Monday, May 26, 2014

Day One Alaska Hwy - Dawson Creek to Fort Nelson

One thing we have discovered already is the hours of daylight are getting longer very quickly even though we are still a month away from the summer solstice.  It is pretty much still daylight when we go to bed and when we get up.  In Dawson Creek the sun was up at 5:36 and set at 9:21.  After only one day on the highway to Fort Nelson sunrise is at 4:25 and sunset at 9:52.  Being people who love the dark it made it hard to fall asleep so I put cardboard between the blinds and the windows.  The bedroom is now like a cave all day.  Good for napping:-)

We knew the road to Fort Nelson would be in good shape with long straight stretches and just a few hills and curves so we drove 282 miles in one day.  I think this is the most we will do in a day until we start back to the lower 48 in August.  The day was mostly sunny but there was a swirling wind that seemed to be blowing from every direction, not fun in a motorhome.  Most of this section of the highway was a "old winter road" so not as much work was required as there was on the rest of the road.  There were still bridges to be built and widening it so large military vehicles could pass. 
The first real steep hill we encountered was going down to the Peace River near Taylor.  A 10% grade is about as steep as we have ever driven.  We geared down and used the engine brake to slowly descend.  Of course, what goes down must come back up so there was a good climb on the other side.
The latest of several bridges that crossed the Peace was built in 1960.  Three 1942 wood truss bridges were washed out by floods, so in 1943 a suspension bridge was built high above the water.  It was one of only two suspension bridges on the highway.
This is what happened to the suspension bridge in 1957.  Fortunately, a truck driver noticed that the cable anchors were coming loose and the bridge was shut down before it collapsed.
The memorial at Charlie Lake honors the 12 American soldiers who died here when, during stormy weather, the pontoon boat they were using to transport heavy equipment across the lake sank.  I missed the turn off so we did not get a close up picture.
We passed many of these camps along the way.  They are trailers that have been brought in to house the energy workers.  See if you can figure out which milepost is here from the name of the lodge.
All these signs are for different drilling company employees and loggers to find their way to work. 
After a few days on the plains we once again saw the snow capped Rockies.  We were surprised at how little snow there was on the peaks.
Typical of the first day's drive.  Miles and miles of forest and distant mountains that we will be crossing on the next leg.
There were several places along this section where the new road has been built over the years.  The highway is 35 miles shorter today than when it was completed in 1942.  This new section eliminated the second highest point, Trutch Mountain, and many curves, when the bypass was built in 1987.  You can tell from the signs that there is drilling going on in this area.  You can still drive some of these old sections, but they are not well maintained.
Click to enlarge and find the coyote.
There were many sections of the road without any lines.  It was fine during the day, but I would not want to drive it at night.  I was also surprised at there was so little traffic.  We sometimes went for miles without seeing another vehicle.  I don't know if that will be the case all the way north or not.  I hope so as it makes for a much easier drive.
Our first black bear of the trip.
And our first moose.
Another black bear.  We were told we would not see much wildlife during the day, which proved to not be true.  We are looking forward to seeing a lot more animals all summer.
This is the low point (1000 feet above sea level) of the highway where it crosses the Muskwa River near Fort Nelson.  The next leg of the journey will take us across the highest point when we cross the Rockies.

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