Monthly Archives: October 2016

The Magnetic North

The Alaska Hwy was constructed in 1942 whilst WW2 was raging in order to create a transport corridor for the movement of troops and equipment should nearby Russia or Japan decide to make any surprise moves on Alaska during the war. It connected the contiguous US to Alaska via Canada. This amazing feat of road building in many ways opened up the country, through which its 2237km length passes, from Dawson Creek to Delta Junction with an interesting stream of townships in between. It was built in an incredible 8 months!

Alaska Hwy

Alaska Hwy

Constructed over tundra, permafrost, countless rivers, marshland and every other imaginable hazard, this road really did pump fresh oxygen into the north and allowed easier transit of provisions and gave access to previously inaccessible land. However, it also firmly knocked another nail into the era of the riverboat, which had been the trade and people carrying mainstay for decades.

Another advancement with its roots in warfare I guess!

Yukon River Boats

Yukon River Boats

Roadside interactions are always great fodder! Often in the north, there is time to contemplate ones own place on Earth as there is a lot of road construction and repair going on, often with a wait of some duration before the lollypop man spins that little sign around displaying that glorious word – Slow. Life moves on again!

At one such stop of longer than normal duration, a leg stretch was in order and obviously considered normal behaviour as everyone was out of their cars! The truck driver behind us wandered over and asked “So what part of Europe you from?” Ahhhhh “the new part” would have been the best answer but as happens often when caught off guard, you think of the witty response some time later!

“Australia” About then he noticed the steering wheel was most definitely on “The Wrong Side!” Alas the poor soul was completely overwhelmed and totally unable to believe what his eyes were showing him!

“It must be difficult to drive on the WRONG side of the car”

Again I should have responded “well actually its on the Right Hand Side and hence the Right side”!! hehe

I’ve not yet found a short pun which I can pull from the grey matter when I require it in order to help ease the minds of some of the people that we meet into the realisation that residing upon unusual and distant lands there are many curious mysteries!

Over the next few days we wandered along a flattening landscape, mountains replaced with acres of evergreens of the pine variety. A rather notable campsite turned out to be an abandoned campground with a few “living rough tenants”. We’ve seen this style of life rather frequently of late!

A crystal clear ground water spring provided us with a needed top up of water and we even had a nice level concrete foundation to park upon! None of that however is the notable part!

Crystal Clear

Crystal Clear

Life at camp

Life at camp

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Awesome Caterpillar

Waking the following morning, I happened to slide the front curtains apart to reveal a big fat Black Bear munching his way through the undergrowth in front of the car! Yep that’s the notable part!

The bear was just in front of the car!

The bear was just in front of the car!

It might not be overly exciting to a local, but certainly had us going. We strapped on the Bear Spray before venturing outside!

Roadside bear sightings were becoming quite frequent and the more we saw, the happier it made us! Also lots of enormous Wood Bison along the way.

Roadside bear

Roadside bear

Roadside Caribou

Roadside Caribou

Beware Bison!

Beware Bison!

And there he is!

And there he is!

Liard River Hot Springs really is a “must do” on the Alaska Hwy! These natural hot springs enjoyed heavy patronage during the building of the Alaska Hwy and that appears to have increased with every year since. How lucky the workers on that section of the road were to be able to soak in an unlimited bath of hot water after working all day in freezing and uncomfortable conditions! It really would have been a lifesaver.

From their natural state, these springs have been modified into more of a plunge pool experience, but with high numbers of visitors it’s probably the best way to ensure they remain for generations to come!

Liard River Hot Springs

Liard River Hot Springs

img_2915 There were quite a few bears roaming around the area and Jen observed one very close to the springs! Unfortunately the scourge of humans has become the downfall of many of these wonderful animals! People pouring out tuna tin leftovers and the like onto the ground in the day use picnic area and a general disregard or inability to understand how to dispose of rubbish over the many years that this site has been patronised, has resulted in the local bears becoming food conditioned. This sad lack of brainpower from detestable humans resulted in 3 bears being euthanized in one week! Education programs and signs constantly push the message that “a fed bear is a dead bear” as once they have lost their natural foraging behaviour and fear of humans, they become aggressive and potentially dangerous. For sure it’s the extremely small disrespectful ignorant minority, and it’s that extremely small minority that I thoroughly loathe.

Anyway that was nice and depressing, so best we move along!

More bears...

More bears…

Often towns and cities have some sort of tourist attraction specifically designed to stop you, entice you in, spend a little time and support the town!

Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Sydney the Opera House, Rome the Colosseum and although more grandiose than, say, the Big Sheep statue in Wagin (SW of Australia) or the tanks on poles you see all across Russia, the strategy is the same!

Well Watson Lake has the Signpost Forest! Steal a sign from some far-flung destination or make your own and nail it to a post in the town of Watson Lake! Hilarious and yet worth stopping and having a wander without doubt! 80,000 and counting…

Signpost Forest, Watson Lake

Signpost Forest, Watson Lake

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Our Little Aussie Contribution

Our Little Aussie Contribution

Camped just outside of Watson Lake alongside the airport, we were woken in the dead of night by what I can only describe as a blood curdling scream/screech! Scared the piss out of me! Haha.

Watson Lake Airport Camp

Watson Lake Airport Camp

img_2977Anyway we lay in the camper with eyes like saucers trying to dissect what we’d heard. Obviously a human sacrifice, or possibly another camper being murdered and we are not even in Mexico yet!

Gingerly opening the camper door the next morning before peaking out,we found that our shoes had been dragged 10metres from the car! U-huh – probably a fox!

Turned out to be the screech of a Red Fox! During one of our walks whilst camped here, we came face to face with one of these creatures and I put my hand out as if I had some food. The wily animal made a B-line toward me! Obviously not frightened and used to receiving treats! The things you see when you don’t have the camera!!!

Now when I say blood-curdling screech, I’ll set the scene. It’s 3 in the morning, pitch black and absolutely silent. Picture that and click the link if you would like to see and hear a recording of what we heard!

https://youtu.be/zk1mAd77Hr4

I’ll tell the story of the next few days in pictures…

Bears everywhere

Bears everywhere

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Beaver Floatplane arriving near our Finlayson Lake Camp

Beaver Floatplane arriving near our Finlayson Lake Camp

and departing...

and departing…

Finlayson Lake

Finlayson Lake

Mischievous Squirrel

Mischievous Squirrel

Wooden Bridges

Wooden Bridges

Note the temperatures

Note the temperatures

Little Brown Bat

Little Brown Bat

First Nation Fishing Camp on the Yukon River

First Nation Fishing Camp on the Yukon River

I can see you!!! Porcupine 2 mtrs up a tree!

You can’t see me!!! Porcupine 2 mtrs up a tree! Who knew they could climb!!!

Yukon River Camp

Yukon River Camp

There are 2 roads that will take you north of the Arctic Circle in this part of the world – the Dempster Hwy in Yukon country and the Dalton Hwy in Alaska! These roads are both primarily supply roads, good quality graded dirt running north thorough some gorgeous terrain and tundra as they meander along.

Starting the Dempster Hwy

Starting the Dempster Hwy

Jen and I decided to head up the Dempster, as the chances for animal viewing are said to be excellent and we were rewarded! The highlights being 3 wolves crossing the road ahead of us, our first moose and another big fat bear! And of course reaching the Arctic Circle!!!

Yukon Scenery

Yukon Scenery

Our first Moose! Females don't have antlers

Our first Moose! Females don’t have antlers

Dempster Highway

Dempster Highway

Grizzly Bear Camp

Grizzly Bear Camp

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The Arctic Circle

The Arctic Circle

More Dempster Hwy

More Dempster Hwy

Heavy weather on the Dempster!!

Heavy weather coming back down the Dempster!!

The Dirty Dempster Hwy

The Dirty Dempster Hwy

The drive was spoilt for me a little, however, by the lack of respect shown by other road users! Loose gravel indicates to me that you respect those coming toward you (and their windscreens!) and slow down. It was our observation that, on the Dempster, if you slow down and move over your opponent will most definitely speed up and move to the centre!

I can’t recall such a lack of driving etiquette on dirt roads anywhere I’ve travelled!

I must say the worst were the road maintenance crews obviously making smashing your windscreen a challenge but they were closely followed by a group of European tourists in 10 Mercedes G-Wagons on a high speed, 6 week, Anchorage to Texas, fuel burning, see nothing jaunt!

They managed to damage a Tacoma (Hilux) with their high-speed antics much to the disgust of its owner!

I honestly don’t know why they left home. Prior to them almost smashing our windscreen, I’d chatted to one of their party at the Arctic Circle view point before I realised I didn’t like them. They had previously completed a 6 week journey with their G-Wagons from Darwin, south to the rock and across the Simpson where they were constantly bogged (I guess sand driving isn’t’ their thing!) and shipped out of Sydney! Obviously too much disposable money! They had very limited gear with them, so likely travel hotel to hotel most nights and when combined with shipping expenses, is absolutely ludicrous in that time frame!

However I guess its whatever floats your boat right…

It was inevitable that we would also succumb to such disrespectful driving and a semi trailer left it’s star shaped imprint on our windscreen, which I was really thankful and appreciative of – not!!!

Overall we were lucky though as one car that we came upon had its sunfoof shattered in a large explosion of rocks and gravel and yes, it was raining!

Trying to hold the sunroof together

Trying to hold the sunroof together

Once off the Dempster, we made for Dawson City.

On arrival, we headed up to Midnight Dome, a viewpoint overlooking the town and the mighty Yukon River.

View from Midnight Dome

View from Midnight Dome with Dawson City below

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Dawson City Architecture

Dawson City Architecture

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With a bit of effort, we managed a great campsite near a public gold panning area along Bonanza Creek where Jen spent all of her time in search of that elusive treasure, and elusive it was to remain! Another hopeful punter did manage a couple of small flecks however!

Gold Panning

Gold Panning

A local guy by the name of Stan that we got chatting to, gave Jen a few pointers on how to pan, all of which may have come in handy a little later on, but you’ll have to wait to hear about that!

I asked him about any grievances between mining leases and so on in the area as we had spotted 2 fairly new machines that seem to have been vandalised!

Gold Feuds

Gold Feuds

So it was that the equipment had indeed been vandalized and burnt as the result of a feud over mining rights!

But it gets better. Apparently just down the track there had been another rather vicious dispute over a claim resulting in one miner emptying his 45 calibre handgun into his opponent which resulted in his death and a 15 year jail sentence for said assailant. He served his time and is now back on his patch! Yep that’s gold fever for you!

Departing Dawson City, a car ferry transports you across the Yukon River where you can begin the “Top of the World Hwy”. A good quality seasonal dirt road that really feels like it’s the Top of the World at times! It’s along this road that we re-entered the USA and began our exploration of Alaska!

Top of the World Highway

Top of the World Highway

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Cheers till then…

Justin

 

Canadream

On Canadian soil and the Cowboy Trail led us to a great little campsite! Plenty of locals were out and about enjoying the lovely wilderness camping available which was no surprise given the scenery although the weather enroute was rather awful.

Weather looking ominous

Weather looking ominous

First nights camp in Canada

First nights camp in Canada

Cowboy Country

Cowboy Country

The Cowboy Trail

The Cowboy Trail

We even pulled over for a while to let the worst of it pass as did a few others. However, many continued through torrential rain and huge gusts of wind with their 5th wheel caravans doing their best to track behind their tow vehicles at no less than the speed limit (maybe it’s a target) no matter what the conditions. When you have to get to the campground, you have to get there as quickly as possible I guess. Hahaha

We spent a little time loosely planning our onward journey for the next few weeks! Unfortunately, the US considers Canada (and Mexico for that matter) to be the US! They might not say as much but they continue to count your visa time in Canada as time spent within US borders! So we needed to allow enough time to enter Alaska and make it back into Canada before our initial US six month visa expired.

Anyway – enough bleating! The rules are the rules and yes we are always versed on those agreements in advance but sometimes you just have to shake your head and wonder what it’s all about really…

Pushing north a little harder now we made for Calgary and arrived at David and Alison’s stunning home just after lunch!

Alison, David and Us!

David, Alison and Us!

So who are these people? Well, we really have been lucky when it comes to meeting friendly, hospitable and like-minded souls along our journey and we’d met these guys at Overland Expo!

They had made the trip down to Arizona for the event as a research opportunity for their own overland travel aspirations and invited us to visit should we be in their hometown!

After a few messages back and forward on “Whatsapp” they informed us of the fact that they had 2 spare tickets to see Peter Gabriel and Sting live in Calgary and thought we might like to join them!

Sting in Concert

Sting in Concert

That sets the bar at a new height for anyone else we meet looking forward! Hahaha…

This kindness was added to by an amazing guest quarters for us to relax in for a few days! We are thinking about changing our email and phone number however, as how the hell will we ever top that experience should they wander down under???…

The concert was amazing, we were treated to sightseeing trips, stunning food and the loveliest of company and departed a few days later indebted once more to the kindness of people met along our journey!

Elbow Falls near Calgary

Elbow Falls near Calgary

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Out of Calgary late in the afternoon we only travelled about 100km and began campsite hunting eventually finding a sneaky spot to squirrel away in!

Very cold and raining all I wanted to do was jump into the camper but as the Patrol sat idling she began running rough and the check engine light came on!

Always a pleasant experience late in the day…

Anyway back in Colorado we suspected we’d picked up a dose of bad diesel. We had had some rough running associated with power loss and white smoke, generally at higher altitude – an indicator of a fuel issue!

White Smoke

White Smoke in Colorado

At that time, I hadn’t changed the fuel filter as the situation cleared itself and I was being a little tight as I’m not in possession of many replacement filters in my stock of spares!

Cutting to the chase, now I had to change the bloody thing when I was less than in the mood but a beer took the edge off (just the one!!) you can see from the photos that we certainly had taken on a dose of bad fuel! It has to be said that in over 80,000km across 40 odd countries, I never expected to have a problem with poor quality diesel in Colorado!!!

Gunk in Fuel

Gunk in Fuel

There is a main tourist route that runs through Alberta and the Rockies and it starts with the town of Banff! A typical tourist town – picturesque and appealing with alpine architecture and many stand out character buildings.

Banff

Banff

I imagine a few days spent here in winter, with nights around the log fire, a nice malt and a little skiing (not in that order!) would be rather pleasant! Not really the destination for us on this visit however with only a fleeting transit and a stop at every pedestrian crossing in order to let the endless stream of Asian tourists pass by as they wander en masse from souvenir shop to souvenir shop!

Like penguins in the winter – I suppose none of them wants to be on the outside of the group for fear of getting cold or possibly being picked off by a predator! They are funny to watch and in some ways, more entertaining than the wildlife…

Continuing along the Bow Valley Parkway, we spotted big horn sheep and our first Canadian bear, which turned out to be an elusive Grizzly!

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep

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Our first Canadian Bear sighting - a Grizzly!

Our first Canadian Bear sighting – a Grizzly!

In peak season, there is not a snowballs chance in hell of finding a campground with any space along this National Park route which to be honest didn’t really bother us!

We have to confess to being camp snobs and hate being in close proximity to generator riddled plastic fantastics that drown out the sounds of nature with the noise pollution that comes with campground life.

I’m not actually that negative on campgrounds although I certainly sound like it I guess! We do use them when they suit or there is an attraction requiring their use but deep down we really do prefer our own space and solitude! Certainly the national park and forest campgrounds are way ahead as far as a more rustic nature experience is concerned whilst commercial campgrounds often resemble glorified parking lots right on the side of the highway.

So it was that we headed west from Lake Louise in an attempt to find a campsite outside the park, listed on one of our navigation and camping apps, at Wapta Falls. Long story cut short, the GPS coordinates given, compared to the actual location, were woefully inaccurate as were the written directions provided so with darkness approaching , we gave up and camped in an average spot for the night!

Camped here but only 1.5kms away was....

Camped here but only 1.5kms away was….

With a fresh start the following day we managed to locate the Wapta Falls campsite about 1.5 km away and worth the effort it most definitely was! We had ignored the obvious sign the previous day, as its location was so at odds with the Internet info. Just goes to prove that you can’t believe everything you read on the net!!! Hahaha

Wapta Falls

Wapta Falls

Our Wapta Falls Campsite

Our Wapta Falls Campsite

The Sign...

The Sign…

Long weekend descending on us, we decided a few days relaxation was in order to relieve the hassle of campsite hunting when all the locals are trying to do the same. Not to mention that we were not going to find a more stunning camp!!

Wapta Falls Campfire

Wapta Falls Campfire

The weather is not always perfect but still great to watch

The weather is not always perfect but it is always great to watch

Us

Us

Shortly after our arrival, solo motorcycle traveller Marshall arrived. He had just finished setting up camp about 15km away, in a pretty average location, and upon seeing what was on offer in our locale, he was back on his bike and off to break camp and relocate. Whilst gone we moved some of our gear to a site suitable for him, hence securing his real estate. And just in time it was, as a steady stream of campsite hunters began wandering through!

Marshall the Hawaiian???

Marshall the Hawaiian???

 “So where are you from Marshall?” (We expected an answer from one of the lower 48 states…)

 “Hawaii!”

 Well I wouldn’t have picked that and I doubt you would have either!

With the wobbly pops flowing, we all settled in for a few days of great conversation and laughs, with interludes from other travellers coming from near and far.

Jen, Will, Helly and Marshall

Jen, Will and Helly from the UK and Marshall

Lovely Swiss Family

Lovely Swiss Family

Tyler and Voo-Doo from Edmonton

Tyler and Voo-Doo from Edmonton

Wapta not only provided us with a respite from the holiday crowd, but also provided our first fleeting glimpse of the Aurora Borealis! Peering over Marshall’s shoulder late in the evening around the campfire and there it was, a feint curtain of white shimmering across the sky! I won’t bother elaborating because in a follow up post we have photos of the Aurora in all of its true beauty.

All of those who came and went over the next few days, generally wandered into our site as we had, by far, the most outstanding views of the falls and conversations were generally started by those who visited!

I must recount one of the latter between Jen and some Indian (dot not feather) visitors!

Visitors – “Have you seen any wildlife?”

Jen – “Not much but there have been some sightings of Grizzlies in the area!”

Visitors – “Are they dangerous??”

Jen – (in disbelief) “Well yes – you need to be careful around them!”

Visitors – “Like if you touch one or pat the cubs!”

Jen – (again in disbelief) “Ahhh well they will probably kill you in that case…”

If it weren’t a truthful recount I’d think it was a comedy skit! Almost topping that exchange was when they told us they live in Calgary! Some people shouldn’t be allowed out…

The hike down to Wapta Falls

The hike down to Wapta Falls

Below the Falls

Below the Falls

We ended up spending nearly a week at Wapta Falls before hitting the road north again!

Takkakkaw Falls

Takkakkaw Falls

Due to the overwhelming lack of available campsites in the National Park, our option for the next night was a ski lodge carpark! Ended up camped with Shanti and Kasia who were also at Overland Expo and who we had since crossed paths with at Glacier National Park – small world! Another great night of travel stories as we wasted the hours relaxing in their camper and solving world problems!!

Shanti and Kasia

Shanti and Kasia

Camped with Shanti and Kasia in the ski lodge carpark

Camped with Shanti and Kasia in the ski lodge carpark

We intended to visit the town of Lake Louise but quickly gave up on that idea. I can only describe the traffic chaos by comparing it to driving home after the Sky Show on Australia Day!

Moraine Lake was our real destination and that involved a wait of about 30 minutes, queued at the start of the 14 km drive in to the lake due to the fact the carpark was full!

Stunning Moraine Lake

Stunning Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake Panorama

Moraine Lake Panorama

Still travelling north within Banff National Park, we needed to exit the Park again in order to find a wild camp for the same reasons we’d headed to Wapta – it’s just a pain in the arse trying to camp within the park! So off east along the Saskatchewan River and with a little bit of exploring found another great site.

Saskatchewan River Camp

Saskatchewan River Camp

A quick 50km detour then had to be undertaken in order to find a phone signal so that we could send our location to Alison and David from Calgary. They had decided that as we’d not moved north more than 300km in the 10 days since we’d left them, they would head on up and camp a few nights with us!

Finally got signal!!

Finally got signal!! If you left the bridge the signal dropped out – can you spot Jen?

Camp claimed for Australia!!

Camp claimed for Australia!!

Our improvised rain enclosure

Our improvised rain enclosure – it bucketed down!

Saskatchewan River Panorama

Saskatchewan River Panorama

Sakatchewan River Camp

Sakatchewan River Camp

Saskatchewan River Vista

Saskatchewan River Vista

Saying goodbye...

Saying goodbye…

Re-entering the national park, the “Icefields Parkway” drive was next enroute to Jasper

Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier

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Athabasca Falls

Athabasca Falls

Valley of the Five Lakes Hike

Valley of the Five Lakes Hike

We arrived in Jasper and it was as busy with tourists as all the other sites enroute and after restocking, it was quite late in the day to be looking for a campground where there aren’t any vacancies! Fortunately we’d heard from a Swiss couple met on the Hwy that we could sneaky camp right in the dead centre of town at the cemetery – we had it all to ourselves!

Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake

Black Bears can be brown in colour

Black Bears can be brown in colour

Hinton next and a quick visit to the local visitor centre revealed an Aussie behind the counter originally from Broken Hill! As with most of us sarcastic Aussies, she relayed some hilarious interactions with tourists!

Questions such as “what time do they let the animals out?”

“What time do they turn the Aurora on?”

A few days later we arrived in Dawson Creek, Mile “0” of the famed Alaska Hwy!

Mile "0" Alaska Hwy

Mile “0” Alaska Hwy

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One interesting campsite was Inga Lake, not so much for the camp itself (which was very nice) but for the three First Nation folk that stopped by our site! It turned out that they had been camped in the same site a week earlier. One of their group thought he’d seen the Wildlife Officer coming and had therefore hidden his rifles and a bottle of Captain Morgans in the bushes near the camp just in case an inspection occurred!

Unfortunately when they had left the next day, he forgot to retrieve them!

Of course it didn’t help that, by his own admission, he was “really drunk” at the time of the stashing and those synapses that should have connected in his brain to record the location of said stashed firearms and alcohol had failed.

It was all rather humorous for us as he retold that and other stories whilst he spent more than an hour knocking back amber ale and his counterparts looked under every shrub in the vain hope of a reunion. It was not to be. Probably for the best really???

Historic Kiskatinaw Bridge - a curved timber bridge on the original Alaska Highway

Historic Kiskatinaw Bridge – a curved timber bridge on the original Alaska Highway

Slippin' and slidin'...

Slippin’ and slidin’ while we look for a camp

Next we make for the Arctic Circle.

Justin.