Roads to Alaska (Page 2)
The Alcan
Our second Alaskan adventure began on August 19, 2000 at Prince George, BC, some 600 miles north of our Oregon home.   Those 600 miles offered many spectacular scenes which we will have to visit another time in order to properly absorb them . . .   places like the beautifully rugged mountains around Pemberton, BC.

As in 1971 we were again heading north to Alaska.   But this time it was August.   We could not forget the Alaskan mosquitoes of mid June. And this time, rather than having constant daylight, we would have real night time as well as day.   This could make viewing the northern lights a possibility.   I had never seen them.

In the 29 years since 1971, highway options in Canada and Alaska have improved.   The Parks Highway between Anchorage and Fairbanks was opened for use just months after our visit in 1971.   A few years later, essentially all of the unpaved Canadian portion of the Alaska Highway was paved.   The road to Dawson City, Yukon has been paved and now extends on the south end through the rugged White Pass, to Skagway, Alaska.   Even the Cassiar Highway (BC 37) has been improved enough to make it a reasonable alternative to the British Columbia section of the Alaska Highway, saving more than 100 miles between Prince George, BC and Watson Lake, Yukon.

Our approach to Dawson Creek (Milepost 0 of the Alaskan Highway) was from Prince George, BC, heading northeast across the Rocky mountains via the beautiful John Hart Highway.   This road traverses Pine Pass, at an elevation of 2,828 feet, the lowest highway pass in the Rocky Mountains.
        Azouzetta Lake just east of Pine Pass Summit                      The Pine River from the Le Moray Bridge
Dawson Creek is a British Columbia town situated on the northwest end of an Alberta prairie.   It is a farming town, as evidenced by the grain elevators and broad, flat fields.   But the road west out of town skirts the eastern foothills of the Rockies for 280 miles to Fort Nelson, BC, which is still a true frontier town.

Fort Nelson began as a fur trading center in 1805 and is now involved with lumber, natural gas and sulfur production, but continues in the fur trade.   It is a gateway into the vast Northwest Territories.
The Rocky Mountains on the skyline of Fort Nelson are not as flamboyant as those of Southern Canada, but their simple charm is more relaxing. . . at least in summer and autumn.

This part of the Alaska Highway is a pleasant drive through lovely forests of white spruce, aspen and poplar.

Certain large animals are commonly encountered along the highway.   We saw caribou and stone sheep in the roadway.
In rocky, highway cuts, stone sheep are a real hazard to motorists.   A Warning sign graphically depicts a vehicle being damaged by hitting a sheep.

After a night in these far north Rockies, we passed the summit of the Alaska Highway, 4250 feet above sea level.

Sixty miles farther, and after 29 years, we returned to a view of Muncho Lake.

Construction of the Alcan Highway, spanning 1422 miles from Dawson Creek, British Columbia to Delta Junction, Alaska was completed in just 8 months and 21 days, officially opening on November 20, 1942 with a ceremony at Kluane Lake.   This tremendous feat was accomplished by 16,000 American and Canadian soldiers and civilians who labored 7 days a week in severe, inhospitable conditions.

But, due to the critical wartime urgency, the "highway," when it was opened was barely passable in some areas.   Constant fixing was required.   When we traveled the highway in 1971, after 39 years of fixing, it was only about 1/4 paved.

Today, 58 years after completion, we have a beautiful highway that is smooth and safe.   Due to straightening in many areas, the highway is shorter, hence the need to designate "historical" mileposts which are not the same as actual mileposts.   But even now, construction continues, improving the route and the surface.

Alaska Highway improvements near the Yukon border in British Columbia      

An interesting tradition was started in 1942 by Carl Lindly, an Army engineer from Danville, Illinois. Signs were erected as a reminder of home.   Beginning with just a few signs then, the tradition has continued until now there are 42,000 signs in a sign forest at Watson Lake, Yukon.

Behind the "forest" is a very interesting visitor's center with a wealth of information about the construction of the Alaska Highway.
Background image is from the stream at Fox Lake Campground northwest of Whitehorse, Yukon
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