Two Roads diverged in a wood
And I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference
– Robert Frost
Driving less traveled roads has always been a passion of mine.
I guess I can blame my wanderlust on a man named Richard Halliburton. When I was in the sixth grade I read one of his books, The Royal Road to Romance. His father gave him a steamship trip around the world. He sold the tickets and proceeded to continue the trip by any means of transportation he could find.
Since 1994, I have been lucky enough to live in a motor home and travel. I’ve been to forty-nine states (haven’t figured out how to drive to Hawaii, yet), Canada, and Mexico. My favorite places have been roads less taken. Several of these roads immediately come to mind.
When we travel, we tow a mini-van behind our motor home. When there is a side trip we want to make, we find a place to park the motor home and drive the van. While driving to the Alaskan Highway, one of our side trips was on a gravel road-that quickly degenerated from gravel to a path through the forest– that led to a place called Quesnelle Forks. At one time, it had been a busy town. Over two million dollars in gold had been taken from the creeks and rivers there. Of course, while on this trip, I had to buy a gold pan and learn how to use it. Did I find any? Yes! It became easy to see where the term gold fever came from. There’s always the expectation that the next pan might contain that big nugget.
Now this is a ghost town, but not a commercial one. All that’s left there is the remnants of log houses and other buildings.-and, of course, a cemetery. Hundreds of men gave their lives there trying to strike it rich. It was somewhat less than a "less traveled road" to get there, but worth the trip for me.
While driving the Alaskan Highway, one of the side roads is the Klondike Loop. It cuts off and goes to Dawson City. Just before Dawson City, a northbound gravel road cuts off-the Dempster Highway. It heads north for 456 miles to the town of Inuvik, close to the Arctic Ocean. It was beckoning to me. I had talked to other people on the Klondike Loop, but most of them were staying away from the Dempster.
The fantastic scenery is the first thing travelers notice. Top a mountain pass and see for miles down a valley. At one point we could see the road winding its way up the mountains on the other side of a valley. There was a truck driving there. It was far enough away to look like a mico-mini collector’s car. Gorgeous green valleys and snow capped mountains. Quite a combination.
Eagle Plains is a half-way mark for the trip. The "town" consists of a gas station, garage for repairs, restaurant, motel, and campground. The people who work there live there for three months at a time. The campground reminded me of the old West. Electric hook-ups-and that was the only amenity-were along a fence down the middle of the area. We backed our RV up to the fence and hooked up, kind of like a hitchin’ post in old western movies. No specific spaces were marked off: people just found someplace to park where they had enough cord to reach the fence.
It was June 19th, so we stayed up late that night to watch the sun not go down. The next day we drove into the Arctic Circle and then into the Northwest Territories.
The town of Inuvik has many interesting features not found in places where most of us live. One thing is their above-ground sewerage system. Nothing can be buried up there, so they run two pipes-one carries the waste materials, and a larger one surrounding it is heated. Making the best of a problem situation, they paint the pipes bright colors. Something that could be very drab is rather attractive.
Shops in the downtown area have mud-rooms at their entrance. Benches and hooks are provided there as people stop to remove their boots and heavy coats. Many of the sidewalks are made of steel grating with pits under them so people can scrape the mud or snow from their boots. They have a huge city operated greenhouse so people can have a space to grow fresh vegetables.
After returning to Dawson City, we drove the Top of the World Highway over to Chicken, Alaska, to another experience with electric in an RV park. "The" RV park there has a generator to produce its power. The juice is turned off at seven at night when the owners leave and turned on again when they return at seven the next morning. This town has four basic businesses-a gift shop, restaurant, campground, and bar. The twenty-five summer-time residents there seem to appreciate all of them. In the winter, the population drops to four or five.
We parked in Fairbanks for a week and traveled side roads most everyday. One of our favorites was a road that led to Chena Hot Springs. It goes east into the country side. We probably saw more moose that day than we did on the rest of our trip-and we saw a lot of moose. One big guy actually stopped about twenty feet from our van and seemed to pose as Sandy got its picture. He then ambled off into the forest.
Somewhere on this small road, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch. This became one of the major perks of eating out. These small restaurants bake their own breads and desserts, and don’t use processed foods. The bread truck doesn’t run there! I doubt that anyone on a "tour" of
Alaska gets out there.
This establishment was built from pine logs, had a porch supported by cedar logs with gnarls on them, and gobs of wild flowers growing on the roof and all around it. Inside was rustic and many people had stapled dollar bills on the walls and ceilings after they signed them. Of course, we had to leave ours there.
On our trip out of Canada, we cut off the Alaskan Highway and drove down the Cassiar Highway. A side trip on the Stewart-Hyder Access Road took us into Hyder, Alaska. Definitely worth the trip to watch the bears feeding on salmon in the fall!
Anywhere I go, I try to take a side road. Do I ever get lost? Never! Sometimes geographically challenged, but never lost. Some of our "lost" trips on less traveled roads have been very interesting. When talking about the interstate highway system, John Steinbeck once said, "You can drive from coast to coast and not see a damned thing." I agree with you, sir. I like to see things!
SIDEBAR-Since businesses, attractions, and road conditions change rapidly in Canada and Alaska, the best source to travel there is a publication called Milepost Alaska Travel Planner. It is published yearly and can be purchased from Amazon or any large book store.
Bio: Gary R. Hoffman has taught school, been self-employed, and traveled in a motor home. He has published over 200 short stories. firstname.lastname@example.org