Published: September 17th 2009September 16th 2009
CORRECTION TO YESTERDAY’S BLOG: I received a kind comment on the blog from a person who clearly knows his “fauna” better than I. The comment informs me that the five “moose” I described (and took a photo of) are actually “elk”. I have every reason to believe that he’s right because, when it comes to members of the “venison” family (and many other families), I don’t know what I’m talking about. Thank you for the clarification!
It rained last night but had stopped by morning, so I hit the road with the top down (as usual). It was cool and cloudy all day so the top stayed down, but late in the afternoon things got interesting (more later).
Before leaving Watson Lake I had to visit their Sign Post Forest. According to the official record: “The forest was started in 1942 by a homesick U.S. Army G.I., Carl K. Lindley of Danville, Illinois, Company D, 341st Engineers. While working on the Alaska Highway, he erected a sign here pointing the way and stating the mileage to his hometown. Others followed his lead and are still doing so to this day”. This place, which covers several acres (or hectares), has
an estimated 65,000+ signs and assorted license plates! It’s absolutely amazing! I spent more than an hour wandering around the forest and quickly realized that I would have to be content with reading only a few hundred of the many signs. If I lived here, I’d visit often and take in the many examples of humor and creativity and pathos that were left behind by thousands of visitors over many decades (seven!). I had read about this place before I started my journey, so I came prepared with one of my old “SOYTNLY” license plates and fastened it to a post near the front entrance using chrome-plated, double-anodized, titanium screws that should keep my plate secured for at least seven more decades. In case you can’t tell, I “really” liked this place!
Near Watson Lake is the junction to the Cassiar Highway which heads south for 450 miles through the Cassiar Mountains. To put that distance in perspective, it’s more than the distance from Vancouver, WA to Redding, CA, “except” instead of travelling on I-5, this is a narrow mountain road with no guardrails, no painted lines on the road, it’s primarily travelled by logging trucks and other large
trucks, the “facilities” (like gas and lodging) are only located about every 150 miles, part of the road is gravel and parts of the road are always under construction. On top of that, last week a mudslide covered part of the highway and it was closed until three days ago when they reopened a single lane while they continue to remove mud and debris from the highway. THIS is the highway that I chose to traverse in my little Miata!
After turning onto the Cassiar Highway in Watson Lake (and quickly crossing from the Yukon Territory into British Columbia), I hit my first stretch of gravel after three miles. At five miles I came around a corner and found a big bear in the middle of the road (by the time I stopped and grabbed my camera, he had dashed into the bushes). At seven miles I hit a major construction area with a detour through a temporary, very muddy section where I intentionally sped up going into the mud so that I would have enough momentum to get through without getting bogged down in the goop. The Miata was fish-tailing all over the place but I managed to
power-through OK. Before I was ten miles down the road, I reached another construction area where a flagger stopped me and told me that there were several graders and rollers working on the highway ahead of me and that I “may have to zig and zag to get around the equipment as they’re working”. And she was right; I did have to zig and zag. All of this in the first ten miles; only 440 miles to go! Fortunately that was the worst of it and the road got much better after that (but this still ain’t I-5!).
I travelled all day with the top down on the Miata, even though is was VERY cloudy all day and occasionally sprinkled, but I’m used to that kind of stuff and kept the top down. About 4:30 this afternoon, about 30 minutes away from my destination in Dease Lake, I started to see “really” dark clouds just ahead. They were so dark that I immediately thought “Oh crap! I need to get the top up on the Miata NOW!”. So I pulled over, put the top up and resumed my drive. About one minute later the skies opened up and dumped
buckets on me. The wind was howling, thousands of yellow leaves were flying horizontally across the road and I saw several small trees topple over near the highway. It was all rather exciting! The furry lasted for about five minutes and then settled down into a normal hard rain that continued until I reached Dease Lake.
It’s possible to travel the entire Cassiar Highway in one day, but most folks take two days because it’s hard to average more than about 40 miles per hour (if that). So I’m spending the night at Dease Lake, the only available option in a 250 mile stretch of road, but the motel is decent and there’s actually a pretty good restaurant in town AND I have Internet service (slow and intermittent, but it sort of works). I knew that the Cassiar would be an adventure (and it is!) and I was pretty sure that the Miata could handle it (and it is). 300 more miles tomorrow and I’ll be back in civilization.
This is fun!
There are more photos below