Driving the Icefield Parkway

Though the Icefield Parkway, the highway between Jasper and Banff in the Canadian Rockies, is only 288 km (179 miles) long, it can easily take all day or longer to travel because there are so many amazing places to see along the way. Come along with us and I’ll show you a few of the places that we stopped on our most recent trip.

Athabasca Falls

Approximately 30 km (19 miles) south of the town of Jasper, Athabasca Falls is neither the highest or the widest waterfall in the Canadian Rockies but it is thought to be the most powerful. The falls can be safely viewed and photographed from various viewpoints on both sides of the river. The parking lot is on the north side, but be sure to cross the pedestrian bridge and view the falls from the south side as well. The morning that we were there, the sun was in just the right position to create a vibrant rainbow in the gorge below the crest of the falls when viewed from that side.

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Sunwapta Falls

Another 25 km (15.5 miles) down the Icefield Parkway is beautiful Sunwapta Falls. Sunwapta means “turbulent water” in the language of the Stoney First Nations people.

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Columbia Icefield

Another 49 km (30 miles) southward brings you to the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre at the foot of the Athabasca Glacier. Entering the Discovery Centre was like visiting West Edmonton Mall at Christmas time or a Tokyo subway station at rush hour as tourists from around the world crowded in to purchase tickets to the various tours and adventures in the area! If you visit, however, descend the staircase to the lower level where things are a lot quieter. There you will find a fascinating display of historical photos and a diorama that provides an excellent overview of the entire ice field.

Straddling the Continental Divide along the Alberta/British Columbia border as well as Jasper and Banff National Parks, the Columbia Icefield is the largest ice field in the Rocky Mountains and one of the largest non-polar ice fields in the world. Meltwater drains to three oceans – the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Arctic via three great river systems – the Saskatchewan, the Columbia, and the Athabasca.

The most accessible part of the Columbia Icefield is the Athabasca Glacier. Even though it has receded significantly in recent times, this six kilometre tongue of ice flows to within one kilometre of the Icefield Parkway. During the summer months, adventurous visitors can hike out onto the glacier with a guide or explore it from the comfort of massive all-terrain vehicles. We chose simply to walk up the trail that leads to within metres of the glacier’s edge.

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The Athabasca Glacier is only one of many tongues of ice that flow from the massive Columbia Icefield. Right next to it is the Dome Glacier, less accessible, but also impressive. Look at that amazing snow pack atop the ridge! It reminds me of icing on a cake.

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Lower Waterfowl Lake

There are numerous glacier-fed lakes along the Icefield Parkway; too many to stop and photograph each one! Lower Waterfowl Lake struck me as one of the most beautiful.

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Yes, that truly is the colour of the water! The incredible turquoise colour is the result of glaciers grinding the rock beneath them into a fine powder called rock flour. Meltwater washes this powder into the lakes where it is suspended in the water. These silty waters absorb all the colours of incoming light except the striking turquoise or vivid blue that is reflected back to our eyes.

Lake Louise

If you stopped nowhere else along the Icefield Parkway, world famous Lake Louise is an absolute must! Named for Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter, it is a truly awe-inspiring sight. With Victoria Glacier and an amphitheatre of rugged mountain peaks providing an imposing backdrop, it is a photographer’s delight.

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The Hazeltons

After six weeks in the trailer, we are home! Though it was our plan from the beginning to arrive home today, I really wasn’t ready to end our gypsy wandering and I would have happily extended our travels indefinitely. Real life issues beckoned, however, and so it seemed wise to follow through on our original plan. As much as I loved being away from home, I did miss having access to wifi and being able to update the blog on a regular basis. Now that I’m connected again, I’ll do my best to share the remainder of our travels with you over the next few days.

The Hazeltons, a collection of small communities, located around the confluence of the Skeena and Bulkley Rivers in northwestern British Columbia, have been home to the Gitxsan people for centuries. The Gitxsan are a matrilineal society made up of the Frog, Eagle, Wolf, and Fireweed clans. Though their territory is inland, their villages with intriguing names like Kispiox, Gitanmaax, and Hagwillget as well as Hazelton, New Hazelton, and South Hazelton, are a centre of Northwest Coast native culture and, as such, are a place that I’ve long dreamed of visiting. My love for the art and the culture of the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest began as a child growing up on the coast of British Columbia and grew as a student of anthropology during my university years.

After settling into our campsite, we drove a few miles north to Kispiox, best known for the 15 totem poles, some dating back to 1880, that stand in the village alongside the Kispiox River. On the way into the village, we stopped to look at the art work decorating the band office.

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The following morning, we took a fascinating interpretive tour of the ‘Ksan Historical Village adjacent to our campground. It consists of seven replica cedar longhouses. One of the longhouses contains a small museum and a gift shop that are open to visitors who are also free to enjoy the grounds and photograph the buildings and totem poles. Only the guided tour, available in several languages, allows entrance into the three of the longhouses that contain an abundance of artifacts. The price is nominal and was well worth it! Aside from the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, I have not seen such an extensive collection of Northwest Coast history anywhere! Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside the longhouses, so I’m not able to share that part of the experience with you.

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The small, narrow door in the last photo was designed to prevent enemies from entering in full armour.

As always, the totem poles fascinated me. Here’s a closer look at a few of them.

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We were especially fortunate to be in the area on a Wednesday. Every Wednesday evening during the summer months, a local group offers a traditional song and dance presentation in the Wolf House, one of the historical village’s longhouses. Again, for a nominal fee, I was thrilled to have the unique opportunity to see and experience this aspect of the Northwest Coast culture. I was especially delighted to see that the group included all ages; that the traditional songs and dances are being passed on to the younger generations.

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As we explored the various villages that make up the Hazeltons, we were especially impressed with how welcoming the First Nations residents were. While we were strolling around the historical section of Old Hazelton a local woman stopped to chat and told us about an easy 10 minute hike from New Hazelton to a beautiful waterfall. Had she not been willing to share with us, we would never have known about it!

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The day the tires went flat

On our way to the Yukon, we made a quick stop at the information centre at Dawson Creek, BC to take the obligatory tourist photo.

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I was about to step back into the vehicle when I heard a distinct PFFFT! Something was definitely wrong! A tire on the trailer had blown. This was no simple puncture. The tire was shredded! Thankfully we were sitting still when it happened and we were in a community large enough to have three tire shops! Within an hour, we’d found a replacement and we were on our way again. That wasn’t the case a couple of weeks later!

Shortly after leaving the remote community of Stewart, BC, while slowly following a pilot vehicle through a long construction zone, we began to hear a rhythmic FWUP, FWUP, FWUP! Pulling over as soon as we were able to, we discovered that another trailer tire had blown! Thankful that we weren’t travelling at highway speed when it happened and that we’d replaced the spare in Dawson Creek, Richard changed the tire and we moved on again, this time without a spare. There was nowhere within a couple of hundred kilometres to get another tire!

At the same time, we knew that we were also travelling with a slow leak in one of the vehicle tires. Richard had added air in Stewart that morning and we carry a mini air compressor for emergency purposes, so we were hoping that it would get us to a larger centre where we could get it fixed. No such luck! Less than an hour after losing the trailer tire, the dashboard sensor told us that the right rear tire was rapidly losing air. Stopping to check, we immediately heard that familiar PFFFT sound again! My poor hubby had another tire to change!

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Now we were 116 km from the nearest community with no spare tire for the trailer AND no spare for the vehicle! Yikes! On we went with a prayer that nothing else would go wrong. Pulling into Hazelton, BC our first stop after the visitor information centre was the only tire shop in the area. At the very least, we’d be able to get the vehicle tire fixed there. Amazingly, not only were they able to serve us immediately, but they also had a trailer tire that was almost a perfect match for the one we’d bought back in Dawson Creek!

Now we’re just hoping that we get home without any more tire woes! Though we’ve already put on the majority of the miles that we plan to travel, we’re less than three weeks into our six week odyssey.

Stewart, Hyder and a river of ice!

As we travelled south on northwestern BC’s Cassiar Highway, a 65 km (40 mile) side trip took us into the tiny town of Stewart located at the head of the Portland Canal, a narrow salt water fjord approximately 145 km (90 miles) long. The fjord, the fourth longest in the world, forms a natural boundary between Canada and Alaska. Stewart boasts that its deep harbour is Canada’s northernmost ice-free port.

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I had to visit this picturesque spot if for no other reason than I was born a Stewart!

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Most tourists come for other reasons though including the Salmon Glacier, the fifth largest glacier in Canada. A self-guided auto tour brochure, available at the Stewart visitor information centre, explains the history and natural surroundings of the area as you drive the 37 km (22.9 miles) to the Summit Viewpoint overlooking the glacier.

Although the Salmon Glacier is located in Canada, accessing it requires crossing the border into Alaska at Hyder, just 3 km (2 miles) from Stewart. If you go, make sure you have your passport with you so you can re-enter Canada after your drive!

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Once a booming mining town, Hyder, with its population of “100 happy Americans” is almost a ghost town. Though there are still a post office, 2 motels and couple of stores, most of its main street is boarded up. This building, a gorgeous reminder of days gone by, was definitely my favourite.

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About 6 km (3.7 miles) after leaving Hyder, we stopped at the Fish Creek Wildlife Viewing Area hoping we might be lucky enough to see some of the bears that come to feed at the creek during the annual salmon run from July to September. Though salmon had been spotted further downstream, they hadn’t made it that far yet and there were no bears to be seen. Further up the road, however, we did see several of these little creatures.

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We weren’t sure what they were until we checked with a wildlife officer at the viewing site on our way back down and learned that they are hoary marmots. They seemed completely oblivious to or unconcerned about human traffic. In fact, at one point, three of them engaged in a playful wrestling match in the middle of the road while we and other motorists waited for them to tire and move on! I was able to walk right up to one of them to take pictures!

The drive to the glacier, some 4300 feet (1300 metres) above sea level, was almost like climbing a mountain by car! The narrow, bumpy road, unpaved after the Wildlife Viewing Area, clung to the mountainside as we climbed higher and higher. Soon we were passing expanses of snow!

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A little further along, the toe or snout of the glacier came into view.

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Continuing onward and upward, we enjoyed many views of the enormous river of ice.

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I was still awe struck when we reached the Summit Viewpoint and realized that there was so much more to the glacier than we had been able to see before that.

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It was chilly, but we ate our lunch overlooking the vast expanse of ice.

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Turning around and noticing the bluff overlooking the parking lot, I realized that it begged to be climbed, so off we went!

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I’m so glad we did. It was an easy scramble and the sights that greeted us were amazing!

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I think the views of the glacier were even better from the top of the bluff. Looking down on the parking lot and our vehicle on the far left (with our bright red kayak on top) helped put the vastness of the glacier into perspective.

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Kayaking northern Canada’s lakes

I’m so glad we bought our kayak before embarking on this trip! Northern Canada has thousands of gorgeous lakes, many of them easily accessible by road.

Twin Lakes, Yukon

As we drove the Klondike Highway from Whitehorse to Dawson City, we followed the shoreline of Fox Lake for several kilometres. Noting that there was a government campground near the northern end of the lake, we determined to stop there on our way back. When we mentioned that plan to our brother-in-law, Grant, who has spent most of his life living in the Yukon, he suggested that we try the smaller Twin Lakes instead. It was excellent advice!

Smaller than Fox Lake, the western Twin, where we camped and paddled until I thought my arms were going to fall off, was so much fun to explore. As you can see in the view from the campground, there were many little islands to paddle around and hidden bays to discover.

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As we approached one of the little bays, I heard an enormous splash. We stopped and listened. A second splash followed, much too big to be a fish jumping. It had to be a beaver. Paddling ever so slowly and quietly toward the rippled water, we soon spotted a furry brown head just above the surface. Following at a distance, we watched the beaver until he used his flat tail to signal yet another warning and then slipped out of sight. Just around the next bend, we spotted his home.

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Boya Lake, BC

A few days later as we made our way down the Cassiar Highway in northern BC, we stopped to camp at Boya Lake Provincial Park. We lucked out, snagging the most beautiful site in the campground right on the lake front.

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Again, paddling this lake was every bit as interesting as Twin Lakes had been. Though we didn’t hear any loud splashes this time, we did spot another beaver. The colours of the crystal clear water, quite shallow in places, was absolutely beautiful!

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It was the ever changing view from our campsite that was most mesmerizing though. As evening settled in, the water became dead calm and the reflections amazing! I was constantly jumping up to take another photo! Here are just a couple of my favourites.

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If you decide to travel to the Yukon or northern BC and don’t mind camping without any services, I highly recommend government campgrounds. Located in beautiful spots like Twin Lakes and Boya Lake, they offer spacious treed sites and are meticulously maintained. At just $12/night, the Yukon campgrounds are a steal of a deal. BC parks aren’t far behind at only $20/night.

Liard River Hotsprings

Finally, internet that works well enough to download photos (albeit slowly) and share some of our past week’s travels with you!

Last week I travelled the Alaska Highway as far as Dawson City, Yukon for the fourth time. The first time was 50 years ago when I was a young teen. The second and third times were in the early 1990s when our own children were young and now we’ve made the trek again, this time to attend our nephew’s wedding.

Every time I’ve travelled this route, Liard River Hotsprings, Canada’s second largest hot springs, located in northeastern BC, has been a highlight of the trip. After a long day’s drive, we arrived at the hot springs around supper time, too late to secure a site in the provincial park campground. Instead, we set up in the overflow area across the highway, had a quick dinner and set off for a soak in the warm water.

From the campground, a short (0.4 mile/0.6 km) walk leads to the hot pools. The boardwalk trail crosses over a warm water swamp and through a forested area that support a variety of plant life that survives at this latitude only because of the hot springs. The area, where we saw a mother moose and her calf feeding on one of our previous visits, has not changed since I was there the first time.

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Ostrich fern and cow-parsnip are two plants that flourish in this warm, rich environment.

Relaxation seeped into my body as I eased into the water which ranges from 42ºC toward the lower end and 52ºC at the upper end where hot water bubbles out of the ground (108ºF to 126ºF). Though facilities including change rooms, benches, and composting toilets have been added since my first visit, the gravel bottomed hot springs, nestled in the boreal forest, are still very much a part of their natural surroundings.

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If you ever travel the Alaska Highway, don’t miss Liard River Hotsprings. You don’t have to stay if that doesn’t fit into your plans. For those who camp, soaking in the springs is included in their campground fees, but day use passes are available for just $5/person.

*If you do go, make sure you remove any silver jewelry before you enter the water! I found out the hard way that it oxidizes it. My pewter pendant was unaffected, but the chain is black!

Play clothes

logoI grew up in an era when girls wore dresses to school and changed into play clothes when we got home, but what do I wear when I take my grandchildren to the playground?

We picked up grandsons, Sam and Nate, from school yesterday afternoon and headed off to Start with Art, an annual exhibit at Deep Cove’s Seymour Art Gallery that encourages young people to appreciate, collect, and curate their own art collections.

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After perusing the the work of numerous different artists, narrowing their choices and finally making their selections which will remain on display until the show ends next month, we were off to the nearby playground.

It was a crisp spring day; too warm for a jacket, but perfect for my light denim waterfall shirt from cabi’s fall 2016 collection worn open over a striped tee and a white cami. Though Nate was comfortable in shorts, I was glad to be wearing my dark wash jeans from Old Navy.

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“I’m almost as tall as you Gram!”

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“Am I taller?”

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The waterfall shirt (unfortunately no longer available) is a great layering piece but can also be worn alone as a button-up shirt. Its stand up collar and ties set it apart from similar shirts and give it greater versatility.

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