The Striking Mucho Lake, Big Bison, and a Sign Forest… The Alaska Highway Series

Muncho Lake 6

Striking hardly describes Muncho Lake in British Columbia with its striking topaz waters and reflections of the surrounding mountains. The lake reaches a depth of  732 feet (223 m).


My Wednesday photographic essay will continue to take us up the fabled Alaska Highway. Last Wednesday we travelled from Dawson Creek to Toad River. I featured views along the way, the building of the highway during World War II, Stone Mountain Sheep, and some very busy beavers. Today we will travel from Toad River to Watson Lake in the Yukon Territory, a distance of 201 miles (324 K). Along the way we will visit the striking Mucho Lake, check out the large woodland bison that hang out beside the road, and view a few of the 70,000 town and city signs that have made their way to Watson Lake’s huge sign forest.

Toad River

After leaving Toad River Lodge and our visit with the busy beavers, we were treated to a view of the Toad River that parallels the road.

View along Alaska Highway in BC

And this view.

Muncho Lake north

We would stop to admire Muncho Lake both on our journey north to Alaska and on our trip back south. We were heading north when we caught this photo. (Note: all photographs in this series are taken by Peggy and me.)

Muncho Lake in British Columbia

We captured this view on our return trip down the Alaska Highway.

Muncho Lake on the Alaska Highway

As well as this photo.

Road construction, Alaska Highway, BC

Here’s a common sight along the highway: road construction. Tough winters and permafrost pretty much guarantee employment for road workers.

Road Construction along Alaska Highway

And here we go again, making our way through yet another construction project. Chipped windshields and damaged tires are common. We experienced both. We saw a bear somewhere in here. It may be the black spot on the left (or not).

Dall sheep ram on Alaska Highway

We also found this handsome fellow, another Stone Mountain sheep. What really got us excited, however…

Bison warning sign on Alaska Highway

Was this sign. We had entered the territory of the wood bison, also know as wood or mountain buffalo— as opposed to their cousins, the plains buffalo.

Woodland Bison and wallow in BC

And they begin to appear shortly afterwards. This one has made himself a convenient wallow, that he will wallow around in to get rid of bugs.

Woodland bison bull

These guys are big, with massive shoulders. They can weigh up to 2000 pounds (900 kilos), which make them the biggest land mammals in North America.

Herd of wood bison along Alaska Highway

We saw them both alone and in herds. They seem to like the edge of the highway for both its grazing opportunity and ease of travel.

Woodland bison calves

A pair of youngsters…

Welcome to the Yukon sign

Here’s a sign to thrill the heart of the most jaded of travelers. Canada’s Yukon Territory is almost synonymous with remote and wild. I grew up listening to daring tales of Sargent Preston of the Yukon and his faithful dog King. “On King! On you huskies, on!”

Watson Lake sign forest 5

Not far up the road from the Yukon border we came to Watson Lake with its Sign Forest of 77,000 signs from all over the world. If you wander around long enough, you might very well find a sign that was liberated from your hometown and placed here by someone traveling up the Alaska Highway.

Watson Lake sign forest

The tradition was started during the building of the Alaska Highway in 1942 when a soldier, Carl K. Lindley was asked by his commanding officer to erect directional signposts. While at the job, he added a sign for his own town of Danville, Illinois. The rest is history!

Watson Lake sign forest 4

The signs go on and on…

Peggy Mekemson at Watson Lake Sign Forest

I’ll close today’s post with a photo of Peggy to provide perspective on the height of the Sign Forest.

FRIDAY’S POST: A chapter from The Bush Devil Ate Sam, my book about my Peace Corps experience in the jungles of West Africa.

MONDAY’S POST: We continue our journey down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.


38 thoughts on “The Striking Mucho Lake, Big Bison, and a Sign Forest… The Alaska Highway Series

  1. Curt, We have long wanted to drive this but were put off by the distance we would have to go from south Florida just to start. I also imagined huge distances of nothing but a road passing through forest. “I think I’ll have to think it out again.”

    • I’ve spent my share of times on roads ‘passing through forests’ where all you see are trees, Ray . And there is some of that. But open vistas that go on forever are also common. And, I might note, theres a bit to see between Florida and Dawson City. (Peggy and I have made the drive from Alaska to Florida. 🙂 ) –Curt

    • Pretty much the whole highway, Peggy! And the sign forest just keeps growing. It would be fun to see a map with punch pins of all the cities and towns represented from around the world. –Curt

  2. Those bison! I travelled the Alaska Highway several times from mid 80’s to mid 90’s and I don’t think there were any there then. I’d love to see them. That must have been spectacular.

    • Interesting that they weren’t there, Alison. We saw quite a few. Maybe, like several other species they have made a comeback. I assume they are protected but don’t know that for sure. They obviously like the highway roadside. It makes for good grazing and easy travel. –Curt

  3. Surely the roads are subject to that much more harshness from the winter. And with the expansion and contraction, the bitumen is bound to crack somewhere… indeed it guarantees work!

  4. Yes, he is handsome, as well the buffaloes. I heard a very moving account of some bison that Terry Tempest Williams observed with her husband out west as the caravan grieved the loss of one of their own, a mother who’d had a stillborn and then was too weak to fend off predators. The couple saw how intelligent they were. Very sad and beautiful.

    • Animals do grieve when they loose a partner or child, D. We once had a fox whose partner was hit by a car down at the foot of our driveway. We didn’t know about the accident but we would hear the fox howling each night down on the road. When we checked it out and found the dead fox, we carried it away and buried it. The fox ceased its nightly vigil. –Curt

  5. Curt, what a wondrous and breathtaking landscape – your and Peggy’s photos capture its grandeur beautifully. The blue hue on some is almost surreal and the lake seems endless. As for the bison, I’d be in awe and fear seeing them so close – it’s like another world. Finally the signs – wow!! 77,000 – did you bring one along to place there? I’d be sorely tempted!! Happy Travels and glad the weather cleared up so you could go.

    • The trip up the Alaska Highway is one of my all-time favorite road trips, Annika, for both its beauty and wildlife. We kept our distance from the bison. 🙂 I see photos of folks that walk up to them and take photos. Insanity! It’s kind of like feeding a bear a hotdog out of your hand. Watson Lake is a kick, and they encourage people to bring signs, and even have a workshop where you can make a sign. I’ve been by it 5 times but have yet to bring a sign. I do agree it’s tempting and I have thought about it. –Curt

      • Very wise to keep your distance from the bison! I have an uncle who is a keen photographer and once in Florida he not only got out of the car when he saw a family of alligators, he then walked towards them to get a better shot! As they noticed him, he edged quickly back to safety! 😀

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