South of 60

We rolled out of Stewart heading north onto highway 37A to Meziadin Junction where highway 37A ends and highway 37 begins. Highway 37 is one leg of the Northern British Columbia Circle Tour.  Looking at a map, you will have highway 37 on the west/left side, while highway 97 is on the east/right side; Yellowhead Trans-Canada 16 forms the south/bottom of the loop.  Both highways 16 and 97 roughly meet at Prince George, B.C., in the east.

Along the way, traveling on highway 37, we saw black bears, moose, red fox, and in the higher elevations, caribou.  Plenty of fauna; the flora were starting to bud and leaf out.

Coming across British Columbia, from Jasper all the way to Stewart, I noticed something that struck me as somewhat interesting.  Back in Minnesota, as many know, I keep honeybees (hence the reason there is the word bees in the title of the blog).  An important spring-to-summer flower for bees in Minnesota and elsewhere is the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale); those oft considered obnoxious weeds, which seem to grow everywhere.   It was fascinating to be traveling up the mountains and down the mountains; and it would appear that at this time of year, dandelions are in full swing under an elevation of around 3,200 feet (975 meters).   As spring gets underway, dandelions will undoubtedly begin appearing at higher elevations.

In addition to just elevation, I find the relationship between elevation and latitude to be a bit enchanting.   As we drove through northern British Columbia, just south of Dease Lake, we crossed the Great Continental Divide.  This is the divide that runs from the Chuckchi Sea in northwestern Alaska all the way through North American, through Central America and through South America.  This divide area was where we first ran into caribou.

Think about this: Denver, Colorado, sits at around 5,200 feet (1,585 meters).  There is no tundra or caribou in Denver.  At the divide in northern B.C., we crossed a stretch of permafrost and tundra and this is where the caribou came out poking around the road.  This area, at the divide, is also lower in elevation than Denver – around 4,600 feet (1,400 meters).

We pushed on through Dease Lake – after a bizarre conversation with a local shop owner about how Canada does not piss on things in the world like the United States.  Through Jade City, and more of northern B.C.; we ended that round of travel in Whitehorse, Yukon.

As I write this, we are in Dawson City, Yukon – we have been here for a number of days; there is a delicious story surrounding our travels through Dawson City, and up the Dempster Highway; teaser: we broke an axle in the arctic.  Stay tuned.

Stewart, British Columbia

We rolled up the Alaska-Stewart Highway (highway 37). At around 56.1 degrees North latitude, the highway comes to a tee.  I had been sleeping, but was still tired.  The small gas station and surrounding area we had seen on Google Street View had morphed into a large work camp.  We stopped at the stop sign and turned right.

There is a 1971 low budget horror movie called The Touch of Satan.  It stars no one and features nothing (though, it does have the enduring hill-billy, Robert Easton).  The movie starts with the lead protagonist, Jodie Lee Thompson (played by Michael Berry), coming to a side road.  He turns down the side road just to see what’s down it.  Jodie travels down the road, becomes entailed with a woman on a farm (actually, it is referred to as a walnut ranch in the movie) at the end of road.  In the end, he becomes part of an evil plot crafted by satan; Jodie is stuck on the farm for eternity.

The thought of that movie crossed my mind as we drove north.  I was not scared of finding satan along the road or getting stuck on a walnut ranch. I was however, concerned about getting stuck without diesel; we had a half-tank and no jerry cans.  With the gas station on the corner having been converted into a work camp, we did not filled up there.

Two kilometers down the road, we stopped, made a turn-around on a spur road.  We headed to Stewart.

This was at around 6:00 AM; we rolled down Highway 37A past the work camp and toward Stewart.

Highway 37A rolls through mountains and crosses over several streams and rivers.  Along the way, we saw black bears and porcupines; around a corner, up a little bend, suspended on the edge of a pond was Bear Glacier.

We had past by glaciers in while driving through Banff National Park in Alberta, but those glaciers were covered with tundra buggies and tourists.  Bear Glacier, on the other hand, was just sitting in solitude.

The color of the glacier, on one corner, reminded me of the glaciers that I saw from the air when flying over Greenland several years ago.  It is the same color as a blue Icee.  We stopped and just sort of looked at it in amazement before continuing on to Stewart.

Stewart is a small town – like many of the towns we went through.  It was Victoria Day, so things were either going to not be open or just open late.  The gas station was not open yet.  We drove around a few of the streets, and found a couple cafes.  We settled on Temptations Bakery & Deli; it was open and looked like a possible breakfast-spot.

Inside we found four locals, sitting, having coffee; two more were working behind the counter.  We ordered some muffins and coffees, and sat down next to the four locals.

The locals were talking about a friend who was down in Terrace, BC; Andy and I talked quietly amongst ourselves.  One of the locals, we would later learn her name was Alice, turned around, “Where ya’ from and whatcha doin’ in Stewart?”  Andy said said he was Montana; I said I was Minnesota.  We said we were on our way to the Yukon.

Alice was from Oklahoma, Ross – a grey-long-haired-Willie-Nelson-looking-guy, was from Saskatchewan, another man was from Nova Scotia, and the other was from elsewhere in Canada.

We chatted for a while; mostly small talk.  Alice kept getting razzed for being from the States; she insisted that she did have her Canadian citizenship.

Ross owned a fishing boat in the harbor; he never used it, though.

Even though it was all small talk, the people of Stewart that we interacted with, were remarkably nice.  It was also apparent that rural Canadian towns with attract a particular kind of person.  We would later realize this can go to an extreme in the nether regions of the arctic.

Update 1 – The Dempster Highway

—————————-

UPDATE: June 10, 2013 – As there have been several people finding their way to this page by searching for “cb radio dempster highway” – just as a heads up, we found the CB radio to completely useless on the Dempster (as well as nearly all of western Canada).  In talking with truck drivers on the Dempster as well as Yukon Highway workers, it sounded like either HAM radios are used or a land-based relay radio system.

—————————-

We have been kicking it around Whitehorse for the last couple of days; mostly not driving, but we have seen some interesting things that I am likely to write about later.

I figured I would just post a note for the those following the road trip.  We will likely be off the grid and out of cellular phone range until [likely] Saturday, May 24, 2013.  We do, however, have a citizens’ band (CB) radio with us in the truck.  We are not without communication equipment; we are just not connected to the world.

“Where are we going?” you ask.  The Dempster Highway (also known as Highway 5).  We pick up an hour east (or so) of Dawson City.

The Dempster runs from there to Inuvik (and further north in the winter when roads of packed snow and ice are formed).  We, however, will be targeting the Peel River near Fort McPherson.  The river ferry is likely not to be running.  Just checking Northwest Territories Transportation department information, the Peel River ferry crossing will likely open the first week of June.

Once back to Dawson City or Whitehorse, I will continue to post about the trip; picking up with Stewart, BC.

Ancient Forest

After Canmore, AB, we stopped in Jasper, AB – where I helped an elderly woman who was walking with a pair of forearm crutches.  I mention this only because it is a strong memory in very short sequence of quirky events.

I helped the woman, and then, several seconds later, an older man coming out of the restaurant said, “What a guy!; way to go sonny!” and punched me in the shoulder with a closed fist; he just walked away.  While Andy and I were marveling at what just happened, I found $15.

After Jasper, we cut west in through the Canadian Rockies and headed for a diesel refill in McBride, BC.  Being from the midwest, I find elevation fascinating.  It is the dimension that no one even thinks about.  It just does not affect weather which in turn does not affect peoples’ plans.

In Minnesota, at the high end, you have Eagle Mountain in the Sawtooth Range on the north shore of Lake Superior – it is 2301 feet (701 m) above sea level.  On the low end (and, coincidentally only 17 miles from Eagle Mountain) is Lake Superior with an elevation of 600 feet (183 m).

From Canmore, through Jasper, and finally to McBride, we dropped from 4,860 feet (1,480 m) through 3,484 feet (1,062 m), and finally to 2,560 feet (780 m).  We dropped even farther later in the trip, but the area just past McBride turned out to be extremely interesting because of its location, elevation, position between two mountain ranges and a likely host of other variables: it is on the edge of the world’s only inland temperate rainforest.

After the diesel refueling we hit the road.  We would have completely blown past the rainforest if we had not seen a sign that said, “Ancient Forest” with an arrow pointing ahead.  Andy has a similar affinity for trees, lumber and wooden creations as myself; we decided to give it a viewing.

We followed the signs, and eventually pulled into what appeared to be a recently cleared area; the parking lot, gravel, was impressively compacted – gravelly, yet, like concrete.  An outhouse was tucked into the forest along the northwest corner of the cleared area.  A new, roughly hewn cedar walkway trailed off into the woods.

We really did not know what to except.  We both had thoughts of a placer mining operation uncovering a long dead, but petrified forest.  We were wrong.  The trees were much alive.  Dozens and dozens of enormous cedar-hemlock trees.  A rushing stream carrying snowmelt from higher elevations cut under the cedar walkway.

After we left the area, we both talked about how we wanted to fill the back of the truck with cedar; we thought of humorous things we would have told customs as we attempted to re-enter the U.S.

We rolled out back onto Trans Canada Highway 16 – heading northwest.  Prince George was the next stop; we pushed on after a quick stop there.  Andy drove, and I slept.  I woke up as we were approaching Kitwanga Mountain Provincial Park in far western British Columbia.  Again, the underlying protagonist of our journey, diesel, was in need of resupply.  Highway 16 ends at the Provincial Park; the Dease Lake Highway or more commonly calledHighway 37, begins.  

A little ways up highway 37, you will find Meziadin Junction.  Turning right leads to extremely long stretches of wilderness and no near-term supplies of diesel; turning left, leads to Stewart, BC, and diesel.  We turned left.  We found more than diesel.  We found an incredibly rustic and interesting place with colorful characters.

 

North, Alberta, British Columbia, and Beyond

During the winter, I cooked up a travel idea: north. Not north in just a general haphazard fashion, but north with a bit of directional purpose.  During the winter, the pseudo-city-life that I now live kind of getting to me.  The couple of trips to the Duluth area had sort put a bit of spark into me: I needed to get away – just for a little while.

Project and work obligations kept me in the Twin Cities for the bulk of the winter and spring.  But, with my spring trip idea firmly planted, I focused in on northwestern Canada.  No real strong reason; I guess it is partly philosophical and partly adventurous.  I have been to lands near and above the arctic circle (Iceland and Finland), but North America and the northwestern part seemed very compelling; it not is essentially near to Minnesota, but not exactly easily accessible.

During the winter, when I was running numbers and routes for a possible trip, Melissa said she was out; she had to work and has limited vacation.  Besides, who wants to drive for 15 hours a day for multiple days in a row.  She said, maybe Andy would be interested.

Andy is a friend, a bit younger than myself, who used to live in Duluth a number of years ago.  He also happens to have grown up in Hibbing and his mother is a good friend of my mother’s.  I ran the idea past him; “So…do you think Jen would let you take a couple weeks to take one hell of a road trip with me?”

He was in.  I had him at “road trip.”

The planning commenced, and we arrived upon several possible destinations.  The overarching goal: Yukon and northwestern Northwest Territories.

I will fill things later with a bit more information later; I made it across the U.S. to Bozeman, Montana on Friday, May 17, 2013.  Andy and I drove to Canmore, Alberta, yesterday.  And, currently, we are taking a short break in Prince George, British Columbia.  The, above, picture is from northwest of Calgary and southeast of Canmore.

Tomorrow, the Yukon.