Chapter 54 - West Across Canada
Dave and Helen Damouth
June 2, 2000
5/13 We have out-run spring. The lilac buds are tightly closed, and some trees still have no leaves. The few minutes we spent hooking up the utilities when we arrived at the Winnipeg, Manitoba campground was one of the coldest, most miserable periods we have experienced since starting travelling. Temperatures near freezing, wet blowing rain, powerful gusts, and black clouds made for stiff bitterly cold hands. Fortunately, the furnace, augmented by a small electric heater, warms up the trailer almost immediately. This weather makes me miss the fireplaces we have had in our houses and the cheery comfort of a big wing chair in front of a roaring blaze. We probably will stay put for a few days to let spring catch up with us (and to let the snow melt west of us in Saskatchewan).
From the map it is apparent that we have nearly reached the north edge of the prairie. About 50 miles north of here, lake country begins. Lake Winnipeg runs 288 miles north. Just west of it, Lake Manitoba parallels it for 120 miles and has connections to equally large lakes farther north, all the way to Hudson Bay, 600 miles northeast as the crow flies, and to the Arctic Ocean, 1200 miles away. And the land between the lakes is low lying and nearly swamp, still rebounding from the weight of eons of glaciers. Maybe we should think of it as a mostly submerged prairie. There is a small provincial road extending through that watery wilderness most of the way to Hudson Bay, but we'll leave that adventure for another year.
About 20 years ago, we got a good look at similar country a bit further east from the windows of the Polar Bear Express, a train which runs north from Cochrane, Ontario to Moosonee on James Bay. It was 200 miles of bogs and stunted spruce trees and beautiful tea-colored streams.
5/13 Another sign that we're in a foreign country: A gigantic research building, now under construction in Saskatoon, was described as "big enough to hold 97 curling rinks".
Sitting here listening to CBC-2, watching the snow flurries. A Sudbury comedian cracking jokes about the Canadian North: Favorite pastime in Sudbury: going out to watch the huge trucks dump slag (from the ore processing process). Newfie fireworks (you don't want to know); bears, jumper cables, little boxes on sticks in the parking lots (plug in your engine heater while you are shopping, so it will start when you get back); telling the American tourists that all the cars are electric up here (of course you can only go as far as the extension cord allows); a new hunting season on mosquitoes (you can drag them onto the ice flows and beat the baby ones with clubs and not even the eco-freaks will complain!), etc.
This reminded us that the store at the RV Park sells tiny mosquito traps, and also a mosquito skinning tool. Enclosed with each of these are instructions for skinning the mosquitoes and making a fur coat. The instructions neglect to specify how many mosquito pelts are required for the coat. Some call the mosquito the Manitoba Provincial Bird. One advantage of our being here early in the season is that the mosquitoes are still scarce.
I noticed that some of the planted rows of shade trees in the RV Park are Box Elders - a fragile, short-lived "weed" tree further south. The choice of hardy trees in this climate must be very limited. Our tree book lists Manitoba Maple as another common name for this tree.
5/14 The sky cleared at sunset last night - perhaps we're done with rain for a while. With the clear sky, the temperature dropped even further, to a low of 28 degrees during the night. We disconnected and drained our water hose before going to bed. The park manager spent a nervous night: had the temperature dropped another degree, he would have had to turn off the water to the entire park. Another degree or two below that, and he would have been faced with fully draining the system - which he said meant pumping out 5000 gallons.
With the pleasant weather - still very cool, but sunny and not much wind, this was the day to wander around Winnipeg. We spent quite a while in the Art Museum, currently filled with aggressively modern stuff except for one special exhibit of Inuit art, all by the same woman - a "Grandma Moses" type whose paintings are simplistic and primitive, even in comparison to other Inuit art we've seen. We also wandered through "The Forks" a large park where The Red and Assiniboine Rivers join, incorporating walkways along the river and old buildings which have been attractively converted to a Children's Museum, a theatre, and a large collection of boutiques and restaurants.
Later, we drove through Assiniboine Park, on the west side of town. Within the park, we stopped to walk through the Conservatory (an attractive and well-maintained tropical greenhouse complex) and the Edward Mol Sculpture Garden, containing dozens of major bronze sculptures by this prolific and well-known artist.
Winnipeg, like other Canadian cities, has grown recently and rapidly, and a significant part of the growth comes from immigration. We hear many diverse languages and accents as we walk the streets. The central city has an eclectic skyline, with the baroque turrets of the ornate old Parliament buildings contrasting interestingly with a rotating circular rooftop restaurant atop a nearby building and other mid-20th-century architectural affectations. The downtown area has an expansive feel (appropriate to the Great Plains) due to liberal use of open space - wide streets, green lawns around major buildings, plenty of park land.
But traffic is a mess. There are no expressways in the city. PH-1, the major east-west highway, narrows to one lane in each direction in portions of the city. Traffic lights do not seem to be synchronized.
5/16 Arrived at Saskatoon in mid-afternoon. We've been driving across the seemingly endless northern prairies for two days, and there's more to go. Up here, there's more rain than the Great Plains in the USA, and no evidence of any irrigation. Nearly every acre is (or soon will be) planted - with wheat, soybeans, canola, barley, etc. Railroad sidings have long lines of unique barrel-sided grain cars. Every few miles, there is a huge grain elevator, and many of the big trucks on the highway are carrying loads of grain to the elevators. These prairies must feed a substantial portion of the world's population. Grain shipping seems go on all year, with highly distributed storage. Each farm has a collection of cylindrical metal storage bins of various sizes.
The gently curving patterns left by last year's grain harvesting or this year's plowing and seeding turn the hilly vistas into works of art. Occasionally, the patterns open to flow around an oil well or a little kettle-hole pond where a chunk of glacial ice was left behind 10,000 years ago. Each of these ponds has a nesting pair of ducks or geese.
It's about mid-way in the planting season - some fields are showing the faint green of sprouting crops, and others are still waiting to be plowed.
The Canadian accent has become more pronounced as we come through the prairie country. I've just realized that it sounds like a watered-down Scottish accent. And indeed, the earliest settlers throughout much of this region were Scots. There's also a big Ukrainian population, and we frequently see the little onion-domed churches characteristic of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. There's a Ukrainian Museum in Saskatoon - perhaps we'll go see it.
We did go see it. The exhibits traced the history of the Ukraine as a country, and then the history of Ukrainian immigration to the Canadian prairies - driven by political and religious repression and overpopulation. This past decade of stable independence is a new and rare thing for the Ukraine. The country has been under the domination of other empires, sometimes partitioned among several empires, for most of the past millennium. Somehow, they maintained a strong ethnic identity in spite of the political domination by others. This presumably is the reason that it is usually described as a geographic region ("The Ukraine") rather than as a country "Ukraine" or "Ukrainia". Even the Ukrainian church has maintained a distinctive and independent identity.
The broad central region of the Ukraine is surprisingly similar to Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Both are primarily a grain-growing economy, so it's not surprising that Ukrainians chose this location when they became able to migrate. Canada had a Homestead Act very similar to that of the U.S., beginning when the railroads first opened up the area to settlement in the late 1800's. Canada also advertised heavily in Europe for immigrants.
We also visited the Mendel Art Gallery and Civic Conservatory. The Conservatory was small but well-maintained and very attractive. The Art Gallery was also small - and almost entirely devoted to three special exhibitions. The shows of Ukrainian folk art and award-winning art by local school children didn't interest us much. One gallery was full of huge modern landscapes by Canadian artist John Hartman - exaggerated colors and surrealistic images, but somehow attractive in spite of it.
Saskatoon is built on both sides of the North Saskatchewan River, joined by several large bridges. The riverfront is mostly undeveloped and green. The west side of the river, through the downtown area, is a park, with a paved bike path along the river, overlooks, docks for small boats, sports facilities, and green areas extending into and around the nearby buildings - including the two museums mentioned above. On this sunny spring day, the park was getting a lot of use. Classes of art students, having only recently emerged from a near-arctic winter, were sitting on the lawn in shorts and sleeveless T-shirts, while we, still conditioned to the southland, were wearing jackets.
The floor of our bathtub has always felt rather thin and flimsy. Yesterday while the tub was in use, it cracked all the way through for about a foot, along one end of the tub. Removing enough paneling to gain access to the underside of that end of the tub was a challenge. After that, applying a fiberglass repair to the underside of the tub and supplying some additional support to that area was relatively simple. The patch is invisible and watertight, and probably stronger than new - at the expense of several hours' work.
5/18 Another 4 1/2 hours of prairie landscape, as we continued along highway 16, crossing into Alberta and continuing to Vermilion Lake Provincial Park. Much of the drive was within view of the North Saskatchewan River valley - deeply cut into the otherwise nearly flat prairie. We're camped on a hilltop, with a long view out across the valley of the Vermilion River (dammed to form a long narrow lake below us). The park is mostly prairie, dotted with occasional small aspen and spruce trees. We celebrated both the local cuisine and a dry, reasonably warm, evening by building a campfire (the first in a long time) and roasting Ukrainian sausages (sort of vaguely like polish sausage, but more finely ground and even milder spices except for lots of garlic). These were smoked - don't know if that's typical).
There are surprisingly few spring flowers here in the prairies. Over the past several days, we've had to search to find any at all - and then we find only isolated specimens of just a few species - violets, a yellow pea, some sort of yellow corydalis (and of course the ubiquitous dandelion). We identified a common and attractive flowering bush as Western Seviceberry.
So far, Canadian diesel fuel prices haven't been as bad as we expected. We're paying, in U.S. dollars, from $1.55 to $1.72 per U.S. gallon (.589 to .649 Canadian dollars per litre, at an exchange rate of $1.43 Canadian dollars per U.S. dollar).
The support for multiple currencies in Quicken 2000 has already proven to be a major convenience. Keeping track of our expenses while in Canada is now a lot easier than it used to be - with all conversions done automatically.
5/20 Edmonton, Alberta, like quite a few other large Canadian cities, has spent a lot of money on its public architecture, and the architecture seems more innovative than comparable U.S. Cities. The Edmonton City Hall is a beautiful place to visit as well as a functional center of city administration. Major portions of this new building are constructed with materials salvaged from the old City Hall, which was demolished on this site. The floor of the main public area was random pieces of pale green travertine from the old building, set into black-and-white terrazzo, with the whole thing ground and polished smooth.
The architecture is also keyed to the harsh climate - many of the buildings have underground parking, and are tied together with a network of enclosed aerial or underground walkways.
The Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton is a pleasantly contemporary complex of greenhouses - 4 glass pyramids extending up from earth berms which hide a partially underground structure housing the support facilities - mechanical equipment, gift shop, lobby, bathrooms, etc. Each of the 4 pyramids was a different climate. It was a new experience to go into the greenhouse labeled "temperate" and find it full of exotic species like oak and maple trees - things we grew up with, but which don't survive this far north.
In the early evening, we spent quite a while sitting on a bench in front of the convention center - a glass building cascading many levels down the steep bank of the river gorge. Several high school graduation parties were being held here, and a steady flow of limousines (and an occasional bus) was depositing couples in formal attire, making for very interesting people-watching.
5/21 Walked through the grounds of the Alberta Museum and Archives, enjoying the building architecture, the landscaping, and the occasional sculpture. We skipped the museum itself. This building, like many others in Edmonton, is built with a strange mottled limestone quarried in Manitoba - apparently limestone with tubular structures of dolomite twisting through it. Sometimes this stone is ground smooth and polished. In other places, it is left rough. Either way, the patterns are attractive.
The University of Alberta's Devonian Gardens was an interesting botanical garden, helping us learn more about the plants of this northern region. The Japanese Garden captured the traditional feel and appearance, but with almost none of the traditional types of plants (which aren't hardy here) - quite an achievement. It's hard to imagine a Japanese garden without Japanese maples, but they managed quite well with just a few hardy northern species.
The Alberta Alpine garden was both fascinating and beautiful - built on rocky hillsides and containing many unusual plants from the harsher-climate portions of Alberta. Alpine plants bloom early, and this garden had more color than the other plantings. It's still early spring here - many of the tulips and daffodils haven't bloomed yet, and the lilacs aren't even close to blooming.
The trees shading our campsite have also been dropping seeds, each of which is equipped with a little blob of rubber cement. The seeds stick tenaciously to the trailer and to our shoes, so that they get tracked in and then glue themselves to the floor. The glue is not water-soluble. It took a lot of scrubbing with a solvent to get the floor clean. Eventually, the trailer itself will need the same tedious scrubbing. I'm lazy, and will hope that most of it will weather away before I get around to washing it.
5/25 A 300 mile day from Edmonton to Grand Prairie, and on a bit further to Saskatoon Island Provincial Park. Surprisingly for so far north, this Peace River prairie area is still cultivated farmland. The roads were good all the way. The weather was variable - sometimes sunny, sometimes heavily overcast, with rain and a bit of sleet. There are frost warnings for tonight, all through this area.
The Park, almost surrounded by water, is a pleasant place, overrun with birds of all kinds. The lake is a nesting area for Trumpeter Swans. I searched the shoreline with binoculars, but didn't see any swans. Perhaps they haven't arrived yet. I did see an amazing variety of ducks and small wading birds. At one point on my walk through a brushy meadow, I found myself surrounded by several yellow warblers, flashing brightly through the shrubbery, which was just beginning to leaf out and hence offered a good view. A grouse was drumming its mating call - a deep throbbing that could be heard for a long distance.
The road signs in Alberta are interestingly different: "Sharp Shoulders", "75% Road Ban", "Moose Crossing", "Warning - Caribou in Road", "No Parking along road - Poison H2S Gas area".
5/26 Lots of miles today, along excellent highway. We stopped briefly at the Visitor's Center and museum at Dawson Creek - the official starting point of the Alaska Highway. Saw a very interesting one-hour film on the Alaska Highway, much of it movie film that was shot during the actual construction in 1942. The museum has many artifacts from this period, lots of stuffed local animals, and artifacts of early settlers in this region.
From it's rough beginnings, the Alaska Highway has evolved into and excellent highway through almost continual improvement. Addresses and features along the highway are located by "mileposts" - not necessarily a real post, but representing the number of miles along the road from mile zero at Dawson Creek.
The road provided frequent views of snow-covered Rocky Mountains to the west. We crossed another flavor of continental Divide at 3600 feet, with several inches of snow on the ground although the pavement itself was clear and mostly dry. The Peace River south of the divide flows eventually east to Hudson Bay. Prophet River, to the north of the divide, flows to the McKenzie river and then to Arctic Ocean.
For most of the day, we had alternating sun with hail, rain, and snow showers. The aspens are not yet leafed out at 3500 feet, although bright green at lower elevations. Our tentative target for an overnight stop was Prophet River Recreation Area - but it appears to be out of business - no signs at all along the road, although we suspect that we saw the access road as we went by. A bit further on, we stopped at Neighbors Gas Station and RV Park at mile 226.9, Historical Milepost 233 (numbered from Dawson Creek.)
This milepost business is getting confusing. Some portions of the road have mileposts installed many years ago, indicating miles along the original road. But portions of the road have been rebuilt along more direct routes, shortening the distance, and this rebuilding continues to happen every few years. Maps, business advertisements, and guidebooks can't seem to decide whether to reference the original mileposts or the actual road miles, and sometimes list both. To make it worse, some references are in miles and others are in kilometers.
The small spruce and aspen trees are being actively logged. We saw huge areas which had been clearcut and replanted. The main products seem to be particle board and oriented-strand board, since many of the trees aren't big enough to yield much conventional lumber.
5/27 We drove an hour and a half further north to Ft. Nelson, where we stopped at the Visitor's Center. After encountering the temporary summer employees or volunteers who often staff such places in the U.S., it was a pleasure to find that the young woman who runs this place is a competent and experienced professional who seemed to have the answer to almost any conceivable travel question, not just in the immediate region but over the entire route from here into Alaska. She handed us an up-to-date typed sheet which lists last-minute changes to the information on the "official" brochures, took notes on our report of a closed provincial park to the south, and was in the process of telephoning the various tourist facilities to verify that they were open for the season. A modem plug is available for travelers. (We had previously noted that the pay phone outside the Dawson Creek Visitor's Center has a modem plug.)
Continuing west from Ft. Nelson, the highways begins a gradual climb into the Rocky Mountains. These aren't big mountains. This is the "terminal range" where the Canadian Rockies fizzle out. The mountain ranges further north are geologically separate entities. Even in mid-morning, we see quite a bit of wildlife along the road: moose, caribou (twice), stone sheep (three times), a jackrabbit, and bison (a large herd). The bison were on a ranch - fenced (and branded), raised for meat, but the rest were wandering along the shoulder of the road.
Stone Sheep are a subspecies related to the Dall Sheep and California Bighorn Sheep. The Stone Sheep (named after Mr. Stone who discovered them, not after their favorite terrain) are a fairly dark grey/brown. Dall Sheep are pure white. The California Bighorns are light brown or grey, but have somewhat heavier horns and more massive bodies. Otherwise all three (and several other subspecies) look quite similar.
The snow-capped peaks, which we've been seeing for two days in the distance far to the west, gradually get closer during the morning. The highway quality has been very good, with a smooth surface and wide paved shoulders, up to Ft. Nelson. After Ft. Nelson the road gradually deteriorated until by the time we were in the mountains, it had an uneven surface, occasional bumps, and narrow gravel shoulders. It's still a lot better than some of the state and provincial highways we've seen in Eastern Canada and in the lower 48 states. Coming across the high point of the mountains, the road has sharp curves, with marked speeds at the curves ranging from 50 to 80 km/hr (about 30 to 50 mph). There were also a few steep grades, up to 10%, although none were really long.
Traffic is light. We often drive for many miles without seeing another vehicle. The high point in altitude (and the low point in weather) is Summit Lake, where we stopped to read the roadside signs, and to look at the provincial park. This is the highest point of the entire Alaska Highway, at 4200 feet elevation. The lake was still frozen solid. The campground is beautiful, and is right on the lake shore, with views of the snowy mountains all around. But the clouds were low and dark, and snow reduced the visibility. The temperature was in the low 40's, but it was windy and felt colder. We decided to move on.
We stopped at a roadside business which advertised home made bread and pies. They didn't have a cook this year, and the kitchen was closed. There's apparently no electrical power line up here - we could hear a generator throbbing in an outbuilding. Further along, we stopped for fuel at another tiny roadside business. These places are spaced out perhaps 50 to 100 km apart, and nearly every one of them offers complete traveler's services - gas, diesel fuel, general store, RV Park, and sometimes café and motel rooms. They are generally quite shabby looking - clearly a bare subsistence living for the operators. Some are closed - apparently permanently.
The price for diesel fuel has risen to CN$.699/liter (US$1.85/Gal), with gas a little higher. The good news is that every gas station also has diesel.
Muncho Lake Provincial Park is a spectacularly beautiful place. The highway, blasted out of the rock cliffs, skirts right along the edge of the water for several miles. The park encompasses the entire 7-mile long lake, and has two campgrounds along the highway on the east shore. Each campground is located on an alluvial fan - rocks and gravel washed down from a canyon and building a fan-shaped peninsula extending out into the lake. We arrived early enough to have our choice of campsites, and picked a long level site right at the rocky beach. There are only a few scattered spruce trees, and some shrubs (pussywillow!), so we have a panoramic view of the mountains - every trailer window has a mountain or lake view. No power or water here (except a hand pump), but all the free firewood we can burn, for a camping fee of US$8/night.
In late evening, we unhitched and drove 20 miles further along the highway to a hiking trail, where we walked out to a mineral lick. The soil is mostly a whitish rock flour ground up by past glaciers, and the stone sheep and other large animals frequent the area to lick up some minerals. Where the river cuts through the area, the cliffs of this material have eroded into hoodoos - vertical columns in weird shapes. We enjoyed the walk, and the view. We saw no animals, but along the way, deep in a spruce forest floored with a spongy foot-thick layer of sphagnum moss, we discovered a cluster of exquisite little pink-purple calypso orchids with bright yellow throats.
5/28 The scenery at Muncho Lake is too nice to leave, so we didn't. Spent a lazy day enjoying it. Dave spent part of the afternoon hiking up the nearest mountain - not a big mountain, but high enough to afford a panoramic view of the lake and the surrounding country. The upper third of the bigger mountains all around us are still snow covered, unclimbable without special equipment. I also finally got around to installing mud flaps on the rear of the truck - something that should have been done years ago. I bought the flaps several weeks ago, in anticipation of plenty of gravel roads in Alaska.
5/29 After several nights without hookups, our freshwater tank is nearly empty and our grey water tank is nearing full. This was our first experience with hunting for a dump station up here. The first place we tried - the usual all-purpose gas station/motel/general store/campground - turned us away, explaining that their dump was only for people staying at their own campground. The second place charged us C$5.00 to dump and another C$2.00 for a tank of fresh water. They also sold propane, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that propane is a relative bargain - C$11 to fill a 30 pound tank - probably the cheapest tank we purchased since Mexico.
As we continued toward Watson Lake, the terrain became more gentle. We could often see snow covered mountains in the distance, but much of our driving is in very broad valleys, surrounded by rounded hills.
Along the way we stopped at Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park, and hiked to the hot springs. Entrance to the park and use of the springs is free. Many people stop for the night in the campground here to soak in the springs. The campground fills up regularly, and early arrival is suggested. The hot springs affect the climate of much of the valley, and plant species are found here which normally aren't found this far north. The springs are quite large and have been modernized with changing rooms, steps down to the water, and underwater benches. Nearby, warm water seeping out of the hillside has created an almost tropical hanging garden on the rocks. It was too early to see it at its best, but we could imagine what it would look like later in the summer.
Just before Watson lake we "officially" crossed into The Yukon. The highway crossed back and forth between British Columbia and Yukon Territory several times today, and will do so again tomorrow. So, they arbitrarily defined this crossing as the "real" one, and put the Welcome Center here.
Downtown RV Park, in Watson Lake, is a gravel parking lot with full hookups. As it turned out, we didn't really need to dump this morning - but we had no way of knowing we'd find sewer hookups tonight. We celebrated with profligate use of water - mainly long showers. The "downtown" location put us within walking distance of the Visitor's Center/Museum, the Northern Lights show, and Winnie's Cyber-Café.
The latter is actually two interconnected stores, one selling deli-type food, and the other renting videotapes and having two PC's which they rent at $5.00/half hour, each hooked to a separate phone line. The campground owner would have allowed us to download Email, but 4 or 5 days of accumulated Email, including the voluminous RV-Talk Digest, would have tied up his one and only phone line for an unreasonably long time. I guessed a 10-minute on-line time (expecting a relatively slow connection), and he looked uneasy about having his phone tied up that long, so I decided to look elsewhere. The Visitor's Center suggested that the library might allow a hookup, for free - but they were already closed for the day.
I also needed to spend some phone time debugging the use of my Escapees calling card with the automatic Dialup Networking software in my PC, and I had been saving up some Internet stuff to do, so I chose to rent a half hour of time at Winnie's, disconnecting their computer and using only the phone line with my laptop. It worked out well. I now understand how to make automatic calling card dialing work properly, and I used the half-hour efficiently, getting quite a few other on-line things done. Money well spent.
The Visitor's Centre had a collection of menus from local restaurants and these, plus knowledgeable advice from the lady at the Information desk, led us to Upper Liard Lounge and Café - a scruffy looking place six miles west of town. We entered this place rather uneasily, but found a neatly maintained café, competent staff, and excellent food. We recommend it!
Got back from dinner just in time to catch a show at The Northern Lights Centre - a small planetarium, with some extra additions for showing movies and creating laser patterns on the dome. A few minutes of the show were excellent photography of aurora borealis. The rest of the time was a hokey mix of local advertising, poorly executed laser effects, a badly written script for an aboriginal children's fable about the northern lights, and some over-simplified scientific explanations of the phenomena. At C$19.26 for the two of us, it was a waste of time and money and came close to the rip-off category. Unfortunately, there's no chance of our seeing real northern lights, since it remains light all night during the summer.
5/30 We did a little grocery shopping, then hooked up and backtracked a few miles to Lucky Lake picnic area, where we took a pleasant 2.2-km hiking trail through mature forest to an overlook above the Liard River. The trees here are the largest in the Yukon, due to a sheltered location and deep rich soil. Some of the white spruce reach 70 feet high. This overstates their size, however. The maximum diameter of the trunk is about a foot, and the branches reach at most only two or three feet out from the trunk - perhaps the world's skinniest trees.
Back on the road, we continued driving through rolling foothills and then through another range of snowcapped mountains, although I'm not sure of the name of the range. It's another continental divide of sorts. As we climbed the east side, we were in the valley of the Rancheria River, which flows to the Mackenzie River, which empties into the Arctic Ocean, over 2000 miles from here. As we descended the west side, we initially drove along the Swift River, the water of which eventually flows to the Yukon River and empties into the Bering Sea (the northern extension of the Pacific Ocean), on the northwest coast of Alaska, also over 2000 miles away.
About an hour after leaving Watson Lake, we stopped at Rancheria Falls Recreation Area and took an easy 10 minute hike through the forest to a beautiful waterfall on the Rancheria River.
Wildlife is plentiful, even at mid-day. We saw a stone sheep and a caribou alongside the road. Helen saw a wolf-like animal run across the road ahead of us - perhaps a big dog, but there seemed to be no human habitation for many miles. She also saw what appeared to be a black bear on a hillside above the highway.
The night was spent at Dawson Peaks Resort and RV Park, attracted by their advertisement of fresh baking and prize-winning rhubarb pie. We had a very good meal and an interesting conversation with owners David Hett and Carolyn Allen. David came to the Yukon in 1973, on a one-year teaching contract, and has been here ever since. They spend part of each winter wandering all over South America on public busses.
Interestingly, this area, directly on the Alaska Highway and only a few miles from the village of Teslin, has no telephone service except for an old-fashioned and expensive-to-use mobile radiotelephone. We've found no cellphone service for the past several days, and no landlines have been strung along this portion of the highway.
5/31 The drive to Whitehorse was relatively short - 113 miles - but it took over 3 hours. The roads remain surprisingly good - smooth surface and wide paved shoulders. We can comfortably travel the 100 km/hr (about 62 mph) speed limit most of the time. But there was one stretch of several miles where the road was under construction and we poked along wet gravel at about 25 mph. We also stop at most of the pullouts to enjoy the scenery and to try to capture it on film. The road generally follows a river valley, although usually set into the hillside where every curve brings a new view out over the forested valley to ranges of snowy mountains. The spruce forest is often so dense and uniform that it looks like someone draped the terrain with a green shag carpet. At other times, the forest is mottled - a crazy quilt of aspen, lodgepole pine, and white spruce, each its own distinctive texture and shade of green.
We're beginning to see wildflowers again, although not a lot of variety. Lupine and Jacobs Ladder are coming into bloom and are prolific. Pasque flowers are big and showy but infrequent.
In Whitehorse, we chose Hi Country RV Park because it advertised a "24 hour Internet connection". This will give us a chance to send out this chapter of the travelogue, which has gotten far too long. The next report will probably be from Anchorage, Alaska.