DEMPSTER TRIP: Part 2, MAY 26 – JULY? 9, 2007
read part 1 here
The planning was completed and it was time for us to depart on our Dempster Highway trip with our friends Pat and Kathy Parker. We arranged to meet Pat and Kathy at Acacia Grove RV Park in Spences Bridge, which we had discovered through The RV Times. The Parkers drove up from Anmore RV Campground in Port Moody, where they had been with their 26-ft Tahoe fifth wheel since travelling over from Vancouver Island on May 22, and we left from Chelsea Gardens in Surrey. We were confident that our trips with our 22-ft Terry trailer in April to Beachwood in Birch Bay and to the RVOABC Rally in May had taught us what we needed to have on board. One thing we learned was to carry a cold chest in addition to the fridge. It is great for drinks and for fresh vegetables and fruit after a shopping trip. In warm weather we just have to alternate the cold packs from the freezer to the chest twice a day. In preparation for the big trip, we had the truck overhauled and a list of things, like the furnace, fixed on the trailer by O?Connor RV in Langley.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
The first thing we saw when we arrived at Acacia Grove RV Park was a tow truck at Pat and Kathy?s trailer. On the last hill before Spences Bridge, something went POP. The truck had to go into Cache Creek and the next day was Sunday, so it looked like our trip would be delayed two or three days.
I cancelled our reservations at Wildwood RV in Williams Lake, and Bee Lazee RV Park south of Prince George. But we tried to remain positive and enjoy the break. Sunday was rainy, so I started on my scrapbook, and Kathy cleaned and made bread. Acacia Grove is a good place to be stuck in ? it is situated on the bank of the Thompson River with a grand view. And if you enjoy watching the trains, it is very special indeed!
At 10 on Monday morning Lloyd and Pat drove to ASC Automotive in Cache Creek where the BCAA driver had taken Pat?s F-350. The intercooler tubing needed repair and we were on our way by noon.
North to Dawson Creek
We stayed Monday night at Alamo RV Park south of Quesnel, and we made it to Chetwynd on Tuesday. With some extra driving, we had caught up and by Day 4 we were back on schedule! All the RV places along the way had been full of rigs. Westwind Park in Chetwynd could only supply us with electricity out in a big field where they had a fence with electric outlets. There was room for at least six rigs to back into each side of the fence. As an overflow measure, it was very acceptable. We were given keys to the washroom. When we left after 9 a.m. Wednesday, most of the rigs were already gone.
The drive from Prince George to Chetwynd was most interesting! Pine Pass is the lowest of the passes through the Rockies. There was snow on the mountains and Pine Valley and the Peace Foothills were picture perfect. The road had rest areas where we could break the trip with eating, picture-taking, or a bit of walking. We were using The Milepost magazine to give us a mile-by-mile commentary. It was wonderful to know what to expect up ahead, and the names of the creeks or rivers we were passing.
It was a short straight run into Dawson Creek, except for one challenging section when we had to follow a big truck down a steep hill with many curves. We crossed the BC Rail train tracks just after a very hard curve and there was a right angle curve at the bottom just before the long bridge across the Pine River. Once across, we had another hill to climb but it had passing lanes and we were able to leave the transport truck behind.
We arrived early at the Mile 0 RV Park in Dawson Creek to ensure a site. There was another rig in our spot ? pleasant people from Michigan who were going to be in Alaska until August. They were in no hurry, but they vacated the spot when we let them know we were waiting.
Dawson Creek is a lively town, with almost everything available. Almost. Pat needed new steps for his rig, but that would have to wait until Whitehorse. We took pictures of the Mile 0 statue and visited the Visitor Information Office where we picked up very informative booklets and some postcards. I got an Alaska Highway map to replace my old map that only went as far as Dawson Creek. And we hit the banks and the liquor store.
Dawson Creek was a time for celebration? we were now heading North in earnest! We had lunch at Lee?s Cafe in the Voyager Hotel, and then went to Mr. Mikes for dinner. Since Kathy and I had been taking turns doing the cooking, it was a treat to have the night off.
When we got back after dinner, Kathy set out champagne and chocolate strawberries for a treat and we drank a toast for a good trip, health, and thankfulness for all our blessings.
The only bad note in our Dawson Creek stop was a problem with Pat?s backup camera. When he was disconnecting it, the wire snapped and the connector disappeared. It looked like it would have to be reinstalled. It was too bad, as this was a purchase Pat made especially for this trip.
At the Mile 0 campground, it was fun to find out where everyone there had come from. So many Americans going to Alaska! And with big rigs too! But opposite us there was a young couple using a tent, so there were many different stages of life represented.
Day One: Thursday, May 31
Dawson Creek to Sikanni Chief RV
We were off on our great adventure! On the road, we kept in touch by radio (FRS, Family Radio Service) which worked very well for letting us know each other?s thoughts and plans. We pulled over at the frequent large pullouts.
We took the Old Alaska Highway to see the last still-in-use wooden bridge at the Kiskatinaw River. We took many pictures! We were glad to experience the old, but it was good to get back on the newer road again.
We drove through Fort St. John and Charlie Lake and stopped at Shepherd?s Inn to buy a few things, then we made lunch and ate at a rest area. The road had some very long straight sections with long up and down hills, but it wasn?t too steep. There were long periods where there was nothing unusual to see, although Pat and Kathy saw bear and deer.
We fuelled again at a station in Pink Mountain, which was also a post office. Before we left on the trip, I wrote all the cards for the two months that we would be away. The letters were all marked with hasty notes for the day they needed to be sent. I had six pieces of mail marked to send the end of May. Kathy had also written some cards, so we both needed stamps.
By 2:30 in the afternoon, our drivers were ready to call it quits for the day, so we pulled into the Sikanni Chief RV Park. We were backed into sites 1 and 2 with views of the Sikanni River and were soon joined by other rigs. The day had been hot, but the night was cool and we were glad of our heater.
Day Two: Friday, June 1
Sikanni Chief to Tetsa River Guest Ranch and Campground
We all felt that our trip was much more than getting to a destination. Each day was its own journey, and adventures happened along the way. Getting to Tuktoyaktuk was the climax, but the pleasure was in the getting there and then in the adventure of the return journey back home.
Sikanni Chief RV Park was a good place, with the river running high right in front of us. It also had individual bathrooms, which I am fond of. And the showers were free which was nice because most places charge for the showers. We rated it a great place to stop.
It was a pleasant drive on to Fort Nelson ? more straight roads with long, gentle hills. At a stop just as we came up to the bridge we got some good pictures. The Milepost told us that when they redid this portion of the highway in 1987 they eliminated 132 curves. The new section is called the Trutch Bypass because the old highway went up Trutch Mountain while the new highway is along the Minnaker River Valley.
We fuelled at the Husky in Fort Nelson and asked about a good place to have lunch ? with adequate RV parking. They directed us to The Outlaw?s Family Restaurant where they let us park in the RV place. The restaurant was quite an experience! The d?cor was very interesting with stuffed animals, stuffed birds, and antiques galore. Even the bathroom, which was very big and clean, had an antique cupboard. To eat, we sat at long wooden tables where we met a couple named Dave and Kathy who were originally from Newfoundland but had lived in the area for 26 years. They were eating the Newfie fries, with ground meat, gravy, cheese and onions. It looked good, so we all ordered the same. When it came to dessert, the restaurant actually gave us some peach pie they had left over from the night before to take with us.
Dave gave us lots of information! He told us we could get good pictures at the rest area, at the top of the next hill. He also knew that the Steamboat Caf? and RV Park had gone out of business and suggested the next closest RV park for us would be the Tetsa River Guest Ranch and Campground.
Wayne Brake, who had been the owner of the restaurant for four months, came over to talk. He said that there was live music at night and sometimes the restaurant had a special steak and lobster dinner. We had lucked into a wonderful lunch, in a great place! We recommend the Outlaws Family Restaurant if you?re in the area. We noted that their RV park was nicely laid out with pull-throughs. But we had a few more miles to go before stopping for the night.
(Outlaws Family Restaurant and Westend Campground, restaurant owner: Wayne Brake, telephone: 250-261-4408.)
As we drove along the highway we saw that the Steamboat Mountain Cafe and Campground was indeed closed. We got some good pictures of the Musqua Valley and Indian Head Mountain and pulled into the Tetsa River Guest Ranch & Campground at three in the afternoon. We were given sites next to a big log, one behind the other. It was far from level and Pat was not happy with the slant on his trailer ? he was pointed downhill. Then we were told that the bathroom building had burned down three nights earlier, so we had to use the bathroom that was in the store. The generator was turned off at 10 p.m. and was not back on until 8 the next morning. We tried to buy fresh bread, but they were out so we bought cinnamon buns for breakfast. Fortunately, we had had a big lunch ? more of a dinner! ? so we shared some soup and the peach pie with ice cream for supper.
Day 3: Saturday, June 2
Tetsa Campground to Northern Rockies Lodge
We passed Toad River RV Park after an hour and a half of driving. It looked like it would have been a better stop than the Tetsa River place, but the drivers had been tired and it hadn?t been practical to go on.
After being spoiled by straight roads, we were now in for a day of curves. We drove on the sides of mountains, over rivers ? the Tetsa, the Macdonald, the Raging, and the Toad ? and alongside lakes ? Summit Lake and Muncho Lake. Lots of curves and hills and bridges and beautiful views. There was some slow going up hills behind traffic and it took three hours to travel 135 kilometres (84 miles), but it was a challenging, exciting, and awe-inspiring drive. Much like travelling the Banff Jasper Highway, but without the four-lane highway.
We arrived at Northern Rockies Lodge at 12:30 and were lucky to get pull-through sites. The back-in sites at the lake looked really special. This was one time it was too bad we had asked for pull-throughs. After lunch, we all did our own thing, meeting back at our rig for drinks at six and then dinner at the Lodge. The Lodge is lovely and many people stay overnight there.
Day 4: Sunday, June 3
Northern Rockies Lodge to Liard Hot Springs Prov. Park
Because we had planned a short run for the day, we did not leave until 10 a.m. We were told we had another 30 kilometres (19 miles) of hills and curves, and then it would relatively straight to Watson Lake.
For insurance purposes, both couples made sure to make a purchase before leaving BC. That receipt, combined with the next one in the Yukon, were invaluable for proving when we left the province. Pat and Kathy had insurance for 36 days out of province and Lloyd and I had 40 days.
We took a half-day off at Muncho Lake, and another half-day at Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park where we had reservations ? and our swim-wear at the ready. The views of the river on the drive to Liard were spectacular! We saw a family of black bears and some Stone Sheep.
At Liard we were happy in site 3, but Kathy and Pat encountered a problem with their spot in site 1 when a truck camper came in later to use site 2. Some of the camp personnel asked Pat to unhitch, which was hard to do because their slide was out, But, finally it was all looked after.
We enjoyed an hour in the hot pools, using a golf cart to get back and forth. We noticed that most people were wearing bathing shoes. The pools are not deep, so you have to bend to stay under. One pool was hotter than the other and people were going from one to the other to enjoy both. The best part of these pools is their naturalness! They are kept clean by the park staff who also regularly use bear bangers to discourage bears. We felt safe there.
After dinner, we sat out until 9 p.m. in the lovely private campsite, that we have become accustomed to in the BC Parks. Liard Provincial Park was full to bursting by 6 p.m. ? we couldn?t say, ?until dark?. That far north it was still light most of the night! The sun did go down, but dusk seemed to go on forever. Our plan was to be in Tuktoyaktuk for the longest day, when there would be no dusk at all.
Day 5: Monday, June 4
Liard River Provincial Park to Watson Lake Campground Services
The drive was a pleasant one with the Liard River beside us on the left all the way to Watson Lake. We stopped at Coal River, where Pat bought a T-shirt and I got some postcards for my scrapbook. At Allen?s Lookout we stopped to get pictures of the Liard River and it?s lovely valley.
After dinner that evening, we went to the show at the Northern Lights Centre. The Centre had six shows every day and we were a small, but appreciative, audience at the 8:30 show. The program was two-fold: we saw a film on space, using the planetarium?s large sky theatre, then we saw videos of the Aurora Borealis. These films were locally made and were fascinating. But nothing would be as good as seeing the lights in the sky ourselves. We were invited back in December when the viewing would be superb. There is a light display most nights in the winter, we were told. The Aurora is called ?Nature?s Ballet in the Sky.?
Day 6: Tuesday June 5
Watson Lake Campground Services to Dawson Peaks Resort, Teslin
We stopped at the Sign Forest in Watson Lake to drop off our sign from Chelsea Gardens, Surrey. The girl in the Interpretive Building told us that she would see that the right people got it. More than 6,000 signs from all over have been donated to the Sign Forest.
We tanked up at the Tempo where RVs got 2 cents off every litre. Then we were on our way to Teslin. We encountered some highway construction (two one-lane sections), and off and on we crossed back into BC. We had been pleased with the wide grassy sides of the highway we had experienced since Liard Hot Springs. However, now we found bushes and trees threatening to fill the space between the forest and the highway. It looked like it had not been groomed for several years.
Dawson Peaks Resort was a clean compact RV park right beside Teslin Lake. Lloyd took his computer up to the office where he was able to get on the internet using Wi-Fi. We were away when the tax bill was due and we had to do our Homeowner?s Grant. We had made sure we had our code. It was just one of the things you have to do when travelling to make sure things at home are covered.
We made a potluck dinner together that night because we didn?t want to have any fresh food on board when we crossed the border into Alaska the next day.
Day 7: Wednesday, June 6
Klondike Loop ? Dawson Peaks Resort, Teslin to Mountain View RV Park, Skagway
Teslin Bridge is the longest bridge on the Alaska Highway system. We travelled along the 86-mile (138-kilometre) Teslin Lake to Johnson?s Crossing, then carried on to Jake?s Corners. Then we left the Alaska Highway for a trip across Highway 8 to Carcross and Skagway.
The Tagish Highway was excellent all the way to Tagish. It appeared to be new and was a joy to drive. In Carcross, we shopped at the well-stocked General Store and were like happy kids with our ice cream cones. We visited the Visitor Centre in the White Pass and Yukon Railway building. There is a train from Carcross to Skagway early in the morning, so some people leave their rigs and visit Skagway without driving the hill with a trailer behind.
It is 66 miles (106 kilometres) from Carcross to Skagway, and it was hard going most of the way, partly because we had to run on a new gravel road. We put our vehicles through a mud bath! Dust is one thing, but this was mud! Then at the summit, a cloud came down to cover the road and we had no more than 10 yards (3.5 metres) visibility. We just followed the middle line at 12 miles per hour with Pat following our taillights. It was very exhausting. But as we descended, driving conditions improved.
We were greeted with ?Welcome to Alaska? when we arrived at American Customs and showed our passports.
The day?s drive had been under the shadow of wonderful mountains ? full of snow and glaciers. It was glorious!
When we arrived at the Mountain View RV Park in Skagway, we unhitched both our rigs and went into town where we saw six cruise ships in the harbour. (When we were back at the camp, we saw at least five sets of trains going past with their loads from the cruise ships.) Broadway Street was full of pedestrians. We went to dinner at the Skagway Fish Company, and then saw the Days of ?98 Show. It was a Barkerville-style show, with wonderful singing, acting and dancing, and featured vignettes of Soapy Smith?s life. Before the show, we did some ?play? gambling and Michael Baish entertained us with guitar, singing, and Robert Service poems. A very enjoyable presentation!
So, it had been an eventful day! The drive, a trip to a quilt store for Kathy and an exploration of cruise ships for Lloyd and me, and ending with a evening of fine entertainment.
We still had the daunting tasks of getting the mud off our vehicles. And we would have to renegotiate the big hill to get back to Carcross so we could carry on to Whitehorse. But all that could wait until the next day.
Coming next Issue: Our trip from Skagway to Inuvik