QUOTE taken from Wikipedia: “The Attack on Pearl Harbor and beginning of the Pacific Theater in World War II, coupled with Japanese threats to the west coast of North America and the Aleutian Islands, changed the priorities for both nations. On February 6,1942, the construction of the Alaska Highway was approved by the United States Army and the project received the authorization from the U.S. Congress and Roosevelt to proceed five days later. Canada agreed to allow construction as long as the United States bore the full cost, and that the road and other facilities in Canada be turned over to Canadian authority after the war ended”. End of Quote
The Alaska highway also called the Alaskan Highway, Alaskan-Canadian Highway or Alcan Highway, was constructed in 1942 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It begins at Dawson Creek in British Columbia and runs to Delta Junction Alaska through Whitehorse in the Yukon. Originally the length of the road was 1,700 miles (2,700 km), after much reconstruction and straightening out the length of the highway is now 1,387 miles (2,232 km).
The road was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who did the impossible, they built a road through marsh lands, forests and high mountain passes of Canada and Alaska in only 9 months. The road winds and weaves it way along partly thanks to the fact that the engineers discovered that the quickest and easiest way to build a road through the marshes was to go around them. The highway was opened to the public in 1948, it was then unpaved and extremely challenging rough drive, the highway is now paved over it’s entire length.
This year as Canada celebrates its 150th Anniversary and the Alaskan Highway celebrates its 75th birthday, so now is the time to “giddy up and go” down a short length of this legendary road, from Whitehorse, milepost 1420, to the beginning, or milepost zero, in Dawson Creek.
Just outside of Whitehorse is an amazing canyon, Miles Canyon. Originally referred to as Grand Canyon, Fredrick Schwatka renamed it in July of 1883 Miles Canyon after General Nelson Miles. Schwatka wrote, “Through this narrow chute of corrugated rock the wild waters of the great river rush in a perfect mass of milk-like foam, with a reverberation that is audible for a considerable distance.” Although accounts differ as to the ferocity of the rapids, there is no question that they were very dangerous. During the Gold Rush, hundreds of boats loaded with precious supplies were lost (as well as several lives) before the Northwest Mounted Police arrived to regulate traffic.
Eventually a wooden tram rail system around the canyon, built by Norman Macauly eliminated the need to battle this hazard. Boats and their cargo were loaded on to carts and were then drawn along peeled log rails by horses. He charged 3 cents per pound and 25 dollars per boat. The tracks extended 5 miles from Miles Canyon to a point just above present day Whitehorse. In the heyday of the goldrush a competing tramway was built on the opposite shore by one John Hepburn.
The hydroelectric dam constructed to provide power to Whitehorse has tamed Miles Canyon, but drifting through its 50-foot high basaltic walls is still a thrill, as is viewing it from the banks or from the Robert Lowe suspension bridge built in 1922.
The highway winds and weaves its way through some spectacular scenery, passes a number of lakes, Marsh lake to Teslin lake and through the town of Teslin on the shores of Nisutlin Bay on Teslin lake, home to the Tlingit First Nation people who are direct descendants of the Taku Qwan who originated from Southeast Alaska’s coastal regions. It then winds its way to Watson lake.
The Signpost Forest, so the story goes, was started in 1942 by a homesick U.S. army G.I. working on the Alaskan Highway, who put up a sign with the name of his home town and the distance.
Others followed suit and the tradition continues to this day. As of August 2010, there are more than 76,000 signs of various types depicting locations across the world. There is even one, well a sticker anyway, of the “Giddy up and Go” rideliveexplore.com, hope that I can handle all this fame.
Watson Lake and the neighboring Upper Liard settlement are the home of the Liard river First Nation, a member of the Kaska Dena Council. The Two Mile area immediately north of the core of town is a concentrated area of First Nations residents, while the town extends five miles (8 km) out to the turn-off of Airport Road. Stayed that night 4 km outside of Watson lake on the Watson lake campground, whilst cruising around the site looking for a vacant spot and slowly realizing that everything was a full, I stopped to look around and was accosted by a man with a funny accent demanding to know why I had a welsh sticker on my pannier. Now I told him that I loved Wales and been there many times, now this pleased him no end and he pointed over to a group of bikers and told me that they were all Welsh and what’s more that I could pitch me tent there as well.
Now I took him up on that offer and made camp, secretly relieved that I had not told him the truth that the sticker was structural and it was just hiding a hole…. Mmmnnnn. They turned out to be a group of crazy Canadian Welsh bikers and some American bikers who were all camped together. It turned out to be a good night in really good company.
Just after Watson lake there was a matrix sign on the side of the road warning about bison on the highway. This I kinda found hard to believe, I have come across bears, moose and all sorts of animals but bison???? Anyways I carried on.
Then kilometers further was a bison large as life calmly wandering down the side of the road. A while further and I came across a whole herd of them. Traveling in Canada is really summit else.
But bison or no bison it was on to Liard Hot Springs, milepost 765, for a well-deserved soak in the hot springs. Spent two nights in Liard on a campsite just across the road from the hot springs. The Liard river hot springs are the second largest known hot springs complex in Canada, with at least 6 springs feeding into different pools and streams that drain into the marsh. The further from the source, the cooler the water. The total volume of water flowing through the complex is 120 to 130 liters per second.
The springs, themselves, are in a park and have their own campground, but it was full. The fee for the campground, which was a rustic no facilities affair was 26 dollars a night, much more than I was used to paying. But it included entrance to the hot springs. Across the road was 26,50 dollars, but did not include entrance to the springs, but did include on the other hand Wi-Fi, hot showers and laundry. But guess what, no one was checking tickets at the springs.. ? A well-deserved shower first and a good old soak in the hot springs. Guess who was also soaking in the water…. The Welsh contingent…. Also enjoying a well-deserved soak.
The hot springs form a river that flows through an area of marsh land. Home to some amazing fauna. There is also wildlife in abundance attracted to the vegetation and the warmth of the air around the springs. The Laird Hot Springs is also home to the hanging garden. This consists of some amazing fauna growing and hanging on the cliffside, spectacular to see. The baths themselves consists of two pools in the river. The downstream pool being the cooler. People move from one to the other. The water has a high concentrate of sulphur and iron. What is also pretty neat, are the natural sculptures formed in the limestone by the water.
The next day it was time to move on to Fort Nelson. Once again, the scenery just seemed to be getting better and better. Came up to Muncho Lake and was treated to water that was a beautiful jade color. Never have I seen anything like this. The color is created by tiny rock fragments scraped from the valley walls by glaciers and carried by melt water downstream to the lake. This silt flows into the icy water were most of it sinks to the bottom. Fine particles ground to the texture of flour remain suspended in the lake water, giving it a milky appearance . The rock flour reflects and scatters the sunlight, returning mainly the blue green part of the spectrum to our eyes. “Muncho” means big lake in the Kaska language. At 12 km long (7.5 miles) it is one of the largest natural lakes in the Canadian Rockies.
We were kept company for part of the way by Toad river, a fast-flowing river cutting its way through the mountains. Facilities are few and far between on this stretch of road. Petrol stations are mostly small one pump affairs. They are also really expensive. Some of the most expensive petrol in Canada can be found here.
Some of the pumps even have signs on them warning people to tank up, pay up and to quit sniveling…. But even at these prices it’s still cheaper than in Europe. Plus, the drive is totally amazing. Well worth the extra expense.
Then Forth Nelson appears. This is a really neat little town. Established in 1802 as a Hudson Bay trading post and named after admiral Nelson of the British navy. Its economy was originally based on forestry, oil and gas. Its economy is now struggling with a downturn in the demand for forestry products and the low oil price. It now looks towards tourism as a new source of economy. There are a lot of facilities here catering to the needs of the tourist. It is also home to North Americas largest gas processing plant and one of the continent’s largest deposits of shale gas can be found here.
Stayed at the Triple G Hideaway Campground, a family run affair. Really nice and neat plus friendly people. Stayed just one night here and met up with some really interesting people.
One group of guys where driving the highway in old American army trucks, a whole convoy of them. They were having a good time. Their campsite resembled an episode of M.A.S.H. The Alaskan highway attracts a whole load of different people.
The next and final stage of the highway ran through some really boring country side, it was a long stretch passing through Fort St. John and Taylor, crossing the Peace River and oh boy was it really hot. I didn’t make many photos on this stretch.
I was really glad to finally reach Dawson Creek or Milepost Zero. Stayed also in the aptly name Milepost Zero campsite.
Dawson creek has a population of about 11,000 people. The community was one of many farming communities established by European Canadian settlers moving into the peace river country. A small wave of refugees from the Sudetenland (northern Czechoslovakia) settled in the area in 1939. The Walter Wright pioneer village, at milepost 0, commemorates these hard working immigrants and offers a glimpse into their lives. A lot of the buildings, furniture and artifacts are real and have been donated by the families. It’s like a trip through time.
Next, it’s on to Jasper, Banff national parks through the Big Horn and Icefields Parkway highways and this is also truly amazing….