Week one saw some long stretches of driving as we headed to the more interesting attractions in the far north. Our route took us initially via the Yellowhead Hwy with stops in Valemount, then Grand Cache, Fort Nelson, Liard Hot Springs and on to Whitehorse which completed our week. Read on for more details.
Not that southern BC lacks attractions but we’d simply seen most before. Intermittent rain and low cloud marked the first two days often restricting visibility and making planned detours around scenic Jasper somewhat pointless. Changing up the obvious route north via Kamloops, we had taken the Forest Service Road between Salmon Arm and Barriere which introduced us to the beauty of Adams Lake ( of the famed ‘salmon run’ )- the price paid was a filthy truck as the gravel road somewhat predictably turned to mud in the prevailing weather. I was keen to test the vehicle in these conditions and it handled the road admirably…!
Shortly after leaving Jasper the wildlife got more interesting with significant herds of mountain sheep by the road – and one lonely moose ! Surprisingly little other wildlife to be seen. Turning north out of Jasper, Alberta’s Highway 40 proved rather flat and dull and the only reason we chose it was that it was one of the alternate routes north we had not travelled before – at least the weather was improving. In advance of hitting the more remote ( and consequently expensive ) communities of northern B.C. and the Yukon, Costco in Grand Prairie was a great supply stop…..endless food choices and Alberta’s famed cheap gas and cheap booze ! We loaded up.
Rather uneventful driving through Dawson Creek ( starting point – or ‘Mile Zero’ of the Alaska Highway ) and Fort St John but the scenery improved noticeably as we neared Fort Nelson – signs warning of wildlife on the road proved bang on and much excitement accompanied our first black bear sighting. Hours later we had stopped counting as we had seen so many -deer were also in abundance. Camped in Fort Nelson for the night and we met ‘Rick’, a true ‘Sourdough’ ( one born in the Yukon ) who, along with his wife, was returning to Whitehorse from an annual 6 month ‘snowbird’ trip to Yuma, Arizona. We reckoned it had to be one of the longest snowbird runs of all. Rick kindly helped with some invaluable Yukon highway tips when I asked questions about our proposed route. ‘Take plenty of spare tires on the Dempster ( Highway )’ he said, and seemed relieved when I told him we had two. ‘You’ll need them both’ he predicted. Hopefully not, I thought. In a curious kind of way I had hoped we might need the extra spare. Not that I like changing tires any more than the next guy but fitting in this extra spare ‘in case’ really used up a lot of precious space in what used to be the back seat of the truck, adding considerable weight and some irritating squeaks to the vehicle as it bounced around on rougher roads.. Somehow actually using it would vindicate the decision to take it along I thought. Time will tell !
Stunning views views from Summit Lake Pass were an early highlight on the road from Fort Nelson to Liard Hot Springs but more was in store – caribou, more bears, mountain sheep and other wildlife were seen often as we drove on through some of northern B.C’s most stunning scenery especially in the area around Muncho Lake. Note to self – next time in the area reserve a campsite at Strawberry Flats campground on Muncho Lake ( we picnicked there and found it one of the prettiest settings in any camp ground or rest area we had seen). Two weeks from now and it would certainly be packed with campers.
On a previous trip to Alaska we’d stumbled across Liard Hot Springs and vowed to revisit if we ever had the chance. With no hard schedule we stayed a couple of days this time and, apart from some irritating smoke in the air from an Alberta wildfire, found it as relaxing and beautiful as ever. Licence plates are a great guide to how famous a place is and a quick perusal of other campers’ vehicles showed plates from as far afield as Florida, Ontario and Georgia. A great place, ‘off the grid’, and a welcome respite from miles and miles of endless highway driving. Well, not everyone was driving. Standing out front of the campground was a young man with his backpack and dog, waiting to ‘hitch’ a ride west to Dawson City. Unsuccessful the previous day he had slept overnight by the road side and was forlornly waiting for that rare driver that picks up a hitchhiker – certainly an adult male. I approached and asked where he had come from and where he was going. Montreal to the former and Dawson City ( home ) to the latter, he answered. I suggested that hitching with a a dog could not be increasing his odds of a ride. Indeed not, he replied……..but it kept the bears away ! Of course.
Well and truly rested after a couple of days at Liard we followed the Alaska Highway westward as it zig zagged between BC and the Yukon, crossing the Continental Divide and several markers of note attesting to various aspects of the construction of the famed road – built in just 9 months between 1942 and 1943 as a supply road to Alaska in response to fears of a Japanese invasion in the north. it never came, thankfully, but the road was a catalyst for much of the subsequent development of this formerly remote region.
We managed to make Whitehorse at the end of the first week, which was about where we thought we’d be. One of the joys of travelling just ahead of the busy school holiday season is that the roads see far less traffic and campsites are invariably available on a drop in basis. No problems getting accommodation and some of the nicest sites we have encountered anywhere ! A month from now and that won’t be the case ! Lots of shopping to get caught up on ( big towns are sparse up north so one saves one’s ‘to do list’ for when you pass through ). On a nostalgic note, we visited the house Lois spent her early years in, having been born right here in Whitehorse.