TEH 2003 SUMMER ROADTRIP REPORT PART 3 or 4 or whatever I'm on
When last you heard from our two brave adventurers, they were in Edmonton, Alberta, resting up for the push to Alaska. Well, the push is complete, we are in Alaska (and actually preparing to leave again), and all is right with the world. (Note that all might not actually be right with the world; our grasp of current events is a little shaky at present.)
Without further ado I present the actual logs.
The Alaska Highway
The Alaska Highway is really long. This should come as no surprise, because Alaska is far away. What did come as a surprise was the pleasant condition of the roadway -- the roads are generally good and as fast as any two-lane highway in the Lower 48. There are gravel patches here and there, and lots of wildlife (more about this later), but generally the road is much better than we had expected. Edmonton to Dawson Creek, BC was a relatively straightforward and somewhat boring drive. Dawson Creek itself is a small town, kind of sleepy-looking, not a whole lot going on; we promptly got on the Highway and headed North.
Our first night along the Alaska Highway found us at Pink Mountain, where there is an excellent campground offering free firewood and hot showers -- just what we needed. Our first impression was that northern BC is a very wild place. It's just the highway, a few things scattered along the side of the road, and forest. It's really relaxing once you get used to it, but disconcerting at first. Anyway, mostly an uneventful day. We noticed, however, that the nights were getting disturbingly short and not dark. This would become a trend.
The next day, we drove from Pink Mountain to Watson Lake, which is about 500 miles. Again the highway was good, not a whole lot happened... I need to fill in more about the small towns along the way when I get my notebook handy again. Blech. Internet is expensive here. At any rate, Watson Lake is home to the Signpost Forest, started in 1942 when a homesick guy working on the Highway posted a sign pointing to his hometown; there are now some 40,000 signs in the forest, and you can add your own if you are so inclined. It's quite a spectacle
The following day was when things started to get interesting along the road. We saw no fewer than 6 black bears, as well as a couple of grizzlies and a moose, as we drove north across the Yukon. Yukon gas, by the way, is cheaper than BC gas, but much more expensive than anything I've seen in the US -- stupid Canadians. Whatever. We stopped around lunchtime at Whitehorse, YT, which is home to the Yukon Brewing Company, the Yukon's only brewery and an excellent one at that. We went on our way, a few 6 packs heavier than before. Lunch was at a queer establishment called Boston Pizza. The idea of a chain called Boston Pizza is wrong on so many levels that I will only enumerate a few of the most glaring problems. The interior is lit up in pink and blue neon lights, more appropriate to an 80s movie set in LA than Boston of any era. The menu includes things like Boston's Famous Wings, which is also not right. In short, the Canadians apparently think Boston is a very, very weird place. We spent the night at Beaver Creek, YT, where I saw the most spectacular sunset of my life - photos will be posted if they come out properly, and when I can get them digitized. This far north, the sun just sweeps from the western sky to set in the North, and the mountains around Beaver Creek were just lit up in explosive colors for about 15 minutes.
The next day (July 4), we finally made it to Alaska! Fairbanks is a nice town on balance, but there's not much to see (and the July 4 celebrations were lacking, to say the least... probably something to do with the no-dark policy they seem to have established in summertime). Anyway, we rested up at Billie's Backpacker's Hostel, which is a fine establishment, ate a good meal, checked out what there was to see in Fairbanks (not a whole lot), and got ready to drive to the Arctic Circle and back the next day, which we accomplished. The Dalton Highway, which follows the Alaska Pipeline north from Mairbanks, is also an excellent road, albeit a gravel one. We made good time, got to the Circle, snapped some pictures, checked out our first tundra, and off we went back to Fairbanks, where we camped to save money.
On the 6th, we proceeded south to Denali National Park. Now, we had neither reservations nor any real plans, and this worked out way better than we could ever have expected or reasonably hoped. We secured a walk-in tent site, took an 8ish mile hike to the summit of Mt. Healy, and booked what is called a Discovery Hike for the following day. A Discovery hike is basically a Ranger-led bushwack (no trails in Denali), and it was the best thing we could have possibly done. We boarded a bus at 8 AM for Mile 63 of the road, where we met the excellent Amy Busch and proceeded to make our way over tundra and through taiga and up Thoroughfare Ridge, where we had lunch, looked around (sadly, Denali was not out that day), and headed back via some excellent scree and a riverbed. Fun times indeed. We got back to our campsite around midnight, slept, woke, ate, and drove to Anchorage, where we now sit in an Internet cafe. To-day it's off to see some glaciers, and tomorrow we are Yukon bound once again. As usual, I will keep you all posted.