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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

The Cassiar's Jewels

~Monday, June 27, 2022~

Day 743 (Travel Day)

Day 7 of Alaska Trip

Sad to be leaving such a great campground. We loved the site and everything it offered us, including some much needed rest. While putting fingertips to the keyboard this morning, I noticed our neighbors walking past our trailer, curious about something (I think they’re camera gave it away). Looking to my left about 50 yards from our campsite was a cinnamon colored bear cub, meandering solo through a vacant campsite. From my vantage point, it was hard to tell what kind of bear it was, but I can tell you it was adorable. But you know where there’s a baby, there’s a mom, so thought I’d just stick with admiring it from inside the trailer.

Knowing that we will be without reception for at least the next 3 days, I had some bills to take care of before leaving. I know, I know…..”autopay”. Though we do pay some things that way, there are certain things that we don’t. Call us old-fashioned, we like the control over when, where and how. In most cases, that responsible task hasn’t posed too much difficulty. We just have to stay ahead of the game to make sure it doesn’t become a problem.

It’s become quite clear that Smithers is more of a 1-night layover town for travelers, even though we made ours 2. The only people to stay long-term, at least at this campground, are the camphosts and the single huge 5th wheel parked in the center of the campground. You can always tell when people are full-timers by the amount of stuff they have outside their trailer. At most, the campground was ⅓ full which was quite surprising considering the time of year. Maybe the insane gas prices are keeping people away. But if you’re ever heading towards Alaska via the Cassiar Highway, you should definitely make Witset part of your journey.

After showers and a light breakfast, we hit the road around noon. Hank had a 275-mile day (about 6 hours), hauling an extra 400 pounds with a full fresh water tank. There is water at our next campground but the kind you have to boil 10 minutes before drinking. Not wanting to chance that, we made the decision it was worth carrying the extra weight. Here we come Cassiar Highway (Highway 37) to Kinaskan Lake Provincial Park.

About 30 minutes into our drive, we made one last stop for milk, DEF and diesel in a town called Kitwanda. It appears that gas stations that also have diners in them are called “gas bars” and no, there is no alcohol at these establishments. We’ve noted a few other options for gas and dump stations on the entire Cassiar Highway. If any of you have plans in the future to take this route we have several suggestions of where to fill up or dump along the Cassiar Highway:

  1. Kitwanga

  2. Meziadin Junction (dump station $10 and gas)

  3. Bell 2

  4. Tatogga

  5. Iskut

  6. Dease Lake

  7. Junction Alcan/37

As expected, Highway 37 did not disappoint with the mountains appearing even more dramatic, the forests so healthy and dense, and the varied colors of wild flowers, so fragrant. The forests run right up to the highway and are endless, making it hard to get the perfect mountain scenery shot in the distance.

The mountains shoot straight up and in their grandeur are seemingly, touchable. These peaks can be up to 8,000 feet as opposed to Colorado’s 13,000 to 14,000 foot peaks. But they seem grander in Canada because we’re at a much lower base altitude than let’s say Denver’s 5,800 feet.

What’s so impressive is how much snow or ice remains on them at this time of year. And whatever grows in British Columbia is one of the most intoxicating fragrances I’ve ever smelled, next to a Gardenia.

We came upon our first signs for bears and frost heave markers about 100 miles into the drive. Most heaves are marked well, but some, not. We just have to be watchful and take the time to slow down for fear of snapping our weight distribution bars. We’ve already seen this happen to a camping neighbor we met in Santa Fe, who crossed a set of railroad tracks a little too fast.

Something you don’t see everyday was a long gravel airstrip that ran parallel to the highway. There are airstrips all over Canada and Alaska, so I’m sure this won’t be our last encounter with that. And very little road construction. I guess we were expecting more in our 275-mile day since their working window is pretty small. And the bridges, narrow. There’s no way 2 trucks or even 2 RV’s could pass each other on them. But I imagine that because this highway isn’t too crazy, busy, they just rely on people being smart and cautious, not reliant on light signals to cross them. We also saw maybe 10 sections along the way that transitioned from asphalt to gravel, something we’re about to see a lot more of. With the truckers flying on these sections of roadway, this is where many a windshield succumbs to damage….praying that it doesn’t crack our front trailer window. 🤞😳

With the very prominent campground sign, we made it to our first camping experience along the Cassiar Highway. We couldn’t wait to be out of the car, but first to find our perfect little camping spot for the night. We were banking on at least a few site options arriving on a Monday though, because of our remote location, probably doesn’t matter all that much. Other than the long-term guests, everyone’s arriving about the same time since there are very few choices in where to stay along this stretch of highway. About 50% of the sites are on the lake, which is what we were ultimately after, especially for our Sadie girl. But ALL the sites were very nice. We found one, slightly above the lake, which we backed into for the time being, while Jeff took a further look down the road to see if there might be anything better. Hurrying back to tell me he found “the one”,

right ON the lake, he was so happy he searched a little further. With no one passing us yet, we knew it would be ours. And it was! Had we been 5 minutes later, we wouldn’t have gotten it, as 2 other campers came by thereafter. Before we even began setting up, Jeff wanted to change our itinerary a bit. Though we had plans to stay only 1 night at this campground, we agreed to 2, just because of our campsite. But the decision doesn’t affect our arrival time into Alaska. It just eliminates 1 extra day we had planned in Carmacks. Smart decision!

While we were setting up, our camp host stopped by to collect the camping fee of $20/night (Canadian). What a steal for this unbelievable scenery. The hardest part will be watching our water usage which has to last us the next 3 days. As I mentioned before, they do have a water source here, but recommend boiling first, so would prefer not filling our freshwater tank with untreated water.

The flies seem to be worse than the mosquitos and noticed several campers with head nets (something we should look into at our next big city). And many of the campers have the tent-like open screens which allow you to enjoy living outside, while keeping you protected. Jeff has been hesitant in the past about buying “one more piece of equipment”, but thinks after being HERE, he’s warming up to the idea. So we’ll see.

We met our neighbors, Pat and Steve, from Arizona. Having dual citizenship, they recently sold their home of 25 years in Canada and bought a home in Arizona in 2020, to be near their son. They like to come here for the summers, and stay in Arizona for the winters; a perfect formula. I told them how much we love this area and how we were happy to be at a provincial site, even though we prefer boondocking. That’s when she mentioned the high profile story about the random shooting along the Cassiar Highway that occurred 2 years ago. I don’t remember ever hearing about this case, but evidently it made international headlines. Great, another thing for me to worry about. But you can’t live in fear, right? The best you can do is be aware and smart about your surroundings.

Being at this lake will offer a completely off grid experience which we’re really looking forward to. Nothingness, not even a radio for 2 days. But I am cheating a bit, thanks to Google Docs and the ability to work offline in no man’s land. And, it looks like there will be no stargazing here as well, as even driving 275 more miles has put us in a state of near perpetual light. It was so strange to go to bed at 1:00 a.m. and still have some light, even if it was a smidge. We think there’s only a few hours of complete darkness at this point since we know for sure the sunrise happens around 4:15 a.m. It will be so strange to have 24 hours of sunlight, the further north we go. I must have fallen asleep in minutes with the light breeze moving the lake water to shore right outside my bedroom window. What a treat! 😴💤

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