Saturday, June 21, 2008

Alaskan Idyll Day 3 Muncho Lake, BC

Today’s relatively short (160 mile) journey took us west through the Rocky Mountains from Ft. Nelson to Muncho Lake, BC. A few miles west of Ft. Nelson the road deteriorates somewhat. East of the mountains, the road is newer and wider, with fewer sharp curves. In 1998, when Keith first came this way, it was newly paved and smooth as silk. By 2005, after seven winters, it had become somewhat rougher. After yet three more winters, it’s gotten even rougher.
Approaching the Rocky Mountains
Through the Rockies, the road becomes narrower, with numerous sharp curves with speed limits as slow as 10mph. The road surface also deteriorates further, with numerous short gravel patches. Keith almost missed noting one of these, which happened to be on a downhill lie. Fortunately he spotted it just in time go brake sharply while still on the pavement. Trying to brake while traveling downhill on gravel is a truly exciting experience!
Winding Into the Foothills

Crossing the Tetsa River on the Road to Summit Lake Pass
For two days, we have been hop scotching with a group of vintage sports cars traveling in loose formation. While stopped for gas in Ft. Nelson, Kathy spoke with one of the drivers and learned that they were on a journey from Panama to Alaska. Each driver has picked a charity, and is driving to earn donations.
Vintage Sports Cars Bound from Panama to Alaska

A short distance into the foothills, at milepost 342.8, is Indian Head Mountain. Similar to New Hamshire’s Old Man in the Mountain, before it crumbled, Indian Head is a stone formation which can be seen as a facial profile. The old man was trying to hide in the clouds today.
Indian Head Mountain in a Shy Mood

While on the subject of mileposts, it is interesting to note that there are two kinds of miles (kilometers in Canada) along the Alaska Highway. There are highway miles, and there are historical miles. Highway miles represent the distance along the modern highway from milepost zero in Dawson Creek. Historical miles represent the distance along the original Alaska highway from the same milepost zero. Why are these two mileages different? They are different because the Alcan is shorter than it used to be! Highway improvements over the years have straightened many of the most winding stretches, thereby shortening the total highway length by tens of miles between Dawson Creek and Delta Junction.

There is an annual publication named the milepost, which describes the Northwest Highways mile by mile, including highway and scenic features, commercial services, campgrounds, fishing opportunities, etc. along the road. Many businesses advertise in this essential guide. To locate an establishment, it is necessary note carefully whether their address is a historical or a current milepost number. To further complicate things, the mileposts in Canada are really kilometer posts , and many are missing, victims to either snowplows or souvenir hunters.

As we traveled toward the peak of the Rockies, the sky clouded over. We are not sure if the two factors are linked, but as the sun disappeared we started to see more wildlife.
Foraging in the Rain

At the peak of the Rocky Mountains is Summit Lake Pass, at an altitude of almost 4000ft. Located in the pass is Summit Lake. When the sun is shining, this is a breathtakingly beautiful spot, with the water surrounded by the majestic Rocky Mountain peaks. The lake is just below the tree line, so that the surrounding mountains are bare rock. Not surprisingly, park at the summit is named Stone Mountain Provincial Park. We lunched at Summit Lake, and thoroughly enjoyed it, despite the less than sunny weather.
Summit Lake Looks Lovely in Any Weather
Less Than Exotic Wildlife at Summit Lake
Stone Mountain Hides in the Clouds

Past the summit, winding down along the Toad River, we encountered more wildlife, including moose, caribou, and mountain sheep. Kathy was ecstatic. It rained a bit on the rest of the trip to the campground, but no problems. The mountain valley scenery along this narrow and winding section of the road is fantastic.
Winding Downhill Along the Toad River
Kathy Spots Caribou
Momma Poses for the Camera
Stone Mountain Sheep
Stone Mountain Sheep Exhibit Incredible Climbing Skills
At the end of todays journey we were treated to a ride along the shore of Muncho Lake. We are parked in a campground on the lake, awaiting a travel meeting at 5pm, and dinner at 5:30. Tomorrow we drive on to Watson Lake.
Approaching Muncho Lake

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