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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

One Unique Forest

~Monday, September 19, 2022~

Day 827 (Travel Day)

Day 91 of Alaska Trip

…….our noisy neighbors decided to party until 2:00 a.m., with a construction generator to boot. I’m all for having fun, but that was definitely pushing it. If it hadn’t been for the dense shrubs and trees around us to buffer the sound, we would have definitely approached them to shut things down. Not even sure how they endured the cold that long since temperatures got to around 27 last night. I guess being this late in the season, they thought they could get away with a little more since there are no camp hosts nor rangers to speak of. But there are the rest of us to consider. Who knows…maybe they DID get a complaint by one of the neighbors. Lesson learned……when you’re “shopping” for a first come/first serve site and there’s plenty of choices, spend a little more time checking sites next to rowdy people or ones that have construction generators; all signals you might want to keep looking.

It’s hard to believe we are still 2,400 miles from the Bay Area of California. We have a lot of driving to go to make it back in time for our son’s birthday in late October. But thankfully, we’ll be able to incorporate a lot of sightseeing along the way; and with that, improved weather and warmer temps as we head south. After Liard Hot Springs, our itinerary is pretty wide open with nothing booked at the moment. Our original thought was to head to Hope, B.C. around the 27th of September (not to be confused with Hope, Alaska which we DID visit). Now, we’ve decided to spend a few days in the ski resort town of Whistler, banking this time of year will be especially stunning. We’ll just have to really keep an eye on the weather.

On our way to Liard River Hot Springs, we couldn’t say goodbye to the town of Watson Lake, without stopping at the Sign Post Forest.

This is Watson Lake’s most famous attraction where travelers from around the world have been bringing signposts

to pay homage to their travels since 1942. Unfortunately, we didn’t have one to contribute on this trip, unless we didn’t mind giving up a cookie sheet, frisbee or a toaster to pay our tribute.

We didn’t want to settle on just that. No, no, no. Our way would have to be a unique design in shape and size with thought put into it. Just in the time we were there, we already had a design in mind that we’ll be sure to bring back on a return trip to the Yukon (back dated of course). We were shocked at how big this “forest” actually was since from the road, it appeared half the size. The town of Watson Lake maintains the site, where to keep up with demand, they’ve added construction equipment from the Alaska Highway project and extra 4 x 4 posts which provide extra space to leave your mark.

The tradition began during the construction of the Alaska Highway, when U.S. soldier Carl Lindley was rehabilitating from an injury in Watson Lake. During that time, a commanding officer gave him the job of repairing and erecting directional signposts, where Lindley left a sign of his own from his hometown of Danville, Illinois. Eventually, others followed suit and a trend began. In 1990, a couple from Ohio added the 10,000th sign where today’s estimate is over 77,000 and growing. There’s even a time capsule at the site, set to be open again in 2042.

Before leaving Watson Lake we needed a few small items at the grocery and a Canadian stamp to mail a birthday card. Out of luck again…..all banks and post offices are closed today in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s final farewell. I’m sure millions of people will be tuning in and one tribute we hope to watch at a later date.

Just as we were pulling out of the grocery store parking lot, a man stopped us and asked if we knew anything about RV water heaters. He was borrowing a friend’s rig and said he was having trouble getting the water hot enough for showers and dishes. Of course, who better than Jeff to give him a few pointers. One tip….flush out the system. He’s got 10 days of fishing planned, so hopefully he figures it out. At some point of the conversation we got on the subject of Liard Hot Springs where he’s been going for over 40 years. Evidently, things have changed drastically since BC Parks took it over, that in his opinion, put too many restrictions on the park and the hot springs themselves. For example, they’re forcing colder water into the pools so they’re not as hot as they used to be. They’ve also put up an electrical fence around the perimeter of the park to lessen wildlife interaction with campers (which seems a little extreme to us). Despite his comments, we’re still looking forward to our visit.

Today’s drive put us in British Columbia from the Yukon, where we saw more wildlife caution signs and no one around for miles…..that is until we came to major road construction. Ah, so this is what everyone was talking about in the early part of our Alaska trip….the major landslide across the Alaska Highway that continues to block the major artery to this day. Evidently, a failed beaver dam was the culprit after an unusually heavy amount of rain fell, which left a crevasse big enough to halt ALL traffic on the main route from Alaska to the Lower 48. So, it was either a 1,000 mile detour or wait the 2 days for the workers to dial in a 3 km section of the former highway alignment. That is quite an impressive turnaround time. Our wait for a pilot car was only about 5 minutes as opposed to the normal 20 that the sign states. The temporary route took us about 2 miles up and down a dirt/gravel road where within 10 minutes we were back in business. Hopefully the work crew completes most of the project before winter settles in.

Not too long after, we spotted a large herd of buffalo on the side of the road, with a few big boys breaking away to ever so cautiously cross the highway. It was pretty cute watching the herd reel in their energetic youngsters who had their own agenda.

By late afternoon, we finally arrived to Liard River Hot Springs, campsite #24. The gate, fencing and hefty cattle guard looked like a mini version of what we remembered from the movie Jurassic Park.

Come on now, are the bears that bad? The campground, open year round, is home to a lush, boreal forest and a hot springs complex with pools averaging between 105 and 115 degrees. It’s also home to a variety of wildlife from moose to chipmunks. Bears tend to frequent the area because of the lush plant life they’re known to feed on, sometimes even steps away from bathers (the fencing does not extend on the 700 meter boardwalk up to the pools). After we got set up, we took a walk with Sadie to go check out the scene where there were a number of bear warning signs, and another reading “no dogs allowed”. So while I stayed with Sadie, Jeff went up to investigate (yes, with bear spray). I took comfort seeing an occasional bather or two coming from the pools since I couldn’t get out of my mind, an incident that happened here back on August 14, 1997. A rogue black bear, not a grizzly, savagely claimed the lives of 2 people, and critically injured 2. Not sure if this was the reason for installing the electric fencing in the campground area. Now knowing the story, I can certainly see why.

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