Banff and Jasper on a Canadian Holiday!

Yep, it was a mistake not to look at the Canadian holiday schedule. The beautiful weather and long weekend were open invitations to everyone for miles around to join us visiting Jasper and Banff National Parks.

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Nothing to do but just get in line and admire the scenery. Jasper is the park to the north but the road winds down into Banff and then off across the mountains to Kootenay, which is actually back in British Columbia.

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Jasper is made up of jagged rocky peaks each with giant mounds of snow still stacked high. The numerous glaciers glistened around every corner creating a spectacular view. I, of course, took a gazillion pictures…though I expect most will look very similar. At one point we actually were able to climb up to a glacier, our second. Entering Jasper, we found ourselves up in high alpine country again. I just love the meadows filled with babbling brooks that wind their way across the valleys lined with blueberry bushes. Our driving was filled with such vast contrasts in scenery, and wildlife!

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In Banff, the mountains were more treed and with fewer glaciers but still incredible. We found the famous Lake Louise and the castle-like chateau that graced the water’s edge. I am continue to be in love with the turquoise green color of these glacial lakes.

On our way into Banff, for the second time this trip, our gps lead us astray and we ended up at the top of a mountain instead of at the resort. Thought about tossing it out the window but didn’t want to be picked up for littering. When we get home I will be researching a better gps. Maybe one with a Yoda voice too…

Lake Louise

Lake Louise

All the campgrounds in Banff and Jasper were full, as we feared. So we had been talking about our options, like: should we sleep in the truck, drive until we found something, skip sleep???

It was obvious there were no options to stay in the area so we opted to start down through the Kootenay Park. It’s kind of on the back side of the other parks and, just our luck, we found a camp site with space. We fell asleep listening to the roar of the river as it tumbled down the mountainside. north to alaska 305

In the morning: Radium Hot Springs and maybe back to the States.

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Whitehorse, Klondike and a Near Disaster

We drove the rest of the Cassiar Highway without incident. We had heard from several friends that this road was challenging. While we did run into a few patches of gravel road we did find it mostly paved. As I said yesterday, we did find it desolate and an accident or breakdown could mean a lengthy wait. I don’t think there was any cell service either. Still, it was truly a beautiful drive and I would recommend it. BUT. You must not let your gas tank get under half full (an old Alaskan rule) and you must carry a spare and know how to change a tire. The rest of the rules for remote driving also apply. When we were at the closed gas station we talked to a family headed south also looking for a fill-up. The man was very distraught to know that the last station we had seen was more than 100 miles ahead. The gas station pumps are mostly the old fashioned kind without a place to prepay with your credit card. The station has to be open to get gas. So…there’s my warning. Travel prepared.

Beautiful, but isolated cabin along the Cassiar Highway.

Beautiful, but isolated cabin along the Cassiar Highway.

We did arrive in Whitehorse late in the afternoon. Just in time to visit the MacBride Museum, a small museum dedicated to the local history, including the gold rush, some natural history (Matthew’s favorite) and a whole section on the poet Robert Service. When I was growing up we loved to listen to some of his most popular poems and in particular one called, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”. It’s a rather morbid story about a prospector who found the Klondike too cold and was always complaining until he caught cold and was near the end. He asks his friend to cremate him on the shores of Lake Labarge. The poem is really more fun than morbid. I’ll share it if I can find the YouTube version. You’ll like it. We learned that there really was a Sam McGee. He was a friend of Service and we got to see his real one room cabin. All you homeschoolers, notice how we added History and Language Arts to our trip.

Sam McGee was a real person and friend of Robert Service.

Sam McGee was a real person and friend of Robert Service.

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After we picked up some groceries and long johns (to keep us warm at night) we found a campsite just out of town. Bob, Matthew, and Rebecca began setting up the tent while I worked on supper. It appeared the three of them were poking around with their job so I told them it was going to rain in three minutes and they’d better hurry up. Well, I was wrong. It began pouring, a hellacious downpour, just moments after the words left my mouth.

Oh my word.

All our stuff was sitting outside waiting to be put in the tent. The food was all outside on the table. Just about everything we owned was outside the truck. It poured and instantly we were all soaked. I yelled at Rebecca to get the packaged stuff back to the truck while I helped Bob. It didn’t matter. everything was filled with water…and sand from the campsite. Finally we got the tent up and emptied it of water, got the rain cover over it and it quit raining.  We reheated the food, found dry clothes and then made some hot chocolate because our hands were frozen and finally made it to bed. Thankfully, it did not rain again but we decided we need to pay much closer attention to those threatening looking rain clouds blowing in. And yes, we were grateful for those warm unders.

whitehorse

Finally: North to Alaska

We’re in Alaska…Already? Check Your Map!

Yesterday’s drive was long and tiring prompting some discussion about whether we should try to shorten our journey. But, after some calculating by the calculus tutor Rebecca announced it would be less than four hours difference if we took Yellowknife Yellowhead Highway to Cassiar or if we went directly north to Dawson Creek from Prince George. The benefit of taking the western route was that we had the opportunity to visit the southernmost point of Alaska. Through a democratic vote we decided to continue our plans to see Hyder, Alaska. What a great choice!

Yep, in Alaska already :)  At least for a half hour.

Yep, in Alaska already 🙂
At least for a half hour.

The Yellowknife is a beautiful road sprinkled with small towns every 50 miles or so. It was easy to drive and though more rural we felt it was well traveled.But then we turned onto the Cassiar Highway. Suddenly towns and, more especially, gas became rare. Still. The drive was amazing. The day was perfect. We drove out of Canada into the teeny town of Hyder and the temperature was a balmy 80. Of course, we were loving it but the residents thought it was a little too warm.

Hyder is the southernmost town of Alaska, making it onto the map by the teeniest margin. They boast 100 residents, and it appeared one high school graduate (they were having a town party while we were there). Students go to the Canadian town close for school and residents shop in Canada. The only place in the town that insists on US Dollars is, of course, their Post Office. We talked to one local who had been there for 18 years. He loved the place. They have no police and monitor themselves. They rely little on others and most appear to have a strong dislike for a big government. The guy we talked to was wearing a “Don’t Tread on Me” cap. I’m guessing many residents lean towards Libertarian. A very interesting little place. I loved it!

Along the way into Hyder we saw our first close up glacier!

Salmon Glacier

Salmon Glacier

We were too early in the season to see bears fishing for salmon but our day was very exciting because we saw at least seven black bears just minding their own business! They were just right along the roadway, munching on raspberry bushes. They, the bears not the raspberries, were just beautiful and looked so plump and soft. I expected they would be more scrawny and shedding.

A beautiful black bear munching on branches.

A beautiful black bear munching on branches.

The Cassiar Highway is absolutely lovely…and absolutely remote. Several times we drove a hundred miles without seeing another car. So when we reached Dease Lake and found the gas station closed we decided to stop for the night and stay in the lodge there.

Today we listened to Hatchet. It’s the story about a twelve year old boy who survives a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness. Everything from the chilly damp weather to the swarms of mosquitoes were more real as we could experience it along with the lad. This is a tween’s book that Rebecca and Bob loved and was made into a movie which you’ll like too.

This picture might make my 'Road Less Traveled' series.  No cars. No road markings. Just us...and the rain.

This picture might make my ‘Road Less Traveled’ series. No cars. No road markings. Just us…and the rain.

Fraser Lake to Dease Lake, with a short detour into Alaska.

Fraser Lake to Dease Lake, with a short detour into Alaska.

Next: Into the Yukon and Sam McGee