Wednesday, July 4, 2012

British Columbia, Canada

Thur, June 14th - Wed, June 20th

We spent Thursday and Friday in Dawson Creek, British Columbia where the Alaska Highway begins.  The town was .2 miles from where the railroad went through in the 1930s, so they put their buildings on skids and pulled them by horse or caterpiller to the railroad location.  The Zero Milepost there is the most photographed milepost on the Alaska Highway.  The original marker was knocked over by a drunk driver.  A replacement marker was put up and stolen by Halloween pranksters who replaced it with an outhouse.  It was replaced with a metal one that was bolted down!  There is also an old wooden grain elevator there that is beautifully restored and is now an art gallery.  It is designed with a ramp walkway that winds up and around with the pictures on the walls and you can look down into the gift shop below.  This is a big agriculture area for grains like wheat and canola and there were originally five big elevators here with three more built in the 1940s.  All are gone now, except this one that they moved and restored.  They are really big on saving and reusing their old elevators.  One town had their visitor center in one and another had a big stone monument shaped like an elevator.  Dawson Creek has a small museum downtown about the building of the Alcan Military Highway, as it was originally called when they started it in March of 1942, after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.  It was originally 1,523 miles long, but is now 35 miles shorter, as some of the curves have been bypassed over the years.  It took the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 8 months and 23 days to build at a cost of $140 million.  They had 11,000 troops and 16,000 civilians and put in 133 bridges and 8,000 culverts, dozing through the forests, marshes and permafrost as they went.  It was just a basic gravel track thru the woods and mountains, good enough to get thru with military vehicles.  The following year they replaced lots of bridges with more permanent structures and started to make other improvements.  In the eight months of construction, Dawson Creek grew from 500 to a tent city of 10,000.  The livery stable caught fire and 60,000 cases of dynamite stored in there exploded leveling a whole city block, shattering all the windows in town, killing five people and injuring hundreds.  On April Fool's Day 1946 after WWII, the highway they never wanted or asked for was permanently turned over to Canada.  I'm not sure when the tourists started coming, but in 1958 AAA recommended travelers carry two spare tires, a fuel pump, spark plugs, fan belt, light fuses, tube repair kit & pump, fire extinguisher, tow rope, extra coil and condenser, etc.  Wow!  So far we have just encountered intermittent patches of gravel and some stretches with lots of pot holes where we have to slow down a lot.  We did happen to pick up a bunch of tar on the back end of the RV.  If anyone out there knows something that will take the stains off, we would appreciate a heads up.  They have lots of neat murals on the downtown buildings showing their history.  We bought some Canadian bacon, summer sausage and beef sticks from an old fashioned meat market that has been here since 1940.  It was very good.

This monument is at Charlie Lake where twelve highway workers lost their lives when they were trying to transport a bulldozer and other equipment across the lake on pontoons. The wind came up and the water got rough. The plug came out of one of their gas lines and gas was draining out. When they turned to head for shore, two big waves broadsided them and one corner went under. In less than two minutes it settled and sunk. A homesteader and trapper in his cabin across the lake had been watching them with field glasses while he cooked his breakfast. When he came back to the window to check on their progress, the pontoon was gone and he could see the men bobbing in the water. He had a small row boat and was a mile and a half away. It took him fifteen minutes to get there and he managed to save five of them. 

This new complex at Fort St. John has two hockey rinks on the ground floor and a racing oval around the outside of the second floor.  It was completely paid for by commnuity donations when their old one burned down.  They also have another building with a hockey rink and another with eight curling rinks or sheets or whatever you call them.  We didn't do much else in Fort St. John, as I had my purse stolen at the Visitor's Center, of all places, welcome to town.  It was my own fault.  I laid it down and forgot to pick it up.  When I came back about ten minutes later, it was gone.  They were very helpful and went with me to the park and up and down the street checking the trash cans.  So we spent most of the day cancelling credit cards, applying for duplicate driver's license and since they insisted on calling the Mounties, visiting with a nice female Mounty.  We did stop at the Farmer's Market where I bought I bought a piece of  Native fried bannock to try.  It looked like a donut, but not sweet.  More like a baking powder biscuit or foccacia bread.  Also, a lot of restaurants, including fast food places, up here have poutine on the menu, which is french fries with cheese curds and gravy on top. 
This is just a view along the way.  They really keep the trees and shrubs cleared far back from the roads,  which is really nice, because there is a lot of wildlife that just like to amble right out on the roads. 

As you can see in this picture.  Cars were stopped ahead of us, so we pulled over to see what was going on.  This grizzly bear was just wandering across the highway.  I'm not sure if this person was just getting out of his car or getting back in, but we saw people on motorcycles pulled over and taking pictures of bears. 

I'm sure he's not nearly as sweet and cuddly as he looks in this picture!  

Further on down the road, we made a short stop at Fort Nelson at Mile 300.  With a population of 5,000, it was named after Admiral Nelson and started as a fur trading post in 1805.  There's not really too much here.  They do have a brand new Visitor's Center and this Heritage Museum across the street with lots of vehicles that were used in the building of the Alcan Highway and lots of old cars.  The old guy who runs it has a 1950s machine shop there and keeps lots of them in running order, so they can be driven in parades.

They shipped 600 train carloads of bulldozers, fuel and supplies into Edmonton in the spring of 1942, before Canada had even signed the papers that they agreed to let us build the highway.  They started from the north and the south and met at Contact Creek at the end of September.  In November they had a dedication ceremony here at Summit Lake. 

We saw about a dozen of these Stone Sheep along the road.  They are a dark-patterned sub-species of the Dall Sheep that are found further west. 

This is Muncho Lake (means "Big Lake" in one of the native languages).   It is seven and a half miles long and is one of the longest natural lakes in the Canadian Rockies.  Cutting through the rocky bluffs along the lakeshore was the most expensive section of work on the highway.  Many pieces of equipment were lost over the edge into the icy waters over 300 feet deep not far from the roadside. 

The fine particles that grind off the glaciers called "rock flour" reflect and scatter the sunlight returning a blue/green spectrum to the eyes. 

This is Liard Hot Springs.  Everyone told us to be sure not to miss it and they were right.  It's near the BC/Yukon border on the Yukon side.  We crossed back and forth over the border six or seven times as the highway curved back and forth.  This is a view from the source of the hot springs where they come out at 126 degrees. 

Toward the back of this picture, there are two little water falls into the next pond, where the water cools down to 108 degrees.  It gets cooler as you get further from the source. 

These are some of the flowers along the walkway to the hot springs.

This is a view from sitting in the hot springs, as the water runs away down a creek.  This is a really beautiful place!

There is about a half mile boardwalk over this muskeg, boggy, swampy stuff to get to the hot springs.  This is the kind of stuff they had to deal with when they were building the highway, and they lost lots of vehicles and heavy equipment.  It just got bogged down or tipped over and they couldn't get it out and they didn't have time to waste, so they just left it.  Extreme sub-zero temps were also a big problem.

Many buffalo and moose get killed by cars every year.  There are lots of signs warning you to slow down and be alert for wildlife on the road.  We have seen several moose, but haven't been able to catch a picture yet.    

These are Wood Bison, which are supposed to be larger than the ones we are used to seeing at home. There were several calves in the herd and further down the road, we saw about a dozen bulls having a rest next to the woods. 

This is a view of the Liard River with a few wildflowers by the path down to the river.  The wildflowers along the roadsides and in the woods when we are hiking are just awesome.  I will do a blog later on with just the flowers.  

We have seen several black bears, but this was the first time they stuck around long enough, so I could snap a few pictures.  Black bears can actually be black, brown, tan, gray and even occasionally white.  I think they really like the grass and wildflowers in the ditches.  We will be moving on to the Yukon Territory next.


Trivia:  In 1941 they needed a quick way to house crews working on the highway.  Britain had used a version of the Indian council lodge in WWI, named from the first site of manufacture, Quonset Point, Rhode Island.  The hut fit into twelve wooden crates and weighed 7,000 pounds.  The quonset hut is still used all over the world by U.S. military.  An estimated 170,000 huts were built during WWII.  After the war the surplus huts were sold for $1,000 each.  Most were made into single family homes and can still be seen used primarily as commercial buildings. 

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