When you reach Prince George, British Columbia, on the way to Alaska, you have two choices. You can continue northeast on Highway 97 to Dawson Creek, the beginning of the Alaska Highway. Or, you can turn west on Yellowhead Highway 16 toward Prince Rupert, apply the brakes at Kitwanga, and turn north on Cassiar Highway 37. The Cassiar eventually connects to the Alaska Highway near Watson Lake, gateway to the Yukon. In my opinion, first-timers should go north on the Alaska Highway and return via the Cassiar.
If you want a side trip that’s a little crazy, go southwest from Dease Lake on Telegraph Creek Road off the Cassiar. I made the trip in 2001. As I recounted in my book, RVing Alaska and Canada, I wasn’t interested in attempting the 140-mile, gravel-road round trip in a motorhome in anything less than perfect weather. On other trips, it was either raining or snowing or had been, and it was muddy. But now, the spring weather was perfect. No more excuses.
A sign warned, “Check your fuel gauge.” I’ve learned in many years on the road that when you head into the boonies, you should have a full larder, full fuel tank, and good rubber.
The first section was a good road with occasional glimpses of the Tanzilla River that eventually joined the Stikine River. It wound through an old burn area and I had great views of snow-covered Mt. Edziza. Two creatures congregated in the road ahead of me. Binoculars confirmed they were lynx, the second and third I’d ever seen.
Via the Milepost magazine (Don’t leave for Alaska without it), I already knew the fine points of the route, but you can’t experience the scenery from a flat page of newsprint.
About 45 miles in, I hit the first 18 percent grade with narrow switchbacks that took a sharp turn across a bridge. This road isn’t recommended for large RVs or trailers. At 27 feet, I didn’t consider the Sprinter a “large RV” so I didn’t perceive any problems. However, 18 percent is steep, and what goes down must come back up.
The next grade was 20 percent. Believe it or not, right then a rest area appeared! I drove through a herd of munching horses that gave me a rather astonished look. I parked, found my walking stick (a broken hoe handle I threw in at the last minute—hey, I put a lot of thought into my adventures), and went down the steep path to a plateau above the river gorge.
Of all people to meet in the middle of nowhere, a threesome of French tourists had also stopped. We didn’t have much conversation since the only French word I could remember was “fromage,” and I knew that meant cheese, only appropriate if I were taking their picture.
The road wasn’t through with me yet. I followed a ridge above the river with a great view of the Grand Canyon of the Stikine. Then I had a glimpse of the next 18 percent grade. The road passed by some Indian smokehouses and from there continued as a much narrower road with most of it right on the canyon wall, making for some white-knuckle driving. This could turn one’s hair silver but since mine was already there, no problem. I thought this group of buildings was the town of Telegraph until I looked at the odometer and realized I still had 14 miles to go.
Given the narrow, winding, steep road with no place to go but down, I found some very good photo ops. Passing through another Indian community, I went down one last narrow distance into picturesque Telegraph.
I parked at the Stikine RiverSong Café, Lodge, and General Store but it wasn’t open. Actually I don’t think I could have parked my “small” rig anywhere else. This building is a renovated 1898 Hudson’s Bay Company building.
Houses literally perched on the mountainside. Most were empty and dated back to the gold rush era. Coming up from Wrangell, this was one of the “all Canadian” routes to the Klondike Goldfields, though it was one of the more difficult ones. Telegraph was named after the telegraph communications terminal that linked Dawson City with Vancouver.
I walked along the riverfront. Except for the late-model trucks parked here and there, I could have taken a step back in time. Nothing was open and I didn’t see a single soul working or walking or driving. The local Royal Canadian Mounted Police building was locked, a good thing I wasn’t in trouble. Tiny St. Aidan’s Anglican Church had a note on the door that the priest would be there for Holy Days and Special Occasions. My arrival obviously didn’t count as a Special Occasion.
I had to face it, nobody was home in Telegraph—either that or I was a lot more threatening than I felt. Nobody wanted to sell me a T-shirt or a hamburger or a boat tour. The river and I were the only ones moving. Was I in a ghost town? No, I saw a porch light lit.
Telegraph is almost directly east of Juneau with no road between the two. During the season, jet boat and rafting tours go the 150 river miles to Wrangell and the Inland Waterway. On May 24, nothing was happening. By the end of June, and more into the tourist season, I was sure there would be more activity.
On the way out, on one of those narrow curves with nowhere to go, I came nose to nose with a car. The lady in the passenger seat gave me a wide-eyed look. They pulled into a turnout to let me ease on by.
I did an immediate right to go up one of those 18 percent grades, trying to get up speed on the curve. As I rounded the corner, I realized a grader had piled about one and a half feet of dirt and rocks in the narrow road’s center, and I had to straddle the hump. The grader quickly backed up so I could continue at full speed. I grappled the Sprinter to the top. Nothing was broken on the Sprinter’s undersides.
With a major sigh of relief but also one of exhilaration, I turned north along the Cassiar with this major thought, I’ll bet the people at the end of that road don’t drive out just for a quart of milk.
– – – – – – –
Autographed copies of Revised RVing Alaska and Canada ($16.95); Adventures with the Silver Gypsy ($14.95); Full-Time RVing: How to Make it Happen $14.95); In Pursuit of a Dream ($8), and Freedom Unlimited, The Fun and Facts of Full-timing ($9) are available through author Sharlene Minshall, Box 1040, Congress, AZ 85332-1040, www.full-time-rver.com or Amazon.com. Postage and handling are $4 for one book and $1 for each additional book
Try the RV LIFE Pro Bundle FREE for 7 days