Day 19 – Prince Rupert, BC to Prince George, BC

Miles Today:  447

Total Miles:  6,982

I guess you could call today’s journey : “Misty Mountains” to the “Lonely Mountain” (kudos if you get it)

This is a picture along the Skeena River as I was leaving Prince Rupert, BC this morning.

The Skeena is a major flow across north-central BC and is a major salmon river.  Although, according to the radio, all salmon fishing has been stayed until July 15 and then only certain species can be fished.  It is an effort to rebuild the population but there is some concern that they may not open the season next year either.  Another sad example of how humans impact the planet.

The drive today was one of lots of “flats” and lots of steep grades.  It is all logging country so you have to be very wary of logging trucks.  About 90 miles from Prince George, BC, is the “Lonely Mountain”.  While there are still “hills”, the really rough terrain seems to be over for now.  Although, I have to cross the Rockies at Banff on Friday.

Agriculture is beginning to pick up again as many places are farmed after the timber is cut.  I saw fences, cattle, and domestic horses for the first time in about 10 days today.  Kinda refreshing to see something familiar again.  I’ll be in Prince George for an extra day to rest and recoup, so, there may not be much of an update tomorrow.

Day 18 – Dease Lake, BC to Prince Rupert, BC

Miles Today:  425

Total Miles:  6,535

Today’s travels were all about black bears and trees.

In case anyone is wondering, there appears to be no shortage of black bears in north central British Columbia.  They are everywhere – even in the trees (couldn’t get a picture with the semi-truck in back of me).  Here is a fairly representative picture of what I saw today.  At least they are black (most of them anyway) and easily seen.

As I said, there really weren’t many opportunities for new types of pictures, but here is a river along the highway.

I mentioned the trees.  In Alaska, Yukon, and northern BC, it is mainly spruce and poplar trees.  Most of these are less than 8 inches in diameter and a tree that large may be close to 300 years old.  Somewhere just north of Dease Lake, there is a change and you start to see fir, aspen, and birch trees intermingled with the spruce and poplar.  As you get further sound, there are also tremendous cottonwood trees (which are in full cotton mode).

As you drive south and towards the coast (Prince Rupert is about 300 miles south of Juneau, AK), the trees get huge.  Whereas a large tree in the north was 8 inches and 30 feet tall, as I drove to Prince Rupert, the trees were 100+ feet tall and 30+ inches in diameter.  A big difference.

Tomorrow I retrace 120 miles along BC16 (Yellowhead Highway) and then stay on BC16 to Prince George, BC.

Day 17 – Whitehorse, YT to Dease Lake, BC

Miles Today: 405

Total Miles: 6110

Whitehorse was much cooler than when I was here last week.  Last Friday the high was in the 90’sF, this week 40’sF.  When I left this morning, it was 35F and I drove through some light snow about 30 miles from town.  The highest temperature I saw on the truck’s thermometer today was only 49F, so it’s cold compared to the 100F or so at home.

Today’s route followed the Alaska Highway from Whitehorse to the junction with BC37 about 12 miles from Watson Lake.  This is the same road I wrote about in my Day 8 post, so there’s not much to add other than it is a much nicer drive when its dry.  Today’s drive was almost all wet – either rain or snow.

Turning south at BC37, the Cassiar Highway (or BC37) is a two lane track through the mountains of western BC.  I say two lanes, but, in fact, the entire road is unstriped right now (although it is paved), so, you kind of have to pick your path.  This gets interesting if you meet a large truck or RV.

About the only thing to note was that, somewhere along the way, I transitioned from almost exclusively spruce and poplar trees to spruce, fir, aspen, birch, and poplar.  The scenery is spectacular (as it has been for a while) with the added benefit of fresh snow (about 6 inches in places) on the mountains.  Dease Lake is as beautiful as most of many of the other lakes I’ve seen.  Smaller lakes along this highway are crystal clear; being able to see their bottoms even from the road.

The only thing I was able to take a picture of today was a black bear and I will post that when I have better internet.  As for cell phone service, the last signal I had was in Whitehorse – over 400 miles away – and I don’t expect any for another 300 miles or so.  Anyone relying on being connected should definitely avoid the Cassiar Highway.

Day 16 – Glenallen, AK to Whitehorse, YT

Miles Today: 533

Total Miles: 5,781

I left Glenallen, AK early this morning.  Temperature was around 35F/1.7C with a little frost on the windshield.  Needles to say, I’ve finally found the cool weather I was looking for.

As you leave Glenallen headed east, you don’t have many options.

I chose Fairbanks/Canada, which also took me back to Tok.  The road from Tok to Anchorage, through Glenallen, is called the Tok cut-off and is the route most people take to Anchorage.  When I left Tok the other morning, I wanted to complete the Alaska Highway, so, I went north instead of taking the Tok Cut-off.

Filled with gas in Tok (about 140 miles from Glenallen) and headed towards Canada and Whitehorse.  The Yukon sign (below) and the Alaska sign (from the other day) are in the same parking lot and this is the “official” border; however, the customs offices are about 20 miles apart with the Canadian stop at Beaver Creek, YT.

Canadian customs asked a few more questions than the first time, but I made it through with no issues.  Again, I had an RV in front and in back of me – starting to think timing it this way is everything.

Driving towards Whitehorse, I again passed Kluane Lake.  After some research, I discovered that the glacier that fed the lake has retreated to the point that it now feeds a different river.  So, Kluane Lake, at this point, is completely dependent on snowpack and rain (and it was raining today).

Along the road, I got to see one of the last species of “large” wildlife I’m probably going to see on this trip.  Since traffic was already stopped, here is a picture of a cinnamon color-phase grizzly bear.  Quite impressive to see it eating on the side of the road.

The rest of the trip was made in a light, steady rain that did a good job of cleaning bugs off my grill and windshield.

Day 15 – Homer, AK to Glenallen, AK

Total Miles today: 401 miles

Total Miles: 5242

Started the day in Homer with ice, yes ice, on my windshield.  Left a little early as I’m still waking up with the sun which rises around 4:30am and I’m not real good at waiting.  For the first time in almost two weeks, I had to use my sun visor as, until now, I’ve been driving westerly in the mornings.  The next two weeks will require that sun visor.  It is nice to be head south again though.

It is amazing how many tourists are here.  Even the vastness and remoteness of Alaska seems diminished by all the people who are here to “see” Alaska and not experience it.  I realize I am on of the visitors; however, I am here not to do everything I can in one trip but, rather, to experience the experience of driving the road.  I don’t feel that I’m being led around like a puppy to only those things that everyone wants to see.

Anyway, a few pics along the road.

This is a lake (if you look real, real close there’s a cabin in there somewhere) along AK1 on the way back to Anchorage.  I didn’t get any pictures of the Turnagain Arm because of road construction – plus the tide was out so it was mostly mud.  With a tidal swap of up to 40 feet each day – its pretty dramatic – seeing the area with the tide in and tide out is truly amazing.

After washing the mud and salt off my truck in Anchorage, I continued on AK1 through Anchorage and headed east at the junction of AK1 and AK3.  AK3 head north to Denali and Fairbanks and AK1 (the Glenn Highway) heads to Tok.  Just after you leave Palmer, AK, you travel along the Matanuska River.  I had the privilege of visiting this river several years ago and today I saw the source of the river – the Matanuska Glacier.  This is what we think of as a more typical “ice tongue” glacier that slopes out of the mountains like a frozen river (which it is).  You can actually almost drive up to the bottom of the glacier, but, alas, that’s an experience for another day.

Early in the morning, I had my first “road” encounter with a moose.  These large “deer” have a manner very much like the whitetail deer at home.  Except, even small moose are as large as horses.  When you come up a hill and you see a large black blob that doesn’t look like its supposed to be there, you probably need to slow down – or in this case stop.  The cow moose decided to make her way across the road and I didn’t feel another few days in Alaska was indicated at the time.  Later, after passing the Matanuska Glacier, in a series of switchbacks and steep grades, another large black blob appeared on the side of the road.  This time she let me pass, but, as soon as I stopped to try and take a picture – off she went.

The final picture is of Mt. Wrangell about 10 miles from Glennallen as you drive in from the West.  The road doesn’t actually quite make it to the mountain, but the trail keeps on going.

Day 13 – Homer, AK

Miles today: 11

Total Miles: 4709

Today and tomorrow are “rest” days in Homer, AK, before heading back towards home.  Not a lot of pictures today, and I didn’t take a picture of the halibut (they are kinda ugly).

I went halibut fishing this morning with Inlet Charters- Across Alaska Adventures who set me up with Captain Mike Huff and “Wild Thing”.  We left Homer around 6:30am (finally the sun coming up and me waking up at 4:30am was useful) and travelled about 32 nautical miles west-southwest of Homer deep into the Cook Inlet to fish.  The water was about 200 feet deep and fishing was pretty simple – drop your line to the bottom and “jig” it up and down 2 or 3 feet.  Halibut feed on the bottom and hit the bait from underneath.  Amazingly, at least to me, catching fish was not a problem; the problem is the slot.  Most of the fish are under 28 inches and you can only keep one fish over 28 inches.  More or less, you have to catch one as close to 28 inches as possible and then one over 28 inches.  Eventually, I caught my “big” one and we were back in port by noon.

On our way out, sea otters were everywhere and they look pretty much like any picture you can find on the internet or in a book.  It is cool to see them “live”.  We were able to see a humpback whale breach, but getting a picture is kind of like getting a picture of lightning – it didn’t happen.  On the way back in, Captain Mike pointed out a number of active volcanos on the horizon and explained that many erupt on a regular basis without any fanfare.

The other thing to note is the beauty and clarity of the water.  For those of us used to the Gulf of Mexico – this ain’t the Gulf of Mexico!

Tomorrow is a full rest day, so I’ll probably check back in on Thursday as I start back home.

Day 12 – Anchorage, AK to Homer, AK

Miles today: 223

Total Miles: 4,698

Not a long drive mileage-wise but this was one of the more taxing drives from a mental standpoint.  That, and I didn’t sleep worth a crap last night.  This whole sun-up at 4:30am and sundown at 11:30pm is really starting to screw with me.

Anyway, the trip south from Anchorage starts on the Turnagain Arm and the scenery is pretty neat.  There is one spot along the road where the locals have a pipe into the rock and they fill water bottles with the melting ice.  You don’t see that everyday.

Further south you move into glacier country.  At the turn-off to Whittier, you access the Chugach National Forest and the Byron Glacier Trail.  I visited this same spot about 5 years ago but in late July.  Today, the ice pack was still almost solid to the ground.  I tried to take a picture, but you could see “blue” ice not that far up the snow bowl.  There were also sign warning of avalanche danger and there was a snow shelf on one of the peaks that didn’t look to stable.

At the junction of AK3 and AK1, I took AK1 – the Sterling Highway.  This road leads through the Kenai River valley (which is very touristy, but very beatiful) and saw loads of people rafting, boating, and fishing.  The people fishing were so many in number that I’m not sure how exactly they were able to cast a line, especially the those fishing with fly tackle.

As you make yourself further west, you eventually reach Soldotna and the City of Kenai…again extremely touristy.  From Soldotna, you turn south and drive along the bluff of the Cook Inlet until you reach Homer.  I drove to the literal “Lands End” where AK1 dead ends into the ocean.  The number of people (tourists, fisherman, and locals) was amazing to me.  They call it the “spit” but it is basically where all the boats launch.

I apologize for not posting pictures, but like I said, I’m pretty wiped at this point.  I have been driving at least 8 hours a day since June 1 with only an extra rest day in Calgary about 7 days ago.  I plan to rest a little more on the way back.  I’m in Homer for two full days and three nights with a full rest day on Wednesday.

As I have now driven as far west on a “connected” road as you can in North America, I have to think about what I’ve seen over the past 12 days. Sometimes, we need a reminder of the true expanse and greatness of the world we live in – this trip has done that for me, and, I’m only done with the out-leg of my trip.

One last thing, for those wondering, the driving the road to Alaska is an experience in itself.  There are a ton of things to do along the way, but just driving the road is something to take in by itself.  Something I would recommend to anyone who wants an experience outside of driving an hour here or there.

Day 11 – Tok, AK to Delta Junction, AK to Fairbanks, AK to Anchorage, AK

Miles today: 562

Total Miles: 4,426

OK, the title is a little long but that’s because I didn’t take the most direct route from Tok to Anchorage.  In order to “finish” the Alaska Highway, I had to make my way to Delta Junction which is about 90 miles north of Tok.  There’s not quite as much fanfare on this end of the highway – just a sign and a small shop.  In case its not clear, the Alaska Highway ends in Delta Junction, AK after 1422 miles.

Along the way, there are so many rivers and streams that taking a picture at each one is not feasible.  So, here are a couple of pictures that show basically what Alaskan Rivers look like – including an ice flow.  I will tell you that this is a smaller river, but they all fan out and cover an area that can’t be described by word or picture.

If it looks wet, this is why…

It rained in Central Alaska for the first time in several weeks and really helped with the wildfire problems.

One thing I found interesting is that Delta Junction is a big grain farming/cattle raising/agriculture area.  Given all the trees and northern-ness, I would have though it would be difficult.  But, there were several grain elevators, cattle ranches, and hay fields in the area.

Between Delta Junction and Fairbanks, there wasn’t a whole lot to take pictures of other than trees.  As you get closer to Fairbanks, you pass Eielsom Air Force Base – no pictures allowed – and all of the training aircraft used by the base.

Next was North Pole, AK.  Santa had some company at his “house”.

From Fairbanks, it was quite scenic but the rain and low cloud deck made driving difficult, stopping a bad idea, and taking pictures impossible.

Having said that, this is one of the more scenic drives in Alaska and takes you over the Nenana River, by Denali National Park and Preserve and later over the Susitna River and the Matanuska River.  When the rain finally stopped, here are some pictures of the landscape.

The mountains are so much more dramatic than those in the “lower” 48.  They seem to just erupt from the ground instead of growing out of the ground.  Another difference is that there is a large valley between the mountains and you don’t really drive “in” the mountains but rather between them.

One thing I saw but didn’t get a picture of was a cow moose with her twins  along the road in the Denali preserve.  Even though they were a 200 yards/meters away, she was impressively huge and the calves were equally impressive.  If the female was that big, the males must be enormous.

The drive into Anchorage was otherwise unspectacular other than the Chugach Mountains come into view (and they seemed to have quite a bit of snowpack left for this time of year).  Starting with Willow, Houston, and Wasilla, the suburbs of Anchorage are growing and modernizing.  Anchorage itself, based on the last time I was here, has really cleaned up and has a much more modern feel.  Definitely a “lower 48” feel.

One last note.  I was reminded today that, while accessible, the distance between Fairbanks and Anchorage is about 360 miles with not a lot in the middle.  I passed a parking area near Denali (south about 30 miles) where a tour bus and several RV’s were pulled over attending to at least two people with CPR (it looked like it anyway).  I’m not really sure what happened but these people were over 2 hours from Fairbanks and almost 3 hours from Anchorage (I met 3 ambulances headed north as I drove south).  You have to accept the possibility that if something happens, you may not make it back.

 

Day 10 – Pictures

Rather than try to update the last post, here are some pictures on the road from Whitehorse, YT to Tok, AK.

This is a small herd of “wild” Yukon horses along the road northwest of Whitehorse.  According to some locals, they are feral horses that were let loose/escaped from miners in the area.  People still feed them, but they roam free.

This is a picture of one of the peaks that make-up the Kluane ice fields.  One of the largest terrestrial ice fields in the northern hemisphere.  The runoff feeds streams and rivers which eventually drain into Lake Kluane.

Speaking of which, this is a picture of Lake Kluane.  Another large, natural glacial lake in the Yukon.  Unlike the US, there is no development other than a small community, Destruction Bay, and the lake is relative pristine.

Entering Alaska.

The US customs/border check at mile 1221 of the Alaska Highway.

A lake along the road just after the border check in the Wrangell-Saint Elias National Refuge/Preserve.

More Arctic Lupine (I’m gonna call them Alaska Bluebonnets) along the road.

This is the Tanana River.  Because of drought its quite low and the boat ramp is about 30 feet from the water.