The complete travelogue of our trip
North to Alaska
Part 3 of 3
Returning Home From Alaska To Illinois
After a week of exploring and re-visiting Anchorage and South-Central Alaska, it was time to say goodbye and head south again.
Day 17: Tuesday July 17th
Anchorage, Alaska to Tok, Alaska
Today 325 miles: Trip total 5,589 miles
Today, we are driving back to Tok and staying at Young's Motel again.
We will be re-tracing our steps today, but tomorrow we break off in a different direction home.
We left Anchorage early Tuesday morning so we could split the drive to Dawson City, Yukon
into 2 reasonable days rather than 1 VERY long day. That would also allow us more time to explore
the "Top Of The World Highway" tomorrow.
We headed for home on a beautiful day! Here is the Matanuska Glacier at Mile 100.
It's a little clearer view than when we drove in.
And here is the view of Lion Head at Mile 114. Much clearer.
A common scene on the Alaska Highway - a caravan of RVs going 40-45 MPH.
Try passing that convoy on a curvy road. Ugh.
Heading eastbound near Glennallen, Alaska on the way to Tok.
Spencer lining up another great photo of fireweed.
Fireweed with the Matanuska River as backdrop.
Getting closer to Tok.
Welcome to Tok! As we pulled into Young's Motel, I spotted this Cool, Groovy VW van. Peace!
Spencer was disappointed we didn't want to trade.
Unloading our stuff for the night at Young's Motel.
The front of our van was where 769 Trillion mosquitoes met their demise.
That accounts for about 0.000000000001% of the mosquito population in the town of Tok.
Day 18: Wednesday July 18th
Tok, Alaska to Dawson City, Yukon
Today 190 miles: Trip total 5,779 miles
Shortly after leaving Tok, we headed east on the Taylor Highway, which later connects with the
"Top Of The World Highway" and continues to Dawson City, Yukon. Gold country!!
Starting out on the Taylor Highway. Nice road for awhile.
Rainbow on the Taylor Highway.
It's ironic that many prospectors came here back in 1849 looking
for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, and never found it.
Spencer taking photos of an area burned by a large forest fire about 10 years ago.
Continuing east. Very remote countryside.
We're glad the van didn't break down or have a flat tire out here.
Here's a hillside where the fireweed is growing after a forest fire.
Approaching the bustling metropolis of Chicken, Alaska. (Population: 7)
Here's a sneak peek of Chicken, Alaska from the highway.
Downtown and Uptown Chicken, Alaska. You have your shopping,
drinking, and eating all in one convenient location. What else do you need?
The busy shoppers.
Oh, yes, I guess there is one more thing everyone needs.
Alaska comfort station.
And, the only working gas pumps for 75 miles in either direction.
This beautiful red grass is quite common along the roads.
Hordeum Jubatum - Foxtail Barley (Thank you, George Longenecker, for helping me on that one!)
The Post Office at Chicken, Alaska. Really!!
As we're leaving Chicken, Alaska, we turn for one last look.
Leaving Chicken, the road narrows and the pavement ends. There are steep drop-offs
with no guardrails. That did not make Beth happy.
The old Jack Wade gold dredge, which was reportedly moved right after we went through.
It has been a landmark along this road for over 100 years.
For more information: http://www.explorenorth.com/library/history/bl-dredgejackwade.htm
Spencer by the Jack Wade Gold Dredge.
Rough road, tough van!
Spencer taking photos of the Taylor Highway as it stretches to the horizon.
(See next photo)
Looking at the Taylor Highway as it threads along the ridge toward the Yukon Territory.
Spencer taking a photo of the Taylor Highway as we approach the town of Boundary, Alaska (population 2)
and the border of Canada/Yukon Territory.
Just ahead is the town of Boundary, Alaska. It's the last stop before the Canada border.
Old cabin at Boundary. It would make a great retirement home, eh?
Beth thought these might be license plates that rattled off cars on the bumpy road.
I checked our plates to make sure they were still attached.
Notice the German plates.
This gas pump at Boundary probably hasn't pumped gas
since Eisenhower was President.
Before we crossed into the Yukon, we turned around for a photo of the welcome sign for those
coming the other direction into Alaska. This is our last family photo taken in Alaska.
Just up the hill a little bit is the customs station at Poker Creek.
Poker Creek Customs station, the most northerly land border port in the USA.
After passing through Canadian customs, we were back in the Yukon Territory.
Dawson City - 105 Kilometers (65 miles)
From here to Dawson City, the road is called "Top Of The World Highway", because it is mostly built
along the high ridgelines of the mountains and because it's so far north on the globe. Lots of spectacular scenery.
TOTWH (Top Of The World Highway) turns to gravel in Canada.
Some sections are great, some are not. Also, the Canadian government has figured out it can save millions of dollars
by not installing guardrails on the road, so be prepared for a long drop if you overshoot a corner.
(Remember, the road is built along the TOP of the ridges.)
TOTWH - Winding off into the distance.
Huh? Actually, this is for a left curve where the hillside blocks the view of oncoming traffic.
If you hug the left lane (remember the steep drop-offs just to your right?), you will be
headlight to headlight with any oncoming car. Not good.
After 100 miles of bumpy gravel road, we come around a corner to this great view of Dawson City, Yukon.
Heart of the 1849 gold stampede.
The Yukon River (flowing from the right, dirty with glacial silt) merges with the Klondike River (flowing toward you,
with clean mountain water). From here, the Yukon River flows north (to the left)
in a loop around Fairbanks and westward to the Bering Sea near Nome, AK.
In order to get across the Yukon River to Dawson City, you must take the ferry.
No bridge can survive the freeze/thaw cycles of the Yukon River in the winter.
We ate a good fish & chips (salmon and cod) meal at Sourdough Joe's.
When we came here back in 1992, Spencer had a great time throwing rocks in the Yukon River for quite a while.
Here, he is re-enacting his childhood.
The Keno is a paddleboat that traveled the Yukon River up and down to Whitehorse for years.
There are many interesting shops to walk around and see in Dawson City.
Family photos at the top of The Dome, a mountain next to Dawson City with a great overlook of the town and Yukon River.
(Left - 2007 / Right - 1992)
Back in 1992, Spencer had a great time pretending to be a fireman ringing the bell at the city park.
Beth and Spencer enjoying a quiet moment along the banks of the Yukon River (1992).
We took one last walk along the Yukon River before heading back to the hotel.
The Dome (just above the landslide area to the right) is where we took our family photos shown earlier.
Tomorrow, we head south through Whitehorse to stay at Teslin Lake again.
Day 19: Thursday July 19th
Dawson City, Yukon to Teslin Lake, Yukon
Today 460 miles: Trip total 6,239 miles
We were greeted with sunshine and clear skies as we left Dawson City this morning.
Looks like another great day to explore the Yukon Territory.
Heading south from Dawson City, Yukon on the Klondike Loop Highway.
Suddenly, Beth shouted, "Coyote!"
We stopped, backed up 100 feet, and watched this beautiful animal walk around for about 5 minutes.
Spencer took this great photo right before the coyote ate him. Luckily, we were able to recover the camera.
"5 Fingers" is a notorious stretch of the Yukon River that stopped many a prospector on their way to Dawson City.
Here, the river is divided into 5 channels (fingers) by 4 large rocks.
It took quite a bit of skill to maneuver around these safely.
Conglomerate Mountain, where lava and mud flows from 185 million years ago came over
the top of this mountain and solidified into sheets of rock.
As you travel down the Klondike Loop, there is a section of about 100 miles where a white layer appears just below the surface where the hillsides were cut out for the road. This white ash was deposited from a volcanic eruption about 1,250 years ago, and is either from the White River area in the Yukon, or perhaps from a dormant volcano buried in ice in the St. Elias Mountains of Alaska. Scientists can't agree.
There are various signs along the road that tell when the last forest fire occurred.
Apparently, the fires are a natural phenomenon, and serve to clean up the forest and start over.
This sign just down the road tells of another fairly recent forest fire.
Of course, where there has been a fire, there will soon be fireweed.
As we near Whitehorse, YT (Yukon Territory), we pass by beautiful Fox Lake.
Welcome to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.
The famous paddleboat S.S. Klondike is visible on the Yukon River up ahead.
Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon Territory. Population 23,500.
This is the S.S. Klondike "II", a copy of the original that sank in 1936.
After a nice lunch, we headed east out of Whitehorse toward Teslin Lake, where we have
a cottage reserved at Dawson Peaks for the night.
Sound familiar? We stayed there on the way up.
But first, more road construction. They do keep the roads in remarkable shape considering the brutal winters.
Across the narrow bridge. Beth did not like looking down out of
her window and seeing the river 100 feet below.
Beth took this nice photo of the Teslin River as we crossed it.
This time, they had a cottage by the lake available. Wonderful!
Inside the cottage. Spencer was thrilled we had cable TV!
There was a nice view of the lake (and a gazillion mosquitoes) out of the window.
This mask was hanging on the wall.
I don't think there's ANY resemblance at all. Do you???
After a long day of exploring, it felt good to snack and watch TV that evening.
Day 20: Friday July 20th
Teslin Lake, Yukon to Fort Nelson, British Columbia
Today 476 miles: Trip total 6,715 miles
We awoke to the sound of rain this morning. Hard rain.
Oh well, we've been pretty lucky up to now.
A rainy, foggy start this morning. About a half-hour into the trip, we noticed a pickup truck way down in the grass and mud, about 30 feet below the road level and about 75-100 feet from the road. The elderly driver had apparently fallen asleep at 5:30am and had driven straight off the road and down the embankment into a level field. At least he picked a smooth place to exit the road. He said he was not injured at all, and had plenty of food and water. We said we would send help from the next town. Little did we know that the next town would be 150 miles away in Watson Lake.
"Buffalo on Road". We'll see.
Well, I guess they were right. Although, technically, it's a bison.
This big guy was making his way back to the herd.
Just down the road was the herd. They were spread out over a half mile.
I would guess there were about 100-150. Maybe more.
Welcome to Watson Lake! It's not what you think.
Remember the man we saw in the truck that had gone off the road 150 miles earlier?
This was the first police car we saw, so I flashed my lights and pulled over.
He turned around and pulled in behind us, and I informed him of the stranded driver.
About halfway to our destination of Fort Nelson, we passed by Muncho Lake again.
Muncho Lake on a hazy day.
Spencer getting some good photos.
At times, the Alaska Highway hugs the shoreline of Muncho Lake, with deep water
on one side of the road and rocky cliffs within arm's reach of the other side.
The original road around Muncho Lake was high above on the cliffs.
Engineers relocated the road by the lake for safety.
After Muncho Lake, we continued south-east on the Alaska Highway.
It's about 150 miles to our hotel tonight in Ft Nelson.
Gas stations are few and far between at times, so we take every opportunity to keep the gas tank full.
One of many bridges along the Alaska Highway.
Most bridges up here use steel grates for a road surface.
We stopped and I walked out on the bridge. Caution - VERY slippery when wet!!
It's a bit unnerving to look down through the metal grates and see a raging river a hundred feet below.
Nice view of the river from the bridge.
Continuing on to Ft Nelson. The skies are beginning to clear.
McDonald River Valley, just west of Summit Lake.
Lots of sheep around these parts. The sign says it all.
Approaching Stone Mountain Provincial Park. Incredible!!
Stone Mountain area. Steep grades, steep drop-offs.
Stay on the road.
See the "No shooting or hunting area" sign? I'm safe.
Civilization. Sort of. Fort Nelson, British Columbia.
We stayed at the Woodland Inn again. I did not order greasy pizza this time.
It would be our last night on the Alaska Highway.
Day 21: Saturday July 21st
Fort Nelson, British Columbia to Whitecourt, Alberta (Canada)
Today 549 miles: Trip total 7,264 miles
Another beautiful, sunny day. It's our last day on the ALCAN.
Clear roads and clear skies ahead! It's just over 250 miles to
Dawson Creek and the southern end of the Alaska Highway.
South of Ft Nelson is this interesting looking store. Time to stretch our legs.
Spencer and I had to get a photo with Bigfoot.
As we neared Dawson Creek, we made a short detour to see this historic site.
From a distance, it looks like just another wooden bridge.
When you get closer, you will see what makes it so interesting.
The Kiskatinaw Bridge is a rare curved wooden bridge.
It's the only original wooden structure on the ALCAN that is still being used.
The curved beams are visible here on the wooden deck.
These beams have withstood 7 decades of brutal winters.
View of the river beneath the bridge.
This scale model shows the construction of the bridge.
Our trusty van at the "Mile 0" starting point of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek.
We've seen a lot and covered a lot of miles since we were here 2 weeks ago.
We walked around and had lunch in the old historic section of Dawson Creek.
That night, we stayed in a nice hotel in Whitecourt.
Alaska and the ALCAN are behind us, but we still have Saskatchewan to explore.
Day 22: Sunday July 22nd
Whitecourt, Alberta to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
Today 573 miles: Trip total 7,837 miles
A beautiful day! We left Whitecourt early, after a great breakfast in the hotel,
and headed east through Edmonton and on to Saskatchewan.
Welcome to Saskatchewan!
Like southern Alberta, where we had come through on our way north, Saskatchewan is mostly flat farmland.
We saw dozens and dozens of these grain elevators today.
Well, we saw one big moose in Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan was mostly prairies and grassland, not the rugged forests and mountains I expected.
It reminded us of parts of Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas.
At the hotel that night, I think we have added to our bug-kill count since we last looked in Tok, AK.
And - this is after a day of hard rain back by Teslin Lake.
I decided to change the air filter after we were done with the ALCAN and its dusty roads.
I had just replaced the filter before we left on the trip. It got this dirty in just 3 weeks.
Nice bug collection here, too.!
Day 23: Monday July 23rd
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan to Camp Ripley, Minnesota
Today 700 miles: Trip total 8,537 miles
Estevan, Saskatchewan is about 100 miles north of the Canadian border with North Dakota.
It is the self-proclaimed "Energy Capital Of Canada, producing enough coal to export to other countries.
This old mining equipment is on display at a local information center.
Another exhibit at the museum.
Just south of town, this machine was busy stripping coal out of the
ground where there used to be farmland and prairie.
As we neared Regina, there were a lot of farms like earlier in the day.
These grain towers are full, ready to unload onto passing rail cars.
This area of Saskatchewan reminded us of driving through Iowa and Nebraska.
Back In The USA!!
We crossed over into North Dakota about 100 miles northwest of Minot.
More of North Dakota as we neared Minot. Lots of farms.
When we found out there was no base lodging available at either base in North Dakota (Minot or Great Falls),
we called ahead to Camp Ripley, a small Army base in Minnesota, about 100 miles northwest of Minneapolis-St Paul.
We ended up with this very nicely furnished 4-bedroom home for $41.00. Sweet!
Spencer is checking out the million-channel TV.
We were supposed to stay in a small suite, but when we were checking in, a General officer was supposed to stay here.
He was going to be working on the other side of the base and wanted something closer.
Our suite was close to his work, so he asked the clerk to switch us.
We got to stay in the Generals' Quarters!
Day 24: Sunday July 24th
Camp Ripley, Minnesota to Union Grove, Wisconsin
Today 461 miles: Trip total 8,998 miles
We decided to head over to Beth's home in Wisconsin since the county fair is this week. It would be a great chance to see a lot of people in a short period of time. The weather was great, and we were a couple of days ahead of schedule. We arrived at her parents' home late afternoon.
Days 25-29: Union Grove, Wisconsin
The next day, Beth and Spencer drove over to the county fair, about 10 miles away. About 3:00, Beth called me and said the van suddenly would not go over 25 MPH. She was only a mile away and made it back to the farm. When I checked it out, it appeared there was a major transmission problem. I limped it down the road a few miles to the local Chevrolet dealer (an honest dealer her parents have dealt with for years), and they confirmed my worst fears - the transmission was completely shot. The repair would be about $3,000. The van is 11 years old and has 139,000 miles on it, so we decided it just wasn't worth it. We had 2 other cars - one with 129,000 miles and one with 98,000 miles. Do we need 3 old cars? No. So, we sold it to a local mechanic who repaired it and sold it to a single mom who needed a car for work. Bad news, though. A few weeks later, the van was stolen when she drove up to Milwaukee. This van sure has had an interesting life!
"FOR SALE" - Goodbye, ol' blue. We'll miss you!
Looking back, it was a real blessing the van did not break down up in the Yukon 150 miles from the nearest town.
That would not have been a good situation.
We rented a car over the weekend and I drove down to Illinois to bring back one of our other cars.
We took half the stuff home in the rental, and the rest when we returned on Monday.
Day 30: Monday July 30
Union Grove, Wisconsin to Mascoutah, Illinois (HOME!!)
Today 350 miles: Trip total 9,348 miles
It was GREAT to be home!! After living in hotel rooms for a month, the house seems HUGE! It has been very hot and dry here, so the yard and the gardens were in bad shape. We had to laugh - there was one big weed growing just outside our back door. It was about 6 feet tall, and had a root so deep I had to dig it out with a shovel. The neighbors had been getting tomatoes out of the garden (like we asked them to), but we still had a few almost ready to eat. Everything was fine in the house, and soon we were back to our normal routines.
Gargantua - the giant weed in our flower bed.
Our poor, dry garden. Beth was out here working in the garden before she had her suitcases unpacked.
SUMMARY: Overall, a great trip!! The first few days, we wondered if we bit off more than we could chew, but we took time to rest after long days of driving, and tried not to overdo it. It wasn't easy being cooped up together in the van for 9,400 miles, but we still had a good time, and have many great memories to carry with us. It was nice to see Alaska, but we did not feel the huge rush of emotions we thought we might when we drove into Anchorage. Many things have changed, and life goes on. We do not regret leaving Alaska. If we had stayed, we would have missed the opportunity to live in Germany for 3 years and explore Europe. No matter where life takes you, things work out.
Hope you enjoyed the travelogue and pictures.
Mike, Beth, and Spencer