Leaving uninteresting Hinton behind we set off on the long haul to Yukon. Driving along straight fairly empty roads there is little to do except appreciate the scenery, read out bits of interest on the road signs and look forward to a place to stop for a few minutes.
Our first stop was a small town called Grand Cache which had a fantastic visitor’s centre and small museum with a variety of stuffed birds, displays on the local industries (coal, lumber) and local fossils inside and a selection of lookout cabins outside used previously by rangers on fire watch during the summer months. They lived in 10 x 10 foot rooms alone for 5 months of the year. Grand Cache was a deceptive place, on first impression being nothing more than a refueling stop but the reality was much more. The cafe, hidden off a side-road, was something to behold, with a superb selection and the best breakfast sandwich yet encountered.
There was also the usual warnings about wildlife but with a new addition, mountain lions. Every morning we test each other on how to respond if we encounter a wild animals. Failing that we always have our bear spray handy (if we could just get the plastic wrap off..). This is a pepper spray and effective use depends on knowing how to operate it instinctively and point it in the right direction. Our guide in Jasper told us that bears won’t eat a corpse if it has been sprayed with pepper, not because they are laughing so much but because of the taste..
On to Dawson Creek which is the start of the Alaska Highway. The highway was only constructed during WW2 as a response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and was a huge engineering challenge, a road of 2237 km, completed in less than 9 months across an extremely challenging landscape.
On the evening we arrived, there was a roar of old cars and the tourist information car park filled with vintage cars. Talking to the owners of a beautifully renovated red Cadillac it turned out in a small town, pastimes have to be found and there were over 200 members of the local vintage car club and they come to show off their pride and joy on a Thursday evening.
In addition, we were told that the following morning there would be a parade through town in honour of 100 years of the Dawson Creek rodeo.
Our next destination, Fort Nelson, is best known for its shale gas deposits, and all along the 465 km of road between the 2 towns there was evidence of on-going extraction and shipment of gas. Despite this the scenery is magnificent, ranging from forests to mountains and rivers. As we approached Fort Nelson a Black bear ambled across the road and into the trees at the side of the road.
Fort Nelson has an impressive visitor centre and the staff there were very helpful, telling us about the Fort Nelson Demonstration Forest Recreation Site, the museum and the Mud bogs tournament happening the very next day.
After a day of constant rain we ventured out to the Demonstration Forest…..an empty car park, perfect conditions to see some wildlife and then, as we set out, a Black bear walked across the trail in front of us…….despite all the advice on walking in bear habitat, our daily rehearsal and our trusty can of bear spray, we (Helen) decided we’d move on and watch the Mud Bogs instead….
There was nothing subtle about this, trucks compete to finish the course in record time, winning a cash prize.
The museum had a stuffed moose and a huge collection of random articles from a hanger full of old cars to ancient agricultural equipment.
Leaving Fort Nelson and heading to our next stop, Muncho Lake, we crossed the huge local river, spotting yet another Black bear on the riverbank. The next stretch of road includes a number of provincial parks and an area supposedly as biodiverse as the Serengeti, being the only region in Canada with a complete set of predators and prey.
The highest point of the Alaska Highway is at Summit Lake from where a 6 hour hike leads to the top of the highest peak in the area. Sadly we’d arrived too late to scale the mountain and get back in daylight so we made a sandwich and sat by the lake.
From here on the scenery was stunning
We were booked into the Northern Rockies Lodge on Muncho Lake. Built by a Swiss couple before the road was even paved, they built up a business flying anglers out to remote lakes in the area to fish. The lodge was a delightful place to stay with rooms in the main building or in smaller outbuildings along the lakefront. Being one of the few stop-offs on the highway there was a constant flow of people dropping in to fuel up, get a take-out or spend the night in the lodge or the next door RV park.
The setting was just perfect
The Loons were still in evidence, singing to each other
They had kayaks for rent
Moving on towards the border with Yukon we dropped in at the Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park, where payment of a small fee allows anyone to bathe in the hot waters. Entering the park from the car park we had to pass through a huge electric fence surrounding the RV park, accompanied by numerous warning signs about the Black bears in the area. This seemed a little over-the-top given that Back bears are found everywhere in this part of Canada. However, digging a little deeper, it appears a particularly gory event in the past may be responsible for this excessive caution. It’s a beautiful spot, one which remains ice-free in winter and so attracts a lot of moose.
Back on the road we came across this Black bear, presumably on it’s way to the springs..
Along this stretch of the highway are several herds of Wood buffalo. Eradicated from British Columbia by hunting, this species has been reintroduced and a 100 or so roam this particular area of BC. The biggest threat to the viability of this herd is being hit by road traffic, although buffalo burgers were commonly served at places along the route.
Crossing into Yukon requires passing over the 60th parallel, this line of latitude marks the southern border of the province. For reference this is approximately the same latitude as the Shetland Isles. We stayed overnight at quite possibly the worst hotel yet during our stay in Canada, one which Helen described as quite likely renting rooms by the hour, whatever that means. If you find yourself in Watson Lake do not stay at Andreas Hotel, and certainly don’t eat there. Instead, try the Nicer Motel, the clue being in the name….