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)