Finally, the day we have been waiting for. A day that was exactly like what we thought it would be in our heads. Beautiful vistas, so many animal sightings, and a major check off the bucket list that exceeded expectations. So let me jump right in. We started Day 4 at 7am with an overcast rainy day for our 200 mile trek into the Canadian Rockies. The signs said bison on road at Muncho lake which was promising, and the milepost book said vistas where you could see for 100 miles. We knew with the weather those vistas might be obscured, and we decided instead of making a concrete plan we would drive till we were tired and stop when we were done.
Right off the bat things were great. At 7:30am and roughly MM 305 we saw our first bear on the left side coming down a long hill. Couldn’t get a picture but it was an auspicious start. Then 3 miles later we saw a young bear on my side of the road. I always have the camera ready, by the way, with the long lens on it, and when we see something Lee pulls over, puts the blinkers on and whoever is on the right side of the vehicle gets to take the pics. So far it’s mainly been on straightaways and has been perfectly safe to pull over.
Around MM 323 we started to climb and the rain had some sleet elements in it, which eventually turned in a steep windy climb with some 8 percent grades . The milepost called for challenging weather conditions on this stretch and was very specific, so Lee drove carefully at around 40 mph. The sleet turned into light snow and some fog, but the roads weren’t terrible and the scenery was pretty with a light dusting of snow. One thing they don’t have many of here are scenic turnouts like in the states, although there were a couple of southbound places to pull off, but it was too foggy to see anything anyway.
When we reached the summit several trucks were pulled over. No profile sign on this one with descriptions of grade so Lee had to wing it. Going down the fog was very thick and visibility was about 200 yards with 8-10 percent grades. Lee took it slow at 30 mph and it went OK . It curves to the left a couple of times at the end of the grade though so please slow down on this one. The roads were also slick at this point so not one to mess with. What I did find interesting was that the Milepost book has this paragraph long description of the local trapper the creek was named after (including what jeans he wore and what kind of pipe he smoked), but no mention of the 2 mile long 8 percent grade starting at MM 343. I read later in the book that the field editors make these trips in Truck Campers. We really need one of them driving one of these beasts for some perspective!!
Then around MM 355 (8:40am) we saw two bears a black one and a brown one. This was the best bear sighting we have had so far. We sat for a long time and took pictures since it was a long, safe section of road, there was no traffic, and they were very active. Really awesome. I loved the brown ones, which it turns out are black bears just brown in color.
Right after that we started seeing small signs for hot cinnamon roll signs, so to celebrate our awesome bear moment we stopped for a cinnamon roll and bathroom break. The Tesla River RV Park was a tiny little gem tucked into this river valley and we got 2 coffee and 2 cinnamon buns for $15. All of their T-Shirts were also half off so I picked up my first Alaska Highway T-Shirt for $12.50 Canadian . We also talked to two couples we are now pacing. One was next to us in the campground in Fort Nelson and the other had seen us along side the road yesterday looking at a bear. I had heard that you will start to see the same folks over and over again along the Alaska highway and that was starting to be the case.
After our stop the weather pattern started to change. Pretty quickly the sun was coming out in patches and the road was totally dry! We had another long , curvy 8 percent grade around MM 376 and because of the possibility of sheep in the road you need to really go slow. We stopped and got gas at the bottom of the grade (that seems to be a pattern with us, stop and get gas and catch our breath). It was $1.36 liter CD (one gas pump had a handwritten sign that said “No Sniveling” and we enjoyed the pretty view. Stone Mountain Provincial Park is really beautiful. This is definitely an area I can see coming back to and exploring more. Oh, and there is a large pullout right before MM 401 where you can get out and walk down to the Racing River. I read about this in the Milepost Book (it is helpful with showing where some cool pictures can be taken) and if you wanted you could park a big rig in their for the night. Beautiful views.
After spending some time there, I had Lee reset the mileage calculator. I was off by about 7 miles and doing the math was making me nuts, so from that point forward I would pick a spot close to one of the hundreds (500 MM, 600MM etc) and reset the trip odomoter from there. Made the math easier. I wasn’t taking any driving turns because I just wasn’t comfortable, so I took my navigator job seriously. Had the book open on my lap and was reading ahead every 10 miles or so and seeing what was coming up. Plus I was animal spotting, I am happy to say I am getting pretty good at that. We saw another first for us at MM 417 (10:53am)we saw a young caribou in the water trying to climb the bank. He couldn’t get up and finally gave up and crossed back across the stream and got on the road. My series of pics on this one was amazing as it happened on my side, so neat.
We stopped at 419 and ate with a beautiful view of the river, and next up was was Muncho Lake. There is a campground big rigs can fit in called McDonald campground, our friends Kelly and Bill stayed there and loved it. It has no services but hand pumped water (like all the government campgrounds we have seen, so you need to boondock, but if you can swing it it’s worth it. It was a beautiful glacier lake with bright green water. The light wasn’t quite right for me to get that perfect reflection picture, but it was still amazing. We stopped at two large turnouts to take pictures and don’t miss the second one on the left side of the road at the end of the lake because there is a fantastic view from there. It was only 12pm our time so we decided to keep going, but definitely worth a stay if you time it right.
Next up was Lairds springs. Both Kelly and Barb has stopped for a soak and I had to do it!! But first we stopped at a large gravel turnout with rocks around MM460. This may be the most beautiful site I have ever seen and there was even a campfire ring there. Walk down to the water and look to the right…wow!! We stopped and stayed for awhile and what a beautiful place to boondock in. Absolutely amazing!!
And if that wasn’t enough less than a mile down the road we finally saw a a huge group of rock sheep. They were right on the road (it was 12:48pm) and we stopped and Lee got out of the truck to take pictures. He even captured a truck slowing down coming the other way to let the sheep move.
Then right before Laird Springs we saw our first bison. They are huge and kind of mangy since we think they are still shedding their winter coats. Completely unconcerned by us though. I can see why there are so many warning signs though. Would NOT want to hit one of these.
Then we turned in Laird River campground. You can park across the street and walk over (which I recommend) or pull in and try to find parking. We got lucky because it wasn’t that crowded and they let us park in there, but usually there would not be room as it is a very popular place. It was $5 per person cash (so worth it) and you walk about 10 minutes down a nice boardwalk to get there. I have been wanting to do Hot Springs forever, but have been waiting for the right moment. This was definitely it and the experience was fantastic. The water temperature changes the farther you are from the hot springs area and this was a nice clear and clean swimming hole with a changing area. Fair warning though the changing rooms are one large one per sex, so if you are shy wear your suit under. The water was clear and it does move as you swim in it. Loved loved it. Big check off the bucket list.
Next we saw lots more Bison and a Native Canadian (or First Person) woman running holding a totem pole. She we being followed by a truck that said Peace Journeys on the side. According to their website ” Peace and Dignity Journeys are spiritual runs that embody the prophecy of the Eagle and Condor.This prophecy mandates that at this time all Indigenous Peoples in the Western Hemisphere shall be reunited in a spiritual way in order to heal our nations so we can begin to work towards a better future for our children and generations to come. Through the Journeys, participant runners and supporters work to accomplish this goal by helping each other reconnect to their respective spiritual practices and traditions; by helping each other relearn our role in the world as Indigenous Peoples; and by reminding each other of our responsibilities to Mother Earth, Father Sky, our communities, and ourselves. That was neat. staying peace journeys pm the side.” Very glad we saw that.
After a long and beautiful day we made it to Watson Lake. We stopped and bought gas at Contact Creek Lodge for 99 cents a liter (cheaper than Watson Lake) and Lee has a great conversation with a local about how nuts the guy thought Donald Trump was. Ah…political discussions in the middle of nowhere. Sure why not. Another steep downgrade at 570, this one had a bison in the middle of the road, but no problem we were on high alert and stopped and allowed him to wander of the road. The we saw the flags leading into town and we were there. What an absolutely amazing day. On of the best of our enter time on the road and we were both very happy. Exhausted, but happy. Next up Caribou Crossing!!
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