Last week we had heard that the Cassiar Highway was closed because of a large wildland fire near the British Columbia/Yukon provincial border, just south of the Alaskan Highway. We knew it would be a few days before we would be headed that way so we decided to take the Cassiar Highway and HOPED it would be open by the time we reached the impacted area. If not, we would have to retrace our route all the way back to Prince George.
Then, a few days ago we heard encouraging news – traffic was moving through the burned forest in escorted groups. We made it to the Beaverdam Rest Area (46 miles south of the Alaska Hwy.) before we had to come to a stop and wait for a pilot truck. We were the fourth vehicle in line and, luckily, our wait was probably less than five minutes. It took quite a while, but we eventually hit the areas devastated by the fire. Once we thought we were through the burn area we would come across another stretch of blackened trees along both sides of the highway, and then another, and another. We were escorted a total of 26 miles and the images of burned and smoldering forest lands will remain with us for quite a while. For those traveling in this direction you can get an update at: BC Wildfires of Note. At last report the fire had consumed about 8,400 hectares (~21,000 acres).
Following are some photos taken during this leg of the trip. (You can click on an image to enlarge it and then hit your BACK button to return to the text.)
Once we passed the fire camp and fire fighters’ heliport we were dismissed from the escort. It would be another 18 miles before we reached the BC-YT provincial border and our first look at Highway 1, the Alaskan Highway.
WATSON LAKE, YUKON
We actually back-tracked 13 miles to Watson Lake where we planned a multiple day stopover. It was time to grocery shop, do laundry, buy diesel fuel, and tour two prominent attractions: The Sign Post Forest and the Northern Lights Centre.
For those wondering, diesel fuel is running Canadian $1.339 per liter in Watson Lake. Our last stop over in Dease Lake had diesel for about C$1.45 so we opted to run our tank down much further than normal to get a lower price. This fill-up was the equivalent of 84.1 gallons (100 gallon tank) and converts to approximately $5.06 per gal. (We are using a credit card and it will be a few days before we get the actual dollar conversion rate and transaction fee.)
The fuel station we used also had a FHU (full hook-up) gravel campground, a laundromat (C$2.50 to wash, C$2.00 to dry), convenience store, and was directly across the street from the Sign Post Forest and the Visitor Information Centre. A one-stop-location for C$26. per night.
The Sign Post Forest is a definite destination for anyone traveling the Alaskan Highway. Bring your own sign and add it to the more than 70,000 already posted. We didn’t, but we did have some Escapee Boomer decals that we signed, dated and posted near other Escapee logo stickers facing the visitor parking lot. The Kings also posted a decal and we decided that we’ll be stopping here on our return trip with real signs we will get made along the way.
Our advice to those posting in the future: use your GPS to note your sign location. We had a number of folks ask us to find their signs and we couldn’t. The last two shots are for Gypsy Journal Publishers Nick and Terry Russell (former Show Low, AZ residents) and our daughter Robin and her family who currently reside in Pleasanton, California.
Frank and Gloria King look over one of the museum models.
Northern Lights Centre
Many of our friends recommended that we stop at the Northern Lights Space and Science Centre and take in the two shows they present in their brand new, two-projector, SciDome. The HD system features a 3 million pixel display on a 360° dome screen, the first one of its kind in Canada. The chairs are comfy and tilted back to allow a full view of the dome. The first show was called Astronaut, a space-related show with top-notch animation produced in cooperation with NASA and UC Berkeley.
The second show, Yukon’s Northern Lights, was locally produced and was also outstanding. To quote their website: “The beauty and majesty of the Aurora Borealis take centre stage featuring footage shot exclusively in the Yukon over a three year period. This variety of Auroral motion and color is set to music, creating an exciting and emotional tone for viewers. One of the highlights of the show is the scientific input regarding the known causes of the Aurora, as well as information and footage of the launch by NASA of the THEMIS mission to solve the Aurora mystery.”
Watson Lake to Carcross, YT
We left Watson Lake this morning (Wed.) and headed to Carcross, YT. We will slowly drive the steep (11% grade) to Skagway early in the morning. The Alaskan Highway followed various rivers as they climbed the Continental Divide. Interpretive signs showed how the local streams, creeks and rivers run to either the Beaufort Sea (Artic Ocean) or to the Bering Sea (Pacific Ocean).
It wasn’t long after our rest area stop that we came upon Frank and Gloria pulled to the side of the highway. This was NOT a planned stop, but a flat tire on their 5th wheel. Once again the use of a tire pressure monitoring system saved their rig from severe damage. A trailer tire had split in two places and the ensuing alarm definitely got their attention. Unlike our motorhome, the Kings have a spare tire for both their trailer and their truck. (Manufacturers do not want motorhome drivers to change tires on these heavy rigs. Instead, if we had a flat, we would have to call our Coach Net Road Service provider – that is, if we had phone service out here in the boonies.)
Frank has had to change tires before and we were on the road in no time at all. Luke, Gloria and I watched attentively.
The only other highway events of the day were related to road and bridge construction. At first we were happy the water truck had just passed through the graveled roadway. But then we saw the truck refilling at a local stream – oh, no – dust ahead!
Eagle-eye Gloria caught this goof – the traffic sign for the upcoming one-lane bridge was upside down (green light symbol was on the top, not on the bottom.)
Last night was just June 7, still two weeks away from the summer solstice, but it is still taking time to realize that it can be daylight at midnight here in the Yukon Territory. This shot was taken outside our motorhome at about 12:25 a.m. I guess this is what the weather folks call “civil twilight”. According to Weather Underground, the actual length of visible light for this date is 21 hours, 53 minutes. Sunrise was at 2:39 a.m. PDT and sunset will be at 12:32 a.m. PDT. Just Amazing!
In addition to bears and moose, the wildlife report for this blog has a few new critters — foxes, porcupines and huskies.
The Kings spotted two foxes, but only one was around when we drove past. Neither of us got photos.
We saw the porcupine slowly move across the road and waddle up through the bushes. Again, no photos, but it was fun watching him (her?).
The huskies were actually seen at our campground in Watson Lake. Two pick-up trucks pulling trailers parked next to the buildings. One had a horse in a trailer and the other truck had a huge (35-foot??) utility trailer set up as a kennel for 43 huskies. The owners/handlers very systematically took two dogs out at a time and attached them to a guide line – males on one side of the trailer, females on the other. Frank learned that they separate them because they don’t need any more huskies! They were there for a couple of hours and did an excellent job of cleaning up after the canine potty break. Never did hear where they were headed. Our Shepherd/Dingo mix, Star, of course, had to visit the area after they left to check out all the new smells. Just like a tourist!
It wouldn’t be a wildlife report without photos of bears. The Kings got an extended look (and photos) of a mama bear and two cubs.
We all had a good look at this bear wandering along the roadway.
One shot we did not get was a bear running through the burned forest. Very sad! We could only imagine how traumatic the fires must be for the animals in the forests. We live in a fire-prone area and know how crazy a fire makes us.
NEXT: Skagway, Alaska