Friday, July 2, 2010

Alaska RV Tour - Getting to Skagway, Alaska

We left Hyder, Alaska on June 29th and began a three day drive to Skagway.  Although this was a distance of less than 750 miles, the roads are not so good and so Spike planned for us to take it slow and easy over three days.  Before arriving in Skagway, we would spend one night each at Dease Lake, British Columbia then Watson Lake, Yukon Territory, and finally Teslin, Yukon Territory.

Instead of leaving in a caravan, each rig left individually from Hyder with a meet-by time at a place called the Bell II Lodge along the Stewart-Cassiar Highway.  This would allow the rigs to get through the border crossing without becoming too backed up, and folks could stop to take photos of Bear Glacier if they wished.  From Bell II Lodge, we would form a caravan and continue on to Dease Lake.

So, we crossed the border between Hyder and Stewart and found ourselves back in Canada once more. As we drove northward on the Stewart Highway, the weather was much better than a few days earlier and so we pulled over a couple times to take photos of Bear Glacier.

Once we all convened at Bell II, we hit the road again as a caravan and headed to Dease Lake. As is typical while we are caravanning, Spike used the FM radio to share his considerable knowledge of the area’s geology, flora, fauna, and human history. As folks asked questions or shared information we learned even more. In my opinion, this is one of the greatest features of traveling through Alaska and the Yukon with Spike – his passion and respect for the area and its people is contagious!

As we headed to Dease Lake along the Cassiar Highway (37), we passed through the Cassiar and Skeena mountains.  This is a particularly pretty area but there was a lot of road construction underway and we found ourselves driving on gravel for long stretches.  As I wrote in a previous post, Lynda and I had been noticing many, many motorcyles on the roads. Most of these bikes were loaded down with camping gear and all kinds of supplies and it was evident that these people were also touring the Yukon and Alaska. 

Anyway, as our caravan of 22 RVs drove carefully along one particularly long stretch of gravel road, two motorcyles came up behind our group and started make their way through.  As had become our norm, we opened space up between the rigs to give these other vehicles plenty of space to leapfrog through.  But this was not sufficient for one of the riders who seemed particularly impatient. He decided to gun it and shot past several rigs at once, on loose gravel.  Sure enough, he slid right off the road in plain view of several people.  Long story short, the man was OK and so was his motorcyle. He admitted it was his fault and his friend on the other motorcycle told Spike that the guy was always going too fast and perhaps this would teach him a lesson.

By now we had been in this sparsely populated area of British Columbia for a while and started noticing fuel prices were getting higher and higher.  Well, not much we can do about that. So far the highest we've paid for unleaded gas has been around $4.30 gallon. 

Also, we are learning that the RV parks in this part of the world are typically muddy (or dusty) parking lots with 30-amp hookups and very little to offer in terms of their own attractiveness. Luckily, the beautiful areas we had been driving through made the unsightly RV parks less of a bother. 

It was when we arrived at the RV park in Dease Lake that we also began to realize that RV park owners/managers around here are often cranky and sometimes just plain rude. The man that runs the RV park at Dease Lake behaved so badly that it was funny: he scowled at each of us and threw his arms around angrily as he directed our rigs into their assigned campsites.  As I write this, I wonder how I ever park the Trek without his help? Anyway, a group of us were standing around later marveling at his behavior, when the same guy almost ran us over in his pickup truck - apparently because we were standing in the roadway. Spike told me later that this guy was actually in a better mood that day than usual.  Praise the lord.

Click here to see photos of our drive from Hyder to Dease Lake, British Columbia.

The next day we made our way to Watson Lake, which is in the Yukon.  On the way we stopped at a place called Jade City.  It was interesting to learn that about 90% of the Jade in the world is supplied from the Cassiar Mountain Range!  The owners of Jade City have been mining jade in this area since the 1970s and now mine and design Jade for clients all over the world, including China. Here is a photo of our group in front of the Jade City store.

Once we got to the Watson Lake RV park, Barbara Melcher put the word out that she was baking browies to celebrate husband John's birthday. Oh yeah, homemade brownies - they were very tasty!

Sophie also made a sign and Roger helped her put it up at Watson Lake's famous Sign Post Forest. According to, The forest was started in 1942 by a homesick U.S. Army G.I., Carl K. Lindley of Danville, Il., Company D, 341st Engineers. While working on the Alaska Highway, he erected a sign here pointing the way and stating the mileage to his hometown. Others followed his lead and are still doing so to this day. On July 20, 1990, Olen and Anita Walker of Bryan, Ohio placed the 10,000th sign. Carl K. Lindley and his wife visited the site in 1992, 50 years after his first post was erected.

After spending the night at Watson Lake, we made our way to Teslin, Yukon Territory on July 1st.  The town of Teslin had organized various activities for Canada Day but Lynda and I just relaxed in the Trek after eating dinner with John and Fran Kurz. 

Finally, on July 2nd we made our way from Teslin to Skagway, stopping in Carcross to have lunch at “Eddy’s Checkpoint".  This food stand is owned by Ed Hopkins, a successful and well-respected dog musher. We ate hot dogs and Lynda made friends with a local dog.  Ed is Michelle Philips’s partner, who is the #1 rated woman musher in Canada. We will meet them later, in Whitehorse, and learn more about mushing in general and Michelle's efforts in particular.  Spike's company is one of her corporate sponsors.

And now here's a joke on me. After being in Hyder, where it seemed a bear was lurking around every corner, I was convinced I saw a bear in Carcross. Lynda and I were finished eating our lunch and decided to walk around a bit.  We were down by the railroad tracks and across the way I thought I saw a bear laying on the ground in front of what looked like an abandoned building. I was convinced... because his ears were round and dogs don't have round ears.  So after getting on the radio and announcing to everyone that I saw a bear (yes, I really did that), we got 50 feet closer and I realized it was one of the biggest black dogs I have ever seen.  Jeez, I felt like an idiot. So, I got back on the radio and in my best Roseanne Roseannadanna voice, I announced "Never mind".  Here's a picture of that darn dog. Sigh.

After Carcross, we continued south on the Klondike Highway toward Skagway, driving through the Coast Mountain and enjoying some gorgeous views. In particular, I really liked the Tortured Valley – this is a beautiful area with a glacier-carved landscape of rocks, stunted trees, and blue-green pools of water. I wish the photos did it more justice.

We went through the infamous White Pass about midway between Carcross and Skagway, and crossed the border again back into the US. There was a looong, fairly steep descent down the mountain into Skagway. Needless to say, I put the ole Trek into low gear and kept my foot off the brake pedal as much as possible! 

And then we arrived in Skagway... stay tuned for more!  And, click here for photos of our drive from Dease Lake to Skagway, Alaska.

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