Thursday, May 29, 2014

Day Two Alaska Hwy -- Fort Nelson to Liard River

Our plan was to continue on up the highway after one night in Fort Nelson. We awoke to very cool temperatures, overcast skies and drizzle. The forecast was for improving weather and since the next day's drive was into the Rockies and over the highest point of the highway with the road being narrow and winding, we decided to just spend another day in Fort Nelson. This really reinforced our belief about not doing this trip with a commercial caravan with a set schedule (if it's Tuesday it must be Whitehorse) which would have had us driving this very scenic part of the trip through low clouds and fog, missing out on a fabulous day. That's why we like the Loosey Goosey group whose "set" schedule is, if you want to spend another day it's no problem, we will meet you up the road somewhere.   We wanted to have the best viewing conditions possible while driving a section that one guide book describes as the Serengeti on the north.  We drove 190 miles through some of the most beautiful country we have ever seen.
We were almost immediately rewarded for our patience when this mama bear and two cubs crossed the road. While they say you should not stop on the road to see animals, the total lack of traffic does not make this a problem. We stopped and watched as the bears went to the edge of the forest, turned to make sure we were not a threat and then ambled on. These were the first of many, many bears we saw this day.
As we started the climb through the foot hills the road narrowed and clouds hung low at the top of the first hill. We were optimistic that it was clearing as we could see patches of blue. We continue to marvel at the effort it took for those soldiers to build this road through the wilderness in 1942.
As we started down the other side the clouds cleared and we had a great view of Indian Head Mountain. At first I thought the Old Man of the Mountain that fell in Vermont had moved here.
By the time we reached Summit Lake, the highest point of the highway (4250 feet above sea level), the skies had cleared. While the lake was ice covered and there was some s**w on the ground, it is much less than I would have expected this far north, this time of year.  There is a great campground here if a stop fits your plans.
As you can see as soon as we were over the summit it was back to distant snow capped peaks and no snow along the road.
I can't emphasize enough the importance of having The Milepost guide book for important information about the road and exactly where you are going to see animals. This big Stone sheep ram was with a herd of about ten. It is amazing how close you can get.
Great mountain vistas and more animals.  I think this is an elk, but I'm not sure.  They are just starting to grow their antlers.
The folded mountain.  These mountains where once the bottom of an ancient sea with layers of sand turning to rocks over thousands of years.  As the Rockies were pushed up by the Pacific plate the layers folded.
The road crosses many alluvial fans, deposits of sediment that have been washed out of the mountains.  It sure lets you see the power of the spring melt.  When our friends Mark and Renita came through this area two years ago they were delayed for several days because a bridge had been washed out.  We crossed the replacement. 
More beautiful mountains.  The traffic continues to be very, very light.  I don't want to jinx us, but the road conditions have been fine the first couple of days.  Part of it may be that there is so much to see that we are only traveling about 50 mph most of the time.
Beautiful Muncho Lake is still ice covered.  The blue green color is caused by copper oxide in the water.  This was one of the more difficult sections of the highway to build with the roadway being carved like a shelf out of the mountain that went straight into the water.  
Another Stone sheep.  Really, the animals are everywhere and they are obviously used to the vehicles and people.  They warn against feeding them, which seems like a no brainer to us.
A first for us, the caribou.  You can see that the one has a very small rack that is just starting to grow.  Hope we get to see one with a big rack later in the summer.
More Stone sheep that did not care that they were standing by the highway and did not move even as we passed.
And we think we are on an adventure!  We did not get to talk to this guy, but he brought back memories of our cross country bike trek.  WOW!!!  What an awesome ride it would be to bike the Alaska Highway.
We did drive through some rain.  Here it was raining while there were blue skies just around the bend.  The only thing missing was a rainbow.  We pulled off the road and waited hoping to see one but it never developed.
The only remaining suspension bridge on the highway crosses the Liard River.  I'm sure it is in better shape than the one pictured in the last post.  When the highway was built in 1942 almost all the bridges were temporary wood structures that needed to be replaced because they were so low to the water they were often washed away.  The army turned the road over to the Public Roads Administration who built more permanent metal bridges in 1943.
As we left Fort Nelson a huge electronic sign warned of bison along the highway from Muncho Lake to the Yukon.  At first the only sign of bison we saw was miles and miles of chips.  Then we saw a couple and then more and more along and on the road.  We saw an information sign that said there are only 200 Wood Bison in BC.  If that is true, I think we saw most of them.   
Our day ended at Liard Hot Springs where we took advantage of the soothing waters and soaked our bones.  The hot springs has water as hot as 125 degrees as it enters the pool, but as it mixes with cooler water most of it is only about 108.  Very comfortable.
There are two pools of water with the upper one being the hottest and least crowded.  At the bottom right is the hottest spot.  Tradition says you should place a stone on the dividing wall to prove you made it into the hottest water.  Liard Hot Springs is not to be missed if you are making this trip.  Great if you are a weary road traveler.


John and Lora said...

Your picture that you thought might be an elk is actually a caribou. Glad you're seeing lots of critters!!

Doing It On the Road(Part II) said...

Yup a caribou, Liard Hot Springs is one of our favorites. Going early you are seeing a lot more wildlife along the road.