May 31, 2013

Day 5: Regrouping

Day 5: Grande Prairie, AB to Jasper, AB

Wildlife Spotting: Deer, elk, sheep

Distance Traveled: 395 km/247 miles

Total Distance Traveled: 3072 km/1921 miles

Today was a “regroup” day.  It may only be day 5, but it seems like the days have been running together.  We are becoming delirious.  So, we spent the night at the Fairmont in Jasper to reward ourselves.

The drive from Grand Prairie, AB to Jasper, AB was a fairly uneventful one.  The flatness eventually turned into the towering mountains we have grown accustomed to.

We explored "downtown" Jasper and enjoyed a couple of brews at Jasper Brewing Company before heading back to the Lodge to enjoy some more brews on the dock.  I think we are very deserving of one or two, don't you?

So until next time, when we take our time exploring the beautiful Canadian Rockies. 


May 30, 2013

Day 4: Here Comes the Rain

Day 4: Liard River Hot Spring Provincial Park, BC to Grande Prairie, AB

Wildlife Spotting: Bison, caribou, deer, moose, black bears, ground hogs, stone sheep, coyote 

Distance Traveled: 889 km/556 miles

Total Distance Traveled: 2677 km/1674 miles

Today was a long one.  We left Liard at 7:30am and with only a few pit stops for gas, coffee and beer (we weren’t going to have another Watson Lake mishap), we made it to Grande Prairie, Alberta around 7:00pm.

The scenery was amazing, the weather, not so much.  We knew it was only a matter of time until the rain caught up with us. Our first rain of the trip came as we drove through the Rockies.  The drive sort of reminded me of one we’ve taken many times along the Seward Highway in Alaska, absolutely breathtaking.  

We made a pitstop to marvel at the beautiful jade-colored Muncho Lake in BC's Muncho Lake Provincial Park. The jade green color of the lake is attributed to the presence of copper oxide leached from the bedrock underneath.

We switched things up and threw on an audio book, “The Great Gatsby”.  We just saw the movie before leaving Anchorage, and surprisingly it compares quite well to the book.  For those of you that have seen the movie, you should buy the soundtrack… unreal!

We drove through the middle of nowhere for most of this stretch.  Luckily we had the Alaska Road Trip Bible, the Milepost, with us to tell us when the next gas station or rest stop was.  We stopped in Muncho Lake for gas and it cost almost $2/litre ($60 for half a tank!)!

And we can't forget about the wildlife... Bison, stone sheep and black bears were plentiful.  We also saw a coyote feeding on a moose carcass on the side of the road.

We stopped in Dawson Creek, BC at Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway.  After a few quick pictures and a big high five, we continued on our journey to Grand Prairie, AB.

Ironically, the afternoon drive was the exact opposite of the morning leg, beautiful weather, but not so beautiful scenery.  The mountains slowly turned into rolling hills, which eventually disappeared altogether and we were welcomed to Alberta by the flat farmers’ fields. I guess that’s just getting us used to what we have at home in Ontario.

So until next time, when we head back into the mountains for a few well deserved days of relaxing and catching up with some friends and family.


May 29, 2013

Day 3: Heeeyyyyy Bear

Day 3: Whitehorse, YT to Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park, BC

Wildlife Spotting: porcupine, hare, LOTS of bison, 10 black bear, 2 brown bear cubs 

Distance Traveled: 646 km/404 miles

Total Distance Traveled: 1788 km/1118 miles

We started the morning off right, with a Timmy’s coffee.

We made a must-stop at the Watson Lake Signpost Forest in the Yukon.  Started by a US Army Soldier working on construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942, this forest now contains over 75,000 signs! 

We enjoyed lunch by Watson Lake and then went in search of the nearest liquor store so that we could get some local brews for the campfire later that night.  Much to our disappointment, the only liquor store in Watson Lake is closed Sundays and Mondays.  Ya, didn’t make much sense to us either.

As we drove through the Yukon and into BC, we noticed a terrain change – the trees started to get taller and the mountains got smaller.

Eagle eye Steve spotted two bear cubs at the edge of the forest, about 10 yards from the side of the road.  They would be around 5 or 6 months old. It was an extremely impressive spot!  At the exact moment we were wondering where the mom was, a Government of Canada Public Works employee pulled up beside us and gave us the answer.  Apparently mom hadn’t been seen for a few days, leaving these cuties orphaned.  

In the two hours between Watson Lake and Liard River Hotsprings, we saw a total of 12 bears (10 black bears and the 2 brown bear cubs). Bison were also making an appearance in numbers.  They are massive, with huge heads!  An adult male can weigh around 2000 lbs!

We stopped a Whirlpool Canyon, a spot where debris of the river collects.  Definitely would not want to get swept away in that.

The temperatures reached 81F and we were able to turn the AC on the car for the very first time!

Our destination for the night was Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park in BC.  We set up camp for the night, put on our bathing suits and headed for a much deserved soak in the hot spring. A long boardwalk leads to springs, which are hidden in the forest. Temperatures in the hot spring range from 108F/42C to 126/52C.  

After enjoying a relaxing soak, we finished the day around a campfire, getting eaten by mosquitoes.  Mo also escaped in the car, which could have been interesting if Steve hadn’t opened the door and caught him mid-escape. (For the record, he has not enjoyed this road trip as much as we have.)

We fell asleep to the sound of rain on the tent and what sounded like a whirporwhill in a nearby tree. (The only thing that would have made the day better would have been a nice cold beer to cheers to around the campfire.)

So until next time, when we get a little closer to home and can finally say can we drove the Alcan, and survived!


Day 2: The Home & Native Land

Day 2: Tok, Alaska to Whitehorse, Yukon

Wildlife Spotting: eagle, wild horses, grizzly bear, 2 black bears, dall sheep, elk

Distance Traveled: 618 km/386 miles

Total Distance Traveled: 1142 km/714 miles

(Forgive me for being so late on this post.  When you’re in the middle of nowhere, it’s kind of hard to find an Internet connection.)

We left Tok around 8:30am to sunny skies. I think that must have been Mother Nature's way of showing us what we'll be missing in AK.  

Driving out of Tok, we followed along the Tanana River (Discovery Channel’s “Yukon Men” anyone?), the largest tributary of the Yukon River.

We drove through a landscape best described as taiga, a Russian word, meaning “land of little sticks”.  The Black spruce that characterize this ecosystem grow so slowly that a tree 2 inches in diameter can be 100 years old!

There was evidence of wildfire.  According to an interpretive sign, in a good year there are 650 major wildfires that occur across the state of Alaska, half of which are ignited by lightning!

We had to make a stop at the Alaska/Yukon border.  A narrow clearing of 20 feet/6 meters wide marks the border.  This swatch was originally cut by surveyors from 1904 to 1920 along the 141st meridian and spans 600 miles/966 kilometers from the Arctic Ocean south to Mount St Elias in the Wrangell Mountains. 

There was a bench sitting right on the meridian.  You could chose which country you wanted to be in. I kept my composure through most of our goodbyes, but it wasn’t until I was standing half in Alaska, half in Canada that the waterworks started.  Which side did I want to be on?  For the past three years, I’ve called both home.  It’s funny how things change – the temper tantrum I threw at the border just then was very similar to the one I threw that day in Walmart when I found out we were moving to Alaska.

Despite getting stopped at the border with our American bought car and the border agent going into full panic mode, Canada welcomed us with open arms.  After the whole car debacle, it was good to hear the agent say “Welcome home!”.

When driving the Alaska Highway, you have to pay attention to all of the signs and flags at the side of the road.  The major frost heaves in the road sometimes feel like you’re on a roller coaster, and if you’re not careful, you could seriously damage your vehicle.

The drive was gorgeous, with many wildlife sightings, including a grizzly and a couple of black bears.

How you make a call in the middle of nowhere.

We rolled into Whitehorse just in time for dinner.  We met up with a friend of mine and after some dinner and local brews, we got a tour of Yukon's capital.

They took us atop Grey Mountain, to give us a view of the city, and to Miles Canyon, which was originally called the "Grand Canyon" by gold seekers.  The Yukon River, that flows through the canyon, measures 2000 miles/3218 km, draining 1/3 of Alaska and noted as the 4th or 5th longest river in North America (apparently depending on who you talk to).

Miles Canyon, Whitehorse, YT.
The view at sunset from our friends' backyard in Whitehorse.

So, until next time, when we make our way into British Columbia, and inch a little closer to home on our oldschool road map.


May 25, 2013

Day 1: The Start of an Adventure

Day 1: Anchorage to Tok, AK

Wildlife Spotting: Caribou, moose, dall sheep, eagle, ravens, waterfowl

Distance Traveled: 524 km/327.5 miles

Total Distance Traveled: 524 km/327.5 miles

The Ultimate Road Trip Begins!

When planning this adventure, we decided to keep the first day fairly short.  Border crossings are so unpredictable that we didn’t want to make a push to Whitehorse, YK to only get stuck at the border.

This morning, we left Anchorage around 10:30am, with a planned easy six-hour drive ahead of us.  We’ve done half the drive before when we travelled to Eureka exactly one year ago and then again home from our Valdez adventure.

We couldn’t have asked for better weather on our way out. 

We wondered what it would have been like before the highway was created.  What did it look like?  How exactly did they know where to place the road?  Was it planned or just a go with the flow attitude?

We stopped along the side of the road to breathe in the immensity of Wrangell St Elias National Park and Preserve, the largest unit in the National Park System.  It was so quiet – absent were the sound of traffic and day-to-day “city life”.  Instead we heard the sound of a bubbling creek, chirping birds and the wing rushing through the trees.  It was so peaceful.

The Wrangell Mountains towered in front of us.  At 16,237 feet, Mt Sandford, a dormant volcano, is one of Alaska’s 10 tallest peaks.

We saw caribou at the side of the road, minding their own business until the car got a little too close. 

We ended the night in Tok, AK, with a delicious burger and a cheers to completing our first day and making it one step closer to home.

Until next time, when we say goodbye to Alaska and hello to the mother land (and a Timmy’s coffee).

Have you ever gone on a memorable road trip?

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