Day 38 August 12 Jasper NP to Cranbrook, BC

dawn on the Athabasca Riverhighest point on the Icefield ParkwayBy the time morning came and I had a good night’s sleep, I was in a much better mood, and knowing that I still had a camera that worked helped my mood as well.  We didn’t have much of a plan for the day except to continue south along the Columbia Icefield Parkway, to see at least part of Banff, maybe visit Lake Louise, and then find a place to camp for the night.

We left the campground quite early, hoping to have plenty of time to amble along and see whatever caught our fancy.  In fact, it was so early that I had trouble taking photos with much of the landscape still shadowed by the incredibly high and steep Rocky Mountains all around me. As we climbed to the summit of the parkway, I was excited about seeing another glacier and the famous Columbia Icefield.

Jasper NP Day 38 (18)Jasper is certainly beautiful, and the Rockies have their own personality, all that limestone makes shapes that are very different from the volcanic and wild metamorphic mountains that we have traveled through in Alaska.  We arrived at the glacier early enough to miss the most of the tourists.

Jasper NP Day 38 (28)I had somehow expected lots of ice along the Icefields Parkway, I have no idea why, but I pictured it all snowy and icy and that we would be driving very close to the icefields and the glaciers.  It isn’t that way at all.  The glacier itself is just a small piece of its former glory, like so many others, it has receded dramatically in the last half century.  We walked around a bit, but weren’t inspired to do much hiking through all the rubble to the tiny bit of dirty blue ice that was visible to us from the trailhead.

Columbia Glacier on the Icefield ParkwayAgain, there were the markers showing the extent of the ice in  years past, and the incredibly fast rate of recent recession.  The visitor center at the summit of the parkway is reputed to be beautiful and interesting, but the parking lot was already getting full and we just weren’t up to another battle to see more stories about the Columbia Icefield. 

Do I sound jaded?  I don’t mean to.  It was truly a beautiful drive, Jasper NP Day 38 (56)but we were so very spoiled by the beauty and especially the isolation in Alaska that it was hard to get into visiting here.  I hope we go back sometime, and take the time to enjoy the special beauty of the Canadian Rockies and the beautiful national parks, and especially some of the surrounding areas.  Sometime when I am not filled with images of solitude and isolation and roads that stretch for miles without another vehicle in sight.

Jasper NP Day 38 (68)As we continued south, the traffic started picking up and it was hard to pull over into any of the turnouts for pictures because they were already full of cars and people.  There were some incredible lakes along the way, with reflections that were breathtaking, and the photos I got show a bit of blur to the trees because I had to get them while we were moving, out the window.  Still, when I look back at these photos, I am amazed at the color and shapes.

Jasper NP Day 38 (75)The road south to Banff is excellent, with interesting bridges constructed across the highway to allow the animals to cross safely. Literature suggests that these barriers and bridges are actually working, although I couldn’t help wondering what would happen to an animal who happened to find its way inside the big fences along the highway. How would they get back out?

crazy parking situation to get to Moraine LakeWe decided early on that driving east into the actual town of Banff wasn’t something we wanted to do.  Camping there is tight and expensive, we had no reservations, and after all this was a Friday night.  Instead I just wanted to see Lake Louise, maybe hike around a bit, maybe even go for a kayak.  Silly me.  Once we arrived in the town of Lake Louise, the crush of traffic and tourism really became fully apparent.

I once heard that Moraine Lake was even more beautiful and a bit more isolated, so we decided to go there first.  Parking the big rig in the visitor center parking lot was easy enough and we unhooked and loaded up into the baby car with the dog.  It was under 20 miles of narrow winding road to the parking lot for the lake and another 1/2 mile to walk from the long line of cars already parked along the road outside the lot.  Hmmm.

Hike around Moraine Lake-7Hike around Moraine Lake-3In spite of the crowds, though, the short hike around the lake was well worth the effort.  Moraine Lake is a lovely turquoise gem set into the rugged mountains.  The lodge was lovely, small and inviting, with wonderful cabins overlooking the lake with huge picture windows and fireplaces.  It might be fun to be there in the morning and evening after all the people thinned out.  Abby loved swimming as well, even though the water was cold from the glacier that feeds the lake.

After our hike, we returned to the car with the plan to take a similar hike at Lake Louise.  We drove past the lodge and tried to figure out just how many miles we would have to walk before we got past the parking lot.  The traffic was thick, and jammed to a halt trying to get into the filled lot that was farthest from the lake.  Maybe I will see Lake Louise on another trip, but this time we looked at each other, hooked a fast u, and drove back to the motor home and out of the town in short order.

In very little time, on that broad smooth fancy highway, we were traveling west on Highway 93 toward Kootenay National Park, another Canadian gem.  There were far fewer people on the road, and the vistas were lovely, but it was still too early in the day to think about stopping so we just continued on west toward British Columbia and Radium Hot Springs.

Jasper to Cranbrook Day 38 (14)the road opens out to the Columbia ValleyI have always wanted to visit Radium, and many of my friends from the Spokane area loved to go to Fairmont Hot Springs for skiing and winter sports.  Radium Hot Springs was a charming little town, but the crowds were again building and the traffic was getting heavy.  We stopped for a photo of the odor free pools, filled up with gas and continued south on 93, admiring the beautiful Columbia River Valley from high on the hill and laughing at the bighorn sheep wandering around through town.

Mo was getting a bit tired with all the driving, and we were both in the mood for a steak of some kind, so we thought that a stop in the Invermere Visitor Center would yield some good information.  Usually the visitor centers are wonderful places with great volunteers eager to share their joys with us.  That was not the case here.  The two women were incredibly snotty, acting as though we were unbelievably stupid to think there might be a place to stay on a Friday night, and that we were even more stupid to think we would find a steak in Invermere. Well, excuuuuussseee me!!

he is totally unconcernedI guess this strip through BC is fairly toney, with most of the RV parks converted to lease lots and resorts not particularly suited to travelers just passing through.  We found a tiny place on the map called Fort Steele, and I asked one of our non-friendly ladies if there might be something there, and she seemed to think we could park in the Pioneer Town parking lot.  Fine.  Another 80 miles or so was nothing, right?

the Columbia wetlands from Radium Hot SpringsThere were several provincial parks along the way, but we were just in the mood for boondocking and knew that probably on a hot summer Friday night there wouldn’t be any space for us there anyway so we continued south.  Finally at Fort Steele, we were surprised to find the lovely little pioneer town closing up for the evening with very LARGE signs saying No Overnight Parking.  Hmmm.  To my delight, however, one of the young women closing the place down said,”There is a WalMart in Cranbrook and you can park there.”

Cranbrook Day 3_5235Yaay!  Off we went down the road, ten more miles, to the sweetest WalMart I have seen in a long time.  We certainly weren’t the only ones with the same idea as the parking lot was filled almost bumper to bumper with motorhomes and fifth wheels, some folks even set up with chairs.  I told Mo the boondock etiquette suggests we don’t open our slide, but we decided to do it anyway.  Our rig is half the size of most even with the one slide extended!  We did not set up the bbq or put out the chairs at least.

There was an employee in the parking lot and I asked him where I could find a good steak and he sent us down the road to Mr Mikes where we had a great steak supper with a “cheap” bottle of red house wine that set us back $31.00.  Guess we should have asked the price when the waitress told us about the 5 bucks off special on the house red.  LOL  That dinner cost 100 bucks but it was a deal at any price after our long day, and our night at WalMart was free and just about perfect.  I slept like  baby.

Capture 288 milesMiles driven today: 288

The rest of the photos of Jasper are linked here

More photos of Moraine Lake are linked here

And some other photos from this day of travel are here

Day 37 August 11 Hinton to Jasper NP and the worst moment of the trip

boondocking north of Hinton on Highway 40We woke this morning to misty drifts of fog slipping in and out of the hills around us and by the time we dropped down to the town of Hinton for fuel, the fog was so thick it was hard to find the gas station.  Even early in the morning, there was considerable traffic on Canada 16, where Hinton is the gateway town between Edmonton and Jasper National Park. 

down into Hinton on Highway 40We were in no hurry, though, and as we climbed into the massive Rockies, the fog lifted, exposing a higher level of cloud cover above us.  When you enter the National Park, if you don’t plan to stop, they will wave you through without a fee.  We told the agent that we wanted to kayak a bit and then find a place to camp somewhere between Jasper and Banff and she smiled and charged us a little over 16 bucks for a pass to both Jasper and Banff that was good until 4PM tomorrow.  Perfect.

magnificent limestone Rocky MountainsWith a park map in hand, we decided that Maligne Lake looked like a perfect spot for kayaking and turned east, crossing the Athabasca River to travel beyond Maligne Canyon to the lake.  About half way there we found a great empty turnout and parked the MoHo, thinking we could save a bit on gas if we just drove the baby car.  I am so glad we did that, because the parking situation at the lake was tight to say the least, and while there was plenty of room when we arrived at 10am or so, by the time we got off the lake it was an entirely different story!

Athabasca River and the RockiesWe launched the boats in cloudy skies, but after a bit of time on the lake the sun peeked through, warming us and making everything in view just sparkle. Maligne Lake is famous for the island at the far end of the lake, Spirit Island.  It was a photo of this little island that made me want to put my boat on this lovely water.  The only problem is that once again, we are in a very popular national park, and concession boat rides to Spirit Island are the only way most folks get to see it.

The cruise boat traffic was busy, with a boat leaving about every ten minutes and another one returning.  The lake was beautifully calm, so the big swells from the wakes from these boats were dramatic, and we just rode along with them.  The lake is more than 7 miles long and we really didn’t have the time for a 14 mile paddle, so we traveled along the west side of the lake about half way before crossing over to the eastern shore for a break.  The water was perfectly clear, and Abby loved her swim while we walked a bit along the shore.

It was a beautiful day, a beautiful moment, a beautiful time on a beautiful lake.  Ahhhh.  Day 37 to Jasper

When we arrived back at the launch dock, we were surprised to find it crammed with people.  They were all hanging around in the middle of the boat launch taking photos, standing around everywhere, and there were so many cars in the parking lot that we knew there was no way we would manage to get the car down to the launch.  Instead, we picked up our 34 pound wonder boats and carried them up to the lot for loading.  The rental RV’s were bumper to bumper trying to find parking, and one lucky person in a sedan had managed to park in the ditch and was stuck.  We just loaded up the boats and got out of there as quickly as possible.  By this time the sun was out in full force and it was actually hot. 

breathtaking vertical limestone mountainsWe were happy to see the motorhome peacefully waiting in the one turnout that wasn’t occupied, hooked up the baby car and made some lunch before heading back out the Maligne Lake Road to the highway.  On the way we saw several wildlife traffic jams, but one of them was actually worth stopping for, and I joined the crowds taking photos of a very unconcerned bull elk.  Mo said she had never seen a rack as big as this guy, and I don’t think I have ever been that close to a bull elk ever.  Probably not very smart.  Back in my soil survey days, we had stories about encounters with bull elk, but usually that was in the fall during the rut.  This guy was pretty darn tame, I guess.

To Jasper Day 37_4898We ambled on through the park, enjoying the views and the animals and decided that stopping in Jasper for cute little shops wasn’t worth the effort to park.  Instead we drove slowly with all the other tourists, and I took photos out of the window cafes, and stores, and tourists.  Jasper town was really quite nice, with many old homes converted to B&B’s, and lovely gardens.  I could enjoy staying in Jasper for a week or so and taking more time for hiking the many trails and kayaking the many lakes.  The maps looked so enticing.

the downtown strip in JasperInstead, we were getting into the home mode, and after six weeks traveling magnificent Alaska and the Yukon, this lovely little park full of tourists was a bit less exciting than it might be if it were our planned destination.  We continued on south along the Athabasca River, planning to stop at any of the campgrounds along the Icefield Parkway that had room for us without a reservation.

Not far south we saw a campground down along the river, missed the turn somehow, and pulled into another turnout to retrace our steps.  Mo said, “Wow, that is a great mountain”. I stepped out of the rig with the camera in hand to get a good photo, and Mo said one minute I was there and the next minute I was nowhere.  With my eyes gawking at the mountain and my camera pointed up, I stepped into a deep hole in the asphalt and went down with a very hard crash.  All I saw was broken glass and plastic strewn out in front of me, and I didn’t give a whit about whatever was going on with my body.  There were half a dozen people in the parking lot who must have thought I was nuts, screaming, “It’s thousands of dollars, it’s thousands of dollars!!”

testing the camera after the fallI was a bit skinned and bruised but that had nothing to do with the sick feeling in my stomach.  Deanna’s lens. The super fast, super heavy, (later I found out it is $1539 bucks of super) lens took the full brunt of the fall.  Not to mention my brand new camera. The lens filter was splintered and the metal edge of the lens was bent, the mechanism was stiff and acting funny.  Duh.  I clicked. Nothing.  Clicked again. Nothing.  I am so sick I can’t even cry. I put one of my other lenses on to see if it was just the lens.  Click. Nothing.  Then I look a little bit closer and see that the on/off button has shifted in the fall.  Turn the camera on.  Click. IMAGE! I put Deanna’s lens back on. Click. IMAGE!!

testing the camera after the fallI think it must have been the heft and solidity of that fancy NIKON lens that took the hit and saved the camera.  I tried several shots with Deanna’s lens, and except for a bit of stiffness in the zoom, it seems to still have perfect auto-focus and the images look fine.  Incredible.  Of course, I have to replace her lens, and insurance is $1000 deductible, so it’s coming out of my pocket.  The good part about all this is that I never would spend 1500 bucks to get that lens for myself, and now I have one.  Maybe a bit bent, and maybe not perfect, but still working and now mine.

By the time we backtracked and settled in to Mt Kerkeslin campground, $12 for a dry site, I wanted nothing more to do than sit and drink a beer on the sofa.  My body hurt, my mind hurt, and I was a wreck, even with the reasonably good outcome. I felt like any step I took was going to put me on the ground somehow, it was definitely disconcerting!  Mo took Abby for a walk, and we canned any plans to hike Athabasca Falls. I sat there alone on the sofa saying a ton of “thank yous” to the powers that be for letting the worst moment of our trip not be any worse than it was.

Capture 73 milesMiles driven today (in the MoHo): 73

The rest of the photos are linked here

Day 36 August 10 Grand Prairie to Hinton

south from Grand Prairie on Highway 40When we planned this trip, one of the roads that intrigued me was the Big Horn Highway from Grande Prairie Alberta to Grand Cache and then to HInton, the gateway to Jasper. In the Milepost, the road was described in glowing terms, indicating beautiful views and abundant wildlife. From the way the road was described, I wasn’t even sure it was going to be an easy road for the MoHo.  The road was better than many on the trip, and it turns out the only wildlife we saw much of were the fast moving pick-up trucks driven by guys that I assumed were working the abundant oil fields.

south from Grand Prairie on Highway 40We took our time leaving the comfortable park in Grande Prairie, knowing that we planned to boondock somewhere along the highway for the evening, since we planned to spend the entire next day exploring Jasper National Park.  No rush, no hurry.  The MoHo was shiny clean, rugs all washed, fresh showers and fresh shampoos for us and we were ready for a day of just rolling along.

coal seam near Grand CacheIt was almost 11 when we pulled out of town and the air was a bit murky, but certainly not as bad as the previous day.  The sun was hot coming through the windshield, and we spent most of the day with the windows open enjoying the breezes.  I’m so glad that Jeremy now simply ignores open windows and happily lounges on the dash when the windows are open.  Now and then he will lift his nose to the wind and smell whatever it brings his way.

visitor information center at Grand CacheThis route turned out to be rather boring, and even though it is listed as a scenic route, there are very few turnouts, no interpretive signs to explain the landscape, most of the time, hardly any shoulder to even pull over for a photo. As we approached Grand Cache, we noticed a huge coal plant along the Shadow River and dramatic coal seams in the bedrock along the highway. 

Visitor Information Center at Grand CacheThe town of Grand Cache was a beautiful bright spot in the sunny say, with brilliant blue skies and big white puffies, my favorite. There is a lovely visitor center that we thoroughly enjoyed.  They are in the process of rescuing the historic fire lookouts, moving them to the visitor center park, and telling the story of each one. We spent some enjoyable moments walking around the park with Abby and reading all the interpretive signs about the First Nations culture in the area, the history of the coal industry, and the stories of the forest lookouts.

boondock site about ten miles north of Hinton on Highway 40As afternoon began to lengthen, and we were just ten miles or so north of Hinton, a wide turnout appeared with a side road slipping behind the timber.  Perfect!  We unhooked so we could drop a bit out of sight and parked for the very warm evening.  Even though there was a fire ring, the mosquitos and heat made a fire seem less enticing, and instead we turned on the fans and after an early supper settled in with our books.  I liked that we were invisible from the busy road, and by dark most of the traffic subsided.

Capturecapture 2Miles driven today: about 208

Road condition: 2 lane paved highway with a ton of construction and lots of big pick-ups driving fast, the oil industry employs lots of guys in big pick-ups!

A few photos from this day of travel are linked here.

August 9 Day 35 Bougie Creek to Grand Prairie

some hard rain along the way this morningPassing through the city of Fort St John brought up some questions.  This town is the oldest white settlement in British Columbia, established in 1794 in the low rolling hills of the Peace River Valley. In the early 70’s, when I lived for a short time in Edmonton, Calgary, and Prince George, the Peace River Valley was talked about with awe, a mythical place where the nights were long, the soils fertile, and where an ordinary family could still come and homestead to make a good living.

the air is dirty between Fort Nelson and Dawson creekWhen the Alaska highway was started in 1942, Fort St John had a population of 200, swelling overnight to more than 6,000 people as the army used this area as the southern base for building the highway.  We took the side route through downtown Fort St John, a community now called “The Energetic City”, a boom town bursting at the seams with oil and gas money.  I’m not sure why the air here is so dirty.  The gray brown haze stretches for miles in the distance to the east, and the beautiful broad agricultural fields south of the city are dulled by the smoky skies. maybe there are forest fires somewhere in the west, maybe it’s humidity, or dirty foggy haze. 

downtown Fort St John isn't exactly beautifulI just know that it’s ugly, and today Fort St John looked pretty darn ugly.  You can tell that most all the building is new, and most of it is related to oil.  We didn’t see any oil wells, but many storage tanks, lots of trucks, and many square utilitarian buildings.  I can’t help but wonder why money brings such ugliness.  It seems that it is all about build and buy and use and grow, with no rhyme or reason to the growth and no concept of beautifying the area.  I guess I should give credit to the folks that planted big planters of brilliant petunias to hang along the main streets of town, they were pretty in the midst of wires and concrete.

the working guys have dirty pantsSouth of town, we were again stopped by a construction zone, this time for more than 20 minutes.  We were entertained during our wait by some guys trying to get a big Barber Green something or other unclogged.  Mo and I laughed, you could tell the foremen from the workers by how clean their clean pants.  We also wondered if they actually washed their clothes or just threw them away.

the bosses have clean pantsSo far, this has been the best entertainment we have had along this route between Fort Nelson and Dawson Creek.  A moose cow ran out in front of us with her calf, choosing for some unknown reason to cross the highway at a lope, baby in tow.  I have no idea why she thought crossing the road in traffic was a good idea, but she was fast enough that the telephone couldn’t catch her through the windshield.

The scenery has been simple, rolling tree covered hills, gentle landscape, hazy, smoky, or whatever it is skies, and the road, stretched out in front of us broken only by an occasional bridge, a frost heave, or  construction.

we are not impressed with the Fort Nelson to Dawson Creek corridorWe stopped at the Esso at Wonowon, surprised to find the shop well stocked and interesting. They even had 5/20 oil, what we use in the MoHo, and sometimes it is hard to find.  They had a well stocked snack area and deli with lots of goodies of every kind.  Too bad we didn’t need anything. Gas was down to 1.419 per liter, and I am glad we shouldn’t need gas again until we reach Alberta where it should be cheaper.

The Peace River from the bridge.  sigh.  I would have liked to see moreAfter stopping at Taylor for information about Peace River Country, we crossed another “mighty” river, the Peace.  Mythical, magical rivers that lead into the north fascinate me.  I loved looking down into the fertile valley, but at 50mph on a steep uphill with lots of trucks and no turnouts, it was just a momentary glance and no chance for a photo.

Kiskatinaw BridgeAbout 21 miles north of Dawson Creek there is a turnoff to the Kiskatinaw River Bridge, and for about 3 miles we had the opportunity to meaner along a piece of the original Alaska Highway.  The beautiful curved bridge is the only original timber bridge built along the Alaska Highway that is still in use.  It was a lovely bridge, with wide wooden planks over the Kiskatinaw River.  It was just a few moments respite from the monotonous drive from Fort Nelson to Dawson Creek. 

Grand Pra Day 35_4625Within a few minutes we were in Dawson Creek, location of the famous Mile 0 marker.  Trouble is, there is more than one marker.  Stopping at the visitor center near the grain elevator museum for photos, Mo kept insisting there was another marker somewhere right in the middle of town.  Couldn’t figure it out at all, but while there we ran into another person sharing their life story, this time a guy from Virginia in a truly antique motor home.  When I asked if he had experienced any trouble on his way north, he launched into some very long, complex stories.  He then offered to take photos of the two of us and it wasn’t until later I realized that he hadn’t actually managed to get a single photo.

In the mean time, we were still trying to figure out where that original marker was in the middle of town.  A closer look at the Milepost map revealed it’s hidden location and we backtracked for a photo to match Mo’s photo from 1974.  Where!  that felt better.  Mo was thinking maybe they demolished the whole town when they put up the new marker. At this point we have covered the entire length of the official Alaska Highway, although our route started in the middle, backtracked a bit, took a few side roads and then finally ended up finishing at Mile Zero. 

We didn’t dawdle in Dawson and made a beeline for Alberta on Highway 2, headed east through beautiful prairie and skies that opened up toward the horizon.  That stretch from Fort Nelson to Dawson Creek was pretty ugly today, and I am glad to once again be breathing clear air and seeing fresh blue skies.

settling in for the night in Grand PrairieJust a short 80 miles east of Dawson Creek is the sparkling clean city of Grand Prairie.  There was every box store you could imagine along the highway, but still somehow things felt clean and fresh.  We didn’t bother to check out the town  and turned south on Wapiti Road, Highway 40, our route south to Grand Cache and Jasper.  Not far out of town is the delightful Camp Tamarack, with full hookups and the words that made us go there, “hi pressure RV wash”. 

It was definitely high pressure, and after $18.00 Canadian we had a reasonably clean set of rigs.  I am sure that when we get home we will be cleaning things up for a long time, but for now it felt good to get all that road grime off the surface at least.  There is a laundry, with nice big machines that were available, and I caught up on wash and cleaned out the MoHo again in readiness for the next few days exploring Jasper and Banff as we continue south toward home.

CaptureMiles traveled today: 306

Road condition: paved 2 lane highway, with frost heaves, gravel sections, and bumpy frost joints until we got to Alberta and then the road was like a wide Nebraska freeway without the wind.

The rest of the photos are here, but they are really really boring today, so it might not be worth the time