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.


  1. Your photographs are beautiful. How is my sister Susan holding up? Te;l her hello. I think when we meet you have have to take a [picture of me. Everything you photo turns out beautiful. I can't imagine how great I will look. lol Aunt Wendy

  2. Great job Sally, it's just like being there!!!!

  3. Fun fun! Gotta have at least one yukky campground per long trip -- you know it's an RV rule! You left us at Dawson Creek on your trip so everything else is new -- we headed from there down through BC and into Washington. Althouogh years and years ago we did take a trip through Canada so we've seen those parks, but so long ago it almost doesn't count (we were tent camping with four kids -- the ones who are now all in their 50s... just about a lifetime ago).

  4. Oh my! So many fantastic scenes and photos! That is the most amazing country I've ever seen (and I've never seen much of it in person).

    Wolves have a very hard life under the best of circumstances, and only live 5-8 years in the wild. They are just doing what they do.


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"Not all those who wander are lost." - J. R. R. Tolkien

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