Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Whitehorse Adventure - Day 14/15/16 Cassiar Highway To Smithers

Days 14-16 (766km Traveled) -  Boya Lake was so beautiful that we considered staying an extra night.  This would have extended our vacation a little, but it was okay since we had a couple extra vacation days available.  If we had stayed another day we would have rented a canoe and spent a couple hours exploring the lake.  All things considering that would probably have been a very bad idea with two young kids... maybe when they're older, or the lake is warmer.  When we got up that morning the day was gray and overcast so we decided it would be better to keep on with our journey.

The cool thing about camping lakeside is that we woke up to the mournful sounds of a loon call.  It is something that is heralded as be being quintessentially Canadian, but I would expect the majority of Canadians has never heard one or seen one except on the one dollar coin - the Loonie.

Our first full day of driving down the Cassiar Highway took us past the entrance to the now abandoned town-site of Cassiar (it's closed to the public).  We did stop shortly after that at Jade City.  It is a small collection of buildings alongside the highway and you guessed it they sell Jade.  We did by some as souvenirs which might be some of the first souvenirs that we've bought the whole trip!   Apparently 75% of the jade mined (quarried??) in the world is from this region of BC.  Yet another interesting tidbit.

Because we got a later start we only went as far as Dease Lake.  Previously we had planned to go from Boya Lake provincial park to Kinaskan Lake Provincial park.  We prefer to stay at this type of campground because they are generally more spacious and more of a nature experience than RV Parks.  We did find a nice campground on the north side of the town of Dease Lake.  It is located along the edge of the lake (unlike the town which appeared to be just past the end of the lake - or so it appeared from the highway).  There was a little pier by the boat launch and Dave tried his hand at fishing once again.  Again no luck - perhaps fishing is something better done from a boat?! 

The following day (Day 15) we traveled from Dease Lake to Meziadin Lake Provincial Park which is located near the Meziadin Junction.  This is the junction between Hwy 37 and Hwy 37A.  Highway 37A would take you to Stewart BC and Hyder AK.  Since we didn't bring our passports with us on this trip we didn't bother driving into Stewart.  However there is supposed to be some great wildlife watching along Fish Creek (on the Alaska side).

We lucked out again with our third campsite in a row that was right on the water.  What wasn't so lucky as that the wind was blowing so hard it felt like we might blow away.  It was so windy that we couldn't even put out the mat at the bottom of our trailer stairs because every time I set it down the wind would blow it out of place!  It was incredibly sunny out and we thought that maybe it was just some weather blowing in.  Inside the trailer the wind was whistling very loudly and rattling the blinds.   Meziadin Lake was a shimmering turquoise in the afternoon sun.  I tested it out, but it was too cold for me to take a dip in, however Dave (possibly inflicted with some sort of Northern Madness or goldfever or something) decided that he would brave the water and go for a swim!  He claimed that the strong wind helped dry him off extra quick after his swim... so I guess that's an advantage.   The kids thought they might want to go for a swim too so they suited up, but they never actually got wet other than to touch their toes to the water.  As you can see from the long, flowing red locks on little "O" it was pretty windy there.  I think it really suits the "crazy professor" look he gets with his sunglasses on.

Later we decided to check out the rest of the campsite and see if it was windy everywhere... perhaps to avoid the wind we could "settle" for a site with only a view of the water.  After talking to the park operator we learned that it was always windy at this park and particularly in the location we were in.  We did a quick tour of the campground and found another site with much less wind.  It was only part way around the bay from our original site and was barely even breezy.  Definitely the right choice since you couldn't even hear the wind in the trailer and you could put lawn chairs out without them blowing over!

Our final day on the Cassiar Hwy we stopped at several places to see some of the artifacts of the aboriginal people in the area.  First we stopped at Gitanyow a native village close to the the Hwy 37 & hwy 16 junction.  They have one of the largest collections of standing totem poles in northwestern BC.  Our second stop was at Kitwanga where there is a National Historic Site of Canada which commemorates "Battle Hill" an Fort held by the Gitwangak people to fend off invasions from neighboring tribes.  We had planned to see more in New Hazelton, but the kids were sleeping when we drove through and we have a rule to never, ever wake sleeping kids on a car ride unless we are at our destination!  It is unfortunate since I think they had a native village that you could tour, but that's the way of traveling with kids.

After Kitwanga we were finished our drive on Hwy 37 (the Cassiar Hwy) and were back onto a major highway which was quite busy (Hwy 16).  After having the Cassiar hwy mostly to ourselves (due to the fire up north) for the past couple of days it was a bit of a shock to have to deal with traffic.  We found a nice Provincial park just past Smithers at the town of Telkwa and camped there for the night.  It even had a lake that wasn't too cold for the kids to swim in!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Whitehorse Adventure - Day 13: Whitehorse to Boya Lake Provincial Park

Day 13 (503km traveled) - We got an early start leaving Whitehorse.  The original plan was to go to the junction with the Alaska Hwy and Hwy 37 and see what was going on with the forest fire just south of the Yukon/BC border and try to get through the fire area the following day. 

We got to the junction around 2:30 and only a few cars were waiting.  After talking to the person at the barrier we learned that the next pilot car to drive through the active burn area would be leaving in 20mins!  This gave us just enough time to get some gas and grab some snacks out of the trailer before the pilot left.  We were concerned that the kids would rebel since the campground we were heading to was a 70-80 km south of the junction and we had already been in the truck for many hours.  (They were amazing troopers and perked up with the possibility of sugary snacks and chips - which they don't usually get in the car!)

The fire was mostly out where we were driving through, but we did see some flames.  It was about a 20 min drive following the pilot car through the most active part of the fire and then another 10-15 min driving past burnt bush after the pilot car turned around.

We got to Boya Lake Provincial Park around 4-4:30 pm and were happy to find that there was no smoke from the fire.  Most of the sites are right on the lake.  There weren't that many people there so we got a pretty awesome site.  It may have been our best site yet ever!

Boya Lake is one of those impossibly green lakes.  Our Site backed right onto the lake so we spent some quality time throwing rocks into the lake (of course) and wading in the water.  The boys got totally soaked in the cold water so that was the end of that game.

After dinner Dave went to go harass the fish attempt to catch a fish.  Of course they were wise to his tricks and the only interest that his hook got was from the minnows that stole his bait.  His adventure ended when his lure got caught on something on the bottom.  Rather than cut the line he chose (even though his wife thought he was crazy) to get his swimsuit on just before bedtime and go into the water to retrieve it.  I, being his doting wife (whew - managed not to laugh out loud on that one), took pictures helped him.

Whitehorse Adventure - Day 10/11/12 Whitehorse

Even though we were in Whitehorse to attend a family wedding we arrived early enough to have the opportunity to play tourist as well.

Day 10 - The first full day there we saw the S.S. Klondike - a sternwheeler which used to transport goods and people from Whitehorse to Dawson City, it is now a National Historic Site of Canada.  It is a marvel of engineering (sorry, nerd alert) as it was the largest ship that travelled this route and could hold up to 300 Tons of cargo (without having to push a barge) all the while not requiring more than 3ft of draft (water depth).

Dave's parents, who were also attending the family wedding, arrived that afternoon and we went for dinner at the Klondike Rib & Salmon BBQ Restaurant.  It was a nice meal, but the interesting part was that it was located in one of the oldest buildings in town.  The building (or rather collection of buildings) had been used for a variety of things over the years and was over a hundred years old.  The menu included some more exotic meats (read: wild animals) including Bison and Muskox.  Dave had the Muskox Stroganoff and said it was quite tasty. 

Day 11 - The second full day was also the day of the wedding so we were only able to see sights in the morning. 
We decided to see the Beringia Museum which was located near the Airport.  This museum was dedicated to the sub-continent which is supposed to have formed between Asia (Siberia) and North America (Alaska). It also theorizes that there was migration and possibly trade between the continents via this subcontinent.  They had interesting displays set up that appealed to both the big kids and little kids.  One of the most interesting things was the theory that other predatory mammals used to be much bigger than they are now.  For example beavers used to be the size of black bears.... yikes!

Later that day we attended the wedding of Dave's cousin.  I won't go into details (since its not my story to tell), but it was a lovely wedding and a fun party afterward! 

Day 12 - We were originally supposed to leave Whitehorse this day.  We had planned a short travel day to Teslin Lake and from there onto the Cassiar hwy heading south.  Since the forest fire had partially closed a section of that highway we were uncertain as to which way we were heading back.  We decided to stay that day and then head out the day after to go to the junction of the Alaska hwy and the Cassiar hwy near Watson Lake.  Since we had the extra day and the grandparents weren't flying out until the afternoon we were able to take a ride on the water front tram.  The tram ran on the old Whitepass railway tracks that used to connect Whitehorse to Skagway, AK (I believe this train still runs as a tourist attraction for cruise ship patrons between Skagway, AK and Carcross, YT).  The tram itself was unconnected to the gold rush, but still had an interesting heritage.  It was built in Lisbon, Portugal, had been operated as a tourist attraction somewhere in the states and was later bought by the Territorial Government of Yukon.  It was close to 100 yrs old (can't remember the exact info).  For $2 per person over 5 ($4 for a round trip) the tram was a great way to see the downtown area from one end to another.  During the 50 min round trip the kids (er, I mean college students - I must be getting old) had a lot of interesting tidbits about the community and the gold rush.

Whitehorse Adventure - Day 9: Watson Lake to Whitehorse

Day 9 (438 km traveled, approx total: 2700km) - Woohoo we are really excited to be getting to our final (outward bound) destination today!!

The landscape is pretty hilly and green with some barren mountain peaks jutting out above the horizon. An hours drive (in a slow SUV towing a trailer) from Watson Lake we cross over the continental divide which is the most rigorous, hilly section that we come to this day.

We stop for gas in Teslin Lake.  Unfortunately we missed the view point for the good picture opportunity of the bridge just before town (we may have to stop on the way back south).  Gas seems to be less expensive in Yukon.  Perhaps its that there are fewer taxes or maybe the gas-station owners just aren't trying to make as big of a profit.  We stopped just north of the town at a view point which is just beside the lake.  It is a beautiful spot so we relax in the clean, clear (read: smoke free) air and enjoy the sunshine while throwing rocks into the water.  Apparently throwing rocks is a past time that can entertain young boys for a long time!  Maybe they're just excited that they're actually allowed to throw stuff.

It is drier here than I expected.  In fact along the high in places there were sand dunes.  I suppose that I had expected it to be more like the area around Revelstoke, BC (my former home town) or maybe Valemont, BC - not too sure why I had that impression since they are no where near the yukon border!

We got into Whitehorse around 2:30 pm and our first stop was the RV wash.  When I was researching campgrounds I laughed at the frivolous idea of needing an RV wash while on vacation.  We cleaned off splattered mud from the many construction zones we had driven through, the ash from camping nearish to a forest fire and a large number splatted bugs who had met their untimely demise on the front of our trailer.  Of course all we really did was rinse, but it still looked a lot better!

After setting up and letting the kids have a bit of a run/play time we headed in to town to see what there was to see.  Our RV park (High Country RV) was right at first exit into town from the Alaska Hwy.  It was is a quick 5 min drive into the downtown core of Whitehorse.  We checked out the tourist info center to get more info on what the town had to offer.  After gathering many brochures for attractions we were off to a family BBQ.

The part that took us by surprise was how late it stayed light out.  We had previously lived in Northern Alberta and close to June it stayed light late and was dark for only a couple of hours.  However by early august the days were already noticeably shorter (more on par with southern parts of BC).  We finally left the BBQ at 9pm and the sun had barely begun to set this is highly unusual for us since both kids usually go to bed by 7pm (or shortly after) and hadn't stayed up very late so far on our vacation.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Whitehorse Adventure - Day 8: Liard River Hotsprings (BC) to Watson Lake (YT)

Day 8 (209km traveled) - We decided that swimming in the hotsprings was so awesome that we would go again this morning!  It is certainly a great way to start the day!

Because of the swim this morning we didn’t get on the road until 10am, however, this isn’t a big deal since this is not a very long driving day.

We finally saw more wildlife today!  First there was a black bear sitting in the grass on the bank above the road.  Further on we came to the buffalo herd that we had been seeing warning signs about for the past day and a half!  It was pretty amazing to drive right beside these wild creatures and be able to take pictures of them.  They were aware of the vehicles, but didn’t really pay much attention to them.  They were walking on both sides of the highway and would randomly crossover to the other side without a thought of the cars there watching them!  I don’t think I’d want to cross this stretch of highway at night.

We stopped for gas at Contact Creek (as had been recommended to us by a couple at the hotsprings).  The gas prices there were the best that we had seen in a few stops ($1.09/L - WOOT!!)

It was really smokey as we got close to Watson Lake.  We stopped for a tourist moment photo-op at the Welcome to Yukon sign.  We only look slightly crazy after driving for more than 2000km to get to this point!  This is the first time that any of us had been north of 60°.
The Happy Travelers!

We headed into Watson Lake to check out the infamous sign post forest.  The sign post forest was started by a homesick G.I. who as part of the US Army core of Engineers was working on the construction of the Alaska Hwy.  He put up a sign that gave the distance to his hometown.  Other people added their own signs and the rest is history.  When we were there (August 2010) there were more than 60,000 signs.  Unfortunately we did not remember to bring a sign with us so we did not leave a sign there.  We did however enjoy walking through it and seeing all the signs.  I suppose this just means that we will have to go back again sometime so that we could put up our sign!

We found out from the helpful people at the tourist info that the smoke from the nearby forest fire was blowing to the east and that west of the fire was less smokey.  Because of this we chose to press on a little farther to an RV Park near the junction of Hwy 37 (yes even closer to the forest fire than we had been in Watson Lake).  The air was clearer, but the down side was that there was ash fallout from the fire.  It was also rather disconcerting to watch the Yukon forest fire fighters set up sprinklers on the buildings at the RV park!  They were just precautionary... in case the fire changed direction.  I will say this that even though it was un-nerving the fire was a good 10-15 km south of the YT/BC border so about 20km from where we were staying.  (no problem)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Whitehorse Adventure - Day 7: Fort Nelson to Liard River Hotsprings

Day 7 (305 km traveled) - Today we traveled back over the rocky mountains heading West and then North from Fort Nelson to Liard River Hotsprings.  The landscape is once again changing quite dramatically as we are leaving the foothills which are lush and green with thick dense forests of mainly deciduous trees (from what I can tell from the highway at least).  As we enter the rocky mountain range the road quality is also getting much worse.  The road is not constructed like modern highways with their carefully banked corners and gentle slopes.  Instead it is more reminiscent of the roadways of earlier eras which follow the landscape with little human interference other than moving of major obstacles.  This section of the Rockies is barren and looks like a glacier has only just receded (although I cannot see any from the road).

After a long climb we reach Summit Lake campground in Stone Mountain Provincial park.  Unfortunately it is not in our plan to stop here mainly because we did not know about it.  It is perched on the top of the mountain pass and nestled in between the rocky peaks.  (We have added it to our mental list of places that we would like to re-visit at some point in the future.)   After that is Muncho Lake Provincial Park.  It is another gem.  A long emerald colored lake that looks impossibly cold among the stark gray mountains and scree slopes.  (Also added to list.)

This area of British Columbia seems so empty and makes you realize how much of our province in uninhabited and untouched.  (Dave's theory is that you could fit any number of european countries in this "empty" space.)   Gas prices are also noticeably higher on this leg of the journey.  We stopped at the Tetsa River Services to buy some cinnamon buns (advertised in the milepost as the best in the galactic cluster) and the gas price was $1.58/L.  Luckily we are still fine for gas and know that there is another station within our gas tank range so we press on.  We filled up with gas at a little place called Toad River (between Stone Mountain and Muncho Lake) and gas was $1.38/L.  Dave was talking to a fellow coming the other direction who warned us that gas at the service station nearest to Muncho Lake was a whopping $1.80/L.  Glad we didn't have to stop there!!

The highway descends a long way into the Liard river valley and we are now out of the Rockies and into the lush green forests which are much more common in the rest of BC.  We arrive at Liard River Hotsprings and quickly set up camp so that we can have time for a soak in the springs before dinner.  The hotsprings are a 700m walk along a board walk that winds through a tropical marsh.  We are above 59 degrees north which is farther North than any of us had been before and the last thing that we would expect to see is large bushy ferns and other more tropical plants!  However due to the warming created by the natural hotsprings the plants nearest to the hotsprings are very tropical with large, broad leaves.  There are two areas at the pool called alpha pool (the closest to the campground) the lower area is cool enough to take the kids into.  After a full week of travel so far this is a welcome respite.  Our 20 month old son "O" is particularly excited to be at floating and splashing in the bathwarm water.  

The area is also bear territory and the beta pool and the hanging gardens areas are closed due to bear activity.  We are familiar with living in bear country and are careful not to leave any food out that might attract them to our campsite.

We enjoy it so much that we make plans to get moving early the next day so we can start our day of travel with a dip in the revitalizing springs. The only downsides are that there are no showers there (and we do not travel with enough water in the trailer for the luxury of showering) and the tropical environment is also much loved by the the pesty mosquitoes.

The smoke from the forest fire near the Alaska hwy and Hwy 37 junction (just inside BC) is starting to be really noticeable now as we are getting a lot closer to the area.  In talking to other people at the hotspring we hear that the road has been closed an that people are having long waits to get up through the fire area (following a pilot car).

Whitehorse Adventure - Day 6: Charlie Lake to Fort Nelson

Day 6 (372 km traveled) - The highway between Charlie Lake and Fort Nelson is the most isolated stretch of highway that we have driven so far.  This is a concern to us since we are not getting great gas mileage towing the trailer with the 4Runner.  We are averaging about 10 mpg (23 L/100km) and can travel about 290 km on a tank of gas in order to stay within the "Dave Comfort Zone" (thus not causing undue stress to our driver).  Since the gas stations are fewer and farther between they are also becoming more expensive, but we do not have the luxury of being too picky where we buy our gas.

Several of our stops were at the historical mileposts on the Alaska Highway. This is based on the original markings along the Alaska Highway.  Often they are accompanied by stories about what the highway was like or how it was constructed.  Our lunch stop was at historical "Mile 148" which was once an incredibly steep hill commonly called Suicide hill.  According to 2008 edition of the The Milepost (a comprehensive mile by mile guide to the Alaska Highway) there was once a sign at the top of this hill warning travelers to "prepare to meet thy maker".  The picture on the plaque there showed that the original hill looked to be at a +20% incline and was probably only one lane wide!  Glad there have been a few highway improvements over the past 60 years or so.

The trip was uneventful and we arrived in Fort Nelson around 3pm.   There are only two crowded camping areas in town and both are RV parks where the trailers are so close you can practically touch your neighbor.  We camp at the Westend RV park because out of the two it appears to have a few more trees and is also pretty close to the historical society's museum.  It also worked out in our favour that there is a brand new water (spray) park a short walk from the campground.  After setting up, the kids and I head over to the spray park to cool off.  Dave follows shortly after and I think that him and I had even more fun playing there than the kids do (read: we don't cry when we get water sprayed on us).

One very cool bonus was that the snowbirds (canada's military aerobatic team) were performing somewhere close by and flew over our campsite several times in different formations.

After dinner we headed over to the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum.  It looked like it a tiny museum that would only take 15 minutes to see the entire collection.  Instead it was a comprehensive museum that included a large collection of antique cars, several outbuildings including a trappers cabin and a 1940's house, a large generator (which was once responsible for powering the entire town) and many more pieces of old equipment.  It was the true surprise of the day and most unexpected.  Unfortunately for us we got there only 30 minutes before it was closing so we had a rather rushed visit!