Monday, May 23, 2011

The Alaska Highway

We left Grande Prairie this morning in the rain to begin a short driving day, but one that was filled with the excitement of starting a new adventure.  This is a strange phenomenon of a trip like this.  There are so many parts to the whole that each little piece is like a separate milestone or achievement and is exciting all by itself.  There was the excitement of leaving Nashville, the excitement of crossing the Canadian border, and now the excitement of finally being on the Alaska Highway.

Dawson Creek is only about 80 miles from Grande Prairie.  Even with the light rain and a stop at Beaverlodge, we were there in less than 2 hours.  It might be said that all roads lead to Dawson Creek.  That’s not really true, but at least 4 major highways connect in Dawson Creek.  One of those highways, 97, is more popularly known as the Alaska Highway.  Because Dawson Creek was connected by those roads as well as the Northern Alberta Railroad, it became the staging area for the Alaska Highway.

The Alaska Highway got built as a result of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  There had been talk of a road connecting Alaska with the lower 48 as early as the 1930s, but nothing was done.  The bombing of Pearl Harbor lit a fire under the powers that were and the ALCAN (the military acronym for Alaska-Canada Highway) became a major priority--a matter of national security to defend Alaska from enemy attack.  Construction officially started on March 9, 1942 and, working from dawn to dark seven days a week, crews laid down a rough road some 1400 miles long in just over 8 months.

Today, we rolled into town on highway 43 and made our way to the Visitor Information Centre.  We picked up brochures and maps of various places along our route including as far away as Inuvik in the Northwest Territories.  In the Information Centre is a small museum and they also have a movie describing the construction of the highway.  Both are very good, but we had seen both on our previous trip so bypassed that today.  Instead, we walked a block downtown to visit the Alaska Highway House, a newer museum.  It was small, but nice.

Mile "0"

After lunch in the Visitor Centre parking lot we finally hit the road.  We hadn’t gotten started good until we had to make a side trip.  The highway has been rerouted over the years as improvements have been made.  At mile 20, there is a short section of the original route which leads to the Kiskatinaw River Bridge.  This historic bridge is “the only original timber bridge built along the highway that is still in use today”.  The curved bridge is 531 feet long.

We finally made it to Walmart at Fort St. John mid-afternoon.  In 1942, Fort St John became the field headquarters for troops working on the highway.  We’ll be here just one night and move on to Fort Nelson tomorrow.

GAS REPORT:  We filled up in Grande Prairie this morning.  Gas was the cheapest we’ve paid since we first entered Canada.  Gas was $4.92 US per gallon.  Diesel was $4.43.  Shortly past Grande Prairie when we crossed into British Columbia, gas went up 10 cents a liter.

CRITTER COUNT:  We didn’t see any wildlife today, probably due to all the small communities and the 3 larger towns we were driving through.  The only thing that came close to wildlife was the big beaver at Beaverlodge.

That’s all for our first day on the Alaska Highway.  Thanks for tagging along.

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