World Famous Alaska Highway

We started our drive on the “World Famous Alaska Highway” on Saturday August 11.

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James Van Der Beek likes this.

Before starting the trip, we had the impression the highway would be barren, with few other drivers and few towns offering more than a crumbling welcome sign. One Canadian border guard we spoke to warned us we’d see “more bears than people”. Turns out there are plenty of travellers, towns with gas and a restaurant at least every 100km, and we’ve only seen five bears.

First stop on the highway was at Charlie Lake Provincial Park near Fort St. John. We were greeted by dozens of wasps both here and at our next stop in Fort Nelson. We are currently blaming aphids, which we learned are tiny insects that feed on the sugars from tree leaves (especially linden trees), leaving a sweet sticky residue, which seems to attract a ton of wasps.

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Cool lookin’ mushroom near Charlie Lake, BC.

On Monday we camped at Muncho Lake, a gorgeous glacial lake mid-way between Fort Nelson and Watson Lake. The skies were threatening a storm, so we went for a couple short walks and had a close encounter with a stone sheep.

Not far from Muncho, we stopped at the Liard Hot Springs. A mere $5 gets you full-day access to a very hot natural pool. It was picturesque, relaxing, and reeked of sulphur. Lucky for us, campfire is a stronger smell.

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Liard Hot Springs

On the drive to Watson Lake on Tuesday, a sign warned us of “Bison on highway – Muncho Lake to Yukon”. We were skeptical, but were then greeted by two herds.

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Windy Wendy Welcomes You to the Yukon.

When we arrived in Watson Lake, we visited the Sign Post Forest, which has 10,000 signs from visitors from the past seven decades. It was started by an American soldier working on the construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942, who posted a sign pointing to his hometown of Danville, Illinois. We left what we could, which was a leftover Dandy keychain.

Today we arrived in Whitehorse, kilometer 1426 of the Alaska Highway. Looking forward to a few nights of sleeping indoors.

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Rockie Times in Banff & Jasper

On Sunday August 5, we left Calgary and made a short drive to McLean Creek in the Kananaskis region. There was not a ton to do around the campground, but we managed to pull off the first Grilled Cheese Sunday since we started our road trip. Behold – Campfire Sloppy Joe Grilled Cheese.

On Monday we officially entered Banff. As Easterners, we were in awe of the mountains throughout the park, arguably taking too many pictures.

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Welcome to Banff. Please enter 30 minute line for park pass.

We briefly considered the $58 gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain, but decided to hike up the mountain instead.

On Tuesday we explored more of the park, driving up to Peyto Lake, Bow Lake, and then (due to a full parking lot) taking the shuttle to Lake Louise. It quickly became apparent just how popular Banff is for Canadian and international tourists.

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Peyto glacier and lake.
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Jean LeCastor visits Bow Lake.

On Wednesday morning we woke up at 5am and quickly packed up camp, attempting to make it to Moraine Lake before the parking lot filled up. We were denied entry at 6:45am, so made a second stop at Lake Louise as a consolation. The afternoon and morning light does provide a very different view.

We drove along the Icefields Parkway into Jasper, stopping to snap some pictures at the points of interest described in our guidebooks.

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Our minivan at Big Bend. Keep going Captain Caravan!

The Athabasca Glacier was a particular favourite. This one shrinks at a rate of about 5m per year, leaving marks of its retreat on the bedrock.

On Thursday we continued exploring Jasper, driving down the Maligne Lake Road, walking around Lake Annette, dropping in for a drink at the Fairmont Jasper Lodge, and then succumbing to the heat and going for a swim back in Lake Annette.

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Maligne Lake
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Rockin the PB & J in the Rockies.

In the matter of a few hours on Thursday, the smoke from the BC wildfires got worse, coating the mountains in a thick haze. Pyramid Mountain behind Lake Annette can be seen below in the early and late afternoon.

Today we left Jasper (and saw our first bear… thankfully black and from the comfort of our van), driving to Grande Prairie, AB. The smoke got even worse today. Visibility was down to a few hundred meters. Hoping the fires can be controlled soon and that the smoke clears as we make our way north.

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Smoky drive to Grande Prairie.

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Drumheller and Calgary

On July 31 we left Leader, SK and drove west into Alberta along highway 570. After a couple hours through the prairies, it was quite a shock when we suddenly dropped down into the valley leading to Drumheller. Grassy plains gave way to rocky badlands and layers of sediment. Plus, tons of colourful dinosaur statues.

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Badass badlands.

In Drumheller we stayed with Wendy’s family friend Karen Sallows at her parents’ place. She was an excellent tour guide, showing us the local spots like the Last Chance Saloon and the (currently ant-less) “Ant Highway” in the almost-abandoned settlement of Dorothy. We also checked out the Royal Tyrrell Museum and saw tons of dinosaur fossils, among other pre-historic plants and animals.

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Saddle stools at the Last Chance Saloon.
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The Ant Highway of Dorothy was vacant on this scorching hot day.

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On Thursday August 2 we drove into Calgary, where we have been staying with Dan’s cousin Cameron.

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Despite the daily hail storms, we made it out to the National Music Centre, which is an awesome new museum with tons of instruments you can try out.

We stopped into the Wild Rose brewery Friday night and were treated to a free BBQ and cheap pints for “customer appreciation night”. On Saturday we stumbled into a street festival in Inglewood and then dropped into High Line Brewing, Banded Peak Brewery, and the aptly named Dandy Brewing Company. Calgary’s beer scene seems to have somewhat exploded in the past few years.

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Someone stole our trademark.

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Saskatchewan – Sand in the Regina

On Sunday July 29 we drove to Regina. We did not have much time there, but made it down to Wascana Lake for a stroll near the provincial legislature, and discovered a protest camp set up by local indigenous groups.

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Regina has pelicans.

 

 

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https://www.facebook.com/justiceforourstolenchildren

On Monday we decided to make the trip to the Great Sandhills of Saskatchewan. Dan’s parents provided us with a 1994 Canada Reader’s Digest guidebook that made this place seem pretty sweet, so we decided it was worth the effort. First we stopped at the Great Sandhills Museum and Interpretive Centre in Sceptre, SK, which included life-sized dioramas of early prairie life.

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“Help me.”
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Get yo hair did.

Next we made the 20+ km dirt road drive to the sand hills. These dunes were less encompassing than those we saw in Michigan, but they were practically devoid of people. The wind left waves in the fine sand, though there were the occasional cattle tracks.

We also bought a crazy carpet to slide down the sand dunes.

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Sand carpeting is less fast than snow carpeting.

A common sight from our driving over the past couple days – plenty of old grain elevators near the old CP rail lines.

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Friendly Manitoba – Welcome to the Prairies

Tuesday, July 24 marked our entrance into Manitoba. We spent our first night camping at West Hawk Lake.

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Welcome to Manitoba.  –West Hawk Lake

Not far west of there, the Trans-Canada scenery quickly transitions from hilly forest to grassy plains.

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The prairies.

On Wednesday we made it to Winnipeg, where we stayed with Dan’s Uncle Geoff and Aunt Jan for three nights.

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In Winnipeg we visited the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which only opened in 2014 and features some stunning architecture.

 

The museum had a well-done exhibit on Nelson Mandela – Wendy recognized a few of the displays from the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg.

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On Saturday July 28, we drove down to the International Peace Garden, which spans across the border between Manitoba and North Dakota. Naturally, plenty of this happened:

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<<==AMERICA     ||     CANADA==>>

Aside from the trans-national novelty, the garden was picturesque and included a really cool collection of exotic cacti.

 

That night we camped at Turtle Mountain Provincial Park, where despite our best efforts we did not see a single turtle. We did try a few of the beers we picked up in Winnipeg, and were pleasantly surprised by Half Pints, Torque, and Barn Hammer Brewing.

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Ontario, but the part you don’t see that often

After crossing into Sault Ste-Marie (ON) from Sault Ste-Marie (MI) on Friday July 20, we made our way along the Trans-Canada to Lake Superior Provincial Park. We stayed at Rabbit Blanket Lake, where we did some moderate intensity hiking in the afternoon but dealt with high intensity mosquitos in the evening.

On Saturday July 21st, we made it to Rainbow Falls Provincial Park, where we camped within a few feet of Lake Superior. We had to wait through the rain to set up camp, but ended up being treated to a pretty decent sunset.

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Superior Lake Superior sunset.

The next morning, we hiked up to see Rainbow Falls itself.

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Rainbow Falls

Next was a quick stop at Ouimet Canyon. (Yep, turns out Ontario has a canyon.) The base reportedly stays sufficiently cool and shaded year-round such that its flora more closely resembles that of the arctic.

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Ouimet Canyon. Not bad for a canyon in Ontario.

On Sunday we camped at Kakabeka Falls, just west of Thunder Bay. The literature informed us that this was an old portage route for voyageurs, with use by Europeans dating back to 1688. They would have learned of this route from the local indigenous people. These days a lot of the water is diverted to an adjacent hydro-electric generating station, so the falls aren’t quite as intense as they used to be. The painting on the left below illustrates the former additional awesomeness of these falls.

The literature also informed us that it is the 125th anniversary of Ontario Parks.

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Wendy loves Ontario Parks. hashtag OP125

Our last stop in Ontario was Aaron Provincial Park on Thunder Lake on Monday July 22. Great swimming at a sandy beach and we lucked out with a great campsite adjacent to the lake.

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Yesterday marked our first inter-provincial border crossing.

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Westwards and onwards!

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Brimley State Park, MI

As we drove into Brimley State Park, we started to understand the meaning of “poor privacy” and “poor shade” as listed on the state park website.  However, we were very pleased that we could more than just see a glimpse of Lake Superior through the trees.  See the link to the video we took below: