Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Alaska Highway Mile Marker “GO”!

Our route to Alaska

I am not sure when I could say that driving the Alaska Highway first entered my mind.  I grew up in Southwest Sacramento…at the end of our street when I was young was land which was set aside to be part of Interstate 5 when it was to built years later in Sacramento.  I remember hearing, probably from my brother Roger, that one day one could get on I-5 and head north to Alaska, or south to the Panama Canal.  Well in my young mind, going south to Panama was a bit much…but going to Alaska, well I think that caught my imagination way back then.  I even looked at a map and saw that indeed I-5 would lead you north into Canada, and then you can take this highway, then that highway, eventually get on the Alaska Highway, and land in Fairbanks or in Anchorage.

Dawson Creek, Mile Zero

We have all heard the saying, “Go north young man, go north…”.   I remember back in November, 1980, heading up I-5 for my annual November week long vacation while I was Manager of a restaurant in Sacramento.  I had bought a camera, kind of a Birthday and Christmas present to myself.  I drove up to Seattle, then back along the Oregon Coast, and back home to Sacramento…leaving on a Sunday, getting back on Wednesday so that I could spend Thanksgiving with family.  I remember thinking on that solo trip (most of my November vacation trips back then were solo), “One day, my trip won’t stop in Seattle…it will go all the way to Alaska.  Oh how much I would have loved to go back then, it seemed better than the rigors of Restaurant work…something I had started 8 years previous, and would end six years hence.

Dawson Creek Visitor's Center/Museum     Dawson Creek Visitor's Center/Museum

Today I went over the motorhome and the HHR and made sure the fluids were right, we have a tire pressure system so I know the tires are filled, and I checked for wear, but everything is looking good…especially the motorhome tires which are new last spring and have less than 10,000 miles on them.  I would like to add 3-4 lbs into the tires, but I have not found a place that I could fill them at reliably.  At cold and higher elevations, they are reading about 4 lbs lower than in lower, warmer elevations.  I’ll just have to keep an eye out for a good place to fill them, but they always come up to the pressure I want them at in just a few minutes of driving even at 6,000 feet with temps in the low 30’s.   I also added to my map so that I have gas stations plugged in.  After that, we went out to lunch and sightseeing.   The two pictures above are of the Visitors Center by the the building in the first shot.  They are nice, but the video we sat through was 24 years old (talked about the upcoming celebration of the 50th year of the Alaska Highway being open…we are now on the verge of the 75th celebration next year.)   There is a $5 fee per person to go into either end of the “Museum”, as they call it.  Frankly, I was not impressed, and certainly not impressed with the 25 year old movie which was very bright and washed out, as you can see on the TV in the picture above.

Grain Elevators in Dawson Creek, 1950 era, from Internet

While watching one of the movies, I think it was the one at the Chamber of Commerce’s Alaska Highway House (more on that in a bit), I saw that there wasn’t just one grain elevator, as shown in our first picture today, and in yesterday’s blog, but there were five of them in a row.  A little research showed that the other four are gone now, and this surviving one, which is now an Art Gallery, was moved across town to its current location.  That is probably a story unto itself… I wanted to include this tidbit because I find it interesting…how did they “move” this large thing across town???

Alaska Highway House, Dawson Creek, from their website
Our next stop was to the Alaska Highway House, run by the Dawson Creek Chamber of Commerce.  This is a fairly new place, and in contrast to the Visitor’s Center we went to first, this place was much, much, much more interesting, and the movie, produced by PBS, was very good and of high quality.

3b     Exhibit in Alaska Highway House, Dawson Creek
Exhibit in Alaska Highway House, Dawson Creek

These are just a few of the many exhibits they have, and they are of top quality, and tell the very interesting story about how they built the highway.  The highway had been proposed as early as the 1920’s, but due to the cost, it never got out of the “here is an idea for a route” stage (ideas for routes with little to no surveyor studies to back it up.)  Then WW2 started, and there was little time for surveying, so they surveyed just a few miles ahead of the bulldozers.  Seven troops of men, three of which were Black troops, and eventually some workers of the Public Roads Administration built what was then called, “The Pioneer Road”.  It took 8 months and was usable…but the project was then turned over to the Public Roads Administration to turn it into a permanent road. The original “Pioneer Road” was 1,680 miles, and that was from Dawson Creek (where we are now) and ending at Delta Junction in Alaska (where it met up with a road already in use from Delta Junction to Fairbanks.)   By the time the road which was in Canad was handed over to Canada, the road was only 1,422 miles long due to upgrades and rerouting.  Today the same road distance is only 1,387...and it is all paved.  And each year they try to bring it all up to better standards after the long, hard winter.  (This past year it was an easier winter, so we hope there is not too much construction to deal with.)

PBS Movie offered in Alaska Highway House, Dawson Creek     PBS Movie offered in Alaska Highway House, Dawson Creek

Here are two screen shots I took of the PBS movie shown at the Alaska Highway House.  As you can tell by the pictures, the quality if this presentation is real high, and, like many PBS documentaries, it is high quality.  The other thing about the Alaska Highway House is that there is no cover charge, although they have a place to make a donation if you please.  Amazing, isn’t it…that which is “free” is so much better than the one which cost $5 per person.  Seems like life is that way sometimes…

Driving along

So tomorrow we start down the Alaska Highway…an adventure we have anticipated for the past two summers, dreamed about for many years, and now it has come true.  We enjoyed learning about the sacrifices made by those fine WW2 service men back in 1942…especially those who gave their all to build the beginnings of this current road.  We have decided that we are going to go to Skagway, which is just over 100 miles from Jake's Corner along the Alaska Highway, before continuing on to Anchorage and other areas.  Once we leave Skagway, we will pick up the Alaska Highway just south of Whitehorse. 

As of now, we are at milepost zero, and all systems are GO!

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