The Alaska Highway, also known as the Alcan highway, very famous. Tales of Lack of gas, poor conditions of the road, even unpaved sections.. Just plain wives tales now. Last month we drove the great highway.
Getting Started – Calgary
Last I wrote we just got into Canada, it felt like the ultimate Alaska roadtrip had begun.
The first night we boondocked at a house we found on Boondockers welcome.com… Our first try with this, and I love it! We ended up playing a bunch of games with them and even sang a little Kareoke! Who knew. What a riot.
We started the roadtrip in Calgary, where my parents joined us…. well almost. We spent a week in Calgary visiting some friends, Kevin and Sara Norum, I met in Germany 30 years ago, and haven’t seen for 10 years. It was great to see them and although life has worn us all down a bit, getting together melted all the years away. What a true treasure good friends are.
Both Sara and I were working of course so that left weekends and evenings to visit, but we were able to get together quite a few times and even got in a golf game, although Mike and I are used to paying $20 a game, they are typically paying $80 a game ugh! Can’t manage that too often. But I digress.
My parents were supposed to fly in Friday afternoon and we were hitting the road on Saturday.. But they missed their plane. Blame it on a wrong turn while driving and a second rate airline with slow lines, long security lines, a misplaced passport, a pocketknife in a purse. or even all of the above. Bottom line is on Memorial Day weekend it meant 2 days until they could fly into Calgary.
Mike and I headed up to Banff for the day as planned Saturday we walked around town and ended up going up the Banff gondola to the top of the mountain. Pricey but beautiful. And Sunday morning we went on to Lake Louise… gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous!
Mike headed on to Jasper with the RV and I went back to Calgary to get the folks. Then we immediately headed up to Jasper, back through Banff, and met up with Mike about 10pm (still light of course) in Jasper.
Although not on the Alaska Highway, the drive was magical! Sooo beautiful! Since we drove up separately it was a surprise that we both saw a grizzly bear on the side of the road. Over the next few days we ended up seeing lots of animals on the highway, although the further North there were fewer and fewer.
In the end we saw 18 bears…..
- 16 Black Bears
- 2 Grizzly Bears (4 more in Denali)
- 1 Carabou (50+ more in Denali)
- 1 Red Fox (8 more in Denali)
- Many Bald Eagles (so many quit counting)
- 30+ Bison (probably quit counting those too)
- 4 Big Horn Sheep –
- 3 Mountain Goats –
- 6 Moose (9 more in Denali)
- 6 Elk –
- Dahl Sheep (24 in Denali)
- Ptarmegen (3 in Denali)
- ZERO Wolves (still 0 in Denali)
The crazy thing is we saw this all while in Canada. After we hit Alaska we saw very little wildlife, with the exception of the day in Denali.
I started out trying to do a short vlog post daily since so much on the Alaska Highway was new, but the editing really got me down, interfering with my “vacation”. We found the cell phone service to be pretty limited, and therefore were offline a lot. I think I completed only 4 days of video before I stopped. I did take some additional footage, that will probably show up on the channel at some point. But by the end of the week I was working again, and still trying to visit with my folks and see lots of Alaska… AND get some sleep.
(Check out the vlogs on the youtube channel.)
Sleep, it turns out, is a project in Alaska.
Our bedroom has decent blinds in the windows, and limited windows for that matter, but we gave up the bedroom to my parents. Mike and I slept on an air mattress (albeit a good air mattress, the one out of the hide-a-bed) on the living room floor. In the daytime we rolled up the mattress and stored it and the bedding in the shower. But the living room curtains are not dark at all. I tried a face mask, which helped but was uncomfortable. Mike just powered through. Although he does not sleep well in the best conditions! I’d say we got adequate sleep but not quality sleep for the last three weeks.
My parent leave us tomorrow. As much as we enjoyed the trip with them, we will be excited to sleep in the bedroom and catch up on sleep. In fact, after about a week, the poor sleep gave Mike a cold. I got the cold three days later. Just when we thought we were out of the woods, Mom and Dad caught it… Ugh. So we were fighting colds the entire trip.
Otherwise highlights on the road included the following:
The Alaska Highway begins there, where originally the train stopped. When Pearl Harbor was bombed (and we were officially in WWII), the US decided to fund and build the highway. The result was built for defense of Alaska from the Japanese. We did the impossible, built a 1700 mile long road, in arctic conditions, over Muskeg and Permafrost. The US built it with no surveying except the guys mere miles ahead of them. And the road was built it in less than a year. The story is incredible and the museum in Dawson Creek is a must see.
… and the signpost forest, sporting some 80,000 sign left by people traveling through. Fun!
We stopped at the famous hot springs for an afternoon dip.. recommended by all. It was very reasonably priced ($10 for all 4 of us). They have recently been renovated (2009) and it just right for an afternoon break. See the video here. The only thing missing were showers there.
After 3 LONG days over 6 hours driving each day we decided to spend a few hours in Whitehorse. This was a well needed break, and we got to a couple museums and away from the RV for a half day. We went to the Transportation museum. We also took in an interpretive center about Beringia, the name of the country when the ice age land bridge was there. Very interesting museum.
Whitehorse was also a good stop to stock up at Walmart. I was shocked, not sure why, but yes, quite taken by the number of RV’s boondocking in the parking lot. We stayed at a rest area just outside of town. And while that was a pleasant quiet spot, I kind of felt like I was missing the party!
At Whitehorse we left the Alaska Highway and headed north on the Klondike highway to Dawson. The road was smaller and not quite as good and tree lined. The 6-hour drive was actually a bit boring. But the gold is at the end of the road, at Dawson City. We decided to stay there 2 nights, and stopped in without a reservation at the RV park downtown, so we could have a day without moving. A bit expensive, but a needed break by that time. Hook-ups, laundry, showers. ya know.
Dawson was a great town.
We went to the farmers Market. Drove up to the overlook. Did a Geocaching tour put on by the visitors bureau, and found ourselves in town on the one day of the year the Chancellor of the Yukon was in town. They hold an afternoon tea on the chancellors mansion lawn and tours of the mansion. All for free. An unexpected and delightful surprise.
That evening we headed over to “the Drunken Goat Taverna” for some Greek food. It came recommended in all the guidebooks and from those whom we talked to but mostly Mom just wanted to say “We had dinner at the Drunken Goat Tavern in Dawson City!”
Then that night we went to “Diamond Tooth Gerties Can-Can show“. One girl selected Mike to come up on stage, put him in a skirt and dance with the girls. I was proud how he handled that moment, which I’m sure was pretty uncomfortable for him.
Top of the world Highway
Unless you go back out the way you came in, leaving Dawson City requires you to take a ferry across the river. We hit that about 8:30 in the morning, and had no wait. The ferry was just big enough for our RV, and a guy with a fifth wheel, one other car.. Oh, and me driving our car. We didn’t hook it up to give us additional options, and secretly I hoped that the car wouldn’t fit and I could take photos of the RV on the ferry before I went also. But perhaps it was best we all fit on one ferry.
It was about a 5 minute ride to the other side. Then we were off on the top of the world highway, through the Canadian/Alaska border at Beaver.. the northern most border crossing in the US.
The road takes you through Chicken. We stopped and looked at the little restaurant and had a little lunch. in the RV. Then back on the road we realized we hadn’t gotten to Chicken proper at all. That was off the next intersection, but we were anxious to get going so passed it by. Wonder how may other people do that.
The Milepost – the Alaska Highway Bible
Of course we had our Milepost, which is the most consistent advise you get when thinking of going to Alaska. There is a LOT of information in that book, but it was also a constant frustration just trying to follow where we were. Much of the route did not have mileposts on the road, and much of the milepost was based on miles from or to a city, not on mileposts.. So regardless, it was really tough to follow where we were. We did boondock most of our nights at rest stops or other pull-offs, and the Milepost aided us to find some of those.
After the Alaska Highway – Fairbanks
The end of the Top of the World highway intersects back with the Alaska Highway at Tok. One night there, and then a hop and a skip to Delta Junction, the official end of the Alaska Highway.
North Pole is a suburb of Fairbanks.
Our RV park was right in the middle. We were booked for 4 days. I was no longer taking vacation so we saw some sights of Fairbanks in the middle of my working. Mike and the folks took the Riverboat Discovery up the river.
One of the favorite destinations was Pioneer Park where they have some old buildings moved there, an old train car, and old riverboat, a transportation museum, and a few other curiosities, mostly free. Got some history and got some steps in.
While at Pioneer Park someone recommended we go to the Fountainhead Antique Auto museum. We did manage to get that in as well, and what a gem that was! This was a guy who owned and restored some 86 cars and had them all on display. They all run, and the newest one is from about 1938. Beautiful, beautiful work. Scattered among the cars were clothing from the period, that were also beautiful. Truly an amazing find. I was surprised as anyone how much I enjoyed that.
From Fairbanks it was a short drive to Denali, where we spent the next 4 nights. Only 30 percent of the people who visit Denali National Park actually see the mountain so it’s not much of a surprise that we didn’t see it either. The number 2 reason to come to Denali is for the wildlife.
Last time Mike and I were here we took a bus tour half way into the park and didn’t see a squirrel. This time we decided to take the bus to the end. This was the hop on-hop off bus, so you could get off and hike a while if you wanted to. We had heard that it was so crowded that you might wait an hour to find another bus. As it was already a 12-hour tour, we didn’t feel the need to make it any longer.
This time the tour didn’t disappoint!
We saw a mamma Grizzly and 2 babies spitting distance from the bus, and a super large male Grizzly! Fate delighted us with a big Bull moose. Our luck brought us caribou, stone sheep, Eagles, other moose. Special!
The guide mentioned that the dirt road (closed to private vehicles) gets very slippery when wet, and it drizzled all day long. The road was one lane and wound up and down steep mountainsides. Small turnouts let the buses pass. He assured us he had driven bus on this road for 20 years, but I certainly had to keep reminding myself of that fact. Pretty scary. Memorable day!
Talkeetna – Wasilla
By the time we left Denali we felt like we had done it.. only regret is not seeing the mountain. We headed out to Talkeetna for lunch. We hoped to see the mountain there, and we actually got a glimpse of it through a hazy cloudy sky. Even then it was breathtaking.
Then on to Wasilla. In December when we hosted on AirBnB in Durango, some of our first guests were some folks who used to be full time RVers. They now live half time in Wasilla and half time in Arizona. They were a wealth of information and in the end invited us to stay in their driveway for a couple of nights in Wasilla. Barbara and Larry actually had minimal time to hang out with us. But we will see them again, and it was great to see their beautiful property.
Our Epic journey together ends in Anchorage. We stayed here 4 nights as well. The RV park was right across the street from Costco so that was our first stop. Day 2 after work we went to the Alaskan Native Heritage Center. It was interesting but turned out to be primarily outside, and raining the whole time. I was pretty drenched after 2 hours standing in the rain. We came home to get warm,
The next day was Saturday. We took in the Anchorage Museum, lunch at the Peanut farm, A walk in the town square, a movie with images from the Aurora Borealis, The Alaska Wild Berry Products jelly and candy factory store, and a drive on the anchorage coast of the Cook Inlet. Busy day.
Sunday was fathers day and Mom and Dad’s 63rd anniversary. Celebrating to be had! Started the day making Eggs Benedict for breakfast. Then picked up my sister Monica who had flown in a couple of days earlier to take the ferry back to the lower 48 with them. We visited a bit, shopped a bit, and went out for an early anniversary dinner before they had to drop me at the airport.
The Alaska Highway in the rearview
Alas the journey is over.. Oh we all still have plenty of adventure ahead, but today I’m flying to Brazil. Mike is dropping my parents at the ferry and then he’s going to settle in on the Kenai Peninsula somewhere until my return.
Between Calgary and Anchorage we drove over 2500 miles in the RV. We survived the Alaska Highway! Loved every minute. of it/