Saturday, July 4, 2015

Ft. Nelson, BC to Whitehorse, Yukon

Sunday we began our drive on the Alcan Highway, from Dawson Creek to Ft. Nelson, BC.  It was another beautiful drive, with more glorious scenery.  We arrived in Ft. Nelson in time for the fabulous buffet dinner at the RV park--mostly meat dishes, but enough good veggies for us.  On the way from our RVs to the restaurant, we met another Brother in Red, Santa Don from Vancouver Island.  He and I had a good time sharing stories, and the people in our caravan all got a real laugh out of seeing two Santas!!  Chuck, the Wagonmaster, came out of his RV as he was enjoying a well deserved beer after the day's drive, said:  "Oh my goodness, Jack, I've gotta stop drinking--I'm seeing double!"  So the two of us posed for lots of pictures, and I'll try to get someone from the tour who took one to email it to me so I can post it on the blog.  After dinner Ken, Kathy, Trisha and I took a horse drawn wagon tour of the town.  Pretty small place, but we loved listening to the husband and wife team who owned the wagon talk, just love their accents, eh?  The man let Santa take the reins a bit and cautioned me "this ain't exactly like the reindeer, now eh?"  There was also a young mother with her 3 year old on the wagon and she was talking a lot about the way the town works.  Though it's a bit opposite of the way we're used to for seasonal work, here, due to the way the permafrost works, the oil rigs and related workers work only during the winter, when the ground is frozen hard enough to support the weight of all the heavy equipment, and then they pretty much shut down for the summer.  We had learned from the presentation in Dawson Creek by the representative from the tourism office that the spongy earth above the permafrost is called muskeg, and right now it is just too soft to support the weight of the heavy equipment.  So, a lot of the locals work their tails off during the winter, with impossibly long hours and few off days, then use the rest of the year to spend time with their families and do maintenance on their houses, etc.  Then the construction workers, like the woman we talked to a couple days before, spend the summer working like crazy to do the road construction during the summer before the freeze comes back.

Monday we drove from Ft. Nelson to Muncho Lake, still in BC, where we spent Monday and Tuesday nights.  Muncho Lake is a long, narrow lake that runs for miles alongside the Alcan--or more accurately, the Alcan runs alongside the lake!--but it is stunningly beautiful.  The color of the water is hard to describe, but the combination of the minerals in the ground just make for it look like jade.  And the geological formations of the mountains are really unusual, as millennia of movement have resulted in the limestone layers folding in on themselves, thus they are called the folded mountains.  Pics will follow when we can get enough connectivity.  The RV park where we stayed was right on the lake, a spectacular setting.  We got a special treat as we neared the RV park--we pulled off at a site that was billed as good for wildlife viewing, since we have not seen too much so far. When we got out of the RV, a man was getting back into his car and told us about a caribou that was just below a rise on the other side of the road.  Well, the caribou did eventually show itself and gave us some really good photos, including one where its mouth was open as if to say Welcome to Muncho Lake!!  Seeing our first caribou--as reindeer are known in North America--naturally gave Santa and Mrs. Claus quite a thrill!!

As we all got settled into our sites the storm clouds began to gather and the rain started up the lake toward the campground.  It rained a bit, but not nearly enough to wash off the mud that had caked onto our tow car from driving along the highway where the construction had left it quite wet and muddy.  The staff was hosting a cookout for all of us on the caravan for supper, and for a while we weren't sure if we would be rained out.  But, fortunately, the rain stopped and we had a very pleasant time, sitting down near the lake and enjoying the incredible scenery and good company.

The next day a group of us went to nearby Liard Hot Springs for a relaxing soak in the healing waters of this natural sauna.  On the way we saw several bison along the road, one huge male just munching on some grass, and then several others that came running across the road just up ahead.  We have been longing to see more wildlife, but we're also crossing our fingers that we never see any moose or bison darting out so close in front of us to cause a collision--these are such huge animals, and I'm quite sure the RV would come out pretty battered!  Anyway, we have been to other hot springs, in Ouray, Colorado and Sol du Lac on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state.  In both of those locations the set up is basically a group of swimming pools, each with increasingly hotter temperatures.  But, since they were basically like every other swimming pool you've ever seen, it seemed somewhat artificial.  Here, though, the setting was completely natural, capturing the hot springs in sort of a long swimming hole, just as nature carved it out of the rocks, with the temperatures varying from warm to extremely hot--over 120 degrees at the hottest!--from one end to the other.  There are changing rooms and decks with steps and handrails going down into the water, but from there it really is a natural setting, which made it very nice.  After the soak, I was chatting with a native who said he had been there 35 years ago when it was much more primitive, basically just a couple of outhouses for changing.  The provincial park authority has made the improvements, adding the deck and handrails, etc., but they did a very good job of preserving the natural setting as much as possible.  Trisha never made it to the hottest part of the springs, and it took me several tries before I finally made it.  Couldn't stay at that end for very long, but it was really invigorating!  We went with Dee and Ray, a couple from Maryland who also have a place in the Villages, the huge development in central Florida, where they spend the winter.  They are really nice folks and it's been great getting to know more of our fellow caravaners better as we go along.

Anyway, Dee was the driving force behind organizing a pot luck supper for the group for that evening and it was a huge success.  It started out with the staff offering to put out some light hors d'ouvres, and Dee then offered to make a couple other dishes if she could find a few missing ingredients from other caravaners.  Well, it quickly turned into a bountiful spread--always amazes me how pot lucks seem to work out, even when there are no assignments for kinds of dishes to bring.  Not surprisingly, most of the main dishes were meat of differing varieties, but there were enough veggie dishes to make a meal for us as well.  We made our newest favorite dessert recipe--cherry chocolate cake--that we got from a friend of Barby's in Sarasota.  The cake was a huge hit at the party in Sarasota and Susan  graciously shared the recipe with us.   The caravaners loved it too, and it was completely gone before the party was over.   And we've had lots of requests for a repeat at the next caravan pot luck--great fun!!

After supper Sophie got a real treat--her friend Daisy's Dad brought out some small dog sized tennis balls to throw so the two little ones just wore themselves out.  It's been so much fun to see the two of them become such happy playmates--every time we stop for the night they get together and just love to wrestle each other and chase.  So much fun for us and for the couple who have Daisy!

Wednesday we left BC and made our way to the Yukon Territory, and on the drive we saw another small herd of buffalo, including several babies.  It's so fascinating to see the babies, as they look so much like cows, and not much at all like the adult buffalo.  Their hides are much lighter, heads are much smaller in proportion to the rest of their bodies, so different from other species.  Calves basically look just like small cows, but these babies really do look very different from their adult relatives.

Watson Lake is known as the Gateway to the Yukon, but its main claim to fame is the Signpost Forest.  This was started in 1942, during the construction of the Alcan Highway, when some of the soldiers who were building the road just had the thought to put up signs with mileages to their home towns in the Lower 48.  From there the tradition has continued, and now there is a gigantic collection of tall wooden posts where people from all over the world nail signs.  The caravan staff had made a big sign that all of us signed and Lorrin, the tail gunner, put it up to rousing cheers from the whole group.  Then many of us dispersed in search of  empty spots where we could put up the individual signs we had brought.  It was a lot of fun to walk around and see so many places from all over the globe represented by thousands of signs, and just to reflect on how many people have come through this place, with their own story, as they stop to put up their sign.  We found a sign from Washburn, Wisconsin, the home of Lake Superior Stone Drifting Jewelry, where we met our talented friend, Mary, who has created some special things for Trisha.  So we took a picture of that and will email it to her.  We also were surprised to see so many signs from cities and towns throughout Germany.  And we only saw a small portion of the forest, as it stretches for quite some way.  Really a fun tradition!!

Thursday morning, as we were getting ready to pull out of the RV park, I met a young man from Manchester, England, who was on an incredible bicycle tour of North America.  He had a third wheel attached to the rear of his bike, basically just to provide a way to strap on some more panniers.  I'd never seen quite this configuration, but the most amazing thing was hearing him tell of where he had been so far and his plans for the rest of his trip.  He had started in Toronto a little over 2 months ago, and is on his way to Anchorage.  Then he will come back down the Pacific Coast of the US and into Mexico, then along the Gulf to Florida, down to Key West, then up the east coast and into the Atlantic Maritime Provinces of Canada and then back to Toronto--all pedaling his bicycle!!  He said he expected the whole trip to take him some 9 months, but I was just amazed!! He was of course in obvious excellent physical condition, but still, pedaling this whole way is just mind boggling--a real Iron Man!

On the way to Teslin, Yukon, we passed a section where we saw another tradition--a series of messages spelled out in letters formed by rocks, all begun by competing school swim teams a number of years ago.  It was hard to read most of them, but we did get a few pics of some--alas, don't know when we'll be where we have enough internet speed to post pictures.  This evening--Friday--is the first time in a while that I've had even enough connection to do any blogging at all, but not enough speed to put up pictures.  So I'll just have to do a supplemental post like I did before whenever we get to a place with faster internet speeds.  Anyway, we also stopped to see Rancheria Falls, a small, but quite pretty waterfall, accessed by a long boardwalk.  We took Sophie with us and she is normally very afraid of bridges or anything that goes across water where she can see down between the boards.  This time, though, she was a bit more confident, mainly because Maynard and Emma--and Daisy--were just up ahead of us and she wanted to catch up with her friend!  Once Daisy and her family had gone back to their rig though, Sophie suddenly looked down and realized that there was water way below so she remembered that she's afraid of such places, so Aunt Sharon enjoyed carrying her back!

Anyway, it was chilly and even raining some when we got to Teslin, so we made a big pot of lentil soup--nothing like fresh, hot homemade soup on a cold night!!  Since it's been really pretty warm on the trip up to this point I'd been wearing t-shirts and shorts the whole way.  But this weather called for warmer clothes--only I realized as I began to look for some of my long sleeved t-shirts or a sweatshirt to wear that I completely forgot to pack any!!  It was so hot at home when we were packing and I just got in a bit of a rush at the last minute.  Since it was so much colder than it has been, Trisha took down the bin that has Sophie's things in it, including two sweaters and told Sophie to pick which one she wanted to wear, so she reached in and grabbed one in her teeth!  But once she started running around outside we realized it was too small, so we knew we were going to have to visit the pet store at our next stop.   So, after our wagonmaster briefing, Trisha and I went to the museum and gift shop attached to the RV park to find a sweatshirt for me, and Trisha  also found a little baby sized onesy--pink with a little tutu-like ruffle, that said "bear-a-rina" on it--for Sophie!  Trisha had to do a little alteration to make it work on Sophie--I generally am not a big fan of these little outfits for dogs (sweaters, okay, but little themed outfits, not so much!), but I knew she needed something warm, and we just couldn't wait until we got to Whitehorse to go to the big pet store, so I went along with it--and Sophie seems to like it.  Sophie is loving this caravan experience.  And of course it doesn't hurt that most everyone carries doggie treats in their pockets, so all the dogs are treated quite well among the group.  

Several times over the last couple of days we've just been pinching ourselves to make sure this is real--to be actually in Canada's Yukon Territory!  I mean, all I could think of was the old TV show I used to watch about Sgt. Preston of the Yukon, the Canadian Mounty--never did I dream I would actually be able to see this beautiful part of the world!  It is so remarkable, with stunning vistas, mountains and rivers, tall skinny black fir trees growing above the permafrost, just amazing.  We stop every chance we get, just to soak up the beauty and wonder of it all.  Chuck keeps telling us it will only get better the deeper into the trip we get, but we keep saying again and again how it's so hard to imagine that any scene could be more beautiful than the one we're looking at in the moment--and then we round a curve and there it is--even more spectacular beauty!  Just Wow!!  

From Teslin we drove to Whitehorse, arriving this afternoon, so we went to the Visitor Center to get info on the town.  The population here is about 26,000, but that is two-thirds of the total population of the Yukon, so the rest of the Yukoners are living truly out in the middle of nowhere!  Yukon is geographically huge, but sparsely populated.  When we went to the big Canadian Superstore--much like Costco but without a membership requirement--we noticed many of the shelves totally cleaned out.  When we were in the Visitor Center, the young woman there explained how this is the only place in the Yukon for stores like this, and they get shipments on Tuesdays.  So, people drive for extremely long distances just to come to the grocery store, and by the end of the week, many of the shelves are empty.  For example, she said her mother lives in a town 4 hours from here, and this is where she has to come for groceries!  So we would see people pushing several carts, piled high with goods--very different from the typical grocery shopping experience in the States!!  We thought we had a distance to drive from home to the grocery store when we moved to Cherry Log, but the thought of driving 4 hours to the grocery store sort of makes our 8 mile drive seem puny!!

Anyway, we'll be here for several days, and there's just tons of things to do, in fact much more to do than we could possibly fit in for the time we have.  So we'll have to pick and choose, but today guess what?? We found a quilt shop and a yarn store!! So are we happy campers or what??!!  So that's the update folks, and who knows when the next one will come, but suffice it to say we're having the time of our lives!!

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