We made it to the official start of the World Famous Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek, British Columbia. Dawson Creek is an industrial type of town, a little grey during this cloudy day and closed-down season. We fueled up, took the obligatory photo in front of the sign, and headed out.
I had done this part of the drive with a co-worker in 2016, but I was excited to experience the beauty of the area with Steve. Just a few miles outside of Dawson Creek is a very picturesque side trip on the original highway over the longest wooden curved bridge in North America, Kiskatinaw Bridge! This feat of engineering (along with the entire construction of this highway in general) is amazing! The conditions and location they had to work with were quite challenging. But as trucks and loads got bigger, they realized they needed a permanent alternative to this wooden bridge, as the big trucks still had to cross the river directly. They made a bypass highway in 1978 and now this beautiful site is only experienced by the few that read the travel pamphlets (or this blog post!).
Our first nights on the Alaska Highway were still in hotels, as we were trying to shorten out driving days to not get to Alaska before June 2nd. But just as we got to BC, we heard the press release from the Alaska governor: the mandatory quarantine is extended to all who arrive before June 5th. *bam, curveball 1* This would have the entire staff who arrives on June 3rd, as originally scheduled, in their two-week quarantine until June 19th. But the lodge opens June 13th. Who would be able to work with guests if we’re all quarantined??
Well, we figured we might as well get to Alaska whenever we can to start our quarantine as soon as possible. In the meantime, our bosses were trying to figure out if testing out of the quarantine would be an option. Our limited cell service dictated where we’d stay each night to get the latest news on our travel plans, as well as the news of the riots erupting in the lower 48. Not going to lie, the few hours each day we had without wi-fi and cell service were quite peaceful.
Our first full day through British Columbia was our biggest animal day ever! 21 black bears, 4 grizzly bears, and a herd of bison! What a day!! We opted out of taking photos of every animal, but did have several highlights.
We drove by a big black bear off the side of the road, thinking we wouldn’t stop for photos, just let him mozy along. Then Steve exclaimed – “That bear is missing a leg!” I said “No way, how could you see that?” We turned around (perk of there being literally no one else on the road) and drove back toward the big ole guy. Such enough, his front left leg was missing from above the knee! We speculated it had been caught in a trap at some point in his life. He seemed to be getting along just fine without it, taking any opportunity to lay down and eat, which really is the life we all want – lounging in the grass, eating all day.
A little further along, we saw a mama bear and her fuzz ball of a spring baby! He was barely big enough to be seen over the roadside grasses. We wanted to give her plenty of space to not stress her out with her little baby. Since bears give birth while they’re sleeping in the winter, this little tyke is most likely around 5 months old! Awww 🙂
As we drove the winding, quiet road, I spotted a wonderful sign: Hot Cinnamon Buns! Absolutely! We pulled down to this small lodge/cafe/fuel station/campground in the drizzly rain. It looked like we were the only ones there. But luckily a fresh batch of rolls had just come out of the oven! We bought 3 hefty cinnamon rolls & a loaf of fresh sourdough bread for our travels. I love little quaint finds like that!
We had seen signs about the bison herd that roams this highway corridor as we left Dawson Creek. We passed many, many piles of bison evidence as we drove, building the anticipation of finding them. We didn’t know if it’d just be a couple, or if the herd was roaming somewhere else and we had missed them. It was quite a long time until we saw them, but when we did, it was obvious. They take up the whole road way and road sides, crossing from side to side at their leisure. Signs and pamphlets warned to drive with extra caution at night because the bison often sleep on the warm pavement.
Now that we were in the remote forested part of the trip, we were on the lookout for a campsite for the night. There are loads of random side roads and pull offs, but we waited to find the right one. Sure enough, we stumbled across an old hunting camp right on the lake shore. It was very much worth the longer day of driving.
We weren’t used to the midnight sun while camping, as we had been in hotels until this point. Luckily, my buff doubled as an eye mask to allow for a few hours of sleep in the rain. Our new tent proved itself on its maiden night, keeping us dry and bug-free.
Our early morning was greeted with some more fabulous animal sightings. On this day, we saw 2 foxes, 2 porcupine, and a dozen more bears! As I drove down the road, I spotted an oddly-colored animal grazing in the grass. Another U-turn on the deserted road brought us back to this little guy just as he started to climb the embankment to the forest. We watched his little white butt waddle up the hill and disappear. How unique!!
We were also greeted by two red foxes, about 2 miles apart from each other. The first, trotting through the field, very majestic in the morning light. Then a few minutes later, another was trotting down the road towards us with something in his mouth. As he walked by, we saw it wasn’t a small squirrel like my initial guess. It was a leather glove! He seemed so proud of his glove catch! Poor guy, hope he doesn’t try to eat it. Not much nutritional value to that.
We weren’t far from the Yukon border now. Our next roadside attraction of the highway was coming up: Watson Lake Signpost Forest. I forgot to get a city sign to post, but I was still excited to take some time to walk through it.
As we crossed into the Yukon, we were directed to a roadside checkpoint. Here we were informed the Yukon has had 0 Covid cases, and wanted to keep it that way. Since we were just passing through on our way to Alaska, we were allotted 24 hours to get through the Yukon and into Alaska *bam, curveball 2*. We were planning to stay in the Yukon, which is so beautiful, for 2 nights, so we would still arrive to our job on our original start date to ensure we had a place to stay while there. This 24-hr limit put us in Alaska a day early, which I guess meant our quarantine would start a day early!
But, along with the time limit, we also were only allowed to drive on Highway 1, no detours; could only stop for gas & take out food; and were permitted to camp (though all campgrounds were closed) or stay in a few select hotels on the route. This meant no Signpost Forest visiting.
The drive from border to border takes about 10 hours, so the 24-hour limit wasn’t super pressing, but it definitely didn’t allow for any lollygagging or relaxation. So, off we went. We took in the beauty as we went, but only from the car. A few more animals graced us for some photos, but the majority seemed to be in BC. We stopped for gas & Chinese take out outside of Whitehorse, eating at a roadside rest area.
We set our sights on Kluane Lake for the night, finding a nice area to set up camp next to the lake, a couple miles from our last grizzly bear sighting! Some traveling Canadians joined us in their RV, while we finished our Chinese food on the beach next to some grizzly & moose tracks.
The section of the Alaska Highway from Kluane Lake to the Alaska border is listed in the guide books as the most difficult. This section has always caused the road workers the most grief, with frost heaves and weather variations. It was like a small roller coaster, offering a small insight to what the original road may have felt like.
Our crossing into Alaska was the easiest of all. We speculate no border agent is feeling like searching any cars during this Covid pandemic, so unless you look super sketchy, you’re in like flint.
We opted out of visiting Santa’s Workshop in North Pole, Chicken Alaska, and the thrift stores of Fairbanks. We took the fast track to the Denali Cabins to adhere to the quarantine mandates as closely as possible. We weren’t exactly looking forward to another quarantine session like in the Keys. Fortunately, there was a community clinic in Healy offering free rapid Covid tests, so all employees were encouraged to take the opportunity to get the test.
I can’t find words to describe how uncomfortable of an experience that test was. The swab goes so deep, the brain feels probed via both nostrils. 2 of us had nose bleeds after. But, I guess it was worth it to receive a negative result 30 minutes later. With our negative results in hand, we went out for some well-deserved pizza and beer, feeling a bit of relief to be negative after traveling 5,000 miles across country during this crazy time!
Let’s see where this season goes! If travelers have to go through that nose swab before coming to Alaska, we don’t have a good feeling about the resulting number of tourists….