Tag Archives: Alaska Highway

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 43

just south of Eugene, Oregon

Saturday, July 28, 1973

From British Columbia to about halfway through Oregon.  We drove south through Hope, BC, then crossed the border for the sixth and last time back into the U.S., into Washington state, where we picked up I-5 and simply booked.  Through Bellingham, Everett, Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, and Salem.  463 miles, according to Google Maps.

We stopped at a KOA campground, our first of the trip, as I noted in my diary.  When we visited parts of the continent less remote than Alaska and the Yukon, KOA campgrounds were something we looked for about every third night.  They’re sort of the Motel 6s of campgrounds, or they were back then.  Dependable but not fancy, with the same hookups and facilities from campground to campground.  In the days before we had the trailer with its own bathroom, we always counted on KOAs for showers and that sort of thing, too.

Little did I know when we spent the night near Eugene, that when I was in my twenties I’d end up living there for several years.  Not in the campground, of course, but in Eugene.  It sits at the head of the Willamette Valley, nestled in the evergreens with mountains ringing it in every direction but north.  At the time I lived there, just after the height of the spotted owl controversy in the mid-80s, it was sort of the hippie equivalent of the elephant’s graveyard.  Also sort of like the Island of Lost Toys in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  If you didn’t fit in anywhere else, you’d be fine in Eugene.  I really loved Eugene.  I’d probably still be there if it weren’t for a set of circumstances too convoluted to be described here, although it’s not the same place it was back then.

It was hot when we got there.  Fortunately, the campground had a swimming pool, which I enjoyed that evening.  Also fortunately, the electric hookup allowed us to run the trailer’s air conditioning.  We went to bed early to get an early start the next day and ran it all night long.

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 35

Dezadeash Lake, Yukon Territory

Friday, July 20, 1973


We had been rained on before during this trip, mostly the kind of weather we here in the Pacific Northwest refer to as showers and sunbreaks, but on this day it literally poured all day long.  As my diary says, we got a late start, and we almost didn’t travel at all that day.  But at last we decided to go on, and drove south on the Alaska Highway to the small community of Haines Junction, where the highway south to Haines, almost at the top of the Alaska Panhandle, starts.

Nowadays you can drive from Whitehorse to Skagway on a paved highway that follows the old White Pass and Yukon Railroad route.  The railroad was built during the Klondike Gold Rush, and went into service a little over a year after True Gold‘s heroine Karin and her companions climbed over the Chilkoot Pass from the now-ghost-town of Dyea, just across Lynn Canal (not a canal at all, but a natural channel) from Skagway.

A historic photo of the Chilkoot Pass, as it would have looked when Karin climbed it.

But in 1973, if you wanted to get to the Alaska Panhandle by road, you had one choice — the Haines Highway.  The Haines Highway, like the Alaska Highway at the time, was unpaved (it’s paved now, too).  And with the torrential rains coming down, it was a sea of mud according to my diary.  So we didn’t get all that far that day, only sixty miles from Kluane Lake to Haines Junction

We stopped in Haines Junction for gas, and went another thirty miles to a lake with a very odd name, Dezadeash, where we spent the afternoon in the trailer, playing a lot of cards, and listening to the rain pound on the roof.

Dezadeash Lake, in much better weather than what we saw it in.

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 34

Kluane Lake, Yukon Territory

Thursday, July 19, 1973

We stayed put on this day.  I didn’t realize it back then, but basically what we were doing at this stage was waiting for it to be our turn to take the ferry from Haines down through the Alaska panhandle to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, from which point we would drive home.  The Alaska Marine Highway (as it is called) is very popular, and was even back then, and you couldn’t just get there, wait your turn and drive on.  In 1995, when I took the Alaska ferry north from Bellingham, Washington, to Ketchikan, Juneau, and Sitka, then back to Bellingham, I had to make my reservations months in advance, and I simply walked on, with no vehicle, on that trip.

With a car and twenty-foot travel trailer, and no reservations when we left home, I suspect we were really lucky, even back in 1973, to be able to get on at all.  I do remember my father making calls to the ferry offices several times during our trip, but it didn’t seem that big a deal to me at the time.  I don’t know if the reason we didn’t make reservations before we left home was because my parents had planned to drive the Alaska Highway both ways, or if they just hadn’t realized that you had to make reservations in advance.  One doesn’t normally think of doing so to ride a ferry, normally.  But then ferry routes don’t normally take several days to traverse and cover hundreds of miles per trip, either.

I do know we were twelve days out from the date my father had to be back to work, and still a very long way from home.  I suspect my father might have underestimated the sheer amount of travel time it took us to get to Alaska in the first place.  It would have been a very Daddy thing to do (see my mother’s claim that my father’s idea of the perfect vacation was driving as far as he possibly could before he had to turn around and come back in order to get back to work on schedule).

Anyway, it was a pretty day, and we walked the beach and collected more driftwood and fed bread to the sea gulls on the lake, and met up with a very large family (eight kids? ten?) from eastern Canada who were traveling in a converted school bus with a canoe on the roof.  One of the girls was my age, and we hung around together a bit.  I remember she told me they were having sausages for dinner, which I now suspect were brats or something like that, but which I thought was odd at the time, since to me sausage meant breakfast patties.

And that was our second day at Kluane Lake.

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 33

Kluane Lake, Yukon Territory

Wednesday, July 18, 1973

The morning after our last night in mainland Alaska (but not in Alaska altogether) began with sourdough pancakes.  This must have been the fanciest campground we stayed in on this trip, because it had a breakfast room as part of the facilities, which specialized in sourdough pancakes.

Sourdough, as the term is used in Alaska, has two meanings.  One of them is the stuff used in place of packaged yeast to make baked goods of all kinds rise.  The most common baked goods made with sourdough in Alaska and the Yukon Territory are pancakes, or flapjacks, or hotcakes, or whatever you call them in your part of the world.  They were a staple food for miners in the area’s many gold rushes, from Juneau to the Klondike to Nome to Fairbanks.

The other meaning of the term is someone who has lived in the North through at least one winter.  As opposed to the term cheechako, which is an Indian term, and used to mean roughly “a newcomer.”  Getting called a sourdough is a term of approbation in the North.

And now’s probably a good time to talk about moosequitos, too.  We saw a lot of moosequitos while we were in Alaska.  Mostly in gift shops.  Apparently my google-image-fu is failing me, but no, a moosequito is not just a misspelled mosquito.  A moosequito is a piece of moose dung, dried and varnished, then gussied up with pipe cleaners and googly eyes to look like a mosquito.  They’re not just a gag gift, though.  They’re a nod to the fact that Alaska and the Yukon have enormous mosquitoes.  Ubiquitous, too, yes, but the biggest ones I’d ever seen.  And they apparently thought of bug repellent as some sort of interesting sauce.  If there’s one thing I really, honestly did not like about our trip to Alaska, it was the mosquitoes.

After our breakfast, which I for one was pretty impressed with, we drove on into Tok and turned east on the Alaska Hi-way again, for the first time since Fairbanks way back on Day 12.  We crossed the border back into Yukon Territory, and the skies opened up on us and turned the gravel road into a sea of mud, and coated our trailer clear up to the windows.

We stopped that afternoon at the Kluane Historical Society Museum, which either no longer exists or doesn’t have a website.  I wasn’t very impressed with it, which is the first time I said anything like that about a museum on this trip.

Then we stopped for the night at Kluane Lake Campground, the same campground we’d stayed in on Day 10, where I met a boy fishing along the shore.  “We had a couple of arguments.”  I wonder what about?

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 12

 Fairbanks, Alaska, milepost 1523, the end of the Alaska Highway

Tuesday, June 26, 1973

 And that was the end of the Alaska Highway, at least for several weeks. 

 It was, however, a day of car issues.  We had an eventless morning, but, upon stopping at “a place that was real pretty” where my father took yet more photos I don’t have access to now, we went in the trailer to eat lunch, and when we came out, the windshield was cracked diagonally almost from one corner to the other.  Apparently the screen on the front of the car had not protected us from all the rocks, because upon examination it turned out that a chip, from heat from sitting in the sun for an hour while we were stopped, had expanded into a crack. 

 And then when we arrived in Fairbanks around noon, one of the first things my father did was drive to Sears to buy new shock absorbers (actually, I remember them being called leaves for something, but my diary calls them shock absorbers) for the car.  I can still remember the expression on Daddy’s face when the guy at the catalog desk told him it would take three weeks for them to be shipped in from Outside, as Alaskans refer to the rest of the U.S.  We left there and went to Penneys, which apparently had them in stock. 

 After that we stopped at the sign that tells you you’re at the end of the Alaska Highway.

The unofficial end of the Alaska Hi-way — note the spelling.

 This is the old post, which is the one I remember (most of the hits on Google images are of a post I don’t recognize).  Another of the photos my mother has on her family room wall is one of me standing by this post, in my bright yellow cardigan (more about which below), my cat’s eye glasses, and my shag haircut.  I’m kind of glad I don’t have a copy of that photo.  I might have felt duty-bound to post it.  I was extremely camera-shy as a teenager with good reason (I still sort of am), and that photo is about one of three that my father managed to get me to pose for on the entire trip.  As I recall, his argument was that no one would believe I’d ever made it that far without photographic proof.

 And the sweater…  One of the things my mother did every year before we’d take off on our annual camping trip was to buy me a cardigan in either stop sign red or yield sign yellow.  She started doing this when I was very small (I think the first picture of me in a red cardigan was when I was four), because the bright colors made it easier to keep track of me out in the middle of nowhere.  The last time I let her get away with it was on this trip.  After that, I deemed myself to be far too old for such things, and besides, red and yellow were so not my colors.

 Anyway.  I digress again.  After we visited the sign, we visited the visitor center next to it, which was housed in a log cabin with a sod roof.

Fairbanks Visitor Center

 Mostly to ask about a campground, which they were happy to direct us to.  We settled in, and my father set about getting ready to install his brand new shock absorbers or leaves or whatever they were.

 True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 11

Tok, Alaska, milepost 1314

Monday, June 25, 1973

 And we arrive in Alaska!  Finally!  Although when you think about it, from south of Los Angeles to mainland (as opposed to panhandle) Alaska in ten and a half days isn’t so bad.  Slightly more than 3200 miles, so a little over 300 miles a day. 

Kluane Lake

 Kluane Lake is a pretty good-sized lake, and it took us a while to get to the end of it.  We ate lunch that day at a place called Snag Junction, which holds the record for the coldest temperature in North America, -81dF (-63dC), back in 1947.  It was not anywhere near that cold the day we were there, thank goodness, although it was chilly and rainy. 

 Apparently the rain had something to do with the overturned semi we passed a few miles past Snag Junction.  My diary says that no one was hurt, but I don’t know how we knew that.  I suspect my father stopped to find out.  It would have been typical of him.  Back in the days before cell phones, or cell phone towers for that matter (I wonder how much coverage there is even now along the highway), I wonder if the Yukon highway patrol was there, or if any help was on the way, and if so, how it had been summoned to such a remote place.  My diary is not very forthcoming on the subject.

 Snag Junction is only a few miles from the Alaska border, and we went through customs for the second time on the trip.  It was sprinkling rain at the time, and apparently the windshield wipers were not working so well.  We also stopped to take photos of the “Welcome to Alaska” sign.

 My diary is odd in the sense that it mentions things I don’t remember, and doesn’t mention things I do remember.  One thing I do remember vividly that should have shown up in my diary by now is the almost endless grove of aspens we drove through at one point in the Yukon. Miles and miles of shivery pale green leaves and papery white trunks.  Another was the rock that bounced up and hit the undercarriage of the car not long before we reached Alaska.  Almost immediately after that, the fuel indicator started going south in a big way, and I remember my dad getting out in the rain and crawling on his back under the car to check to make sure the tank hadn’t been punctured, even though there was no trail of gas behind us.  As it turned out, the tank was fine, and the indicator was, as my current car’s gas gauge also does, showing less gas while going uphill.

 One thing I was very conscious of and noted in my diary every day was the cost of things.  The cost of each night’s campground, for instance, is meticulously noted, and ranged from nothing at all to the princely sum of $6.00, although most campsites that cost anything ran around $3.00 with full hookups.  Nowadays when I camp, I count myself lucky to get away paying less than $10 for just a space to pitch a tent, although the occasional free campground still exists.  And I did note other costs occasionally.  I mention this because apparently we’d been planning on grocery shopping in Tok, and the prices were so steep that all we bought was a dozen eggs.

 I don’t talk about the scenery very much at all in my diary.  I expect that’s because my father and I both took reams of photos, and I assumed I’d always have those.  I wish I had them now.

 True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 10

 Kluane Lake, Yukon Territory, milepost 1064

Sunday, June 24, 1973

 Something I’d forgotten to mention yesterday.  One of the things we tried to do when we arrived in Whitehorse was to go to the ferry office and make reservations for the Alaska Marine Highway ferry from Haines, Alaska, to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, on our way home.  I don’t remember precisely what the deal was there, but I suspect my father had underestimated the amount of time it was taking us to actually reach Alaska (we had six weeks, but still), and thought it would be faster going home via ferry.  At any rate, we were unable to make the reservations that day, but the woman at “the ferry place” had told us we’d be able to do so the next day.  Except that all concerned forgot that the next day was Sunday, and the ferry place wouldn’t be open.

 So we spent the morning bopping around Whitehorse, visiting a museum, which I vaguely remember as being about the Klondike Gold Rush, and a shop where I made my first souvenir purchase of the trip, a little (about 6″ tall) soapstone carving of a totem pole, which I still own.

Miniature totem pole from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory


We ate lunch out, a rare occurrence on this trip, at a Dairy Queen, no less, and headed out afterwards.  We drove through Haines Junction, and stopped at the ferry place there instead, and called my aunt May, who was living in Anchorage at the time (my uncle Lucien was a chaplain in the Air Force, and he was stationed at Elmendorf AFB). 

 We arrived at Kluane Lake campground, which is now part of a national park, but was then just a territorial campground, late in the afternoon of a cold, windy, and clear day.  In my mother’s family room are a number of photographs my father took over the years matted together into three frames.  One of those photos is of my mother standing in front of Kluane Lake.  She’s in shadow, and standing next to a group of rather stubby-looking trees, and you really have to look at that photo to tell she’s not just another tree. 

 True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 9

Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, milepost 911

Saturday, June 23, 1973

 We crossed two milestones on this day.  First, we crossed something called the Great River Divide.  Given that at this late date I had no idea what this was, I looked it up:  “The Great River Divide is the dividing line between two great watersheds: the Mackenzie River drainage basin that flows into the Beaufort Sea to the north, and the rivers that flow into the Bering Sea to the west via the Yukon River system.”  So sort of the far north version of the Continental Divide. 

 The other milestone was the halfway point between Dawson Creek and Fairbanks, which would be roughly milepost 760. 

 We didn’t travel very far on this day, though, at least by my father’s standards.  Only from milepost 710  to 911.  Just a bit over two hundred miles.  We arrived in Whitehorse, the capital of Yukon Territory, around lunchtime, and were pleasantly surprised at the pavement that went from about 20 miles east of the city through to about 20 miles west.  The afternoon was spent doing things like laundry and taking showers — the trailer had a bathroom in it, but a limited water supply when not at a campground where the sites had hookups (water, sewer, and electrical connections).  I commented in my diary that we definitely needed them.  Given that we’d been on the road over a week by this point and this is the first time I mention laundry in my diary, I suspect we needed that pretty badly by then, too.

 Whitehorse is named after the White Horse, the name the Klondike gold rush stampeders gave the Yukon River rapids in Miles Canyon, just outside the present-day city.  It’s one of only three places (Seattle, Skagway/Dyea, and here) where locations in True Gold cross the route we took in 1973.  Karin, True Gold‘s  heroine, rode the hazardous rapids even though by then the Mounties were forbidding women and children to traverse them (there was a portage trail they were supposed to take).  She found them exhilarating.

 One thing I remember about Whitehorse is that they had a radio station that aired dramas in the evening.  One of them was a mystery program we all enjoyed very much.  I don’t know what kind of television stations they had up there in 1973 (the trailer did not have a television the way trailers and motorhomes do nowadays), but apparently at that time they were still running radio stations the way they did in the pre-TV days. 

True Gold , a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 8

 Rancheria Territorial Campground, Yukon Territory

Friday, June 22, 1973

 We left out early that morning — 6 am.  My father was always something of an early bird, but this was early even by his standards.  The first sight we passed by was Muncho Lake, the name of which amused me.  My diary says it was a very pretty lake, however, and the pictures I’ve been able to find on the web agree. 

 We then drove over what was then known as the coal stretch of the Alaska Highway, and added a black coating to the dirt already on the car and trailer from several hundred miles of gravel road.  I remember that for most of our trip, it was impossible to tell the color of the car without checking the roof, and that the trailer looked bi-toned — white from about five feet above the ground and brown below. 

 We crossed into Yukon Territory and stopped at Watson Lake, renewing acquaintance with the people we’d been sharing campgrounds with for the last several nights, and perusing the famous Watson Lake signpostsWatson Lake itself was very pretty, but the signposts, an enormous collection from all over the world, were the main attraction, at least for fourteen-year-old me.  We also bought a $5 Yukon camping permit in Watson Lake, and went fishing, but didn’t catch anything.

 We spent our first night in the Yukon in what was then the Rancheria Territorial Campground, and is now a private campground   The scenery is still just as lovely, though, according to their website.

 And that was the day we crossed into the Yukon.

 True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 7

115 Creek, milepost 403, British Columbia

Thursday, June 21, 1973

 Directions on the Alaska Highway were, in 1973 (I don’t know if they still are) given with reference to the milepost markers beginning with Mile 0 in Dawson Creek, and Mile 1523 in Fairbanks, Alaska (the official end of the highway is actually in Delta Junction, a few miles shy of Fairbanks, but a large sign in the middle of Fairbanks says (or said back then) that it’s the end).  At any rate, that’s what’s with the “milepost 403” notation in the location of today’s entry.  Sometimes I put that in my diary entries, sometimes I didn’t.  I don’t know why 115 Creek is named 115 Creek, but apparently it was a provincial park that must not exist anymore, since googling it is not bringing up an official website.  We also went through a small community called Wonowon that day, which was, appropriately enough, situated at milepost 101.

 The highlight of the day’s drive was a moose sighting.  A cow and her calf, apparently.  We also stopped to add a bug screen to the front of the car.  I do have vivid memories of the mosquitoes in that part of the world.  It seemed that the farther north we went, the more there were and the bigger they got.  But I suspect that at least part of the reason for the bug screen was also for its gravel-fending properties, to keep the windshield from getting hit.  We had long since lost the pavement by milepost 403, since only the first 70-something miles of the road were paved at that point.  We were well into the 1200 miles of gravel.  The next pavement would be at the Alaska border.

 We also bought postcards at a gas station/general store and mailed them from the in-store post office, which makes me wonder how many cell phone towers and/or wifi hotspots there are along the Alaska Highway now. 

 We also seesawed back and forth with a German gentleman in a VW Vanagon whom we’d met the night before, and one of the families with kids. 

 It’s amazing how little I wrote about the scenery.  What I remember of it along the early parts of the road was an unending forest of scrubby evergreens with a few lakes along the way.  But that would change soon.

 True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords