Posts Tagged ‘caribou’

Days 81 and 82: Calgary Glen Ross

August 19, 2010 4 comments

Location: Calgary, Alberta

Miles Driven: 709

Total Miles: 20,200 (holy crap!)

Once again I passed through a Northern Canadian city and felt at home.  This time, it was Dawson Creek.  I was able to hit up the “downtown” area I toured before, and stopped at the good ol’ Safeway (very cozy restroom, by the way).  I consider myself somewhat of an authority on these cities in Canada, since I have visited many of them twice, albeit for hours at a time each visit.

The drive into Alberta was uneventful, and actually a little bit anti-climatic at first, since I didn’t realize Northern Alberta was made up of plains.  Still a nice sight to behold.

But I initially a bit dismayed.  As I traveled further into Alberta, the familiar haze caused by neighboring forest fires hung in the air.  I asked clerks at a gas station if Alberta, like British Columbia, had been ravaged by summer fires.  They told me the haze in Alberta is the same haze I had witnessed in places like Watson Lake, BC.  Seems the wind can take this smoky air pretty far.  I was a bit concerned what the air quality would be like further south, near Jasper and Banff National Parks. Would it limit my views of the various peaks?  The clerks didn’t know what it was like down there, but mentioned the air quality could change daily.  I’d have to find out for myself, as I was still a few hours north of the parks.

By the time I reached the northern section of Jasper, the air was still hazy and mountains were just blue-ish outlines in the sky.  But oh well.  Not long after entering the park, I noticed some cars pulled over on the side of the road.  Turns out there was a giant elk just hanging out on the side of the road.

biggest elk I've ever seen

I made for the village of Jasper, which is right in the heart of the park.  There I wandered around a bit to stretch the legs.  Before I  knew it, it was 10PM, and I was pretty beat.  Had a good night’s rest (a lot less light to deal with than the prior night’s sleep), and then around 7AM I made my way to the Maligne (for those who know French – how would you pronounce that?  I have no idea) River Canyon to get an early-morning hike in.  The air was a little less hazy than the day before, and it was quiet – didn’t see anybody out until probably after an hour of walking.

Maligne River Canyon

such blue water

After spending some time in the canyon, I got back in the car and started the long journey towards Banff.  It doesn’t look like a long drive on the map, but it winds through the mountains so it would be a couple hours before I arrived.

Despite the haze, I was able to enjoy the Rockies while on the drive to Banff.

Spotted a bear on the side of the road, too.  Two animal sightings so far in Alberta.  There was a lady who stepped outside her car to get a picture of bear, and put herself in an obstacle-free path about 10 yards from the bear.  Not the wisest move.  I got out of there before I witnessed a scene from “When Animals Attack.”

Hey bear, look this way for the photo

I received a recommendation from Travis (back in Vancouver) to be sure to check out Peyto Lake, which is in the northern section of Banff.  I wasn’t paying attention very well to the signs on the road, but I luckily caught the sign for Peyto Lake and made the turn.  I parked the car in the over-flowing parking lot and headed out on the 300 meter path to the lake viewpoint.  I soon realized why this parking lot was stuffed.

I didn't alter this photo one bit. The water really looks like that. Amazing

What a place.  Thank you, Travis.  Another view:

And a closeup of the water:

My next stop was Lake Louise, probably the most famous lake in Banff.  I guess it was a bit anti-climatic for me, probably because it was so crowded.  But a very impressive lake, nonetheless.  I prefer Peyto, though.

My head was hurting a bit (I think due to the altitude), so I decided against going on any more hikes that afternoon.  I made my way slowly out of Banff and then it wasn’t long before I hit Calgary.  Calgary was also very hazy, but I didn’t know if that was forest fire-induced or maybe just Calgary is a polluted city.  Found out from the clerk at the coffeeshop I’m sitting at that no, Calgary is not often smoggy, it just has also seen a reduction in air quality from BC forest fires.

I’ll make Calgary my home for the night.  This will be my last night in Canada, as I’m less than five hours away from the border.  Tomorrow – Waterton Lakes National Park (Canada), and its sister in Montana – Glacier National Park (U.S.) – a park I’ve been lucky enough to visit once before, and one that is in my “top 3”.

Looking forward to being back on American soil, and reuniting with the familiar US Interstate system.


Day 71: One word – Denali

August 10, 2010 10 comments

Location: Near Cantwell, AK

Miles Driven: 200

Total Miles: 17,268

It’s a small world.  My dad has a friend, Frank, who’s sister, Betty, and her husband live in Alaska.  Several months ago, while I was still in Georgia, my dad had sent me some CDs with video clips and pictures of their visits to Denali National Park.  Visiting Denali was just a pipe dream at that point, but here I was, only about 2 hours away in Fairbanks.  I had the chance to talk to Betty on the phone before leaving for the park, and got some great recommendations on what to do.  Denali is a little tricky compared to other national parks I’ve visited in that you can’t take your car on the 90-mile main road that goes through the park (outside of the first 13 miles).  The park holds a lottery each year where a select number of cars can go out on the main road, in September, but everyone else must travel via the park’s extensive bus system.  It sounded a bit unnappealing at first seeing the park via a bus, but I did know I’d have the chance to see a lot of wildlife and get outside now and then; in fact, the buses run in such a way you can get off one bus, do a hike, and then flag another down for the way back.

After talking to Betty, I purchased a ticket online for the “Eielson Visiter Center” bus tour, which goes 67 miles into the park, and then turns around.  Eight hours round trip.  Also had heard another friend from back home, Nate, took this bus tour and he said it was very enjoyable.  It was a $46 ticket, but confident the cost would be well worth it.  Thanks for all the tips, Betty!

I checked out of the hotel and got on the road around 10:30.  I was slow-moving that morning and cut things a bit close, Denali being a 2 hour drive from Fairbanks (not including road construction in some areas), and my bus tour was scheduled to start at 1PM.

I was undaunted, however, and looked forward to the drive.  I view any day less than 300 miles of driving as an “easy day.”  Also, the scenery on the way south to Denali was beautiful.

The road to Denali

I got to the park with just minutes to spare.  Quickly threw on my hiking boots, packed up my backpack, and then caught the bus just as they made the last call for passengers.  Phew.  I got to sit next to a polite little 4 year old kid, Caleb, who was there with his family – residents of Palmer, AK.  I shared a majority of the bus ride out to the Eielson Visitor center with them, and also got some recommendations of sites near Palmer to check out.

On this 8 hour bus trip, the expectation was we’d see a variety of wildlife – grizzlies, caribou, moose, sheep, and maybe even some eagles.  In addition, we’d be able to enjoy the natural scenery of Denali National Park (a park the size of New Hampshire), and perhaps get a glimpse of Denali itself (Mount McKinley), the tallest peak in North America.  In the Athabaskan language, spoken by the natives of northern Canada and Alaska, Denali literally translates to “The high one.”  In a bit of controversy, the Alaska Board of Geographic Names officially changed the name of the mountain from Mt. McKinley to Denali years ago, but the US Board on Geographic Names never has, hence you’ll see it as McKinley on maps.

My National Parks book said only 1 in every 3 visitors to the park gets a clear look at Denali since it is often covered in clouds, but the book did say August might be one of the best months to see it.  The book cautioned “don’t count on it,” though.

We had a great bus driver, Travis, who advised us to holler whenever an animal was spotted in the wild, and he would subsequently pull over so everyone can look/take pictures.  We weren’t far into the park when a passenger with eagle eyes spotted a bull moose far from the road.

enormous, and this was from a distance of at least 75 yards

I think it was just about 90 minutes or so into the trip and I was treated to my first view of Denali.  Picture-perfect clear to see.  I’ve benefited from some lucky timing on this trip.  Here in Alaska it has been unseasonably rainy, but the day I head out to see Denali I get this amazing view of the mountain.


This was still early into the 67 mile outbound trip, and our drive would take us closer to the mountain.  So the hope was the clouds wouldn’t roll into the mountain by the time we got nearer.  The weather can change fast here; the saying is “Don’t like the weather in Alaska?  Just wait five minutes.”

The scenery we got to check out along the way was absolutely outstanding.  Unreal.

dude from the bus checking out the view

Another great view of Denali

Great views, and we weren’t even near the visitor center.  But can’t forget about the wildlife.  The first grizzly I ever saw:

Another big, big animal

Those things are huge, but they move really well in the brush.  I understand why park rangers advise you to never run from a bear, since it will easily overtake you, no matter what obstacles might be in the way.

A little later, after driving along some narrow roads with no guardrails, we had some closer views of Denali.  Each view kept on getting better than the last.

Yours truly in front of Denali. The wind made it pretty cold out there

Not long after we arrived at the Eielson Visitor Center, our turnaround point.  We had 20 minutes to mill about, so I grabbed a few more shots of Denali, here at our closest point to the mountain.

Mount Brooks on the left, Denali on the right

Just stunning.  I was giddy, just standing there smiling, looking at this mountain that not all park visitors get to see…even the ones who sign up for the bus tours.

It was time to head back towards the park entrance.  I hopped up back on the bus, and we even had some better wildlife viewing along the way back.


Dall Sheep. A moment before this picture was taken, these two butted heads

Had some more great view of the landscape on the drive back, as well.

The road was a bit narrow at times

And even more wildlife:

big moose

A Grizzly not far from the bus

The bear was the last animal we saw before arriving back at the park entrance.  Before I knew it, 8 hours had passed, and it was after 9PM.  What a great bus tour.  Next time, maybe I’ll take the 12 hour one-way, 92-mile tour to the end of the park road.  What an amazing park.

Although it was after 9PM by the time I got on the road, I still had a couple hours of daylight ahead of me.  So I figured I’d work my way south a bit in the direction of Anchorage.  The plan is to arrive in Anchorage on Monday and I’ll meet up with a friend, so driving a bit this night would make it easier in the morning.

Once again, great scenery on the drive.

Just an incredible day.  Tomorrow – Anchorage, and more of this amazing place.


Days 67 and 68: Driving along the Alaska Highway

August 6, 2010 8 comments

Location: Whitehorse, Yukon Territory

Miles Driven (past two days): 893

Total Miles: 16,458

So I ended the last full post telling you I was off to drive to a dark site to see if I could catch the Northern Lights. I did find a dark spot on the way to Tumbler Ridge, BC (south of Dawson Creek), but unfortunately the sky was hazy, and a bright crescent moon combined to make night seeing pretty poor.  Oh well, hopefully I’ll have a chance to catch the Northern Lights later in this journey up hear in the north.

Spent the early part of next morning walking around Dawson Creek for just a bit.  Found the famous “Mile 0” marker, which stands in the middle of a 4-way intersection, and indicates the start of the Alaska Highway.  I’ve only seen photos of this marker in some roadtrip books, so it was pretty cool to stand right in front of it.

I then went over to the visitor center area where they had a museum about the Alaska Highway. 

Some history about the route

Got some good recommendations of things to look out for along the route, and was told to keep my eye out for some wildlife (HINT: Foreshadowing).  After touring the museum, I was in the car on the way to Alaska.

The drive was scenic, despite some more haze caused by the forest fires in BC.  I also got to see caribou – five of them, in total, all in separate spots.  I was able to grab a decent, albeit blurry, photo of one of them.

Those things were big.  Hit one of those going 50 mph and that’s the end for the animal and the car, I’m sure.  Fortunately, they seemed to stay on the side of the road for the most part.  There was one who couldn’t make up his mind which side of the road to go on, but eventually he settled on a route and the queued up cars were able to pass.

I passed by scenic Muncho Lake on the way.  Very blue water, and a big lake, but vision was once again limited by the smoky haze in the air.  Still nice to look at, though.

Muncho Lake

The drive did not disappoint.  Lots of great vistas.

Looking back on the Alaska Highway

It was around the point where I stopped and took the above picture where I realized the driver’s side headlight was out.  I wasn’t sure if I could find an auto parts store in the next town, Watson Lake, but I figured at the very least I could get the light replaced further on in Whitehorse.  I’ve been avoiding nighttime driving, anyhow, so I figured I’d be in decent shape (though it is the law in Canada to drive with headlights on at all times).

I drove somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 miles that day and wound up near the Liard Hot Springs.  It was after 8, and I was pretty beat, and ended up sleeping until close to 7AM.  I was tempted to try out the hot springs, but I was easily discouraged knowing I’d have to tolerate the strong smell of sulfur in the air.

The goal for the next bit of driving was to make it to Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon Territory, before the end of the day.  Towns that have some size are found about 300 miles apart from each other on the Alaska Highway, and occasionally you can go 100-150 miles without services.  So I always make sure to fill up for gas even if I have 2/3 of a tank full.  All the pumps up here are pretty old-fashioned, but still have the digital readouts of the price and litres.  I’m wondering if I’ll see the style of pump that displays the amounts on those spinning dials.

Soon was on the road after waking up.  Passed a unique sign early in my driving:

At Liard Hot Springs, I had seen posting about how they’ve reintroduced bison into the area.  Sure enough, not long after seeing the sign above, I found a bison strolling along the shoulder.  I had seen bison once before in 2005, in South Dakota, but I think this one was easily the biggest I’ve ever seen.

I slowly drove past him, then when I was a safe distance ahead, I looked back and zoomed in with my camera to take a picture.

the size of the bison is staggering

Not long later in the drive I encountered another bison.  This one was well off the shoulder, however, lying in the grass.  So I’ve seen a good amount of wildlife (as promised), and there’s a lot left to my time on the Alaska Highway.  So far: caribou count – 5, bison – 2

I made good progress that morning, and by early afternoon I had crossed the border into the Yukon Territory.


I hit the town of Watson Lake just after crossing the border, and there I experienced the heaviest amount of smoke I’d seen yet.  The attendant at the gas station told me it’s been that way at least for a week now. 

Watson Lake is known for the famous “Sign Post Forest”, where travelers from all over the world leave signs from their home areas on their along the Alaska Highway.  Pretty cool, and I had no idea how big the thing was.  It was just like a maze.  I wish I had brought something to hang.  Oh well, next time.

For my friend John. Go 'Cats

Gig 'Em

Across the street from the Sign Forest was the “Northern Lights Centre”, a small planetarium/museum I had heard about back in Dawson Creek.  I love planetariums and anything space-related, as many of you know.  It was good timing, too, as a planetarium show was starting an hour after I arrived.

cool sign outside the planetarium

The planetarium show ($10 admission) was split up into two parts – first part dedicated to the Northern Lights, second part a presentation about space and the Universe.  The first part alone about the Northern Lights was well worth the cost of the admission.  The show explained the cause of the Northern Lights, some of the mytholigies, and had some great video filmed right from Watson Lake.  Unreal.  If you never saw a video of the Northern Lights, enjoy this time-lapse video I found on youtube.  Amazing.

The latter half of the presentation I could have done without.  Maybe I’m a bit snobby about space education, but there were some things in the video that were either wrong or no longer relevant.  To wit:

  • Talking about the Galileo spacecraft “currently exploring Jupiter”.  The mission ended in 2003, when NASA sent the craft plunging into the Jovian atmosphere
  • Explaining that the Voyager I and Voyager II spacecraft, currently the farthest man-made objects in space, are “nowhere near the edge of the solar system.”  Both craft, relatively speaking, are fairly close to entering the Heliopause, where the Sun’s influence gives way to the space beyond our solar system
  • A graphic of the asteroid belt inside our own Solar System (between Mars and Jupiter) which showed, like the movies do, asteroids just feet away from each other.  In reality, these asteroids are very far apart

Not that I got bent out of shape about these things, but I would’ve preferred something a little more up to date.  Then again, I can understand that it must be hard to keep up on these kinds of things when advances are made everyday.  Presentations about space are probably out-of-date a month after they are made.  And it can’t be easy for a planetarium to get funding to update their videos.  The people at the Centre are very friendly and I had a great time overall.

I left Watson Lake after that and it wasn’t long before I saw clear skies again.  Seems Watson Lake sits in some kind of valley and before I knew it, the skies were blue and I could see the colors of the mountains again.

On the way I passed the scenic town of Teslin.  Hung out at the overlook, got some exercise, and enjoyed the nice breeze in the air.

It was somewhere around here that I realized the headlight on the passenger side went out.  I suppose that’s a good thing, that they both lasted around the same length of time.

Made it to Whitehorse after 7PM that day.  I hung out for a while at some local bars.  One had a jam session where people in the town just went up and played guitar/sang, and that was pretty enjoyable.  Never heard Bach’s Prelude in C on a Spanish Guitar, but it was pretty cool.  Enjoyed talking with the locals.  Canadians are some of the kindset, most welcoming people I’ve ever met, and they have a great love for their home.  I definitely understand why they do after having driven all this way.

Reminds me of a joke I saw posted above a urinal in a bathroom I used along the route that day:

A man decided to write a book about famous churches around the world. So he bought a plane ticket and took a trip to Orlando, thinking that he would start by working his way across the USA from south to north.  On his first day he was inside a church taking photographs when he noticed a golden telephone mounted on the wall with a sign that read $10,000 per call”. The man, being intrigued, asked a Pastor who was strolling by what the telephone was used for. The Pastor replied that it was a direct line to heaven and that for $10,000 you could talk to God. The man thanked the Pastor and went along his way.
Next stop was in Atlanta. There, at a very large cathedral, he saw the same golden telephone with the same sign under it. He wondered if this was the same kind of telephone he saw in Orlando and he asked a nearby nun what its purpose was. She told him that it was a direct line to heaven and that for $10,000 he could talk to God. “OK., thank you,” said the man. He then traveled to Indianapolis, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. In every church he saw the same golden telephone with the same “$10,000 per call” sign under it. The man, upon leaving New York, decided to travel out to the Midwest to see if western states had the same phone. 
He arrived in Canada, and again, in the first church he entered, there was the same golden telephone, but this time the sign under it read “40 cents per call.” The man was surprised so he asked the Pastor about the sign. “Reverend, I’ve traveled all over America and I’ve seen this same golden telephone in many churches. I’m told that it is a direct line to Heaven, but in the U.S. the price was $10,000 per call. Why is it so cheap here?
The priest smiled and answered, “You’re in Canada now, son, it’s a local call”. 


No doubt Canada could be seen as heaven on Earth.  Beautiful country, and great people.


BONUS: I learned very early this morning that Mazda twittered about my roadtrip and website.  I was thrilled.