Day 46, Sunday, 6/3/18
High River, AB

We left Jasper and headed down the Icefields Parkway. About 20 miles south of Jasper we stopped to see Athabasca Falls, a class 5 waterfall on the Athabasca River. The falls sends a huge amount of water over its 60 foot drop, carving a gorge and numerous potholes in the softer limestone it travels over.

Athabasca Falls
Looking into the Gorge
The Gorge
Another View of the Gorge
The Falls
The falls are a tourist attraction and when we pulled into the parking lot there were at least 3 buses with people wandering everywhere. As we walked back to the van, there was a cluster of people looking into some trees, pointing and snapping pictures. Thinking they were looking at something interesting, we joined the crowd where a woman turned to us, finger on mouth, 'shush'. We couldn't see what it was that had the crowd so enthralled until someone moved a bit and we spotted the culprit - a red squirrel.

Back on the road, we spotted 2 black bears, one sauntering nonchalantly across the road.

Folded Mountains
The Icefield Parkway is spectacular. On our way north, it was snow and ice. Four weeks later, it's spring with lots of green! Heading south, we saw what we missed on our way north - this a result of not having eyes on the back of our head! About 13 miles from Athabasca Falls, the road heads east and picks up the Sunwapta River where we stopped to enjoy the Sunwapta Falls. The source of the Sunwapta River is the Athabasca glacier, part of the Columbia Icefields. The icefields are the largest mass of ice in the Rockies stretching about 16 miles across the continental divide. The divide is a triple divide because the waters from the glaciers and melting snow flow into 3 drainages:  north to the Arctic, west to the Pacific and east to the Atlantic.

There are six glaciers making up the Columbia Icefield, three of which can be seen from the road: Stutfield, Athabasca and Dome.

The Athabasca is one of the most easily accessed glaciers around, right off the Icefields Parkway road. Because of this, the area has become heavily commercialized.

As we headed south we passed Bow Lake and Crowfoot Mountain, each with a view of a glacier. Bow and Crowfoot glaciers are small, each steadily retreating. Nearing Banff, the sky darkened and a hard, brief rain started to fall.

We left Banff heading east with a stop in Calgary for coffee, south to High River for the evening, then off to Glacier National Park for a few days.

Day 45, Saturday, 6/2/18
Jasper, AB

Today was a travel day, driving a bit over 300 miles to get to Jasper, AB. Southeast to Grand Prairie, just about due south to Grande Cache, southeast again to Highway 16 and finally south / southwest to the town of Jasper where we spent the night.

Passing through Grande Cache we saw a few of the endangered and rare woodland caribou. Along the way we also spotted deer, hawks, magpies and various ducks. In Grande Cache the Rockies appear again to the west, majestic and snow covered.

Part of the Grande Cache herd
Camera Shy...
Jasper is a mini Banff, with a small yet very commercialized downtown. We were looking for a B&B  so wandered into their visitor center where the staff were very helpful to the point of making phone calls to check for space. After securing a room for the night, we wandered about eventually landing at a restaurant where we had dinner on the patio. As it was a busy night, we shared a table first with two chemistry phd students who had been up hiking overnight and later with a couple (Jan and Andrew) from London, England. We shared travel stories with them and had an enjoyable evening.

We were glad to make it off the ALCAN and ready to go to the sights in southern Canada like the icefields parkway, and to the US national parks, Glacier and Yellowstone and the Badlands.

Canadian Rockies in the Distance

Day 44, Friday, 6/1/18
Dawson Creek, BC

Clouds were coming in as we left Fort Nelson, looking like it might rain. After a provisioning stop (food, gas, beer)  we set out for Dawson Creek, about 200 miles away. Given the small window of opportunity for construction up here, there was quite a bit of road work going on. As we headed east to the lower latitudes we left the Northern Rockies behind. This stretch of highway took us through part of the Peace River region; rolling hills, spruce and aspen forests, wide valleys, wetlands and slow moving streams.

We spotted two black bears and drove through an area that had been hit with a fire. Arriving at Dawson Creek, we made it to the visitor center before it closed.

After the Fire
Still Standing
The Road Goes On and On

30 plus days later, we were back at Mile 0 where we'd first picked up the ALCAN!

Day 43, Thursday, 5/31/18
Fort Nelson, BC

It was cold when we woke up, so we decided to warm up in the springs. There were only a few  people about this early giving us the run of the pool. This was a great way to start the day! After breakfast, we started making our way to Fort Nelson, about 300 miles away, leaving the low hills and broad plains of the Liard Basin ecoregion to begin our crossing of the Canadian Rockies. Spectacular mountain views and less snow than a month ago. Still so beautiful!

Early Morning at the Spring
Starting the Climb 
Rockies in the Distance
We passed a number of hiking spots into small canyons. Each trail starts at an alluvial fan immediately off the ALCAN. While it looked dry, a sign at one of the hiking spots said the hike was best done in the fall when water levels are low. The trails lead over berms created to keep water coming out of the mountains from flooding the road.

Alluvial Fan
One More
As we neared Muncho Lake, we spotted a few Stone sheep. The males (rams) have large, strongly curved horns while the females (ewes) have smaller, straighter horns. Stone sheep range further north than their Bighorn cousins.

Stone Sheep
Stone Sheep Ewes
Stone Sheep Ram
Continuing south, we arrived at Muncho Lake. This is where a truck carrying plywood rolled over into the lake. Twenty nine days later, there was no sign of the accident (and no plywood to salvage!)

Muncho Lake
ALCAN Along Muncho
We picked up Toad River just before leaving Muncho lake Provincial Park. There are hot springs on the river but access is limited to hiking, by air or water and bathing is not recommended. The springs are part of a provincial park. Needless to say, we didn't check it out. We saw a few more sheep and Chris spotted a moose in the brush off the road.

Moose Checking Us Out
Toad River
Toad Rivert

The ALCAN has a deservedly notorious reputation. We found the road to be in good shape but there are sections where it's a bit hairy.

We spotted a couple of black bears on the side of the road.

Black Bear
All along the way, there were RV's and campers heading north, probably one every 5 - 10 minutes. On a section of road that was being worked on, a truck heading north threw up a small rock that dinged the windshield. This was the one and only issue we had on the entire trip. Pulling into Fort Nelson, we found a shop that did a quick repair to the 'rock chip'. These are pretty common. (We saw quite a few vehicles with full width cracked windshields in Alaska, the Yukon and BC.) Glad we fixed ours before it spread!!

Day 42, Wednesday, 5/30/18
Liard Hot Springs, BC

We left Teslin headed for Liard Hot Springs in BC. It was a bit chilly when we left but warmed up fast to the point where it was actually hot! It's the time of the year, cold at night hot when the sun gets up high enough.

On the way to Liard, we spotted bison, a few with their  calves.

Other critters along the road: a porcupine ambling along the roadside, a moose running across the road, another moose off to the side, swans and ducks.

It's about 300 miles from Teslin to Liard. The highway follows Rancheria River for a bit then on through the Liard Basin ecoregion - an area of low hills, broad plains with extensive stands of boreal forest (mostly lodgepole pine, spruce and aspen) surrounded by mountains.

Not far from Watson Lake we left the Yukon and entered British Columbia where we picked up the Liard River and followed it to Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park where we planned to camp for the night. After settling in, we took a walk to the  springs. Halfway there, the clouds got really dark and it started to rain and thunder so back to the van to wait it out.

When the storm had passed we set out again, bathing suits and towels in hand. There's a boardwalk over a swamp to the pool. The swamp water is warm and we noticed small fish swimming back and forth under the boardwalk. These are lake chub and are of interest in that they can survive the swamp's warm waters.

Duck in Swamp
View From Boardwalk
View From Boardwalk
The Liard hot springs are unique. Unlike many other hot springs that flow into creeks or rivers, these flow into a system of swamps creating a micro climate housing species not found in surrounding areas (for example, 14 types of orchids). The vegetation is lush and thriving. The heated water coming back up to the ground contains dissolved calcium carbonate which forms into porous rocks called 'tufa'.

Changing Rooms and Pool
Steam Rising
A Second Pool
Hanging Garden Formed by Tufa
Arriving at the pool, we changed into our suits and waded in. The water temperature varied depending on where we were relative to the pool's feed. Close to the feed, the temperature was around 126 F. Near the opposite end, the temp was somewhere around 108 F. Very nice!

There's another pool nearby but permanently closed off due to black bear activity. As in so many other places in this part of the world, bears are everywhere and we carried our bear spray. In any walk through the woods, the goal is to avoid surprising or being surprised by a bear. By making noise, a bear is warned that there are people around and will usually leave the area. Bear spray is a tool of last resort, used when an attack is imminent. Fortunately, the only bears we saw were from a distance, while in the van.

One downside to the warmth was our re-acquaintance with mosquitoes!