"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood... And sorry I could not travel both. I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference." --Robert Frost

Friday, May 10, 2024

Wildfire Re-route! Half of the Cassiar Hwy Drive

Peace River, British Columbia
Prophet Airstrip Boondocking 

One thing on most people's bucket list, is to see the Aurora Borealis.  It was certainly on ours and we planned this trip to be at the most northernly part of our trip as late in the year as we could to increase our chances.  While it happens mostly year round, you need darkness to see it.  Right now it's only dark between 11p and 4am.  I got a notice from an app I'm on that the conditions would be just right, almost epic, to view it in a couple of nights.  Perfect, as we expect to be overnighting on an abandoned airfield where it's very dark for miles and miles.   It's actually an abandoned provincial park with an emergency airfield next to it. 
It was super windy on our drive out of Dawson Creek.  Winds were gusty the entire drive. Our drive looked much like this.  We like that they keep the roadways trimmed back so far.  I think it's so animals running out in front of you give you a little more time to react. 
We followed directions to turn at a small dirt road.  Blink and you'd miss it.  There was a very long dirt/grass airstrip you pass first.  You'd think it was just an empty long field if you didn't know what it was.  They are all over as communities are so far apart. They are used for many emergency purposes.
Once you pass the strip, there are 2 very small dirt loops.  There was only one other camper at the end of the first loop so we chose the second loop.  We found the smoothest, flattest spot and set up.  I love these quirky, free, spots.  Always interesting.
We had a nice fire then waited for the darkness to come.  Apparently, it had been all over the news too as we had several people contacting us to make sure we knew.  We were tired and it was hard at first to stay up past 11pm.  We didn't really see anything.  Then I stared up and noticed a little blue that seemed different and kind of moved.  We all got very excited.  Is this it?

Then it became darker and more evident.  But the fun really came when we looked at it through our cell phones.  I read that cell phones are better at capturing light than our eyes and are better at tuning into visible wavelengths. 

It was truly amazing!  No color corrections were done.  They did get brighter as the night went on but not as bright as through the cell phone.  We stayed up until 1am oooh-ing and awww-ing.  Hopefully we'll get another chance to see it when we are above the arctic circle in Aug/Sep.

Another strange thing that happened just before dark was a few more people rolled in.  Then more.  Then more.  Everyone had quads and kids and dogs and seemed to know each other. We thought how strange.  Maybe this is a popular place for the locals to hang out on weekends?
Cheers to us on Mother's Day!

The next morning we found out that there was a bad fire on the Alaska Highway, near Fort Nelson, that started with those crazy winds yesterday afternoon and a tree blew down onto a phone pole, and you know that never ends well.  All those people that arrived were folks from the town of Fort Nelson that had been told to evacuate.  Wow!  When we walked around the next morning there must've been 100 families parked all up and down that airstrip talking about updates.  Now it makes sense why there were so many people here with us. We talked to several of them and felt bad they had to leave without much of anything.  Luckily most up here own RVs/quads/etc and just loaded them up and took off.  They kept tabs on us knowing we were less than an hour from there and that is where we were heading.  We were going to turn north out of Fort Nelson to make a sidetrip into the Northwest Territories which we were looking forward to.  Both the Alaska Highway and Rt 77N were closed due to the fire.  We thought it would probably be taken care of today.  Afterall, how long can one of only two main routes to/from Alaska to British Columbia be closed?  All the truckers carrying food/gas/deliveries drive this route.  We decided to stay an extra day and wait and see.  Most of them moved on the second day further south to family or friends.  It was very quiet later that day.  We could smell and see smoke in the distance.  We knew we were safe as the First Nation people as well as some town officials kept checking on us and giving us updates.  They offered to bring us water or dump if we needed it. How nice is that?!  On the third day they were saying that the highway might not be open for days.  Maybe weeks.  What???  That would cause a very big change in our plans as the only way for us to get to Alaska and get back on track would be to backtrack 500 miles to Prince George then 300 more to the Cassiar, the other main highway and finally 770 miles up to Lake Watson!  If we could stay on-track and continue to Fort Nelson, it's only 325 miles to Watson Lake. Now it looks like we'll have to miss the Northwest Territories and drive over 1,570 miles instead of 300+.  Super bummed.  Plus, it's warmer on the Alaska Highway and much colder on the Cassiar that we were saving for our return drive.

While we mulled all this over the 3rd day trying to reroute our options, one of the First Nation guys stopped by and strongly suggested we evacuate the area as well as things were not looking good for Fort Nelson or the Highway.  Since that is the town where the gas is located, he offered us to come to their reservation (cimmunity) and they would give us a full tank of diesel, water and hot coffee.  So very nice.  We decided to take him up on the offer and drove onto the reservation land. 
Entrance to the First Nation of Prophet River 4.  
They filled us up from a large tank and were super helpful making sure we had all we needed before we drove off.  It was a good decision as the highway was down for a month and there were power outages in the area which led to no internet.  That means cash only to buy gas or whatever other needs you had.  Fresh water was iffy to find too.  We know all about the wildfires up here and what they entail so we were alert, prepared and had backup plans.  Even though we are earlier to Alaska than most travelers, we fully expected the Cassiar to be super busy with truckers and other travelers by time we got back down there since they'd be re-routed too.
As we passed an area called Suicide Hill, we noticed the helicopter carrying water away.  Turns out they had a fire there too that temporarily closed down that section of the highway.  Good thing we just made it past!
We decided to make it a long travel day and get as far as we felt like driving in one day. We saw Caribou and moose along the way. 

McKenzie Junction
Lake Tudyah Provincial Park
After a long 8 hour drive we stopped at Tudyah Lake for the night.
It wasn't open for the regular season yet so it was free to camp.  Too bad we didn't have more time as it was nice enough to paddle.

Burns Lake, British Columbia
Kager Lake PRA

Up early and on our way to Prince George where we would stop for gas and groceries. Then as we got to Kager Lake in front of the campground we spot these cuties.  A momma bear and her cubs.

Momma and her cubs.
This Provincial Rec Site is much like our State Rec Sites or National Forest campgrounds in the US.  This one only had 3 sites on a small lake.  Free to camp.  There was only one site open so Rick told us to take it and they would stay next to us at the overflow which was by the covered picnic area.  I love how they put these here.  They are covered, have tables and a big wood stove.  Some have free wood too.  We decided to have our fire here since it was sprinkling out.
We didn't have time to enjoy the lake but Angie did catch a small trout.  Off we were to our next stop.
There are many pull-outs along the way with information signs, museums and sites to see.  This one had a great overlook of a waterfall and bridge.  

We stretched our legs and chitchatted with the other camper owners traveling by.  Campers are the way to go!  So easy to get to and from the really remote places you just can't pull a trailer.  And we don't have to worry about the rough roads damaging the hangers, axles, leaf springs etc. on our expensive 5th wheels.
Now that we are off the AlCan we can slow back down.  Most of our drives up the Cassiar are 4 hours or less.  Since we'll still be doing this drive on the way back home, we are hopscotching our destinations.

We drove through many cute towns like Smithers which had a very quaint downtown and was surrounded by large ranches and no doubt people with money.
The Hagwilget Canyon contains the rocky peaks of the Stekya'wden to the south and the Seven Sisters to the west.

Next up we stopped in Hazelton to visit the old indian village of K'san and totem poles.
We have seen this guy here and there.  A few people have been traveling from South American all the way up to Alaska.  Impressive!
An old dugout canoe from one log.

We visited the museum and walked around the grounds.
We have crossed over many bridges.  It's always a little nerve wracking in an RV.  So far, the bridges have been plenty tall enough.  I'm sure this will always be the case as it's the only way to get goods brought in by 18-wheelers.
This is the intersection of 16 and 37 in Kitwanga.  Time to fill up on gas.  This is the beginning of the northbound Cassiar which is about 465 miles long. We were looking forward to the mountainous beauty of this on the way back.  Guess we'll get to see it in its spring glory as well as the autumn color.

Another stop at Battle Hill to learn about Gitwangak.
A long flight of stairs down, then up to the top of the hill that you see below the steps.  It's hard to imagine they could have that many homes up there that they were able to guard and protect.
Back in the 1700/1800s this hill was built with 5 longhouses on top.  It was an important site that controlled trade and warfare in the area.  It burned down in 1835 and was abandoned.

You could see the river below.  They have found many old bones and tools here.

We took a snack break once back up top and enjoyed the views.
Another nearby stop outside had several totem poles.  They were built in the 1830s by the Eagle and Wolf clans to commemorate their history.  It was pretty awesome to look at them and learn about what each layer meant.

Having a little fun.

Nass Camp, British Columbia
Bonus Lake PRS
We were thinking of stopping at Derrick Lake to camp but it was several miles in on an unimproved dirt road.  We made it part of the way but it was steep, rutted and very muddy.  We decided to find another spot just down the road and ended up at Bonus Lake.  BONUS!  There were only 3 sites together on the lakes edges and no one there!  We had hoped to paddle but it was too windy.  Of course much later the winds died down and it was smooth as glass.

It was so beautiful.  Angie spotted our first beaver.  We also watched some eagles flying around looking for dinner below in the shallow lake.


On our drive up we had to stop at this pull-out with an Information board about George Eastman.  If you don't know who that is, he is the founder of Kodak.  Both Steve and Rick worked for Kodak for years.  Since he stopped by to fish and hunt in this area we popped in and took their picture at the creek named in his honor.
More bear sightings!
More gorgeous mountains!

Kinaskan Lake, British Columbia
Kinaskan Lake Provincial Park
This lake goes on for miles along the Cassiar Hwy. We easily found some sites for the night.  We decided to stay just one night as it was cold, windy and no easy access to the lake to fish.  It was $20 for site #7.
Pretty sunset though.
We are about halfway up the Stewart/Cassiar Highway.  So far, we are very surprised that there are almost no drivers.  Commercial or vacationers.  We've driven hours and not seen another person on the road.  The campgrounds have been much the same.  Sometimes we are the only ones.  It's like the world ended and no one told us!  And we like it this way! With the Alaskan Highway still closed we are amazed and confused why there aren't anyone on the roads.  The condition of the road is not all that bad considering it's still early in the season and it hasn't had much attention yet.  These roads are always a work in progress as frost heaves, flooding, avalanches and more destroy parts of it every year.  The highway department is very good at marking an orange flag or small sign at the really bad spots.  We find it easier to slow down when we see skid marks.  Actually they are spots where someone's trailer (usually 18 wheelers) drag on the pavement.  Some parts are gravel and some dirt.  For the most part it's not bad and we could drive up to 50mph.  Like we thought, the weather had been cooler with a few days of sprinkles followed by wind that would die off after dinner.


  1. Seeing all your photos makes us want to go back. Glad you got to see the Northern Lights. Safe travels!

    1. We are having a blast! Great weather and awesome sights. Not many people up yet!

  2. So excited to see you two having an adventure of a lifetime. BC and Alaska don't disappoint and you got the extra adventure of the fire!

    We are in Watson Lake this morning, headed to Whitehorse. Love the northern lights photos!

    1. What’s blast so far! And it’s like we have it to ourselves!


  3. Good thing you got out of the way of the fire. And great pics of the Northern lights!

    1. Thanks. Sad for the people of FN. wish we didn’t have to detour but it worked out.

  4. Great shots of the Northern Lights. We saw them all the way down in Missouri, but not that impressive. What an adventure.

    1. Cool that so many saw the lights! Hopefully we’ll have a repeat in the fall.

  5. I am so enjoying your fantastic scenery. So many WOWs! Sorry the fire made you change course but glad it worked out. Your Northern Light photos are awesome! Thanks for sharing!

    1. It’s incredible! Loving ever minute of it!!


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