International Writers Magazine - Our 20th Year: From Our Archives
North to Alaska - Parts Five to Eight
left Jasper National Park at 0600 hoping to find a bear early in
the morning. We are on highway 16 or Yellow Head Highway heading
northwest out of Jasper. The scenery is simply awesome regardless
which direction you look. We passed through Pocahontas, Alberta
where you can visit Miette Hot Springs, bathing suits and towels
for rent. Mike thought the air was a bit chilly.
We saw lots of goats
and sheep along here as they have a mineral lick to bring them close
to the highway, but no sign of any bears.
small tidbit for you: Yellowhead was named after an Iroquois trapper
and guide who worked for the Hudson Bay Co. in the 1880s. The
trapper had yellow hair.
We turned left onto highway 40 or Big Horn Highway taking us to Grand
We drove through Grand Chache, Alberta which is 132 miles from Jasper.
The time is noon already, but stopping and looking at wild life and
taking pictures of the magnificent scenery takes time. Oh well we are
retired. Whats the hurry?
Grand Prairie is located at junction 43 and 40 with a population of
over 44,000 people. Grand Prairie is the hub city for Northwestern Alberta
and Eastern British Columbia. We headed out of town on highway 43 in
a northwestern direction.
We crossed into British Columbia by late afternoon heading for Dawson
Creek, BC. When we arrived at Dawson Creek, population 11,800 it had
rained very hard earlier in the day and water was standing everywhere.
Dawson Creek looks like something out of an old Jimmy Stewart western.
As we drove through we were in awe of how old things looked and wondered
if a gun fight would erupt at any moment. We located an RV Park right
in town. We pulled into Tubbys Camp Grounds and when I stepped
out of the RV the water was four inches deep. The campground was gravel
and mud and it was very difficult to distinguish between the two.
We parked our motor home and the sun came out and warmed things up quickly
at an elevation of 2186. Cocktail hour began and ended an hour later
when I thought of cleaning the RV at Tubbys RV wash right on the
property. The bugs and dirt were ground in along with the wolverine
hair that was still attached. The mud at the park was still around,
but the water soaked away.
Dawson Creek was incorporated in 1958 and has 19 motels a few bed and
breakfast places and several RV parks. O marker is the start of the
Alaskan Highway. Big sign hanging across the street in downtown Dawson
Creek letting everyone know that it begins here. The sign had been up
there for what looked like many years. Maybe it was just dirty, but
it just rained.
Jim located a water leak in our plumbing that was running into the electric
box on the RV. Not a good thing. After tearing out part of the closet
to get at the hidden plumbing and finding the leak it was supper time
or dinner time depending on which part of the country youre from.
Spaghetti was served along with salad, garlic bread and chilled Chardonnay.
Our RV was sparkling clean inside and out. We ended the night with many
laughs and a couple bottles of wine.
We headed up the Alaskan Highway at 0610. It took us five minutes to
reach the outskirts of Dawson Creek from our camp grounds. The excitement
began and our hearts picked up the beat. Before we reached thirty-five
miles we crossed the Peace River. The suspension bridge reaches 2130
feet and was washed out in 1957. The new bridge was completed again
in 1960. Taylor is the first city we came to and it sits just north
of the Peace River. A natural gas field is located here and the gas
is piped to Vancouver, BC.
Fort St. John is the next city with a population of over 17,000 people
who work primarily for the gas, oil and forestry industry. In 1942 this
city was the field headquarters for the U.S. Army troops who worked
on the highway.
We were 50 miles out of Fort St. John when I spotted a large black bear
along the side of the road. I hit the brakes and screamed BEAR! Jim
is bracing himself behind me and Mikes blood pressure soared.
I got the RV turned around and drove slowly toward the bear that was
eating grass along side the road. We parked and I got out of the RV
quietly while the other two tried to take pictures from inside. The
bear has not moved yet. All he wanted to do was eat. I was within 50
feet of the bear when I saw Jim and Mike exit the RV. The hungry bear
wouldnt raise its head so I picked up a stone and threw it toward
the bear. Jim and Mike thought Id lost my mind and raced back
to the RV. The bear raised its head and I snapped one picture. Then
the shiny black bear continued to eat.
The scenery hasnt changed for three hundred miles. Green lush
forest, snow capped mountains, ice covered lakes, mountain sheep, moose
and lots of deer. We toured the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum. Displays
of wild life including a white moose along with antique cars will make
this a must stop. It was time to stretch our old legs.
We stopped and took pictures of Muncho Lake, 444 miles from Dawson Creek
known for its deep green and blue water. No ice on this deep lake reaching
depths of over 700 feet and stretching over 7 miles in length.
We arrived at Liard River RV Park on the Laird River after driving 496
miles stopping several times and enjoyed every mile. If you enjoy natures
beauty then get off the sofa. Remember one thing when traveling with
an RV, take along a tool box because you will need it about every thousand
miles or sooner.
We headed out before
sunrise at 0430. It was light out though. I heard a few moans and groans,
but I assured them the bear will be waiting for us. We hadnt traveled
25 miles from our camp grounds when we spotted the largest wolf Ive
ever seen and possibly anyone had ever seen .This animal was the size
of a small brown bear. Its head was enormous. I stopped the RV and opened
the door slowly so not too spook the large black wolf. He or she stood
there not 100 feet from us letting us know that we were in his or her
territory and he or she wasnt running. He or she looked hungry
and no I didnt throw any stones in his or her direction. I snapped
a picture and climbed into the RV. The wolf walked away with his or
her eyes on us. I couldnt make out the sex of the wolf at 100
feet. Too much hair left from his winter coat.
The road so far has been great. It is asphalt with a few frost heaves.
The traffic is sparse, Canada is on a holiday and the truck traffic
is non existent. Great for sightseeing, you can take up the whole road
or stop anywhere to shoot a picture. A great time to travel this road
providing you get off the sofa.
Where the buffalo roam is along the Alaska Highway. We saw approximately
30 wild buffalo in a herd along the road grazing and a few in the middle
of the road. A few miles further we saw 2 large male buffalo fighting
along with several cows watching the fight. The dust was flying their
tails dancing and their heads crashing against one another. Somebody
was going to win, but we opted to drive on.
We are in Yukon Territory and closing in on Watson Lake or the gateway
to the Yukon. They receive over 90 inches of snowfall every winter.
Record low was minus 74 degrees Fahrenheit. That is below zero in case
you want drive up the highway in the winter.
We filled our gas tank. Gas and diesel stops are plentiful so far. Always
fill up when you have around a half a tank just in case the next station
is closed or out of gas.
Fireweed is the territorial flower of the Yukon. We drove along the
Rancheria River for several miles. The waysides or rest stops with porta
toilets are scattered every 50 miles or so. The toilet paper rolls are
padlocked to the wall and there are no toilet seats. I asked a maintenance
guy who was painting one of the toilets about the toilet seats. He said
people steal them so they quit installing them. Even in the Yukon they
More black bears, moose, antelope, mountain sheep, coyotes, and bison
were seen along with a couple of white eagles. We saw several wild horses
galloping several hundred feet away.
We pulled into Hi Country RV Park in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, after
driving 466 miles. We have over 3000 miles on the RV since we picked
it up in Indiana. Oil change is due on the motor home and $100.00 later
we got her done.
White Horse sits on the Yukon River and has a population of 23,511.
We drove into town and had an excellent meal at Klondike Rib and Salmon,
the oldest operating building in Whitehorse. We had baked salmon, fried
potatoes and mixed green vegetables. That wasnt enough so we had
warm apple crisp piled high with homemade vanilla ice cream. We shared
the desert as it was big enough for three anyway. The service was excellent.
Many stories and laughs were shared by the three seniors.
We left a very nice RV park in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory at 0545 for
the one of the most pristine states, Alaska. The frost heaves in the
road made driving like running a dune buggy over sand dunes. If you
havent done that maybe you should think about it. The heaves were
every quarter mile, now they are every 500 feet. We have the whole road
to use so I hit the frost heaves on an angle trying to ease the ride
for Jim who was sitting on a thin padded seat. His low back began to
cry for more cushions. He used his pillow.
passed through Haines Junction, 100 miles from Whitehorse and
with a population of 811. Haines Junction is on the eastern border
of Kluane National Park (pronounced, Kloo-WA-nee). The snow capped
mountains are postcard perfect with Kluane Lake partially ice
covered in the forefront. This area experienced gold rush days
in the early 1900s.
Creek a small town, population 112 is where you will find Buckshot
Bettys. They make all their own pastries, breads, pies, cookies
and anything else sweet. You can pay in gold nugget, cash or they
have an ATM close by, a good place to stretch your legs guys, and
let the ladies browse around. We didnt browse much.
We arrived at the
Alaska border and had a lady border patrol officer to deal with. Her
once a week smile faded the moment she laid eyes on me behind the wheel.
She asked us for our passports, and did we have more than $10,000 in
cash. Mike spoke up in his eastern accent, "No we are all divorced."
He laughed, but she never even blinked just stared at Mike. I asked
her where she lived. One word answer, TOK, Alaska.
It is 1221.8 miles from Dawson Creek to the border. We made it!
Alaska, population 1435 is the first town you come to in Alaska.
Now I see why the lady border patrol officer didnt smile.
The name Tok was named after a husky pup who became the mascot of
the all Black Army Corp of Engineers. Tok is known as the dog sled
capital of Alaska.
We took highway
1 or Glen Highway or Tok Cut Off out of Tok toward Gakoma where we picked
up the Richardson Highway. The Wrangell-St.Elias National Park and Reserve
is where the Mount Sanford peaks out at 16,257. Awesome! The road is
asphalt, but the frost heaves are now every twenty feet. Jim is crying.
Our stomachs are in our throats.
The gas gauge is riding on empty. Yes we failed to get gas in Tok because
they wanted too much per gallon. My suggestion is to get enough to carry
you to the next station. I looked at the map and figured we could make
it to Glennallen. That turned out to be a bad call. The first three
stations we passed were boarded up and then we came upon a small berg
not even on the map. The station had one very old rusted pump. We were
fifty miles from Glennallen and nowhere to camp.
When I stepped
out of the RV and walked to the front of the shack that represented
the gas station I was approached by a large lady dressed in bib overhauls.
Her hair looked like it had been through a tornado and someone or something
took most of her teeth from her mouth. Her hands were twice my hand
size and I have a large hand. The enormous dog that sprawled across
the wooden plank floor raised one eye. This dog was about as big as
the wolf we saw 1100 miles down the road.
"Do you have any gas for our RV? I asked keeping one eye on the
"Yes sir! And I have the cheapest gas in these parts." She
gave me a big grin.
I pumped over $89.00 into the tank and paid the lady and drove off.
I figured it would be cheaper in Valdez. We looked for an RV park, but
there wasnt anything until we arrived in Glennallen. The sign
pointed to the right and another sign told us it was 25 miles to the
park after we turned. I did a U turn and headed toward Valdez where
we wanted to go. It was only another 115 miles to Valdez. We were all
tired, but the scenery kept us awake.
Let me tell you that 115 miles was the most picturesque ride I ever
been on. The snow capped mountains, the rivers, lakes, waterfalls every
few miles and the road had more curves than my favorite movie star.
The Worthington Glacier is spectacular. The clouds laid in the mountains
making it look like fog and with the sun trying to penetrate through
the clouds gave you chills just looking at the spectacle before us.
We all were in awe and driving very slowly due to the frost heaves which
are now every ten feet. We picked up a gigantic bald eagle that flew
in front of the RV through this magnificent canyon. The eagle was not
more than 10 feet in front of us and about 15 feet off the ground. The
eagles wing span was almost as wide as the RV, an awesome sight.
The eagle flew with us for several miles.
We arrived in Valdez, Exxons big debacle (oil spill) several years
ago that this community is still dealing with. The view from our camp
grounds (Bear Paw RV) was absolutely magnificent. They call Valdez Little
Switzerland. We traveled 645 miles and over 500 miles was very scenic.
Valdez has only 4454 people and last year they had over 24 feet of snow.
The Alaska pipeline which is over 800 miles long ends at Valdez.
In 1964 Valdez sat 4 miles east of its present location. On Good Friday
of that year an earthquake, the most destructive earthquake ever to
hit south central Alaska virtually destroyed Valdez. The quake measured
9.2 on the Richter scale. The quake hit out in the water and engulfed
the wharf taking 33 people with it.
The present city limits has an area of 274 square miles that includes
all surrounding mountains to the timberline. Valdez beautiful setting
comes with the Chugach Mountains rising above the city and the small
boat harbor in front. If you ever go to Alaska be sure to visit this
magnificent city for its beauty alone.
spent two days in Valdez exploring and giving Jims rump a
rest. We departed at 0630 up the Richardson Highway or highway 4
toward Glennallen where we picked up highway 1 or Glen Highway heading
toward Anchorage. Highway 1 was much easier on Jim. We had the opportunity
to see a close up view of the Alaska Pipeline just before we reached
Glennallen. The scenery with the majestic mountains and glaciers
and the warm bright sun made this trip feel like you were in an
We drove through
Palmer, Alaska elevation of 232 feet and population of 5474. The New
Deal under FDRs administration planned an agriculture potential
in the Matanuska Valley outside of Palmer for those who had problems
with the great depression and the dust bowls of the 30s. In 1935
they took 203 families from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan or the
hardy Scandinavian groups to Palmer. Although the failure rate was high
there are still descendants living in the area. The growing season is
80 to 110 days per year with total sunshine for long hours per day.
The vegetables from this area feed Anchorage and Fairbanks and most
other areas of Alaska.
We bypassed Anchorage and headed toward Wasilla, Alaska. Their growth
exceeds 40% since 2000. Most of the people are retired from the bottom
48 believe or not. We loaded up with food and supplies along with liquor,
wine and etc in Wasilla. The traffic was like rush hour somewhere in
the lower forty-eight. We saw more cars today in two hours then we have
seen in the past two weeks combined. Next: We will see you in Denali
National Park and Preserve was established 1917 as Mount McKinley
National Park. It was renamed in 1980 as Denali National Park and
it lays 250 miles south of the Artic Circle. The park is open year
round. The park encompasses over 6 million acres including MT. McKinley.
We camped at Riley
Creek Campground a wooded and clean RV park. The facilities were less
than 100 feet from our RV. The showers however drilled holes into your
body. They must have been at least 1000 pci shower heads. Not a fun
experience if you know what I mean.
We took a bus tour of the park the only way you can see the park as
they have restrictions on using private vehicles. Our bus driver and
tour director told several stories about his explorations of Alaska.
I had my doubts on the stories of him climbing Mount McKinley. I never
climbed a mountain as high as Mt. McKinley, but have climbed several
14,000 foot mountains in Colorado. His answers to my questions were
not from a man who climbed Mt. McKinley or any other mountain. I wonder
sometimes why people have to tell stories that are not true.
The mountain peaks out at 20,320 feet the tallest peak in North America.
An awesome sight if you ever get an opportunity to see it. Today we
saw it, but with several clouds floating around it making visibility
poor. The top is blocked by clouds most of the time. I saw it once before
and that was from an airplane taking off from Anchorage with the sun
shinning brightly on its snow capped top.
The bus tour was not as great as expected. The bus was older than me
and made enough noise to scare a scarecrow away. We saw moose, deer,
elk, wolves, Big Horn Sheep, and some people saw a grizzly bear. I didnt,
but Im getting old. Not one of my buddies saw the bear either.
If you havent been to Denali National Park, by all means see it
before you fall off the couch. I have seen it twice now and if ever
I get back here I will go again. Maybe on a different bus once our government
donates some National Parks money.
We spent three nights at the Riley Creek RV Park. The first time the
weather has been warm enough to sit outside and enjoy a nice glass of
wine. It turns very cool at night however, but great for sleeping.
The ride from Denali National Park to Anchorage was just a shade above
boring. The195 miles from Denali to Wasilla we had already traveled
only in the other direction so Mike kept us from falling a sleep with
several new tales and laughter always included. If you decide to get
off the sofa and travel and start to nod off start laughing it will
increase the blood flow.
Thanks to Mike who loves museums no matter where they are or what they
have for viewing saw the sign along the highway. I slowed and barley
made the turn down a narrow dirt road to a large display of all kinds
of transportation methods from farm tractors, cars, trucks, trains,
planes, helicopters, etc. We stretched our legs at Alaska Transportation
Museum near Wasilla. The weather was cold with rain, wind and neither
of us wearing enough clothes. Most of the equipment was either outside
or housed in an open shed.
We buzzed right through Anchorage as this will be our last stop of the
trip. We are heading south on Seward Highway where we stopped at Alaska
Wildlife Conservation Center. The weather was still wet and cold but
we managed to get pictures of four big brown bears frolicking in a pool
of water. Several wolves, elk, deer, buffalo, and other animals were
kind enough too stand still and pose for pictures.
Turnagain Arm is known for one of the worlds remarkably high tides of
more than 33 feet. Several small craft and there occupants have been
swept away and never found again from these high tides or bore tides.
We stopped at Portage Glacier one of the worlds most spectacular sights
but were unable to see anything due to the fog. We watched a wide screen
movie of it instead in the warm theater.
We moved on to Whittier a small village (290 people) which sits on the
head of Passage Canal of Prince William Sound. In order to get to Whittier
you must pay a toll for a 2.5 mile one lane tunnel that was just completed
in 2000, prior to that you had to use the train or boat to see Whittier.
The tunnel is called the Anton Anderson Tunnel where trains and vehicles
use the same one lane tunnel. That can be exciting if someone doesnt
wait. There are staging areas at each end to keep that from happening.
Alaska is a very popular stopping area for cruise ships. Seward
has a population of 2606. There is 470 mile railroad connecting
Seward to Fairbanks. Cruise passengers take this train for there
inland travel. Seward sits on Resurrection Bay an ice free bay 365
days per year.
We camped at a retired
Air Force RV camp ground even though we were former Air Force Airmen
that never made a career of the military. They let us stay for free
because our man Mike convinced them we were all serving for the same
reason and the place was virtually empty. They had a recreation hall
with pool tables, table tennis, and wide screen TV. I watched an old
Glen Ford western with some old retired Army sergeant. A nice relaxing
evening away from my traveling buddies.
We took a day cruise on a large catamaran that held a couple hundred
people. The weather was not good for taking pictures of sea otters,
sea lions, whales, eagles, and sea coast of Resurrection Bay.
We ate dinner at The Salmon Bake restaurant outside of Seward. The restaurant
had old wooden floors with a pot belly stove that we huddled around
while we stuffed ourselves with baked salmon and all the trimmings.
The food was excellent and highly recommended by the three of us.
© Sam Black March 2009
Sam Black in Alaska
I believe in having goals.
North to Alaska Pt 2
Petoskey sits on Lake Michigan I suggest you visit it someday.
To Alaska - Part 3 & 4
We headed out at 0600 on Highway 2 westbound. Our goal is to drive
as far as we can. The state of North Dakota is rather boring until you
get to Devils Lake
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