Friday, June 20, 2008

Alaskan Idyll, Day 2 - Ft. Nelson BC

Our first day on the Alcan.

We departed Dawson Creek at 8am this morning, bound north on the Alaska Highway (Alcan) for Fort Nelson, BC.

The Alcan originates in Dawson Creek, and there is a monument to prove it! At 4:30 yesterday afternoon, everyone in our newly assembled caravan boarded a school bus for a group photo at the mile zero monument. We waited a few minutes for the last arrival to join us. They were held up 6 days in Wisconsin after a turkey flew into their windshield. It broke the glass, and damaged the frame. We were so pleased that they were able to catch up with us.

Our WIT Tour Group at Mile Zero

Following the photo op, we re-boarded our bus for a ride to the George Dawson Inn, where we were served a nice roast beast dinner (3 COWs), followed by an entertaining slide show about the Dawson Creek area and the Alaska Highway.

The original Alaska Highway, called the pioneer road, was slashed through the northern wilderness in only 8 months during 1942, shortly after Pearl Harbor, under a perceived threat of imminent invasion by the Japanese. Stretching 1422 miles northwest, the Alcan, as it eventually became known, extended to Delta Junction, Alaska, where it joined the Richardson Highway, which runs from Valdez to Fairbanks. The folks in Fairbanks would like you to believe that their town is the official terminus of the Alcan (or the origin, depending on which way you are traveling), but the Richardson predates the Alcan by about 50 years, so Delta Junction gets the nod.

We were told that the original road cost 17 thousand dollars per mile, re-stated in 2008 dollars. That seems cheap in comparison to a modern interstate highway, which can cost well over a million dollars per mile.

At 8am this morning, our leader dispatched us from the campground, and we began rolling north along the modern Alcan. About 20 miles north of Dawson Creek is the last remaining timber bridge from the original 1942 construction. Called the Kiskatinaw Bridge, it is no longer on the main highway, but is on an 8 mile loop off the original road. We took the detour to view this remnant of the earlier road. With a 24 ton rating, the bridge was more than adequate for us to cross with our 7 ton vehicle.

Rolling North out of Dawson Creek

Kiskatinaw Bridge

A piece of the Original Alcan

A few miles further north the road crosses the Peace River on a large, modern bridge. The descent into the river canyon is steep and winding, as is the ascent on the other side.

Peace River Bridge and Canyon

Not too far north of the Peace River we encountered our first windshield casualty, as we were struck by a stone flung from a passing truck. The windshield has been cracked for some time, but Keith was waiting to replace it until after this trip. Good call. Another Alcan “hazard” is the flies and mosquitoes, some of which are large enough to have four motors. Needless to say, we collected our share to decorate our damaged windshield.

Our First Windshield Casualty

Bugs Decorating our Cracked Windshield

Up the road another 50 miles is Shepherds motel, filling station, and restaurant, where we stopped for a cinnamon roll break. The rolls were large, filling, and tasty. While a tad on the early side, we declared this stop lunch.

Wildlife is one of the features enjoyed by some tourists in this territory. People in our group reported seeing moose, bear, and wild horses on today’s drive. We saw no bear, and the only moose we saw was a motor vehicle casualty, but we did spot a small heard of wild horses.


As the road proceeds further north it parallels the spine of the Rocky Mountains, rolling along through the foothills like waves marching to the shore.

The Alcan Parallels the Rocky Mountains for Many Miles North of Dawson Creek

Approaching Fort Nelson

Approaching Fort Nelson numerous white, fluffy clouds appeared to contrast with the brilliantly blue sky, but it did not rain. We were glad to arrive at our campground, after the obligatory stop at the local Shell dealer. Our gas bill for the 224 miles since the last fill-up at Fort St. John was $177. This is going to be an expensive trip! Tomorrow we motor west to Muncho Lake, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Stay tuned.

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