Day 10 – Whitehorse, YT to Tok, AK

Miles today: 410

Total Miles: 3,864

Limited bandwidth again tonight, so, I’ll post pictures tomorrow when I get to Anchorage.

The drive from Whitehorse to Tok is just as stunning as every other day since Dawson Creek.  At some point, you are on scenery overload and can’t grasp the sheer magnificence of what you are seeing anymore.  It takes something increasingly more stunning to leave an impression.  Other than what is described below, the one thing I’ll remember from today was the Alaska Highway “whoop-te-doos”.  Long stretches of roads where the tundra/ground has buckled, and, if you aren’t careful, will send you airborne for a short distance – even at posted speed limits.

While there was some wildlife along the way (a couple of coyotes, a rabbit, and numerous whooper swans), the highlight of today’s drive was from Haines Junction, YT to Tok, AK.   At Haines Junction (the road splits, one to Haines, Alaska and the other the Alaska Highway to Tok), you kinda run smack dab into the St. Elias Range and the Kluane Ice Fields.  This is an are where the mountains become increasingly  taller and are covered by glaciers.  You could even see blue ice on one of the peaks where an avalanche had occurred!

The next visual wonder was Kluane Lake.  Created by runoff from the Kluane ice fields, this lake is truly pristine and a color of blue you won’t find in many places.  There is little to no development except for a small community named Destruction Bay.  Otherwise, it is almost completely unspoiled.  One thing to note is that because I’m here sort of early in the season, the lake is still down about 5 feet and I had to navigate a bridge in a “brown out” dust storm.

At Beaver Creek, YT (the most western settlement in Canada), is the Canadian border check (coming south); however, the US border check is some 20 or so miles north of the Canadian checkpoint.  Traffic headed north only stops at the US checkpoint and traffic headed south only stops at the US checkpoint.  You figure it out.

Driving into Alaska, AK2 follows the Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park and Refuge.  A stunning area of Spruce, Aspen, Poplar, and Alder trees dotted with natural lakes.  Of course, unlike Canada, mailboxes and electric lines start to reappear – sad, really.

The fire danger is quite high rights now as it is most every summer, but I did run into some rain today.  Just enough to turn the dust on my truck to mud.  I’ll need a car wash before I come back!

While I’ve tried to keep politics out of this blog, I just want to mention how nice its been to listen to XM radio for most of this trip and get away from the US news.  Today, when the signal finally cut out for good (and because I was tired of listening to the only album I had on my phone), I found the Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC) station.  I found their commentary enlightening and straightforward.  Not really yes or no on any particular subject, but, rather everybody’s got problems – get over yourselves.  One commentator stated that he felt, regardless of political affiliation, Americans are so self-focused they can’t see the forest for the trees.

 

Day 9 – Muncho Lake, BC to Whitehorse, YT

Miles today: 443

Total Miles: 3626

Leaving Muncho Bay, BC, the terrain remained much the same but the road began to widen and level out as I left the Muncho Lake Provincial Park.  I still can’t believe the raw beauty of the area and the jewel of a hotel/lodge.

Today’s drive wasn’t as exciting as yesterday as I began to leave the mountains, or, maybe, its that I’m on scenery overload.  Everywhere you look there are small, large, and really big creeks and rivers and lakes.  The Laird River, the Teslin River, and the Yukon being the largest.  Quite frankly, these rivers make the rivers at home look like muddy bogs.

There are lakes and ponds everywhere.  It is so hard to describe the raw beauty and almost as hard to stop and take pictures.  Again, imaging a Texas FM or RR but being the major highway with no guardrails and little if no shoulder.  The few times I did stop I had to make sure I didn’t have and traffic within a mile or two.  Although, that was easier than it sounds.

Otherwise, a pretty routine drive.  The only thing I’ve noticed is that traffic is beginning to pick up the closer I get to Alaska.  Oh, and forget cool weather, it was close to 90degrees in Whitehorse today – and no a/c.  It’s a neat town, but its really uncomfortable when its this hot.

Here are some pictures from today.

This is the Trout River which flows out of Muncho Lake.  This was the first hour or so of the drive.

Next was the Laird River.  While they look similar, the Laird River is two to three times the size of the Trout.

So, the Laird River Basin host a population of Wood Bison.  A cousin of the Plains Bison, this is a group of cows, calves, and young bulls.  I was stopped for construction where these were feeding.  Ironically, the road has allowed plentiful grass to grow and the Bison, while few in number, congregate in the area between the pavement and the forest.  Needless to day I don’t want to find out the damage they could cause to a vehicle. 

This is a full grown bull laying in a “waller” dug out into the side of the road.  I would estimate he weighs north of 2,000lbs.  Just a few miles before this, a full grown bull walked into the highway and laid down!  Fortunately, I could drive around, but several large trucks and RV’s weren’t so lucky.

Next, and I know the picture isn’t the best, is an Arctic Lupine.  We call them Bluebonnets in Texas.

The next three pictures are from Whitehorse, YT (Yukon Territory), Canada.

Yukon River (The water is really that blue.)

Native totem pole.

 

“Sea” gulls.

An old train used by miners in the 1800’s.

Day 8 – Pictures

Here are some of the pictures from yesterday.

Entering British Columbia.

Entering the Alaska Highway at Dawson Creek.

Pictures of the Peace River Valley at Fort St. John, BC

Tetsa River Valley

Day 8 – Grande Prairie, AB to Muncho Lake, BC

Miles today: 519

Total Miles: 3176

From Grande Prairie, I made my way to Dawson Creek and “Mile 0” of the Alaska Highway.  Crossed the Peace River (again) at Fort St. John, BC and continued towards Fort Nelson for gas.  After filling up, the Alaska Highway began in earnest as you enter the Rocky Mountains.  The drive is absolutely spectacular!  Imagine a Texas FM or RR twisting its way along rivers and through mountains.   Amazing!  I have no idea what is in front of me, but the drive today was worth the trip by itself.

Lots of wildlife today.  Finally saw my first moose (although it was road kill); several more mule deer; a black bear; a whole herd of Stone sheep (on the descent from Stone Mountain no-less); and a bull moose.  I’m glad I was following a road sweeper (semi-truck) at the time.  I don’t want to find out what kind of damage a moose can do to a car.

I’m staying at a hotel/lodge/cabin/campsite run by a Swiss family in/on Muncho Lake (and yes, the saw my name and wanted to know my family details).  This is one of those “picture” lakes and I’ll post pictures tomorrow as I have limited bandwidth tonight.  Also, there’s no cell service (and hasn’t been for the last 150 miles).  Hopefully, it’ll pick up again at some point tomorrow (at a minimum in Whitehorse tomorrow night) and I’ll be able to make some calls and text again.  Kinda weird and nice, at the same time, being without the ability to communicate at will.

Like I said, I have numerous pictures and a few video clips of the drive I’ll put up when I can.  So, check back then.

As an aside, anyone making this trip should strongly consider NOT staying in Grande Prairie.  The town is pretty much a oil & gas hub that has tripled in size in the last 5 years.  Pretty grungy and dingy.  Drive on to Dawson Creek which is only another 1.5 hours up the road.

Also, it is light at 5:00am and doesn’t get completely dark until after 11:00pm.  So, lots of daylight to drive and drive and drive.  You almost need to force yourself to stop after 10 hours (which I am trying to do).

Day 7 – Calgary, AB to Grande Prairie, AB

Miles today: 465

Total Miles: 2,545 (includes driving around Calgary yesterday)

OK, did a really crappy job of taking pictures today, but, here are a couple.  The first is a barn/house/? just outside of Red Deer, AB.  The second is one of many beautiful railroad trestle bridges across Canada.  This one is made entirely of wood!

As for the drive, Calgary is in the middle of plains and farming country.  As you get into Edmonton, you start to get into what is technically a boreal forest environment.  Not mountainous, just lots and lots of trees and massive rivers.  I crossed the Red Deer river at Red Deer; the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton; the Athabasca River (which was huge and originates from the Rockies and feeds the Great Slave Lake) at Whitecourt; and, finally the Peace River just before getting into Grande Prairie.  I really wish I could have gotten pictures but there was a lot of large truck traffic and it simply wasn’t safe to pull over.

From Edmonton, I drove Alberta Highway 43 which is also called “Moose Row” for the apparently large number of moose that are seen/killed along the highway every year.  Almost the entire stretch is poplar/spruce forest with marshes and bogs everywhere.  Unfortunately (maybe fortunately), no moose were to be seen today.  The only wildlife I saw was a mule deer doe and numerous ravens and magpies.

Grande Prairie is to the west of the Peace River Valley and is farming/ranching country again.  Surprisingly, I saw a herd of cross-bred cattle with horns.  Not the Shorthorn breed, but plain old cross-bred cattle of all colors.  This is unusual because almost every rancher here has a favorite breed/color and that is all they have.  Grande Prairie is also a booming oil town and the smell of sulphur oil is pervasive.  Population is about 70,000 due to the oil activity.

Weather is same as Calgary – lows in the lower 50’s and highs in the lower 80’s.

Tomorrow, I’m on to Dawson Creek and the start of the official Alaska Highway and I’ll be spending the night in Muncho Lake, British Columbia (BC) at mile 462 of the Alaska Highway.

Day 6 – Calgary, AB

No travel today!

Started the day by sleeping in (kinda).  I’m a sun-up/sun-down type person and, well, the sun rises around 5:30am and sets around 10:00pm.  As for the weather, its a little warm for this time of year, but, that means lows around 50 and highs in the high 70’s/low 80’s.  There’s a cool down expected this weekend but I should be in Alaska by then.

Anyway, started the day at the local Cabela’s.  Stores are more like what used to be Gander Mountain but with Cabela’s gear.  The really cool thing is that the prices are about the same but with the exchange rate I basically got a 30% discount.  They are just transitioning to their “summer” gear so they had there spring gear on sale.  Needless to say, “spring” is more like our winter, so, I got a couple of nice “winter” shirts.  I still can’t get over the friendliness of the people here.  One of the staff asked me if I needed help and we ended up talking for an hour about differences between Cabela’s (US) and Cabela’s (Canada) and a lot of other stuff.  I also stopped by the gun library and was amazed at the amount of information and helpfulness the lady was able to provide.  A totally different experience than you would have in Buda.

I then drove south to Fort Calgary and spent some time in the museum and walking on the trail along the Bow and Elbow Rivers (the fort is built on the confluence).  Overall, I am really impressed by the city and its people.  So much different than at home.

Here is the confluence of the Bow (muddy water) and the Elbow (blue
water) rivers.

Here is a picture of downtown Calgary 

Here is a picture of General McCleod (basically the person who founded Calgary) and a chipmunk outside the museum.

Tomorrow, on to Grande Prairie, AB, Canada.

Day 5 – Great Falls, MT to Calgary, AB (Canada)

Miles today – 325

Total Miles – 2021 (approx)

Started the day in Great Falls, MT and made the last 118 miles in the continental US to the border crossing at Sweet Grass, MT/Coutts, AB (Alberta, Canada).  The picture below doesn’t do a lot of justice to the area, but basically its all wheat fields as far as you can see.

Next was the border crossing.  Not sure if I was supposed to take a picture, but here it is.  After a 20 minute wait (the yellow car in front of me didn’t have a license plate and only temporary tags), the border guard asked a few simple questions, reviewed all my documents, handed them back, wished me a good trip, and, off I went.

Next was the province of Alberta, Canada and my first practical exposure to the metric system.  Luckily, math is my friend and I know enough to do some simple conversions from metric to US imperial.  Speed limits are 110kmh (about 66mph) on the open roads but all of the distances are in kilometers.  Fortunately, my GPS stays in miles.

Here are a couple of pictures along the road from the border to Lethbridge,  AB – The first major town on the way to Calgary.

Someone had a little fun with the barn windows!

Arrived Calgary without too much trouble and will be here two nights.  I was able to find a Toyota dealer with an express lube service and had my truck serviced.  Hard to believe that I’ve travelled a little over 2,000 miles and I’m not even halfway there!

Day 4 – Sheridan (WY) to Great Falls (MT)

Miles today – 440

Total Miles – 1754

This is a picture from the hotel in Sheridan, Wyoming.  Pretty little town at the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains.

Didn’t get a picture of the Montana border sign.  I was on I-25/90 and didn’t see the exit.

There is so much history along the interstate and one day I’ll come back to see stuff like Custer’s Battleground and Memorial; the Crow Nation Museum; and some other things I can’t remember right now.  Stopped for gas in Hardin, MT and ran into a guy from San Antonio headed to Kalispell, MT for the summer.  He even knew the general area when I told him where I was from!

In Billings, I decided to leave the interstate and follow US87 north.  Again, some great, great scenery and a reminder how much open country exists in the wester U.S.A.  Drove through the Bull Mountains and Roundup, MT which, at around 2,000 people, is a pretty big town.  Turned west at Grass Range, MT (about 100 people from what I could see) and followed the Lewis & Clark trail through Lewistown, MT and on into Great Falls, MT.

Great Falls is on the Missouri River and is running full due to the snow melt.  In fact, I had 92F on the thermometer in my truck and just missed a large, severe thunderstorm that passed just to the east of Great Falls.

Tomorrow – on to Calgary.

 

Day 3 – Fort Lupton (CO) to Sheridan (WY)

Miles Today – Roughly 400

Total Miles – Roughly 1300

Today I saw some new parts of the country.  Instead of traveling I-25 the entire way, I took US-287 from Dacono (just west of Fort Lupton) to Laramie, Wyoming and then continued from Laramie on US-287 to Medicine Bow, Wyoming.  In Medicine Bow, I turned onto Wyoming State Highway 487 for approximately 80 miles until it
deadends into Wyoming State Highway 220.  WSH220 brought me to Casper.

 

If your interested in big country,
this is a trip for you.  US287 from Fort Collins, CO to Laramie, WY hits the “Flat Irons” part of Colorado and, not the Rockies, but to me, just as scenic.  The trip to Casper from Laramie traverses very wide open spaces and I was amazed at the grass and the semi-mountainous terrain. 
Lots of cattle and very few people, but, every once in a while, you could see a ranch
bunkhouse or central house in the distance.  The problem is that, “in the distance” is often 5 to 10 miles away!

 

Casper is about halfway and where I had no choice but to take I-25 north.  Surprisingly, there was VERY little traffic until I got to Buffalo, WY and I-90/25.  40 more miles and I was in Sheridan.

Sheridan is at the foot of the Big Horn Mountains and I managed to find a road that dead-ended into a atv/bike trail.  Turned around and then drove through the little town of Big Horn.  Had a great meal at the Wyoming Rib & Chop House in downtown and then avoided all the folks in town for the annual horse sale.