North to Alaska: Destination Denali – Part 2


The Sign Post Forest in Watson Lake

The Sign Post Forest in Watson Lake

The Mile ‘0’ RV Park and Campground is where we always stay in Dawson Creek; lots of large clean treed sites, full facilities, pet friendly, and it’s right next door to the Pioneer Village, Rotary Lake and Gardens North.  There’s even a beautiful golf course next door if your so inclined.

For those who may not know, Dawson Creek is known as Mile O of the Alaska Highway; and it is here that the great adventure begins for travellers who follow this famous 1,422 mile highway to its end in Delta Junction, Alaska.

From Dawson Creek we took 97 north to Fort Nelson, travelling through Fort St. John, Charlie Lake, and Pink Mountain.  As we travelled Bob entertained me with stories of his teen years; working on ranches in the Charlie Lake area, and working with wild horses.

Pink Mountain is known to those of the cowboy genre as the town where World Champion Bull Rider Darryl Mills came from on his way to winning this prestigious title at the National Finals Rodeo.

Fort Nelson has a lovely treed RV Park called Triple G Hideaway,  right next to the local Heritage Museum; which includes an outstanding vintage auto and machinery display that is the pride and joy of its 80-year-old plus curator, Marl Brown.  The town was established as a Hudson Bay Trading Post in 1805 and was named after Admiral Nelson of the British Navy.  But best of all here – the RV Park has a comfy little licensed restaurant (pub) to enjoy the evening in.

Bright and early the next morning we were on 97 again to the Liard River Hot Springs.  This is an incredibly beautiful stretch of highway, a winding road, but the slower travel lets you really appreciate the scenery.  We passed an impressive rock formation called Indian Head Rock, Summit Lake (the highest point on the Alaska Highway), and 12 kms of the road winds alongside the magnificent Muncho Lake, called by many one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.  Muncho Lake has vibrant blue green waters that are caused by copper oxide that leaches into the water.  Add that to a bright blue sky above and you have photography heaven for scenic shots!

In the wildlife department we found a number of bears looking for a mug shot along this stretch of road as well.

Liard Hot Springs Lodge and RV Park  is right across the road from Liard Hot Springs National Park.  We were able to walk to the hot springs in just a few minutes.  Once inside the park it is easy to find the boardwalk that winds through a very swampy area, where you can feel the heat rising from the water and muskeg underneath.  This is a favourite area for moose to feed, but we saw none as we passed.  It’s interesting that there is a fish that has adapted to living in these hot waters.  When you feel the water with your hand it is amazing the fish aren’t served up naturally poached!

The springs are naturally fed from underground streams and come into the outdoor hot spring pools at about a whopping 53°C degrees, where they mix with cooler above ground streams, bringing the temp down to around 44°C.  There are three pools at the lower level, that range from really hot to pretty hot!  We wondered why the one pool had no one in it until I put my foot in the water – yowsers!  That was hot!  I love a hot bath, but that was too much even for my liking.  We settled for the pool at the end of the row, still very warm but spring fed with cooler water, and really very relaxing once you got used to it.  The pools are well kept, but are in their natural environment, complete with gravel and silt bottoms, and numerous mosquitoes on the top.  The smell of the mineral waters can just about knock a dog off a wagon, but the results of bathing in these same waters are lovely.

Feeling great after our dip we headed back to the RV, and as we did so noticed a lot of what appeared to be oil splashed up around the bottom of our pickup.  Not a good sign; and even worse after Bob investigated the cause and found a major leak in a seal on the automatic transmission fluid line.

After inquiring at the lodge we found there is no mechanic between Liard and Watson Lake, a three hour drive north, and an even further drive to the south to find one.  So, we bought all the transmission fluid to be had in Liard (three litres), and headed out the next morning in the hopes of making it to Watson Lake without, as Bob put it, “the transmission seizing up, failing, blowing up, or whatever; but it won’t be good!”.

We stopped frequently to check that the leak had not gotten any worse, and about halfway to Watson Lake were fortunate to find a tiny little gas station that had two more litres of fluid we could purchase and dearly needed.  We kept all our fingers and toes crossed that the leak would not increase; we had no more fluid to add, and a major breakdown and tow way out here would be disastrous.

Even though this was a pretty stressful drive, we still could not help but enjoy the scenery, and the 20 bears (including cubs) we counted and photographed alongside the road as we travelled.  We also photographed wood bison, and stone sheep in abundance, and saw a few caribou as well.

Finally we were able to sigh with relief as we arrived in Watson Lake, and made straight for a recommended mechanic shop in town.  Unfortunately, these folks had little interest in helping us out, so we asked a local who to try, and he sent us to Norm Leclerc, owner of Rugged Terrain Repairs.  What a different attitude!  These people were friendly professionals and looked at our vehicle right away, determined the problem, and got on the telephone to order the part from Whitehorse.

So,  feeling confident that we would be repaired and on our way in the morning we settled in at the Downtown RV Park in Watson Lake.

The park is right across the road from beautiful Wye Lake Park; spacious lawn areas, picnic sites, miles of walking trails, and a great place for dog walks.  We were also just two blocks down from the famous Sign Post Forest, where for over 60 years travellers have been hanging some 20,000 signs with the name of their hometown.

Watson Lake also has the Northern Lights Interpretive Centre, and the ice-age exhibits and films at the Beringia Interpretive Centre, all well worth seeing.

When morning came, Bob took the truck for its repair work and I readied to get back on the road.  However, he returned about four hours later with a very long face that showed his discouragement, saying “I think this might be the end of our holiday.  Norm can’t find a part for us, and even if he can it looks like we’ll be here for awhile while it gets shipped in.”

My heart dropped as I contemplated a week out of our vacation for repairs, and then not enough time left for us to reach Denali and return home.  There seemed to be no other options – what could we do?

Watch for the next installment of North To Alaska: Destination Denali in an upcoming issue of the Star/Journal.