Friday, August 12, 2016

Alaska Adventures Part Fifteen - Last of Canada

The next stop on our big summer adventure was Radium Hot Springs in British Columbia, a whopping 64 miles from Golden, BC. Whew, those long drives are killer! We were booked into Radium Valley Vacation Resort. A camper we met in the horrible campground in Golden recommended this place to us. Turns out it was a good recommendation.

Columbia Valley View

Deer Along the Roadside

Check-in time wasn't until 1 p.m. and we had a hour or so to wait. We drove a little further south into the town of Invermere so George could get a haircut. Talk about insanity! It was so busy with all of summer tourist and the lake looked like a zoo with boats zipping about.

We returned to the resort to check in and whoa! What a ritzy "campground" that was. We started off in site #99 for one night knowing we would have to move to another site the next night. We were just happy to have a place to stay. We also added a third night to our stay here. Most of the sites have their own private cabana and gas grill. The entire resort was neat and clean. I almost felt out of place here with See-More sporting a new layer of grime. We had the okay to give the trailer a bath right at our site. Yay, a clean trailer again! Best of all, it was the second day in a row with NO RAIN!

We moved the next day to site #90, right along the bluff overlooking the Columbia River valley. Nice. The cabana came in handy since it decided to rain a little. And it stormed the next day really good, even knocking out the power. It was an inopportune time, too, since we had clothes in the dryer that ended up still damp. George got us a refund and we re-ran the load through the dryer.

Our Site Along the Bluff

Our Cabana

View From Our Cabana Deck

There is a nice hot springs in Radium, or so we were told. We planned on visiting the hot springs, but it was so relaxing at the campsite that we stuck around there instead. Maybe next trip.

We departed Radium and journeyed south towards Cranbrook. This would be another long strenuous driving day. Oh, maybe 60 or 70 miles to travel. Along the way there were cool hoodoos just south of Fairmont Hot Springs. We also passed Columbia Lake, the headwaters of the mighty Columbia River. The same Columbia River that flows through Washington state and empties into the Pacific Ocean and forms part of the southern Oregon/Washington border.

Columbia River in BC

Columbia Lake - Headwaters of the Columbia River

Columbia River Drainage

Hoodoos From a Distance in Fairmont Hot Springs

More of the Hoodoos

Reminds Me of Castle Parapets

We planned on staying two nights at Premier Lake Provincial Park. The park was 15 km off of the highway. The further we drove, the more we wondered what we would find. Hopefully it would be a quiet place. Uh, wrong! The campground was packed with other campers. The loops were tight turning with a bigger trailer but we managed to get ourselves maneuvered around and back out of the park. It was a no-go for us there. Time to find a new campground.

We figured (hoped) we would find something once we got back on the main highway south. And we did just a few miles down the road at Springbrook Motel and Campground in Skookumchuck. This place wasn't too bad. A little highway noise, but the site was spacious and there was a fire pit for George. We found our friends' home near Wasa Lake and made plans to meet up again the following afternoon. Oh how I wished we could have stayed at Wasa Lake Provincial Park. However, I thought there wasn't any camping there, just day use. Wrong! It would have been much closer to our friends' house. Live and learn.

Skookumchuck Statue

We visited Cranbrook and a quilt shop there (Surprise!). Close to that store was a train engine on display. Actually it was two engines. The main engine #4090 was put into service in 1953. Just a short year and half later, misfortune struck. The engine was hit by a snow slide and pushed into Kootenay Lake in British Columbia.  The second engine, #4469, doesn't have a cab and was controlled from another engine. Neither 4090, even after being repaired, or 4469 lasted long in the inhospitable conditions of the west. The terrain and general conditions were very taxing on these first generation engines and the crews didn't have many kind words to say. In 1957, the engines were sent east to Ontario. Both were retired from service in 1977 and retained by Canadian Pacific for historical purposes. After being acquired by the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel, they were moved to Cranbrook in 1992. An exterior refurbishment and painting was completed by the Rotary Club of Cranbrook Sunrise in 2015.

Also on site here were a restored train station and water tower from the surrounding areas.

Front of Engine 4090

Engines 4090 & 4469

Elko Station

Water Tower Door

Water Tower

We met our friends for dinner in the nearby town of Kimberley. We learned Mike's family has a long history in this town and the surrounding vicinity. Kimberley used to be an old mining town until the mine closed and they transformed the town into a year-round tourist destination. In the winter, there is a ski hill visible from the town. They have a Bavarian theme going and a nice platzl or plaza where a couple of blocks are closed to vehicular traffic. There are plenty of things to do in Kimberley including an underground mining railway so we have to come back here again.

Sullivan Mine Display

Bavarian Style

Cuckoo Clock on the Platzl

On the ride back to our campsite, we saw twenty deer! The one below was spotted earlier in the day.

Mule Tail Buck

After leaving the Cranbrook area, we will be returning to the U.S. somewhere along the Montana border. And hopefully, we will be leaving the almost daily rain shower back in Canada!

Our Last Sunset in B.C.

Finally, here is a truck camper that has been heavily modified. We spotted it in Cranbrook.  The last "weirdness" from Canada.

Oh, What Have They Done to This Truck Camper?

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Alaska Adventures Part Fourteen - On to Jasper, Banff & A Not So Golden RV Park

Our next park was much nicer than the one in Fort St. John. After breakfast at the café next to the campground, we continued south to Dawson Creek - the start of the Alaska Highway! Of course, we had more rain to start our day.

Doing It Backwards - Start of the Alaska Highway

Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway

We continued on towards Grande Cache in Alberta. This area along Hwy 16 in Alberta reminded me of West Central Minnesota with lots of rolling plains. As we drove into Grande Prairie, we made the decision to stop for the night in Grande Prairie. It was a good size town (68,000+) people with plenty of shopping opportunities. It had a quilt shop, too. But it was closed for the long holiday weekend in Canada. We chose Camp Tamarack on the road we would be taking to Jasper. We were lucky once again to get a nice site for the night. Pull through with full hookups, shade trees, and close to the office and showers. The park was so nice and had really good Wi-Fi, we decided to take another day off from the drive and stay two nights. The owners were super nice to boot. George was happy to have a fire pit in our campsite. No sooner did he start a fire did the rains show up to put a big damper on his party.

Welcome to the Prairie

The highway south out of Grande Prairie provided entertainment for us. We saw many tanker trucks and gas pipeline sites. It was a busy road for commercial vehicles. We came to a construction zone where we had to stop. We were in for a treat. Two super duper jumbo extra wide loads were having to cross a single-lane bridge. From our vantage point, it looked like they barely had enough room to squeeze across. But they did and we were soon on our way again.

Tight Squeeze!

Equipment Up Close

We stopped for fuel in the small town of Grande Cache. We were glad we had made the decision to stay in Grande Prairie. It would have made for a long driving day for us. Plus the amenities were not as great there. We just missed the Canadian Death Race. What is that, you ask? I had to look it up myself...the flag was just too intriguing for me. It is one of the world's toughest adventure races (at least according to their website). 125 km of hell is what it sounds like. Over three mountain summits with an elevation change of more than 17,000 ft and one river crossing, the racers battle heat, cold, altitude and themselves. Another good reason I am glad we didn't have to deal with that by staying there.

Eye Catching Flag in Grande Cache, AB

We arrived at the gate for Jasper National Park and the line to enter the park was not too long. Highway 16 transits the park for those going on to Prince George or Prince Rupert, BC, as well as connecting to Highway 93 and the Icefields Parkway. In a way, the town of Jasper reminded us of Leavenworth, WA, with some of the buildings having a Bavarian look to them. And the size was about the same, too.

Coming Into Jasper National Park from the East Gate

Mount Edith Cavell

We had reservations for Whistler's Campground just south of town on 93. There must have been ten or twelve vehicles in line to check in. No wonder, this was a popular place with over 780 sites and we were smart to have made our reservation earlier. They had a good system for check-ins. A park ranger walked through the line and if you had a reservation, you were given a map showing where your site was located and sent on your way. No pass needed if staying just for the night (which we were). Our site at Whistler's wasn't too bad. Nicely wooded and large. The slope of the campsite made it so we didn't have to unhook See-More. Just level it side-to-side and we were good to go. Our site was not-serviced, meaning we would be dry camping. No biggie. We can easily handle it. The bathroom (oooh, flush toilets) were right next to our site. Plus, hot and cold running water. Woo hoo!

Bad news was no fire pit. Boo hiss. We dug out Little Red, our propane fire pit, from the trailer and discovered it had taken a beating on the trip. Several of the ceramic logs were broken and duct tape wasn't going to fix them. We rearranged what we had and fired it up. Kinda. Sorta. Looked like twelve Bic lighters surrounding marbles. We put Little Red back in the trailer with a promise to do some research and see if repairs can be made when we get home. For entertainment, we watched a lightning show far off in the distant clouds and listened to the rumble of thunder. After we retired to bed for the evening, the rains did come. Animal sightings for the day: 2 live deer, 1 dead moose (another).

The next morning started off pretty promising. Big patches of blue sky and the sun was shining. We got an early start, around 8:30 a.m., because we did not have reservations for the evening. Hopefully we would have a chance with an earlier arrival in Lake Louise.

View of Mount Edith Cavell the Next Day, 3368 m

Athabasca Pass, 1748 m

Jasper National Park is very scenic. Lots of high rocky mountains and spectacular views. The only problem is that the farther south we drove, the cloudier it got. Before long, you couldn't see the tops of the peaks. I am sure we missed seeing the magnificent beauty of the area. We could only imagine those peaks. There were many glaciers in the park. We were going to stop at Icefields Centre, near the border of Jasper and Banff National Parks. However, it was very busy and well, I don't do crowds very well. We decided to skip it. Probably missed a great opportunity as well.

Along the Icefields Parkway

Glacier in the Distance

Another Glacier

Coming into the Icefields Centre Area

Big Glacier!

It seemed weird that Jasper and Banff are connected. Why not one big park? At least we did not have to pay a separate entrance fee for Banff. Not long after crossing into Banff, we came to Parker Ridge. Whoa! We could see the road way down below us in the canyon. We started down and rounded a corner to see the hairpin turn we had to traverse. And we were only part way down the steep grade! This was a little nerve-wracking because twice within a span of several miles, the warning light came on to tell us the trailer was disconnected. That meant we had no lights and no brakes on it. We were able to pull over, reconnect the plug and continue on. I was glad coming down off of Parker Ridge that our brakes were working. It was only at the bottom as we came by the Weeping Wall did the truck chime again with the disconnect message. What the heck? We had traveled over much rougher roads with no problems and now three times in about ten miles? We found another spot to pull over and were able to get the plug securely connected. No further issues occurred. Just more road construction and traffic galore.

Bowl-shaped Valley Carved by a Receding Glacier

Mist in the Trees

Parker Ridge - See the Highway Below?

Hairpin Turn off Parker Ridge

Still Descending from Parker Ridge. See the Highway?

Unique Rock Formations, And Clouds

Fresh Fallen Snow (It was only 48 degrees on the Parkway)

Traffic Jam from Road Construction

Typical View - A Slice in the Clouds & A Mountain Glimpse

Beautiful Lake View

Another Glacier in Banff

As we drove south along the parkway, we figured we wouldn't have a chance at all to get a spot in Lake Louise based on the traffic volumes. Instead, we would drive to Golden, BC another hour or so west of Lake Louise. We would be trying to reconnect with friends there any way. From Lake Louise, you take the Trans-Canada Highway to Golden. OMG. Another white knuckle ride in places. We did stop to view the Spiral Train Tunnels (no trains though when we were there). As trains climb up Kicking Horse Pass, they go through two spiral tunnels cut into the mountain.

Lower Spiral Tunnel

Diagram of the Spiral Tunnels

Cut in the Mountain

Just before you reach Golden, you come down through Pipestone Canyon. When the posted speed is 40 kph, there is good reason. It is a narrow, winding, steep downgrade section. Towing a trailer through there was no fun for me. Just ask George.

We stopped at the first private campground we came to in Golden. The Whispering Spruce. It was an old KOA campground. From initial appearances, we thought it would be okay for the night. How wrong our assumptions turned out to be. The guy doing check-in did a good job bashing previous customers about their lack of recycling habits, dumping ashtrays in firepits, and so on. He gave us our site assignment and told us how to get to it. What a complete idiot he was. I don't think he understands how to deal with angled campsites and you can't come in from one direction and expect to turn 110 degrees into the site, especially with trees. We were within inches of ripping our awning off. Goofball gave us a different site across the road and we managed to get into it okay.

After we got set up, George and I went to get ice. When we came back, there was all kinds of activity with a new arrival at the site next to ours. Seems Goofball struck again telling them how to get into their site. It was on an incline and their trailer jacks, front and back, were digging into the ground as they tried to climb the small hill. The trailer was practically stuck. Other campers came to help and with lots of blocks and common sense, the trailer was freed and brought in a different way into the site. The couple turned out to be fun people from Edmonton, AB. Another couple across from us, who also helped, were from the Edmonton area, too. We had a good evening together around the campfire watching other unsuspecting victims come in for the night. 

The real kicker was when George visited the bathroom the next morning. It. Was. Disgusting!! George said it looked like it hadn't been touched since the park was a KOA and that was many years ago. George decided right then we were outta there. Another camper had remarked to Mom the previous evening on how filthy the bathroom and laundry rooms were. Guess she was right. Needless to say, this place will not get a good review from us. Alas, no pictures from here.
We drove into the town of Golden to the Municipal Campground. Lady Luck was with us once again as they had one site available that we might fit into. We did. Barely. But that's okay. We had a spot for the night. We had lots of flowers in a nice bed by our site. We were on the outside edge of the campground and close to the hiking trail.

Hiking Trail at Campground

Flowers by Our Site

We were close to the rail yard in Golden, but the sounds of the freight trains were not intrusive. And it was a busy yard! Eastbound trains headed into a canyon along the Kicking Horse River. Too bad I didn't capture a train passing through here.

Train Across the River from Campground

Canyon with Train Tracks

We were not able to meet up with our friends. I think perhaps we have an error in their email address since we did not hear from them when we emailed earlier in the week. We left a note on their door and then we went to the Northern Lights Wolf Centre. While we were there, our friends showed up at our campsite and left us a note. They were off to the lake and sorry to have missed us. Oh well. Hopefully we will see them at Glacier National Park later this month. 

The Wolf Centre was interesting. We listened to a talk on wolves and their behaviors and communications. They have six wolves and one wolf dog (part wolf, part dog) at the Centre. The two pictured below are brother and sister and were born in the Spring of 2012 and had just come back from a hike. They are the most "humanized" of the seven and so are able to go on hikes in the mountains for additional exercise.   It was interesting when the two wolves were put back with the alpha male wolf and how they interacted with him. There were definitely signs and sounds of submission in their pack structure. You knew who was the boss.

Wolves are a topic of hot discussion back in our neck of the woods. Ranchers are not happy with the packs that roam our mountains because of livestock predation. Can't say I blame them. There is also the story of how wolves saved Yellowstone's ecosystem, yet there may be holes in that theory, too.  It is a complicated issue, for sure.


Scrappy Dave
Golden and the surrounding valley is a beautiful area. We were surprised to learn the Columbia River that runs through Washington (and not far from our house) flowed by the town of Golden. We will be driving south along the Columbia to our next destination.

Don't forget you can click on any picture to see a larger version.
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