Carolina: Cruising Past 70: Navigating the Alaska Highway, Part 1

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Navigating the Alaska Highway, Part 1

Star at the entrance to the Alaska Highway
Okay, we had been back from the Philippines, visiting my youngest April, and Taiwan for 2 weeks, we had rented out our townhomes and sold our belongings, and we had bought Star and Vino.  So we left my eldest Trisha and her family in Seattle, visited Bill's eldest Jim and his family in Boise, Bill's second child Suzanne and her family in Denver, and my second child Claudine and her family in Calgary, and we are now headed for Jasper National Park, then the famous Alaska Highway, and on to see Bill's youngest Cristine in Alaska before we get back down to the lower 48 and Mexico!  This is it!  This is the start of our RV cruising life. 

We had been to Banff before.  After all, it is only about an hour away from Claudine’s home and we have visited Claudine a number of times.  The Canadian Rockies is often called the Alps of North America, much more beautiful than the Rockies in the USA.  Banff is surrounded by alpine peaks eternally covered with snow.  So is the new town of Canmore, fast becoming another tourist destination in the region, second to Banff and picture-perfect Lake Louise a little further ahead.  But we were more interested, this time, in Jasper, deeper into the Canadian Rockies.

@ Icefields Parkway
We were driving along the Icefields Parkway, reputed to be one of the most scenic highways in the world and all of a sudden it hit us!  The purple mountain majesties turned into high white spaces.  Huge glaciers that were endlessly interconnected draped the boundless boulders.  This is the Columbia Glacial Fields where you can ride on those huge buses that can ply the ice fields.  We do not know what else lies before us.  If this is any indication, we will be in to some parts of this world we hardly know about.

a lake in Jasper National Park
Jasper National Park is indeed a landmark of beauty.  The lakes were elegant in glacial waters of milky greenish hue.  And there were lakes galore…Medicine Lake, even one called Patricia Lake,… etc.  There were many tourists around.  After all, it was July.  But it felt like you were alone amid the serenity of the lakes and the snow-covered mountains that protected them, in varying hues of blue and purple.  Each photo we took seemed to emerge as another painting!  There is indeed a Master Painter!

elk by the road
We also saw the first wildlife of our cruise…the ubiquitous elk.  Two of them were cavorting by the road and we took endless pictures.  We were on the way to the aerial trams that were supposed to give us even a better view of the unique landscape.  Unfortunately, it was out of order and we were just refunded our tickets.  So we decided to take a trip to Mt. Robson, the highest summit of the Canadian Rockies at over 14,000 ft!

Mt. Robson
The trip took us to the border of Alberta and British Columbia.  At the border was the sign for the first Intercontinental Divide we would cross…and there would be many more.  I don’t know why.  But the peaks of Mt. Robson evoked a secret admiration in me.  They stood as imposing as the Mt. Rainier’s peak, for example, even as they rested on a base that was already thousands of feet above sea level.

Before we left Jasper, we had already bought the Canadian Pass so we could visit all its national parks.  It cost so much more, however, ($150 for a year) compared to the Senior Pass Bill had for the American counterpart ($10 lifetime).  But, what is that compared to the wondrous feelings they will constantly evoke?  It was cheap! And so we left Jasper a little sad but confident that many more wonders await us.  

Mama Bear and her cub by the roadside
As a matter of fact, the trip through northern British Columbia and the Stone Mountains was extra memorable for me because by the winding roads (that would bring up to the Alaska Highway) were my first close encounters with wildlife I had never before seen except perhaps in zoos!  We found a mother and baby bear sitting quietly among the grass, a herd of bisons lying peacefully by the road side (with one of them almost dangerously walking alongside Star), a big moose by a pond on hot springs and a multitude of birds and insects by the raging river we chanced upon following a small arrow sign.  

Mile 0 o the Alaska Highway
Indeed when we reached Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway, we could not contain the excitement in our hearts.   Dawson Creek is a small and sleepy town but their bragging rights were all over.  We had a ball taking pics of ourselves at various Mile 0 signs.  We did it…another milestone in our cruising life.  A bonus was at church, I found out that there were about 300 Filipinos living there!

The next town on the Alaska Highway was Fort Nelson, British Columbia.  There we found a museum of the history of the famous highway, how the US and Canada cooperated in its building, and how they separate the maintenance responsibilities at the present time.  Bill and I thought, after navigating the entire length of the highway, that the American portions were better kept than the Canadian part.  The 1,390 mile-long highway has long served the distinct purpose of connecting Alaska to the lower 48, militarily strategic in WWII and economically so now.  But we also think it serves another major purpose:  develop tourism in Canada, especially the vast, underexplored Yukon Territories!  
Next Stops:   YUKON TERRITORIES, CANADA: Watson Lake, Whitehorse, and Haines Junction