The Alaska Highway – Day 5

Day 5: Liard River Hot Springs, BC to Teslin, YT – 291.8 Miles Traveled (May 2, 2016)

It’s an overcast morning when we wake up but the birds are still singing in the trees. After breakfast, we walk to the hot springs for one last soak before we get back on the road. We enjoy another nice walk through the wetland and the forest, a lovely relaxing soak in the hot pool, and then the cool pool, and then finish up in the hot pool. People come and go, and sometimes Mike & I have a pool all to ourselves, which is magical. We don’t so much talk to other people as we listen to the conversations around us. One couple is traveling from Georgia to their home in Alaska, 140 miles from Haines Junction. They have property on a lake there that the moose like to use for calving. Another couple discusses local music festivals with them. They’d like to go to the Haines Fair but they can’t make it because it’s at the end of July and that’s when sheep hunting season opens. A man tells us that when he drove the opposite direction on the Alaska Highway last week, there were no Wood Bison calves; they must have been born this week.

We reluctantly get out of the hot springs and walk back to the RV on the boardwalk. The day is now warm and sunny, and we see several colorful butterflies and hear a woodpecker. It has really been a relaxing couple of days here at Liard River Hot Springs at our campsite with no electricity, let alone cell phone connectivity or the Internet. Nothing to do but observe nature, soak in the hot spring, and enjoy each other’s company.

We get the RV ready for travel and we back driving west on the Alaska Hwy by noon. This time we don’t see any Wood Bison on the side of the road around the campground entrance, but we do see a lot of piles of Wood Bison poop!

We had planned to eat lunch at the Coal River Lodge, which The Milepost pronounces has “good bison burgers” (that seemed appropriate for some reason), but it’s still closed for the season. This is a common problem traveling on the Alaska Highway in late April or early May. Many restaurants, campgrounds, and gas stations have signs: “Closed until May 15” or even later. Eventually, we stop at a viewpoint overlooking the Liard River rapids. We enjoy the beautiful view while we eat tuna sandwiches for lunch.

Overlooking the Liard River rapids

It starts to rain after lunch. We stop for gas in the tiny town of Contact Creek, which is still in British Columbia. We’ve been told that gas is cheaper here than in Watson Lake, which is in the Yukon Territories, and in fact, CN$0.999/liter is a good price. I take a little walk in the rain while Mike gets the gas and take a photo of a sign that says “Welcome to Yukon, even though we’re really not in Yukon yet. There’s no cell phone connectivity; I can hear the telltale sound of a generator running to provide electricity.

Welcome to Yukon sign in Contact Creek, BC

As we continue to drive, we see five male magnificent Wood Bison grazing on the side of the road. Then, just a few minutes later, we see a Black Bear eating grass & leaves. Then we see more Wood Bison, this time grazing on the opposite side of the highway. We pull over to watch them and they walk within feet of the RV.

It’s sunny and there’s just a few puffy white clouds in the sky by 3:30 pm when we cross from British Columbia into the Yukon Territories. The only “Welcome” sign is for travelers entering B.C. The “Welcome to Yukon” sign is a few kilometers further across from Lucky Lake. The Alaska Highway becomes Yukon Hwy 1.

Watson Lake, population 1,563, is known as the “Gateway to the Yukon”. We stop to walk around the Signpost Forest, a little piece of land along the Alaska Highway where literally thousands of town signs are posted by those traveling along the Alaska Highway.

Mike in the Signpost forest in Watson Lake, Yukon

Mike & I discuss the possibility of stopping in Watson Lake for the night but since we got a late start from Liard Hot Springs, we decide to continue driving for a few more hours.

At 5:00 pm we pass the 1,000 km Alaska Highway signpost. Everywhere there’s an embankment along this stretch of highway, people have used stones to spell out their names, messages, or designs.

We continue on to Rancheria Falls Recreation Area. Our first Yukon Park! We take a lovely ten-minute walk, first on a gravel trail through the boreal forest and then on a boardwalk over the rocks to see two picturesque falls on the Rancheria River.

Rancheria Falls

The trail is the perfect length to walk to get our blood flowing after we’ve been driving for a while. We return to the RV energized to drive some more before it gets dark. Mike brings the bear spray “just in case” but the only wildlife we see us a reddish-brown squirrel.

We continue driving west on the Alaska Highway and cross the Continental Divide. Here it divides two of the largest river drainage systems in North America: the Yukon River & the McKenzie River watersheds. We enjoy fantastic views of the dark, snow-covered Cassiar Mountains.

Cassair Mountains

Then just after 7:00 pm, we see the sign “Welcome to British Columbia”! It turns out that the Alaska Highway travels through B.C. starting here for about 42 miles before it returns to Yukon.

We pass pretty Swan Lake, covered in ice. It’s raining off and on, and the sun is behind the clouds, making dark earlier this evening. Even when it’s not raining, the highway is wet, keeping our speed down. Dark clouds hide the sun, which is actually a blessing since it’s not shining directly in our eyes as we continue to drive west.

At 8:00 pm we leave British Columbia for the last time and re-enter Yukon. According to The Milepost, we’ve done this seven times this afternoon but it hasn’t always been marked.

Nisutlin Bay Bridge at sunset

At 8:30 we arrive in Teslin, population 450, mostly First Nation Tlingit people. We pause to take in the view of the Nisutlin Bay Bridge at sunset and then cross the bridge (the longest water span at 1,917 feet on the Alaska Highway). and turn into Yukon Motel & Lakeshore RV Park.

We turn into Yukon Motel & Lakeshore RV Park, find a vacant site, and go to the restaurant to pay for it. It turns out that they’re still serving dinner. The cook comes out of the kitchen and announces that she has just two plates left of tonight’s special: meatloaf & mashed potatoes with gravy, carrots, and a fresh green salad. Do we want them? Yes! Mike & I enjoy a delicious home-cooked dinner, everything freshly prepared and well worth the price. The helping of meatloaf is huge – I have to give Mike half of mine (and he eats it all).