From time to time here on the blog, I’m going to feature entries from one of the 101 Travel Bits books. Today, I’m featuring 101 Travel Bits: The Alaska Highway, available for purchase at Amazon on Kindle, the Kindle app (for any phone or tablet) or in paperback.
On the outskirts of Watson Lake lies one of the most famous sights along the Alaska Highway: the Signpost Forest.
The origins of the Signpost Forest, like so much along the Alaska Highway, have their roots in World War II. Carl Lindley, a soldier working on repairing signs along the highway during the War, had the unfortunate luck to have a dump truck run over his foot while on the job. While recuperating and probably dreaming of home, he decided he would create a sign pointing the way to his hometown and post it along the road near Watson Lake. Lindley’s original sign consisted of an arrow pointing southeast, and informed Lindley’s fellow soldiers they were a mere 2,835 miles from Danville, Illinois.
Not happy to let Danville get all the notoriety, others soldiers followed Lindley’s lead and put up signs detailing the general direction and mileage to their own hometowns. Once tourists started heading up the Alaska Highway, they continued the tradition and eventually expanded it to include town signs with populations, elevations and general statements about the relative merit of wherever they might be from to the collection of signposts in Watson Lake.
Today, there are thousands of signs nailed to posts and trees on the outskirts of Watson Lake in the Signpost Forest. Every year, the town erects new poles in the Forest, and people use them to post ever more signs, dragged thousands of miles from the Lower 48 and places further afield for the sole reason of leaving a mark that a person stopped 635 miles or so up the Alaska Highway. One estimate is that there are 2,500 to 4,000 new signs added each year; there are now over 75,000 signs descended from the original one Carl Lindley erected 75 years ago. Sadly, the original sign and post are lost to history, but in 1992, Carl Lindley helped erect a replica sign to celebrate the Signpost Forest’s fiftieth birthday.