Alaska Highway to Tok
Sun! We set off north on the Alaska Highway in glorious sun. There were still clouds on the highest peaks, but we could see the mountains. Today we would be pretty much paralleling the St Elias Mountain Range which has the highest peak in Canada, Mt. Logan. Today we would also discover how bad the Alaska Highway can be. It is full of dips from frost heaves that have been poorly repaired, pot holes, and gravel portions. The poor repairs in the dips are the worst, and the poor repairs seemed to be mostly in the Yukon Territory (although there are significant repairs going on now and signs promising more in the future). The road improved appreciably after we passed customs into Alaska. A good part of the day we had to travel at 35 miles per hour or less. The better (for the non-driver) to see the scenery; the driver has to watch the road and nothing else.
There are areas along the road where we saw evidence of a joint research project between the Canadian and US governments regarding ways to stop the frost heaves. The road is built upon Permafrost. The warm road causes melting below and when it refreezes the heaves occur. The research involves studying the effect of a more reflective surface, venting the area beneath the road to equalize temperatures, and ditching along the sides of the road to keep water away from the right-of-way.
At one point we rounded a bend to see something large lying in the middle of the road. We slowed for it only to have it slowly get up and wander off the road: A grizzly bear. He had been enjoying sunning himself on the warm asphalt. Once off the road he again lay down on the warm rocks, pretty much waiting for us to leave so he could get back to his sunbath. When it became clear we weren’t leaving until we had some better pictures, he got up and paced about, pretty much posing for David’s pictures.
After driving through the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge (in the Tanana River Valley), the first town of the day was Tok (pronounced like Poke). It started out as a road building camp in the early 1940s when the Alaska Highway was being punched through the wilderness in order to provide military access to Alaska (the closest US point to Japan at the time). Today it’s a town of about 1500 which caters to the travelers on the Alaska and Taylor Highways and the Tok Cut-Off which leads to the Glenn and Richardson Highways. There are a few commercial campgrounds, motels, gift shops, gas stations, and grocery and liquor stores. Here we turned west toward Anchorage on the Tok Cut-Off.
All along our route we enjoyed great views of the mountains and the plateau we were traveling upon. There were swans in the lakes, but again no moose and caribou. The scenery is just as spectacular as we have been seeing, but it changes more slowly. Again the wind picked up in the afternoon just as we were selecting our site at Porcupine Creek State Recreation Area. Dinner was smoked salmon, potatoes and onions, and salad.
Porcupine Creek SRA Campground Review: 12 long, level sites just off the Tok Cut-Off about halfway between Tok and Glenallen. Pit toilets, picnic tables, fire rings, and hand-pumped water (boil). There are some fine trails leading away from it – unmarked and unlabeled. Fine place to stop for the night, but it did cost $20.
-- Janet (text) and David (photos)