It was an exciting day today. I walked my garbage down to the dumpster.
It rained all night and for most of the morning. The gravel parking area where I stayed overnight had puddles filled with water when I got up, so I hung out and waited for the rain to let up before pulling out. I could have stayed right where I was but I decided to find a place near Delta Junction.
Later that morning I drove the 60 miles north to Delta Junction and found a state forest recreation area that was only $15 a night and had good cell signal. I paid for two nights just to let the rainy weather blow through and give me a rest from driving.
This campground, called Clearwater Recreation Area, is nestled into trees with a lake running along beside. It is quite small and has filled to max tonight. I went down to the hand pump to get water, and what came out of that well didn’t look like clear water to me!
In the afternoon the sun came out and I made a trip into Delta Junction to visit the Visitors Center and see what else was in town. Along the way I saw a moose beside the road and instinctively slowed down to keep watch for wildlife.
The Visitors Center had some displays about the Alaskan Pipeline and the official signpost signifying the end of the Alaskan Highway. I talked with the person inside and got some ideas about camping and viewing the Pipeline. Those will be for another day.
Delta Junction has a nice supermarket and I picked up some lettuce, potatoes, and fruit, all things I have been hungry for but didn’t want to buy in small towns.
On the way back from town I took a picture of the satellite dishes they use up here. They are pointed low on the horizon and are quite a bit larger than what we use down home.
The campground north of Chicken was completely full by dinner time. I guess it was because I left Dawson so early is why I beat everyone there. Just as I was eating dinner two pickups came in, one pulling the other. I later found out that a young couple had broken the universal joint on their truck just two miles back and a good samaritan had towed them in. The camp host had a satellite phone and called for a tow truck out of Tok. I talked with them later and we both agreed it was a good thing it didn’t happen on the Top Of The World Highway.
That’s the chance you take out here with no cell service. By the time someone comes along and finds you broke down by the road and goes for help, it can be a long wait. I shudder to think how much it would cost to tow a motorhome from the Top of the World Highway, 100 miles to Tok.
The road from the campground to Tok was full of dips and humps but at least it was paved. I only averaged about 40 or 45 mph down to where the Taylor Highway joins back up with the Alaskan Highway. From there it was better road for the last 12 miles to Tok.
If you are driving into or out of Alaska, you go through Tok. I think they know that at the grocery store. The prices were higher than they were in Dawson, and you don’t get any discount with the money like the Canadians give you. I did laundry, filled with gas (gas prices are better here than Dawson), and used a coin carwash to blast some of the mud from Minnie and Honda.
I was thinking of staying in town. I checked the prices for an RV park and found out it would be $55 for the night. The Chevron station lets you park out back for free if you fill up with gas. I didn’t really feel like handing over $50 or parking behind the gas station among the junk cars so I headed out of town to find a parking area.
I found a large gravel parking area near Dot Lake. It is about 60 miles south of Delta Junction, the end of the Alaskan Highway. I have a tiny bit of 1X signal so I may be able to post this but not put up any pictures.
Looks like I’m in for a storm tonight. The Weather Channel just posted warnings for heavy rain and hail in this area. How big of a hail stone will a solar panel survive?
The line waiting for the ferry to cross the Yukon River can be more than two blocks long. If you wait in that line it may take you several hours before they load you for the trip to the other side. I decided to get up early and board the ferry before the big crowds. I figured that not only would I skip the wait but it would put me out ahead of traffic on the Top Of The World Highway. I set my alarm for 5:30am.
It was hard getting up at 5:30am. It has been quite some time since I’ve had to get up than early, and with the days so long and bright up here, I have become something of a night owl, staying up until midnight or later, and sleeping in till 8 or so. I almost couldn’t force myself to wake up, but the alternative thought of waiting in line spurred me out of bed.
I hit the ferry a little after 6:00 and boarded almost immediately. The road from Dawson to the border of Alaska was dirt but fairly smooth and wide. There were many places along the road where RVs had camped for the night and most of the travelers were still sleeping as I drove past. I took my time and stopped to make breakfast at one nice pullout above treeline. There was no hurry to get to the border crossing because they didn’t open until 8:00.
I kept thinking as I drove this highway through the Northwest Wilderness how big this land is and how small I am. When I hiked the AT there were times at the top of a mountain where you could see for miles and miles of nothing but forest, but you new that out there were roads and towns and eventually civilization. Up here, the forests are wild and immense and void of any human impact. There are things out there that could eat you! When Alaskan bush pilots went down in this area they were in for a struggle to survive.
I reached the US border about 20 minutes before they opened. There were already two cars in line that were earlier than me. They let me back in after making sure I wasn’t bring in any elk antlers. I assured her I wasn’t. The road was paved and new for about two miles and then it got bad.
I had read in the Milepost and also on Richards blog about the narrow, winding road from the border to Chicken, Alaska so I was pretty well prepared for it. A lot of the road runs along the side of a mountain with 1000 foot dropoffs and no guardrails. And on top of that, the road is too narrow for two big rigs to pass each other without moving way out on a soft shoulder. I took it slow and easy and had no problems.
The last two miles driving into Chicken and five miles beyond were under construction and very rough. It looked like they had dumped dirt in the road and not even leveled it out. I was driving over piles of dirt coming down the last mile into town. The construction north of Chicken was the kind where you wait a half-hour for the pilot car to return.
Chicken, AK is a tiny mining town in the middle of nowhere. The story is that the miners wanted to name the town ptarmigan but none could spell it. That’s my type of guy – I have trouble spelling chickin! The town survives by catering to tourists staying in the RV park, browsing the mining artifacts, and eating in the diners. I saw an advertisement for chicken pot pie but the cafe I stopped at didn’t serve it so I had a turkey sandwich.
I drove twenty miles north of Chicken and spent the night at a BLM campground called West Fork Campground. I was the only one there for a while but then the sites filled up later in the day as more people came across the Top of the World Highway from Dawson. I have no cell so I will wait till tomorrow when I get to Tok to post this.
The one show everyone talks about when visiting Dawson is the stage production at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Casino and Dance Hall. There are three shows nightly, and I decided to go to one of the later ones in hopes of avoiding the crowds. I found out that it doesn’t matter when you go because it is always packed.
The building where they have the dancing girls is full of tables stretching back from the stage with slot machines and gambling tables around the outside edges. Of course there is a long bar pouring drinks and waitresses roaming the floor keeping your glass full. The place was packed when I got there, but I asked a couple if I could sit at their table for the show. They were accommodating and we enjoyed good conversation before the show started.
The girls were good dancers and good singers. The act consisted of a story about a miner that had struck it rich in the goldfields and how all the girls played up to him for his gold. The two stars of the show were the head dance hall girl and Charlie, the rich miner. They did several duets together that were really good. It was a fun show, but of course one of the highlights of the show was when the girls pulled four men from the audience, put dresses on them, and made them do a cancan dance.
After the show ended I decided to ride up to Dome Rock – a twisting road that climbs high above Dawson – to watch the midnight sun. The sky was clear so I figured it would be a good time to go. The official town celebration is on the 21st of June but the forecast for the next night was cloudy and possible rain.
When I arrived at the top there were already many people there. Some were waiting for the sun to go down at 12:45 while others were in for the long haul and we’re waiting till it came back from behind the mountain a couple hours later. I stayed until I could get a picture of the midnight sun, then headed down the mountain with most other people.
Today was spent seeing a few places around town that I had missed. I walked to the museum and browsed there for a while, made a quick visit to Jack London’s and Robert Service’s Cabins, and then did the tour of the Keno Riverboat. I should have enough gold rush and early Dawson history to last me for quite some time.
This afternoon I loaded my motorcycle, took Minnie to get her tanks emptied and filled, and settled in to watch a storm pass through. My plan is to get an early start tomorrow and maybe get ahead of the long line waiting for the ferry. I have been staying up so late that it may be hard to wake up early.
This morning I walked down to the visitors center just in time to take the walking tour of Dawson. It was quite interesting and fun. The guide took us to different places and told us some history of the building, then this lady dressed up in 1890’s clothes came out and pretended she was telling the story of the original time. She was supposed to be Belinda Mullvaney, an early female entrepreneur that became wealthy building boarding houses and other establishments in and around Dawson. We found out eventually that the gal dressed up for the part has really lived here for 30 years.
After the tour, which lasted until noon, I rode back up Bonanza Creek to check out the places I missed yesterday because of rain. The Discovery Claim National Historic Site, place of the original gold discovery in 1896 that sparked the Klondike Gold Rush, was nothing more than a small path down to the creek with a few plaques to tell about the men and what happened.
Then I drove on up the road a way where you can pan for gold for free. This is the only place on the stream that is not a private claim. There were several people down in the creek trying their luck at finding a flake of gold. After years of miners digging up the dirt in the 1890’s, and maybe four dredges that had chewed through the valley, there is probably not much left for the recreational panner. But they never get it all and new flakes get washed down every year. Do you think I took my gold pan down to the stream?
The sky was starting to look like rain again and the mosquitos were biting like mad at the creek, so I headed back to town with only one little flake of gold. Important: Always take DEET when you are in nature up here!
I bought a loaf of bread, some cookies, and a pound of hamburger at the local market that came to $20.50. I’m trying to eat up some of my provisions – pushed to the back of my cupboard – instead of buying much up here. Before I made my hamburger for dinner, I took a walk along the Yukon Riverbank and read more plaques about the traffic to and from Dawson in the early
Tonight I have a plan to go to Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall. I’m not too sure what to expect but it is one show everyone seems to go to. I’ll let you know how it goes tomorrow. I’m planning on going to the 10 pm show to miss the crowds at 8:30. I sure hope they don’t try to pull me up on stage – I would never go to a show that would have me in the act!
I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want them to worry, but Minnie did not want to start well after I left Whitehorse. Two times when I stopped at roadside historical areas, Minnie cranked for several seconds before starting. The last hundred miles to Mayo were made without turning the engine off.
All last week I worried that Minnie would not start this morning. I resisted the urge to start the engine before I left in case it was the last time it would start. I knew the closest place to get mechanical work done would be in Dawson. This morning when I had everything packed and ready to go, I turned the key and heard the beautiful sound of a running engine.
I left the engine running as I filled with gas outside Mayo and never shut it off till I reached Dawson three hours later. The first RV shop said they were booked up for two weeks but she gave me the name of another mechanic outside town. He ran several diagnosis programs on his code reader and couldn’t find anything wrong. No matter how many times we stopped and started Minnie’s engine, it fired up instantly. He thinks I may have gotten some bad gas in Whitehorse or the gas cap was not put on tight enough. I hope it gets me into Alaska with no more trouble.
Things are expensive here in Dawson City. I checked into a RV park called the Gold Rush Campground RV Park. It is like a parking lot with rigs packed in like sardines, and they want a lot of gold from my pocket just to park here. At least it is close to town and all the tourist things required of everyone that visits.
After I parked and unloaded Honda, I decided to drive up Bonanza Creek and check out the historic dredge parked there. The dredge is called Dredge #4 and man is it big. I could write down how many hundreds of thousands of tons it weighs and how many millions of gold it pulled out of the river valley but it’s too much to comprehend. Let’s just say it’s a massive structure and a story all its own. The tour was fun but I got repremanded for asking something about a dredge I had seen on Discovery Channel Gold Rush.
He said. ” That’s not reality! That’s just made up TV!”
After the tour I intended to drive on up to the original Historical Discovery Site, but I was on Honda and the sky was looking like rain. I will have two more days to check out the rest of town. The next move should put me back in the USA.
Yesterday I finished fastening the panels to Minnie’s roof and today I connected up all the wiring. With the wire I had left from the stand out panels I made a jumper cable that I can charge my engine battery if it gets low.
I guess tomorrow I will head for Dawson City. This has been a nice camp but I’m beginning to wonder what’s up the road. It will be easy to break camp with no solar panels to put away and no satellite dish to take apart. I’m getting closer to Alaska.
I got a little ambitious this morning and started the process of mounting my other two solar panels on Minnie’s roof. I worked a few hours removing the old legs from the panels, cutting mounting bracket from a piece of stock angle iron, and attaching the brackets to the panels.
The place on the roof where the new panels had to be attached was occupied by my tanker trailer, so I had to remove that first. Then I hoisted the new panels up on the roof with a rope and set them in place. The sky was starting to look like rain so I put off gluing and bolting them down until tomorrow. Then it will be just a matter of running wires to tie all the panels into my charge controller.
I have lots of battery capacity traveling here in the north. The main two things that keep me charged is all the daylight hours of solar power and the fact I’m not watching TV very much.
I found a hiking trail up the road a bit from my campsite. The trail cuts up steeply along the hill and comes out high above the river. From the top there are nice views in three directions. You can tell that the mountains are not as majestic in this area as they are along the coast but it’s still pretty in its own way.
I explored a back road behind Mayo that took me out to a gravel bar beside the Mayo River. I grabbed my gold pan and did a couple test pans but didn’t find anything big enough to keep.
Later in the afternoon I talked with one of the inspectors working on the river a few hundred feet from my camp. Every day they have an excavator digging out the river and loading it into dump trucks. The inspector said that the town has had some flooding because of ice building in the river and they think that dredging it deeper will help with the flow.
I told him that they should be running that river gravel through a sluice to get the gold out of it. He laughed and said they were joking about the same thing. He said that one of the machine operators had tried a pan and found a little bit. They have been piling the dirt up behind the campground so I may sneak down there later and try my luck.
I road Honda to Keno City today. Keno is 35 miles northeast of Mayo, at the end of a gravel and dirt road. The loose gravel road made it seem longer than 35 miles and it took me almost an hour to get there. I was bundled up in three jackets because the temperature was in the 60’s, but I kept warm by keeping my speed down. Whenever I met another vehicle I would have to stop until the dust settled.
Keno City was founded when silver was discovered in 1919. The silver ore was one of the richest deposits in the world, and the town of Keno and the town of Elsa nearby, grew with the mine. There is still some mining in the area but the town of Elsa didn’t survive the closure of the original mine.
There is a large and diverse museum in Keno, and that is what I went to see. It took me two hours to browse through all three buildings that house the museum. There were artifacts, photos, old mining equipment and everything else you can imagine.
Before silver was discovered in the area, gold prospectors took many ounces of gold in the rivers near Keno and Mayo, but the gold was small and not as rich as other areas so the miners moved on. I talked with the manager of the museum and asked if I would be able to pan for gold in the rivers. He said no one would care. He even told me of a guy that lives up the road that would let me pan in his stream and show me where some good places are. I didn’t have my gold pan so I thanked him anyway.
I left Whitehorse this morning and drove north on the Klondike Highway for about 200 miles. It drizzled most of the morning with heavy fog in the mountains. The road was not too bad but once in a while there were a few rough spots. I don’t mind the rough spots near as much as the dips and raised pavement; those places give Minnie a good rocking and rolling.
I stopped at a couple places to read signs. One interesting place was a view of Yukon River where it passed through some rapids. I think they called it the Five Fingers because of the rocks in the river creating the passages. Many rafts and boats were smashed while navigating through there in the gold rush. Later they used cables to pull riverboats upstream through this section of rapids.
I’m now just outside the little town of Mayo in a town park called McIntyre Park. The park only has 5 sites, but Minnie and one other RV are all that are here. It sits right on the bank of the Mayo River. Tomorrow I will explore on Honda. The Milepost Guidebook devotes two pages to this town and Keno City, a few miles up the road, so I should have plenty to see for a couple days.
I saw three more bear today – a mother and two cubs. I had to come to a complete stop because the cubs were playing in the road. Here is something that puzzles me: the mother and one cub were black, the other cub was brown. Do black bears breed with brown bears?
There was a strong wind this morning but it was out of the south and I was headed north. It’s not too often I have a tailwind, so Minnie climbed up over the pass with ease. I stopped at a few overlooks that I missed on the way down but didn’t linger very long in the cold, biting wind. Even people on tour busses jumped out to take pictures and scurried back aboard in a hurry.
There were two areas of construction. The first one I came to had signs up that the road was closed. That was rather discouraging until some of us talked to the girl with a walkie talkie and found out they were doing some blasting up ahead and the road would only be closed another 15 minutes. On another stretch of gravel road construction I met a SUV that threw a stone that hit my windshield with a smack. I thought I had escaped damage until I stopped and noticed the dime-size star of cracked glass. Bummer!
When I was 20 miles from Whitehorse, I stopped at a place called Robinson Siding. It was built back during the gold rush days to let two trains pass on their way to and from Skagway. I was walking back looking at the junk laying around and a big black bear came walking down the tracks. He/she stopped and looked at me for a moment then slowly walked into the woods. I didn’t see any cubs around but I lost all interest in walking any further back into the woods where some old buildings stood.
I found a laundromat not far from the Walmart in Whitehorse, ate at McDonald’s, filled Minnie’s propane, water, and gas tank, and stocked up on groceries at Walmart. This Walmart has a terrible selection of groceries. Everyone says to go down to the supermarket to buy food but I found enough here. And besides, they are nice enough to let us park for free so I did my part to buy in their store.
I noticed a home and hardware store a short block from Walmart on my way back from the laundromat, so after I parked I walked back to see if they had the parts I was looking for. I found the brackets, bolts, and glue I need to mount my solar panels on top of Minnie, so all I need now is a nice place to do it and some warm weather.
This picture has nothing to do with Alaska. My Daughter Karen and Grandson Noah on Graduation Day!
My plan is to head back into Canada tomorrow. I need to do laundry and fill my propane before heading north again. I will probably spend the night at Whitehorse Walmart after taking care of a few chores, and then get an early start Tuesday. I’m thinking I would like to head towards Dawson City before going straight up the Alaskan Highway. Following the Yukon River is the route the gold seekers traveled, and I can follow it along and see the history along the way.
The temperature here in Skagway has taken a down turn. From a balmy 85 degrees with high humidity two days ago, a strong wind moved in and dropped the temps into the 50s today. There are some nice walks near my camp and I get out and stroll around each day. The park service has been making walking paths through the remains of the Dyea ghost town and each day I go down to see what new signs they have put up.
This campground really filled up over the weekend. There were only two sites left when I looked around Saturday morning. One by one they all pulled out today, and besides me only one other RV is still here. It is funny to watch the Blackbirds swarming the vacated camps, looking for scraps and crumbs left by the campers.
I hope my next stop will be at a warmer time. I like to get out and explore on Honda but not when it’s 50 degrees.
They were called Stampeders. The Tlingit call them a name in their Native language that meant greenhorns. They were mostly young men, coming from all over the world, headed to the Klondike to make their fortune in the newly discovered goldfields. They came by the thousands, landing in Skagway on large ships and transferring their goods and supplies to small boats to be offloaded in a town called Dyea, a short hike to the start of a trail that would take them 40 miles over the Chilkoot pass to the Yukon River.
I have always liked trails with history. It is probably one of the reasons I fell in love with the Appalachian Trail. Like the AT the Chilkoot Trail is not easy. Royal Canadian Mounted Police stressed that all prospectors take a ton of supplies with them in to the Yukon so that they would not starve for a year. This required many trips up over the steepest part of the pass. They either had to hire the Tlingit people to carry their supplies or make several trips up and down the mountain.
There were stories about the prospectors leaving heavy items along the trail as they struggled with their load up the mountain. I saw it first hand on the AT. All along the approach trail to the top of Springer Mountain where the AT starts, I saw all sorts of items left from someones pack as they fought to lighten their load. And it was no different back in 1898 as the prospectors set off with high hopes and every piece of hardware they thought would make life easier in the wilds of the Klondike. They soon realized that the burden was too great to carry.
The Chilkoot Trail has been known as the world’s longest museum. They say you can see camp stoves, cast iron cookware, shoes, and all sorts of odds and ends discarded by the trail. I wanted to see some of those items tossed away from their packs, so this morning I decided to hike a couple miles up the trail.
The trail starts out by the river and climbs steeply several hundred feet up the side of the mountain. The temperature today was the warmest it has been this year and the humidity was wicked. I was sweating and breathing heavy right off the bat. As soon as I started to sweat the bugs found me – they love the smell of sweat – and I had to stop and apply DEET.
The trail finally decended to the river and the walking was easy then. I kept walking another mile hoping to see some remnants of a time gone forever, but I never found a single man-made object. After over 100 years anything left along the trail has been swallowed up by nature. No one is allowed to touch or disturb any artifact from the gold rush time, so the moss and digestive action of the forest has hid any hint of an item cast off.
I reached a signpost that told I had come 1.6 miles. It seemed further than that in my out-of-condition state. I pushed on for another half mile hoping to see something historical but it was not to be. The woods were eerily quiet and I began to think of brown bears while out all by myself. I never worried about black bears in anyplace I’ve hiked but grizzlies give me the willies. The sign at the trailhead said to never hike alone and make noise so the bears aren’t surprised. I started to sing.
On the return hike I met many people. All in all I ran into seven groups of 8 to 10 people in each group. I asked one group how many ships were docked in Skagway and was told that four were there now. One of the guides said it would be like this the rest of the summer. He told me that soon there will be groups of thruhikers going all the way over the pass to Bennett Lake.
It was a good hike even though I didn’t see any artifacts. The park service has improved the trail by making steps up some of the climbs and they have constructed bridges over some streams. I know the old timers didn’t have bridges or steps, but I was kind of glad I did. If Daryl would fly up here and hike with me, we could do the whole thing!
The weather has been gorgeous today. I think it hit 80 this afternoon. The snow up on the mountains is shrinking with all the warm weather and sunshine. The only drawback will be the bugs coming out to feast and the sun shining in the window at 11 pm when I’m trying to sleep.
There was enough sunlight today that I got a complete, one hundred percent charge on my batteries. I’m thinking that I may mount my other two solar panels on the roof of Minnie when I get back south this fall. There are advantages with portable panels, but when I travel I have enough stuff to put away and get out!
I rode into Skagway to get groceries today. I’m sure I bought too much and paid way too much, but I told myself before I went in the store to buy what I wanted and not even look at prices. If I look at prices in a tourist town, I usually end up getting nothing. I have enough food to last another week if I want to stay that long.
When I got back to camp I took a walk over to the Dyea town ruins. I have walked through there a couple times now but not been to every corner. When I turned down a path to a new boardwalk the park service is building, I met a park employee.
I told her that I had a hard time figuring out where the town was because the buildings have rotted away and there are no signs to tell where things were.
“Your really not supposed to be in here while we are working on the paths.” She explained.
I played innocent. “Ah. I just walked over from the campground, I didn’t know.”
“Oh. That’s why you didn’t see the signs. It’s alright we just don’t want anyone to get hurt when there are machines working. If you come back in an hour we will be gone. I put up some signs down there to tell about what you’re looking at.”
She was very nice. We walked back up the path, made a couple remarks about the nice weather, and I asked her why this campground was free and the park service campground on the other side of the inlet was pay? She wasn’t sure but said this campground was run by the city and not the park service. I’m just glad I found it.
In the morning I moved about 5 miles to another campground. I’m just across the inlet from my last camp, but I like this campground a lot better. For one thing it has cell service. I’m only getting three bars of 3G, but it seems like lightning compared to what I got across the river. There is still construction in the camp and down the road from here in the historic Dyea townsite.
There is no charge to stay here. The only thing I can think is that the campground is so new, and still being constructed, that they haven’t yet started collecting money to stay here. I will probably stay here a few days and recoup some money by averaging out what I paid in the last camp.
I haven’t figured out how to get water yet. I still have a few days supply and I should be OK with my tanks. The one thing I need to resupply is food. My fridge is getting pretty empty. I’ll probably ride into town tomorrow and pick up a few basics. I don’t want to spend a lot on food because I will be back in Whitehorse in a few days.
Friday, June 2
I waited until about 10am before I road into Skagway. The temperature was still in the 50’s, but I drove slow enough that the wind didn’t penetrate my jacket. I stopped a couple of times to check out some sights I missed on the way in. One turnout on the Dyea road gives you a good view of the bay and the cruise ships that are docked there. I could see two ships parked in the bay – one was a Carnival cruise ship and I couldn’t make out the name of the other.
I thought Skagway would be mobbed with people but it was not too bad. I walked through the Park Service museum and watched a movie on the early Gold Rush history. I went through a few shops that had souvenirs and trinkets for sale, but I’m sorry to say I didn’t help out the Skagway economy today. Although, I saw many tourists from the ships spending lots of money.
I’m still debating whether I want to ride the train up over White Pass. It is quite expensive but people that have done it say it is beautiful. I will pass the same route of the train on my drive back to Whitehorse and get to enjoy the scenery again. After a few hours in town I road back to camp and hiked about a mile on the Chilkoot Trail.
Saturday, June 3
Today was a lazy day. It rained again in the night and the morning stayed cold and cloudy. In the afternoon the sun broke through and I went for a ride on Honda. I found a new campground on the other side of the inlet, not far from the ghost town and ruins of Dyea, and it is free. I have been wondering why no one has been camping near me and now I know why. If I decide to stay a few more days I will move over on Monday. The nice thing is that I got 3 bars of 3G cell signal over there.
During the night at Whitehorse Walmart, I was awaked by the heavy patter of rain on Minnie’s roof. This was the first rain since entering Canada over a week ago. I was hoping the rain would pass soon and give me a few more good days. The next stop was in Skagway and there is lots to see there.
By morning the rain had stopped but it was still foggy and cloudy. I was wishing the sky would clear and give me good views of the mountains and glacial lakes on my drive into Skagway. I left quite early and fought rush hour traffic for a few miles, and then it was sparce traffic until I crossed back into BC and started down the long mountain grade and back into the US. The sky even cleared out and the sun broke through a few times.
When I reached the South Klondike Highway, I started to meet tour busses full of tourist coming from the cruise ships in the bay. I think I met 30 small tour busses and maybe 20 large Greyhound type busses coming up the mountain. The scenery really is spectacular along the route and there are several historical sites relating to early gold discovery. When I hit the US border I asked the custom officer if all these people were from cruise ships. He said there were over 10,000 people in town today. I guess it is like that every day!
When I reached the end of the mountain road, before I drove into Skagway, I turned onto a side road to the little town of Dyea. Dyea has a lot of history of its own: For one thing it is the trailhead for the famous Chilkoot Trail. In 1897 thousands of Gold Rush Stampeders made base camp in Dyea, then climbed over Chilkoot Pass on their way to the goldfields around Dawson City. I wanted to see where this trail started, but more importantly, I wanted to check on a campground run by the Park Service.
The road in to the campground and Dyea was narrow and curvy and not designed for big rigs. Minnie has been in lots worse places, so she had no trouble making the drive. We snagged a campsite, paid for four nights, and unloaded Honda for exploring. This was the first time Honda has climbed down from the back of Minnie since we were in Utah.
I didn’t want to go into Skagway today, so instead road up the road to check out a couple places talked about in my guidebook. I first stopped at the Chilkoot Trailhead and read the history of the trail, then drove back to see the ruins of Dyea, a town that boomed to thousands in 1898 and all but became a ghost town a couple years later. After that I drove to a place they call tidal flats, and later looked around a cemetery for many Stampeders caught in an avalanche in 1898.
Every back road around Dyea was filled with bicycle riders, horseback riders, scooter rental riders, and vans taking people up the river to float down on rubber boats. The people on those cruise ships really know how to play! I hate to think what mobs there will be in Skagway tomorrow!
I have very little cell service here. It comes and goes, but mostly goes. I will have to wait till tomorrow when I go to Skagway to post this. But if it rains again I will stay home.
As I travel further north into the Yukon I can see the influence of the Native culture. This is the land of the Tlingit people. For centuries the Tlingit have hunted, fished and trapped the Northwood. When the white men came to this region they brought with them many diseases that the Natives had no immunity to. It kind of devistated their people for a while.
Nowhere is it more evident that I am in Native land than when I stop at stores and gas stations along the highway. The Walmart where I am camped tonight is staffed with mostly beautiful Native people. I’m sure there are many here that are the combination of different races as our world gets smaller.
I made it to Whitehorse today. The highway is still in pretty good shape but there were several places where construction was underway. The road construction that makes the most mess of Minnie is when they take out the old road, grade a new subsurface of dirt, and then water it down to keep the dust from flying. The dust would be unsafe for visibility, but the watered down dirt makes mud that likes to coat the sides of Minnie and stick to Honda on the back.
On one section of construction, one lane was blocked for several miles with a pilot car leading a string of vehicles through one at a time. I got there just at the end of line and had to wait 15 minutes for my turn.
I struck up a conversation with the Native girl working the Stop/Slow sign while I waited. I asked her about the road to Skagway and she said I would run into construction that way too unless I left at 6:00 am. Looks like I will hit construction. I told her I was very interested in the Gold Rush history of the area, and I don’t remember how we got to talking about it, but I mentioned I liked to watch the show Gold Rush on Discovery. She said she lives in Dawson City and sees many of the stars on the show. She told me that Parker, one of the stars that always acts so irritating and bullying on the show is actually a sweetheart. Ha!
I hope I can find a campground near Skagway. What I would like to do is unload Honda and see the area the easy way. My Milepost guidebook tells me the road to one of the campground is not recommended for motorhomes over 23′. I just make it in under that, so I will see.
Two silly traditions along the Alaskan Highway in Watson Lake an beyond are the Signpost Forest and Rock Signs. The Signpost Forest has thousands of signs nailed to wooden posts over the last few years. Many of the signs are homemade and others just highway markers. A lot of the signs depict a travelers information as a kind of memorial to say they were here.
North of Watson Lake the traveler can see many names and messages made with rocks along the shoulder of the road. I guess the pilgrimage to Alaska brings out the desire to leave your mark along the trail – like a type of petroglyph or graffiti to future generations.
I spent the night at a big turnout somewhere between Watson Lake and Teslin, Yukon. I may have been back in British Columbia because the road dips back south for a bit. There is not much to tell about the drive yesterday afternoon and this morning. I have dropped back out of the mountains into rolling hills, lakes, and rivers. I can see snow capped mountains up ahead. I should be near Whitehorse tonight.
Today was a wildlife day. Shortly before I reached Fort Nelson I saw a black spot up ahead beside the road. I knew immediately that it was a bear, so I stopped and took a few pictures. He seemed not the least bit frightened at Minnie parked a few yards away and continued to munch the new grass along the shoulder. All in all I would see 5 more bears in the miles past Fort Nelson. The last one was a full grown beauty that must have weighed 500 pounds (or 226kg because he lives in Canada).
I entered the mountains today. The road became quite rough, narrow, and curvy so I didn’t make very good time. I passed by Summit Lake that was still completely frozen over with patches of snow along its banks. A mile later I stopped in the road to watch several Stone Sheep licking the edge of the shoulder. I think they like the salt left over from winter treatment of the highway.
I crossed numerous rivers. So many rivers to cross is what gave the early builders of the Alaskan Highway fits. All the early bridges constructed by the military were made of wood and most of them washed away in heavy floods. They are all replaced now with solid steel and concrete structures.
The highway passes by Muncho Lake for seven miles. This was another stretch of highway that gave the early military builders headaches. The highway was eventually rerouted, but one local told me that several machines went over the edge into the deep lake where they remain today.
I took quite a few breaks from driving today. With the twisting road, I couldn’t use cruise control and my leg got tired. It was 3:30 by the time I reached my destination for the night – Liard River Hot Springs Provential Park. They charge $26, have no hookups, not even a dump station, no wifi, but they have a hot spring you can go soak in, and that’s the main thing. I may go soak again in the morning before I leave.
I left Grande Prairie quite early and drove to Dawson Creek, mile zero of the Alaskan Highway. I took all the obligatory pictures of the sign post, looked around in the museum, and watched the movie of the construction of the highway back in the early 40’s. I hadn’t pictured Dawson Creek as so large. In my mind I thought it was a small town, but it is really quite a large city with all the big box stores and fast food. I may have purchased a coffee at Tim Hortons.
I was not impressed with the highway north out of Dawson Creek. All along the road for a hundred miles is gas and oil industry. Every side road I looked up had cleared out areas of pipes and tanks and buildings. I think I read in the Milepost where taxes from the gas and oil industry are helping to fund the Alaskan Highway. The industry must be booming because there were even signs up asking for workers for the oil fields.
Because it was Sunday I figured there wouldn’t be much truck traffic. I was wrong! Semi trucks carrying pipes, tanks and machinery were the majority of vehicles on the road. There must be good money to keep those trucks rolling 7 days a week. And the drivers have no patience for us vacationing RVers driving the speed limit.
The road crossed the Peace River shortly north of Dawson and I got my first taste of 8 and 10 degree hills. I wanted to take a picture of the grated bridge but there was no place to pull off. After about a hundred miles, the oil fields thinned out and I met few trucks.
I put a few liters of gas in Minnie at a campground near Pink Mountain. The gas cost $1.30/liter but I wanted to make sure I had enough to reach Fort Nelson tomorrow. It is a sinking feeling to be on this desolate highway and be low on gas.
The road keeps getting rougher the further I go. I lost the divided highway a few miles past Grande Prairie. Now I have to rely on turnouts and passing lanes to let the locals get by. They put up little signs by the road that look like bumps to let you know if the road is bad up ahead. It seems to me that the regular road is just as bad as the signed places but I slow down anyway.
I found a side road at about milepost 200 where I will spend the night. I can see snow covered mountains off to my left, so it won’t be long now until I’m in them. The weather has been beautiful – sunshine, light winds, and perfect temperatures. With the good weather and sparce traffic, once I got past the oil fields, I kept going further than I like. I hope I find a campsite soon where I can take a few days to rest.
On a good note, I saw three moose today munching on bushes along the side of the highway. They are fun to look at but nothing you want to run into. They are a big animal.
Tonight we are in Grande Prairie, Alberta at yet another Walmart. I was going to stay at a campground or RV park to fill and dump, but I found a rest area with a free dump so there is no need to pay to park tonight. This Walmart has a small parking lot with limited room to stay out of the way, but it will do for one night.
When I left Edmonton I drove within a couple miles of the largest mall in the universe. From what I hear it is a veritable Disneyland of stores and attractions. If I had a female traveling with me or some teenagers, I would probably have to check it out. I didn’t think I needed anything and man-made attractions are not why I’m doing this trip so I went on by.
The terrain on the drive up here was nice. After I drove a few miles past Edmonton, it changed to trees and rolling hills. There was less traffic and the whole way was on divided highway. Canada seems to be very clean. The highway sides don’t have a lot of trash and it looks like they keep the grass trimmed. They have a lot of what they call “roadside turnouts” which are nothing more than a pullout along the road with several trash bins. Maybe that is why the roads are so clean.
I got gas again here in Grande Prairie. I was getting pretty low by the time I got here and $100 have me 3/4 of a tank. This trip is going to be expensive! Tomorrow I should be in Dawson Creek and the start of the Alaskan Highway. I have a map that is almost three feet square, portraying Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon, and Alaska. Of the two feet from the border of Canada to the middle of Alaska, I have done 4″. It is a long drive to see some pretty mountains.
I drove to Edmonton today. The traffic was pretty bad all the way. I thought I would see a lot of camper trailers going north but there were very few. From Lethbridge to Calgary and a little beyond I could see the snow covered Rocky Mountains off to my left. After I got through Calgary, the terrain was mostly flat farmland in all directions – I could have been driving through Nebraska!
I filled up with petrol in Calgary for $1.07 / liter. First time I’ve ever run a gas pump past $100! I was a little discouraged that the bank where I exchanged my currency gave me so many $100 bills, but I see now that they will be easy to spend.
Now I see what they did with all those Canadian pennies they don’t use anymore. The melted them down and put them inside their Toonies! I’m slowly getting used to the currency and the metric speed and distance. I’m just thankful that no one changed time to a decimal division; can you imagine if there were 100 minutes in an hour?
I’m outside a Cabelas tonight. I’m hoping once I get north of here the traffic will thin out some. I should be close to Grande Prairie tomorrow unless I slow down and take a rest.
I’m still at Lethbridge Walmart along with several other RVers waiting for the wind to let up. It was so bad last night that my fridge flame blew out and I awoke to a fault code on the display. I talked with a few of my fellow travelers parked beside me that confirmed they are just waiting for the wind to calm down before pushing on north. Tomorrow looks like a good travel day.
I left Cascade, Montana early Tuesday and drove less than one hundred miles to Shelby, Montana. I spied a parking area two miles south of town that looked fine for the night and drove on into town to take care of a couple chores before returning. I filled Minnie with gas and went to a bank to exchange some US money into Canadian. My bank charges 3% for each transaction on my credit card in Canada, so I thought exchanging cash would be better than paying the fee. Turns out that banks charge 3% to exchange cash. There is no way to win! At least I have cash for places that don’t take credit cards.
I drove back to the parking area and mixed up a batch of scrambled eggs for dinner. I read on the internet that all poultry products are banned in Canada and I had almost a full package of eggs. (The border inspector never mentioned anything about poultry.)
During the night the wind picked up and rocked Minnie with increasing force. I left quite early, but the wind was up to its old tricks and waiting for me. The whole top section of Montana is part of the Great Plains, and with nothing but rolling hills and grasslands for as far as the eye can see, offers no obstacles to slow the wind. All the way to the border and beyond, 40 mph gusts hit me broadside. It was not a fun drive.
Being fairly early, there was little line at the border and I was through in about 15 minutes. I wanted to find a place where I could stop for a couple days and wait out this storm coming through. Weather forecast was for strong winds and heavy rain for two days. There was a Walmart in Lethbridge, Alberta only 75 km north of the border, so I decided to drive at least that far and then figure out a plan. I slowed way down to 80 kph and fought the wind for over an hour to Lethbridge. The good thing was that there was hardly any traffic.
The Walmart parking lot had several RVs parked along one side and I joined them there. I may be here until Friday. I might not be able to post very regularly. So far I have internet but I’m not sure how long it will last. Verizon gives me a connection in Canada but very limited data amounts. I’m not the type to stay in RV parks with free Wi-Fi so updates may be spotty.
Another cold morning in Butte, Montana. I packed up early and headed up interstate 15 for 170 miles. A quick stop at Butte Walmart for a couple grocery items, a gas fill up in Helena, and a break at a rest area, were the only diversions to the drive. There is a neat canyon just before the rest area that follows the Missouri River for a while. There were signs at the rest area that told about the Lewis and Clark expedition camping near there in 1806.
I am at a town park in the little town of Cascade, Montana. I am the only one here but maybe someone else will come in later. I arrived by 2:00 so it is still early. This is a nice little park with a dump station, playground, and picnic tables. One sites on the internet said there was electric but that has been taken out and the bathrooms closed. I don’t need anything but the dump. I will take a good long hot shower tonight.
The weather has turned lovely. The elevation is only 3400 feet here, so lots warmer. It was so nice that I walked down town and asked at a bank if they had any Canadian money I could exchange before I went across the border. All they had was $40. They said I may have to exchange at the border because even banks in Great Falls might not have any. My bank charges 3℅ transaction fee in Canada but maybe it will be worth it to use the convenience of my credit card. Don’t you hate it when you get behind someone at the pump that has to go inside to pay cash before they move? They always have to buy a .79 cent drink as long as they’re in there.
One day before my time expired at Blacksmith Canyon, we were hit with a snowstorm. It only dropped two inches but it was enough that it would have made packing everything a mess. I decided to push departure for a couple days to let things melt and dry out.
Thursday morning dawned bright and clear but very frigid. I didn’t get packed until well into the morning because I was too much of a sissy to brave the cold. Then it was off to town to dump, fill with water, find a place to fill both propane bottles, stock up on groceries, do laundry, and eat at Taco Bell. By then it was well into the afternoon so I rented a movie from Red Box (LaLa Land) and parked at the Logan Walmart for the night.
Next morning bright and early I got on Interstate 15 and headed north. This was the longest day Minnie and I have ever driven together. We travelled 367 miles. Minnie didn’t seem to mind the trip today near as much as she did some in the last few weeks. The roads were wide and smooth, there were no bad hills to pull, the traffic was light, and there was little wind to speak of. I just wanted to get over the Rockies and try things on the east side.
We hit the Idaho border early in the morning and crossed into Montana just after noon. Even though we went over the Continental Divide twice the elevation was only about 7000′. The interstate follows the old trail that cowboys drove cattle from Montana to Utah back in the 1800’s. The road is mostly gentle grades and follows a wide green valley for most of the way. A sign at a rest area told that it was made by tectonic plates and a fault line and some other volcanic action too complicated for me to comprehend. You have to expect lots of earth action when you get this close to Yellowstone.
I’m only about 5 miles east of Butte, Montana at a recreation area. There is still some snow here but should be gone in the next few days. I’m not sure how long I’ll be here – no more than a couple days, probably. Minnie did good but I need a rest.
Yesterday I took a walk along the Blacksmith Fork River. There is a nice trail that follows the river for two miles, beginning a little north of my location and ending in a meadow that once was the location of a CCC camp. The trail is open to hiking and biking, and I met several people on mountain bikes but not a one that was walking.
There were several places along the trail where rock-slides occur. The people that maintain the trail must have to clear these areas often.
At the site of the old CCC camp all that remains are several concrete foundations. There were no signs that told any history of the camp, only a board by the road that announced that it was a CCC camp location. One peculiar piece of cement had a knife imbedded in it. Maybe it was the step for the mess hall.
Looks like it will be rainy for the next few days. I still have another week of time that I’m legal to stay here so I will call this home sweet home for now.