Friday 8/25 🇨🇦
Grande Prairie (pop 68k) is a thriving modern city with every convenience. Milepost Guide directs us to the Centre 2000- their Visitors Center where we are treated to good advice, hot coffee and free wifi while we sit in the tower overlooking a beautiful reservoir right in the City Center. Gas and grocery stop and we're on our way again. Collin clocks in 465 miles of driving today - 8 hours. The scenery is all 2500’ high rolling hills with 6-9% grades. The diminished end of the Rockies comes up on our left (west) toward the end of the day. We turnoff before Fort Nelson at Andy Bailey Regional Park Lake 7 miles in on a newly graded lovely road theu Aspen/Black spruce forest. We are rewarded with a deserted camp, lakeside site, still waters and a sense of joy! It's just warm enough (65 deg) for a possibly last float of this trip . Tonight's float is the Best Ever. Eyes open, a dragonfly flits to and fro as I watch wispy clouds slowly pass by. These daily floats have become my camp showers thus far. I paint a sunset painting, we dine on meatloaf and potato salad from the grocery and end the night with a fire 🔥 -the ban was lifted here yesterday per our CG instructions.
CG-Andy Bailey Regional Lake between Fort St John & Fort Nelson $17
Saturday 8/26 - Total mileage 2386, 50 hours avg speed 46mph, gas 21 mpg.
Fort Nelson is our first stop where we gas up. Not much to remember this town by. 128 miles later beautiful Muncho Lake where a Swiss family built the Northern Rockies Lodge and operates float plane business. Their son went to culinary school in Adelboden Switzerland and makes a truly fine bowl of broccoli cheese soup with homemade brown bread.
In the afternoon we arrive at Watson Lake, known for its Sign Post Forest. A photo from 1959 shows five tall sign posts. Today there are hundreds, each covered from top to bottom with town signs (obviously stolen!), license plates, cabin signs, ad signs and signs made just to be hung here. With enough time one can probably find one from wherever one lives.
This sunny day continues until we find a pull out before Teslin at Morley Lake. We camp right on the Banks. Collin plays his guitar while I paint a small scene at lakeside. Sunset at 9:15 is colorful. 480 miles today
We pass thru Teslin and stop later at Swan Haven. No swans now but in springtime this is a major stop over for Tundra and Trumpeter swans as the lake bottom is shallow enough that swans can easily pluck the vegetation from the bottom with their long necks. It is quite the hugely attended spectacle. I spy a lone mallard duck 🦆. Whitehorse (pop 26k), so named for a rapids who foam reminded the namer of a white horses mane, is the capital of Yukon Territory since 1953 when it was moved from the less accessible Dawson City. It is a thriving and enchanting city. A visit to the newly opened Sav On grocery is filled with all the locals. Many are First Nation Indians. The city and its Schwatka Lake were formed by the hydroelectric dam at the south end. Copper, zinc, lead and silver were all mined here. Further on we stop at Five Finger Rapids where conglomerate rock formations create the fingers.
Onward to Dawson City. Preserved from its gold rush days, the town is a Little Gem. Large two story vintage structures, countless cute shops and eateries, a lot of effort has been put into conveying the spirit of the former gold and mining town. The only way onward is via a 24 hour free ferry across the Yukon. A swift crossing and we immediately pull into the Yukon River CG where we get a lovely riverside site. The ferry is visible from the rocky shore. The panorama photo above shows the ferry on the left and the white spot of our van at the campgrounds on the right.
CG Yukon River CG over the ferry at Dawson City
We awake to pouring rain. Not a car wash rain but a mud bath as our road to the Canadian/US border is mostly gravel. We are on the Top of the World Highway - a ridge route in Upper Yukon. It's raining and foggy but still spectacular!
The border crossing is a highlight because of the great customs inspector. He tells us to pull into the inspection zone but really just wants to talk shop with Collin on how he designed and built the van. We enter Alaska with broad smiles on our faces. He shows us photos of the abundant blueberries and cranberries that grow wild everywhere over the tundra.
Once inside the US, we see hunters everywhere! 13 miles of good pavement abruptly ends and it's gravel, hairpin curves, no shoulders, and potholes all the way to Chicken, AK. Back in the day, one story goes, the people wanted to name the town Ptarmigan but as no one knew how to spell so they settled on Chicken! Three businesses only here - all a combo of cafe, gas, one with RV Park. All have Chicken statues but the winner for creativity is the one pictured here made in Homer AK from the high school lockers!
We are now on the Taylor Highway from here to Tok 96 miles away. We spy a Car Wash sign in Tok while at the grocery. Collin heads there to rinse the mud that is splattered half way up our van while I unsuccessfully try for wifi at the local Alaska Gift Store. We will make it to Fairbanks today and it is now brilliant sunshine and 65 degrees! The Alaska Range is in view and they are grand peaks stretching all along our left (west) vista. Our CG for the night is Fairbanks River’s Edge RV Park US$64. We dine at the Pump House Restaurant on the Chena River. My bacon wrapped scallops are excellent but the Ouster from Seattle I have in a shooter wins the night!
Creamers Field is a wildlife refuge managed by the Dept of Fish & Game. A former Dairy farm, the barn and its distinctive roof vents make me want to grab my easel. Instead we walk to the wetland ponds, passing fields where Sandhill Cranes are abundant. At the ponds they are joined by ducks and Canada Geese. A mile long boreal forest interpretive trail reveals tree species - white & black spruce, aspen and paperbark popular, willows- mushrooms, and callas, all along the quoking of the cranes accompanies us. It's a chilly morning and lovely experience. All along the way are sign posts with short poems encased in plastic- very good poetry that makes one anxious to read the next.
We arrive a Denali National Park- our end point destination northward. Campgrounds are full but we book the next two nights and a bus ride tour all the way into to Wonder Lake -11 hours!- for tomorrow. We camp right in town at Denali Rainbow RV. The hosts crack me up and I make four trips into the office just to talk with Carl and Charlie! Then it's off to do the 15 mile drive into the Savage River, as far as private cars are allowed. We have a great short hike on the Savage River Loop. Dinner is at The Salmon Bake where the Parmesan asiago crusted Halibut in a lemon cream sauce is a winner!
Our bus trip starts at 9:15 giving us time to stake a claim on a campsite before leaving for the day. Our guide Glen is knowledgeable, informative and funny. His focus is on driving the eventual single lane dirt road with sheer drop offs. Our job is to spot wildlife. We pick up a raspy voiced Alaskan who ends up getting the whole trip for free but is great at spotting the wildlife! Dall sheep are small white dots up at the very top of the rockiest peaks. We see several lone moose and one with a cub, numerous grizzlies - one mother and two cubs - and ptarmigan who have taken on their winter white just on the lower half of their bodies. We don't see Denali Mountain, however; not a uncommon occurrence. In fact, being able to see the 20,000’ high former Mt. McKinley only occurs an rare occasions. The day before yesterday was one such per an Aussie couple whose guide told them it was only the fifth time all season!
Denali, the park and the town, is a summer season kind of place. The Park’s season runs May 15 to Sept 15. It appears just about everyone lives elsewhere and heads home two weeks from now. Fall is advancing so rapidly that we can see the foliage colors go from brown to yellow, oranges and reds just during our three days here. our long busride goes all the way 96 miles to Wonder Lake. Even in the clouds the sheer size of the park is astonishing! Permits are available to Summit Denali - in the summer temperatures reach -35 degrees up there! Nooooo thank you!
Thirsday, August 30
We start the day with a short 2.4 mile hike around Horseshoe Lake just below the town of Denali. Next up we drive out to Savage River again where I paint a pastel 9x12 from the front seat while Collin hikes back further up the river canyon. His timing is perfect, arriving back just as I finish! Tomorrow we will head south where we will have an additional chance to see Denali if weather permits. Then it's onto Anchorage, Homer and the Kenai Peninsula.