollars per person to enter, but well worth it.
Again, we wrapped Jerie’s hand in a bag to keep it dry. We were told that if you grabb a rock and walked to the hot springs source, and place the rock on the edge, you would receive good luck. It was very warm near the source, but we were able to place our rocks, so bring on the Good Luck!!
We enjoyed our time at the hot springs. We could have stayed all day, but knew we had to continue our journey southward. There were numerous wood bison along the roadway.
The fall colors made for a beautiful drive.
We even spotted a porcupine, who was not too happy about the attention.
The work on the Alaska Highway officially began at Fort Nelson as there was already a road constructed from Dawson Creek. When construction was completed, Milepost 0 was erected at Dawson Creek. Due to the construction beginning at Fort Nelson, as the work crews moved north, they named the creeks based on the number of miles from Fort Nelson. The creeks and streams are now named differently, but the number designation is still in existence.
Toad River is a historic highway lodge established in 1950 to accommodate travellers. It has one of the few airstrips that civilians can use. The lodge is famous for it’s collection of hats, stapled to the ceiling of the cafe and store.
We stopped to take a short hike to the erosion pillars or hoodoos.
We stopped at Summit Lake, which is the highest pass on the highway at 4,450 feet. We took a quick picture at Testa River Bridge and continued to enjoy the colors of fall.
All along the highway, we kept hearing about the “famous” Testa River Cinnamon Buns. Okay…they were pretty good and worth the stop.
We passed the road to Fort Liard that we had drove down from Yellow Knife a few weeks earlier. We saw an interesting window decal, that we weren’t sure what it was….
We reached Fort Nelson and found a camp site. We had hoped that as we went south the temperatures might warm up, but at least we didn’t have any snow…YET
We were abit disappointed that Fort Nelson didn’t have more displays as the unofficial beginning of the Alaska highway. We did stop at the visitors center and obtained a list of places we should stop between Fort Nelson and Dawson Creek. One of these was the Muskwa River bridge, which is the lowest point on the highway at 1,000 feet.
Gas and oil production is a large part of the area economy, but it was still a surprise to see a pipeline above the roadway.
The Adsett Realignment straightened a section of the original road between Fort Nelson and Dawson Creek. There are many stories about why the road was so curvy, but the original road followed the contour of the land and the numerous streams. It is a very nice straight road now. The re-construction was completed in 1992 and eliminated 132 curves.
Blueberry Control Gate at Historic Milepost 101, was a 24 hour checkpoint operated by the US Army during World War II. There is no reminisce of the checkpoint just a sign. The signs are listed as historic mile as they are based on the original road and not the re-designed road.
We stopped at the monument at the south end of Charlie Lake. It commerates the drownings of 12 American soldiers who died on May 14, 1942 while moving heavy equipment of a barge. It was a pretty solemn place.
Putting a bridge over the Peace River was one of the first goals of the US Army. Before the bridge a ferry had been used. With a temporary bridge in place, Fort St. John became a base for 6,000 US Army soldiers and civilian engineers. What had been a town of 200, instantly became an explosion of activity. The current Peace River Bridge was constructed in 1960 after the first bridge collasped due to erosion.
The visitor’s center in Fort Nelson told us that the one thing we needed to do was drive the Kiskatinaw Curved Bridge. It is the only original timber bridge built during construction that is still in use today. Due to the topography at this point in the river, a curved bridge was necessary. We had never seen a curved wooden bridge, so we spent some time exploring. Truly an engineering marvel for the year it was built.
We arrived in Dawson Creek in late afternoon. We barely made it to the visitor’s center. We were given some interesting information about the buildings and murals. We did as much sight-seeing as we could before dark.
There are several Mile 0 markers, this is the one near the visitor’s center is the original.
Then there is one in the center of town in front of the Alaska House Visitor Center. This was a bit more tricky as it was at an intersection. You had to time your run around the traffic. We had made it!!!
We had now driven every mile of the highway from Dawson Creek to the unofficial end in Fairbanks. Woohoo…
While we were taking pictures, the director of the Alaska House came outside. She handed us a book describing the murals around Dawson Creek. She also told us, we could come back in the morning, the cost was $5.00 per person. So we set off to find the murals. People of the community on the west wall on Bing’s Furniture showcases notable area citizens.
In the alley is the 1940s Street Scene mural. It celebrates the building of the Alaska Highway and the impact that the construction had on the area.
The murals provide a unique look into the history of the highway and the town.
Our final mural was the Trail of 42…
On each historic building, thee is a plaque that tells you what the building is, the book then tells you the significance of the building in the history of Dawson Creek. What a wonderful, free self-guided tour. It was getting dark, so we settled in for the night and ate the last of our Watson Lake corn. It got really cold during the night, so we were all covered with blankets. About 3am, Cindy heard a loud ripping noise. She asked Jim if he were okay and he said, “Yes, but my blanket is frozen to the window”. That is when we really realized that we were pushing the winter season.
The next morning we headed for Alaska House. The cost was $5.00 a person, but they gave us the family discount so it was only $10.00, saving is always good. The exhibits were very informative and we took the time to watch the hour long documentary and enjoyed it so much that we bought the DVD.
They even had a display about the Milepost book. We had been using this along the highway and in Alaska for information and history. It is a great resource for the Alaska Highway traveller.
We really enjoyed the Alaska House. Before leaving Dawson Creek, we headed back to the original Milepost 0 sign for last minute pictures, as we had missed it the night before.
And we couldn’t forget our “mascots” who were with us the entire trip.
Our time exploring and learning about the history of the Alaska Highway had been awesome. We had 5 days left on our trip and we were headed to Jasper and Banff.