Wednesday, July 26, 17
I am amazed when I look at a map of Alaska and see the trip that Tom planned. It has included almost all the ports on the Intercoastal Highway, and the major roads on the Interior of Alaska. We have been off and on the Alaska Highway during the past 4 weeks, but now we are on until it ends! Here is some of the beautiful scenery we saw today.
Today we traveled from Skagway back through customs and down into Yukon Territory. Our stop for the night was at Watson Lake – one of the big service centers on the AlCan. Population less than 1,500 – one grocery, one gas station, one liquor store, and one “department” store/gift shop! The town came to prominence when the Alaska Highway was built during eight months in 1942 as a World War II expressway to guard the Alaska territory and Aleutian Islands from Japan. I am sure we must have stopped here during our family trip of 1963!
One quirky attraction here is the Watson Lake Sign Post Forest. In 1942 a US Army Soldier started the tradition of nailing a sign to a post telling how far away his hometown was. Now there are over 75,000 signs, and visitors are encouraged to nail up their own sign. I got a little carried away walking around looking for places I knew -- and taking pictures!
I don’t want to say that Lake Watson isn’t a happening place – but after doing the Visitor’s Center, the Sign Post Forest, and visiting the grocery, we didn’t find that much to do. As we are now homeward bound, we spent some time cleaning up and re-organizing.
July 27, Thursday
Today, with the start of week 9, we are truly heading for home. But, we are deep in the Yukon, and still on the Alaskan Highway, so it by no means feels like the vacation is over! I suppose the difference is that we will start counting the miles and getting the best out of a day that we can.
This morning we left Watson Lake with no option of taking a wrong turn all the way to Fort Nelson (330 miles) – there were no other roads! On the Alaskan Highway there are occasional “service areas” with limited facilities and campgrounds and even more occasional incorporated towns that offer a bit more. Many of these are associated with the building of the Alaska Highway back in the 1940’s and none of them were here before that!
Today’s drive was a true Alaska experience – mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, wildlife . . . and dirt roads. We got another window chip! Our first stop was at Liard River Hot Springs – no hot-potting for us this time! There was a ½ mile boardwalk that led back to the natural hot springs pond where there were changing rooms but no lockers. This setting was much more of a “natural” setting than Chena Springs a week ago. Oh – if we didn’t have miles to make today . . . .
Beyond the Springs there was a sign for a Hanging Gardens, so we climbed the staircase up to see what it was all about. The warm climate and abundant nutrients create a perfect environment for algae, mosses, and wildflower. Some species (yellow monkey flower and Philadelphia Fleabane) would not be able to survive here without the hot springs environment. We were able to see the cliff, but the wildflowers were not in bloom right now!
Right out of the gate we saw wildlife – two black bears right alongside the road within 5 miles of each other. There were no pull-offs and although Tom slowed down, we didn't get a good picture. Later we saw caution signs to watch for Stone Sheep, and within a few miles we started seeing them on a regular basis along the road in small groups. And, we were back in buffalo territory – no herds, just single or pairs of animals along the road. The Mileposts magazine says animals come to the roadside to get the “natural and artificial” salt that accumulates.
The mountain ranges were a constant all day, although they offered a big variety: old, rounded, green, tree-covered mountains; long strings of jagged granite cliffs silhouetted against the sky; brown, bare mountains covered in sand, gravel, and loose stone, and tall bluffs/cliffs upon which flat plateaus stretched. These mountains set as backdrops to beautiful blue-green lakes, smooth, lazy wide rivers, fast-moving streams with rapids, tree-covered meadows, and swampy valleys. This drive had it all!
We got to Fort Nelson at 3:00, and feeling like driving another 3 hours drove on to Sikanni Chief. The weather was beautiful with temperatures close to 70 at the lower elevations and just two periods of rain that we drove through quickly. Although the privately-owned Sikanni had rave reviews in the Mileposts, it was the usual dusty and dirty parking lot with the added feature of a very large black mud-pit in the center! Tomorrow should see the end of the Alaskan Highway!
We don’t go camping any more . . . we go ‘streamin’ ! The “SIlvermine and His” is our 2016 23' Airstream, and ‘streamin’ is the name we use to describe our adventures. Stream along as we document everything from weekend trips to longer summer excursions and full-blown vacations. You know what they say: if you’re not in an Airstream – you’re just camping!
Tom & Ella Brown