Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Back in the USA, Glacier National Park

This elk welcomed us to Jasper National Park
He is 10 yards from The Tin Wheeler

It's hard to believe that it's been over a week since I updated this blog. Mostly, we have been in places without cell phone service, let alone internet. In addition, we didn't want to distract from the beautiful places by being on the computer. The Tin Wheeler is now in Glacier National Park nestled into a nice wooded campground that is nearly deserted. The season here is nearly over and the last rush of campers will be Labor Day next weekend. After that, most of the campgrounds close. The weather has been beautiful, mostly sunny skies with temperatures during the day in the mid to upper 70s.

We added our sign in the Sign Post Forest at Watson Lake

From Watson Lake we continued on the AlCan and stopped at Liard River Hot Springs. We had been told by others along the way that this was a place not to pass by. They were correct. From the campground, it is about a 1 mile walk to the hot springs. Unlike many hot springs we have been to before, this one had minimal development allowing one to feel what it might have been like to be here a hundred years ago. Except for a boardwalk along the spring to protect the vegetation on the bank and a small dam to make a deeper pool, this place is truly an oasis. We went to the spring shortly after our arrival and again very early the next morning before our departure. The water was hotter than any we had ever experienced and the setting was beautiful.
Liard Hot Springs

We decided to put some miles on to allow us to stop for a couple or three days at a time, rather than stop at a new destination each day. Passing through the oil boom town of Fort Nelson we felt our decision was a good one. After visiting towns gone bust after the gold rush, I wonder what will become of these towns when the oil and gas has been depleted. The 325 miles we drove that day took us to Bucking Horse Provisional Campground in British Columbia. Our campsite was right on the Buckinghorse River and despite the number of miles we had driven, I had time to fly fish before dinner. Unfortunately, the river was low and the only fish were small brook trout. Still, it was fun catching and releasing them.
Mary Joan at Mile 0 Intersection, Dawson Creek

The next day we also spun the odometer wheels, passing through the oil and gas towns of Fort St. John and Dawson Creek, mile 0 on the AlCan Highway. We stayed this night at the community campground in the town of Grande Cache. My question about what the oil/gas towns will look like when the resources are depleted was answered here in Grande Cache. This once thriving mining town is now nearly a ghost town, with the population less than half of what it was in its hay day. The community is putting on a good face, though. This campground was a gem and a bargain. Full hook-up (water, electricity and sewage) for only $12.50 per night. It also has the cleanest showers and laundry facility of any that we have visited. Situated in a very scenic area, we could have stayed here for many days. However, we have given ourselves a deadline and must be off the next day bound for Jasper National Park and Lake Louise.

We pulled into Whistlers campground, a massive array of camping sites. Despite the huge number of campers that this place accommodates, it felt very pastoral. This was made apparent both upon and shortly after our arrival. While we were waiting to check in at the gate, we observed a coyote casually stroll across the road. After we had set up camp and I was sitting at the picnic table and facing the Tin Wheeler, Sarah told me to look over my shoulder. There, less than 15 feet away was an cow elk. A short while later, a bull elk wandered past and laid down to chew his cud in the next campsite. After a while, he walked within a foot of Mary Joan. I was worried that he would scratch her with his antlers.
She was almost looking over my shoulder when I first saw her

Jasper and Banff National Parks have been co-joined.  It is a massive amount of land set aside by Canada for the people. The mountain scenery is majestic. Unfortunately, millions of people come here every year which requires substantial infrastructure that has had a serious impact on the environment and hence the ability to feel connected to nature. After spending so much time driving to get here, we were not going to be deterred from enjoying Jasper despite the commercialization. In this context, Sarah and I define enjoyment as being able to get out and go hiking. Jasper offered only a few opportunities because of safety restrictions due to bears and cougars. One hike called out to us. It was the Whistlers Trail. The distance is about 5 miles to the summit with an elevation gain of about 3,800 feet. The guide book said to allow 3-5 hours to complete the hike one way to the summit. Sarah and I are happy to say that we made the summit in 3.5 hours. We were two of only about eight others that climbed the entire mountain that day. However, we were met 600 feet from the summit by hundreds of people that had paid $30 to take the high speed tram. It was discouraging making the last 600 feet because we were going much slower than everyone who had taken the short cut. We were happy, though, because despite our age, we were not too stiff the next day. And, eating out at a fine restaurant that night was a just reward.
On the summit of Whistlers Mountain

The next day we moved to the Lake Louise campsite. We hiked the Louise Creek Trail from our campground to Lake Louise. On arrival at the lake, I remembered that, before leaving last May, I had looked at this place using Google Earth and decided that this was not a place I wanted to go. There is a huge hotel on the shore of the lake with hundreds of people milling about on the paved walk ways along the way to the canoe rentals. Sadly, I noticed that the water of the lake was not as clear as the other lakes we have visited. The vivid colors we have seen in other lakes was there, but the water was turbid and unappealing. We thought we would spend more time in Jasper/Banff, but decided to leave and seek a more tranquil place. The map indicated that there was a provincial park not far from the U.S./Canada border, White Swan Lake Provincial Park.
Beautiful Lake Louise

The road took us through a major tourist town, Radium Hot Springs. We inquired at the information center about the road to White Swan Lake. The representative told us that the logging road was well maintained and would be passable for the Tin Wheeler. So, we decided to drive the 20 miles to White Swan. Passable is the word to describe the road. It was severely wash boarded and, in places, was only a single lane road with hairpin turns, steep drop offs and logging trucks to contend with. After successfully managing the road we were rewarded with a great campsite on the lake shore. We spoke with other campers and got the local knowledge of where and how to fish on the lake. We launched the dinghy and tried our hand, but, as the guide book says; the trout here are elusive.
White Swan Lake, British Columbia

Retracing our route to the highway, we stopped at the Lussier River Hot Springs that we had passed on our way in. A short hike to the river a hundred feet below brought us to the most natural hot spring setting yet. The water was dammed with large boulders taken from the river making a number of pools of varying temperature. Best of all, was the ability to rinse off in clear cold river water just steps from the hot spring pools.
Lussier River Hot Springs

I have been to our next stop, Glacier National Park, before. In the summer of 1996 I participated in the first Harley Owner's Group Posse Ride. We started in Portland, Oregon and finished in Portland, Maine. We passed through Glacier National Park and the Road To The Sun Highway. I wanted Sarah to see this magnificent place. Originally, I had planned to traverse this road on our way to Alaska. But, heavy snow this past winter kept the road closed until July 13. Plus, on arrival here, I learned that vehicles of our combined size were restricted from the highway.

Today we drove from west to east on the Road To The Sun. I was happy that Sarah found the views as amazing as I had 15 years earlier. However, the mountains had changed. Forest fires in 2006 had changed the landscape dramatically. The tall pines and spruces were all dead and standing like telephone poles in the once forested land. Had we not learned about the impact of fire on natural forests along our travels, we might have been disappointed at the landscape we beheld. But, with the understanding of how forests change we saw a forest, not destroyed, but in flux. Listening to descriptions of forest fires currently blazing using phrases like; '100 square miles destroyed', causes me to retort that the land has not been 'destroyed', rather it has been changed and will renew itself in a new shape and form.
Going to the Sun Mountain
Big Horn Sheep as seen through the spotting scope

Today we saw Big Horn Sheep and Mountain Goats. Both were high on our list of wildlife to see, but the mountain goats were Sarah's favorites. The sheep and goat were about a mile away. We brought my dad's Swarovski spotting scope. It was did a great job letting us get a good view of these magnificent creatures.

We reluctantly returned to our campsite knowing the necessary cleaning due to an unwanted stowaway taken aboard at White Swan Lake. A squirrel had gotten into the Tin Wheeler when I left an outside compartment door open. We thought it had vacated before we left White Swan Lake. But, last night we heard the rustling of its feet behind the sink. I opened the cabinet door and there, sitting on the box of Baggies, was our stow away. He quickly retreated behind the partition. We had to open every compartment and systematically block off routes into the trailer to finally evict this unwelcome guest at 1 AM. When we returned from our day's exploring, this squirrel was chatting angrily at us. We just hope that we won't be charged with bringing an invasive species into the U.S.

It's too nice to stay inside and add all the pictures, so stay tuned and check the Picasa Albums in a few days.


  1. OK. It is time to go back to Alaska I guess. The last time was with my parents in 1964 (I was 4). Liard was one of the things that I remember from the trip. Not the water but the mosquitoes. They bothered everyone else but me. Might be why my dad called me "Stinky".

  2. Mosquitoes were not bad. Yes, yes you need to go back. Two months was not enough time.


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