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Report 12: Aldergrove BC to Seward AK

Route

From Aldergrove BC we headed east on Hwy-1, then at Cache Creek turned north on BC-97. We followed BC-97 to Dawson Creek, which is Mile-Zero of the Alaska Highway. We stayed on the Alaska Highway until just past Whitehorse, where we turned north onto the Klondike Loop Highway (YK-2) to Dawson City. From Dawson City we went west on the Top Of The World Highway (YK-9) to Chicken AK. Just past Chicken we picked up the Taylor Highway south to where it joins the Alaska Highway, at which point we turned west to Tok AK. From Tok we ran south on AK-1 then AK-4 to Valdez, then back north on AK-4 to AK-1, where we turned west to Anchorage. From Anchorage we turned south on AK-1 and AK-9 to Seward.

Highlights

The drive up northern BC is riddled with black bears, dozens of them along the road and untold numbers back in the bush. We saw more black bears in BC than we did in the Yukon and Alaska. The scenery along the Fraser River valley was awesome, as the river and waterfalls were flowing strongly.

There are a few quirky things in the north. There is a signpost forest at Watson Lake. It seems one of the highway workers was lonely and put up a sign pointing towards his home. There are now thousands of signs there and the site is now a park. At the Toad River Lodge at Muncho Lake the ceilings are covered with ball caps, thousands of them. Most have team or event logos and some have the names of the donors written on them. We left one that we brought back with us from Indonesia.

In Whitehorse YK, our first major stop on the WIT (Winnebago Club) caravan, we visited the SS Klondike (URLhere), a refurbished stern-wheeler, which is now a national historic site. It's really well done, as is the guided tour. We also took a 2-hour cruise up the Yukon River's Miles Canyon (URLhere), which was very scenic. The waterway is very narrow in spots and the banks very high. There is a great walking trail along the top bank. At the casino we took in a Follies show, which featured corny comedy in a rather amateurish production...it was a hoot. Whitehorse has all the amenities, such as most big banks, a Canadian Tire and other big box retailers. There are quite a few nice murals and some historic log buildings. A local woman took us to see 'The Whitehorse Skyscraper', a 3-story log dwelling, built to prove a bet...”bet'cha can't build a log cabin over two stories...”.

At Dawson City YK (www.dawsoncity.ca) we toured a gold dredge, another national historic site (URLhere). These dredges were ecological disasters of immense proportions. They scooped up river beds and the surrounding banks to nearly 60-feet deep, captured the gold, and spewed out tailings in large winding dunes, killing everything they touched. Years later, little grows where they passed and no effort has been made to smooth over the tailings dunes. The inner workings are a bit like the innards of a huge grain combine, but water is used to separate the gold from the dregs. We attended the infamous Diamond Tooth Gerties saloon, where we saw another Follies show, this one more professionally done. Maurice was taken up on stage to dance with one of the dancing girls; he has her garter to prove his prowess. We drove to the top of the Midnight Dome, a mountain from which one can get a 360-degree vista of the area. Dawson City is a dusty place, with unpaved streets, save the highway, and it's dirty, with rubbish and unkempt yards, kept that way in part by the misguided souls who think that it captures the spirit of the city during the gold rush. Fact is, most of the ramshackle buildings were, back then, gaily painted and in good repair. Frankly, what passes for the 'pioneer spirit' today is little more than a licence to act against the public good with relative impunity. Still, Dawson City has a certain charm, as the restored buildings and the tourist attractions in them are very well done.

The drive from Dawson City YK to Chicken AK over the Top of the World Highway (URLtoArticle) is a dichotomy. On the one hand, the scenery is striking, with alluvial mountains, rivers lakes and waterfalls. On the other, the road is an unmitigated disaster; to call it a highway is a slur on highways. The Canadian side was, apparently, once paved and a few paved sections remain, replete with frost heaves and potholes. The rest is gravel in various states of repair, with some washboard, potholes and ruts. The US side, the Taylor Highway, is little more than a cow path. And it's downright dangerous, with tight curves and very narrow sections. Yet, the locals report that it has 'never been in such good condition'! Several of the vehicles in the caravan had serious rock dings in their glass, one of which will require a new windscreen. Toads without windscreen covers and rock deflectors got 'sandblasted'. Bolts on RVs that should not break were broken. We were lucky; the only lasting damage was to our rear television, which was jarred loose from its mounting, from which it bounced off the bed into the window. The television is ruined but, luckily, the window did not break. Our most dangerous mishap was where the constant vibration loosened our propane regulator. At first we didn't realise what the smell was, then, when we did, we quickly pulled over and discovered a huge propane leak. Luckily, the regulator did not fall off, so we merely had to screw it back on. Had there been a spark we could have gone up in a big fire ball.

Chicken AK (www.chickenalaska.com) hardly bears mention, except for its quirky history. It was to be called Ptarmigan, after the abundance of the wild bird, but nobody could agree on how to spell it. What was Chicken started out as a small mining town; it's now 'historic' Chicken, comprising a few privately-owned derelict buildings. There is a new 'down town Chicken' comprising a few buildings just off the highway. The permanent population of Chicken is only about 17, although in the summer 40 or 50 miners pan and sluice for gold.

Tok AK (URLhere) is another fun place with a population of about 1400, much bigger than Chicken, but also unincorporated. A local musician who performs weekly at the RV park points out that they have no local government, taxes, laws or building codes, nor do they want any. Should someone propose otherwise they are politely asked to leave.

Valdez AK (valdezalaska.org) was made famous by being the southern terminus of the Alaska pipeline and later by being the site of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, but should really be noted for its beautiful glaciers and streams. We hiked up to and onto the nearby Worthington Glacier (URLhere), and cruised to the base of the Columbia glacier (URLhere), which we saw and heard calving. Contrary to what Al Gore suggests, calving glaciers are natural phenomena, not an indication of catastrophic global warming. That's where ice bergs come from, and we saw many, including some beautiful blue bergs. Also, not all glaciers are retreating; we went to Meares glacier (URLhere), which is advancing.

Anchorage AK is a modern, clean city with all the amenities. Every major retailer is present. We were amazed at the profusion of flowers all over the city, both in parks and on private property. They also have flower boxes and baskets all over the city. Moreover, with the long daylight hours, the plants and their blooms seem to be larger than one would expect of a place that is so far north. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting their recently expanded and refurbished Museum of History and Art.

Mechanical Failures: Our house batteries died the first night out; lucky for us Canadian Tire now carries Group-31 deep cycle batteries. So, we replaced them at Williams Lake. House batteries are needed for 'dry camping', as they provide our lighting, AC house current (via an inverter), and control the water heater & furnace. Elsewhere we referred to the rough roads taking out the rear television...one TV to replace and one screen to mend. We also had numerous minor problems, mostly things coming loose or getting stuck, caused by the dust and vibration on the highway, most of which we were able to fix ourselves. Others have been less fortunate.

Accidents: We narrowly missed a huge traffic accident on the way into Boston Bar, which happened after we passed by. A boulder rolled down a hill and crashed through the roof of a semi, instantly killing the driver. Traffic was backed up for miles. Ironically, the person that told us about the accident was on a highways crew working on cliff stabilisation. Just outside of Whitehorse we saw an accident, involving a fifth-wheel RV and a large pick-up truck. Much of the highway was closed and traffic was rerouted via detours around the interchange. For us, so far so good!

Scenery: Most of the Southern end of the Alaska highway reminds us of northern Saskatchewan, except for the snow-capped mountains in the distance. The more northern part and the Top Of The World is huge rolling hills, composed of alluvial soil. Things change again upon entering Alaska, where the rocky peaks are mostly snow-capped, and glaciers and waterfalls abound.

Critters: Seven black bears, two caribou, three adult moose, one with a calf and one with twins, two small herds of stone sheep, one deer, a beaver who slapped its tail once at Molly and then again at us, a coyote and two bison. On the water we saw many otters, harbour seals, some sea birds and a few whales. We were amazed at how few animals we have seen so far in Alaska, where we expected to see many. One day we saw five dead porcupines, then never saw any more.

Molly: Molly is becoming more comfortable travelling in the RV. She loves sniffing around at each new place we stop. She's never happier than when running off-leash on forest trails. In Watson Lake she discovered field mice and caught several...or maybe they were dead. In Whitehorse she discovered ground squirrels; she sniffed out their burrows very quickly, but the rapid little critters evaded her. In Alaska she was able to sniff out rabbit trails and follow them for blocks; she never caught any. Just outside of Anchorage we encountered a game station behind a wildlife licensing and inspection station. People had been inspecting and bagging black bears on it. Molly approached with extreme trepidation, then slunk back, tail between her legs, and gave it a very wide berth. How she knows about bears we'll never know.