posted: June 28th, 2009 | by:Bert
©Bert Gildart: The Alaska Highway is a 1,597-mile-long two-lane highway that stretches from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks. Much of the area through which it passes remains similar to the wilderness Canadians and the U.S. Army plowed through in 1942, taking 11 months to complete the monumental project of creating a road. Through primitive by today’s standards, the “highway” was deemed necessary after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Military experts were concerned the Japanese might invade Canada, the Aleutians and other parts of Alaska–and they needed a way to move troops. Today, that “wild road” now helps recall a frontier type of life that was at times raw, and sometimes very lonely–as suggested by the legacy of one man, which now attracts visitors from all over the world.
When Janie and I first drove the highway in 1991, the road was twisty and curvy, but to honor the 50-year anniversary of the Alcan (Alaska-Canada Highway) much money was spent shortly after our first adventure to convert the old road into a more modern day one. Today, we believe the surface is good enough for Airstream owners to pull their trailers–and to enjoy one of the greatest adventures still remaining to RV travelers.
Yes, you’ll have to travel slowly because of periodic frost heaving, but that will only allow you to see more wildlife–and enjoy the wild beauty the several provinces, and finally the state of Alaska, provides.
What you do as you travel this historic route will vary according to your interests. Our itinerary calls for stops in Whitehorse, Denali and finally Skagway–to hike the historic Chilkoot Pass. As well, we also plan to see our many Gwich’in Indian friends in Fairbanks; and while in Fairbanks, I have obligations to magazines and will be covering the World Eskimo Indian Olympics in mid July. But our time is here and now-and it is the many things seen along the way that make this trip worth the while, for there’s a history of wildlife and a legacy of characters. In fact, the entire trip could be called a “movable feast.”
Highlights of our trip have been many and as time goes by we may find enough Internet Cafés and campgrounds with Wireless connectivity to detail more of the exciting features we’ve enjoyed. In the meantime, I believe Janie and I would agree that our stop at Liard Hot Springs ranks high. So, too, do the sightings of all the wildlife (bears) and the Stone sheep-and this latter for a very good reason.
Throughout North America there are four different species of mountain sheep (Dall, Bighorn, Desert Bighorn) and the Stone Sheep is another. (I described the species in my book published by NorthWord on Mountain Monarchs.)
LEGACY OF CHARACTERS
But we’re also interested in the history of the Alcan and in some of the characters who left their marks. At this juncture in our journey the Sign Post Forest in Watson Lake, Yukon Territory, fits that bill.
The Signpost Forest dates back to 1942 when Carl Lindley, a homesick G.I. from Illinois was working on damaged signposts. Thinking perhaps of his sweetheart back home, he erected a marker showing the distance to his hometown in Illinois. For some inexplicable reason, the posting caught hold and today, the “forest” includes over 55,000 signs that come from all over the world.
Next stop may be Whitehorse, for the lady at the Visitor Center said it was an “easy” 5 to 6 hour drive. But we’ll have to see about that, for we’ve discovered most travel much faster than we do, and typically to cover the 280 miles she’s described, will take us a day and a half. We’re slow, and to see all the sights–to meet all the characters from the present-and past!–we believe that’s the way to travel the Alcan.