Vistas along the Bow River in Banff, Alberta, Canada are beautiful in any season. FRANK J. PARRY

It was 4:30 a.m. July 4 at the quirky Ripley Creek Inn in Stewart, British Columbia, when we heard “Cock-a-doodle-doo!” at 100 decibels. 

It was the resident rooster just outside our open window.

Sometimes it’s the small, unexpected happenings that add spice to your long drives.

I had been to Alaska many times as an Air Force navigator, flying through Alaska to Vietnam, but never had time to see much on the ground. Alaska was the only state my wife, Carole, had never visited.

In 2013, we were both working part-time, so we flew to Alaska from Ohio and rented a car for nine days. On a jammed red-eye return flight to Chicago, I said to my wife, “Next time we’re driving” – which we did in 2015, 2018 and again in 2022. 

We prefer to drive because: 1. We can determine our own itinerary; 2. We have flexibility; and 3. There are more worthwhile attractions in the western U.S. and Canada than just in Alaska. 

In 2022 we decided on one more drive to the 49th state. At age 79, we knew it would be our last long road trip. Our objective was to visit some places we had never visited and a few that were old favorites. As in any long road trip, there are always glitches.

We left home on June 24, headed west, and visited the St. Louis Gateway Arch on a 100-degree day. Then it was farther west to Denver, where we had dinner with my old 1966 USAF Navigator School classmate and his wife.

The next day we toured Rocky Mountain National Park, which we had never visited. From there we headed north toward Lake Louise, Alberta, where we had booked a shuttle to Moraine Lake, billed as Canada’s most scenic lake. It is glacier fed, pale blue and surrounded by majestic mountains.

From Lake Louise, we drove north through Banff and Jasper, Alberta, and the very scenic Alberta Route 40 to the Acorn Motel in the small town of Grande Cache, Alberta. 

When I made our reservation, I mentioned that we would be celebrating our 56th wedding anniversary in Grande Cache. The motel provided an upgraded room, a bouquet of flowers and a fruit basket to help us celebrate. 

We had planned to continue up the scenic Route 40 to the Alcan Highway when (Glitch No. 1) we learned that a culvert had washed out and the Alcan was closed, So, we drove back several hundred miles south and proceeded west into British Columbia, then headed north toward the Yukon on the Cassiar Highway.

We spent a night at the quirky Ripley Creek Inn in the small town of Stewart, British Columbia (Pop. 405). The owner of the hotel had reconditioned several old buildings into a fairly modern facility. After dinner we drove a few miles west through Hyder, Alaska (Pop. 87), the state’s easternmost town. 

The only ways to get to Hyder are by driving through Stewart, British Columbia, by float plane, or by boat from Ketchikan, Alaska, 100 miles west. It was the Fourth of July week and all the Hyderites were gathered in front of the Glacier Inn, young women in their prom dresses and everyone drinking beer! 

We drove north a few miles to the bear and salmon viewing platform but there were no salmon, and thus, no bears. 

We came back to the Ripley Creek Inn, where our two-bedroom suite was in the old brothel. This was where the hotel’s resident rooster scared us awake. He is very lucky I didn’t have a weapon.

We wanted to spend a night in Dawson City, Yukon’s Klondike region – a place we had never been. But (Glitch No. 2) a wildfire had jumped the road outside of the town. When we got close to the fire, a pilot car led us through the smoke and minimal flames, and we reached Dawson City safely.  

After dinner we headed to the Downtown Hotel and watched folks downing $12 Sourtoe Cocktails – with an actual big toe submerged in Yukon Jack whisky. There’s aa $2,500 fine if you swallow the toe. We elected to not participate.

From Dawson City, we crossed the Yukon River on the free ferry and started our drive across the Top of the World Highway. This remote mostly-gravel road connects Dawson City with Tok, Alaska, and winds across scenic mountain ridges for most of the way.

After a night in Tok we drove west to the old (also mostly gravel-surfaced) Denali Highway. We spent the night at the remote Maclaren River Lodge and, the next day, we continued our journey westward along this scenic, historic road.

We had hoped to take the 97-mile each-way bus trip into Denali Park, which we had already enjoyed twice, but (Glitch No. 3) the gravel road had suffered a landslide and was closed for the final 50 miles. 

So, we dug deep down into our pockets and booked an airplane ride around Denali. It was very cloudy and, had we not had an experienced and very proficient Piper Navajo pilot, it is doubtful if we would have survived this somewhat harrowing flight. All told, it was probably the highlight of our last Alaska drive.

After our flight we needed lunch – soon. We decided to go to a nearby, somewhat expensive, restaurant where we had dinner nine years ago. It was 2 p.m. and the only choice for lunch was chicken fingers with fries, for $25 each. We decided that was better than starving to death in Alaska!

We headed south, with a lunch in Talkeetna, to Girdwood, Alaska. It was Carole’s birthday, so we hoped for an upscale dinner. Unfortunately, the best restaurant in this small town was closed, so we ate a mediocre dinner in a nearby bar. We made up for it at our next destination, The Inn at Whittier, the next day.

We drove through the railroad/vehicle tunnel and arrived in Whittier, Alaska (Pop. 282), in mid-morning, greatly appreciating the beauty of this small town ringed by snowcapped mountains on three sides and the Passage Canal Bay on the fourth. Then we enjoyed a five-hour glacier cruise which included lunch. 

We saw several glaciers, seals, some beautiful waterfalls dropping directly into the fjords, and a raft of sea otters.

From Whittier, we drove the few hours to Kenai where Carole wanted to try her luck fishing in the Kenai River, one of the most famous salmon rivers in the world. Unfortunately, the gill netters at the mouth of the river were intercepting most of the salmon, so Carole didn’t catch anything. But we did enjoy our time on this beautiful azure blue river.

Our next destination was Glennallen, Alaska. We had made a two-night reservation at the beautiful Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge, a place where we had stayed three times previously. Unfortunately, they were having problems obtaining adequate staffing and (Glitch No. 4) had decided to close at the end of June. This area is sparsely populated with limited lodging, and we were lucky to find a small, adequate B&B for two nights.

From Glennallen, we took a day trip to Valdez, the terminus of the Alaska Pipeline. The town had been essentially wiped out by a tsunami during the 1964 earthquake and they rebuilt the town at a safer level a few miles away. 

We drove out Dayville Road, east of Valdez, hoping to spot some bears. With no bears in sight, we headed back toward Valdez. As we passed the Valdez fish weir, my peripheral vision picked up something in the water. There were seven or eight huge, 8- to 10-foot long, stellar sea lions in the area. We and about 20 other tourists reveled in watching these behemoths swimming, fishing and grunting below the weir.

We headed east into the Yukon and south through British Columbia on the remote Cassiar Highway for another night at the Ripley Creek Inn in Stewart. Fortunately, the resident 100-decibel rooster was on the opposite side of the hotel from our room this time.

Then it was south through British Columbia to the wine country north of Osoyoos, British Columbia, and the U.S. border. We stopped for lunch at the upscale Burrowing Owl Winery. By upscale, I mean my lunch was a $20 grilled cheese sandwich – tasty, with an expansive view of the valley.

After crossing the border to the U.S., we headed toward Yellowstone National Park, where we had booked a cabin at Mammoth in the north edge of the park. But (Glitch No. 5), because of the severe flooding in the area in June, the Mammoth area was closed.

We managed to find a room in the town of West Yellowstone, Montana, a town where we had stayed on an Air Force move in 1967.

We visited several of the Yellowstone geysers, saw lots of bison and had a nice lunch overlooking Yellowstone Lake. Then it was south to Jackson, Wyoming, and Carole’s favorite mountains, the Tetons. 

We spent two nights in Jackson and, after dinner, drove out Gros Ventre Road where we had seen moose in every previous sojourn in Jackson. There were trout fishermen on the river, so there were no moose!

Next, a beeline to South Carolina with a stop in Tennessee, where Carole’s older sister had lived, to visit some old friends and enjoy the first home-cooked food in five and a half weeks. 

We arrived home on Hiton Head Island on Aug. 1 and were unpacked in about two days.

Frank J. Parry and his wife, Carole, Hilton Head Island residents since 1999, have traveled to all 50 states, six Canadian provinces, and numerous Caribbean islands. Parry is the author of “Driving to Alaska,” which covers his and Carole’s trips in 2013, 2015 and 2018.