Day 1: Dawson Creek to Pink Mountain, BC – 143 miles traveled (April 28, 2016)
To get to Anchorage, Alaska, from the U.S., many travelers drive the Alaska Highway (sometimes called the ALCAN). The Alaska Highway starts in Dawson Creek, British Columbia. It then travels 1,387 miles through B.C. and Yukon Territory to its official endpoint in Delta Junction, AK.
After leaving Vancouver, it takes us three and a half days of driving through British Columbia just to get to the town of Dawson Creek where the Alaska Highway begins.
We find the “Mile 0” marker for the beginning of the Alaska Highway, park the RV in a vacant lot, and walk over to take a photo to commemorate this historic occasion. The marker is in the center of a busy intersection so we have to dodge traffic to run out to it. It seems like the drivers are used to tourists doing this! Interestingly, the milepost shows 1,398 miles to its official endpoint at Delta Junction but due to some improvements to the highway a few years ago that straightened it out, the actual mileage is now “just” 1,387 miles.
The nice woman who took the photo runs a small but extremely interesting museum called The Alaska Highway House. We take some time to tour the (free) museum. We learn that the Alaska Highway was constructed by the U.S. Army in just nine months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1942. Since Canada took over responsibility for the Alaska Highway in 1946. It’s been improved over the years – it’s actually several miles shorter now than it was in the past because it has been rerouted and some of its curves straightened out – but it has only been fully paved since the 1980s.
We also learn that the Alaska Highway was constructed largely by African American enlisted soldiers in the Army Corps of Engineers, many of whom were from the South and had never experienced extreme cold. “…the black soldiers received insufficient equipment and clothing, long hours of duty and very little recognition by their white officers.” In spite of all this, “…these troops are also often cited for their incredible hard work and skilled road building.”
It’s 3:30 pm by the time we start our journey on the Alaska Highway (aka BC-97 north). And then we only drive 17 miles before we take our first detour to see a section of the old Alaska Highway and the only original timber bridge still in use. We drive across the curved Kiskatinaw River Bridge and then park so we can walk back across it in order to take in the view of the river far below.
The side road that takes us over the bridge is a short loop and we re-enter the Alaska Highway at Mile 22.5. A few minutes later it starts to rain as we cross the Peace River Bridge and pass through the town of Taylor.
We take a break about 4:45 pm when we reach Fort St. John, which is definitely the biggest town we’ve been today (population 18,000) with several malls, a movie theater, hospital, airport, etc. We stop for coffee and a donut at Tim Horton’s, where we discuss whether or not to stay in Fort St. John tonight or keep on driving. It’s stopped raining, we’re not tired of driving yet, and Fort St. John seems like an ordinary city without much interest, so we decide to keep driving for another hour or so.
We stop at Charlie Lake to see the memorial to twelve U.S. Army soldiers who died in 1942 when their pontoon boat capsized and they drowned. It doesn’t seem like that large of a lake for such a disaster but the interpretive sign explains that most of the soldiers couldn’t swim, the water was icy cold, and they were wearing heavy winter clothing and boots. Five soldiers were rescued by a local fur trapper in his rowboat.
There’s a wetland area under restoration at Charlie Lake – I can hear the distinctive trill of a Red-winged Blackbird and finally see one perched atop a cattail as they typically do.
As we continue driving through gently rolling countryside broken only occasionally by a small farm or ranch. There are acres and acres of trees, mostly spruce and birch. We pass through the amusingly-named town of Wonowon at Mile 101. We occasionally pass “camps” consisting of row after row of modular housing where the oil and gas exploration workers live.
We stop for the night at about 7:45 pm at Pink Mountain Campsite & RV Park at Mile 143. We get a nice pull-thru site for the discounted price of CN$30.00 because as the woman in the office explains it, “There’s no sewer because the septic hasn’t thawed out yet.” We’re the only ones staying there tonight.