I can’t get Johnny Horton’s song “North to Alaska” out of my head as we roll along, passing incredible snow capped peaks, crossing huge rushing rivers and gawking at large critters who seemingly pose for our camera.
Ned, Kat and Charlotte are on the move again. Having spent a restful but restless year at home in Nevada after returning from our sojourn to the bottom of South America, we are now rolling to the top of North America – the top of Alaska. Our destination is the outpost of Deadhorse and Prudhoe Bay, which is as far north, we are told, as one can drive up the Dalton Highway out of Fairbanks. We are in Fairbanks as I write this, having just spent the last two weeks driving 3,580 miles from Minden, Nevada. From here we get on the dirt for the last 500 miles to the top. Unlike the “big one,” our 30,000 mile, 14 month odyssey south, this trip is a quickie – just two months and maybe 9,000 miles. But, if you go to one end ya gotta go to the other, so follow along as we tell the tale thus far…
After South America Charlotte needed a little love… like a new engine, transmission, brakes, tires, lots of cracks welded up and on and on. However, she has not been idle, having rolled up another 15,000 miles this past year taking us to our wedding, as well as to places like Baja, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. Along the way her heater fan quit. We froze for a while, but a trip to Alaska, we decided, required a working heater. I dove into one of the nastier jobs in auto repair – digging buried heater cores out of dashboards.
We’re not sure about “the best place on earth,” but British Columbia, Canada is gorgeous. We spent a quick three days getting from northern Nevada to the Canadian border, having already explored Oregon and Washington quite extensively in the past. The border crossing was a five minute affair, a big contrast to some of the arduous ones we experienced in Central America. The guy did ask some bizarre questions like, “Are you seeing friends in Canada? What are you bringing them?” and “Did you travel for work? Where? Why?” and the best, “Do you own any guns? HOW MANY?”
Once over the border the trip really began. We spent a fun night at the home of our friends, Ian & Susan. The same Ian & Susan we ran into in Mazatlan, Mexico on the trip south. The next day we crossed this beautiful bridge over the Fraser River and skirted around the city of Vancouver, heading north on scenic Hwy 99 to the ski town of Whistler.
The “Sea to Sky” Highway 99 is a much more scenic and remote route to Hwy 97. 97 is considered the milk run way to get to Dawson Creek (Mile 0 of the famed Alaskan Highway). As usual, we didn’t take the milk run. In fact, we’re avoiding the Alcan as much as possible on our way north, picking all the alternate, less traveled roads we can find. The Sea to Sky reminded us of the Austral in southern Chile.
Tourist stop at Shannon Falls.
Amateur Tree Hugger.
Our second night in Canada was spent in the ski town of Whistler in the parking lot! It wasn’t very memorable and we don’t have any photos. Ski season had just ended and the place was quite dead. After our third night however, we woke up to this view out our living room window. The previous day we had finished Hwy 99 and turned north on the 97. That evening we had followed a dirt road off the 97 which led us to this glass smooth, deserted lake.
Morning stretches and exercises are still the norm. Sitting on your butt all day takes its toll, so we try to get a little workout and walk/run in every day.
Professional Tree Hugger.
This guy was our first Black Bear sighting with many more to come. He was right along the highway and when we stopped he ran and tried to climb a power pole!
Ho hum, just another snowcapped beautiful mountain range. We have now passed the town of Prince George and have headed west on Hwy 16 to Hwy 37, the Cassiar Highway. 37 took us north again all the way to Watson Lake.
Travelling up Hwy 37, we took a detour west out 37A to the town of Hyder, Alaska USA. This is the furthermost point south you can drive to in the State of Alaska. The 40 something mile drive is gorgeous with several views of glaciers like this one and dead ends in Hyder. There is no way to continue further into Alaska by car, only boat. So, after visiting Hyder you must backtrack into Canada and continue north in that country for hundreds of miles before entering the rest of Alaska that is accessible by car.
This is pretty much all there is to Hyder, Alaska. There isn’t even an official USA border crossing but there is an official Canadian crossing to go back into Canada –where they asked us the same kind of crazy questions they had asked in Vancouver! And we were only in Hyder a couple of hours!
Although the town is only one block long we found much to do in Hyder. This is a view from the “port” looking out on the sound that leads to the Pacific Ocean.
This walkway has been constructed along Fish Creek so tourists can safely view bears catching salmon in the creek. Unfortunately, we were too early in the season for the fish so there were no bears. Fortunately, there were no tourists either!
Bear rules for tourists.
I found the local junkyard about as interesting as Fish Creek!
…Especially the seating arrangement in this rotting Toyota Land Cruiser. Kinda gives a new meaning to the old Land Cruiser nickname “Toylet!”
The final order of business in Hyder was to stop at the Glacier Inn and get “Hyderized.” I was here 15 years ago with fellow journalist and oldest friend, Rick Pewe so I knew the drill… but Kat didn’t.
Straight Everclear. “Don’t sniff or sip. Down it in one shot or you buy the house a round!”
Once Hyderized things got a little fuzzy… So we had lunch before facing the border guards going back into Canada. We were lucky – turns out it was the first day of the season the restaurant was open for business.
Black Bear #2, or 3, or 4???
Right at the crossing from British Columbia into Yukon Territory at the end of Hwy 37 Charlotte was due for a 5000 mile adjustment. Living on the road you do things when you have to. Oil was changed and tires were rotated.
By now we were getting a little ripe so we got a clean room and shower at Johnson’s Crossing, one of the nicer roadhouses along the Alcan. We had passed several that were still closed for the season, but others seemed abandoned. When we asked about them at Johnson’s we were told that many roadhouses have had to close their doors because they can’t get people to work. Sad.
Our next adventure after showers at Johnson’s was the Canol Road. It turned out to be our best adventure between home and Fairbanks. The Canol was cut in 1942-44 to serve the Canadian Oil Company’s four inch diameter pipeline from Norman Wells to Whitehorse. The pipeline venture was a failure after only two years, but the dirt road it left behind offers a fantastic alternative route for those of us trying to stay off the Alcan. At the road’s southern entrance these Chevy truck carcasses are a stark reminder of a time when life was much tougher in these parts. The trucks are leftovers from the road’s rushed construction during WWII and their remains, along with other heavier equipment, can still be found rusting away quietly in the forest.
Just after passing the old trucks we thought our adventure was over before it began. Signs proclaimed the road was still closed for winter. But, there was no gate and no one around to stop us so… the sign did say “travel at your own risk” and the best adventures usually come with a bit of risk… Onward!
The South Canol Road is 132 miles long and runs through some beautiful and very remote country. There are no towns, services or even signs of humans besides the road itself. It felt like one of the most remote places we have ever visited.
Adding to the remoteness were all the signs of big hungry critters that we’ve never seen before. First off were the big egg shaped pellets we figured were moose. Next came wolf tracks…. Then grizzly bear (a small one) and finally moose hoofs. Onward!
For the first 60 miles or so we saw tracks from other vehicles proving we were not the only ones ignoring the road closed sign. However once we reached Quiet Lake all the vehicle tracks ended and there were signs the final ones turned around. We motored on until we reached this downed tree, a sure sign that no one had been through the road since the previous fall.
Charlotte made quick work of dragging the tree out of the way. Onward!
Another 10 miles up the road was this Charlotte-averse washout. Down came our Australian made MAXTRAX recovery devices from the roof rack. We carried these four stackable plastic land mats all through South America and never used them! Then last January in Baja, they saved a friend’s van from the rising tide when he got stuck on the beach. Now they made great ramps to allow Charlotte to ease into and out of the washout. Onward!
The road became muddier and snow began to appear.
Then about 85 miles in we came to this avalanche that had buried the road.
We got out and surveyed our options. We really didn’t want to backtrack all the way to Johnson’s Crossing and (uggh) the Alcan.
The pros were it was still a beautiful, warm day and only 4pm. The sun didn’t go down until about 10pm and the avalanche was only about 75 yards across. We had stuff to help us when we got stuck and we like to use it.
The cons were we were 90 miles from nowhere in the complete wilderness. No one knew where we were and no one had been to this spot by car all winter. There had been lots of big, hungry feet prints all along the way we had come. We had no idea what lay ahead. More snow. More mud. More hungry feet. There were at least 40 more miles before any civilization. If we got really stuck there was no option of walking for help. We would have to sit and wait for days until some other nut came along hoping to get through the road.
The pros won…Onward!
Charlotte did a good job of staying on top of the snow for about half the distance…
Then she sank to her belly! Time to get to work.
There was nothing to winch to and our Pull Pal winch anchor has proven iffy in snow, so down came the MAXTRAX for the third time this year (second time the same day!)
The MAXTRAX gave Charlotte big feet and she was able to leapfrog across the snow. It took five “settings” of the devices in this manner with much digging for placement before she was able to claw her way to the dry road on the far side. As soon as we were on the other side we found tire tracks and footprints coming from the north. This told us the road was clear from there on. Whoohoo! We were the first to cross the Canol for 2016! Hah! We’re SUCH great white explorers. LOL.
After another 15 miles or so we came to this little cabin on a frozen lake. It was the first sign of life and we thought maybe the black pickup had made the tracks we had been following since the avalanche (turns out it hadn’t). We turned up the muddy driveway.
Art was the first person we met when he came out to greet us with a warm smile, kudus for getting through the road, an offer to stay for dinner and a “come meet the family,” all in about two minutes! We felt very welcomed and right at home.
Art’s not-wife Yvonne and Muffy, their not-daughter, whom they have raised since she was two, standing in the doorway of Art’s summer hunting cabin. We were getting a crash course in Canadian First Nation family life! Art and Yvonne have been together 14 years but don’t live together. They are from two different tribes. Art is Kaska and Yvonne is Tahltan. Muffy, or Yahlayla (her tribal name) is Yvonne’s daughter’s daughter but her grandmother (Yvonne) and her boyfriend (Art) have raised her. Got all that? It all didn’t matter. They were the kindest, nicest, happiest folks you could ever meet and referred to themselves as “Caninguns!”
Kat and Kath. This is Yvonne’s friend Katherine. All of the girls had driven the 70 plus miles in from their villages up north to cook a Mother’s Day dinner for Art and Ken. Ken is Art’s not-son but the son of Art’s best friend who is like a brother. OK, got it?
Art and Ken are living at the cabin for the summer, but the girls all live in Ross River and Faro up north at the end of the Canol Road. Like our Native Americans, First Nation Canadians have designated tribal lands. The family explained that they can put up a cabin anywhere they want on their tribal lands, hence this camp which was only about two years old.
Yvonne loves to cook and we hit it just in time. We had a feast including steak, ribs, sausage, veggies plus all of our beer and all of their wine. When the sun doesn’t go down until after ten, a lot of eating and drinking occurs!
Shortly after we arrived Muffy took us to see her “pet” fox that had a den quite near the cabin. The family hadn’t seen any pups yet but they expected them to come out of the den any day. The fox was beautiful and huge, the size of a large German Sheppard dog.
A shot of the inside of the cabin. That’s Ken working on the bed.
The view from the cabin was just jaw dropping.
Needless to say, we camped there for the night and were reluctant to leave the next day.
After dinner Art and Yvonne had a project to clean a duck and a goose they had shot. We watch with interest, feeling like dumb city kids with no survival skills in the wild. Here Art singes the goose down off the carcass.
The old and the new. Think Yvonne’s Fitbit bracelet can count how many birds she can clean in a day?
After leaving the “Caninjuns’” camp we drove another 35 miles to the end of the Canol where we turned west on to the Campbell Highway. After another 20 miles or so of dirt the pavement began again. The views however did not change!
A moose! We finally saw a moose! We were beginning to think they were only tracks.
Hope to see a set of these on a live one.
We thought about procuring these from this semi-abandoned building for the front of Charlotte to replace Vaca Muerte. Sharp eyes may notice Vaca is absent from his perch this trip. After a failed attempt to re-unite him with his body in Baja this past January (we couldn’t find it), he now hangs proudly on our living room wall. His travelin’ days are through! This awesome rack would have been a bit much for Charlotte’s nose, we reckoned, not to mention the border guards at the upcoming crossing into Alaska, USA would probably not have taken kindly to it.
It’s a long damn drive up through Canada to Alaska!
Mile 1422. This white post marks the official end of the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek, BC to Delta Junction, Alaska. For us it is just the beginning, though. From here we traveled another 98 miles to Fairbanks where we are holed up for a couple of days to write this blog and take multiple showers (!)
Next we’ll go north on the Dalton Highway to the top, Prudhoe Bay; then back down to the south of this beautiful, huge state to explore what else it has to offer.