Great Falls, Montana to Tok, Alaska

Friday, June 16, 2006 - We arrived at the Canadian border crossing at 11:00 AM and, after answering a few routine questions, we were on our way. We stopped at the first town and converted $40 US to Canadian currency. We plan to use our credit cards for most purchases but will need some Canadian currency for the small stuff.

It's a little confusing dealing with kilometers, kilograms, and centigrade. I created a spreadsheet to do all these conversions but I can't carry it in my pocket. At our first fill-up, the price was 90.9 cents Canadian for a liter of diesel fuel. At the current exchange rate, that is slightly less than $3.13 US. We were paying more than that in Utah.

My cell phone plan with Verizon Wireless does not include service in Canada so we will stay in touch with family using calling cards until we reach Alaska in about three weeks.

We arrived at River's Edge RV Park in Fort Macleod, Alberta at 4:00 PM and decided to dry camp for $14.00 since we are only going to be here one night. We are at a disadvantage when selecting good campgrounds. We have the Traveler's Guide To Alaskan Camping by Mike and Terri Church but that book does not list campgrounds until you get to the start of the Alaskan Highway at Dawson Creek. The Milepost also lists some campgrounds - that is how we found River's Edge RV Park - but it doesn't provide any detailed information or prices.

Saturday, June 17, 2006 - Before we left Fort Macleod, we went to the fort and got a good history lesson on the Mounties. As a kid, I grew up watching Sergeant Preston of the Yukon so the fort was pretty cool. We were planning to stop at Calgary but the traffic was heavy, even on a Saturday, and that reminded us that we did not come to Canada to see heavy traffic, big cities, and lots of people. We drove on through to the westen outskirts of Edmonton and found a campsite at the Glowing Embers RV Park. We will stay in Edmonton long enough to visit the West Edmonton Mall.

Glowing Embers RV Park is huge and it's packed. I heard the gal at the desk tell a caller that all campsites were reserved until after July 4th. I guess we must have gotten a cancellation. It's a full service RV park with free WiFi throughout the park. It has a huge, clean modern laundry and spacious, clean restrooms and showers. The only negative is that the roads are dirt/gravel and full of potholes and long overdue for a fresh layer of gravel. Note - the WiFi was not working our last day here.

Sunday, June 18, 2006 - We visited the West Edmonton Mall. Not only is it a huge mall but there are four large attractions (and several lesser ones) within the mall. There is World Waterpark with over a dozen different water slides and a wave pool about an acre or two in size. Galaxyland is an amusement park with two dozen rides for kids of all ages. Deep Sea Adventure has a full size replica of a pirate ship and a sea lion show. Ice Palace is a full size skating rink. In a section called Chinatown is a huge Asian market. I can see why West Edmonton Mall is the number one tourist attraction in Alberta.

Monday, June 19, 2006 - We were on the road before 9:00 AM and had a pleasant drive to Grand Prairie, Alberta. Flat prairie and farmland, similar to eastern Montana. As we left Edmonton and approached Valleyview, prairie gave way to spruce forest. Grand Prairie is a city of 45,000 but without the heavy traffic of Edmonton and Calgary. We are camped at the Rotary Club Campground just off highway 43. We chose to dry camp since we will only be here one night. Nice campground with paved streets and sites with concrete pads. This section of the campground is beside a pretty marsh and reservoir and has all pull-thru sites.

I have purchased diesel fuel twice at a place called Superstore, similar to a Wal-Mart Supercenter but with the emphasis on grocery. Not only do they have the best prices on fuel, but they issue coupons worth from 3.5 cents to 7.5 cents per liter of fuel that is purchased. These coupons can be redeemed inside the store and the prices and selection are competitive with Wal-Mart. So try to find one of these stores when you gas up - Superstore, Extra Foods, or Wholesale.

A local supermarket has a method to encourage customers to return their shopping carts to the cart corral. A box is attached to the handle of the cart. From this box hangs a chain with a key at the end. Another key is locked in the rear of the box and attached by another chain to the cart in front. All the other carts in the corral are locked together in a similar fashion, forming a queue. If you want to remove and use the first cart in the queue, you must insert a Canadian dollar coin into a slot in its box and then insert the loose key into the same slot. This locks the dollar and prevents its removal and it also unlocks and removes the other key which releases your cart from the queue. When you return your cart to the corral, you insert the key from the cart ahead of you. This locks your cart into the queue and releases the key to your cart and provides access to your dollar. If you want to leave your cart in the middle of the parking lot, blocking a parking space, it will cost you a dollar. It will also provide an incentive for someone else to return your cart to the corral and collect your dollar.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006 - When starting down the Alaska Highway, who has not had their picture taken here? Typical tourists. There wasn't much that we wanted to see in Dawson Creek so we continued on down the highway. The portion of the Alaska Highway that we travelled today was a nice paved road but we somehow managed to pick up our share of Alaska Highway dirt.

When the Alaska Highway was built back in the early 1940's, no attempt was made to decrease the road grade. Modern highways cut through hilltops and fill in valleys but the Alaska Highway simply follows the contour of the land. This makes for a lot of short steep grades resulting in a lot of downshifting and poor gas mileage. Similar to highway 50 in West Virgina.

We arrived at Sakanni River RV Park and got a nice site on the river. We had stopped earlier at three other campgrounds and Carol and I discovered that our expectations are way too high. We are using the Traveler's Guide To Alaskan Camping by Mike and Terri Church to help us select campgrounds and have found that the campground descriptions were far more generous than we observed. Let's just say that Mike and Terri follow the adage, "If you can't say something nice, just don't say anything at all."

Sakanni River RV Park was purchased two years ago by Wayne and Jackie of Fort Nelson, BC and they are working real hard to make this a nice place to stay. The gravel sites are level and not spaced too close together. Some are easy back-in sites and the rest are pull-thrus. The restrooms and showers are clean and a small laundry is available. A modest selection of movies on tape are available for loan.

Now that I have said all these nice things about Sakanni River RV Park, I will add one more thing. If five or more campers are in the park, a drawing is held about 8:00 PM and the winner receives a refund of their camping fee for that day. And guess who won today? We did! Free camping tonight! Chef Doug is getting ready for hamburgers over the campfire.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006 - We drove to Fort Nelson, BC, planning to stay for a couple of days but, after filling the fuel tank, we continued on to Toad River, about 120 miles west of Fort Nelson. This place is in the middle of nowhere in the Canadian Rockies but the RV park is on the shore of Reflection Lake with moose grazing in the shallows. We also saw two caribou earlier today.

The road quality remains good but has diminished somewhat as we approached Fort Nelson and entered the Rockies. Narrow or no shoulders has become common and the ocassional bump and loose gravel on the road requires more caution when driving. The weather in Canada has been evenly divided between mostly cloudy and sunny with temps in the upper 60's to low 70's. Last night it got down to 44 degrees. When we expect cold nights, we leave the thermostat set at 55 degrees and throw an extra blanket on the bed. This keeps us comfortable without burning a lot of propane. As we travel north, the days grow longer. Here at 59 degrees north latitude, it starts getting dark about midnight and by 3:00 AM its is light again.

Thursday, June 22, 2006 - Before leaving Toad River this morning, we walked down to the lakeside and were rewarded with another moose sighting. This young male was on our side of the lake about 50 yards from us, munching away at some juicy morsel on the bottom of the lake.

It was a three hour drive to Liard River Hot Springs which included a stop at Muncho Lake. This lake has fine sediment containing copper sulfate suspended in the water which gives it a beautiful turquoise color. The Alaska Highway runs along the full length of the lake only feet from the shoreline.

We are staying at the campground in the Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park - sort of like a state park. It's a beautiful setting in the middle of a forest. The sites are spaced far apart and, because of the dense vegetation, you cannot see your neighbors. The roads are gravel and wide and many of the sites are big enough for the biggest rigs - three 40' Prevost motorhomes are nearby. The sites are angled for easy back in and are cleaned and raked after each use. There are no hookups but each site has a picnic table and fire ring. Price is $17 Canadian which includes the normal $5 per person fee to use the hot springs. Credit cards are not accepted.

The hot springs were a short hike from our campsite so, after lunch, we put on our bathing suits and headed out. A wooden boardwalk takes you to the springs through some prime moose habitat and we saw a moose being chased by a seagull. Must have gotten too close to her nest. It was funny watching a thousand pound moose running away from a one pound bird. The hot springs were relaxing and the temperature varied according to your location within the pools. Some areas we uncomfortably hot but we found an area that was just right. The springs are crystal clear and have a slight sulfur smell.

Friday, June 23, 2006 - We are staying another day at Liard Hot Springs - we have been running too hard since we left Utah over two weeks ago. Except for Lewis and Clark at Great Falls and the West Edmonton Mall, there really hasn't been anything that we wanted to see along the route to Alaska until we got to the hot springs.

You don't realize how remote this area is until you start looking for basic staples such as milk and eggs. The nearest grocery is in Watson Lake, 130 miles away. The Hot Springs Lodge, contrary to their advertisement in the Milepost, does not carry groceries. Outside of major towns, electrical power at lodges, motels, and campgrounds is produced by their own generators.

Saturday, June 24, 2006 (Carol's birthday) - The provincial campground doesn't have a dump station. Had I known this, I would have dumped at Toad River. Now my tanks are almost full so I had to dump at the campground across the road and the price was $7.00. As we get farther away from the southern Canadian border, prices tend to skyrocket. Diesel fuel is almost $4.00 per gallon. At Watson Lake, a dozen medium eggs costs $3.00, a two liter bottle of soda is $3.00, and swiss cheese is $8.21 a pound. I think that there are two reasons for this - it is expensive to provide goods and services to such remote areas and there is only a four month season to earn income in what is predominantly a tourist economy.

The first order of business upon arrival at Watson Lake was to post our sign in the Sign Forest. The Sign Forest is a tradition started by a U.S. soldier that helped build the Alaskan Highway during World War II. It has now grown to a forest of poles containing over 60,000 signs.

We are at Campground Services RV Park in Watson Lake, YT. A water and electric site is $22.50 with a Good Sam discount. The have free WiFi but you have to be in or near the office to get connected. We are here for only one night while we update our web page and buy some groceries. Tomorrow, we are looking forward to baked salmon at Mukluk Annie's in Teslin.

Sunday, June 25, 2006 - We arrived at Mukluk Annie's, mouths watering in anticipation of baked salmon for dinner and blueberry pancakes for breakfast. But the cafe is no longer open on Sunday. Well, we will pass this way on our way back from Alaska, so we will try again then. We continued on to Whitehorse, YT which is the first sizable town since we left Grand Prairie, AB a week ago. With a population of 22,000 people, Whitehorse has just about every sevice and amenity one could expect in a city this size. It even has a Wal-Mart!

Speaking of Wal-Mart, RVers park overnight here as they do in hundreds of other Wal-Marts in the USA and Canada. There is even a sign in the parking lot inviting RVers to stay overnight. But I have never seen this privilege abused more than here in Whitehorse. Over two dozen RVs were parked in the Wal-Mart lot and this was during the middle of the day. Six fifthwheels were unhitched and numerous motorhomes were without a toad. Nothing on the parking lot sign encouraged this, and all of the abusers were USA tagged vehicles (yeah, I rode around and looked). The few Canadian vehicles were hitched to their tow vehicles. And there is an abundance of RV parks in this area. There was a big uproar within the RV community when Nova Scotia banned overnight RV parking outside established campgrounds. Who will we blame when Yukon does the same?

Now that I got that out of my system, we are camped at Pioneer RV Park, about two miles south of town. The lower section consists of a big gravel area with mostly pull-thru sites designated by the utility stations. The sites are very close together with about 3 feet between rigs (after slideouts were extended). The other section, where we are camped, is at the rear, up a hill in the woods. The sites are angled for easy back in. Our site, 134, is at the top of the hill and receives a good signal from the free WiFi available. This is one of the most popular RV parks in Whitehorse, especially among caravan groups. It also offers 3 cents per liter discount on fuel which makes it the best price in town for fuel.

I continue to be surprised at the availability of free Internet connections, often high speed access, out here in the Canadian wilderness. Even at Toad River, where they had to supply electricity with their own generator, they offered free Internet access.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006 - As I was getting ready to leave this morning, I pulled the RV off the leveling boards that we put under the wheels on one side of the RV when the campsite is not level. I did this before I disconnected my power cord and there was not enough slack. So I ripped the power cord socket out of the side of the RV. This is what happens when I get complacent and don't follow the checklist. Fortunately, I was able to make temporary repairs until I can purchase and install a new socket.

A few miles after leaving Whitehorse this morning, we left the Alaska Highway and turned onto the Klondike Highway, headed for Dawson City. There were two reason for taking this route. We want to visit the historic gold rush area near Dawson City and we also want to travel the scenic Top of the World Highway from Dawson City to the border with Alaska.

About midway between Whitehorse and Dawson City, we began see the infamous frost heaves and road construction that is common in this part of Canada and Alaska. The frost heaves are not so easy to spot and if you don't slow down to about 35 MPH, you can seriously rearrange the furniture in the rear of your RV (as we did). Starting about 60 miles south of Dawson City, we came across the only stretch of dirt/gravel road so far and it lasted for about 18 miles before we got back on the pavement again.

Dawson City is located at the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers. If you follow the Klondike River upstream a mile or two and hang a right at Bonanza Creek, this is where it all started a little over a hundred years ago - the Klondike Stampede. Over a million ounces of gold was taken from this area. This monster machine took out its share. Dawson Creek hasn't changed much since then. The only paved street is the main drag running along the river. And this street ends abruptly at the ferry terminal which is nothing more than the gravel road extended out into the river. The ferry, which is free, provides the only way to cross the Yukon River and continue to Alaska along the Klondike Highway..

To avoid the possibility of long lines at the ferry, we crossed over as soon as we arrived and camped at the Yukon River Provincial Campground. This campground is along the shore of the Yukon River and has only primitive sites, but many are pull-thrus and can accommodate big rigs.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006 - We unhitched and took the ferry back to Dawson City this morning. We visited the Discovery Claim along Bonanza Creek where the first major gold strike occurred. The damage done to this area by dredge and hydraulic mining will remain for many millennia to come. We then rode to the top of Midnight Dome Mountain for a breathtaking view of Dawson City and the surrounding area including the Yukon River (see photo above left). Then fish n' chips at Sourdough Joe's, the Dawson City museum, and back to the campground and a nice campfire. Sourdough Joe's has a free jukebox with an awesome selection of oldies but goodies.

Inside Alaska