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Monday, August 20, 2012

Day 60 to 62: The Alaska Highway

Heading east out of Jasper towards Hinton, we knew that the decision had been made: we were bound for the Yukon, and our way into it was the Alaska Highway. Built by the US army in just 9 months following the attack on Pearl Harbour during WWII, this 2390 km stretch of road begins in Dawson Creek, BC and culminates in Fairbanks, Alaska - traversing Yukon on the way.

The guide books advised that gas stations along the route are few and far between - they were right - so to be sure to fuel up at each and every opportunity and to always carry an extra canister of gas with you - we did both. It took us a whole day of fairly uninspiring driving along highways 40 and 2 in Alberta to even reach the start of this much fabled highway. One rather drab town, one time zone change, and 10 billion pine trees later we were still only a third of the way to the Yukon border, stopping for the night at a roadside campground on the Sikanni Chief River.

Yet another day of endless driving found us pulling up at a campground on beautiful Muncho Lake - the wow! factor was starting to kick in by this time, and the terrain was becoming progressively other-worldly. Out of this world, too, were the "galaxy's best cinnamon buns" (and they pretty much lived up to their roadside billing) that we picked up in a bakery in some otherwise unmemorable location along the A.H. Also good was Donna's homemade pie...If anyone is interested in taking over a cafe and gas station 500 kms north of Fort St John, Donna is looking for a buyer!

It is quite sad to see how many small businesses along the BC stretch of the Alaska Highway are struggling or have closed down...The 2008 meltdown of the US economy and rising gas prices have meant that the American tourists just aren't making the trek up to see their most northerly state anymore. With gas prices reaching as high as $1.79 a litre in the handful of stations still serving this fairly desolate southernly section of the highway, you can well understand why those Americans are giving Alaska a miss.

We gritted our teeth and kept filling our gas tank. With 750 kms lying between us and Dawson Creek and just another 200 kms to go till we crossed the border into Yukon, there was no turning back now.

And then, suddenly, we didn't want to turn back...Ever! A new day dawning over glistening Muncho Lake, a short hop up the A.H. to the enchanted Liard River Hot Springs, and we were looking around ourselves in wonder, felt well and truly touched by the region's magic.

Steam rose up from the glistening wetlands that surrounded the wooden boardwalk that led us down to the hot springs. The whole place teemed with life...Because the springs create an unusually warm micro-climate, flora and fauna that are found no where else this far north actually thrive here. Our leisurely soak in the piping hot waters of this spring-fed pool was a road trip highlight.

Back on the road, climbing out of the valley and on towards Watson Lake - gateway to the Yukon - we came across a herd of bison grazing peacefully at the side of the highway. Yet another road trip highlight. And then, in what seemed like no time at all, we were leaving BC and driving down the main drag of Watson Lake, YK.