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Northwestward Chapter 6

Having encountered much precipitation at Jasper National Park, it was almost silly to try to actually see nearby Mt. Robson, the highest Canadian Rocky (at 12,972 feet), but we tried anyway. We passed it twice in two days but never saw its peak. A forecast of “50% chance of rain” here definitely doesn’t imply a 50% chance of blue sky.

Some of Mt. Robson

All the established campgrounds in the Mt. Robson area were full, but we found a lovely and rare “dispersed” spot to spend the night on the shore of Kinbasket Lake, named for a First Nation chief. Views of the surrounding peaks came and went during our stay.

Many years ago on a road trip through here, we camped on the opposite slope overlooking the same lake. Dispersed camping on public land is rarely permitted in B.C., unlike the U.S.

The official start of the 1523-mile Alaskan Highway (“AlCan”) is at the town of Dawson Creek in northern British Columbia. The road was constructed in only nine months during World War II, by 11k soldiers and 16k civilians at a cost of $140 million - that’s in 1942 dollars. The original gravel road, needed as an overland route to Alaska, had 133 bridges and 8k culverts. Today many of its curves have been straightened and grades leveled, while all of it is paved.

Mile 0

The first nearly 300 miles of the Highway, before it enters the mountains beyond Fort Nelson, are strikingly reminiscent of North Dakota - with countless new drilling installations, temporary modular housing, and a steady flow of white work trucks. We were happy when the road began to follow the rivers up into the mountains.

Traffic was light at times. We were told the majority of travelers are headed south at this point.

Muncho Lake was a recommended stop, and midday we grabbed a site at the water’s edge. By late afternoon other travelers arrived, from points north and south, but originally from places like Colorado, Tennessee and Alberta.

The views from the shore of Muncho Lake changed with every passing rain cloud.

The next morning we drove north to Liard Hot Springs, passing a few bison and caribou along the way. The hot springs are a very popular stop on the AlCan, for good reason. We were able to get a coveted campsite within the provincial park, and decided to stay overnight.

Approaching the Liard River valley on the Alaskan Highway.
Liard Hot Springs at sunrise

Liard is the second largest thermal springs complex in Canada, with about 34 gallons of 98-125 degree (Fahrenheit) water per second rising from the depths. Rather than forming a stream, the spring water flows into surrounding swamps, creating a warm wetland that never freezes, even in the heart of winter.

Since my last visit here (a very very long time ago) some tastefully designed structures have been added, and three people have been killed by bears.

It’s not possible to describe how refreshing it was to immerse ourselves in that hot water. We pried our slightly sulphurous-smelling selves out of there in the morning after our third soak, and got back on the road. A short distance up the highway we took a hike to Whirlpool Canyon, recommended by a park employee.

Whirlpool Canyon on the Liard River. We’ve learned that park employees typically know where the really good stuff is.

Our next stop (aside from buying a very small amount of gas at $6/gal) was just over the provincial line in the town of Watson Lake, Yukon. It’s famous for its Sign Post Forest, which has grown to 88k signs since 1942, when a homesick road-building soldier from Illinois placed his hometown sign on an army mileage post.

It seems as if the last time I stopped here, there were about 1/88th the number of signs.
There was no way to see them all.

We camped for the night on the Rancheria River, where a side road leading to a bridge had been washed out. No idea when, but it’s pretty clear why. A healthy-looking bobcat wandered off as we arrived.

One got away.... but wild raspberries! (And now I know what color to call my jacket.)

And on we go.....

Created By
alison blakeslee
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