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Lupo does The Yukon.


The North American Tour

Lupo does The Yukon.

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This article was posted on July 1, 2003.

Picture 1:
An experienced and impressively-credentialed traveller,
Lupo is licensed as both as a dog and as a motor vehicle operator.

In May and June 2003, my dog Lupo and I took a long road trip through British Columbia and the Yukon Territories of Canada. We entered Canada at Kingsgate, BC, just North of the Idaho border and travelled through the Western slope of the Rocky Mountains until we reached Banff and Jasper National Parks. Travelled North on the Eastern side of the Rockies to Milepost 0 of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek, BC. Then followed that historic road straight to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territories. From there we drove the Klondike Highway to Dawson City, YT, then took the ferry across the Yukon River to pick up the Top of the World Highway and the Taylor Highway to Tok, Alaska. On the way back we took the Stewart-Cassiar Highway through the Northern British Columbia wilderness, then visited the cities of Prince George and Kamloops on our return to civilization. We closed out the trip by taking Route 99 to Whistler, BC and the marvelous "Sea to the Sky" Highway to Vancouver, BC. Here's a map of the route.

(1) Idaho, USA to (2) Banff/Lake Louise, Alberta

The Western slope of the Canadian Rockies makes for a scenic drive. Travelling on Routes 3 and 95 through Cranbrook, BC towards Radium Hot Springs offers views of majestic mountains and tranquil mountain lakes. Entering Kootenay National Park just North of Radium Hot Springs travellers are treated to a sensational drive along the Bow Valley Parkway towards the towns of Banff and Lake Louise. On my other visits to the Canadian Rockies, I stayed in Calgary and approached Banff from the East, which offers also impressive views. The Western approach was even better.

Picture 2 Columbia Lake, British Columbia:
Lupo enjoys the view of Lake Columbia on
the Western slope of the Canadian Rockies.

Picture 2a Lake Louise, Banff National Park:
Ice still covers a large part of Lake Louise in late May. The reflection off
the thawed portion of the lake in the bottom of the picture
makes it difficult to tell up from down.

(2) Banff, AB to (3) Jasper, AB

Travelling through Banff and Jasper National Parks in late May seems to avoid much of the crowds. We reached Athabasca Falls at the Northern end of the park late in the day (9pm, but it doesn't get dark until about 10:30pm this far North) and were literally the only visitors there. Previous visits saw hundreds of tourists milling aound the falls.

Picture 2b Jasper National Park:
Lupo enjoys a quiet view of Athabasca Falls on a late Spring evening.

Picture 2c Jasper National Park:
Here's another view of Athabasca Falls.

Unfortunately, the shutter interlock on my digital camera failed shortly after we left Athabasca Falls, so that's the last original picture of Lupo you'll see from the trip. I'll include some links to other web sites to show you what the rest of the trip looked like.

(3) Jasper, AB to (4) Dawson Creek, BC

Driving little-travelled Route 40 through Grande Cache on the way from Jasper to Dawson Creek was a real treat. Many of the secondary roads in Northern Canada are in perfect shape, yet give visitors a real wilderness experience. The only major industrial installation along the route was the power plant and adjacent coal mine about half way between Hinton and Grande Cache.

Gravel Roads

Most of the highways in Northern Canada are gravel, yet the roads are in amazingly good shape. The old pictures of cars being winched through mud bogs on the Alaska Highway are a thing of the past. The chip seal process provides a hard surface on a gravel road that easily supports comfortable 60 to 70 mph travel. You'll still find the occasional 5 or 10 mile stretch of loose gravel where the road is being resurfaced. That's a bit like driving in 3 inches of snow and if you're not the lead car in the pack, you'll have to put up with a bit of dust. You probably won't be able to exceed 40 mph through loose gravel.

Once you reach Grande Prairie and head towards Dawson Creek, things flatten out and the drive gets less interesting. Kind of like driving through Iowa.

(4) Dawson Creek, BC to (5) Fort Nelson, BC

The terrian starts unfolding into slowly rolling hills as you leave Dawson Creek and head Northwest on the Alaska Highway. You also start seeing a few black bears grazing along the grassy right-of-way that separates the highway from the forest.

(5) Fort Nelson, BC to (6) Watson Lake, YT

The high point of the trip was probably the Alaska Highway between Fort Nelson, BC and Watson Lake, YT, where the road crosses through Stone Mountain and Muncho Lake Provincial Parks and the Northern Rocky Mountains. I saw more large game along that stretch of road than I did in a half dozen visits to Yellowstone and Yosemite -- black bears, grizzly bears, mountain goats, big horn sheep, wood bison, moose, antelope, etc. Bears in Northern BC seem to be almost as numerous as squirrels in Connecticut.

Bears appear to be most active in the late evening. By 9 or 10 pm you started to see a bear (or group of bears) about every 5 miles along the road. One large black bear just stood in the middle of the highway and didn't move until my automobile got within about 20 feet of it.

(6) Watson Lake, YT to (7) Whitehorse, YT

This section of the Alaska Highway travels through the Lake District of the Yukon Territories. This string of lakes forms the headwaters of the Yukon River.

Whitehorse is the governmental seat of the Yukon and its largest city. It's a full-service city with branches of many foreign and domestic banks. It even has a Wal-Mart.

(7)Whitehorse, YT to (8) Dawson City, YT

Dawson City, YT marked the Northernmost town on my trip. It never really gets dark this time of year in the Northern Yukon. Sunset was after midnight and sunrise was about 4am. The intervening four hours are dusk, not dark.

The lightly-traveled Klondike Highway between Whitehorse and Dawson City offered a variety of scenic views. Perhaps the Yukon river crossing North of Carmacks is the most scenic. About 25 miles South of Dawson City you'll find the turn-off to the Dempster Highway, a 450 mile gravel road to Inuvik, Northwest Territories that crosses the Artic Circle. There's also a 100 mile long ice road continuing on to Tuktoyaktuk, NWT that's only open in the winter. (I'll tackle the Dempster Highway on my next visit.)

Do you need a refrigerator if you live in Inuvik?

A refrigerator for food and beverages is the least of your worries. Astonishingly, all the water and sewer lines to your home must be heavily insulated (to keep the water inside the pipe from freezing), but then the pipe itself must be kept frozen to prevent the environmentally sensitive permafrost from melting. (If the permafrost melts, your home sinks into a soupy arctic bog.) Most utilities are run above ground in expensive utilidors to separate them from the permafrost. Any lines that are run below grade may need supplemental refrigeration to keep the permafrost from melting.

Dawson City itself is an old mining town with the requisite saloons and boarding houses. Unpaved streets add to the rustic appeal -- a least until a five minute rain shower made them muddy and messy to cross. The city has a nice waterfront along the Yukon River and a free car ferry that crosses the river in about 5 minutes. (The ferry is replaced with an ice bridge in the winter.) The road to the Top of the World Golf Course on the West side of the river offers a fantastic elevated view of the town and the Yukon River valley.

(8) Dawson City, YT to (9) Tok, AK

Travelling West from Dawson City, I took the Top of the World Highway and the Taylor Highway down to Tok, Alaska. This was billed as a gravel road though the mountains, but was actually in better shape than many of the streets in Houston. The views as the road went from mountaintop to mountaintop were spectacular.

(9) Tok, AK to (10) Haines Junction, YT

This section of the Alaska Highway borders the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and the Kluane (kloo-an-ay) National Park in the Yukon. The beautiful snow-capped peaks of the Wrangell and Elias Mountain Ranges can be seen all along the South side of the highway.

(10) Haines Junction, YT to (11) Dease Lake, BC

This part of the trip mostly retraced the Alaska Highway between Whitehorse and Watson Lake, YT

(11) Dease Lake, BC to (12) Stewart, BC/Hyder, AK

Another highlight of the trip was the lightly-travelled Cassiar Highway through the Northern, BC wilderness. Moose and bear on this 500 mile road seem to outnumber the cars. A side trip to Stewart, BC/Hyder, Alaska on the Pacific Coast was also memorable on a rare sunny day. (This region gets over 100 inches of rain each year and is moreoften dark and cloudy.) This narrow canyon highway to the Pacific with glaciers almost reaching the road is one of the most scenic drives in North America.

Hyder, Alaska is home to Fish Creek a world famous mountain fed stream that teams with salmon in August attracting hungary grizzly bears and the tourists who watch them. When I visited Hyder in early June, there was only one grizzly bear visible in Fish Creek.

(12) Stewart, BC to (13) Prince George, BC

This stretch of road goes through mostly farmland. Prince George is a city of 80,000 situated at the confluence of the Fraser and Nechako Rivers.

(13) Prince George, BC to (14) Clearwater, BC

Clearwater, BC is the gateway to Wells Gray Provincal Park and Helmcken Falls, a 500 ft waterfall that's said to be particularly beautiful in the winter. It looks good in June, too.

(14) Clearwater, BC to (15) Vancouver, BC

This part of the route follows the Clearwater River down to Kamloops, then the Thompson River West to Cache Creek. From there, we pick up Route 99 to Whistler and Vancouver.

Kamloops is a good-sized city at the eastern end of Lake Kamloops. The Thompson River Valley is a fairly dry area of Canada. It gets even drier as you head towards Marble Canyon rear the Northeast terminus of Route 99. The road follows the white waters Cayoosh Creek for miles as you approach the summit near Mt. Currie, BC. The road is even more picturesque on the way down the mountain as you follow the "Sea to the Sky" highway from Whistler, BC down to Vancouver.

Well, that's a brief summary of the trip. I may post some more details in the coming months

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Copyright 2003 John P. Greaney, All rights reserved.

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