It starts with a confession. We were wimps. We didn’t sleep in the camper. As soon as we were north of the Fraser River it got really cold.
As the road winds up the canyon created by the Fraser , the landscape gets progressively starker and drier. By the time you get to Cache Creek it is desert like, treeless with grey sage covered hills leading to bare rock mountains. The geology shows. We kept wondering whether some formation was caused by the action of ice, volcanism, plate collisions or erosion. We wished we had a geologist to travel with us the way John McPhee did when he was writing the books of Annals of the Former World.
The first night we stopped in Lac La Hache BC at a pleasant motel and RV place beside a lake. The lake was not frozen, but the wind howled and it felt bitterly cold. We were still debating sleeping in the camper as we entered the motel office and I left it up to Jerry. He opted for the motel room which had a kitchen. The room was really nice, with a separate bedroom and living room with a full kitchen and dining area. The window looked over the bleak and stormy lake. It snowed during the night.
The next night we stayed in Smithers, BC. That is a biggish town on the Yellowhead Highway. As you travel west on the Yellowhead the land becomes more ruggedly mountainous. Early spring is not the loveliest time in the north. Much of the snow has melted, and the leaves have not yet begun to appear. The world looks dead. Again it was cold, in the low 20’s, and again it snowed in the night. The motel was a notch below the one in Lac La Hache, but it was acceptable.
The third day we drove the full length of the Cassiar. I love driving the Cassiar: it has the grandest scenery I know. The mountains rise directly from the road, their towering peaks still gleaming white with snow and ice. Dark fir forests grow along the highway, edged by pale barked birch and willows whose tips are just turning pink and orange and yellow.
Most of the many lakes and creeks are still frozen, with melting only where there is swift running water.
The sun was shining as we stopped for lunch in the camper beside a small frozen lake. I still hoped it might get warm enough to sleep in the camper.
We arrived at Dease Lake at about 3 in the afternoon, and I was in favor of stopping. Jerry wanted to drive on for a while. But there is no place to stop or stay for many miles. We had discovered that all the camping places are still closed for the season, and anyway it was getting colder as we went north. We would probably need a motel again. But we carried on. The Cassiar is an excellent road until you get north of Dease Lake. Then it becomes rough and the shoulder drops off in a way that I find scary.
There were dark clouds ahead of us. Soon it began to snow. Every half hour or so we saw a car or truck driving south. No one but us was going north. The visibility was poor, and we crept along at about 15 miles an hour. The snow was coming down heavily by the time we reached the junction with the Alaska Highway. Everything at the junction was closed.
Jerry decided to drive 30 miles south on the Alaska Highway to Watson Lake because we were sure of finding a motel there. We found one that had a kitchen and would take pets, but it was, without doubt, the worst motel I have ever stayed in. At first it was cold, cramped and dirty, and then it was hot, cramped and dirty. The sink in the bathroom leaked. It was the most expensive place we stayed.
The next day we started out on a snowy, unplowed Alaska Highway.
We stopped for breakfast at a place we have stopped before. A trucker came in who was driving from the north. He told us that the road ahead was clear. He and Jerry chatted about driving the Alaska Highway. The trucker said he had been driving it from the 60’s. But Jerry and I have achieved an age to usually get back farther than others. Jerry said the first time he drove the road was in 1952 when he got out of the army. There wasn’t any pavement then until you got to the Fraser River and Hope BC. That’s almost 2000 miles of dirt road. The road in the Fraser River canyon was terrible and in 1952 had only been open for a year.
The trucker was right. The road and the weather improved quickly. We made good time, and the fourth night we stayed at a comfortable motel in Destruction Bay, Yukon Territory.
Destruction Bay is on Kluane Lake. That is a beautiful lake, surrounded by majestic mountains. The mountains are the home of wild sheep. I did not see any sheep this time, because they come down the mountain in the mornings; in the afternoons they go up the mountain too high to see. On a previous trip I got some fuzzy pictures of the sheep quite high up.
We chatted with the waitress in the restaurant. She told us she had come from Manitoba and had found the job on the internet. She agreed with us that Watson Lake is a miserable place. She looked very young, but said she had grown children. She thought she would stay at Kluane through the summer. She loves her job.
The next day we drove to Fairbanks. Just over the border to Alaska we finally saw the only wildlife of this trip. There is a heard of caribou in that region. I missed the biggest one of a few that dashed across the road, but snapped a few pictures of a smaller one.
The next day, after some shopping in Fairbanks, we drove on to Manley. There is much less snow this year, and when we got to our house Jerry was able to drive the truck up to the door with a minimum of shoveling. The yard was criss-crossed with moose tracks in the snow, but there were no rabbit tracks to be seen. I think the rabbit population must be low this year.
The new key refused to work in the lock, so Jerry had to hike across the road to get the old key that we had left with Pam. I waited on the front porch and looked through the window into our living room. It is almost a year since we left, but it looked as if we had just walked out. It was bright and clean and pretty. Jerry and I had worked hard to change it from the dump it was when we bought it to the comfortable cabin it is now.
I watched Jerry, in the distance, climbing the steep driveway to Pam’s. I thought, how did I, Old Woman that I am, find myself in this remote place near the Arctic Circle, watching an old man I met on the internet trudge through the snow, listening to Pam and Joee’s sled dogs sing their howling song?
A troublesome lock is not the sort of thing that stops Jerry. I had a comfortable feeling that soon we would be inside with a fire crackling, celebrating with a bottle of wine and a steak.
And so we were.
Gorgeous photos. I have always wanted to drive what we have called the Alcan Highway, not sure what it is called today but it sounds much improved from when I first thought of doing it. Our problem is my husband is not really retired and it makes for shorter vacations than I think it would take. Thanks for sharing what it’s like 🙂
Wow, what a journey! You really hit our late cold snap in BC just after an early spring. We even had tons of snow on our local mountains around Vancouver, way too late for the Olympics!
Lovely photos and details, the far north is quite new to me. Glad you made it to your second home safely. Hope spring is coming fast to Manley and you have a great time there.
Oh, what an Old Woman you are!
I am glad you are safely there. Hard to believe it has been a whole year since you were there last.
I hadn’t thought about heat in your camper… Is there none? On my boat I have my lovely wood/coal stove. I don’t think I would want to be without it.
Oh. I really want to make that drive someday. What do you think the best time of the year would be? After the big mosquito bloom in the spring, I assume.
Good of you to take me on this remarkable journey. Unlike other commenters, your adventure is one that I’d never desire but love to read about. Nothing wimpy about being a cold old woman! I’m sure you’ll have more adventures to share of your days ahead.
You have certainly conveyed the isolation, challenge and yet beauty of this place so well. Makes me want to meet the challenge. Now we need a photo of the cabin!
Oh, Anne – I love reading about your travels and this is no exception. Your photos are stunning! And I am so glad y’all made it safely.
Sorry you didn’t get to try out your nice new camper, Anne. But it should be grand on the way back, assuming spring doesn’t depart again. I hate that period between the snow melting and greenery sprouting – the grey trees and scrubby grass just look so dingy. Your Jerry sounds like a treasure.
I am so inspired by your post. I thought my long long drives were over but reading yours, I think, why not.
I want to do Labrador and certainly Alaska.
Yes, pics of cabin please.
And your road pics are stunning.
I will avoid Watson Lake. I remember a similar experience I had in a small lakeside motel in Ontario. Right out of “Psycho”.
Oh, welcome home. There are tears in my eyes from pleasure of traveling with you in all that beauty accompanied by a man you found on the internet. 🙂
gorgeous scenes so glad you had enough sense to come in out of the snow and post them on your blog!!!!
Wow. Yes. Impressed. Old Woman, you set the bar very high 😉
Thank you for posting your road-trip. Now I eagerly await the cabin, and the melt, and spring, and… yes, I am greedy. I love your writing.
Hey Old Woman, great recap on the trip! And your photos are terrific – I especially liked the sunrise. Things on the island are good and your yard/courtyard/flowerbeds are looking “almost” well-kept. I’ll send some pictures one of these days. Beautiful Spring day today until just right now – a bit of a shower has halted the gardening for now. Hey to Jerry, too. You will be missed tonight at mah jongg!
I. Just. Loved. This!!!
Maybe you can sleep in the camper on the way home?
I’m glad you (mostly) enjoyed your trip. Too much snow for me, although I’ve been told that Spring takes off like a gunshot that far north; might be fun to watch plants growing so quickly.
Thanks to all. I don’t have internet here in Manley, and can only get on line at the Washeteria, so I won’t always know what is happening and probably won’t get much chance to comment on other blogs.
Dale, I think Fall is definitely the best time to come to Alaska. There are fewer mosquitoes, the colors are great and the sun usually shines.
I love the Stewart-Cassiar, but I’ve never seen it with snow, thanks for the photos!
Considering the canvas top to your camper you are hardly being a wimp, I think! Very few campers are setup for late winter/early spring weather, those cold mornings just aren’t conducive to happy driving.
Glad you arrived safely and had a wonderful trip as well.
I really enjoyed driving along with you and seeing that incredible scenery. What a beautiful trip. Thanks for sharing.
I do have to admit that letting you do the dangerous part of traveling in the snow is far preferable to actually being there. I hate being cold so I would not have enjoyed the adventure. But I do love being an arm chair traveler.
Loved the trip! Thanks for taking the time to take us all along. 🙂
Hope you have an enjoyable time while you are there this year.
Oh! This is my second trip to Alaska with you! And BTW, not sleeping in the camper in the cold is perfectly acceptable! I can’t wait to see some more of your paintings….
Beautiful photos and a real you-are-there quality to the prose. You all might call yourselves old, but you live and act young.
How inspirational!! And it reminds me why I don’t live there anymore. I love visiting (ie, Long Lake for the Iditarod last month), but sure don’t miss the long long long winters.