Saturday, May 21, 2011

Transcontinental Trek 2011 Day 9: Fort Nelson - Teslin, Yukon

Fort Nelson is about 283 miles from Dawson Creek, the beginning of the Alaska Highway (formerly called the Alcan).  The town was first established in 1805 by the NorthWest Fur Trading Co. and the current site is the fifth location for town.  Sort of a bloody history with massacres, high finance bidding wars, natural disasters, etc forcing the town to be moved repeatedly.  Currently, the town operates around the oil and gas industries, especially, Spectra Energy, the largest natural gas processing plant in North America. We stayed at a nice hotel and had breakfast at 6:30am in the hotel  – Ham & Eggers (kind of yucky, but Dave loved them).  I had a yogurt instead.  I swear, I've eaten so much on this road trip that I think I've gained 10 lbs!  Yuck!

Leaving Fort Nelson, the highway veers west through the northern Canadian Rockies for the next 200 miles.  This is my favorite part of the entire drive. 
A few miles out of town, we saw this black bear walking along the highway and then stopping for a drink at a little stream.
As we entered Stone Mountain Provincial Park, we climbed in elevation until we reached Summit Pass.  This is the highest summit on the Alcan and the lake was still frozen.
Less than a mile down the road, we saw a couple of caribou through the trees.
Coming down from Summit lake, the highway winds through a rocky limestone gorge before descending into the wide and picturesque MacDonald River valley.  As we navigated the sharp turns of the gorge, we came upon two Stone Sheep rams.

How cool is that?!  Stone Sheep are indigenous to the mountains of northern BC and southern Yukon Territory.  These are darker and somewhat slighter than the bighorn sheep in the Rockies. Last August, we saw females and babies here, but no rams. 

Not even a mile further down the gorge, Dave spotted these Bohemian Waxwings sitting in a tree.  He slammed on the breaks, sending gear falling on Bob's head, and turned around to snap this photo!

We stopped at the Toad River Lodge to go potty and stretch our legs.  The lodge is historic and has been in operation since 1950.  It's a cool place with tons of ball caps (over 6800) hanging from the ceiling.  On the way out of town, this Ruffed Grouse walked across the highway.

We finally made it to my favorite place on the Alcan - Muncho Lake.  I just don't understand why Dave refuses to move here with me!  See that little purple speck on the bottom left?  That's me, just soaking in the beauty of this magical place.  Much of the lake was still frozen.

The highway along the lake required considerable rock excavation by the Army in 1942. Horses were used to haul away the rocks. Muncho Lake is known for its deep green and blue waters, and is 7 miles long and 1 mile wide. - elevation 2680 ft. The deepest point is about 730 feet.
It just doesn't get any better than this.

I vote we skip Alaska, and just stay here.
The lake drains the Sentinel Range to the east and the Terminal Range to the west and the mountains surrounding the lake are about 7,000 ft high.

We stopped in at the Double G truck stop, motel, post office, bus station and Environment Canada station and visited with Jack and Lois.  This one cluster of buildings makes up the town of Muncho Lake.

Lois and Jack are two of the hardest working people I have ever met - and boy can they cook!  I got a loaf of Jack's brown bread to bring home with me!

Dave relinquished some control and let Bob drive to Watson Lake.  A few miles outside of town we came upon this family group of Bison.

Then we saw this little guy digging for food.
Carl Lindley, a US Army Soldier in company D, 341st Engineers, working on construction of the Alcan in 1942, started the Signpost Forest in Watson Lake.

Now there are over 70,000 signs hanging in the forest, including our AREI licence plate from last summer!

We pulled into the Yukon Motel in Teslin, Yukon Territory at about 7:30pm.  Grabbed some dinner and birded a little behind our cabin and hit the sack.  Exhausted, and extremely happy!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Transcontinental Trek Day 8: Prince George to Fort Nelson, BC

7:30am foggy, but promising to be a sunny day. Stopped at McDonalds for coffee and ate a cinnamon roll we got in Kirkland at the Brown Bag Café.

Bob saw our first moose standing near the side of the highway, but neither Dave nor I saw it. Yeah!!! Our first moose! We couldn't go back to see it, though, because it quickly walked into the woods and was hidden from sight.  It is now a bright sunny day, 53F. At mile 70 we stopped at the rest area next to Crooked River and saw our first Golden Crowned Sparrow. 

We haven't seen this species since we were on Kodiak Island on our honeymoon. How cool! Lincoln Sparrows were skittering all around in the leaf litter.
At about 115 miles from Prince George is a roadside turnout for Bijoux Falls Provincial Park. 

We were the only ones there and were able to get some great views of the falls!  Do you see what hat I'm wearing, Fred?

There were a couple of Steller’s Jays hanging out in the parking lot.  Yes, I know there is a stick in front of him!
We stopped at Pine Pass (elev 3061 ft), the highest point on the Hart Hwy and the lowest pass breaching the Rockies in Canada.

Azouzetta Lake still frozen.

 Myrtle Butter-butts, as we have moved out of the range of Audubon’s. It's Sunny and 59F.  I gotta tell you, we've had the best weather on this trip.
Trumpeter Swans on pond just before Peace Foothills welcome sign overlooking the Pine River Valley. We could see the foothills of the Rockies to the south and west.

Chetwynd at noon, 65F and absolutely gorgeous! Chetwynd (formerly called Little Prairie) is the division poit of the BC railway.  It is considered the "most livable small community" in BC. Stopped at the visitors center and looked at the collection of sculptures from the World Chairnsaw Championships. Very cool!

My turn to drive. North on 29 (Hudson’s Hope Loop) toward the Alaska Hwy (some still call it the Alcan). We drove by this lumber processing plant and were amazed at how many logs were stacked here.

 The birch trees here have not begun to leaf out, whereas the birch down along the Pine River Valley have bright green leaves springing out. Dave says he’s been suffering from a little altitude sickness all morning, and is finally feeling better. He grabbed a hotdog at the 7 Eleven gas station. Yuck! That would MAKE me sick.

We reached Fort Nelson at a reasonable time and decided to walk down to the RV park Saloon for dinner.  The best meatloaf dinner I've ever had!

Transcontinental Trek Day 7 Abbotsford to Prince George

Up at 5:45am 55F and cloudy.  I wish we had more time to explore Abbotsford, because it is considered the “Raspberry Capital of Canada” , and there is a really cool farm with lots of organically grown fruits and vegetables.

7:25am, left hotel heading north on Hwy 1 – sprinkling light rain by 7:30am. According to The MILEPOST, the West Access Route has been the most direct route to Dawson Creek, BC and the start of the Alaska Highway since 1952, when the John Hart Highway connecting Prince George and Dawson Creek was completed. Today we’ll travel as far as Prince George (about 450 miles). Then from Prince George we’ll take Hwy 97 to Chetwynd, up Hwy 29 to the Alcan Hwy and stop for the night at Fort Nelson, BC.
We are in Fraser Canyon area following the Fraser River. What a beautiful valley - lots of waterfalls cascading down from the mountains.

8:30am. Cloudy. The city of Hope rest area: Black-throated Gray (life bird!), Townsend’s & Nashville Warbler, Audubon’s Yellowrump & Ruby-crown Kinglet, Black-headed Grosbeak.

I took this photo into the light and from pretty far away, but you can still tell it's the grossbeak.  We also found this really cool slug.  It scrunches up to look like an acorn!

Stopped in at the Hope Visitor’s Center and picked up a copy of The MILEPOST and a map of BC.

We drove along the west side of the Fraser River and then crossed over at mile 51 and climbed up the mountain on the east side. The town of Yale (pop. 200) seems to be a popular place for hiking and rafting. Historically, Yale was the head of navigation for the Lower Fraser River and the beginning of the overland gold rush trail to British Columbia’s goldfields.

We drove past the Anglican Church of Saint John the Divine, which was built for miners in 1863 and is the second oldest church still on its original foundation in mainland BC.

Northbound, the highway winds through the dramatic scenery of the Fraser River Canyon and through seven tunnels. There are Amazing cliffs above the river and around every turn, we got breathtaking glimpses of the river below. The Fraser River and canyon were named for Simon Fraser, the first white man to descent the river in 1808. We are now in what is considered the dry forest region of BC and it gets pretty hot in summer.

Hells Gate Airtram carriers visitors 500 feet down to a café overlooking Hell’s Gate, the narrowest point on the Fraser River. Hells Gate was name because it is the most difficult terrain for construction of both the highway and the CPR railway.

9:30am Raining now as we cross Jackass Mtn Summit (361 M) and totally engulfed in fog/clouds. I plugged in the power converter to charge the laptop and began to smell something burning again. We pulled off in Boston Bar and dug out the backup converter. Diesel is $269/L here. Wow!

Redhill Rest Area just south of Ashcroft is sage country and summer temperatures in this desert-like region reach the high 80’s and 90’sF. The air smells amazing – Vesper Sparrow.
At the junction of Hwy 1 and Hwy 97 is the town of Cache Creek. AT an elevation of 1299 ft, it is called the Arizona of Canada with a semi-arid climate – hot, dry summers and cold, dry winters. We stopped for lunch and had burgers at Herbie’s Drive Inn. Cache Creek settlement grew up around the confluence of Cache Creek and the Bonaparte River. It became a major supply point on the Cariboo Waggon Road. We turned north onto Hwy 97 “The Gold Rush Trail” toward Prince George.
At 100 Mile House, we stopped at the Marsh got great looks at Yellow-headed blackbird, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Ruddy Duck, Redheads, Canvasbacks, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Pied-billed Grebe, Coots, Audubons Yellow-rumped Warbler, Violet Green, Tree, Roughwing and Barn Swallows.

100 Mile House was established as a post house on the Cariboo Waggon Road to the goldfields. Today the area has 2 lumber mills and is known as the “hand-crafted log home capital of North America”. An infestation of mountain pine beetle in BC’s interior has impacted forest and the timber industry in the province. The beetles prefer mature (80 yrs or older) lodgepole pine trees and the epidemic is blamed on climate change warming the winters, which enables the beetle larvae to survive.
We stopped for a coke float at the Dairy Queen in Williams Lake. This town is home of the Williams Lake Stampede, BC’s premier rodeo. Still raining. The forest is populated by spruce, pine, fir, birch and alder now.

Got into Prince George at about 6:30pm. The Days Inn is located in the city center, and we walked around looking for a place to have dinner. Eventually, we decided to eat at the Indian restaurant in the hotel – and I’m glad we did. The food was excellent!