Tag Archives: Yukon Territory

Yukon Do It!

Alaska Highway Milepost 3,678  Lincoln, Nebraska

Having completed the Alaska Highway – both out and back – there are some tips that I would share with the next would-be adventurer to help you survive the ordeal.  And yes, like any other challenge, there is both good and bad that awaits you.  Thoughtful preparation will minimize the negatives and ensure an enjoyable experience.

The Alaska Highway skirts Kluane Lake in the Yukon.
The Alaska Highway skirts Kluane Lake in the Yukon Territory.  Most of it is paved.
  • First of all, it will streamline the entire venture if you do your homework before leaving your house.  Study the route and know where you are going, which attractions you want to stop and explore, where you plan to stop each night, and where you can stock up on provisions.  The most comprehensive help that most travelers get comes from the famous Mileposts publication.  We ordered one from Amazon.com along with an Alaska atlas of maps.  We kept both in the pickup cab and referred to them constantly.
    This RV park at Coal River, Yukon, was 100 miles from the nearest power grid and was operating on its own generator.  We had the campground to ourselves for the night.
    This RV park at Coal River, Yukon, was more than 100 miles from the nearest power grid and was operating on its own generator. We had the campground to ourselves for the night.
  • Another thing to do before heading north is to prepare your vehicle.  Your tires need to be in good condition along with a solid spare for both the RV and the tow vehicle.  Make sure you are able to change a tire if necessary.  Replace worn belts and hoses and change the oil.
    Your vehicle needs to be ready for just about anything, although this sort of off-roading is not required along the highway.
    Your vehicle needs to be ready for just about anything, especially if you plan to go into the backcountry for fishing, hiking, four-wheeling and the like.
  • It is important to inform your bank and credit card company that you will be traveling internationally so your cards won’t be flagged and leave you stranded at the gas pump.  Carry multiple sources of revenue and keep a reserve of funds on hand for inflated costs and emergencies.  Assume that you will see an expensive souvenir that you just have to have for the grandkids. We found ATM’s located in far-away places and carried cash for those times when the bankcard wouldn’t fly at the gas stop.  It happened several times.
Many of the roadhouses have closed, some many years ago, some last year.  Even Mileposts magazine listed some that we found no longer in service.
Many of the roadhouses have closed, some many years ago, some last year. Even Mileposts magazine listed some that we found no longer in service.  We filled our tank often to avoid being stranded.
  • Also in the planning stages, set aside as much time for this trip as you possibly can; there is a whole lot to see and it is spread out over a vast area.  We spent about 2 weeks on the road each way, and more than 5 weeks at the Denali area.  Still we did not see everything we could have.
A side trip to the old Independence Gold Mine in the mountains above Anchorage, was a hike that I was able to take in after parking the rig at the RV park for the night.
A side trip to the old Independence Gold Mine in the mountains above Anchorage, was a hike that I was able to take in after parking the rig at the RV park for the night.
  • The Alaska Highway is in a state of constant reconstruction and should be approached with a realistic sensibility.  Backup plans need to be in place for those days when you don’t reach your destination because you’ve been caught in a construction zone for a couple of hours.  Flexibility and a good attitude will help.
Traffic across this bridge was narrowed to one lane while workers maintained the superstructure beneath.
Traffic across this bridge was narrowed to one lane while workers maintained the superstructure beneath.
  • Don’t count on internet and iPhone service anywhere beyond the Canadian border.  Our cell phones worked for calls (big roaming charges) when we were in towns and RV parks, but not out in the boonies, and our mobile wifi didn’t work anywhere in Canada or Alaska.  There are hundreds-of-mile stretches with no service, so make sure you still know how to navigate the old fashioned way.  Fortunately, we were able to get (weak) internet service at some of the RV parks where we stayed, so we were able to keep up with our online banking, email and Facebook updates, and so on, but the bandwidth was never sufficient enough for Skype, FaceTime, or uploading photos to the blog.  Bummer.

For most people, driving the Alaska Highway is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.  It will be memorable either way, but if things go well, it will be a positive memory rather than a disaster.  If it’s on your bucket list, I hope you plan ahead and have a great time.  Be safe!

The biggest hazard on the Alaska Highway is the wildlife.  Moose, bears, bison and caribou are all large and will completely destroy your vehicle if you hit one.
The biggest hazard on the Alaska Highway is the wildlife. Moose, bears, bison and caribou are all large and will completely destroy your vehicle if you hit one.

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Gorgeous sights line the Alaska Highway from beginning to end.  This is the mountain range the road follows between Delta Junction and Fairbanks.
Gorgeous sights line the Alaska Highway from beginning to end. This is the Alaska Range viewed from the north along the road between Delta Junction and Fairbanks.

The Alaska Highway – The Adventuring Persona

Milepost 3395  Dawson City, BC, to Delta Junction, Alaska.

Everywhere we stopped along the Alaska Highway we met people, and here’s the thing:  They were all originally from somewhere else.  Texas, Utah, Ohio, Ontario, Ireland or parts farther removed, they gave varying answers to the first question that we all asked each other at every new stop: “Where are you from?”  Not until we reached the most remote settlements in the Yukon did we encounter the First Nation folks who would answer, “Here.  Always been here.”

Donna at Coal River Lodge at Milepost 533, was the owner and chief cook.  Her lodge is up for sale.
Donna at Coal River Lodge at Milepost 533, was the owner and chief cook for 14 years. Now her lodge is up for sale.

Coal River Lodge

The other unique trait of these immigrants to the great north was their eccentricity.  It seems that the sort of people who would answer the call of the wild are the sort that are essentially non-conformists.  Undaunted by solitude and the lack of conveniences, they had settled into the most unwelcoming locations this side of the border where services were limited and dangers were high.

Paul has spent his life servicing the heavy equipment at the lodges along the Alcan Highway.
Paul has spent his life servicing the heavy equipment at the lodges along the Alaska Highway.
Alfred, born in Texas, was perpetually cycling the Alaska Highway, at 71 years old sometimes pedaling all night to reach the next outpost.
Homeless Alfred, born in Texas, is perpetually cycling the Alaska Highway, at 71 years old the constant wanderer sometimes pedaling all night to reach the next outpost.

Every roadhouse and lodge was operated by displaced or re-placed  – or maybe mis-placed wanderers.  We met RV park owners who had come out from the city to start a new life, we met university students working a summer job in the tourist industry, and there were cooks and heavy equipment repairmen helping to keep the outposts operating for one more season.

Toad River Lodge has 7,000 hats attached to the ceilings.
Toad River Lodge has a collection of 7,000 hats attached to the ceilings.

The other thing that was unusual about these unusual business owners was the quirky attempts they made at competing for the diminishing tourist dollars.  Chainsaw carvings were popular, Old West themed RV parks, the “world’s largest weathervane (a DC-3 airplane mounted on a post)”, a museum of stuffed trophies from musk-ox to moose, or left-behind WWII vehicles (the troop transport still operating for bear tours through the forests out in back).

The western saloon-themed RV park at Fort Nelson, BC, had chainsaw-carved benches and rifles for door pulls.
The western saloon-themed RV park at Fort Nelson, BC, had chainsaw-carved benches and rifles for door pulls.

Log Bear Bench

So, one of the off-handed delights of the Road Trip of a Lifetime along the Alaska Highway is the quirky and tenacious proprieters of the entire 1,500-mile-long complex who are keeping it all going.

Or not.  Perhaps two-thirds of the lodges we passed were closed and boarded up, some a long time ago, some last year.  It’s a rough life up here, and it’s a rougher job trying to keep the outposts open when the tourist revenue is diminishing year by year.

We developed a deep appreciation for these tough folks who serve the would-be adventurers like us, keeping us safe for the night and fueling us up for the next stretch of highway.  Mighty good folks there, all along the way, and we enjoyed meeting them!

The Signpost Forest was started by Carl Lindley, a US soldier who was helped construct the Highway.  We added our sign to the 72,000+ collection.
The Signpost Forest at Watson Lake, Yukon, was started by a US soldier who helped construct the Alaska Highway. We added our sign to the 72,000+ collection.
Can you find our sign at the Sign Forest?  (Just left of and slightly below center.)
Can you find our sign at the Sign Forest? (It’s just about in the center.  Click on photo to enlarge.)

Here are a few more photos that we captured along our transit of the official 1,488 miles of the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek BC to Delta Junction, Alaska:

The second log bridge at Canyon Creek was designed to carry military vehicles and civilian traffic alike.
The second log bridge at Canyon Creek was designed to carry military vehicles and civilian traffic alike.  It would have easily supported our pickup and RV but we crossed a newer one.
Canyon Creek bridge 2
Kaye studied the ingenious log engineering of the early bridge builders.
I explored the ruins of Silver City, Yukon, a once-thriving mining town of 3,000 residents.
I explored the ruins of Silver City in theYukon Territory, a once-thriving mining town of 3,000 residents, now empty.
The roadhouses were built to service the traffic along the Alaska Highway in 1942-1943. The one at Prophet River closed many years ago.
The roadhouses were built to service the traffic along the Alaska Highway in 1942-1943. This one at Prophet River BC, closed many years ago.
“Lum and Abner’s, Since 1942” says the sign on the truck door. It’s part of highway history now.

We finally reached Denali, a day’s travel past the end of the Alaska Highway, beyond Fairbanks.  We have found a campsite right behind The Black Bear Coffee House where our daughter, Wendi, works every summer.  I’ll be writing about their transient lives next.

We caught our first glimpse of Mt. McKinley (Denali) from 150 miles away before we reached Fairbanks.
The Alaska Range looks majestic from the highway east of  Fairbanks.

Miles and Miles of Mountains

Milepost 3395    Fort Nelson, Yukon, to Delta Junction Alaska

Well, we have traveled the official distance of the Alaska Highway which covers 1,488 miles between Dawson Creek, BC and Delta Junction in Alaska.  But nobody stops and stays in Delta Junction; it’s just an intersection on the way to several other more distant destinations.  We are heading on to Fairbanks tomorrow and then to our final goal, Denali Park where our kids live and work every summer.

I have made few blog posts along the way because I didn’t have access to the internet.   Further, several of the RV parks we stayed at were so far from the electrical grid that they were operating on their own power plants, so we could hear the faint hum of the generator all night.  Every village and lodge north of Fort Nelson has to generate its own electricity.  I guess wifi is a bit much to ask for when there isn’t even an electrical power grid in place.

For hundreds of miles we traveled along the foot of the Canadian mountain ranges.  That is, when we weren’t working our way over some steep high pass or through a narrow canyon.  We developed a new respect for the Rockies here.  No, call it what it is:  fear.  These mountains are beautiful from a distance, but up close they are intimidating.  Our adventure threshold was crossed several times into the area of anxiety.

It seemed we spent an entire day in second gear as the pickup labored up the steep climbs to Summit Pass only to be followed closely by the decline that required many miles of engine braking in order to save the brakes.  Scary stuff, man.

Our trek through the Yukon was an episode that deserves its own coverage, but let me quickly say that the roads there are terrible.  The Canadian engineers either haven’t learned yet how to design roads that will not be heaved by the permafrost every winter and summer, or they don’t have the money to do it right.  I suspect that funding is the big problem as there was a marked difference in the quality when we crossed into Alaska which is a rich petroleum state.

Anyway, the frost heaves have rendered the pavement a mess of dips and ridges and mounds that have turned the highway into an off-roader’s dream.  But for the RV-er it’s a nightmare.  35 mph was too fast for a lot of it.  We entered the RV with caution at every rest stop to push things back into their places in the cupboards and re-organize the stuff in the fridge.

I’ll be writing much more about this epic adventure in subsequent posts, but I want to say right here that, even though I didn’t entirely know what I was getting into, I do not regret my decision to assault the Alaska Highway with a pickup and an RV.  It assaulted me back, but I have lived to tell about it, and tell about it I will.

Watch for it in subsequent posts.  With photos.  I’ll add photos as soon as I return to digital civilization.