Adventure on the Alaska Highway

by Britta on 8 May 2013

in Across the USA

Forester with Rocket Box

The Forester, packed and parked on a picturesque pullout

We left Girdwood in a snowstorm. We figured it was appropriate, since we were driving south (eventually) and were planning on leaving the North and its weather behind for a while. The car was packed to the gills with all of our worldly possessions–except those left behind in my sister’s garage–including our camping gear and a cooler and a few grocery bags full of food. We were well-prepared for survival, should we need it.

Our plan was to drive out of the state on the Alaska Highway, and see where things took us from there. We stopped one last time in Anchorage to fill up the car’s gas tank and the extra one we were keeping in the rocket box on top of the car, and then headed toward Tok, last stop in AK and 90 miles from the Canadian border. We saw a herd of caribou on a frozen lake and started a list of the license plates we saw–New York and Missouri were the first two, spotted, of all places, between Girdwood and Anchorage. We had planned to tent camp most of the way down the highway, but there was still a foot of snow on the ground in Tok. The motels were open, though, so we found a room and pored over the Milepost for our next stop.

The Old Log Church

The Historic Old Log Church in Whitehorse

We crossed the US-Canada border on May 1, 5 years to the day since Brian arrived in Alaska. After declaring our fruit and bear spray, the border agent wondered if I had family in BC, which I thought was weird until I noticed that we shared a last name. Funny, meeting a potential cousin in the middle of nowhere. We made it to Whitehorse, in the Yukon Territory, and wandered around for an hour or so, to see the town and stretch our legs. The Yukon River was mostly iced over, and there was still some snow on the ground, though most of it was old and dirty and melting quickly. The downtown blocks had gold-rush era facades and were trying hard to look charming and quaint. People were out, walking and biking home from work despite the cold weather–which, though there was a brisk wind, was above freezing, which in the North is a command to get outside–and a few groups of listless teenagers hung around the street corners, a few playing hackysack but most just looking sullen and bored. I’m sure the town is more picturesque in summer, when the last snow has melted and the flowers and plants have sprung up around last winter’s dead ones. Break-up is always a hard time to tell about a place. Even when residents try really hard, it’s hard for a place to look cozy or charming when everything is yellow and dead, and without its fluffy white covering of snow.

Sign Forest

Watson Lake Sign Forest

Back in the car, we decided to keep driving until we found a place we could camp. We stopped in Teslin to fill up on gas and noticed a few RV sites were open, but they were super muddy and exposed. We nixed that idea and kept driving, and caught up with a snowstorm. Two white-knuckle hours later, after driving no faster than 30mph and fighting through slush and snow, we finally made it to Watson Lake. We lucked into the last cheap room in the area, a converted conference room still filled with warped banquet tables and worn stacked chairs. It had a huge bed, though, and a sadly out-of-order jacuzzi tub. The next day we tramped through the new snow to the sign forest. Started by a homesick serviceman who was helping to build the Alaska Highway, it became a tradition and has grown in popularity and size ever since. Some of the signs are official city or county signs, some are signs people had made specifically to hang at the sign forest, some are old license plates, and we even saw a pair of boots someone had tacked to a post. We saw that the visitors center was open so we stopped in and discovered we were the first visitors of the year. We took pictures with the ladies who worked there and they gave us some useful info on cheap gas and where to stay in the area. We had a brief look around the museum, full of old photos documenting the building of the highway during WWII. As we were the first to sign the guest book, there was a lot of pressure to start the season off right with a good comment, but we succeeded, I think, and the ladies were happy.


Bison and baby

We continued on our way to Liard Hot Springs, only a couple of hours away on the highway, but through the middle of habitat for a herd of bison. We saw bison in the woods, in the fields, on the side of the road, and on the road itself. They are huge animals. The one we passed on the road was almost as big as our car–with the rocket box on. There were tent sites available at Liard Hot Springs, and so we claimed a spot and set up the tent with gusto. We had a brief moment of panic when we realized we were out of Canadian cash, but the host assured us he took US dollars. He also delivered firewood to our site for $5, cheap, especially when you consider all the chopping he (or his kids) had to do. We soaked in the hot springs pools that afternoon, cooked over our camp stove for the first time, and in the evening built a campfire and cooked foil dinners and s’mores. We liked it so much we decided to stay another day, which consisted pretty

Liard Hot Springs

Liard Hot Springs

much of the same thing. Except we ran out of water and had to melt and boil snow. Fortunately, there was still a lot of it, so we didn’t go thirsty. The pools, though smelling of sulfur, were hot and relaxing. A thermal incline meant that the top layer of the pool was HOT! but the bottom layer was cool. BC Parks had recently built a changing area and deck on one side of the pool, which we thought was tastefully done and fit in well with the surrounding environment, but that other long time hot springs visitors thought an eyesore and an invasion. We suspected that man was just upset that his secret was out.

Mile 0

Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek

We came down out of the mountains on Day 5 of our trip, from Liard to Dawson Creek. It happened all of a sudden. One minute we were in the mountains, driving winding roads and staring down gulches and ravines, and the next the land was flat and forested. Still beautiful, still supporting a host of wildlife, including moose, which we saw both at the hot springs and on the road, more bison, more caribou, and hawks, owls, eagles and other raptors. Eventually we made it to Dawson Creek and Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway, and had the worst Chinese food we had ever eaten. We consoled ourselves with blizzards from Dairy Queen and made plans for Edmonton, and then Jasper and Banff National Parks, in the coming days.

We also decided to start an ongoing cribbage tournament, to 100 games (or until we decide to stop). Current score: Brian 3, Me 0. Sigh.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Shannon May 8, 2013 at 10:14 am

I am looking forward to your next post and keeping up with your adventures.

Paul Votava May 9, 2013 at 10:56 am

Hi Britt, I’m enjoying your blog as well, I’m in KSNA today and hope to have dinner with CC tonight.
Enjoy every minute of your travels.
Cousin PV

Chris Stinson May 9, 2013 at 9:14 pm

The Hot Springs looked awesome! Way jealous.

pat perry May 10, 2013 at 7:46 am

Happy your trip down the Alcan was not overly eventful in the way many remember (breakdowns-flat tires -other…now all good stories) – good omen for the adventures ahead. Missing you and thrilled to get to read about your Odyssey.

Warren B. May 12, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Aloha Britta and Brian,

Always wanted to do the Alaskan Highway…maybe some day…so did you keep track of how many mountain passes you went over?

Happy Trails,


Janine Walton May 17, 2013 at 10:21 am

Keep those adventures coming…fun keeping up with you and Brian. Prayers for safe travels and blessings along the way. Love and hugs, Aunt Janine

Janine Walton May 17, 2013 at 10:22 am

Loved the bison picture!

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