Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Rest of the Journey, Part 2—Alaska to Georgia

(For my previous posts about our travels from Alaska to Georgia, see Wagon Ho! Anchorage to Tok, Traveling the Alaska Highway, More About Traveling the Alaska Highway, and The Rest of the Journey, Part 1—Alaska to Georgia.)

Instead of traveling further south to Idaho Falls, Idaho, where our original route would have taken us, and then northeast to Yellowstone National Park, we went straight to Yellowstone from Butte, Montana. We entered the park from the north entrance under the Roosevelt arch. I couldn’t believe that I was finally visiting Yellowstone! I’ve wanted to go there since I was a kid but never thought I’d ever get to!


We spent the day driving through the park. Our first stop was the visitor’s center, and then we slowly made our way to Old Faithful, stopping several times along the way. The photo above is of the tavertine terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs in the park. Fascinating!

When we got to Old Faithful, the sign in the information center said it might blow at 3-something which was in about an hour, so we stuck around. Sure enough, it did. Almost right on time! After leaving Old Faithful behind, we continued on the park road, heading to the east entrance and Cody, Wyoming, for our ninth night on the road. I was enthralled with Wyoming’s topography. On the way from Cody to Rapid City, South Dakota, we went through Granite Pass, Wyoming. We stopped a “few” times so I could take some photos.

IMG_2713 Granit Pass WY

Granite Pass, Wyoming. I love geology!

Our tenth night was spent in Rapid City, South Dakota, near Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. My aunt spotted a scenic route on the map that went through the Black Hills National Forest, so we decided to take it. We went ahead and visited Mount Rushmore before heading to our hotel even though it was late in the day. We went back to Mount Rushmore the next morning to photograph it in the morning sunlight, and we visited the Crazy Horse Memorial.

IMG_2748 Mt Rushmore

Here is Mount Rushmore with presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. We stood in awe of this memorial and took several minutes to commune with the presidents. It’s an awesome sight to behold. It’s hard to get a sense of just how large this memorial is until you see how tiny the trees look in comparison. The memorial took 14 years to build and is unfinished.



Another awesome site is the Crazy Horse Memorial. The photograph at the left is how it looked when we visited. The photograph below is the sculpture of how it will look when it’s finished. Work on the memorial has been ongoing for several decades. It was officially begun by sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear on June 3, 1948. Korczak died in 1982, but his family has continued to work on the memorial.


Sculpture of how the Crazy Horse Memorial will look when finished.

Our 11th night was spent in Sioux City, Iowa. Here’s where I made the second miscalculation as far as time. We spent more time at the Crazy Horse Memorial and Mount Rushmore that morning than I anticipated. We also lost an hour when we crossed into Central Time Zone. We realized that we might not make it to Sioux City before dark, and I don’t like driving at night because of night blindness. I tried to cancel our hotel reservations so we could stop in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, instead, but the hotel wouldn’t since it was after 4 pm! I decided to go for it and push on to Sioux City. What a mistake! The night was inky black on the highway. When we got to town, traffic had been rerouted because of road construction. I had no idea where I was going. Once again, like the drive to Butte, Montana, in the dark, I was a nervous wreak when we got to the hotel.

Next stop, St. Louis, Missouri, where we spent our 12th night. Oh, the traffic! Good Lord. I was beginning to miss the traffic in Anchorage. Since we were so close to the Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville, Illinois, that I learned about in anthropology class years ago, I decided they were a “must see.” So, on our way to Nashville, Tennessee, which was our next stop, we detoured to see the mounds. Silly me, I left the memory card to my camera in my lap top which was in the car, so I had to use my cell phone to take photos (too lazy to walk back to the car). They aren’t the best quality.



Monks Mound at Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville, Illinois. You can climb stairs to the top and see the St. Louis arch in the distance.

Well, our 12th night wasn’t actually spent in Nashville. We spent it in Mt. Juliet east of Nashville. We didn’t do any sight-seeing (we did pass by the Grand Ole Opry). I think by this point (really, by St. Louis), we were tired and ready to just get this over with. At least I was, and I wanted to get on over to Asheville, North Carolina, to see my daughter and grandchildren. On the way to Asheville, we drove through the Great Smokey Mountains. How beautiful! This is another place that I’ve longed to visit.


The Great Smokey Mountains.

When we got to Asheville, I called my daughter and said, “Come get us. I’m hungry and tired, and I’m not driving any more today.” It was a delight to see her and my grandchildren again. We spent two nights in Asheville (our 13th and 14th nights). The next day after our arrival, we all went to tour Biltmore House, and then of course, the winery and creamery.


Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, home of the Vanderbilts.

On October 7, 2012, we said goodbye to my daughter and grandchildren and started out on our last day of travel—Day 15. I thought if I had to spend one more day on the road that I would scream! We stopped to see Rock Eagle just north of Eatonton, Georgia, in Putnam County (which happens to be where my paternal 2nd great grandfather Philip Coleman Pendleton was born). I remembered this effigy from when I was a kid and wanted to see it again.


Rock Eagle is near what was once a prehistoric trail, Okfuskee Trail, parts of which are now the Piedmont Scenic Byway (Georgia Highway 16). Not much is known about the effigy. No artifacts have been found that could help date it. One estimate is that it is 2,000 years old.

We finally arrived in Valdosta, Georgia, at 5:15 pm on October 7, 2012, after leaving Anchorage, Alaska, on September 22, 2012. We dove 5, 576.7 miles and passed through three Canadian provinces (Yukon Territory, British Columbia, and Alberta) and 12 states (Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia—I feel like I forgot one). What a great adventure! But not one that I want to repeat any time soon.

It’s so good to finally be back home!


Monday, October 22, 2012

The Rest of the Journey, Part 1—Alaska to Georgia

Along with my good intentions of writing blog posts in the evenings about our day’s adventure during our journey from Alaska to Georgia (I only wrote a couple), I planned on keeping a trip journal. I have only three entries. I was too tired at night to write after driving all day. Plus, I would spend the evenings after dinner looking over the maps for the next day’s travels (just to see what it entailed), looking for hotels and making reservations a day or two out, and writing updates on Facebook and Twitter (I usually did this during dinner). Aunt Catherine was good about writing down the day’s adventures each night, though. (For my previous posts about our travels, see Wagon Ho! Anchorage to Tok, Traveling the Alaska Highway, More About Traveling the Alaska Highway.) 

I’d like to say a huge “Thank You!” to my “northern” Pendleton/Young cousin, Alan Pendleton, who mapped our route from Dawson Creek to Valdosta for us (see Google map below). He sure took us through some beautiful, scenic routes! We never got tired of looking at the scenery!


Google map of our original route (changed only slightly once we started traveling).


Canadian potties

Above are outhouses at a rest stop along the Alaska Highway in Canada. The ones in the national parks were nicer. Yes, we compared outhouses. Also, there seemed to be more of them on the Canadian part—a fact that I especially appreciated—than on the Alaskan part which were seemingly few and far between.

Once we left the Alaska Highway, I got a little nervous. I felt secure knowing where we were going as long as we were on it. For over 1,000 miles, I didn’t have to get onto another highway. In my previous post, I mistakenly said this is the only highway from Alaska to Canada. What I should have said is that it’s the only one we could travel in the direction that we were going—to Dawson Creek, British Columbia. After Dawson Creek, and leaving the Alaska Highway, we had to pay attention to road signs to make sure we got on the right highways here and there. I wondered at various times on our journey how our ancestors moved as often as some of them did and traveled as far as they did. They didn’t have paved roads, free maps from the American Automobile Association, GPS, and smart phones! I can’t imagine traveling (even for just 50 miles) in a covered wagon and or having to blaze my own trails. Sometimes, though, I wished we were in a covered wagon and could just pull off on the side of the road for the night, cook dinner, and sleep. I guess an RV would serve this purpose, but I don’t think I could have driven one on the narrow, curvy mountain roads!


IMG_2632 Jasper Natl Park

Our next beautiful drive took us through Jasper National Park (see above photo)! We spent our sixth night in Jasper, Alberta, and we arrived early enough to spend a little time walking around downtown before dinner. The next day we drove through Banff National Park on our way to Calgary, Alberta, where we spent our seventh night.

After leaving Calgary the next morning, we took a detour to visit Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump (at the suggestion of a colleague), a World Heritage archaeological site west of Fort MacLeod. It happened to be the center’s 25th anniversary celebration weekend, so we got in for free. I love how the Interpretive Center building seems to be carved out of the rocky hillside. The displays in the center are designed to be viewed from the top of the building to the bottom/ground floor, and they tell about the Blackfoot people and the buffalo hunt. We walked out to the observation deck to get a view of the buffalo jump.


Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, west of Fort MacLeod, Alberta, Canada.

We crossed back into the United States at Sweet Grass, Montana, on Interstate 15. Getting through Customs was a breeze. Once again, we just stayed in the car, handed over our passports to be scanned, and answered a few questions. We drove on to Butte, Montana, where we were staying our eighth night. I regret planning to drive as far as we did that day. I miscalculated how much time we had for visiting Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump in Alberta (an unplanned stop) and still get to Butte before dark. We were still on the highway when the sun went down (here’s when I wished for a covered wagon to sleep in for the night), and I don’t like driving in the dark—night blindness—especially on unfamiliar roads, and curvy mountain roads at that! I worried out loud the entire way to the hotel. I swore that I would not drive in the dark again on this trip. (Yet I did it one more time!)

The next post will wrap up this once-in-a-lifetime (for me, anyway) journey!


Thursday, October 18, 2012

More about Traveling the Alaska Highway

Now that I’m getting resettled in my home town of Valdosta, Georgia, I’m ready to return to writing about my drive from Alaska to Georgia with my Aunt Catherine. What an awesome, enjoyable, long, tiring journey it was! I’m so glad I did it. My Aunt Catherine is an excellent navigator! We drove from six to eight hours a day and stayed in a different town each night. We would laugh when we couldn’t name them all, much less name the states and provinces that we passed through. We left Anchorage, Alaska, on September 22, 2012, and arrived in Valdosta, Georgia, on October 7, 2012. For my previous posts about our journey, see Wagon Ho! Anchorage to Tok and Traveling the Alaska Highway.

After leaving Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, we crossed the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains near Historic Milepost 722. The Continental Divide separates the Yukon River and MacKenzie River watersheds. We thought this was really cool, so we stopped to take a look. It was hard to fathom that we were standing on the Continental Divide. There was nothing that we could see from our vantage point that was different. I guess I expected something much more dramatic. We laughed, read the signs, and got back in the car.

We continued on to Watson Lake, Yukon Territory, where we spent the third night of our journey. Watson Lake is the home of the signpost forest which was begun by World War II soldier Carl K. Lindley while building the Alaska Highway. I didn’t see a sign from Valdosta but saw one from Augusta, Georgia, and a Georgia Bulldog license tag. I should have been prepared and added one for Valdosta! Oh well—next time.

Watson Lake sign forest1 Just a small section of the signpost forest in Watson Lake, Yukon Territory.

We were up again early the next morning, and once we’d eaten breakfast and gassed up the car, we were back on the Alaska Highway, heading for Fort Nelson, British Columbia, our next overnight stop.  Shortly after hitting the road, we saw a lighted sign over the highway that warned of bison on the road. Just a few miles later, we saw two small herds of bison and the occasional single bison slowly walking down the side of the Alaska Highway.



Bison along the side of the Alaska Highway between Watson Lake, YT, and Fort Nelson, BC.

On the way to Fort Nelson, we stopped in at Liard River Hotsprings, because so many people in Anchorage told me that we should stop there. Neither one of us had a bathing suit (nor would I be caught dead in one), so we stayed just long enough to say that we stopped and saw the hotsprings. We had a nice picnic lunch in the warm sunshine near the campground and then walked down the boardwalk to the hotsprings. There was a construction crew rebuilding the deck at the hotsprings, and a few people were enjoying the warm water. I took a photo of the sign to prove we were there.


Liard River Hotsprings sign. Proof that we stopped there.

Soon, we were in the Canadian Rockies. I was fascinated by their folded appearance!  According to the sign at Folded Mountain, the Canadian Rockies “buckled into folds” when the continental shelf was squeezed as the North American continent pushed into an “offshore chain of islands” about 175 million years ago.


Folded Mtn

Folded Mountain in the Canadian Rockies between Watson Lake, YT, and Fort Nelson, BC.

By the time we got to Fort Nelson, we had traveled a total of 1,308.4 miles since leaving Anchorage, Alaska. After spending our fourth night of our journey in Fort Nelson, we headed to Dawson Creek, British Columbia, and the end of the Alaska Highway for us, but not the end of our journey by any means. It was a short driving day, so we had some daylight left to walk around a bit.

Dawson Creek, British Columbia, shares something with Valdosta, Georgia,—the citizens of the town moved to be near the railroad. Dawson Creek is also Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway and where the U.S. Army began building the highway in 1942 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.


IMG_2620 AK Hwy Mile 0 replica post

This Mile 0 sign was built after the original sign was damaged by a car in the 1940s. This sign sits in the center of town to commemorate Dawson Creek’s role in the construction of the Alaska Highway.


IMG_2626 AK Hwy sign Dawson Creek

Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway.


I have to say that driving the Alaska Highway was the easiest part of our journey. There is only one highway to follow from Alaska to Canada (and vice versa), and this is it! There were a few sketchy places as far as road conditions were concerned, but we had wonderful weather and exquisite scenery the entire way from Tok, Alaska (where we got on the Alaska Highway), to Dawson Creek, British Columbia.

Next stop, Jasper National Park, Alberta.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Traveling the Alaska Highway

Well, so much for my ambition of posting every day about my journey from Alaska back to Georgia by car with my Aunt Catherine. I had good intentions. When I asked the desk clerk at the hotel in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory (our first stop in Canada), for the wifi password, she told me that the internet had not been working that day, and as she handed me the password, she said, “Well, it’s the Yukon.” I know what she means. The same could be said about several of the places I’ve been in Alaska. The internet isn’t always available, or if available, not always working.

The Alaska Highway was built during World War II after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It’s in much better condition now than it was then. My hat is off to the soldiers and civilians who constructed this highway and to the crews who have maintained and built new sections of the highway since then. It’s now paved all the way from Delta Junction, Alaska, to Dawson Creek, British Columbia, although parts of it are in need of some attention. Better watch for those frost heaves.

The scenery along the highway is breathtaking. We had wonderful weather the whole way.


There’s gold in them thar hills! Gold leaves, that is. Fall has arrived in the North. Taken “somewhere” on the Alaska Highway.



View of the Liard River at Historical Mile 570, Allen’s Lookout, on the Alaska Highway. A stone cairn at this pull-out is dedicated to the surveyors of the highway.


After crossing the Canada/Alaska border, we spent our first night in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, on the Yukon River. Gold discoveries in the Klondike in the late 1890s set off a gold rush, bringing miners and entrepreneurs to this area.



Along the Yukon River in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory


SS Klondike sternwheeler

The SS Klondike National Historic Site in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. This sternwheeler was built in 1929 by the British Yukon Navigation Company



The Yukon Prospectors’ Hall of Fame in Whitehorse. 



The museum is closed on Mondays, our only day in Whitehorse.


After visiting downtown Whitehorse, we hopped in the car and headed to Watson Lake, Yukon Territory, our next stopover.


P.S. If you decide to drive to Alaska, you must get a copy of the Milepost travel planner. It’s a wonderful “mile-by-mile” highway log of highways in Alaska and includes the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Alaska. I didn’t know there were ipad and android apps available until we had finished traveling this highway. Not sure how useful they would be as most of the Alaska Highway has no cell phone service except in the towns along the way.