May 31, 2008

YUKON TERRITORY & the Signpost Forest

I remember hearing and reading stories from childhood about the Yukon. It has the distinct honor of being THE Canadian province that provides the link between the lower 48 and Alaska, and is the subject of many a story of the late 1800 goldrush. Equally famous, the Yukon River has been the dream of many a canoeist, and continues to be the setting for many great paddles and several major canoe races today.

Just as we cross into the Yukon Territory, we get a pulloff for our first view of this mighty legend...and this is only near its origin. We begin to imagine what it will be like as we proceed northward & westward towards the sea.

Today we see many more bears, I think I remember counting eight, and a few other black colored creatures that always seem to show up at any snack or lunch break.

As we are cruising through the small community of Watson Lake, we notice an interesting park over to our right. Something told us this deserves a closer look. It is in fact the "Signpost Forest" started by a WWII soldier and continuing today with over 70,000 signs!

The photo here doesn't begin to show the rows & rows of colorful contributions that come from all over the world....

Moving through, enjoying the variety and uniqueness of the many posts, I begin to look for signs from Louisiana, and start to find a few.

Since we had not learned about this place in advance, we were not prepared with one of our own, but soon after arriving, I hear Joy screaming, "look, come see, hey, get over here". And to our surprise, she had found laying on the ground way in the back, the perfect sign for us to use!

Bob & I did a little cleaning & fixin' and with the help of a few new screws and a drill-gun, we put this baby back in business...right near the front row. So, when you go through, be sure and look for us here!

ALASKA HIGHWAY - Liard Hot Springs

If you are ever, ever on the Ak Hwy, this is an absolute must stop. We spent three wonderful days & nights here, and definitely re-enforced our love of the Canadian Provincial Parks.

These folks seem to have a knack for picking nice spots, constructing & maintaining clean beautiful spaces and deliviering them at a bargain price ($12 per nite typically, which includes firewood at many!). Liard Springs is certainly no exception, and offers even more! Imagine having your own spa in a lush tropical setting, in the middle of a campground in the far North. What a deal!

We took advantage of the soothing waters at least twice a day, and on the final morning, I opted to grab the camera and document this intriguing spot.

As I approached the 1/4 mile long boardwalk that links the camping area to the Springs, I noticed a lone photographer up ahead. Of course, it was Bob, out early checking out the birds.

On closer inspection I found the subject of his long lens, enjoying early feeding in the warm ponds that eminate from the hot waters above. As I myself took closer look for a shot, I began to wonder just who was watching who....
The vegetation thickens along the boardwalk as the water & surface temps rise closer to the source of this continuous warmth. It's bizarre to see the tropical greenery growing out here with snow-capped peaks looming in the distance.
I finally reach the "Alpha Pool" to find it's waters steaming as usual, since the air temp is about 50 degrees F.

The source of the heated liquid is at one end, coming out at roughly 125, too hot for one to enjoy. But, further down the Pool, the hot waters are tempered a bit, and I find Kim bathing in luxury near the far end!

May 28, 2008


Well, we finally made it to Dawson Creek, the start of the incredible Alaska Highway. The Highway, constructed by the US Army in only 8 months in 1942 as a direct result of the Japanese bombing of Pearl harbor. The route provided a method of getting protective troops & equipment to defend the extreme northwestern approach to North America from possible attack.

Although we spent a day & a night here in Dawson, the town didn't offer much interms of local interest, mainly a place to buy groceries & supplies for the long drive up and over to Alaska. We did manage to find both "signposts" for the start of the Highway, so nothing would do other than to have photos of each...

We took turns shuffling trailers and cameras and laughed at each other for making all the fuss about this momentus event. I began to wonder "maybe we should save all the celebrating for the other end!"
So, that being said, we found ourselves moving ahead on the famed road the next morning, and to our surprise, the Highway was in much better shape than suspected.

There was very litle traffic along the route, and many small establishments were closed & boarded up....I guess those high gas prices really are starting to have an effect....

While Kim & I found stopping at the stll ice laden lakes fascinating, Bob & Joy spotted another "lifer" bird, the Harlequin Duck...

The drive was relaxing and beautiful.... with many, many spots like these along the way.

May 26, 2008

Jasper Provincial Park!

The final segment of the Icefields Parkway dropped steeply in elevation as we neared Jasper. The fresh grass and flowers along the roadside lured many animals from their winter’s den, including this first sighting of a black bear.

The fabulous scenery continued to unfold after each & every turn, delighting us with numerous crystal green & blue lakes, like Muncho below...many having pockets of ice still showing.

We stopped for lunch at Mt Robins, which had a nice visitor’s center, and a great view of the 14000-plus foot giant that is a favorite of late summer climbers. This early in the year, it rarely breaks free of the clouds, and is subject to hypothermia inducing storms with little or no warning to climbers.

We arrived at Whistler’s Campground just short of the small town of Jasper late in the afternoon. By now, we’re starting to get used to the longer days, allowing us to plan for more activities along a route. The Campground was surprisingly clean and nice. Large spaces between campsites, surrounded by spring colored aspens provided an ideal backdrop for this first evening’s fire, and a little refreshment, of course.
(oh, and free firewood!)

Yes, it didn’t take us long to decide that this place deserved at least three night’s stay!

Next day we were off to Sunwapta Falls, a nearby picturesque example of the many that abound in these Rockies. An easy hike, we spent a little extra time taking pictures from almost every angle.

There was a bridge and trail that led to the “downside” of the falls area, where fast waters over past centuries had etched a small slot canyon into the walls. Nature completed the rest of the scene with an array of colorful plants & lichens.

Bob found a nice view of the River down below, which with a little encouragement, I would have loved to paddle. The rapids, however, are a bit too much for a canoe, and the raft rentals were very pricey (well, like most things in Canada!)

While combing the shore below Bob found an array of Inukshuk cairns and it wasn’t long before he and Joy were leaving their territorial mark on the landscape.

The next day led us to a contrasting area of finger lakes, interesting flora and grassy meadows…Five Lakes. This string of glacial lakes is linked by a 3 mile trail that starts off with a long, long boardwalk across a swampy meadow. Although we didn’t see any on the hike, no doubt that earlier ths morning, elk were grazing just off to either side.

Just past the elevated crossing, we began to notice these tiny but beautiful orchids, often growing in clumps of a dozen or more. A few interesting birds were seen along the way also, maybe one day I’ll talk Bob into starting a separate blog just for his excellent birding photos. I also noticed an early elk or mule deer had found the perfect tree to “rub” …makes me wonder when the rut is here?

Joy had boasted about this being an easy hike, “level” you know…well, maybe level between the steep hills! Anyway after a bit longer walk than expected, we got our first glimpse of “Lake 5” (the trail leads bottom to top order). Kim found that Five was no exception, again delighting us with those impressive colors!

Between each lake lay an area of shallow waters that gave a marshy appearance, with a mineral stain hue….

As we walked back towards the start of the loop, my attention shifted to the smaller side of things again, noticing an array of variety in areas of rich loam.

The boardwalk view from the return gives one the feeling of just how vast and diverse this area is, contrasting the spring meadow below against the ice-capped mountain in the distance…the end of another great day!

Our final day in the Jasper area found us in this quaint Alps-like village. It was nice to have that European feel to things as we walked around enjoying a break from the great outdoors. As we passed the train station, the large town totem reminded us that we weren’t in the Swiss Alps, but the native lands of Canada….