Bears, Hotsprings, and the Yukon
Extravagant Trek to Alaska and Thereabouts: Day 6
Franziskaner beat us to the road, even though we awoke early. We packed up and stopped at the Triple G Hideway campsite's restaurant for breakfast. The restaurant has a very western, wilderness feel to it, and the food was pretty good. The seats at the bar were horse saddles on wooden stools, and there were taxidermy of local game that littered the walls.
We continued west on the Alaskan Highway toward the Liard Hotsprings on, what some people argue is, the most beautiful stretch of the highway, and I can understand why! Muncho Lake was a spectacular sight, as the road hugged cliff sides to the right, but fell into a gorgeous blue-green lake below on the left. Borreal Forest and mountains composed the rest of the landscape. We stopped at a service center at Muncho Lake for gas and for something to drink. The guy at the register, who was also the cook for the connected restaurant, mentioned how he lived in New Jersey for the better part of twenty years, but moved back to northern British Columbia because he missed it. I don't blame him--I'd live in Antarctica before I'd live in Jersey. No offense.
A herd of water bison were grazing on the side of the road near the Liard Hotsprings.
We stopped at the Liard Hotsprings Provincial Park to bathe in 40º Celsius water. This is a locally-renowned, fun, relaxing, and thrilling spot. After paying the $5/person entry fee and parking just past the tent campsites, we walked the boardwalk through the lush and marshy forest to the hotsprings on the other end. The boardwalk was composed of planks of wood set side-by-side just centimeters above the water. Of course, there were plenty of warning signs along the way alerting us to the presence of bears. Several years ago, a woman was unprovokedly mauled by a bear in front of her son. They were moving from California to Alaska, and stopped on the way. This event prompted the park to permanently remove the boardwalk leading to the Alpha pool, leaving only the closer, Beta pool open to the public. However, ordinarily the hanging gardens are also open to the public, but were closed when we were there due to a problem bear in the area.
The pool itself was extremely hot and smelled mildly of sulpher, an indicator of how natural the hotspring really is. The ground beneath the water was composed of small pebbles and most of the pool sides were dirt, with trees above shading the area from the bright sun. The boardwalk met a sort of patio with changing rooms and lockers. The patio stepped down into the pool, allowing people to safely descend in to the scalding water, railings and all. Though frequented by locals and tourists alike, this pool was very nice, and not at all overcrowded. It was a much nicer experience than the Upper Hotsprings in Banff National Park (tourist trap!), which cemented the sides of the pool and chlorinated the water. After about twenty minutes of relaxing in the hotspring, Vee and I made our way back to the car to continue our road trip.
Traversing the historic highway further, we made our way into Yukon at Watson Lake.
Watson Lake is apparently well-renowned for its sign-post forest. Apparently, there are over 70,000 signs posted here from people all over the world bringing with them a little piece of home.
After looking at a map, I realized that Highway 2 (The Campbell Highway) went straight to the Klondike Highway near Dawson City. It was a shortcut that cut off Whitehorse and a number of other little towns, since we'll be hitting those on the way back. Well, everything looked great for the first 75 km of the Campbell Highway. Then I hit construction. The chip-sealed highway turned to dirt. The construction sign indicated work for only 8 km, so I figured that it would turn to paved road again. Well, it didn't. Ten kilometers later, the fine, dirt road became quite ugly. The dirt became very muddy at one spot, and I wasn't sure I was going to make it though. The mud was directing the car into deep trenches, bottoming-out on mud and rocks, and nearly instantly bringing the car to a crawl. We made it through to somewhat better roads, though with numerous potholes, soft shoulders, and erratic bumps.
Nearly twenty kilometers later I realized that we weren't going to see paved road again anytime soon. We were about 400 kilometers from Dawson City, and only two towns lived on this road, both of which were well over 200 kilometers away. It was just us and the wilderness, no traffic, no towns for over 100 km, and no cell phone service. Vee urged me to continue since we've already come so far on that road, but then I saw a muddy portion ahead going up a turning hill, with deeper trenches than our first encounter. I had to turn around. If we got stuck, were pushed off the road, or blew a tire, we would be stranded with little food and water, and with no assurance that we would find any help. I turned around.
By the time we made it back to Watson Lake, it was dusk. We stopped at the gas station, refueled, and bought a refill for our 3L water jug, as well as some bear spray. Then, we headed a few kilometers west to the Watson Lake campground, which was actually really great, except it had no showers. The campsite was littered with egregious varieties of mushrooms and moss. Because the ground was still wet from an earlier shower, we failed to start a fire. All Yukon campsites offer free firewood, but we coudn't easily use it because they were whole logs and we didn't bring an axe. So we gave up trying and just cooked dinner on the stove, then we went to bed.