Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Alaska Expedition 2010 - Day 7 - On the Alaska Highway

Mile 0 – Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Canada. Population 10,994, elev 655m/ 2,148’

• Named after George Mercer Dawson of the Geological Survey of Canada, Dawson Creek was settled in 1912. Growth accelerated during World War II, as this was the southern terminus of the Alaska Hwy. The highway was then called the Alcan Military Hwy and it served as a supply road to bases in Alaska. The Mile Zero Cairn, which marks the start of the Alaska Hwy, and the Zero Milepost are in the center of town.

• The Alaska Highway was built by the US military and the first train carrying troops arrived in Dawson Creek on March 2 1942. Tons of supplies and equipment and thousands of troops were brought in over the Northern Alberta Railroad.

We head out of town toward Ft Nelson.

Mile 20 – Kiskatinaw River Bridge

• We see the turn off for the old historic Kiskatinaw wooden bridge and flip a u-turn to go back and check it out. As get approach the turn-off, a big truck drives past and kicks up a rock that cracks our front windshield right behind the rear view mirror! I take a quick photo, plug in my cell phone, connect to broadband and send and email with a photo of the crack to our insurance agent back home. No time to fix it – we’ve got to be in Fairbanks by the weekend. I hope it doesn’t spider too badly and start leaking!

• We take the turn off and drive a stretch of the original Alaska Highway over the historic wooden 531-ft Kiskatinaw River Bridge. The sign before the bridge warns drivers not to stop on the bridge, and my heart starts pounding as we enter the bridge and I look down to see the river far below. The road is wooden beams and Dave comments on what it must have been like for the men to have hung from ropes to build the struts for the bridge. Men much braver than I’ll ever be, that’s for sure! On the other side of the bridge, Dave blurts out “Orange-crowned” and “White-throat” as he hears them singing in the nearby trees.

• We turn around to get a picture of the historical marker and drive back onto Hwy 97 and head toward Taylor.

• About mile 21 we see a female Harrier flying over a field on the East side of the road and on the opposite side of the road is a Red-tailed Hawk perched on a fence post.

Mile 34.5 Taylor: Peace River Bridge ( 712 meters) crossing the Peace River. Population 1200.

• Nestled on the banks of the majestic Peace River, Taylor is home to a $40 million natural gas scrubbing plant and oil refinery that are the beginning of a 700-mile natural gas pipeline which supplies Vancouver and western Washington state.

Mile 72 – The Shepherd’s Inn – 10am, 51F We’d read about the cinnamon rolls here and just had to try them. So good! They remind me of the ones Aunt Patty used to make at Christmas time. I picked up a postcard of Muncho Lake and Dave got a book on the pictorial history of the Alaska Highway, “The Trail of ‘42” by Stan Cohen. A quick walk near the edge of the campground gave us good looks at Warbling Vireo and Yellow Warblers. Dave heard a Mourning Warbler, but it only sang once, and we didn’t get to see it.

Mile 80 Rest Stop – A light rain continues to fall as we pull off at the rest stop and the temperature has dropped to 50F. A Western Tanager male is singing on the top of a really tall spruce. Butter butts, RCKI and GCKI and White-throated Sparrows.
Mile 130 – Rounding a bend in the highway we caught our first glimpse of snow-capped mountains off to the NW. Breathtaking! Rafael is so excited! This is what he has been waiting to see. The rain continues to fall, sometimes hard and then backing off to a light sprinkling. As we drive through Pink Mountain and past the Motor lodge there, Rafael remarks that the mountains are just like he has seen in the movies. “The same stuff!” The temperature continues to drop – it’s now 47F and my feet are freezing. I’ve got an undershirt, long sleeve shirt and my MSJ polartec jacket on and still, the boys are freezing me out. They, of course, are quite comfortable, so I keep the laptop plugged into the power converter so that it is warm and keep it on my lap. My own personal space-heater. I am really amazed at how skinny the black spruce is. Dave says they remind him of a scene from the Lord of the Rings. They are not pretty like blue spruce, not full, but dark, and half dead looking. But that needle-like slenderness is so unusual.

Mile 153 (we zero’d at the Mile “0” marker in downtown Dawson Creek) there is a cut through the forest – maybe for a gas pipeline. To the east Rafael spotted a Black Bear in the cut. I saw it too. Way cool!

Mile 159 - just before descending to the Sikanni Chief River Bridge - we saw a huge female elk standing at the edge of the woods near the Hwy. We stopped to take her picture, but she hopped off into the cover of the trees.

Mile 176 the rain has stopped and the road is dry. We can see the snow-capped mountains to our left glowing in the sunlight. The road is surprisingly smooth. A 2 lane highway with wide shoulders in most places. Cleared land about 100 feet wide are on either side of the Hwy, and then it is forests for as far as the eye can see. Interspersed sporadically are dirt roads leading deep into the wilderness and an occasional pull off for RVs and trucks.
Mile 185 we saw a male Harrier fly by. To our left – West – we can see a wide valley slowly rising to the snow capped Rocky Mountains.
Mile 187 a huge Woodland Caribou walked across the Hwy. We quickly pulled over and started snapping photos.

Then a second caribou appeared form the left and walked to the center of the highway and stopped. A truck coming up behind use slammed on its brakes and barely missed hitting it, before it jumped to the east side of the road.

About a ½ mile up, Dave spotted a couple of Gray Jays chasing bugs – very cool! Temp is now 60F and the sky is a solid mass of grey and white clouds, with an occasional open spot showing blue sky above. Several Northern Harriers along the way.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Seeing the caribou brings back memories of when Ralph and I were in the Canadian Rockies up near Jasper. How nice that you guys recognize bird songs - adds another dimension to nature appreciation which we missed back then.