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After we left Liard Hot Springs, we worked our way north and finally crossed into the Yukon Territory. That’s our first new state/province/territory for the trip, and someplace neither Oma or I had ever set foot in before. Reaching the Yukon was a milestone for me.
We saw bison today along the way, the first bison we’ve seen on this trip. Also more bears, one of which let us take his picture.
After several nights of dry camping, it was time to dump, fill our fresh water tank and enjoy internet and unlimited electricity for a night. Neither campground in Watson Lake seemed very appealing, so we chose the one across from the visitor center. The location was good and the utilities were fine, so it did the job for an overnight.
We left Muncho Lake and headed off to Liard River Hot Springs, a provincial park in British Columbia. It is home to the largest natural hot springs in Canada. It is a natural river of hot water rather than a spring fed man-made pool. To get to it you follow a wooden boardwalk path from the parking lot or campground for about a half-mile through a warm-water swamp and boreal forest to soak in the beautiful pools. Of course, water is hottest at the source and cools down as it goes into the second pool. The board walk is an easy walk and is handicapped accessible. There is a changing house by the pools and toilets nearby. You can stay at the park in the campground, or stay in the private lodge or campground across the street, or simply make a stop for a couple of hours. There is an admission fee, but no extra charge if you are camped in the provincial park.
It has been raining in the evening frequently, but the majority of our days had been mostly dry. Today it rained all night and did not get the message to stop. At least we were not in a tent. There were quite a few tenters in our campground last night, and I felt sorry for them this morning.
We hit the road, heading for the only city we would see today, Fort Nelson. We stopped at a quilt shop outside of town and down a rural road about a mile because they had advertised in the Milepost. We were about to give up just when we got there, as we had no idea where we were going. Despite being a little off the beaten path, Oma loved the woman’s fabrics and actually bought a few things.
After we finally were ready to go and had finished socializing, we left Mile 0 Campground and headed … south. Despite it’s name, Mile 0 Campground is located about 1.5 miles north of the actual mile 0, and because we arrived from the west, our tires had not yet touched the Alaska Highway. So we headed south 1.5 miles to the official start of the Alaska Highway, rounded the traffic circle, topped off our fuel tank and set out on our first Alaska Highway day.
After dinner and dessert with our friends, we spent the next day in Dawson Creek doing laundry and checking out the visitor’s center, mile 0 markers (there are two, in different places), Alaska Highway House and some of the murals. We also took advantage of the liquor store next to the visitor center to restock wine and beer for the remainder of our drive through Canada.
Dawson Creek is the start of the Alaska Highway. It had a population of around 500 in early 1942 when, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the government decided to build a road to Alaska. Thousands of troops “invaded” Dawson Creek to begin construction, and as the end of the rail line, the town remained important throughout World War II for men and materials working on the road.
From Jasper, we had two possible routes to Dawson Creek and the start of the Alaska Highway. The “usual” (shorter) route would be to head a bit east and take the Bighorn Highway north. However, we had heard several reports, including from new friends of ours that were just ahead of us, that road conditions were fairly bad.
The other option was to head west along the Yellowhead Highway to Prince George and then take the Hart Highway north-east. This route was 150 miles longer, but kept us in or near the Rockies for most of the journey and allowed us to stop at The Ancient Forest, which had been recommended by someone when we were in Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. We chose better roads and scenery and took the longer route.
After arriving at Wabasso Campground, we basically spent two nights and two days in Jasper National Park near Jasper, Alberta. Wabasso is a very nice forested campground with very good site spacing and one loop with electric hookups. Our site was not the most level, but it wasn’t terrible and we didn’t have a lot of options with only two sites still available when we booked it.
The highlight of the campground for us was the trail along the Athabasca River. We walked short sections with the dog and the entire thing without him. The walk was really beautiful with the powerful Athabasca River in the foreground and beautiful mountains in the background. It was also very peaceful. We passed no one on the trail, human or bear.
Note: There are more pictures at the bottom of the post after the daily log entries.
We left Lake Louise and headed up the Icefields Parkway, a roughly 140 mile road through the Canadian Rockies. The drive is jaw dropping gorgeous! Every mile features snow-covered mountains at this time of year. Add in glaciers, waterfalls, rivers and lakes along the way, and it’s a truly spectacular drive.
We had hoped to do a little hiking on our way to the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre (located roughly midway along the drive), but the spots we were thinking of were closed either for repair or due to bears and cubs needing space. But we stopped at most of the viewpoints that were open to enjoy the spectacular views. We met another couple from the RVing to Alaska 2018 group at our scenic lunch pull out. We talked a little and exchanged social cards and then continued on along the beautiful drive.
After leaving Banff, we headed backward 15 miles to Canmore. Canmore has a small ammolite “factory” that offered free tours, and Oma really wanted to visit.
Ammolite is an opal-like organic gemstone made from the fossilized shells of ammonites. It is one of few biogenic gemstones (others include amber and pearl). Although ammonites are found worldwide, gemstone quality ammolite has been found only in this area of Canada.
The parks of the Canadian Rockies have always been among our favorites in North America, so our trip north simply had to give us a little time to enjoy them. From Waterton Lakes National Park, it was onward to Banff National Park (and the town of Banff).
The drive from Waterton Lakes to Banff was scenic, with the Rockies often visible to our west. Most of the trip was through green foothills as we meandered our way along the two-lane highways before finally reaching the outer communities of Calgary. From there, it was a relatively short stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway to reach Banff.