The Alaskan Highway – a marvel of construction, survival and determination

Dawson Creek, British Columbia

Watson Lake, British Columbia – home of the Signpost Forest and our first stop on the Alaskan Highway.

Like explorers before them, these men took up the challenge and made an incredible contribution to North American history.

The black and white photos are from the terrific museum in Dawson Creek dedicated to the Alaskan Highway and the construction miracle it represented.

The Alaska Highway (also known as the Alaskan Highway, Alaska-Canadian Highway, or ALCAN Highway) was constructed during World War II for the purpose of connecting the United States to our 49th state – Alaska across Canada. It begins at the junction with several Canadian highways in Dawson Creek BC, and runs through the Yukon Territory to Delta Junction, Alaska outside of Tok and Chicken.

Completed in unbelievable record time of 18 months in 1942 and under budget, it is approximately 1,387 miles long now after some improvements and new construction. More than 20,000 armed forces personnel and civilian engineers worked around the clock 24/7 to complete the Highway. It was a muddy mosquito ridden project but it was essential for the war effort and provided an important connection to the most distant part of United States. After the war, the highway was opened to the Canadian and American public in 1948. It also represented a landmark US Canadian cooperative effort although not without a few glitches along the way.

The highway today has been legendary over many decades for being a rough, challenging drive, – those that complete it – especially in a motor coach are brave souls even though the highway is now mostly paved – during summer it is constantly under reconstruction.

Our pictures try to illustrate the road’s current condition as well as how incredibly difficult the highway’s construction was – but they persevered.

Americans and Canadians from all over North America built the highway – working ceaseless long hours under horrific conditions no matter the weather.

Thru the Wilderness they came….turning narrow, tight lumber harvest roads into a national highway.

Mud, mud and more mud….

The photos attempt to show the work and wonder of this project. Having driven the highway it’s still hard to imagine that it was built in 18 months.

An original piece of road machinery – left in place at the end of the project.

Carl Lindsey started the sign post forest in 1942 and we loved following in his footsteps.

Above is our signpost which now hangs in the Watson Lake Signpost Forest as proof that we were there!

Here we are on one of the original bridges of the Alaskan highway, which is no longer in use – it’s a memorial of sorts to the hard work and spirit of the workers who built the highway.

The Highway from our front seat of the Taj perspective – speed limit was 40 mph but we rarely drive over 25 and we still got a cracked windshield.

Chip and Seal is the process used to repair the roads – permafrost under it requires work be done June to September only and traditional road coverings like concrete don’t work well with the frost heaves and other weather extremes experienced up here. So each year thy chip up the old layer and then grade and press the chopped up road down as the new layer. It’s messy, dusty, rugged and very tough on all vehicles.

Trembling Aspen in Canada – similar to Quaking Aspen in Northwest USA. Each tree is connected by its roots to the one next to it – they are families of trees – interdependent and strong together. They were just one of the beautiful landscape features we enjoyed on the drive. The light flicked through them when they trembled.

Alberta to British Columbia – Canadian Rocky Mountains – the wonders along the way.

Banff and the Canadian Rocky Mountains National Parks

Waterfalls and wild rushing water carving its way through mountains.

Falling into a turquoise pool.

Rocks and boulders like these above, were left behind as the glacier retreats – leaving layers of them to form terminal and lateral moraines – the geologic evidence of glacier activity throughout North America.

Glaciers carve the sides of these spectacular mountains continually, although these glaciers are melting and shrinking more everyday.

Below is the Lake Louise Ski Resort – the site of my first ever ride on a ski lift.

The Lake Louise Lodge where we had a fab buffet lunch and relaxed after the ski lift ride to the top of slope.

A view from ski lift to Emerald Lake and a magnificent Fairmont hotel nestled at the base of the glacier created lake.

A long distance view of the Ice-fields and the fairytale lake resort.

Took this from the gondola of the ski lift – it’s like flying although still tethered. The chiseled Rockies are spectacular from this viewpoint.

A small restaurant across this glacier lake welcomes visitors with refreshments and a fab view. The crowds visiting these parks were huge – we went into the parks early in the morning, but still could not avoid the bus loads of folks doing what we were doing – enjoying the fantastic scenery.

This roaring river is filled with the “glacier flour” appearing grey and muddy as it moves swiftly carving through the riverbed edge.

Here the Rockies glacier lakes get their turquoise color from the same “glacier flour” that drifts down the mountain sides and because of its complex granite mixture, it reflects light full of color – appearing to be a deep Caribbean blue.

Flowers were blooming everywhere, wild and cultivated – the colors of everything growing – were delightful – trees, plants, grasses and wildflowers were remarkable and always worth a photo.

Above in this photo – a young boy examined the lovely begonia basket from below – after my shot he laughed as did his family who watched me spot his antics and approved of the photo.

The color variety in this shot across the lake was enchanting and one of many great shots in the Yoho Provincial Park near Banff.

A rare purple bleeding heart plant hung at one of the small visitor resting places in Yoho Provincial Park.

I included this shot to explain better where we were – between two enormous provinces. These Rockies seem more jagged and rough hewn than the US version – they continue to evolve due to remaining glaciers and the extreme weather.

Look a glacier on the left! It was the first of many but a big thrill and part of the enormous Columbia Icefields.

Above is the tongue or beginning edge of another glacier – demonstrating the proof that these spectacular iced mountain movers are dying wonders. The impact of a warming climate becomes obvious to us here.

And now for a ride to the Athabaskan Glacier – part of the Columbia Ice fields followed by a leisurely stroll atop the ice.

The Glacier Mobile People Movers – getting to the huge glacier in style.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors take these tours of the glaciers each year.

In 1843 the Athabaskan Glacier was across the highway, up the hill and through the parking lot. 170 years later you must hitch a ride on a tour bus across the lots and highway and then board the Glacier Buggy for the drive up on to the glacier for your visit.

Love these big Red Glacier Buggies – they were specially manufactured for this purpose. Rugged and tough they provide visitors a terrific way to experience a glacier up close and personal.

Hey we are walking on a glacier here! I admit that I did an attack of sea legs doing this – it did feel weird but we are so glad we did it!

One of our tour members Judi, posing in front of the Glacier Buggy we took up to the top of the glacier – named the Porcupine!

For the especially brave, there is a guided walk along the glacier but don’t try it alone – uneven melting and freezing causes deadly crevices that have been the sight of tourist injuries or even deaths over the years.

Here the melting of the glacier ice causes little rivers of crystal clear glacier water – we tasted it and it was delicious but very cold – no ice cubes needed!

Ice driven rivers meet and merge into bigger ones along the glacier’s edges.

Across the glacier on one of the mountains that surround the ice fields, we spotted this ice lizard making its way to the summit to bask in the warm sunlight.

After visiting the Banff and Jasper area we continued our drive north deep into British Columbia.

Calgary and the Annual Stampede – where cowboys still rule!

The largest cowboy rodeo event in North America takes place the first two weeks in. This year was the fiftieth anniversary of the giant cowboy and cowgirl gathering and they celebrated in style.

Although somewhat commercial, the competitive events were fun and exciting. Some 150,000 people attend these annual celebrations – a series of competitive rodeo events over the two week period. Everything from calf roping to bull riding and chuck wagon races. We went twice in two days and enjoy the spectacle and excitement – people come from all over Canada and the US but it’s a decidedly Alberta event!

Calgary was a fun city to visit – torn between its horse and cattle past – and its bright skyscraper future. Tall towers like the Calgary Tower belie it’s small town cowpoke personality. There is also a strong First Nation heritage here as well and we visited the Glenbow museum – a delightful experience – in addition to artworks and precious gems exhibit there were several First Nation historic elements that gave us a great foundation for understanding Canada’s relationship with its many original tribal people.

The Alberta First Nation tribal representatives also play a role in the Calgary Stampede and various racing events they suggested are now part of the annual proceedings. We enjoyed the bareback relay in particular.

It was unusually hot and humid while we were there – in the 90s Fahrenheit or high 30s Celsius and the locals were not comfortable,e – us Floridians loved it, and it turned out to be one of the last sunny and warm experiences we had during the long summer.

One of our first nights in Alberta offered us this gorgeous sunset.


Along the route to Calgary we stopped at the sight of one of the worst landslide disasters ever – the Frank Slide. The marker commemorates the people killed and the homes and business wiped out as the mountain gave way one terrible morning. Mining may have contributed to the event.

Calgary through the glass wall and from the top of the Tower – looking northeast toward the Bow River and several new construction sites.

The Tower from the street – it’s taller but not as attractive as the Space Needle of Seattle, Washington. It opened in 1968 as an important national attraction. Great museum across the street – the Glenbow – don’t miss it! There are artistic, historical and cultural exhibits throughout plus a huge precious stone and mineral display.

Ammolite – Canada’s precious stone and one of my favorites! Only found in Canadian provinces.
Just a small sample of the hundreds of gems on display at the Glenbow Museum
Western Canada needed settlers and it paid to advertise. A Glenbow exhibit about how the west was settled.
A Canadian women’s hockey team in 1929 – the national sport is popular with everyone!
50 Years of Calgary Stampede Celebration
Not the Budweiser Clydesdales but Alberta’s version – they were stunning!

Chuck wagon Races – aa actual competition that horses are specially bred, raised and trained for. Great fun to watch and cheer for your favorite champion. The winner this year was a former national champion.

Synchronized horse event.

Us and many of our fellow Fantasy RV Tour members – enjoying the Stampede events.

Beautiful Canada and Glorious Alaska

Many of you probably thought we disappeared into space with no blogs for almost three months. For most of that time our motor coach has been like a time machine as we made our way from Coeur de Alene, Idaho through Calgary, Alberta, Canada into Baniff and British Columbia – then north through the Yukon Territory and finally into Alaska – the last Frontier. The lack of consistent cell service and internet reception meant we would need to postpone blog posts until the trip was over

Once we left Calgary we frequently had just 30 Amps at campgrounds – sometimes barely 20 Amps and rarely had strong cell or internet service and never Any satellite reception for television. Often we were off the grid entirely during these travel periods as we were driving on the same paths gold prospectors took in an earlier time. We experienced Gold Rush days in Dawson City, prehistoric periods near Whitehorse, highways that barely met 1950’s standards like the Alaskan Highway, the Top of the World Highway and the “road to Chicken and Tok, Alaska”. For miles and miles we saw no human habitation but rather acres of prairie, tundra and alpine forest landscapes – home to moose, elk, caribou, mountain goats and Dall sheep, as well as bears of all shades, and the ubiquitous ravens and bald eagles.

We traveled through many First Nations lands in Canada as well as lands of the Alaskan Native people – those that originated on these elegant northwest territories from prehistory prior to the European invasion retain strong cultural and familial heritage. We enjoyed our exposure to their history, we appreciated their valuable stewardship of the land and learned much about the strong traditions that survive today. Their heritage and interpretive centers were remarkable places of learning – offering us a good foundation for traveling this unique land. We will share more in later blog posts about these experiences.

Ah the landscapes, the animals and the weather!

This land was beyond comparison for us. Words fail me when trying to portray this experience – what we saw, learned or just witnessed. We came to respect and appreciate this land beyond our expectations. The flora and fauna, – the land and sea life, birds and animals who call these places home are glorious and you never tire of watching them in their natural habitats.

Finally the people we met in these treasured lands – they were fascinating, tough, resilient and so proud to share their home land and its stories with us. We hope our photos will help transport you along with us on this great adventure but honestly even some the best photographs may fall short in conveying the remarkable nature of our months of traveling.

It was love at first sight in so many places we began to feel like we were being unfaithful to the previous day’s places as we witnessed each new landscape or habitat. Every time we thought this was an experience of awe – the next turn or on the next day would show us even more beauty and delight.

This was a long trip – hard on the coach, hard on the car as well as on the travelers – don’t embark on this journey underestimating the impact of long difficult driving days, terrible road conditions, unpredictable weather and a weariness that can overcome you if you let it. We got our first windshield crack early heading towards the Alaskan Highway followed by a huge stress crack several days later. Our car’s windshield got a rock crack on the return trip.

But we anticipated these instances – friends had warned us. Everyone in Alaska has a cracked windshield – it’s like a badge of belonging. However the joy experienced by traveling through these unique places becomes a singular emotion. This is not a trip for the faint of heart – it’s not a cruise or luxury vacation – it’s a trip into the last North American frontier and amenities are few and far between. We were very glad we had anticipated many conditions and were prepared with extra parts etc.

We drove over 2500 miles to get to Alaska – 1500 miles along the famous Alaskan Highway and then some 1000 plus to various points in Alaska on the only roads that exist – which were often being repaired as this time of year that can be done. The roads were frequently barely passable with steep inclines, grades and hairpin twists through giant mountain ranges. Hopefully our photos will illustrate the traveling and driving experiences.

Following those long days of driving including crossing the Yukon River on a tiny one motor coach per trip ferry – we made the return trip to Washington State in seven or eight days with Rick driving the Taj and me following in the Grand Cherokee. A catastrophic failure of our tow gear near Teslin, Alaska just before the US/Canada border meant our trip south would be 2000 miles of separate vehicle driving.

The bolts to the tow gear sheared off and the car came loose on one side pulling the main tow gear out of the coach. But we made it into a roadside pullout in time – thanks to a eighteen wheeler honking and waving to us and our own vigilance at checking rearview mirrors and cameras. Believe me you never want to see your tow vehicle in one of your rear view mirrors. But no one was hurt and with the help of our fellow tour travelers we were able to get back on the road that day. Driving through border checkpoints proved interesting- we had to explain our status each time and most border personnel were understanding.

We quickly determined the tow gear was not salvageable and made plans to replace it in Seattle after the tour. We made the driving accommodation because finishing this trip was important to us. It was worth it. While we would love to return to Alaska – we would not retrace our steps. This was a once in a lifetime trip for so many reasons – the driving being a key one. What follows will be posts about the places we experienced and the habitats we witnessed all of which made it the biggest bucket list item we had.

Thanks for following us on this amazing journey.

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