Down North
A Dependent's Notes of Interest
© Jean Watts 2002


Page 11: The Alaska Highway

The Highway, paved for the first few miles, soon changed to a gravel surface and, the weather being dry and hot, the going became very dusty. The road ran for long stretches through the northern boreal forest with an occasional small town or tiny settlement interrupting the unvarying trees on both sides. Occasionally, possibly to relieve the monotony, and perhaps also to keep drivers awake, a grim sign beside the road identified the location of an accident and indicated how many people had been killed.

Along some stretches, large areas of bare, blackened remains of trees revealed where huge forest fires had swept the land. These desolate areas were enlivened by brilliant patches of the Yukon's territorial flower, fireweed, which was familiar to me from its invariable appearance on the bleak sites of burned, bombed-out buildings in England.

For one long day's stretch of road, the highway guide recommended that we carry a spare can of gasoline, as there were no gas stations for this considerable distance. We saw a moderate amount of traffic - cars, some of them pulling trailers, and many trucks, large and small, with and without trailers, in whose dusty wake we were often obliged to travel.

Summit Lake, BC
Summit Lake, B.C. Mile 385 (July 10, 1959)

On July 10 we reached the highest elevation on our route - 4,250 feet - at Summit Lake. It was a very hot day, and when I took this picture we had just stopped for a drink of cold water. It was a new and wonderful experience to drink from a pure stream falling down the rocky mountain side.

Muncho lake, BC
Muncho Lake, B.C., Mile 463 (July 7, 1961)

The road north proved to be, on the whole, a tedious experience, but occasionally a particularly spectacular sight relieved the rows and rows of fir and spruce trees through which we were driving. Muncho Lake, about 150 miles south of the Yukon border, was particularly impressive and beautiful. It also had a wonderful place in which to pitch our tent - right on the shore, with an incredible view of the mountains across the intensely blue lake. The campsite also had some very welcome conveniences in the form of showers and toilets.

Liard Hot Springs
Liard Hot Springs, Mile 497 (1961 photo)

Some miles further on, at Mile 497, we came to the Liard River hot springs. The water there was as deliciously warm as it had been in Jasper and Banff. But these hot springs remained in their natural woodland environment, in contrast with the elegant buildings and pool structures that had been built around the springs of the national parks.

Watson Lake Signposts
Watson Lake signposts, Mile 644 (August 1961)

Just north of Lower Post (Mile 620), we passed the B.C./Yukon border on the sixtieth parallel, arriving at last in Yukon Territory. Quite soon we reached Watson Lake (Mile 644), where we were surprised to see a multitude of signposts displaying the distance between Watson Lake and an amazing number of other places in the world. In 2003 the signs totalled a fantastic nine thousand - a new and different sort of northern forest!

Northwest Highway System Headquarters.

We came to journey's end fifty-three miles after Jake's Corners (Mile 865). Driving past Whitehorse at Mile 918, we at last reached Camp Takhini, at Mile 931. The camp, a small town in itself, was built on a stretch of the "clay cliffs" that overlook the town of Whitehorse. The capital city was visible below us, spread along the banks of the Yukon River, its larger part on the same side of the river as Camp Takhini.

Headquarters Building, Northwest Highway System, Camp Takhini (May 28, 1961)

Dick reported his arrival at the highway system's Camp Takhini headquarters, with its impressive entrance. He found his new command, the Signals Message Centre, on the ground floor to the right of the entrance.

Original RC SIgs Station, Whitehorse
Original Royal Canadian Signals radio station and married quarters,
Whitehorse, Y.T. (May 28, 1961)

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