Chainsaws, Taxidermy and an Old Bridge
Dawson Creek to Fort Nelson
May 31, 2017
Miles Driven: 305
Sunrise (Dawson Creek): 4:25am / Sunset (Fort Nelson): 10:06pm
Latitude: 55.76N to 58.81N
National Parks Visited: 0
Wacky Roadside Attractions: 1
They sound like the makings of a horror movie, the items in the title, especially if you consider the remote locale. Really, it’s just the standard fare of the average North American road trip. Today we struck out along our first leg of The Alaska Highway – 281 miles (or 453 km) from Dawson Creek to Fort Nelson, B.C. After we passed Fort St. John, it was mostly one long stretch of hilly road, carved through woodlands as we crept towards the Rockies again.
This year is the 75th anniversary of the highway. Built in 1942 by U.S. soldiers, the ‘highway’ was constructed in 8 months. Yes, 8-months for 1,500 miles of road, blazed through trees and tundra and mosquitoes. When was the last time a highway improvement project you’ve heard of took less than a year, let alone one that took only 8-months? Of course, I use the term ‘highway’ loosely. When it was completed many sections consisted of not much more than logs over mud. We saw one of the original old bridges. We passed over the longest bridge on the highway. We skirted the bypassed Suicide Hill, treacherously steep, where a sign once read, “Prepare to meet thy maker.”
Clearly, the road has been constantly improved over time. But it may surprise you to learn that it was not completely paved until the 1990’s. Or then again, it may surprise you to learn that it is, in fact, completely paved now. Nicole and I are using a famous book to navigate the route – The Milepost. Originally written in 1949, it covers the route in excruciating detail, mile-by-mile, town-by-town, gas station-by-gas station. It’s updated yearly. Of course, it’s hard to get lost up here when your route options are so limited. Nevertheless, the guide book also contains a variety of fun facts and history and wacky detours you’d likely miss if they weren’t pointed out to you, like the the Fort St. John rec center with Olympic Medals or Fort Nelson museum.
Fort Nelson Heritage Museum. Today’s kitschy spot was crammed full of collections. Collections of vintage chainsaws. Collections of vintage boat motors. Collections of (vintage?) taxidermy specimens. Collections of vintage tractors, classic autos, military vehicles. Drilling apparatus, small town buildings, airplane propellers, and some engine the size of small apartment. All period pieces from WWII or prior. If you are ever in town, it’s worth a stop and the entrance fee to see all the stuff that got left behind after the highway was blazed, the war was won, and the soldiers went home. Stuff that in any other setting might become the inspiration for a Stephen King novel.
Until tomorrow from Watson Lake, Yukon…