Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Whitehorse, Day 2

Our first order of business this morning was to move to Wolf Creek Territorial Campground.  We stayed at Hi Country RV Park for two nights.  It was good to have electricity, laundry, WiFi in our rig, and TV, but everything is now recharged, our tanks are empty and the clothes are clean.  Time to move somewhere cheaper.

Hi Country is one of two or three full-service campgrounds in Whitehorse.  It is the one we hear referred to most often in blogs of Alaska travelers.  The owners are definitely friendly, maintain a nice campground, and cater to all of us overnighters making our way along the Alaska Highway.  They are located right on the Alaska Highway and only three miles from downtown Whitehorse--pretty doggone convenient.

 All interior roads are gravel as are the parking pads.  Most sites are pull-thrus, but there are back-ins around the perimeter and a small cluster of back-ins in the center of the campground.  The laundry and showers are clean and everything works.  They seem to have an adequate number of washers and dryers (6 each).  I didn’t have to wait when I went, however, there have been no caravans here this weekend.  That could make all the difference in the world in availability of showers and laundry facilities.  Laundry is $3 per wash and $1 for 16 minutes of drying time.  The washers are the new front-loading type and the dryers are the large commercial type.  I got one load of clothes dry in 16 minutes.  I credit that to our wearing mostly quick-drying performance fabrics.

Nice as Hi Country is, we are on a mission to save on campground fees.  Gotta have that extra money for the gas tank.  So we’re leaving the $36 per night (even with a Good Sam discount) to move over to Wolf Creek for $12 per night.

Wolf Creek is like the other government campgrounds.  This one, however, is a little larger with about 38 sites, a very large day use area in front with picnic tables, a cooking shelter, and a playground.  There are even a few pull-thru sites; one of which we are parked in.

Wolf Creek runs through the campground.  In the late 1990s Yukon Fish and Game built a fish “ladder” to assist the spawning Chinook salmon.  I think what is called a fish ladder is just where the creek or river bed has been built up into something like stair steps.  There is so much rushing water in Wolf Creek today that it is difficult to see the steps of the “ladder”.

After we got settled into our new home base, we drove back to town to visit the Yukon Beringia Interpretative Centre.  We enjoyed our visit and learned a lot about the theories regarding the last ice age, the land bridge connecting Siberia and North America, and the animals that may have populated the area.  We watched two very well done films and wandered through the exhibit halls.  I think there was only one other couple there this afternoon, so the staff gave us lots of attention.  Gene even got to learn how to throw a spear using an atlatl.  That was a hoot.  He was very good at hitting the shrubbery.

The Beringia Centre isn’t a world class museum, but it was very well done.  We enjoyed our visit and would recommend it for anyone interested in prehistory.  For a museum, it was very inexpensive.  We got the senior rate (over 55) of $5.00 each.

What's left of a steppe bison
Next door to the Beringia Centre is the Transportation Museum.  We didn’t go in there, but did walk over to take a picture of the DC-3 on a post.  It actually swivels; probably the world’s largest weathervane.

That was our day.  Thanks for tagging along.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Whitehorse, Yukon

We arrived in Whitehorse yesterday late morning and got set up in Hi Country RV Park with full hookups. There is something to be said for electricity.  We had been off the grid for five days and we were having serious withdrawal symptoms.  It’s amazing how attached we get to our electronics.  I think I turned my computer on before I turned the refrigerator on.

Whitehorse is the largest city in the Yukon and our stop for all kinds of chores.  Yesterday, our goal was to get settled, get showers, and get to the grocery.  We wouldn’t have starved, but dinner would have been interesting, to say the least, if we hadn’t gotten in some grub.  The lady at the desk in the office suggested three groceries.  We chose the one she said was the cheapest.  I suppose it was, because it seemed like most of the town was in there.  It turned out to be a frustrating experience.  We had a huge list, didn’t know where anything was, the selection was limited compared to what we find in the megamarkets in the states, and half the labels were in French.  We were both exhausted by the time we walked out of the door.

Today, has been devoted to the long list of chores.  At the top of the list was gathering all the information we could for a trip up the Dempster Highway to Inuvik, Northwest Territories. We have, over the years, heard horror stories about this 450 mile gravel road from Dawson City to Inuvik on the Arctic Ocean.  However, talking with the folks at the Visitor Center, other travelers, and one guy who had driven a similar road to Prudhoe Bay recently, apparently the road is much improved from days gone by.  We have decided to drive the road with our own car.  Today, Gene went to a tire company and bought a full size spare on a rim.

We also got two 2.5 gal gas cans to take extra fuel.  Our little Honda only has a 10.5 gal gas tank.  The 225 miles to the first fuel stop on the Dempster Highway is a stretch for that car even on a good road.

Since we’ll make that trip in the car without the motor home, we have long lists of stuff we need to pack for what we expect to be a week-long journey.  Peanut gets to go, also, but I’m not looking forward to riding with the litter box at my back for a week.  We’ll stay at the campgrounds along the way, so will need everything we would need for a backpacking trip.  This will be a real adventure.

Another top priority item on our “to do” list for today was to find out why our phone hasn’t been working in the Yukon.  The lady at the Visitor Centre was also able to answer that question.  Apparently, the local phone service provider has a monopoly for the entire territory for a set number of years--a deal worked out with the government for setting up the network to provide service.  She was amazed we had service even here in Whitehorse. At least we know what to expect now.  I’m a little irritated that Verizon didn’t tell us before hand.  We might have opted not to purchase Canadian service had we known.

We have had our first road incident--a chip in our windshield on the truck.  George, the owner of Glass Magnum, came right out to our site and worked his magic.  We are good to go--you can’t even tell there was a chip.  Thanks, George.

Cinnamon roll from Johnson's Crossing

We going to be playing the waiting game again.  The ice is running in the rivers we have to cross along the Dempster.  The ice bridges are gone, but the ferries have not yet started running.  When the ferries start depends on the ice, so we’re waiting.  We’ve decided to stay in Whitehorse for three more days then start the drive north to Dawson City.  That will take two days.  There are several things we want to do in Dawson City, so finishing out our wait there promises to be a fun time.

Tomorrow, we’re going to move to the government campground just south of town for a couple nights before coming back here for a night.  It’ll be good to have several days in a row without travel and we’ll get to see a bit of Whitehorse, as well.

We're seeing this more often than we'd like

That’s all for today.  Thanks for tagging along.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Teslin Yukon

The car weighed heavy on our minds all evening, but we were able to jump start it without a problem this morning.  To recharge the battery, I drove the car today.  Boy, was that inconvenient.  I only ran off the road one time trying to make pictures.

We stopped at Rancheria Lodge to get a cup of coffee.  Rancheria Lodge is another one of those restaurants, roadhouses, gas station, and campground combinations.  Rancheria has been in business at least since 1949.  It was listed in the 1949 edition of the Milepost as a roadhouse.  In 2004, we stayed in the campground and enjoyed our visit so much we wanted to stop in this morning just for old time’s sake.

About 8 miles further down the road is the Rancheria Falls Recreation Site.  The Rancheria River runs beside the highway for several miles in this area.  At the Recreation Site there is a short trail which leads to the falls.  With the spring snowmelt there was plenty of water rushing through the rocks.

We think this is a particularly beautiful stretch of highway with the Cassiar Mountains rising up in front of us and the river and numerous ponds along the roadway.

We crossed the Continental Divide again.  We stopped for a photo, but there really wasn’t much to get a picture of.  There was no elaborate sign with 3 feet of snow all around like at Kootenay National Park.  The rivers from here flow either to the east into the Mackenzie or to the west into the Yukon.  The Yukon River flows northwest to the Bering Sea and the Mackenzie flows northward to the Arctic Ocean.

After these stops we finally arrived in Teslin about noon.  There are two museums we want to visit here, but they are both still closed for the season.  They should be open when we return on our way home.

For our camp tonight we are tucked away in the trees at Teslin Lake Territorial Campground.  There are 27 sites in this small government campground which sits on the bank above Teslin Lake.  The interior roads are gravel as are the parking pads.  Each of the wooded sites has a very large picnic table and fire ring.  There is also plenty of free firewood in shelters at the entrance and near the pit toilets.  There is a central water pump, but the water must be treated or boiled before drinking.  I doubt that pump gets much use.  The fee is $12 per night.  There are no modern facilities, but there are lots of trees and through the trees we can see the lake.

We’ve spent a lot of nights at Walmart and a few nights in rest areas.  Those places are fine and I don’t mind them for a night, but we’d far rather pay a small fee of $10 or $15 and dry camp in a small wooded campground.  It’s much more relaxing to us and, therefore, worth the few dollars.

CRITTER COUNT:  We didn’t see any wildlife today.  I was surprised.

Tomorrow, we’re headed into Whitehorse.

That’s all for now.  Thanks for tagging along.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Watson Lake's Sign Post Forest

The highlight of today was entering the Yukon.  Gene seems to be somewhat indifferent, but I really like the Yukon.  It has the feel of true wilderness.  My kind of place.

The Yukon Territory is larger than all the New England states put together.  For all that space (186,000 square miles) there are only 30,000 people living here and half of those live in Whitehorse.  No wonder I feel like I’m in the wilderness.

We had a “to do” list for Watson Lake.  We figured Watson Lake would be our best bet for cell service until Whitehorse.  We have a family member who had surgery this week that we wanted to check on.  I wanted to get a couple blog stories posted.  We needed a loaf of bread.  And we wanted to spend some quality time with the folks at the Visitor Center.  Quite a long list for our lunch break.

We got almost everything done.  We were very disappointed to find the phone call wouldn’t connect.  We’ll have to investigate that further.  Hope that’s not going to be a problem.  For internet, we went to the Tags RV Park and paid $5 for the password.  I was able to get connected inside our rig in the parking lot, but my battery was so low I had to rush.  No time for FB or anyone’s blog.

While parked at the Visitor Center we walked over to the grocery.  I really need to do a major shopping, but am holding out until Whitehorse.  We just picked up a loaf of bread.

The Visitor Center was a gold mine of information.  The lady we spoke with was very knowledgeable about the whole territory.  She answered most of our questions about the Dempster Highway,  Dawson City, Top of the World Highway, and Chicken, Alaska.  She knew which ferries were running and what the weather was in Inuvik, Northwest Territories.  She loaded us up with brochures, maps, and a quick reference for every dump station in the Yukon.

Also at the Visitor Center is a small display and movie on the construction of the Alaska Highway.  Neither were as good as what we saw in Dawson Creek.

The main attraction in Watson Lake is the Sign Post Forest.  Way back in 1942 one of the servicemen working on the highway was feeling pretty homesick.  He nailed up a sign with the name of his hometown.  Since then over 71,000 signs have been nailed up by travelers of hometowns all over the world.  It’s quite a sight to see.

With our “to do” list almost all checked off, we continued on down the road for another 50 miles or so before pulling off at a rest area for the night.  When Gene went out to disconnect the brake buddy, he was surprised to find the car wouldn’t start.  I guess it’s had too much time being towed and not enough time with the engine running.  Gene dug out the jumper cables and in the morning we’ll wiggle the motor home around to give the car a jump start.

GAS REPORT:  We bought gas twice today.  We knew gas would be cheaper in the Yukon than British Columbia, but we had a few more miles to go than Gene was comfortable going without adding a little gas to the tank.  He got 10 gallons at Liard River and paid a whooping $6.93.  In Watson Lake it was only $5.25.  Diesel at Watson Lake was $5.34.  The station at Liard River was sold out of diesel.  We have seen so many places out of business that once sold fuel on the Alaska Highway.  That coupled with the places that are sold out of fuel make us a little nervous.  We try to keep the tank over half full.

CRITTER COUNT:  2 deer, 7 buffalo, 4 bears, 1 moose, and 8 horses.  At first I thought the horses were wild, but then realized they were just “free-range”.  I guess I shouldn’t include them in the wildlife count.

That’s all for today.  Thanks for tagging along.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Bear and a Hot Soak

We took the day off from driving and spent the entire day relaxing around the campground.

Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park is a great stop on the Alaska Highway.  We stopped here for one night in 2004 and regretted not staying for two.  I think from the time we started talking about this trip, we’ve planned a 2-night stay at Liard Hot Springs.

As campgrounds go, we love it.  It’s typical provincial/state park with huge wooded sites without hookups.  All the sites are back-ins.  The interior roads and the sites are gravel.  Most will accommodate large rigs.  There is a central water spigot and pit toilets, but no dump station.  The park is very well maintained.  This morning, as each site was vacated, park staff came with racks and shovels to tidy up the sites.  Even the gravel was racked.  Incredible.

The main attraction, of course, is the hot spring.  There used to be two pools, but the upper pool has been closed.  The lower pool is large; plenty big for the weary travelers.  Large enough, that is, if the weary travelers would spread out, but everybody gathers down at the lower end where the water is a little cooler.  At the upper end, the water is way too hot for most folks.  We crowded down in the lower end with everyone else.

Boardwalk to the Hot Springs

A wooden deck and changing rooms have been built on one side of the pool.

For campground guests, the hot spring pool is included in the $21 nightly fee.  For those not staying in the campground there is a large, double ended parking lot, a picnic area, and access to the hot spring pool for a charge of $5 each.  From the number of rigs we saw parked in the parking lot this afternoon, I’d say there are a lot of folks who stop for a quick soak then continue on their merry way.

Besides relaxing in the hot mineral waters we occupied ourselves for an hour or more this morning watching the local bear.  We were siting at the table having a leisurely breakfast when I saw a black bear walk by the front end of our motor home.

I jumped up and grabbed the camera, but there was really no need to rush.  Mr. Bear was not in a hurry.  He strolled around the car, looked both ways, then walked across the road to the recently vacated campsite where he found himself a box.  Form our vantage point inside the motor home, the box looked like a cereal box.  I sure hope it was empty.  Mr. Bear tired of the box after a few minutes and came back across the road to see what he could find at our neighbor’s site.

We kept a very close eye on the bear while he was visiting next door.  Those guys were still asleep in their tent.  Mr. Bear selected a water bottle from the three items on their picnic table and then went into the woods.

I kept looking for the bear, but Gene convinced me he wouldn’t be back probably until the same time tomorrow morning.  I went about getting my morning chores done.  I happened to look out of the window about thirty minutes later and guess who was back.

The bear hung around our site and the two sites on either side of us most of the morning.  Anytime someone would come down the road, the bear would hightail it up a tree.  He could go up much more gracefully than he could come down.

So, our critter count isn’t very impressive for today--just 1 bear, 1 squirrel, and a couple Canada geese, but it was the best wildlife day we’ve had in a long time.

That’s all for today.  Tomorrow we’ll cross into the Yukon.  Thanks for tagging along.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rivers and Mountains

As we traveled west today the scenery changed from the rolling hills of timber to the mountains of the Central Canadian Rockies.  Along with the mountains came the rivers.

This was a 200+ mile day and it seemed to take forever.  We tried to get an early start, but also wanted to maximize our time with the internet.  Reluctantly shutting down our computers, we finally pulled away from the campground about 8:30.  By the time we got gas it was real close to 9 o’clock.

About 9:30, Gene remembered he hadn’t made a couple phone calls that needed to be made.  Of course, by that time we were out of cell signal range.  The search was on for a cell tower.  We knew it wouldn’t be too long of a wait.  The towers dot the landscape and they’re even listed in the Milepost.  We found one within a half hour with a turnout conveniently located nearby.  It even had a view.  With the calls made and doctor bills paid, we were once again underway.

Have I mentioned cinnamon buns?  I don’t think so.  There are a couple things that have become very popular along the Alaska Highway.  Cinnamon buns is one of them.  The Milepost is full of advertisements for cinnamon buns.  Signs along the highway entice motorists to indulge in the sweet treats.  We passed a sign proclaiming the best cinnamon buns in “the galactic cluster”.  We had to stop.

Like many of these family run businesses along the Alaska Highway, Tetsa River Services and Campground was a combination coffee shop, bakery, gas station, laundry, roadhouse, and campground.  It looked like a real dump inside and out and all around, but the cinnamon buns may truly have been the best in the galactic cluster.

We stopped at Summit Pass for our lunch break.  This is the highest point on the Alaska Highway at 4250 feet.  Summit Lake is just below the pass and on the bank of the lake is a very nice provincial park campground.  We were tempted to pull in and spend the night.  I think we might have if the lake hadn’t still been frozen and there hadn’t been so much snow around.  We opted to go down to warmer temperatures.

One of the most beautiful sections of our drive so far was the few miles along the edge of Muncho Lake.  The lake is huge--7 miles long and 1 mile across and a beautiful blue-green color.

The road conditions slowed us down, as well.  This was the first day to be stopped for road construction.  We didn’t have to wait long, only a couple minutes.  The road was rough for most of the drive today.  Our overall average speed was only 41 miles per hour.  Slow is good.  We had more time to enjoy the scenery.

We finally arrived at Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park.  As soon as we got parked we headed for a soak in the hot pool.  What a fine thing after a long day on the road.

GAS REPORT:  At the Husky station in Fort Nelson we paid $5.57 for gas.  This is calculated on an exchange rate of 2 percent.  Surprisingly, diesel was the same price as gas.

Today we passed the 4000 mile mark for this trip and we’re still a long way from Alaska.

CRITTER COUNT:  4 moose, 2 cranes, 1 stone sheep, 4 buffalo, 1 caribou, and 1 bear

That’s all for now.  Thanks for tagging along.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fort Nelson, British Columbia

We had a beautiful driving day today.  The sun struggled to break through the clouds this morning, but it came out victorious and we had beautiful blue skies for our 235 mile drive to Fort Nelson.

For the most part, the road surface was good.  There were a few areas that were very rough, but there were signs warning us to slow down.  The seventy-five miles south of Fort Nelson all the way into town was in excellent condition.  We were able to maintain a speed of about 60 mph.

We drove probably 50 miles this morning before we finally got away from the small towns and populated areas north of Fort St. John.  After that, it was miles and miles of nothing but trees.  In this wilderness we are seeing much more wildlife.  To me, that’s really exciting.

Once again, we have mountains to our west--the northern Rockies.  In a couple days, we turn more westward and we’ll be up close and personal with the snow again.  For now, we’re enjoying the leaves on the trees.

Tonight, we’re at Triple “G” Hideaway which used to be called West End Campground.  We especially wanted WiFi so they put us right up front across from the office.  It’s very convenient for the internet inside our rig, but the prettier section of the campground is farther back away from the front.  The interior roads and parking pads are gravel.  There are both back-in and pull-thru sites.  There are lots of trees and not any snow.  The owners have placed pots of flowers about making it very attractive.  This is a full service campground.  We have full hookups plus cable TV and WiFi. The campground fee for all these services is $36/night. Over our budget, but in line with what all the other commercial campgrounds are charging.  When we want electricity, we’re gonna have to pay. Because our hot water heater is still not working, we had to use the campground showers which were not free.  I remembered having paid for a lot of showers in 2004 when we did this trip in a pop-up camper.

Lumber is big business in Fort Nelson
This is a popular campground and there has been a steady stream of folks coming in ever since we arrived.

A section of the old Alaska Highway
GAS REPORT:  Gas--$5.22 US, Diesel--$4.99.

CRITTER COUNT:  2 deer, 2 moose, 2 caribou, 2 cranes, and 3 black bears.

That’s all for today.  Thanks for tagging along.