(I am uploading this post from Watson Lake, YT on Thursday since we have not had cell phone coverage for a few days. We drove from where we stayed around mile 380 on the Alaska HWY to Watson Lake in varying degrees of rain – from sprinkles to downpours. We are currently at the visitor center enjoying looking at all the signs on the Sign Post Forest. We found two signs from Sleepy Eye, MN! Today we saw one black bear, one moose cow, one golden eagle, and around 10 Wood Bison.)
We are finally making miles down the Alaska Hwy. As I am typing this we are at about mile 380. We are parked on a large gravel turn out along the highway, which runs above the wide rocky valley of the MacDonald Creek. The rocky valley is wide enough for a very large river, but is only inhabited by the small creek.
Sunday we got up and continued on our way from the Provincial Park heading towards the dam. In Chetwynd, about 1 ½ hours south of the dam, we decided to see if we could find a church to attend on our way through. We found a little Christian Fellowship church and dropped in on them. We represented about 15% of the attendance for the morning. Small church and small congregation. Nonetheless we were glad we stopped in and enjoyed meeting new people. We had the pleasure of meeting an old gentleman who was originally from Ohio, but had relocated to Canada over 40 years ago.
Continuing north up Hwy 29 we ran across a small roadside park outside of Hudson’s Hope where we were able to dump our waste tank and fill up the water tank free of charge. We left the bus in a gravel parking lot in Hudson’s Hope and headed out the dead-end Hwy to the dam. The W.A.C. Bennett Dam turned out to be very interesting. It is a very large earthen dam. Unlike the Hoover Dam, which is all concreted, the W.A.C. Bennett Dam is all earthen. The weight of all the earth is what is used to hold back the reservoir.
Since we arrived 45 minutes before the next scheduled tour we were invited to drive across the dam and check out the view from the scenic parking area across the dam and up the canyon wall. Following the drive across the dam we headed back to the visitor center and paid for the tour. The tour started with a quick 10 minutes video describing how a rain drop becomes power and a little bit about the history of the dam. We then boarded a bus where we were taken down and into the dam.
The tour bus dropped us off underground only 30 feet away from the massive turbine room. This dam has 10 turbines and the room housing the top of all the turbines is a little longer than 3 football fields. Our tour guide described what the purpose each area of the dam was and took us down part of the length of the turbine room. We left the turbine room and headed down to the manifold area. This is where the water coming out of the 1st five turbines is collected and then sent down a tunnel slopping slightly uphill to exit out into the river. The manifold room was incredible with all the water coming out of the turbines at very high speed and then spilling out the exit tunnel. We didn’t get to see the manifold room for turbines 6 – 10, but were told it was exactly the same as the room we were in. We learned the process of blasting out the penstocks, turbine room, exit tubes, manifolds, and tail ways took almost 2 years of solid blasting to complete. There was a lot of rock hauled out of the mountain!
Once the tour was done we finished investigating the rest of the visitor center. We left minutes before closing – 5 pm.
Driving back down the highway to the bus we saw a few mule deer on the side of the road. The following picture is of the Peace River Valley about 20 miles below the dam.
Once back to the bus we hooked up the Jeep and continued north on Hwy 29 towards the Alaska Hwy. We found a nice little pull out and stopped for dinner and the night. Later in the evening Hilary and I hiked down the hwy some and about ½ mile down the highway we saw a male mule deer. His antlers were only about five inches tall. We didn’t have our cameras with us, so no pictures. If we had a camera we would have been able to take some great pictures as he gave us very good views as he kept his eye on us while continuing to browse and eat the new tender tree shoots.
Monday we finished up driving Hwy 29 when it intersected with the Alaska Hwy. We rejoined the Alaska Hwy about 53 miles from Dawson Creek. From there we continued north. At lunch time we pulled off nearby where we hoped to drive down a dirt road to a trail head that would lead to an overlook of some waterfalls. We discovered the road had a sign on it saying it was a “radio controlled” road and you must have a radio tuned to a specific channel in order to drive down the road. We decided we would not try and drive the 10 miles into the trailhead since we did not have a radio we could tune to the noted frequency. Since the pull off was too small to turn around with the Jeep hitched up we needed to unhook the Jeep in order to get back on the Hwy. I noticed there was a lot of bus coolant on the front of the Jeep.
Investigating further I found a brass pipe fitting that had been slowly leaking and was now dripping very regularly and frequently. I figured I could just drain the coolant, tighten the pipe fitting, refill the coolant and then we could be on our way. It turns out the pipe was leaking because it was cracked and about to fail. We are very grateful I felt the need to deal with the leak then and there. If I had not dealt with the problem when I did there was a good chance the pipe could have failed completely at any time and when that happened all the coolant would have been lost out the back side of the water pump and spilled on the highway as we were driving along. This would have led to an overheated engine and possibly even to a cracked head/block due to overheating. Not a good scenario! Thanks to the Lord for making it clear to me I had to deal with it right away instead of waiting and doing it later. As it was the pipe was for a non-essential coolant line and I was able to put a pipe plug in the back side of the water pump, refill the coolant and be on our way again. Praise the Lord for such a good outcome.
We continued our travels the rest of the day with no further incidents. We saw four more black bears grazing on grass along the roadside.
We stopped at a very large pull out/rest area and made dinner. Then we decided it was a good place to stay the night. Since we were already “home” for the night Hilary and I took off for a walk. On the walk we saw these cool bear tracks!
Tuesday morning was bright and sunny as we continued north. When we arrived in Fort Nelson we took some time to get a few groceries, put in 30 gallons of diesel (~3.32 per gallon) and make some phone calls to family since we had been without cell phone coverage for a while. Following lunch and phone calls we continued on. The Alaska Hwy goes almost due west as it heads out of Fort Nelson and heads into the northern Canadian Rocky Mountains.
The road is in really great shape and the views are spectacular.
Just like in Minnesota, there are two seasons on the Alaska HWY – Winter and Road Construction:
There is about 4 – 12” of snow on the ground. This proved to be a bit of a problem as we wanted to hike at several of the noted hiking trails along this portion of road. Our first hiking trail we completely passed on since the access road was still covered in about 8” of snow and we didn’t want to chance getting the bus stuck. We rolled on westward and stopped at the next hiking spot. We ended up missing the actual trail head parking and parked across the Tetsa River. We hiked back across the bridge and then set out to hike up the trail. Getting across the bridge was a bit of an adventure. The bridge deck is barely wide enough for two lanes and is metal grating. The metal grating was very difficult for Ruby to walk on and with her fear of heights and open spaces below her it took a fair amount of coaxing to get her to walk across. Thankfully no vehicles came along while we walked across since there was very little room on this bridge for pedestrians and vehicles.
The trail turned out to be an adventure. With the fresh snow lots of trees had been bent over like a huge wind storm had gone through. There was also about 8 – 12 inches of snow on the ground. We were in our tennis shoes and quickly found our feet soaked. We hiked in about a ½ mile before deciding to turn around. We felt like we had navigated a serious obstacle course all the while trying to not slip and end up on our hind end in the snow and slush. We did have a good time. On the way back across the bridge I just picked up Ruby and carried her across so we could be sure and not get caught on the bridge when a vehicle came along. She doesn’t like being picked up, but tolerated it surprisingly well. Whew – all made it across the bridge safely.
Further into the mountains we even got to see some Stone Sheep! What a treat.
A few miles beyond the spot where we saw the Stone Sheep we spotted a pullout that looked to be a great place to have dinner and stop for the night.
Dinner was bacon and pancakes tonight. We took another walk this evening as well. The pull out we are parked in is fairly long and tonight we actually have a “neighbor”. Our neighbor is heading south after having spent the past few weeks in Fairbanks. We were informed the “Top of the World” highway was in great shape. This was good news as we are planning to go that way.
Wednesday we got up and said: “Should we go hiking or driving? Let’s go hiking!”. So – off to our first hike we went. The trail is called Baba Canyon and is a trail that winds up and in about 2 miles to the first vista overlook back out the canyon and across MacDonald Creek. Due to the recent snow and continued melting of snow up the ridge line the creek was flowing very well in the canyon. This meant we needed to cross over the creek multiple times. Due to the steepness and narrowness of the canyon we also went up very quickly and had to pick our way across lots of boulders – almost continuously. In order to cross the creek we even had to walk across the frozen snow pack on top of the creek in a few places. At one place I was able to get down below the icepack and take a picture down one of the water carved tunnels. The views were spectacular and the hike was made even better by the fact that Hilary was able to hike up over a mile along with an altitude gain of over 350 feet before she needed to turn around. While we didn’t make it back to the “main vista”, we certainly enjoyed the hike and the views we did have along the way.
Later in the day the girls decided to stay back at the bus while Hilary and I headed out to see if we could find another short hike. We wanted to drive back down this old road about 10 miles to a trail head that lead off to some HooDoos. HooDoos are erosion pillars. At about the two mile mark we needed to ford a rather wide and rapidly flowing creek. We checked it out, but found it got too deep in the middle to safely ford with the Jeep. We disappointedly turned around and headed back to the Summit Lake area around mile 320 on the Alaska Hwy. There we found a ¼ mile trail to some closer erosion pillars and hiked up to them. It was a very steep hike – an altitude gain of 130 feet in less than an 1/8 of a mile. The climb to the pillars was worth the work. We even saw another Calypso Orchid along the trail.
Thursday should find us continuing along the Alaska Hwy on our way to Whitehorse, YT were we will spend a few days. Before that our next planned stop is in Watson Lake where we hope to avail ourselves of the free dump and potable water.
Bus Mileage: Trip total – 4,809
- Sunday, 5/29: 94 miles
- Monday, 5/30: 222 miles
- Tuesday, 5/31: 117 miles
Jeep Miles: Trip total – 1,023