Banff National Park – the most beautiful landscapes in the Rocky Mountains. Then on to the North of Canada. The long journey on the Alaska Highway to the tiny village of Watson Lake.
Golden, 26th May
We leave Waterton Village with its no longer existing national park. A last glimpse of the beautiful lake …
… and off we are driving to the town of Cranbrook. On the way the opportunity to visit a real coalmine: the Bellevue Mine near the Crowsnest Pass. Yes, a real coal mine. Not 1 of those we know from our past salary slavery when we shipped coal from 1 big pile to the other 1. No, a mine with real miners, shipping genuine coal to drive the steam trains of the Canadian Pacific Rail. To visit, 1st we had to convert into coal miners. At least a little bit by wearing a helmet and a lamp. Then some inevitable explanations and we’re in the mining tunnel.
After that experience we head on to Cranbrook.
Well, the town has nothing special to offer. It’s just 1 of these regional service centers where you get everything.
And Prado urgently needs an oil change. We avoided this wherever possible in the US as these guys don’t have metric tools. Thus, they tend to damage all nuts of foreign cars.
In Cranbrook tools are not the problem. But spares. Fortunately there’s a shop nearby selling all kind of Mexican stuff. This way we get Prado used to Latin America well ahead of us.
Finally we get the exchange for the completely damaged plugs for the transmission fillers at Toyota (thanx to everybody not using suitable tools), have to give them an interview for their publicity – and that’s it.
Then on to Golden. Well, we don’t decide to stay in Golden because it’s extremely beautiful, interesting or a hotspot for incredible nightlife. It’s more about weekends. As we’re approaching Banff area in all nearby locations weekend prizes are skyrocketing. Thus, remains Golden to wait for the weekend to take an end.
And the opportunity to enjoy happy hour at The Golden Taps. Kindly note that they only sell half pints during happy hour. But in unlimited quantity.
A trip to Glacier National Park (the 1 in British Columbia, not the 1 in Uncle Don’s Own Country). Not very spectacular. Especially because all trails still are closed due to huge amounts of snows.
Lake Louise, 28th May
Then it’s Sunday. Time to drive on to Lake Louise. Only some 80km – now on the Trans Canadian Highway. But of course with a stop at Emerald Lake in the Yoho National Park. A look at this beautiful landscape, a stroll around the lake, …
… a look at the nearby natural bridge and …
… we’re back on the way to Lake Louise. Of course we’d had loved to visit Lake O’Hara area. A landscape said to be 1 of the most beautiful on earth. But you have to reserve for a bus on 1st April each year. The guys sell exactly 42 tickets for each day. As you surely can imagine all tickets for the whole year are sold within seconds. And poor overlanders not determined to the necessary discipline and planning of their trip are simply left outside. What a shame.
Lake Louise: not only a lake, but also a village. But just for tourists. It seems locals are accepted as service providers only. Whatever. It’s the hub for some 3.5-4 million tourists a year – with the real tourist season only lasting for some 3-4 months per year. Everything is extremely organized to streamline this tourist crowd every day. Traffic guides at all junctions, strict rules on everything, recommended times for sightseeing (before or after the arrival/departure of huge Chinese tour groups), huge parking lots at the main sights and an even bigger parking far outside with shuttle buses. The overflow with a special section for stranded RVs. Probably a whole refugee camp for stranded tourists in August, etc.
Of course there’s also a totally overprized supermarket with a very basic offer, a couple of restaurants serving lousy burgers for $ 50 up. And fortunately a few watering holes / eateries for all the victims of this system.
Anyway, we don’t visit here for the village but for the real sights. So we drive to Moraine Lake. To ensure that there’s space at the parking we’re there at 6pm. And that works. And what a view. Spectacular.
Of course there’s also another side of the beauty: crowds of tourists everywhere. To take a picture you have to wait until you’re in the 1st row. Otherwise your pic is filled with guys in all kind of strange positions for their all-impressive selfie.
The next day to Lake Louise. Wonderful, sunny day. Happily there’s parking next to the lake, despite all confirmation of whomever you may ask that all parking fills up by 5am.
Lake Louise: of course a very idyllic view – if you stand directly at the shoreline and get your ears shut. This deep blue is truly gorgeous. And this time it’s not improved by Photoshop.
Well, slightly different if you turn your head. Either to the right or to the left. Immediately you realise there are a few more guys. Should you stay too long at the shoreline a number of your co-tourists will surely bump into you. This applies mainly for these selfie-addicted species trying to improve every picture by posing each time in a new yoga or Kamasutra position.
Whatever, ignore them and enjoy the view.
Then we’re on a hike. Unfortunately the famous 6 Glacier Trail is still not feasible. Too much snow, too many fallen trees on the trail.
So we head for Lake Agnes. High above Lake Louise. Still a trail partly thru snow. Nevertheless, quite some folks having the same idea.
On the way Mirror Lake, …
… then further up and we arrive at Lake Agnes.
Here we can’t get much further. There’s too much and too soft snow to continue.
Hinton, 30th May
Even considering the Lake Louise area beautiful it’s definitely not a place to stay forever. It’s simply too crowded. So the next day we move on. Take the famous Icefield Parkway to Jasper. Some 220km on a road especially constructed for the odd tourists, praised to death by cunning tourist promoters and filled with real or wannabe tourist attractions everywhere.
So not expecting too much we still start in an optimistic manner. Despite the cloudy, drizzling, rainy, cold weather today. Soon we reach Bow Lake. Well, the landscape is really nice, …
… but the real sensation is the poor grizzly bear in urgent need to munch the hell a lot of freshly grown leafs to overcome its huge hunger after hibernation.
Even the Chinese tour bus could no longer respect its tight schedule due to the driver’s enthusiasm for hungry bears.
Hopefully the passengers can still reach their evening flight to Paris before heading on to Shanghai via Rome, Athens’n’Karthoum.
We drive on. Weather doesn’t improve. So few chances to really see the mountains.
Arriving at Columbia Icefield we’re definitely back in the crowds. Some clever businessmen created an incredible adventure for tourists. For some 100 bucks they carry you in huge trucks 1km or 2 on the icefield, let you walk within a well determined field for a few minutes on the ice and bring you back to their shop filled with icefield souvenirs. Of course, everybody is probably fully aware of the nonsense of this offer. Nevertheless, every few minutes a bus filled with tourists starts to this trip.
Whatever, we walk the few 100m to the tongue of the icefield.
Then we drive on. Still grey sky, some rain.
Another bear on its daily stroll along the road, …
… a look at Athabasca Waterfall, then …
… another bear. Now a huge Grizzly walking along the road, munching some herbs and serving as a model for countless cameras.
In the evening we arrive in Jasper.
And we’re still in doubt if it’s really worth to drive this famous Icefield Parkway. Maybe the weather was not too good. Fair enough not to fully enjoy under these circumstances. We think the sights are largely inflated. A possibility to keep these millions of tourists a little longer and to make some more bucks out of their pockets.
Fort St. John, 1st June
The next morning the all terrible weather forecast keeps its promise. A world in black’n’white. Missing alternatives lead us to a breakfast with A&W. Never went to these guys before; they look so old fashioned.
Despite the weather we have a look at nearby Lake Maligne. On the way even some snow. And that by the end of May.
Then the lake. It’s not its mistake, it’s the weather. After a few minutes we’re wet and drive on to Hinton.
Then on the way the sensation. At the roadside a bear on a tree, munching patiently some delicious leaves. And some 20 cars filled with tourists observing that very moment.
After some time lunch has finished, carefully the bear climbs down the tree, crosses the road between all these cars and disappears into the forest.
Hinton: nothing to remember, a regional supply center with a lot of shops, motels and other useful stuff for everybody living in the area or passing thru.
The next morning we head further northwards. Today to Grande Prairie. Some 300km on the scenic Bighorn Highway. Despite the fact that snowfall has stopped, …
… the sun appears only partially. And temperature is still around 4°. Whatever.
We drive thru a very lonely area. Forests on the left, forests on the right. Resembles to Siberia. Unfortunately no bears today.
Sometimes a glimpse of the northern foothills of the Rockies.
Later it gets busier. Nearby gas fields ensure a pretty high level of traffic. Mainly huge trucks with all kind of equipment.
In the afternoon we arrive in Grande Prairie. For highlights we refer to Hinton’s description.
The next morning finally nice weather is back. On to Fort St. John. Now, we’re definitely again in the prairie. Big sky, endless grass, straight road.
On the way in Dawson Creek we reach the Alaska Highway. Well, now we’re at km 0 only. Remain some 2237km and a few days until we’ll reach Delta Junction in Alaska.
The 1st km is a real highway. Then a large straight road. Later we discover a few km of the old road on the side. Probably they left it for the tourists to add a few attractions. Whatever. The old highway is definitely more curvy’n’bumpy, so it would take a few more minutes to arrive in Alaska.
A visit to the last remaining wooden bridge and …
… shortly later we arrive in Fort St. John. A town making its living from the oil fields in the area. Well, maybe not the very center of interest for the poor tourists.
But they have a pretty cool watering hole cum eatery: Browns Socialhouse, the place to have your IPA. At least for a place like Fort St. John.
Watson Lake, 4th June
The next few km on the Alaska Highway. Today 380 to Fort Nelson. Landscape: as yesterday. Lots of forest. Remembers us to eastern Siberia.
Fort Nelson – a place pretty difficult to get lost. A couple of motels, an ugly RV park, some shops and a few watering holes cum eateries. And that’s it. Here we meet again Eva’n’ Martin. A Swiss couple on a North America tour we met some days ago on the Icefield Parkway. Of course an opportunity to exchange all kind of roadside tales.
In the evening we’re occupied by emptying the nearby bar’s special: a pitcher of Amber Ale.
The next morning on to Muncho Lake. Today only some 250km. Luckily for Monika. It seems the last glass out of the pitcher has been of a slightly inferior quality. Whatever. Hangovers exist to disappear.
After a few km thru flatland we enter 1 of the more scenic parts of the Alaska Highway. The Northern Rockies. Thus, no more Siberian scenery but hills, some mountains, snow, passes.
And again: some bears at the roadside, …
… the last Rocky traverse: Summit Pass. At 1200m not really high altitude, but so far in the north even that looks pretty high.
Then down to the valley, …
… some mountain sheep on the roadside. Supposedly engaged in counting red coloured cars not older than 7,4 years.
In the afternoon we finally arrive at Muncho Lake.
A wonderful place to break the journey.
We head on. Today to Watson Lake. Some 270km. Weather: definitely boring. Thus a day not to concentrate on landscape …
… but on wildlife. Wet animals.
On the way a stop at the Liard Hot Springs. Taking a bath, water temperature 42°. Fortunately outside it’s 6°. Just to balance.
Sometime later we pass the border with Yukon Province, …
… some rather rustic roadhouses on the way and …
…finally we reach Watson Lake. Maybe not everybody’s dream destination. But nothing else for miles around.
And it’s the place of the famous Sign Post Forest. A collection of signboards from all over the world brought by visitors. Or at least bought locally and added to the collection.
That’s it. Next time more about Canada’s North, a few days in Uncle Don’s Own Paradise and maybe some stories about more or less strange situations we may live on the road. Probably less than in the US as roadside tales are often linked to politics.