KLUANE LAKE (KTUU) - The Alaska Highway is known for its challenging road and driving conditions, but the character of the road isn't found where tire meets asphalt, instead, it's all about the people you meet and the places you stay along the way.
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From Dawson Creek to Delta Junction, the accommodations range from rustic and historical to modern. So far on our journey, we've stayed overnight at the Air Force lodge in Watson Lake, which opened in 1942 and offers guests a dorm style experience with shared bathroom and showers. We also stayed at the Northern Rockies Lodge, nestled against the picturesque Muncho Lake and luxurious accommodations.
Originally, it took people about 2-weeks to drive the Alaska Highway, with lodges popping up roughly every 25-miles offering a place to eat, fill up and repair your car. Today, it only takes a few days to travel the highway, and many of the lodges, which once served a purpose, have been left behind.
"What you miss is the character of the highway," said Lily Gontard, Author of Beyond Mile Zero. "When you just drive a stretch of pavement or chip sealed road. You're not seeing the community, and the community is what makes a place, brings the community alive."
Although the Alaska Highway Lodge community still exists today, there are not nearly as many lodges as there once were back when the highway was built 75 years ago.
"You're lucky if you have a lodge every 100 miles, 150 miles," Gontard said. "Some stretches of the highway there's no services at all."
Since the highway opened in 1942, time and technology have not been kind to the Alaska lodge community. While some remain, many lodges, like the lodge at Summit have been abandoned for years, serving as a reminder of what once was. But even though highway has changed over the years, lodges along the highway still serve a purpose, offering travelers a place to eat, rest and enjoy the company of others.
Rancheria Lodge at mile post 710 is the longest running lodge on the highway. It was opened in 1946 and is currently owned by Denis and Linda Bouchard.
"A lot of work," said Denis Bouchard. "It's a lot of work, more work and more work."
Denis and Linda have owned Rancheria Lodge for more than 11 years, they credit their success to good food, kindness and their love of people.
"We run on the honor system," said Denis Bouchard. "People come in and grab a room. They need a room, they're tired. (If) we're not here, we're not open after 8 p.m. during the winter, have a good night sleep, and we'll see you in the morning."
While rewarding at times, Denis says running the lodge isn't easy, and it recently got even tougher. In 2015, Linda was diagnosed with lung cancer. Despite her diagnosis and diminishing health, she continues cook, cater to her visitors and help anyone in need.
"We try to accommodate," said Linda. "People get stranded on this highway during the winter and they have now place to go."