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The great Alaska Highway turns 50: here's how to celebrate the drive this summer.

Here's how to celebrate the drive this summer

IF YOU'RE THINKING about traveling north along the Alaska Highway this summer, you'd better pack your party hat. It's the highway's 50th birthday, and communities along the route through British Columbia, the Yukon Territory, and Alaska plan to celebrate--with an overland convoy, reunions, and other festivities.

The highway was built during World War II as a single-lane U.S. military supply route from Dawson Creek to Delta Junction. The 1,422-mile path was punched through the wilderness in a mere eight months.

Nicknamed the Alcan, the Alaska Highway was a co-operative effort between the U.S. and Canadian governments. Altogether, nearly 33,000 workers, including 11,000 U.S. Army troops, battled subzero temperatures and hazardous conditions to complete the road; about 200 of them died.

Local trappers served as guides for road-building crews, and residents opened their homes to the workers. To mark distances in the wilderness, mileposts were erected along the route; residents still use the milepost designations for their addresses.


Today, the Alaska Highway is a two-lane thoroughfare that carries some 77,000 travelers each year. A journey along the highway remains one of North America's great driving adventures, with superlative roadside scenery.

The best period to travel the highway is from late May through August. Although the route is normally free of snow and ice during the summer, freak storms can occur at higher elevations. Carry warm clothing just in case.

Make sure your vehicle is in top shape--mechanically sound and recently tuned--and equipped with good tires. Carry a full-size spare tire, not just a "doughnut," and an extra fan belt. Gas stations are spotted about every 50 miles. Prices vary; it's wise to fill your tank when you see less expensive fuel.

All but a few miles of the Alaska Highway are paved; some short stretches of gravel remain where the road is being upgraded. However, many sections of the road have soft shoulders or no shoulders. The most notorious stretch for potholes, soft shoulders, and frost heaves is the 235 miles between Haines Junction (northwest of White-horse) and the Alaska border. Stay within the Canadian speed limit of 90 kilometers per hour, about 55 mph. (Speed limit in Alaska is 55 mph.)

Wildlife usually presents few problems to drivers, but around Muncho Lake, watch out for Stone's sheep and caribou, which frequently gather along the roadside. Pack insect repellent; blackflies and mosquitoes can be pesky, especially in early summer.

Most travelers camp out en route. Public and private campgrounds and RV parks are numerous; costs run from about $7 per night at public facilities to $15 at private campsites with hookups. Pull into campgrounds early to reserve a spot. Motels and hotels are found in towns and dot the countryside; it's best to book early. Lodging rates vary dramatically.

You don't need to drive the entire Alaska Highway to savor its essence. One of our favorite stretches is in the Yukon between Watson Lake and Whitehorse, where crystal-clear streams meander through mountain valleys.

The most comprehensive highway guide we've found is The Milepost (Alaska Northwest Books, Bothell, Wash., 1992; $16.95).


You can link up with the Alaska Highway by way of overland routes or the Alaska Marine Highway system, whose ferries depart from Bellingham, Washington, and Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Ferries follow the Inside Passage, dropping passengers at the Alaska ports of Skagway and nearby Haines.

From Skagway, Klondike Highway 2 meets the Alaska Highway north of Whitehorse. If you disembark at Haines, take Haines Highway to link up at Haines Junction.

For ferry schedules, and passenger and vehicle fares, call Alaska Marine Highway at (907) 465-3941 or (800) 642-0066.

One good overland approach route to the highway is to follow B.C. Highway 97 north through Prince George to Dawson Creek.


Here's a sampler of summer festivities planned along the highway. For details, consult the sources listed.

British Columbia. Write or call Alaska Highway Rendezvous '92, 9223 100 St., Suite 14, Fort St. John V1J 3X3; (604) 787-1992.

May 28 through 31, Mile 0 Days, Dawson Creek. The community celebrates its location as Mile 0 on the highway.

June 11 through 18, Army Motors Convoy, Dawson Creek to Fairbanks. On June 11, 50 World War II-era military vehicles depart Dawson Creek, and are scheduled to arrive in Fairbanks on June 18. The vehicles are on display during the convoy's overnight stops at Fort St. John, Fort Nelson, Muncho Lake, and other towns.

June 21 through 28, Float Plane Rally and Competition, Dawson Creek. Aviators follow waterways adjacent to the highway from Dawson Creek to Fairbanks, with stops in Fort Nelson, Watson Lake, and Whitehorse. They arrive in Fairbanks on June 28.

July 1, Highway Workers Reunion, Toad River.

July 10, 11, and 12, Reunion of U.S. Army 843rd Battalion, Fort Nelson.

August 1 and 2, World Class A Gold Panning Championships, Taylor.

Yukon Territory. Write or call the Yukon Anniversaries Commission, Bag 1992, Whitehorse Y1A 5L9; (403) 668-1992.

May 30, Trail of '42 Road Race, Haines Junction.

June 23 and 24, Float Plane Rally and Competition, Watson Lake.

July 31 through August 2, Phil Temple Memorial Rodeo and Fair, Destruction Bay. Festivities honor highway survey guide Phil Temple.

Alaska. Write or call the Great Alaska Highways Society, Box 74250, Fairbanks 99707; (907) 452-8000.

June 14, Mainstreet Alaska Sourdough Potlatch, Tok.

July 4, Highway and Railway Workers Recognition, Skagway.

July 11 through 19, Golden Days, Fairbanks. The city celebrates the discovery of gold here with a parade, exhibits, and competitions.

July 15 through 18, World Eskimo Indian Olympics, Fairbanks. Contestants compete in traditional games like the ear pull and the 2-foot-high kick.

August 23, Highway Workers Reunion, Tok.
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Author:Maschmeyer, Gloria J.
Article Type:Calendar
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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