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  • Writer's pictureRobert Gidley

Hot swamps and bison

Aug 3, 2022 (Wed)

The Alaska Highway was started in March of 1942 and finished up in November 1942—nine months! Having driven over about half of it, we are even more amazed at the pace of construction. To finish the highway quickly, there were four groups of builders—one group started at the end (Delta Junction, AK), the other end (Dawson Creek, CA) and both directions from about the middle (Whitehorse, CA).

The entire highway has been replaced over the years and significantly upgraded. Driving from one end of the Alaska Highway to the other will take us about 23 hours. The first trip along the entire highway took 72 hours. That’s some improvements!

According to Wikipedia: “Once legendary for being a rough, challenging drive, the highway is now paved over its entire length.” Well, we beg to differ with the “paved over its entire length,” as we’ve done our share of dirt road driving on the actual highway (not counting Siri’s detour). Still, we do appreciate how modern it is.

Robert actually read a book about the construction of the Alaska Highway called (deep breath): The Black Soldiers Who Built the Alaska Highway: A History of Four U.S. Army Regiments in the North, 1942–1943 by John Virtue. Here’s a link to purchase from the publisher: Buy me!

It’s a bit dry, but very well-researched and you get a real sense of how hard the black soldiers worked and what a raw deal they got in general.

10:50 am Lake Muncho

It turns out this lake wasn’t named by a bunch(o) of fast food enthusiasts. “Muncho” means “Big Lake” in the local Kaska language. And boy, is it a big lake—it goes on for over seven miles, with the road mostly running right next to it (sometimes uncomfortably close to it).

We gas up with some of the most expensive gas we’ve seen so far: $2.50 per liter or $7.37 per gallon. When you’re the only gas station for a hundred miles in either direction…

11:05 am North of Lake Muncho

Eeek! Wildlife!

We surprise a deer (says Gini) by the side of the road, which leads to much panic by the navigator, especially as the deer runs in front of Harvey and to the other side. Gini was so excited/scared that she couldn’t get her phone out in time to take a picture. But at least she saw it!

We definitely feel as though we are in the wilds of Canada. We only see a car coming the other way about every 10 minutes (and about half of them are RV’s or trailers). Mountains everywhere and gas stations every 100 miles or so. If something went wrong, it would be a long way to get rescued especially with no cellular connection. (Although with all the food we packed in Harvey, we wouldn’t starve to death!)

11:25 am Norther of Lake Muncho

We’ve been seeing electronic signs since yesterday warning us to watch our for bison (which is what English people call buffalo). Like every other wildlife sign (“Watch for sheep” “Watch for elk”) we’ve grown to ignore them.

We come round a bend and: buffalo galore! They are lounging on both sides of the road staring at Harvey. Fortunately, they are not in the road, nor do they feel threatened by Harvey. We slow down enough to get some pictures and try to appear non-threatening.

Bison! Lots of them!

Now that we’ve seen a buffalo up close, we think it’s insane that anybody would want to get close to one. These things are the size of a small car and have horns. It’s not going to end well if they take a dislike to you (or even if they take a liking: buffalo hugs are probably not gentle!).

11:40 am Liard Hot Springs, BC

Hey—there’s hot springs here! Well, not exactly “hot springs,” more “hot swamp” as the springs are in the middle of a swamp.

There’s a campground here run by the Provincial Government (British Columbia) and there’s a $5 per person fee to soak in the hot springs (one American we met was griping that not only wouldn’t they take American money, but “they didn’t have change for a hundred!”). The Park Ranger told us to bring a towel “and your bear spray” when we went down.

The one thing we didn’t pack…

The entire campground is surrounded by an active electric fence—except for the hot springs. You (carefully) open a gate in the electric fence and go about 400 meters (two-tenths of a mile) on a very level boardwalk to where the springs are.

The entrance to the hot swamp--through the electric fence!

Apparently, there is a bear in the area and the BC government wants to make sure no tourists are eaten. And that no bears are fed (“A fed bear is a dead bear” says one sign).

There’s a steady rain (has been all morning), which we thought might cut down on the number of people, and maybe it did, but there’s still a bunch of folks at the bathhouse for the hot springs.

On our way to the swampy hot springs

Our $5 each has gone to good use, as there’s stairs down into the hot swamp, and a changing area and about the only thing missing is a concession area, but then we remember we’re in Canada (in the U.S. there would at least be a vending machine selling over-priced soda).

Gini at the hot swamp!

We soak in the hot swamp for a while in the rain, which turns out to be very pleasant, other than the sulphurous smell that pervades everything.

1:25 pm Liard Hot Springs, BC

We get back to Harvey (our very own changing room) and hang towels and bathing suits and rain coats everywhere inside to dry.

We haven’t seen cell service since yesterday afternoon (about 100 miles ago). Gini thinks we won’t see it until we get to Fairbanks, Alaska.

2:00 pm Contact Creek, BC

This is where the crews starting from Whitehorse met the crews starting from Dawson Creek. Specifically, two soldiers driving bulldozers and knocking down trees scared the heck out of each other: “What’s the noise and why are all the trees falling?!”

There’s a famous (in certain circles) picture of the two bulldozer drivers, one black and one white, shaking hands as they meet. Because of the inflammatory content, it didn’t get published in very many places.

Cpl. Refines Sims Jr., left, and Pvt. Alfred Jalufka from the US Army Corps of Engineers meeting in the middle after completing construction of the Alaska Highway.

Today, Contact Creek consists of a gas station and a convenience store that sells commemorative T-shirts and stale chocolate.

3:25 pm The Washed Out part

Before we left, we read about the washed out part of the Alaska Highway. Seems a broken beaver dam took out a chunk of the highway.

Seriously: CBC News Story

But now there’s a detour consisting of a (tada!) dirt and gravel road that’s hardly even washboarded! There was one moment of anxiety when the road got steep and muddy. Harvey doesn’t care for mud, as he’s on the heavy side. But our dualies (we have four wheels in the back) held and we made it!

We’re tough! Grrr! (Although we’re missing out cell signal—Robert hasn’t been able to play Words With Friends for two whole days, now!)

4:30 pm 60th parallel

We’re in the Yukon Territories, now (still in Canada, though). Apparently, one of the borders of the Yukon is the 60th Parallel as we pass signs noting both events at the same time. We are now two-thirds of the way to the North Pole.

We still have no cell signal.

5:00 pm Watson Lake, Yukon

Praise the electronic spirits! After two days and two hundred miles we have cell phone coverage again! Also, a bunch of text messages and phone calls.

We find an RV park right in downtown Watson Lake (we don’t want to get too far away from where the cell signal is).

After a visit to the local Northern Lights Centre to watch a movie about the aurora, we settle into our nice warm bed and enjoy the peace, quiet, and connectedness.

By the numbers

95% of everything is numbers. The rest is details.

Miles traveled so far: 1,420

Estimated Percentage of total road miles: 41%

Days so far: 10 days

Estimated Percentage of total road days: 32%

Gini & Robert

Harvey Staff

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