Airstreaming to Alaska – Chapter 10: The Alaska Highway

Posted October 7, 2022 – Narrated by Carmen
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Airstreaming to Alaska

Chapter 10 of the “Airstreaming to Alaska” series.

“To travel hopefully is better than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.”

The Alaska Highway was born to be a military supply route, but it grew up to be a story-teller.

Chetwynd
Just Leaf Me Bee by chainsaw carver and ice sculptor Chris Foltz of Coos Bay

This unforeseen attribute had us riveted from Mile-0.

Alaska Highway Mile 0
Mile 0 – The beginning of the Alaska Highway at Dawson Creek, British Columbia

Built for war, this 1,187 mile (1,910 km) road opened to the public in 1948. Since then, driving to Alaska is a surefire epochal adventure for any traveller who is up for a dense narrative with beaucoup twists and turns.

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The Alaska Highway just south of Ft. Nelson, British Columbia

Every overlander comes away with a unique life-altering experience, but not always the one they intended.

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The Alaska Highway near Fort St. John, British Columbia

The North Country entropy is extreme and often results in dire consequences. Enter the random moose, wild fire, flood, flat tire, broken axel, shattered windshield or medical emergency and the journey takes a new course.

Tow trucks transferring disabled vehicles over hundreds of miles to the nearest town and a freshly stranded motorhome, port side up, down a steep rocky embankment alerted us, early on, that anything can happen.

Alaska Highway
Signs are few but when you see one, you’d better believe it.

Our fondness for self-preservation had us on hyper-alert. We were more than a bit jumpy because around every dusty turn …

Alaska Highway
The AlCan is a lot of highway for a low amount of summer traffic between the small communities situated in some of the most rugged terrain in the world. Funding is limited.

a creeping zombie landslide might finish us off.

Alaska Highway
The Alaska Highway near Toad River, British Columbia

But within moments of those nail-biting ravine crossings we’d break into ecstatic reverie over the glorious landscapes …

mucho lake
Muncho Lake, British Columbia

and majestic creatures revealing themselves along the roadside.

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Alaska Highway near Muncho Lake, British Columbia
Alaska Highway
Alaska Highway near Prophet River, British Columbia

That’s how it is in North Country – one minute is “Oh my God, I’m going to die!” and the next moment is, “Oh, Lord, take me now!”

But there was no sharing this existential tug-of-war in real time because internet connectivity was mostly nonexistent. I couldn’t text to loved ones: In the last fifteen minutes we dodged falling rocks, saw a she-bear coaxing her two cubs down a tree, had to stop for a herd of bison and forty rock sheep before a herd of caribou ran across the road toward a lake that appears to be a magic portal.”

No. Every moment was ours alone – lost and vulnerable in a mystical land, separated from our former selves.

Alaska Highway

Being technologically declawed over long stretches of time brought us closer together – closed that distance many couples reserve for The Big Stuff. We hugged often for both comfort and warmth.

The uncharacteristically cold, windy and wet weather never abated. An early summer retreat south to a warmer climate was on the table until we heard about a major heat dome in the lower forty-eight. Remaining on course was an offer we couldn’t refuse.

Alaska Highway
A blue-eyed bison on Highway 77 on our way to Ft. Liard, Northwest Territories

The wheel was in our hands, but The AlCan was captain. All we could do is hang on and pay attention.

mucho lake
Our high-water campsite at Muncho Lake

Every evening – after surviving a new episode in this wondrously wild frontier – we collapsed, exhausted from the road, eyes burning from daylight overload.

living in beauty
Pico: “Why are we here?” Me: “Because someone made a road.”

The AlCan was built in an act of desperation. Originally conceived in 1920, but only seriously proposed after the WW2 attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 – the scars of that emotional year are more enduring than the permafrost.

1942 photo of work on the Alaska Highway

The drive is half-fantasy and half insanity. Frequent washouts, buckling, and the odd beaver damn collapse are some of the reasons why only 5% of Alaska visitors are road-trippers.

Built seventeen years before Alaska became the 49th State and seventy-five years after the U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million (equivalent to about $153 million in today’s US dollars) road maintenance remains an impressive but complicated project

May 29, 1942 photo of Alaska Highway near milepost 25

Every kilometer is an ongoing construction zone in various stages of completion, destruction, and completion again.

Alaska Highway

But I’m getting ahead of the story.

Before we merged onto the AlCan, we pulled out of Mackenzie, British Columbia beneath a gorgeous bluebird sky …

Alaska Highway

our innocent hopes soaring like a bevy of swan over a glimmering lake …

Alaska Highway
Azouzetta Lake, British Columbia

as we headed north through Peace Foothills.

Alaska Highway
“We come and go, but the land is always here” – Willa Cather, O Pioneers!
Alaska Highway
Azu Mountain in the Hart Ranges of the Northern Rockies, British Columbia

At midday we arrived to …

Alaska Highway
Pine River near Chetwynd, British Columbia

Chetwynd, British Columbia

Chetwynd

Every summer, Chetwynd sponsors the world’s most prestigious chainsaw carving competition. Due to a planning blunder we missed it by only a couple of days.

Chetwynd
Welcome to Chetwynd Bears by Terry Mckinnon, Nanimo, B.C.

Yet, with no crowds – and hundreds of award-winning chainsaw carvings on display – the advantage was ours.

Chetwynd
The Swan by Sander Boom, Netherlands

We found ample free parking in the middle of town, bought refreshments and strolled along the AlCan in the warmth of midday viewing the collection.

Chetwynd
Eye On the Prize by Ryan Cook, Vancouver, B.C.
Chetwynd
Masters of Surprise by Roderick Brown, British Columbia
Chetwynd
Joanne by Jeff Samudosky, USA
Chetwynd
The Aerialist by Griffon Ramsey, Austin, Texas USA
Chetwynd
Dinosaurs On The Brain by Ryan Anderson, Reedsport, Oregon, USA
Chetwynd
Oh Michelle! by Robby Bast, Victoria Australia
Chetwynd
Hug by Takao Hayashi, Japan
Chetwynd
Saved by Grace by Bob King, Edgewood, Washington, USA
Chetwynd
and, my favorite, Tree Beard by Jordan Anderson, Bird Creek, Alaska

Spending only two hours with the Academy Awards of Chainsaw Carving hardly cut it. But, The Road called.

On to …

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Crossing over the Kiskatinaw River near Arras, British Columbia

Dawson Creek, British Columbia

and Mile 0 of The World Famous Alaska Highway. Woo-hoo!!!

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Bursting with bright AlCan expectations, we settled into our campsite and took a stroll in the countryside.

Dawson Creek
Dawson Creek
Pay attention to signs!

Presently, we came upon The Walter Wright Pioneer Village, an historical collection of buildings, artifacts and stories of miners, farmers and trappers who colonized the area before the Alaska Highway was built. The salvaged buildings are handily arranged in a Main Street fashion.

Dawson Creek
Dawson Creek
Dawson Creek
As a former ringy-dingy girl in the early ’70’s, I could get a job in this place!
Dawson Creek
the 1920 St. Pauls Anglican Church from the Kilkerran District
Dawson Creek
The red barn houses the Wright family’s horse drawn carriages, buggies, cutters and sleighs.
Dawson Creek
the 1918 Pouce Coupe Central School
Dawson Creek
the 1928 Fred & Alice Taylor House from the Spirit River Trail region

A sudden downpour cut our Old Town trip short, so we ducked into a cozy pub for an excellent tasting.

post & row taphouse
Grazing Board of locally sourced delights

The next morning we set out for …

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Peace River, British Columbia

where we settled into a free campsite beside an old WW2 airport to relax and kill time before our Muncho Lake reservation in two days.

Former Prophet River Provincial Park
Camping beside the runway at former Prophet River Provincial Park in Peace River, British Columbia

Fort Liard, Northwest Territories

The following day we took a 110 mile detour off the AlCan on Highway 77 to the Northwest Territories.

Highway 77
The entrance to Highway 77

The wildlife viewing opportunities on this road rival The San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

highway 77

With no traffic, we drove as slowly as we liked.

Bear

Never stepping outside the truck, we spotted bear, lynx, fox, bobcat and a bison herd.

highway 77
bobcat …
Pico and the buffalo
highway 77
highway 77

The incredibly artistic Kaska Dena people at Fort Liard were our hosts.

fort liard
Stories of the Kaska Dena Elders

First we fueled up …

fort liard

and then settled into a gorgeous free camping spot on the shore of Hay Lake

fort liard hay lake
Hay Lake is known for its wild swan

where I took a paddle …

fort liard hay lake
fort liard hay lake

while Jim whipped up his Classic Nicoise Salad.

Jim’s Nicoise Salad with smoked tuna from Coos Bay, and fresh yard eggs from the countryside.

The next morning we returned to the Alcan and moved toward …

Muncho Lake, British Columbia

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Northern Rockies near Steamboat, British Columbia

The drive to Muncho Lake was brutal. We were constantly cueing up for the pilot car to take us from one point to the next.

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We get nervous when the fuel tank is below half. Just when we were about to panic, we saw this lodge …

where this sturdy little pump offered services while pulling off a damn good Don Rickles impersonation.

Tetsa River Lodge
About $7.50 US dollars to the gallon. Suck it up buttercup.

While fueling up we caught the fragrance of what‘s that? Cinnamon rolls!? Way out here that’s about as likely as a whiff of Chanel #5 wafting up from the surface of a Louisiana swamp – but it was true!

Tetsa River Lodge
Tetsa River Lodge – a miracle roadside cafe. Everything is made on premises from scratch. The mystery is how they get the ingredients there?!

Flying on a sugar high we powered on …

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alaska highway
Stone Mountain, British Columbia
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alaska highway
alaska highway
muncho lake

… at about five-miles per hour, past a band of rock sheep attracted to minerals on the roadside.

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alaska highway
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Family

Presently, we pulled into our home for two nights at Northern Rockies Lodge & RV Park on Muncho Lake.

muncho lake

Jim reserved this site on what was once a beach.

muncho lake

The unprecedented water rise prompted the local authorities to close down the park’s RV dump services.

muncho lake

If the water had been a few inches higher (or our rig a few inches longer) backing in and out could have been a disaster.

muncho lake

Fortunately, the rain subsided, and for a couple of days we enjoyed the beauty of the lake …

muncho lake
muncho lake

and the view of the surrounding Northern Rockies.

muncho lake

We pulled out of beautiful Muncho Lake with our black and gray tanks still full and in dire need of maintenance. But how to find services in a flood zone? Just one teeny-tiny cell signal would be a help.

alaska highway

But, hey, what’s the rush?

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Okay, we’re getting the message.

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Close-ups were easy with my little pocket Sony RX100. No temptation to creep up on critters that may feel threatened and attack.

Press on with patience.

alaska highway

Eventually, we arrived to our next destination …

Liard River Hot Springs, British Columbia

The natural thermal spring smoothed out the rough spots.

liard river hot springs

Hey, who’s afraid of that big bad road now?

liard river hot springs

Not these old tourists, soaking away our worries in a remote area where bears are a common hazard and may be feeding only ten feet away from the pools.

liard river hot springs
Here we pose (unknowingly at the time) in a tragic bear attack hot spot in the precise location of one of the top five bear attacks in the world.

Okay, that concludes the British Columbia part of the AlCan. Maybe Yukon will be more tame? 😂🤣😜

Pioneers! O’ Pioneers!


Chapters in the “Airstreaming to Alaska” series



If you want to see our exact route, click here.

*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.