Leaving Alberta, Bound for the Yukon

As we continue our travels west and north, we head from Alberta to the Yukon.  We had originally planned to go to the Northwest Territories and dip our toes in the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk.  Unfortunately, our expectations to go to the Northwest Territories and Alaska were thwarted by closed borders.

Day 1 – Grande Prairie AB to Fort Nelson BC

We left Grande Prairie, Alberta reasonably early for us – 8:30 a.m. 

Our first stop was Beaverlodge, Alberta to see the statue of a beaver. The beaver was installed in 2004 to celebrate the town’s 75th anniversary.  The combined weight of the beaver and log is 3,000 pounds.  They stand 15 feet high, 10 feet wide and 20 feet long.

Our next stop was Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek, British Columbia.  We have planned to travel a large part of the Alaska Highway this summer, so starting at Mile 0 seemed like a good move. 

After crossing the Peace River Bridge, the longest bridge on the Alaska Highway, and driving through Tyler, British Columbia, we were lucky enough to see a black bear cross the highway. He was far enough ahead of us that Al didn’t even need to apply the brakes and so quick that I didn’t get a picture.

This summer there have been a lot of forest fires across Canada.  For the most part, our travels have not been impacted.  In Grande Prairie, we had a few days where there was some smoke but not excessive.  Driving Highway 97, exposed us to more smoke, and we went through two areas where there had been recent burns. It’s chilling to look into the forest and see nothing but blackened trees.

We arrived at Triple G Hideaway to find the park relatively empty, and they allowed us to pick our site.  For a change, we were able to get a place with some shade.  Each evening several campers came in for just a night.

Days 2 & 3 – Fort Nelson

We spent two days in Fort Nelson.  We spent part of the time lounging around the campsite and part of the time we did some errands and did some touristy things.

The Fort Nelson Heritage Museum was our favourite spot.  Admission was just $7 for an adult and, if you’re so inclined, you could spend a day here and not see everything.  There is the main museum building plus several outbuildings and lots of cars, trucks and other things outside.  The “Hudson Bay House” was originally the home of the senior Hudson Bay employee in the area.  The interior is interesting, but even more interesting is the house itself was a mail-order house.

The Muskwa-Kechika Management Area can be accessed from the Alaska Highway.  We could see some campers on the riverbank of the Muskwa River, so we took a drive down to that area of the river using the access road just south of town.  The staff person at the visitors’ centre told us that it is a popular spot for locals to camp.

Our visit to the Fort Nelson Visitor Information Centre netted us some brochures on the local area as well as travelling along the Alaska Highway.  The staff person was pleasant and helpful.  There is a book exchange in the lobby.

Although we didn’t buy anything, our trip into the Trapper’s Den Wildlife Emporium was enjoyable.  They have a variety of items from souvenirs to backpacking and hunting gear.

Our first trip into a liquor store in BC was informative.  We found that beer and coolers purchased warm off the shelf are cheaper than buying ones from the fridge.  A dozen cans of beer were roughly $4 cheaper. We’d never seen pricing like this before.

Day 4 – Fort Nelson BC to Watson Lake YT

We woke to a cool, overcast day, and it turned into an almost all-day rain.  Not a great day for travelling, but at least it kept most of the bugs off the windshield.  Also, not a great day as twice our windshield wipers decided to quit on us.  Both times Al was able to get them working again but never discovered the cause of the problem.

Our first stop for the wiper blades was along the Tetsa River.  We were barely back on the road and saw a cow and calf moose walking along the highway.

The scenery from there to Watson Lake was breathtaking and the wildlife we saw just enhanced our enjoyment of the day.  When we talked to the woman at the Visitors Reception Centre, she said we saw more wildlife than the average tourist.  In total, we saw three moose, three caribou, three stone sheep, one lone bison and two herds of bison.

As passenger, I followed our route using a 2013 version of “Milepost” that a friend had given us and a free 2021 Bell’s Travel Alaska Highway Mapbook.  I liked the Mapbook for showing our route on just two pages but liked the Milepost’s additional detail.  So far, I don’t think buying a current version of Milepost would be any more beneficial for us.

We had reserved the Baby Nugget RV Park for two nights.  It is about 22 kilometres west of Watson Lake, so we had a quick view of Watson Lake on our way to our campsite.  We were surprised when we arrived to find that we were the only campers there; although, one truck camper did show up later in the evening.  When we went to the restaurant for dinner, we found out that we were their only restaurant patrons of the day.  The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the tourism business in this area hard.

Day 5 – Watson Lake

Again, we woke to an overcast day, resulting in a cool day with some occasional sprinkles. 

After coffees, breakfast and taking Ozzy for a walk, we headed into town.  Our first stop was the Watson Lake Signpost Forest.  We had come prepared for this with a sign one of our old neighbours made for us.  A notice at the visitors’ centre said that in 2019 there was close to 90,000 signs.  A few other people were wandering through the “forest”, checking out the signs and the people we spoke to all commented on this fascinating place.  The signpost forest was started in 1942 by a homesick GI working on the highway and has continued to grow since then.

The Visitor’s Centre has been relocated from the “forest” to the nearby recreational complex.  We popped in there to chat with the staff, who gave us some recommendations for places to stop on our way to Whitehorse.

We were sitting in the truck trying to decide what to do with the hour we had before our movie started at the Northern Lights Centre when we saw a firefighter walking by with a take-out container.  Stereotypically, we assumed first responders know where the good food is, and he had come from Laurie’s Bistro, which is inside the recreational complex.  So off we headed for a quick lunch.  And what an excellent choice it turned out to be.  I had one of the best wet pulled pork sandwiches I’ve ever had.  Al had a jalapeno cheddar bacon burger which he said was very good.  And they were real, not processed, French fries!

After lunch, we headed to the Northern Lights Centre for the showing of two short movies.  The first one was on the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) and was quite interesting.  The second one on Solar Storms was not as interesting for us.  Again, you could see the impact of the pandemic on tourism here.  We were at the 3rd and final showing of the movies for the day, and we were their first customers.

On our way back to our campsite, we stopped by a few other campgrounds in the area.  None of them were busy.  The Yukon government’s Watson Lake Campground was the busiest, but likely only 1 out of 6 sites were occupied.

Watch for my next posts to read about some of the Yukon’s spectacular destinations.

Enjoy your travels! Stay safe!

Vanessa

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