Travelogue – Yukon into Alaska

Tanana River    Tanana River

In the Yukon territory, we decided to hike the Spruce Beetle Trail. The spruce beetle is taking a toll on the spruces in this area much like pine beetle is on the pines in the U.S. Rocky Mountains. However, the response evidenced through the very informative trail signs somewhat surprised us. In forests here seldom hit by fire, the spruce beetle plays the role of selective recycler. By killing older or less robust trees, the beetles trigger change and rejuvenation. An interesting bit of information stated that spruce beetle adults can survive winter temperatures of -23° C. and larvae even colder -32° C. That is because they develop antifreeze in their blood as the days get shorter. The antifreeze prevents the formation of ice crystals that would pierce their cells. However, if severe cold hits in early winter before the beetles have produced enough antifreeze, mortality can be high.

Moose on the Run- Yukon

The Kluane Lake area provided us with our first close view of a moose. This cow moose definitely had a goal in mind as she took off and it was amazing how fast she could travel. Kluane Lake itself was still partially covered with ice.

Kluane Lake   Kluane Lake

At the Tachal Dhal Visitor Centre, Ranger Pauley was extremely knowledgeable and very personable. She answered questions and encouraged us to use the spotting scopes. The southern slopes of Tachal Dhal (Sheep Mountain) are the primary winter and spring range and lambing area of a Dall sheep population. We were fortunate to be able to spot numerous ewes and lambs on the mountainside.

Dall Sheep - Sheep Mountain - Yukon2   Dall Sheep

Whichever of us was not driving had plenty of time to observe the surrounding countryside as the road was absolutely terrible – huge potholes, frost heaves, sections of gravel washboards where the pavement was gone completely. An average of 35 miles an hour was about the best to be hoped for here. This was undoubtedly the worst road of our entire trip.

Continuing slowly on north we saw another moose, “drunken” trees, and trumpeter swans.

Moose  Drunken Trees

Trumpeter swan

 

At the U.S.-Canada border, we paused for the standard photo op standing in both countries at once. There is a monument celebrating the longest unfortified border between two countries anywhere in the world.

 

Tom at International Boundary  Marlene at International Boundary

 

At the Seaton Roadhouse Interpretive Site and Trails, we took a hike and I had the opportunity to photograph nesting trumpeter swans. They were fascinating to watch and to hear their trumpeting.

Nesting trumpeter swans  Trumpeter swans and cygnets2

Diving Swan  Trumpeter swan2

The town of Tok is the major overland point of entry to Alaska. Highway travelers arriving in Alaska or leaving Alaska must pass through Tok. The visitor center offers tourists a friendly welcome to Alaska and as much information as you could possibly want. From Tok, we headed southwest on the Tok Cutoff.

Tok, Alaska

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Travelogue – British Columbia into Yukon Territory

The Cassiar Highway which connects the Yellowhead Highway in British Columbia with the Alaska Highway in Yukon Territory is a scenic route presenting its own challenges. It is generally narrower than most 2-lane highways with little or no shoulder, many potholes, and no road striping. Trees crowd the edge of the road in many places and logging trucks piled high are prevalent. One does have to be alert! This stretch also proved to be one of the best for spotting bears. At Gnat Pass Summit we spotted one caribou, albeit a small one who looked as if he had had a rough winter.

Yukon Bear      Caribou

Jade City earned its name as a commercial outlet for jade mined from the nearby mountains. According to their ads, the Cassiar Mountain range supplies 92% of the world’s jade.

Boya Lake Provincial Park is another of those great BC provincial parks. Once again we visited with fellow travelers and enjoyed the beautiful setting. On a hike on a lakeside trail we managed to spot a ruffed grouse in all his glory.

Boya Lake Provincial Park Campsite        Boya Lake Provincial Park - BC

Boya Lake

Entering Watson Lake, Yukon, the odometer turned over 3000 miles which somehow seemed providential as we were at the famous Alaska Highway landmark – the Watson Lake Signpost Forest. In 1942, while building the Alaska Highway, it was common practice for the U.S. Army of Engineers to put up a directional post at their camps. It gave directions and mileage to surrounding communities and various parts of the world. While working on the Alcan Highway near Lower Post, BC, Private Carl K. Lindley from Company D, 341st Army of Engineers was injured and taken to the Army Aid Station in Watson Lake to recuperate. During that time Carl’s commanding officer had him repair and repaint the directional post to the Military Air Base. While doing so, he decided to add his hometown sign of Danville, Illinois. Thus began the tradition and since then, travelers have continued to add their own signs so that now there are over 72,000 signs in the Signpost Forest.

Signpost Forest - Watson Lake, Yukon    Signpost Forest - Watson Lake, Yukon2

At Lake Teslin, the Yukon Motel and RV Park is also a gas station, convenience store, restaurant, post office and nearly everything in one, including a gift shop with an amazing Wildlife Museum.
Carcross is an interesting little town at the top of the White Pass and Yukon Railway from Skagway. There are numerous tourist shops and the S.S. Tutshi, which was a stern-wheeler that operated on the river there. We found it fascinating that such big ships were used throughout the Yukon. Of course there are great rivers but basically many of these riverboats had to be brought in overland in pieces and reassembled when they got over the mountains to a navigable river. The process of restoration of the S.S Tutshi was nearly complete when a fire broke out and destroyed her beyond salvation.

Tutshi

The mountains continued to be rugged, impressive and beautiful.

Waterfowl on Pine Lake - Yukon2       Kluane Range

Waterfowl on Pine Lake                                                      Kluane Range

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Travelogue – British Columbia

I wanted to mail postcards to my grandchildren and needed stamps so we went into Jasper, not realizing it was Saturday and Canada Post does not operate on Saturday. We did find a convenience store to buy stamps so I could drop them in the postbox. I think we’re spoiled in the U.S. with our mail service – each postcard stamp cost $1.20, considerably more than the postcards themselves.

Bear - British Columbia
We kept seeing places with the name of Robson – Mount Robson, Mount Robson Provincial Park, Robson Pass, etc. and were curious as to who “Robson” was. A little research revealed that in the early years of the nineteenth century, the North West Company outfitted parties to hunt and trap in the mountains near the Athabasca River. One party was led by a man whose name was “carelessly pronounced” and had a camp near what is now known as Mount Robson. This was likely Colin Robertson (1783-1842) who worked for both the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company around 1815. The spot became a gathering place for the various parties of hunters and the peak was probably named after him. Mt. Robson is the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies at 12,972 feet.
We were also curious as to why this particular highway was called the Yellowhead Highway. In a fur trader’s 1827 diary, he wrote of a location known as “Tete Jaune Cache”, a place where an Iroquois Indian half-breed who was fair-haired had made a fur cache. He was known as Tete Jaune or Yellowhead. We stopped and took a nice little walk to Rearguard Falls. The sign informed us that these falls mark the upper limit of the 800-mile migration of Pacific salmon.

Rear Guard Falls - British Columbia    Rearguard Falls

A stop at the Ancient Forest provided us with a nice hike. The term “ancient forest” describes a forest that contains significant populations of trees that have reached great age and exhibits unique biological features. This is a temperate rainforest and is particularly unusual in that most temperate rainforests are found by the ocean. However, the interior Wetbelt in British Columbia is home to the world’s only known rainforest so far (800km/498 miles) from the ocean. As a result, a combination of coastal and interior species can be found in this unique forest.

Big Tree - ancient rainforest - British Columbia     Cirrcle of Cedars- British Columbia

“Big Tree”                                                                                Circle of Cedars

The scenery changed along the Yellowhead Highway. Here farming and ranching are major industries. We did take note that dandelions seemed to grow especially well as we saw numerous meadows covered with their bright yellow flowers.

Fraser RIver Valley      Fraser RIver Valley

Rising out of the Fraser River Valley, in the Lakes Country there are more than 300 fresh-water lakes, of which Fraser Lake is one.

Fraser Lake     Fraser Lake2

Tintagel Cairn is a roadside monument that was named after Tintagel, Cromwell, England. The central stone in this cairn once formed part of the Norman wall of Tintagel Castle, reputed birthplace of King Arthur, knight of the Round Table.

Tintagel Cairn    Tintagel Cairn

‘Ksan historical village is a reconstruction of the traditional Gitxsan village which has stood at this site for centuries. There are seven traditionally styled cedar longhouses as well as various totem poles and dugout canoes. We felt they could have used a bit more signage as we nearly gave up before we got to the village.

'Ksan historic village2    'Ksan totems - British Columbia    'Ksan historic village

In Gitwangak, there is one of the largest concentrations of standing totem poles in northwest British Columbia. These stately monuments in cedar proclaim the owner’s clan status and inherited family traditions but were never associated with religion. Clan crests portrayed mythical creatures, sometimes in human form, from the legendary history of the clan.

Gitanyow Totems2    Gitanyow Totems    Totem at Gitanyow, British Columbia

On this beautiful clear day, we could see the Coastal Range, rugged and snow-covered in the distance.

Canadian Rockies - British Columbia   Mountain

British Columbia has really nice provincial parks and Meziadin Lake Provincial Park was a prime example. We met up with several other RVers who were also doing the trip from Iowa. The ranger joked with us that there were about forty of us missing based on consecutive license plate numbers. One of the couples we visited with here, we had first met in the campground in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Camping overlooking a lake, jazz background music with cocktails and a steak dinner is a really nice way to spend an evening.

Mezadian Lake Provincial Park  Meziadin Lake

 

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Travelogue – Canadian Rockies in Alberta

After spending the night at a campground in Cochrane, we set out into the Canadian Rockies, taking a secondary route through the Stone Indian Reserve and then on to the Trans Canada Highway. There I found the wildlife overpasses rather fascinating. These overpasses are designed to allow wildlife to cross the highway without endangering either themselves or motorists. These overpasses maintain a natural-appearing corridor across the highway and studies have shown that the wildlife in the region have adapted to these routes quite readily.

Wildlife Overpass    Wildlife Overpass

Canadian Rockies - Alberta2    Canadian Rockies - Alberta

 

Having visited before, we bypassed both Banff and Lake Louise on our way northwest on the Icefields Parkway toward Jasper. The Canadian Rockies are incredibly beautiful. We found ourselves stopping frequently for photos. Mountains, lakes (some still ice-covered), glaciers, and waterfalls all demanded attention.

Crowfoot Glacier    WaterFowl Lake with green ice

Crowfoot Glacier                                         Waterfowl Lake with Green Ice

Mistaya Falls   Mistaya Canyon

The Columbia Icefield is a national park and a United Nations World Heritage Site. Glaciers are different from the icefields that usually form them. An icefield is an upland area of snow accumulation that feeds two or more glaciers. A glacier is a lobe of highly compressed crystalline ice that sometimes flows downward from the icefield that forms it.
There are six major glacier outflows from the Columbia Icefield. Even though not the largest, the best known of these is the Athabasca Glacier. It is the only one accessible by road. It is a classic valley glacier and the Icefields Centre is located strategically across the road with an unobstructed view. Unobstructed, that is, except by the rain and fog which seems to be nearly ever-present.

Athabasca Glacier - Columbia Icefield   Athabasca Glacier

There are three great rivers which have their origins in the Columbia Icefield – the Athabasca which flows to the Arctic Ocean, the North Saskatchewan which flows into the Saskatchewan and to the Atlantic Ocean and the Wood River which flows into the Columbia and to the Pacific. Three rivers going to three different oceans.

After leaving the Icefields Centre, we stopped time and again to view the gorgeous scenery. Tangle Creek Falls was a roadside photo op and Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls were only short hikes from the highway. They were great “stretch your legs” breaks from driving.

Tangle Falls - Alberta                        Sunwapta FallsT

Tangle Creek Falls                                         Sunwapta Falls

We also saw Bear Number 1, a black bear – the first of many on this trip.

Bear in Alberta

Athabasca Falls - Alberta (3)            Athabasca Falls - Alberta            Athabasca Falls - Alberta (2)

Athabasca Falls

We chose the Whistler Campground to stay the night. It’s on the edge of the town of Jasper, is a national park campground and is huge. With over 700 campsites, one would expect them to be tiny and crowded on top of each other but that was not the case, so it was quite pleasant. The rain even held off so we could take a long walk around the campground. Of course the further north we went, the later it was before dark.

Whistler Campground

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Travelogue – Montana and into Alberta, Canada

To those people who live in and love Montana, I must apologize for the following statement. Northern Montana is very long east to west and very monotonous. Coming from Nebraska, I can relate to the umbrage that might be taken to this comment, as we often hear the same thing and know it certainly does not apply to the entire state. However, our travel this trip through this part of the state fighting a fierce crosswind was less than enjoyable.
Northern Montana     Lake Fresno

Northern Montana                                                    Lake Fresno
We did find a lovely spot overlooking Lake Fresno to camp for the night. There were numerous campers parked there but no people. We assumed they were snagging their sites for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.
This might be an appropriate time to add comments about our “camping.” Our RV was equipped with all the comforts of home and our meals were most definitely not hot dogs and beans. In addition to a full stove and microwave, we had a nice little grill. Our typical dinners would be something like grilled steak or chicken, potatoes or rice pilaf, and corn on the cob or fresh green beans. Not exactly roughing it.
We crossed the border into Canada at Couts. I don’t think that border agent liked his job all that much. He was definitely not pleasant! His questioning seemed a little over the top. In our experiences in the past we have found Canadians to be very friendly so maybe it’s just the border agent thing.

Welcome to Alberta
Our next encounter with Canadians was what we had expected. We stopped at the Milk River Visitors’ Center and the young ladies there were extremely welcoming and very helpful. They steered us to some secondary roads that would help us avoid Calgary and its traffic and provided us with much information and numerous brochures.They also encouraged us to stop in Lethbridge at Fort Whoop-Up National Historic Site. We went there and were glad we did.

Fort Whoop Up - Lethbridge, Alberta  Fort Whoop Up - Lethbridge, Alberta9

Fort Whoop-Up Exterior                                  Fort Whoop-Up Interior

This fort is a replica reconstruction of the original fort with three museum galleries and numerous period rooms. The self-guided tour accompanied by the Voices from the Past program – audio vignettes presented by various scoundrels and lawmen who called Fort Whoop-Up home – was most interesting.

Fort Whoop Up - Lethbridge, Alberta8   Fort Whoop Up - Lethbridge, Alberta4

Originally called Fort Hamilton, the fort was built by Montana traders, and was the largest of 110 established posts and forts throughout Blackfoot country. Because of the use of whiskey to “encourage” trade, the fort developed an infamous reputation and became known as Fort Whoop-Up.

Fort Whoop Up - Lethbridge, Alberta5  Fort Whoop Up - Lethbridge, Alberta10

This reputation and the fact that an American flag was said to be flying over Canadian territory led to the formation of the North West Mounted Police in 1873. The Mounties arrived at Fort Whoop-Up in October 1874, their task being to establish Canadian sovereignty in the Northwest and to control the alcohol trade. A Fort Benton newspaper was the first to report that the Canadian Mounties “always get their man.” In 1875, the Mounties established a post at the fort by renting one of the buildings and for the next twelve years, the Fort continued to trade and host a Mounted Police post – an unusual arrangement! We’re assuming that the whooping-up at Fort Whoop-Up also settled down.

Fort Whoop Up , Alberta  Fort Whoop Up - Lethbridge, Alberta3

For more information:

http://www.fortwhoopup.ca/

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Travelogue – North Dakota/Montana – Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site

Fort Union - North Dakota & Montana   Fort Union Trading Post

Having first heard of Fort Union from a ranger at Old Bent’s Fort in Colorado, we planned a visit. Fort Union is on the border of North Dakota and Montana and in fact is in two different time zones with the parking lot in Montana and the fort itself in North Dakota. The fort is a full-scale reconstruction built on the exact locations of the original. Buildings that have not yet been reconstructed are outlined with timbers. The fort now sits quite a distance from the Missouri River as the river has changed course over the intervening years. Originally keelboats and then steamboats could tie up right at Fort Union which was the northern terminus of navigation on the Missouri River linked to St. Louis, a distance of 1800 miles.

Fort Union - North Dakota & Montana2
Fort Union was the most important fur trading post on the upper Missouri River from 1828 to 1867, longer than any other post on the frontier. Originally operated by the American Fur Company established by John Jacob Astor, the fort was a busy place employing over a hundred people in its heyday.

Fort Union Cannon    Hide Press

Cannon in Bastion                                                         Hide Press

The two bastions with portholes for cannons and small arms look intimidating but were rarely used for defense. In fact, the southwest bastion was used as an artist studio by George Catlin in 1832.  During the fur-trading time period, there was a complementary relationship between fur traders and Indian tribes at the fort and a balance between the cultures.
The day we were there, there was only one ranger on duty – the “lone ranger” as he called himself and no other visitors. As a result, we got a private guided tour and had the chance to ask lots of questions. Our first impression of the fort was that it was certainly different than most forts we had visited with its high whitewashed walls and its luxurious Bourgeois House within.

Bourgeois House2  Bourgeois House
The Bourgeois was the primary agent of the American Fur Company and that appointment was a powerful and prominent position. The first Bourgeois (1829-1836) was Kenneth McKenzie who at the pinnacle of his leadership exercised control over an enormous enterprise and territory.

Trade House Reception Room  Trade House Reception Room
The ranger explained that the walls were white so it could be seen from a great distance to bring in tribes to trade and the painting above the main gate was basically an advertisement and enticement to trade.

Fort Union Main Gate  Fort Union Main Gate

During the trade season, the fort would be surrounded by hundreds of tepees. Numerous tribes brought buffalo robes and furs to Fort Union, which were traded for guns, pots, beads, knives, blankets, cloth and other items from all corners of the globe. It’s amazing how international trade already was in the mid-1800’s.
For more information see:

http://www.nps.gov/fous/index.htm

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Travelogue – North Dakota – Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - North Dakota

A rather grey, chilly and very windy day, we drove north into North Dakota. Theodore Roosevelt National Park has two units and the Elkhorn Ranch site which is undeveloped. Roosevelt came to the badlands of North Dakota to get away from personal tragedy (the deaths of both his wife and mother) and to basically regroup. The wild country along the Little Missouri River proved to be just what he needed.

Little MIssouri River    Little Missouri River

First coming to the badlands in September 1883, and then returning the next year, Roosevelt became involved in the cattle business. However, by spending time in the Dakota Territory, he became alarmed by the damage that was being done to the land and its wildlife. Conservation increasingly became one of his major concerns. After becoming President in 1901, he established the U.S. Forest Service, signed the 1906 Antiquities Act and got Congressional approval for five national parks. Roosevelt was a prominent figure as a conservationist.

Badlands in Theodore Roosevelt National Park - North Dakota    Buffalo in Theodore Roosevelt National Park - North Dakota

The south unit of the park was our first stop. At the Medora Visitor Center we picked up the requisite park map and newspaper and explored the museum and the Maltese Cross cabin on the grounds.

Maltese Cross Cabin   Maltese Cross Cabin

We then set out to drive the 36-mile scenic loop and stopped at various overlooks and trailheads on the way. Being early for the tourist season, we very nearly had the park to ourselves. In fact, we saw more buffalo and wild horses than people.

WIld Horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park - North Dakota    Buffalo

Wild Horses                                                   Buffalo
We hiked the Ridgeline Trail, Coal View Trail, and Boicourt Overlook. On the Scoria Overlook trail we saw the reddish layers locally called “scoria.” Heat generated by burning underground coal baked the overlying sediments into a hard, natural red brick.

Scoria in Theodore Roosevelt National Park - North Dakota     Badlands

Scoria                                                              Badlands

We enjoyed the hikes but did not find the “wow” factor that is present in most of our national parks. The badlands are not as impressive as Badlands National Park in South Dakota or the badlands of the Bisti Wilderness in New Mexico. The real legacy of this park is the profound effect time spent there had on Theodore Roosevelt and, consequently, his drive to establish parks and wilderness areas for the American public. Originally established in 1947 as a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt, the designation was changed to National Park in 1978.

Cannonball Concretion    Cannonball Concretions

Cannonball Concretions
We stayed in the North Unit of the park at Juniper Campground. Near the campground were some formations called cannonball concretions. Concretions are formed within rocks by the deposition of minerals around a core, which is then exposed through erosion. They can be any shape but most are round, hence the “cannonball” name. Located in the river valley, we were treated to early morning fog drifting through the trees.

After we left the park and headed north, we were suddenly in the midst of the North Dakota oil boom. If you’re interested, there is an article in the Summer 2014 issue of National Parks, which is the magazine of the National Parks Conservation Association. The article is entitled “Drilling Down” and discusses how fracking adjacent to Theodore Roosevelt National Park is changing the surrounding landscape.

The article can be found online at:

http://www.npca.org/news/magazine/all-issues/2014/summer/drilling-down.html

For more information about Theodore Roosevelt National Park:

http://www.nps.gov/thro/index.htm

  

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