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  • Sandy Snyder

The Alaska Highway


We arrived in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway, on 22 June and had our windshield replaced that afternoon, even before we started. Luckily, the Cruiser is built on an E450 truck chassis, so a replacement windshield was in stock at the repair shop. A large Class A motorhome was also in the shop, but its windshield had to be shipped from the US. Lead time was in weeks and the expected cost was $3-4000.

I don’t know how much y’all know about the highway, so here’s some history. MUCH OF THE INFO BELOW CAME FROM WIKIPEDIA:

In the early 1900s, the US government tried to convince the Canadian government to build a road that would connect the lower 48 states with Alaska. Canada wasn’t interested in building a road for the US. In the 1930s, with Japan on the rise, the US asked again, but Canada worried that allowing the highway would prevent them from maintaining neutrality in their relationship with Japan. However, the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor changed priorities, and in February 1942, construction of a highway through Canada to Alaska was approved by the US Army, Congress, and President Roosevelt. Canada agreed to allow construction as long as the US bore all the costs and the highway would be turned over to Canada after the war.


Construction began on March 8, 1942, with crews working from both ends of the highway. Note: March! In northern Canada! On September 24, 1942, the crews from both directions met at Mile 588 on the British Columbia-Yukon border. The whole route (see the yellow route line on the map above) was completed on October 28, 1942 – it took only eight months to build a 1700 mile road through the Canadian wilderness. The highway was built mostly by the US Army Corps of Engineers and more than 10,000 men, about of third of whom were African American soldiers. It was rough, with steep grades, temporary pontoon bridges and poor services. Paving began in the 1960s and 70s.

A very good description of the highway’s history and meaning to Canada and the US can be found at https://www.tranbc.ca/2017/08/10/why-building-of-the-alaska-highway-is-still-an-epic-feat-75-years-later/

The Alaska Highway is largely a good, paved two-lane road with wide shoulders. The primary “danger” comes from rocks thrown by large (up to 32 wheels!) trucks and the occasional bear or bison that wanders across the road with no warning. Services like gas stations, restaurants, and grocery stores are spread thin; fewer services than in 2007. Gas, grocery, and restaurant prices are higher, primarily because a year’s worth of money must be collected during the short summer season, because it’s expensive to transport goods to these remote businesses, and because almost every facility is off the grid. Each one must generate its own power and pump its own water, with no support from utility companies. The hard rule: never pass a car pulled over to the side of the road – they may need help and another vehicle may not come by for hours or days.


You can travel with a caravan – if you have $10,000 to $20,000 to throw away. Neither Tom nor I can figure out what scares people so much about driving through Canada and Alaska. The caravans drive long distances each day and you must stick to their schedule. Most caravans lead you to Fairbanks, then leave you on your own. Can you believe that many travelers then turn around and head home? "I drove to Alaska!" And what did you do there? "Oh, I turned around and came home." Shaking my head...


So much has happened in this area since 2007, our last trip. Northern Alberta and British Columbia (BC) have huge reserves of oil and gas in their underground shale, and the first 100 miles of the Alaska Highway, north of Dawson Creek, are clogged with enormous trucks, pulling everything from pipes and equipment to pre-fab buildings that house oil workers to tank trucks carrying who knows what to and from the oil fields. Campgrounds are filled with trailers for oil workers; it’s hard to get a one-night reservation. After the first 100 miles, things calmed down considerably.


At this motel, a room with private bath was $120 per night.

We stayed at several off-the-grid campgrounds with log buildings, their own well-water supply, and huge generators to provide electricity. We constantly watched our electrical system monitor and checked before we turned electrical things on, as the quality and quantity of the power were shaky. One campground had no TV, internet access, or cell service – not unusual for those who live in east Tennessee, but wildly exotic to many of the drivers of large motor coaches. The campground owner told me that they paid $10,000 to have their land line installed.

Again, for a more detailed description of our Alaska Highway drive, please go to www.travelblog.org and search on "tellico".


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