Saturday, May 24, 2014

Dawson Creek and the Alaska Highway

We decided to spend three nights in the Dawson Creek area to check out some local attractions before heading up the Alaska Highway.  Of course many things in this town are highway related.  That said, this is another town that is booming because of energy production.  We talked to a local who told us that a few years ago they were building two or three houses a year and now there are two new housing plans going up.  We even met a couple of guys from Texas who were here doing gas field work.  

The Northern Alberta Railway Park was the muster station for all the men and supplies that arrived to build the highway.  It is hard to imagine what it must have been like for a little town of 600 to be invaded by an army of thousands.  It is a good location to park while checking out several Alaska Highway exhibits in the area, including the visitor center and the Milepost 0 cairn.  
This old grain elevator was moved to the park and today is a very neat art gallery featuring local artists and various highway exhibits.
This statue is a tribute to the surveyors who blazed the route for the highway through the wilderness.  After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the need for a road to Alaska became a top priority.  The need for such a road was reinforced by the June 1942 attack on Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands.  When you realize that the decision to build an all weather road to Alaska was signed by President Roosevelt in February 1942 and the entire route was planned, surveyed and built by October, it is a truly amazing achievement.  The engineers, in addition to coping with the extreme weather, had to deal with Muskeg, wetlands that freeze in the winter and melt in the summer, and permafrost, ground that stays frozen year round only because the soil above it keeps it insulated.  And, of course, there were the famous mosquitoes.  
Alaska Highway House is a must see for anyone driving the road.  There is an excellent film and many exhibits that show how they were able to complete this massive project in such a short time.  The construction was divided into six section with seven army units that had over 10,000 men and an additional 16,000 civilians all working to get r done.
A third of the soldiers were members of segregated black units.  While typical of the times many people thought these black soldiers would not be able to do such work.  They were proven wrong as the units performed just as well as the white units. 
Of course the logistics of getting all those men and all that equipment to where it was needed was monumental.  Before bridges were built everything needed to be ferried across the many rivers along the route.  The men worked especially hard to save this truck as it was carrying beer for their Fourth of July celebration. 
One of the biggest engineering challenges was the Kiskatinaw Bridge.  This is a model of the bridge at Alaska Highway House.  The bridge not only had to be built high above the river, the roadway was curved and banked.  It took longer (nine months) to complete this one bridge than it did to complete the rest of the highway. 
This wooden bridge is still standing only a few miles outside Dawson Creek.  A new bridge was built to bypass the Kiskatinaw in 1978 but you can still drive over it on a section of original highway.  It is rated for 20,000 kilos so most RVs can cross it.
We drove to the bridge in the CRV so we would have some time to explore.  You can see the straight wooden truss structure and the curved roadway that sits in it.  The bridge is well worth the little detour.
A few buildings in Dawson Creek have murals of the old town.
See if you can find the moose in this one.
We drove to nearby Pouce Coupe to check out the Hart Hotel that opened in 1928.  It was built by George Hart who owned the only liquor store between Grand Prairie, Alberta and Whitehorse, Yukon.  No wonder it became so famous. 
The saloon has several unique whimsical sculptures.
 Dennis and some of the Loosey Goosey group arrived at the Northern Lights RV Park the day before we left so we at least had a chance to touch base with them before we headed north.  They will be two or three days behind us, but I'm sure we will see them along the way. 
And here we are entering the Alaska Highway.  This trip has been on our bucket list since we hit the road and we are looking forward to the new adventure as we are running down our dream.