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Monday, October 26, 2015

DRIVING TO MANITOBA - POLAR BEAR STATE


Our first stop in Edmonton is to book a grease & oil change at the Isuzu dealership. Then next stop the Legislative building in the city centre. They offer free tours, so we head off & find a parking spot in the city – again a measly $4 for 2 hours! Wouldn’t get that in Brisbane. It is a lovely old building. Not too much else to see this side of the river so we decide to cross the river to see the old district of Strathcona. The first bridge I head us to has a height restriction, so we take the escape route. Second bridge is one way only – but not the way we are going! Third bridge is crazy with traffic as it is now rush hour. Finally we get to the other side. But I want to see views of the city (they really need to cut down those trees!) so direct John down to a lookout. We see the river (a bit Ho-hum) & some old houses, and then discover that we are in a one way system & have to go back over the bridge. We decide to pass up on Strathcona and instead head to the Walmart that is nearest the Isuzu shop – it is directly over the road. How convenient. Dinner out tonight as we are in town.

Phew! An early morning start as we need to be at the workshop at 7am. Crazy as the mechanic doesn’t arrive until nearly 8am. Still we are out by 10am with a discount down from $420 to $190 (must be Johns charm- so he thinks!, but I am more inclined to think it was his “What” exclamation.) Decide to visit West Edmonton Mall – at one time the World’s biggest Shopping Mall with over 800 shops, an amusement park, ice skating rink etc etc. Needless to say we only touched the surface. Very pleased with our purchase of fleecy lined pants & jackets. Time to head out of town, the polar bears are calling. We head north with all the traffic. It is Friday afternoon and Thanksgiving weekend. As the traffic peels off we head further north, turn off the main road & find a quiet spot not far from one of the numerous lakes here. As we sit by our fire fifth wheelers towing quads keep rolling in for the long weekend. We enjoy our delicious steaks that Gordon bought for us from the best butcher shop in Alberta. Thank you Gordon – they were delicious!

Head off nice & early to get a lot of miles covered today. Again: lots of farms, lakes & marshes. Pass Lac la Biche then Cold Lake (both cold & gray) & cross the border in to Saskatchewan. Slowly the day warms up – 19deg! Eventually we start looking for a camp spot. Beatty Lake campsite looks good but is locked for the winter. Next stop at Beaver Lake is perfect. We have a roaring fire & sit outside hoping for the Northern Lights. When I get up at 4am there is a pale green arc in the sky – hardly worth getting out my camera & anyway it is very chilly. I head back to bed.

We are now crossing Saskatatchwen in a direct line – so it is mainly dirt roads. The scenery consists mainly of boreal forests, lakes & no animals. It is hunting season, so they are all in hiding! A short coffee stop at the First Nation township of Beauval – amazingly tidy. We were hoping to see lots of abandoned cars so John can scrounge a number plate for his collection. On checking with a local he sends us to the Landfill. John heads in despite the “Beware of Bears” sign. When he looks in a pit heaps of big black birds rush out – giving him a heck of a fright - thought a bear was coming. Anyway he got his plate. Success!

The day gets steadily colder and wetter. We decide to detour up to Lac la Ronge & maybe camp overnight there. There is a great old Trading Post there that still sells furs etc, although it will probably be closed because of Thanksgiving. A few kms up the road GR2 decides to throw up some faults in its temperamental computer. When John finally clears them we decide to give up on La Ronge & finish this dirt road. Just before we reach the tarseal we find a nice spot to camp beside an abandoned shack near Bear River. Perfect. No fire tonight as it is still drizzling.

In the morning GR2 has another hissy fit, so John takes off the Roo’s power chip. (No problems since then – although off course we have less power. At least there are no hills here.)

Back on to the smooth black stuff we cross the border in to Manitoba and finally the very quirky town of Flin Flon centered around a huge nickel, copper & gold mine. We find the Walmart (they usually have pretty good Wifi) so I can post a blog & pay some bills. John chats to locals & meets Kieran who invites us out in his boat.  We plan to meet later that day, but first we head out for Thanksgiving Day lunch. Well hardly anything is open – so we end up at the local Hotel. Then we rug up for our boat ride, and just as well because it is very chilly. Thermals, padded pants, snow pants …. I can hardly move. But we have a great time out on the water. No moose today, but lots of magnificent scenery. Thank you Kieran.

More Wifi, fill up with water & head on towards Thompson. Stop at lots of lakes & waterways, but the best stop is the short walk out to Pisew Falls. Finally stop for the night at Paint Lake about 50km away from Thompson. So we arrive midmorning. It is cold & wet. We decide to check our tickets at the train station – it is closed. Next we hunt down the campground – yes we can leave GR2 here & they will drop us off & pick us up from the train. Fill up the rest of the day at the Visitor Centre & Museum, and then packing mountains of warm clothes into a bag.

Finally we are on our way. The train leaves on time at 5pm and takes 16hrs (yes a very long slow 16hrs to go a mere 400km – must be one of the slowest train journeys in the world.) We have a surprisingly good dinner & then a surprisingly good sleep (thanks to some sleeping pills) on our 4 seats (the cheap section of the train is pretty empty) pulled out to make a bed of sorts. Finally arrive after breakfast. It is amazingly chilly and snowing – so a very brisk walk to Bears Den B&B, only 5 minutes away. Actually the town is so small most things are only 5 minutes away.

After settling in we head off to explore town. First the chilly beach on Hudson Bay, then a great little museum, a scattering of touristy shops and then dinner before heading to our cozy bed. It is an early start tomorrow for our tour. In fact all of the 10 guests at the B&B are going on the same tour. Early breakfast, before putting on all our layers. We are collected at 7am. Then stop at numerous places in town to collect a bus load. Then a drive of 30-40minutes out to Great White Bears depot to be loaded in to our Tundra Buggy. We are finally on our way. The tundra is a frozen arctic wilderness – and we drive along old army tracks, through iced up ponds – for about an hour. Finally we spot our first bear casually strolling past the Tundra Buggy Lodge that has been driven out on the tundra. Then another one curled up beside a bush, just snoozing the day away. Much later – more exploring, but we only find one more bear today – and he too can’t be bothered getting up.

Until we got here I hadn’t realized that the bears were just here waiting for the Hudson River to freeze up so that they could get onto the ice and head out to catch some breakfast – namely seals! So of course they can’t be bothered doing too much – apparently when it gets colder they move around more – and this isn’t very cold yet! Way too cold for us.

We have one more day here before catching the train at 7.30pm, so we have decided to hire a car to explore the area. It is booked for tomorrow, but we stop off after the tour to see if we can pick it up tonight. Yes that’s fine & we can leave it at the train station. So at 5pm we head back to pick up an old F100 truck – what a dog, but at least the heater works. After dinner we drive around then head to the waterfront in the hope of seeing the Northern Lights (that everybody else saw last night while we slept!). Guess what – we went to sleep in the truck till 1.30am. Finally we decide to return to our beds.

We wake to falling snow. At least the arctic wind has stopped. After breakfast we head off to explore. First back to the port to see if we can see the silver fox that we saw last night. We don’t see him, but do see 2 young red foxes playing. Then a couple of snow owls. On to Fort Merry lookout – again we came last night and quickly walked out because it was bitterly cold. This morning the rangers were there – one to give us a guide & the other to stand guard. Woops – we didn’t tell him that we had walked out here last night. Luckily no bears were there looking for dinner. More back roads. Stop at a lookout, then at an old crashed freighter plane called Miss Piggy courtesy of the pigs she used to carry. Next on to a dog farm where bears come to steal dogs food. Here the enterprising owner charges tourists $75 per person per hour to drive on to his property to look at the 2 bears that are on his property! What an easy way to make money. We declined as we had already gone on an expensive tour, the bears were snoozing & out of principle. We also stopped at the research station & the Polar Bear jail. Here bears that keep coming to town are kept until they are airlifted well out of town. There was going to be an airlift at 3pm – but we missed it. It ended up being at 10.30am. An Aussie family at our B&B wanted to text us, but didn’t have our ph no. Mel gave me some photos (I have added a few, because technically it happened while we were there- a mother & 2 cubs were airlifted well away) Thanks Mel.

An early dinner, then all 10 of us from the B&B head to the cheap seats on the train. We leave our rent a wreck in the carpark at the station with the keys in the ashtray as directed. When we filled up with fuel it cost nearly as much as the rental itself! The return train trip flew by as we had so many new friends to talk to. To top it off we could see the Northern Lights waving in the sky as we slowly rolled along.  Before we know it we are back in Thompson.

Coming soon: The big heads at Mt Rushmore.

 

 

 

 

DRIVING TO MANITOBA - POLAR BEAR STATE

Edmonton City

Edmonton City - river

Lots of farms

Lots of hay bales

Just near our camp spot on Chump Lake

Magic Autumn views from Beauville - a First Nation Town

Flin Flon Mine

Out on Lake Annabelle

Out on the lake

A chilly boat ride - thank you Kieran

Gorgeous Pishew Falls

Scenic driving

The big miner in Thompson (Nickel)

The wolves are in town - Thompson

Be careful

Hudson Bay....Brrrrrrrr

Our first Polar Bear - exciting!

On the prowl

Waiting

This is soooo boring waiting for the ice and some food.

Get up and move!!!! Nah, I'm just going to look at you.

Out on the Tundra

The grain silos on the port

So cute - foxes

Fort Merry

Another fox

Making sure we aren't a polar bears breakfast

Snowy Oil

Miss Piggy

Our rent a wreck

Local shipwreck

We could drive to the beach and see the Tundra Buggys

Our fox and his lair

Baby bears air lift - thanks Mel

Polar Bear airlift - thanks Mel

Northern Lights in Churchill (thanks Ken)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

THE LONG DRIVE TO YELLOWKNIFE


It is over 1300km to Yellowknife from Hinton. John has checked the weather forecast- today is Monday, and Wednesday up there is fine so we decide to head up as fast as possible. After a chilly night we head off. We can still see the Rocky Mountains in the distance & there are still some autumn colours left, making for lovely scenery. On through Grande Cache & then the booming mining town of Grande Prairie, where we start seeing 100’s of gas & oil rigs. And this is no exaggeration! A quick stop at the visitor info to collect more paperwork (boy do I love maps!! I have heaps of them now) Continue on – more huge flat prairies & miles of farming. Find a quiet spot beside Lake Cardinal for the night. Well we think it is beside the lake, but walk for ages & still don’t find it. Oh well, it is still a quiet spot. We meet a local going out Owl counting (interesting- John says he would rather “bird” watch at the beach)

A huge driving day today. Lots of farms & tiny towns before we reach High Level – the last town of any size before Yellowknife. We fill up with more diesel & water. There are no longer any farms, and even the gold leaves have gone leaving a stark barren landscape. Animals are few & far between. Finally cross in to The Northwest Territory.  Stop at magic Alexandra Falls & a final fuel stop at Enterprise (not a lot happening here), and the cute McNally Falls. Finally stop on the start of the ice road that was used to cross the McKenzie River before the bridge was built.

Today is Wednesday. Weather is still perfect – Yellowknife here we come. But first cross the huge McKenzie River on the new bridge and carry on through the massive bison reserve. We don’t see herds, but at least see a few. Bonus – a young black bear foraging in the grass. Finally another bridge – we are now in First Nations territory (the Dene people), so lots of scruffy villages & houses built on rocks. The whole landscape changed when we crossed the river. Massive granite boulders and 100’s of lakes. And of course there are now lots of frost heaves in the road, making it all roly poly. We arrive by lunchtime. A quick visit to the info centre and we head off to explore. We are stunned by the size of this place way out in the middle of nowhere 20,000 +residents – the economy is supported by 3 huge diamond mines. We decide to go on a floatplane ride because the weather is so perfect – so we head out to the old town to find a flight. Note: the old town has amazing houses & shacks squeezed on to a very rocky peninsula. Most tourist activities have finished for the season – but we find a guy to take us out (they close up tomorrow & take their planes back to Vancouver,) Great flight followed by dinner at the “best fish & chip shop in Canada” – Bullocks Bistro. We share a table with a young couple from China. They are here to see the Northern Lights, and sit up every night waiting. (Of course that triggers a desire to see them too – but that is another long story). So it is well & truly dark when we set out to find a camp spot. We head to the lakeside, & in the morning discover that we are beside the yacht club (and no lights that night!)

The next day we head out on the Ingraham Trail – a 80km drive in to the middle of nowhere.  The day is frigid & gray. We drive in to Dettah (a small Dene village) & get invited in to the local school. The lovely head mistress shows us around. We are totally impressed by the work she & her 3 other teachers are doing in this tiny school of 35 children ranging from 3 to 12. The children get breakfast, cooked lunch, library, computer room, lots of outdoor pursuits…the list goes on.

More exploring as the day gets colder. John scores some fish from a local couple (actually he asked if he could buy some from them & they give them to him). Then a hike out to a waterfall with lots of Chinese tourists (they all come here to see those Lights) and finally find a spot by the last lake on the road. Brrr it is chilly. No fire tonight – much too cold to sit outside. During the night it drizzles – so no Lights tonight.

Wake to a cold (make that freezing) gray day. Head back to the big smoke. A good day to do the free tour of the Legislative Building, which is an amazing glass igloo building. Then the Diamond Museum for me – phew John is safe – they are incredibly expensive tiny rocks! Then food & fuel and we are out of here. When I told a local that it was freezing, she just said “It is nothing yet!” We’re not waiting to find out.

On our way back south we pop in to see tiny Port Providence & after crossing the McKenzie River turn & head to Fort Simpson – we are now on dirt road. Lots of driving before we reach the free ferry, stopping to walk in to the Sambaa Deh Falls. All the camp areas are closed & gated off for the season. Plan to overnight at Fort Simpson, but after driving around the scruffy town and stopping to look at the oldest house we meet a group of guys – very nice guys, friendly, but a tad on the happy side. We decide that maybe we will head out if town for a peaceful night. When we can’t find a riverside spot we recross the river and stop overlooking the ferry. Very quiet.

We retrace our steps along the McKenzie Highway, and then turn onto the Liard Highway to head south. It is dirt for quite a way. Stop at Blackstone Territorial Park & walk in to look across the river at Nahanni Butte in the Nahanni National Park – apparently very lovely, but no road access. Pop in to drive through the First Native town of Fort Liard – a quick stop as this is not much there & continue on the to the Alaskan Highway with only one more stop at the longest bailey bridge we have ever seen across the Hay River. Finally stop at Beaver Lake Recreation site – at 4am there is a green streak in the sky (John says it is a cloud)

Now we are on the Highway we are back to traffic. There are heaps of trucks & work utes. It is mining territory. First stop is Fort Nelson. The info centre is open but the museum closed for the season – still plenty of old cars etc sitting outside. Lots more driving as the snowy peaks of the Rockies come back in view. Finally stop at Inga Lake Recreation Area for the night. Another great fire. I sit up for the lights as the night is so clear, but zippo! All it does is make me tired & grumpy the next day.

Yet another cold day. Lots more traffic as we head in to Fort St John (dubbed The Energetic City because of all the energy produced in the area). It is busy, busy. On to Dawson Creek, detouring off the main road to see the amazing Kiskatinaw River Bridge. It is a very old curved wooden bridge. Amazing – lots of photos with GR2 crossing it. Dawson Creek is a pretty little town. Its main claim to fame is being the mile 0 at the start of the Alaskan Highway. Again we pop in to the info centre mainly to find out if there are any Hockey games in Edmonton over the weekend. We don’t find one in Edmonton, but we find that there is a lower grade game on at Grand Prairie tonight – perfect! So we head straight there.

What a fun night. We head off with lots of extra layers on to watch Canada’s favorite sport. Two words describe (in my mind anyway) – fast & rough. We spend the night at Hotel Walmart.

Our next destination is Edmonton through lots more farm country, lots more lakes & rivers… on & on. We pull over for the night right beside Lesser Slave Lake in the Provincial Park – overlooking the beach. Magic views tonight. In the morning we go check out the view 14km down the road (as recommended by some locals we met). We even spot some deer & a massive moose. As we return to Slave Lake town we look out for the dead moose we saw beside the road – he’s gone! Then we see him being towed away by the ranger – just dragged along! Perhaps we should do this to all our dead roos on the roadside!

Today we make it to Edmonton

Coming soon: Heading to Thompson to see those great white bears! (Fingers crossed)

 

THE LONG DRIVE TO YELLOWKNIFE - PHOTOS

Autumn colours - still

More driving

Heaps of these old red barns


So much oil & gas in this area

We are getting there

The amazing Alexandra Falls

The cute McNally Falls

Crossing the McKenzie River - it ised to be ferries in summer & ice road in winter

Finally a little black guy

Yellowknife - lots of crazy boat houses here

Some crazy architecture

Flying over the Old Town


Yellowknife

Sunset Yellowknife

Inside the Dene school at Dettah

More lakes on the Ingraham Trail

Walking to the waterfall

Another sunset over the lake - then it drizzled all night

Back through the bison reserve - look at his tongue

Yet another sunset & chilly night

A cold brrry morning

These guys were jogging - look at their tails - when they stand up it means they are serious ! So watch out

No they are not fighting - they are getting amorous

Sambaa Deh Falls


Ferry to Fort Simpson

The boys at Fort Simpson - a very happy lot!

Heading south - those Rockies look amazing

As close as we got to Nahanni National Park

So cute

More dirt road

And yes a massive moose

That bailey bridge

Crossing the bridge

Beaver Lake campspot

The museum at Fort Nelson


The amazing curved bridge

Yes Dawson Creek

Ice Hockey night

The beach at Lesser Slave Lake

Great camping at the lake

GR2 has new accessories!!! Love them

Cray deer - watch out for those trucks

Finally Edmonton

This is for the boys at SLR - especially Stu