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  1. #11
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    Default

    Donna:

    Actually, I think it was Trout Lake, off Washington 141. From there, I got off onto the road I described, which merges with the route you guys must have taken from Carson. Not much traffic back there. That's my favorite kind of adventure--when I have no idea what I'm getting into!

    Rick

  2. #12
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    Default Mount Rainier National Park

    Day 14: Monday, July 6th

    Got up at 6:00, showered, and hit the road. I was in Rainier National Park by 7:00, and drove straight to Sunrise Point on the east side of the mountain. Great choice! The massive peak was a looming, dominant presence, with a wispy cloud toupee that quickly evaporated.


    Mount Rainier

    I took tons of gorgeous pictures, and didn’t see all that many people, not until I got to the main part of the park on the southern flank of the mountain, near Paradise. In that area I ran into big crowds, zero parking, and hyper-inflated food prices--along with clean bathrooms (always a plus).


    Due to seasonal road closures (snow, mud, road construction, etc.) some of the maps displayed in this thread are not displaying properly or you might see pop-up windows reporting errors found with the route. Unfortunately, the map data used to create these maps enforces these "Time-outs" if a particular road segment is closed. In the case of the pop-up windows, please click "OK" and the map will display properly. In the case on some of the maps were the route seems all jammed up -- reloading the page where the map is displaying seems to solve the issue. All of these problems go away once the winter closures of the roads end. So, everything will look fine in the North American summer months.


    Click here for this RTA Library Map

    (This map shows Rick's route between Randle and Mercer Island, Washington.)

    Rick’s Tips for Mount Rainier National Park: get there early and go straight to Sunrise, high on the east side of the mountain. Be there at or shortly before daybreak. Set up and wait for it—you could, if you’re lucky, catch a killer view of the rising sun’s rays reflecting off Rainier’s glaciers. Everyone, photographers especially, should stop at every overlook; they’re all different, and the light changes dramatically from one to another. A personal favorite was the Box Canyon/Bridge overlook, where I took pictures with a weather beaten wood fence in the foreground, a classic Alpine scene.


    Mount Rainier from the Box Canyon Overlook

    Also, reflective lakes—where there were mountain views and wildflowers galore. Picture this (and I did): wildflowers in foreground, mountain perfectly framed in background, and the reflective lake in between?


    Wildflowers near Mount Rainier

    Ha! Early July is actually perfect timing for wildflowers in many of these National Parks—higher elevations being the key to later blooming.

    I got caught in lengthy road construction delays (twice), so didn’t leave the National Park until about 2:00. Drove west on Highway 12 toward the Pacific Ocean. I stopped at Elma, the first/last big town before you get to the coast, where I assumed rooms would be hard to get and expensive. There was a brand new conference type hotel in Elma that looked almost deserted. Got a single room for $82 plus tax and holed up for the duration. Felt like a wimp, staying in motels three nights in a row, but hey, this was supposed to be a vacation!

    Next up: Olympic National Park
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 05-05-2019 at 10:15 AM. Reason: added the map

  3. #13
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
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    Las Vegas, Nevada
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    10,260

    Default Mine as well

    Quote Originally Posted by Rick Quinn View Post
    That's my favorite kind of adventure--when I have no idea what I'm getting into!
    Mine too. I still drive neighborhoods in the cities I know well, because there are always things that I run across that I had no idea would be found there. And I like take roads when I don't really know where they go -- just that they seem to be going in generally the right direction of travel.

    These days, I don't have much time for moseying -- always on a tight schedule -- so every chance I can, I drive a road that's I've never been on.

    Mark

  4. #14
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    Mar 2016
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    Default Olympic National Park

    Day 15: Tuesday, July 7th

    Left the hotel in Elma at 8:00 AM, and drove to the coast. Before long, I was mentally kicking myself. I saw dozens of mom and pop motels along my route that morning that would have been more to my taste than that cookie-cutter business-class hotel in Elma, but once again, I hadn’t done my homework. This was more new territory for me, a part of Washington State I’d never seen. I took US 12 west to US 101 (the same road I was on in California, through the redwoods) and followed that north into Olympic National Park. I followed signs to the first Ranger Station, which was actually a few miles off the highway. I was quizzing the Ranger at the counter when her partner strolled out from the back wearing not just a mask, but a full Smoky the Bear head, all the way to the shoulders, and asked me, matter-of-factly, what kind of information did I need? “Tips on how to prevent forest fires?” I replied. That brought a good laugh. They gave me a map and circled the most probable of the first-come-first-served camp grounds. Some, but not all of them had just emptied out in the wake of the Fourth of July weekend—but, fair warning, with or without the holiday, it was summer, and these were very popular areas.

    Olympic National Park is huge, encompassing the whole of Mount Olympus and most of the rest of the Olympic Peninsula. A very few roads lead from the highway—US 101—to parking areas, from which networks of trails lead into the park itself. It’s all wilderness, so no vehicles are allowed beyond the trail heads. The bulk of the park can only be accessed by hiking into it, and the further you go, the wilder it gets! As in most National Parks, the visitors tend to cluster near the entrances and the concession areas. Anything more than a mile up a footpath, good odds you’ll have it all to yourself (with some exceptions). US 101 does a horseshoe around almost the entire Peninsula before continuing north to its terminus at the Canadian border, so I studied the map, and my guide book, and I chose the second of the several roads that penetrate the park interior on the western side. The massive ocean-facing mountain rises abruptly out of the sea, disrupting the moisture-laden airflow rushing inland. The moisture in the almost constant flow of clouds and fog falls as rain, 160 inches per year, creating one of the world’s only temperate rain forests. The Hoh River Valley is one such rain forest. The drive in is winding and spectacular, great fun if you don’t get trapped behind a slowpoke in an RV. At the end of the road there are several trails, and I followed signs to the Hall of Mosses, a short hike from the parking lot. I took some great photos, then reversed course. My next recommended destination was on the other side of the park, a place called Hurricane Ridge.


    Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic National Park


    Hall of Mosses, Hoh Rain Forest

    I made my way back down the long winding road to the Highway, this time at my own pace, as there was no other traffic. It was about ten miles from the Hoh Valley Road to the town of Forks—private land, Indian Reservations, National Forest, National Park, Wilderness, and State Trust lands make up a crazy quilt of jurisdictions, usage, and restrictions. The locals, in the back country especially, are much more conservative than Oregonians, who seem to be quite progressive, as well as being a darn sight friendlier than their counterparts north of the Columbia River. I saw a number of billboards that said: “Say No to More Wilderness, and No to more National Parkland! Working forests for Working Families!” I can’t blame them for feeling that way; it’s their livelihood, but it puts them at odds with important conservation efforts.

    On the recommendation of two different Park Rangers I stopped at the Kiahowya camp ground, some twenty miles east of Forks. It was quite nice, beautiful and quiet, so I put my money in an envelope to reserve space #22 ($8.50, half of the usual $17, thanks to my Senior Pass!) Threw out my tarp and left my big water bottle on the picnic table to ensure people would know the space was occupied, and then I drove off toward Hurricane Ridge. It was farther than I expected—hadn’t thought about it at all, really, but it took an hour just to get to Port Angeles, and another half hour to get up to the top of Hurricane Ridge. The road was beautiful, lined with yellow and purple flowers at the higher elevations, steep, and lots of hairpin curves. Unfortunately, there’s no rain forest on the east side of the park. This was just a high ridge on the flank of Mount Olympus, and the main attraction was the view. This was a clear day, dramatically so for the area, but the hills and valleys below Hurricane were masked by an impenetrable grayness, can’t really call it cloud, as there were no edges or fluff—just an amorphous lack of clarity that completely obscured the view. Net result, Hurricane Ridge was a disappointment.


    Crappy view from Hurricane Ridge

    I should have spent more time walking around by Hoh River, or following one of the other roads up into the unique ecosystem of the rain forests. As it was, I spent most of my day driving—300 miles altogether, mostly within the National Park. After a 90 minute drive getting to the top of Hurricane Ridge, I had to drive 90 minutes back to the campground, with a stop at Grandma’s Café for a chili burger and to send a few last minute texts. The restaurant was the last place where I had a cell signal before dropping into the black hole known as: “No Service.”

    I set up camp, but instead of using the tent, I put some thought into a better arrangement for sleeping in the car. There was a void just behind the front seats that made it impossible for me to stretch out full length, so I tried moving the driver’s seat all the way forward and then tipping it toward the steering wheel, opening a larger space behind the seat, jut big enough for the smallest of my gear tubs. With my toiletry bag lying flat atop it, and with my ice chest left in place in the middle, just behind the console, I’d filled that pesky gap, and for the first time I had a more or less solid, level platform, long enough that I could use the whole air mattress, instead of sleeping on my side with my knees tucked. I was really hoping that would be better; I needed to be able to set up for sleeping easily and comfortably, lest I blow a ton of money on second-rate motels. I made a vow to sleep in my tent or in the Jeep at least every other night. (Spoiler alert: that proved to be a very hard vow to keep!)

    Day 16: Wednesday, July 8th

    I slept really, really well with that new arrangement, and woke up pleasantly refreshed. Sometimes, small things make a big difference! Packed up the camp fairly quickly and drove the now familiar road to Port Angeles.


    Early morning on the Olympic Peninsula

    I had a quick fast-food breakfast and gassed up, then headed for the Ferry at Kingston. Not knowing the schedule, or how crowded it would be, I anticipated a long delay, but I needn’t have worried. It was crowded, yes, but the boat was huge. Got a senior discount on the fare, and 20 minutes later I was driving onto the ferry with several hundred other cars and trucks. Half an hour after that I was across Puget Sound and rolling off again. The ferry saved me well over 100 miles and, potentially, several hours of driving, all the way through Seattle and its gridlock traffic. I drove to Kirkland, the northern suburb near Redmond that I’d chosen rather arbitrarily. Comfort Inn wanted $150 a night, so I checked the Motel 6 (coming down a bit in status, there), and booked a room for two nights, $75 a night. The rooms were a bit Spartan, but perfectly acceptable. I ran around a bit that afternoon, getting the oil changed on my Jeep, refilled a prescription, stocked up some supplies, and then I pretty much crashed. All the long driving days were catching up to me. I fiddled with my pictures, just for a bit, and then sent a mass email to many friends and former co-workers, content to just hang out in my funky room at the Motel 6.

    Day 17: Thursday, July 9th

    Basically took it easy the first half of the day; I was still pretty beat, and glad to have the time to decompress. In the afternoon I went out and got the Jeep properly washed, then drove through horrible rush hour traffic, slow and go, to Luther Burbank Park on Mercer Island—across Lake Washington from Bill Gates’ compound. There, I had a lovely visit and picnic dinner with some friends I’d met when I rafted the Grand Canyon, two years before. We watched a rather odd version of Shakespeare’s “As You like It” put on by a local theater troupe that does Shakespeare in the Park. They were good, really into it, with odd props, odd attire—dreadlocks and banjos? But it was pretty much fun.

    Next up: North into Canada

  5. #15
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    Default North into Canada

    Day 18: Friday, July 10th

    Woke up early, and took my time getting my stuff together. Had breakfast, talked to my wife on the phone for a bit—catching up—and then I headed north. I’d barely merged onto I-5, zipping into the inside lane, when I saw a trooper on a motorcycle up ahead, parked in the breakdown lane. I immediately slowed a little, matching my speed with the rest of the traffic, but I was too late: the Trooper had spied my out-of-state plate, and I became his quarry. He zoomed up behind me, hit his lights, and motioned me to pull over and stop. “You were doing 72 miles an hour” he said sternly. Limit was 60, but like I said, everyone else was going a good bit faster than that, and the trooper had stationed himself at the exact point where the speed limit dropped to 60 from 65, a classic speed trap. I’d been warned by my friends in California that the Highway Patrol in Washington State targets out-of-state drivers, and here was the proof. I got a $156 ticket, my first in decades, and I had just 15 days to respond. I drove up to Bellingham, keeping my speed well below the limit while cursing under my breath. Found a Post Office, bought a money order and an envelope, and mailed in the stinkin’ fine, right on the spot. Had I been staying in the area I might have fought it—but as the trooper knew full well, I was just passing through, so that was not an option.

    I continued on to the border at Abbotsford, not sure what to expect, and got into a long, slow line. My turn came, I handed my passport to the guy in the booth, he asked me questions about liquor and weapons and my plans and such, then sent me on to step two. I stopped in a pullover area, expecting them to inspect my vehicle. Went inside, presented my passport, answered many more questions, and was free to go after they did a background check on me, confirming that I wasn’t an unsavory character. One thing they told me that I had not known: anyone who has ever had a DUI, anywhere, no matter how far back, is not welcome in Canada. They never so much as glanced at the Jeep, or any of my gear.

    I drove east to Hope, then north, staying on Canada 1 (the Trans-Canada Highway) through the Fraser River Canyon. The scenery was dramatic, but so obscured by haze it was hardly worth stopping for pictures, especially on such a busy road.

    Due to seasonal road closures (snow, mud, road construction, etc.) some of the maps displayed in this thread are not displaying properly or you might see pop-up windows reporting errors found with the route. Unfortunately, the map data used to create these maps enforces these "Time-outs" if a particular road segment is closed. In the case of the pop-up windows, please click "OK" and the map will display properly. In the case on some of the maps were the route seems all jammed up -- reloading the page where the map is displaying seems to solve the issue. All of these problems go away once the winter closures of the roads end. So, everything will look fine in the North American summer months.


    Click here for this RTA Library Map

    (This map shows Rick's route between Mercer Island, Washington and Beaver Creek, Yukon.)



    Fraser River Canyon off Canada 1 (Trans-Canada Highway)

    At Cache Creek, where I’d considered stopping, the temps were over 100 degrees and the terrain very arid, almost treeless. That certainly didn’t appeal, so I kept driving. The Trans-Canada Highway turned east to Kamloops, and Canada 97 forked off to the left, headed north. I went north, grinning from ear to ear. Almost immediately, I drove into a brief but intense rainstorm that dropped the temperature 30 degrees in a matter of minutes, a welcome change. I kept going to a town called 100 Mile House, which my Alaska Highway guide book recommended for the first overnight stop when traveling north from Washington State. Found a room with no AC for $65. That seemed reasonable, so I decided to wuss out and do that instead of camping. It was still pretty warm outside, so I slept with a fan on me all night. The motel had Wi-Fi, but even though I connected to their network, I couldn’t get email, couldn’t get on the internet, and couldn’t send any texts. This proved to be an ongoing problem for me in Canada. I’d spent $30 to upgrade my phone, to allow unlimited texts in Canada. That proved a total waste, since texting only worked for me in the largest towns and near the border.

    Day 19: Saturday, July 11th

    I hit the road bright and early. The scenery along the way was nice, lots of wildflowers, farms, livestock, big vistas, but on this busy two lane road with slow trucks and passing hassles, I just got into a mode where I was reluctant to stop, because that would have put me all the way at the back of the line again. I passed through Prince George, the fourth largest town in British Columbia. I was able to send and receive text messages from there, so I caught up on communications, bought some Canadian beer and ice for my cooler, topped up my gas tank, and got on the road again. Forty or fifty miles later, I hit the Rockies, and some truly beautiful views. I did stop a few times on that stretch, and at one pullout, I looked beyond the trees that lined the road and spied a gorgeous greenish colored lake at the base of the mountains.


    Canadian Rockies, off CA 97

    Approaching Dawson Creek at last, the highway was lined with vast fields of canola, colored with bright yellow flowers as thick as a carpet, rolling off into the distance.


    Canola field outside Dawson Creek, British Columbia

    By the time I got to town I was whipped, having driven almost 500 miles that day, so I sprang for another motel. The Super 8 wanted $135 Canadian, so I went to a mom and pop place and got a room for $79 that was decent enough. Once again, the Wi-Fi was very iffy. I finally got it to work (but only when I stood in a particular spot in their parking lot). Sent and received several texts and a couple of emails on my phone, though I was never able to connect with my laptop, because the signal was just too weak. I drove to the “Circle”, where I took pictures by the “World Famous Alaska Highway” sign.


    Dawson Creek, British Columbia: Start of the Alaska Highway

    I stopped at the Visitor’s center for road information, and learned that just two days before, the highway near Fort Nelson had been closed for almost 24 hours after a huge forest fire jumped the road. When it re-opened, traffic was reduced to alternating one way, with backed-up lines of vehicles led through the smoke by pilot cars.



    According to the Visitor’s center, all that was better now. I did some laundry, had some dinner, and stayed up too late, thrown off by the extended daylight.

    Next up: First leg of the Alaska Highway!
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 05-05-2019 at 10:16 AM. Reason: added the map

  6. #16
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    Default Alaska Highway: Part 1

    Day 20: Sunday, July 12th

    Checked out of my motel and had some breakfast. There was a classic car rally going on that weekend, with old cars from all over western Canada—muscle cars, ‘40’s coupes, all sorts of cool wheels. There was a guy from Alberta staying at my motel who had a pristine ’66 Mustang. Talked to him about it for a bit, mentioning the '71 Camaro that's been in my family since 1972, stock original and still running like a champ. "They don't make 'em like that anymore, eh?" said the man from Alberta. I smiled at that; his subtle accent was like a Canadian cliché. Canada is its own country, but most of the differences are as subtle as that accent. They have most of the same chains—McDonald’s, A&W, Super 8 Motels, even H&R Block, but when you peel off the modern day facade, you know for certain that you're not in Kansas anymore. Canadians are justifiably proud to be Canadians—never make the mistake of lumping them into a homogenized bucket with U.S. Americans.

    After that, I was off, on the actual Alaska Highway! The first 50 mile stretch was basically an extension of Dawson Creek. Farms, bright yellow Canola fields, livestock. Most local vehicles on the road were huge super heavy duty four wheel drive pickups—apparently the ride of choice for local boys.


    B.C. farmland, from the side of the road on the Alaska Highway, north of Dawson Creek

    Past Fort St. John, the terrain got a lot wilder. No more towns, very few people, and very little traffic. Saw a few U.S. license plates, people that were obviously headed to Alaska. Michigan, California, Oregon, South Carolina. At one spot where traffic was stopped dead for a construction delay, the car in front of me had Arizona plates, so I got out and talked to the driver—a very cool old dude named Christopher, driving a Toyota pickup pulling a little trailer, just him and his friendly little dog. He was from Alaska, and wished he’d kept his Alaska license plates! He had been a union electrician in Alaska, and was forced into mandatory retirement at age 55. Now he winters in Arizona, and returns to the north most every summer to work his gold claims in the Klondike. He actually had a portable dredge lashed to the top of his vehicle, and while we were chatting, he brought out a rock to show me. “Okay,” I said, holding it in my hand. “What am I looking at?”

    He laughed, and said, “It’s heavy, isn’t it?” I had to admit that it was. Then he showed me some shiny flecks in it, and explained that it would take effort to process, but it was nevertheless good ore. Delay ended, I passed him up, zoomed away, and he waved. He’s done the drive like, two dozen times. Said most people think it’s crazy to drive to Alaska, but the road is so much better now, there’s nothing to it. His first trip was back in 1972. It was a whole different story back then.

    The road was amazing, wide open vistas, but then clouds lowered and it started raining steadily. Off to my left, the Rockies, as I headed ever further north. I passed through the area south of Fort Nelson that had been actively burning two days earlier. When I started from Dawson, an electronic sign warned of poor visibility from km 395 to km 440 (something like that). Adjusting to thinking in metric was tricky after all these years, and I still wasn’t quite sure of the relative value of a “looney,” the Canadian Dollar, though I figured that one out pretty quickly. When I got to the burn area, the steady rain had pretty well extinguished the fire, but it was still smoldering and very smoky—a terrible thing, 8,000 hectares or more burned.


    Burn area, south of Fort Nelson, still smoldering

    I arrived in Fort Nelson about 1:30. It seemed much too early to stop, especially when you figure it’s light until almost 10—but the next stretch of road crosses the Rockies, and my book said it takes 8 to 10 more hours to reach Watson Lake, Yukon—the next town of any size. That was more than I wanted to attempt in one day, so I found a cheap room, and spent the day sitting around reading maps and guidebooks. Can’t so much as send a text here without being connected to Wi-Fi, and since my cheap room didn’t have it, I went to the local Tim Horton’s (a Canadian fast food chain) four different times just to use their network. Unfortunately, all it would allow me to do was send and receive texts—no email, no internet. I felt so disconnected! Also had trouble with both of my credit cards—Visa Fraud alerted on the fact that my cards were being used in Canada, so I had to verify transactions. I did so, but one of my cards was still getting declined everywhere. It was going to take a phone call to straighten that out, and calls were a dollar a minute, even with AT&T’s International “Passport” plan. Fort Nelson was, I hate to say it, pretty boring from the perspective of a stranger passing through; cold, and rainy, and my motel was well past its prime. Late in the day, the rain stopped and the skies cleared completely. Hopefully a good omen for tomorrow, purported to be the most scenic part of the route, but slow going, with steep, hairpin curves. My kind of road, and something to look forward to!

    Next up: Holy Toledo!

  7. #17
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    Default Alaska Highway: Part 2

    Day 21: Monday, July 13th

    Sun was up and pouring through my window at 4:30 AM, so I arose early and rolled out of Fort Nelson at 6:00 AM. There was virtually no northbound traffic anywhere near me—one car passed me early on, and though I saw numerous oncoming vehicles headed south, I saw nobody else headed north for the first three hours or more. The road wound up into the Rockies; the scenery was quite beautiful, and the sunny weather was holding.


    A green river meets a blue river in the Canadian Rockies

    At one point I passed a rest stop and spotted the rig from Arizona with the old prospector I’d met the day before, so I pulled over and greeted him a good morning before driving off. Spotted a couple of moose along the road and took pictures, then drove on to Muncho Lake, a particularly beautiful body of water with gorgeous greenish turquoise color in the shallows due to high mineral content.


    Muncho Lake, Canadian Rockies

    Took numerous photos, and then drove on. Spotted several wild bison along the road, took more photos.


    Canadian Bison, taking a break from his primary occupation (namely, eating)

    There was a construction delay, with one-way traffic waiting for escort by a pilot vehicle, so I shut off the Jeep and played a game on my phone to pass the time. Somebody honked, and I realized that traffic had started moving, so I quickly started the car. I’m not sure what I’d done differently, but the electrical problem I had in Yosemite happened again! No radio, no AC, couldn’t roll down the windows, and the windshield wipers didn’t work! It wasn’t nearly as hot as Yosemite, so it wasn’t as horrible—but I was still panicked, for fear it wouldn’t self-resolve this time. 20 miles down the road there was a BC provincial campground with a well-known hot spring that Christopher, the prospector, had highly recommended (lamenting the days when it used to be wild and free of charge).


    Liard Hot Springs, a favorite stop along the Alaska Highway in British Columbia

    I pulled in and shut off the Jeep, hiked ten minutes to the hot spring pool, soaked for another very pleasant ten or fifteen minutes, then hiked back, praying under my breath. Fingers crossed, I inserted the key and turned it. Bing-Bing-Bing-Bing! Everything was working again! Hallelujah, one more time. Vastly relieved, I drove on, and crossed the border to the Yukon.


    Yukon Border

    I was running low on gas so I stopped at Contact Creek—billed as the cheapest gas on the Alaska Highway. Fuel is expensive in Canada, mostly because the taxes assessed at the pump are significantly higher than in the U.S. In remote areas, you have to add in the cost of transportation, and that bumps the price per liter into the stratosphere (as much as double what it costs in the U.S.). I talked to the owner of the isolated gas station, who told me about the terrible fires still burning only 8 miles away. Scary stuff! It started raining a bit as I pulled into Watson Lake, at about 1:30. This was nominally my goal for the day—I’d done 300 miles and I’d been driving 7 hours, including the stop at the hot springs, the delays, and the stops for photos. There on the main drag, there were a couple of motels that looked a bit worn around the edges, and a couple of restaurants; the one campground in the town was already packed cheek by jowl with RV’s.


    Sign Post Forest, Watson Lake, Yukon

    I checked out the famous sign post forest, which was started by a homesick G.I. who was part of the original road crew building the first version of the Alaska Highway during WWII. While erecting road signs for the new highway, he added a sign of his own that stated the mileage to his home town in Illinois. Others did the same, and it turned into a tradition that grew—and grew—until there were tens of thousands of road signs from all over the world, creating one of the most well-known roadside attractions on the Alaska Highway.

    I stopped at the market, and bought some fried chicken in their little deli. My guide book told me that Whitehorse, my next recommended overnight stop, was another eight hours of driving. I asked the old guy at the counter, and he said it could be done in four hours in good weather—but that I should watch my speed at milepost 770 (or something like that), because there was a Mountie on patrol there who loved to write tickets. Since it was still pretty early, and since Watson Lake wasn’t exactly singing to me (no offense), I said “What the hell!” (Or words to that effect,) topped up the gas tank, and drove on. The next three hundred miles, which I fairly flew through in a bit more than 5 hours—was one of the most spectacular stretches of road I’ve ever driven (and that’s saying a LOT)! Incredible mountains with a dozen shades of green, rushing rivers, beautiful lakes, and purple wildflowers called fireweed lining the road like cosmic landscaping, mile after mile. The big Yukon sky held some of the most amazing clouds I’ve ever seen.


    Alaska Highway in the Yukon Territory, west of Watson Lake


    Fireweed along the Alaska Highway. The showy blooms are at their peak in July, and line the highways for hundreds of miles, everywhere you go.


    Big sky, big clouds in the Yukon Territory

    Every time I rounded a curve in the road there was another stupendous vista; it was nothing short of astonishing! I was yipping out loud, and a couple of times I actually pounded on my chest to “re-start” my heart! Made it to Whitehorse, the largest town in the Yukon, by 6:30 or so, and decided to splurge on a Day’s Inn. That’s considered a budget motel chain in the U.S., but in Canada, they’re a bit more upscale, and that turned out to be the nicest paid lodging I’d stayed in up to that point in the trip. The room set me back $159 Canadian for the night—which worked out to about $125 U.S. The hotel had real internet, so I was able to catch up on correspondence. It was great to relax after such an amazing day of driving. The room had a good set of blackout curtains, so I was able to crash at 10:00 and got a good night’s sleep. (Outside my blacked-out window, the sun didn’t go down until 11:30!) This was truly a wonderful, wonderful day—all my expectations for the Alaska Highway were not simply met, they were exceeded, in a spectacular fashion! “Awesome” is a word that gets badly overused, but in this case, it was entirely appropriate.

    Between the extremely short periods of darkness and the rain that was predicted for the coming week, I realized I’d be staying in motels more often than not. That meant the trip was going to end up costing me more than my original estimates, but at this point? I had no regrets whatsoever!

    Next up: North, to A-las-ka, (go north, the rush is on….)
    Last edited by Rick Quinn; 01-25-2019 at 08:43 PM. Reason: typo

  8. #18
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    Default On to the Alaskan Border

    Day 22: Tuesday, July 14th

    I woke up early—despite the blackout curtains. I was anxious to get going, but I wanted to at least process a few photos from the day before, and hopefully send a few emails. (As an aside: digital photos don’t really require processing, but my roots as a photographer date back to the days of 35mm film and wet darkrooms, so I have a tendency to think in those terms. When I shoot digital, I use a suite of imaging software to balance the color, and then I convert the RAW image files into a user-friendly jpg format before shrinking them down to a size suitable for sharing). Unfortunately, the Canadian version of my email service was completely different from what I was accustomed to, and I couldn’t figure out how to attach photos (which was the whole point of sending out the emails). So much for that! I checked out of the hotel at about 9:00, and after a quick bite to eat and some coffee, I stopped at a "full service" service station. They checked my oil and tires and all of that, had to add at least a quart of coolant; my windshield washer fluid reservoir was nearly empty, so they filled it, and then sold me a bottle to take along with me. I gratefully tipped the pump jockey (attendant) because he’d been so efficiently helpful. When I started the Jeep, the “check engine” light came on, and wouldn’t go off. That worried me a little, as I was about to head off on one of the most remote sections of the Al-Can, and it was still 600 miles to Fairbanks. I asked the mechanic at the service station, and he said my best bet would be to take it to a Jeep dealer!?

    Luckily for me, Whitehorse actually had a Jeep dealership, the only one in the Yukon Territory, and it was right around the corner on the next block! So I drove over there, more than a little nervous. The service writer was super nice. He dropped what he was doing and took his scanner out to my Jeep in the parking lot, plugged it in under the dash, and read the error codes. “Had any battery trouble?” he asked me. I told him about the electrical problem the day before, when the accessories shut down. “That’s it,” he said. “It’s a glitch in the system. No worries—just be careful and have a safe trip.” No problem, no charge. Amazing! When I started the vehicle, the warning light went out, like magic, and with that, off I drove toward Alaska. (Another aside: I worried about that electrical problem for the rest of the trip, but, thankfully, it never recurred. About a year later, long after the trip ended, I got a recall notice in the mail from Chrysler. Seems the ignition switch was defective on that model of Jeep, and would sometimes stick in the wrong position after starting, causing the very problem that had happened to me: engine running, all accessories off. They replaced the switch and both of my key fobs, and all has been well ever since.)

    The road was incredible—easily as amazing as the day before, with the snow-capped peaks of the Wrangell-St. Elias range dominating the horizon, more fireweed lining the road on both sides—more wildflowers than I’ve ever seen—they were literally everywhere! I started to fade a little bit after just an hour, my eyes getting droopy, so I pulled over at a rest stop to splash some water on my face. A big brown UPS truck pulled in just after me and the driver, who was not in uniform, got out. I’d passed several UPS trucks on remote sections of the highway and wondered how it could be economically feasible for UPS to travel such long, empty stretches of road with their delivery vehicles. Turned out the driver didn’t even work for UPS, and he wasn’t delivering packages—he was hired to deliver the truck from the factory in Indiana to Fairbanks, because that was the cheapest way for them to get it there. Pretty wild! I talked to him for at least 20 minutes—he was an interesting guy. Thankfully, the conversation pretty well woke me up, so off I went again. Approaching the mountains, I started pulling over with serious frequency, taking LOTS of photos! Mountains, clouds, lakes, flowers—I was pretty sure I must have died and gone to heaven, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember the fiery crash. I made many U-turns to snap photos of stuff I’d just passed. I wasn’t in a hurry, and I got some great pictures.


    Heading toward the Wrangell-St. Elias mountain range that separates the Yukon Territory from southeastern Alaska

    After Haines Junction I entered Canada’s Kluane National Park—which was absolutely stunning. There was a huge turquoise colored lake, and at a bend in the road, I spied a perfect photo op—mountains and clouds reflected in the still clear water of the lake, what you call a money shot (complete with fireweed)!


    Kluane Lake, Kluane National Park, Yukon Territory

    Driving on toward the Alaska border, the road surface went to hell with potholes, cracks, and rippling frost heaves. I had to slow down quite a bit to avoid blowing a tire or damaging the suspension. Then I came to a construction zone, where there was no pavement at all for almost 30 miles. The road became the wild, rugged sort of surface that I’d always expected of the Alaska Highway. It took quite a while to get through that section, and once I did, it started to rain, lightly at first, and then it poured, rain coming down in sheets. At the very end of the unpaved stretch, a car was pulled over, and they shouted as I passed, so I stopped. There was a grizzly bear with two cubs on the hill above the road, which was pretty exciting! I snapped a quick picture, but I was a little too slow to catch what would have been a perfect shot of the momma looking straight at me. Instead, I got her from the side as she shooed her cubs into the trees.


    Momma grizzly bear shooing her cubs into the trees, near the Alaska border with the Yukon.

    It was still raining heavily, and was quite cold by the time I got to Beaver Creek, the last Canadian town on the Alaska Highway. It was about 4:30, I’d driven 300 amazing miles, and some of it was pretty hairy. I thought about pushing on into Alaska, if only so that I’d have a chance at phone service and connectivity—but when I discovered that the first real town in Alaska, a place called Tok, was another 120 miles away, I decided I’d best stay in Beaver Creek. I got an overpriced room at a very funky motel—Ida’s Motel and Café, which sounded folksy, but wasn’t. Just like a lot of motels in small-town U.S.A., it was run by East Indians, and, sadly, was not well-maintained. I was charged $100 for a very basic room that was scarcely worth half that amount; unfortunately, there were no other choices. I had a lousy dinner of overcooked, tasteless Salisbury steak that set me back $20, and then I went back to my room and spent several hours processing my amazing pictures. No Wi-Fi, no phone service, so I was totally incommunicado for the evening. The rain stopped (naturally), and I ended up regretting not having driven on to Tok. Oh, well! Stopping before the border made it a relatively easy driving day, which was probably for the best—but I was spending WAY too much money on overpriced motels!

    Next up: Over the border and on to Fairbanks
    Last edited by Rick Quinn; 01-26-2019 at 08:43 AM.

  9. #19
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
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    Quite the interesting tale!

  10. #20
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    Mar 2016
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    Glad you like it, Mark. I'm having a lot of fun, putting this report together. Between my detailed field notes and all those thousands of photographs, it's almost like I'm re-living the RoadTrip--and it was one heck of a fine RoadTrip! My goal here is to inform and entertain, maybe even provide a bit of inspiration. To that end--there's a whole lot more of this story still to come.

    Rick

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