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Outdoors with Don Q: The Yukon’s infamous Robert Campbell Highway

This is the third of a four part series of articles on our recent sightseeing and fishing trip to the Yukon in Canada.
While on that 11-day (June 18 – June 28) adventure in the Far North, Elaine and I traveled a total of six days in the “Bush,” convoying with our longtime, good friends, Barry and Susan Drury of Watson Lake, Yukon.
The Drurys were in their four-wheel drive camper pickup and we traveled in a 19-foot motorhome that had been rented in Whitehorse.

Our two-vehicle convoy left Whitehorse at about mid-morning on June 20.

We drove to:
Fox Lake, Braeburn, Montague and Carmacks (all on Yukon Highway 2);
Little Salmon Lake, Little Salmon and Faro (all on Yukon Highway 4);
Ross River, Frenchman Lake, Finlayson Lake, Finlayson Creek, Frances Lake, Tuchitua and Simpson Lake (also all on Yukon Highway 4);
And our final destination of Watson Lake (on the Alaska Highway).

Some memories of that six day trek include:
01. A tiny spot on the map called Braeburn where we bought very tasty and very gigantic cinnamon buns (one of those buns fed four of us for one breakfast and we only ate half of it!).
02. Catching a Mackinaw (Lake) Trout on a spincast lure, while sitting in the back of the boat and waiting for it to be launched from shore.
03. Cooking our breakfasts (pancakes, bacon, eggs and toast) and dinners (hotdogs, hamburgers and steaks) over campfires.
04. Visiting Faro, which has a nine-hole golf course that runs the entire length of the center of that tiny town.
05. Finlayson Creek, where Elaine and I caught Arctic Grayling on cast after cast after cast, while spincasting with small Mepps spinning lures.
06. Seeing many creeks that were larger than the Truckee River.
07. Mosquitoes, mosquitoes and more mosquitoes. They were fierce!
08. Very large lakes that made Lake Tahoe look wimpy in size.
09. The spectacular, never-ending scenery of thick forests of black spruce and alders, towering mountains, lakes, ponds, creeks and streams of the Pelley Mountains.
10. Marveling at the sun setting at 11:15 p.m., staying light behind the mountains, and the sun rising at 2:15 a.m.
11. Going fishing in the boat at 7:00 p.m. and returning to camp in bright sunshine at 9:45 p.m., so we could cook our dinner over a campfire.
12. Very, very, very little traffic wherever we went.

The infamous portion of the Robert Campbell Highway:
It is a main arterial between Ross River and Watson Lake, and to call that portion a “highway” is really stretching the truth.
It consists of:
01. Some small lengths of pavement near Ross River and also near Watson Lake, and in those several paved sections; you are constantly dodging potholes, many of them impressive in size and in depth.
02. Many long stretches of gravel roadway, which produce thick, choking, billowing clouds of white dust that penetrate everything in your vehicle.
You can see an oncoming vehicle’s dust for miles before it approaches you.
03. Dirt sections that reduce your speed to a slow crawl through those areas.
Having your vehicle “fish tail” in the soft dirt, while slowly driving in a number of those sections.
04. Many locations on both the gravel and dirt sections have a red flag on each side of the “highway” warning the traveler of an unsafe condition.
Which makes one wonder: If they have the time to locate areas where there is a need to place red flags at unsafe locations, why not fix those conditions?
Heck, that makes sense to me!
There were some locations that were “red flagged” where you had to come to a complete stop and then slowly creep across that problem area.
You would think that whoever is ultimately responsible for the Ross Campbell Highway between Ross River and Watson Lake would take appropriate action to upgrade (AKA pave) it to become a real highway.

A suggestion:
I’m no genius, but to do so, could accomplish the following:
01. The paving of that “highway” would provide employment for many Canadians working on that project.
02. The paving project would bring badly needed revenue to the communities of Carmacks, Ross River and Watson Lake.
03. The completion of that project would make the Ross Campbell Highway a true highway that would attract Canadians, tourists, hunters, fishermen, campers, photographers, etc., who would provide additional revenue for Carmacks, Ross River, Watson Lake, the Yukon and Canada.
However, that is probably wishful thinking on my part, as it is quite obvious that the terrible conditions of that “highway” have existed for a long time and are highly unlikely to change in the future.

Food for thought:
In my less-than-humble opinion, whoever is ultimately responsible for the condition of that “highway” needs to take action to improve the less-than-desirable travel conditions that exist today.
The Yukon needs to upgrade the Robert Campbell Highway from the early days of Canadian horseback travel of many years ago, and transform it into a first-class, 21st century transportation facility.
Let’s hope that happens in the not so distant future.

Finally:
Would I return to the Yukon?
Yes!
Will I do so?
No, not until the Ross Campbell Highway becomes a paved roadway that is safe to travel between Ross River and Watson Lake.

— Don Quilici is the Outdoor editor of Carson Now and www.SouthTahoeNow.com. He can be reached at donquilici@hotmail.com


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