Oma provided her reflections in the last post, but I thought I would add a few notes on other topics.
The roads were not nearly as bad as I expected. Most sections were as good or better than many of the two-lane highways we drive in the lower 48. Some sections required slowing down by 10-15 mph, although traffic was usually light and through sections that had potholes, it was often possible to use both lanes, weave between them and maintain our speed.
The worst paved roads I remember were a short (several mile) stretch of the Tok cut-off in Alaska that required us to slow to around 35 mph for frost heaves and a portion of the Icefields Parkway in southern Canada that had many huge heaves that were more like 5 mph speed bumps.
Gravel/dirt roads are a whole other thing. We mostly avoided them this trip, with the exception of our Dawson Creek to Tok drive (stopping at Chicken) via the Top of the World and Taylor Highways. The Canada portion wasn’t bad, but once we were in Alaska and past the beautiful pavement that runs about ten miles after customs, our average speed was perhaps 25 mph on very rough road. Non-paved roads in northern Canada and Alaska can be highly variable depending on recent weather and recent road work (or lack there-of).
We left our campground at Kleanza Creek Provincial Park and headed east. After passing the Cassier Highway, we reached new roads for us again. Prince George was the next large city on our route, and although there were several provincial parks along the way, most were closed due to fires. Once again we had several hours of smoke, although fortunately it was not quite as bad as it was on the Cassier Highway.
From Prince George, we had wanted to leisurely work our way south and east through the Canadian Rockies, but it seemed like most of British Columbia was on fire. (The 2018 fire season was the worst in BC’s recorded history in acres burned, even worse than the historic 2017 fire season.) Besides the prospect of more thick smoke, there were reports of fires close to the highway along some of our planned route. We’d had enough of smoky roads and fires. So we changed our plans and instead headed directly east from Prince George toward Edmonton instead of south through Yoho, Kootenay and Banff National Parks.
We left our Yukon campground and headed south. Soon, we said our goodbyes to both the Alaska Highway and the Yukon Territory. Although we were excited to drive new (to us) roads on the Cassier Highway, I was a little sad to leave the Alaska Highway for the final time this trip after driving 1,500 miles on it up and back.
The Cassier Highway was in good condition, although it was a bit narrower than the Alaska Highway and without shoulders. (The Alaska Highway varies considerably along its length, but as you’ve seen in the pictures, much of it has some shoulder and most of it is as wide as a typical two-line highway in the lower-48.) Traffic initially was a little heavier than I expected, but still lighter than the Alaska Highway. (I was expecting almost no traffic, but we saw other vehicles at least every few minutes, typically.)
The morning after our train ride, we packed up and started our drive out of Skagway. From the road, we had views of the White Pass and Yukon railroad that we had ridden the day before. Our timing was bad and we didn’t get any shots of trains, but it was still interesting to see the route we had taken the day before from a different perspective.
The weather was still heavy overcast with fog at higher elevations, and parts of the landscape looked otherworldly in the fog. We had heard that the scenery entering and leaving Skagway was spectacular, and it was, even in the fog. The terrain is basically tundra (although different looking than the tundra in Denali) with small trees, lots of lakes, and moss-covered rocks. It’s gorgeous. That said, we’d love to see it when it is not so foggy as I am sure it is probably even more spectacular.
After failing our attempt to see a bore tide, it was time to leave Alaska and head to … Alaska. Southern Alaska is purely coastal, and many towns, including the state capitol of Juneau, are reachable only be sea or air. However, there are three towns that have road access from Canada: Haines, Skagway and Hyder.
After Fairbanks and the North Pole, we decided to retrace our steps down the Parks Highway. We learned that the bore tide south of Anchorage in the Turnagain Arm is supposed to be very unique and can be magnificent to see, so we thought we’d head back down and give it a shot.
The bore tide often happens during extreme minus low tides (but isn’t guaranteed). The one in Turnagain arm is one of the largest in the world and the only one bordered by mountains on both sides. The timing looked good as the next several days had promising tides.
We took the bus into the park twice in Denali (a benefit of our Tek bus passes). Our first day was scheduled for the day after we arrived (our first full day in the campground). That guaranteed us seats on a specific bus, and we chose the Kantishna bus, which goes all the way to the end of the park road.
There are two kinds of park buses. All the buses are essentially school buses purchased for use in Denali. (Some, perhaps all, were purchased new, but they are still the same kinds of buses used as school buses.) Tan buses are tour buses. You stay with your bus the whole day, get a stock narration, get a box lunch, and pay about four times more than for a transit bus ($218 for Kantishna tour, $60 for Kantishna transit bus, and $40 for our Tek pass which included Kantishna transit reservations and unlimited space-available use after that).
We left Savage River Campground to dump and fill our tanks. While we loved our short stay at Savage River and wanted to spend more time there, our next campground would really take us into the park.
Teklanika (tek-la-NEE-ka) River Campground, called “Tek”, is a special campground with a set of unique privileges and restrictions unlike any other campground I’ve ever experienced. This is because it is the only campground in Denali past mile 15 that you can drive to. (There are tent-only campgrounds past mile 15, but you must ride a park bus to them.)
By morning, our beautiful views of Denali had disappeared into clouds and light rain as we left Talkeetna. The Parks Highway up to Denali National Park has several viewpoints for seeing the mountain when it is inclined to show itself, but there were absolutely no views today. Visibility was so bad we did not even consider stopping to look.
We arrived at Denali National Park after about 2½ hours, and after our obligatory picture at the entrance sign, we followed the signs to check in to our campgrounds at Riley Creek Mercantile. (A concessionaire runs all the campgrounds, stores and bus services, so you go through them for almost everything in the park.)
After two nights on Kenai Lake, it was time to get closer to Homer. We had made reservations for the weekend at Scenic View RV Park near Ninilchik, which would make for a short drive on Sunday to snag another first-come, first-served campsite on the water.
Oma got a wonderful Mocha coffee at a tiny coffee express after Moose Pass, and then we headed down the Sterling Highway. There were tons of fisherman all along the way in/on the Kenai River.