Road Trip – only to Skagway but it’s a start…

I had planned to drive to Skagway on Monday, but a heavy snowfall on Monday night resulted in the South Klondike Highway being closed for avalanche control between Skagway and the summit. Early on Tuesday, though, I headed south.

The glorious colours of the sunrise on the peaks of Gray Ridge at 07:24 put the day off to an excellent start.

Winter sunrise along the South Klondike Highway, Yukon
After a few minutes of great colour, the clouds closed in and the light went flat. Even in flat light, though, this view of Lime Mountain is one of my favourites along the highway, and it often stops me for a photo or two.

Lime Mountain - South Klondike Highway, Yukon
The light wasn’t conducive to doing any more shooting until I got near the White Pass summit at 08:30. There, there was some wonderful contrast in the light – the foreground wasn’t any brighter, but the extremely dark skies towards Skagway made it seem so.

Winter in the White Pass summit area
Looking across Summit Lake to the railway summit and the Sawtooth Range of mountains.

Winter in the White Pass summit area
The final climb up to the White Pass summit, which tops out just south of the BC/Alaska border at 3,292 feet (1,003 meters). The temperature at the summit was -1°C (+30°F), very mild for mid-March.

Winter on the South Klondike Highway in the White Pass summit area
Heading downhill to Skagway. A friend had told me that the summit had gotten a foot of new snow on Sunday night, but it looked like about half that. The total snow depth now is perhaps half of an average year and 1/4 of what it is in a heavy year.

Winter on the South Klondike Highway in the White Pass summit area
The project to replace the William Moore Bridge will start again in about a month, I expect. The project just says “after the spring thaw.” By the end of August, traffic will no longer go across this bridge, though it’s thankfully being saved as an historic artifact.

William Moore Bridge, South Klondike Highway

With virtually no wind (quite unusual for Skagway), there was a bit of a temperature inversion happening. The temperature climbed to +5°C (41°F) at the US Customs post as expected, but then dropped back down to +2/36 in Skagway.

This trip had one major purpose – to pick up a new lens for my camera. A quick stop at the post office, a loop around town, and I’d be heading north again. I’m dog-sitting for a few days, and though I don’t mind leaving Bella and Tucker for 8 hours, I’m not confident that the enlarged pack won’t look for trouble πŸ™‚

The Skagway post office
At the far end of Broadway, crews were busying hauling snow away. In about 6 weeks when the first cruise ships arrive, Broadway will look very different!

Winter on Broadway in Skagway, Alaska
Over at the Small Boat Harbor, the snow was deep and sloppy – not a good day for even a short walk.

Snow at the Small Boat Harbor in Skagway, Alaska
I was hoping that Alaska Seaplanes’ new Pilatus PC-12 would be at the airport, but it was the usual Cessna 208B Grand Caravan. Still a fine aircraft, but I wanted to see the Pilatus. Actually, I really want to fly in the Pilatus – it’s very fast, cruising at 528 km/h / 328 mph or climbing at 1,920 ft/min.

Cessna 208B Grand Caravan N754KP at Skagway
There goes the Caravan, off to Juneau. That is an incredible route to fly.

Cessna Caravan taking off from Skagway on a snowy March day
It took a few minutes to do the paperwork to get my lens into Canada, but once across, it was great to see a helicopter about to take off from Yukon Heliskiing’s camp at Fraser. That’s Horizon Helicopters’ 1998 Eurocopter EC120B, serial #1019. With the new lens now on the camera, I was pretty excited to see how it performs.

Eurocopter EC120B at the Yukon Heliskiing camp
The light still wasn’t very good for photography until I started to drop down to Windy Arm.

South Klondike Highway in the winter
That’s a lot of bare rock on Dail Peak!

Winter on Dail Peak, South Klondike Highway
Looking north along Windy Arm from the historic Venus silver mill.

South Klondike Highway along Windy Arm
I stopped to get a few photos of a project that has just started at Carcross, to replace the wooden highway bridge. This is a job that should have been done about 20 years ago, but they just spent weeks putting a new deck on the bridge a few months ago.

South Klondike Highway bridge over the Nares River at Carcross

South Klondike Highway bridge over the Nares River at Carcross
I got home at about 1:00, and the fur-kids were raring to get outside and play! And I was happy for more opportunities to test the lens. Granite, who joined us as a foster puppy 16 months ago, is a very comfortable part of our pack now and we’re always happy to have him back.

Our rescue dogs Tucker, Bella, and Granite
I’m thrilled to have a lens that can capture Tucker like this. Our vet said that he’s “18 pounds of pure muscle”, but she didn’t notice the 2 pounds of attitude πŸ™‚

Our rescue dog Tucker
When he was a baby called Raspberry, we thought that Granite was going to be a big dog, but he’s just a little guy.

Our rescue dog Granite
This will be my standard setup for normal shooting now – a Canon EOS 7D with a Canon 24-105 lens. The camera body is 28.9 oz./820g, and the lens is 28 oz./795g. The EF-S 18-200 that had been my standard lens was 21 oz./595g, so I added half a pound. Seeing the results from this lens, though, I’m actually glad that I dropped and smashed the 18-200 – it was a really poor lens that I should have gotten rid of years ago.

Canon EOS 7D with a Canon 24-105 lens

Midnight Sun flights in Alaska, the NWT, & the Yukon

Getting into old newspapers has once again sent me on a long wandering path. This time it was a path in the midnight sun, one of the things I love the most about the North.

This little journey began when I stumbled across an ad for Alaskan Airways’ Midnight Sun flights in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner of June 27, 1930. The more impressive ad seen below was published the following year – to read more about those flights between 1930 and 1940, click on the image below.

Midnight Sun flights in Alaska, 1931
Once I finished writing about the early midnight sun flights at Fairbanks, my thoughts turned to my own flights in the midnight sun. The first was in 1985. This isn’t quite the midnight sun, but this view from my Cessna 172 crossing the incredible Mackenzie Delta to Inuvik at 10:30 pm on June 20, 1985, gives you an idea of how high the sun stays. We landed at Inuvik about 15 minutes later.

Flying across the Mackenzie Delta to Tuktoyaktuk at 10:30 pm on June 20, 1985
The next day, June 21, 1985, I shot the flags on the terminal at the Inuvik airport lit up by the sun right at midnight, shortly after landing following a flight to Tuktoyaktuk.

The Midnight Sun lights up the flags on the terminal at the Inuvik airport on June 21
I then enjoyed the midnight sun from the ground for many years, but on June 21, 2003, Cathy and I and some friends from out of town booked a midnight sun flight with Yukon Wings. Right at 10:30, we started our takeoff run across Schwatka Lake in their gorgeous 1950 de Havilland Beaver, CF-FHZ.

Taking off from Schwatka Lake, Yukon, in a Beaver floatplane at 10:30 pm

Taking off from Schwatka Lake, Yukon, in a Beaver floatplane at 10:30 pm
We flew up the Yukon River a few miles…

Flying in a Beaver floatplane near Whitehorse in the midnight sun
…then made a wide loop into the mountains to the east…

Flying in a Beaver floatplane near Whitehorse in the midnight sun

Flying in a Beaver floatplane near Whitehorse in the midnight sun
At 10:57, we skirted around a bit of rain and were treated to a rainbow.

Flying in a Beaver floatplane near Whitehorse in the midnight sun

Flying in a Beaver floatplane near Whitehorse in the midnight sun
This is the Yukon River as it nears Lake Laberge.

Aerial view of the Yukon River as it nears Lake Laberge
Coming in over Whitehorse from the north to land.

Aerial view of Whitehorse
At 11:18 pm, we were on final to land back at Schwatka Lake.

Landing at Schwatka Lake, Yukon, at 11:18 pm
Disembarking from the Beaver 35 minutes before midnight. What a superb way to experience the Midnight Sun!

Returning from a float plane trip in the Yukon at 11:25 pm

Catching up: History, downsizing, and house work

It’s been almost 2 months since I last posted here. That’s one of my longest absences ever, but as my long-time readers probably know, it’s not because there’s nothing going on. It’s actually just the opposite – my life is so crazy that I hardly know which way is up. Here’s a brief look at the self-inflicted chaos.

While each one of these projects would nicely fill the time of any sane person who claims to be retired, I’ll start with the most amazing one. In November 2014, I started a Facebook Group that I called Yukon History & Abandoned Places. It had been growing slowly but steadily, and with just over 300 members we were getting some great material posted. All of sudden in January, something clicked – I have no idea what – and membership went crazy. As of a minute ago, there are 8,607 members! Some of the stories and photos being posted are simply amazing. For me, seeing this many people getting interested, and even excited, about our history is wonderful, but it has also made thousands of people aware of the fact that their family photo albums may very well contain images that are important in interpreting our history.

CBC reporter Sandi Colman noticed what was happening when she and I started talking about the old hospital in Whitehorse, and invited me in to their studio to talk about the group. You can hear that 8-minute interview here.

Yukon History & Abandoned Places
The weather has been very erratic this winter – it seems to be getting more so each year. In mid-January, we had another dip to -40° (which is the same in Celsius and Fahrenheit) – I think it bottomed out at -43°C (-45.4°F). Although I don’t want those temperatures to hang around for very long, I don’t mind a few days.

Yukon thermometer reading -40 degrees
Cathy and I have always hated the en suite bathroom in our house, and I finally came up with a plan for it. On January 15th, I began the demolition. The jetted tub has never been used in the 10 years we’ve been here, so one of the biggest changes in the bathroom would be to replace it with a shower. The black tiles are high quality and may have been cool in 1992, but they’re quite awful now.

En suite bathroom with jetted tub and black tile surround
The wall that divided the bathroom into 2 rooms was the main thing that I couldn’t wrap my head around – it had to go before I could get a proper vision for the new room.

En suite bathroom
I gave the jetted tub away, and on January 17th could finish off removing the tiles. It was very well attached, and the drywall came with it, so smashing holes with a hammer and then ripping off large slabs was the easy way to deal with it.

Removing bathroom tiles with a sledge hammer
With the tub and dividing wall gone, we could see that the room had a lot of potential. By moving the toilet and swapping the 30-inch vanity for a 48-inch, installing a large modular shower, and adding linen closets, we’d have a much more functional and pleasant en suite. The sheet at the far end is keeping demolition dust out of the walk-in closet. Another big change was making the door frame between the bathroom and bedroom smaller and installing a real door to replace to bifolds.

Bathroom demolition
I’ve parked my old F-150 pickup and it’ll be for sale soon, so moving stuff now entails renting a U-Haul. For the 3 or 4 times a year that needs to happen, the trailer rental is much cheaper than keeping the truck on the road. Not as handy by a long shot, but much cheaper. This was the bathroom demolition load to the dump, on January 20th.

Hauling bathroom demolition scrap to the dump with a U-Haul trailer
We had a few days of spectacular weather, with sunshine and thick hoar frost. This photo was shot on the Alaska Highway heading into Whitehorse on January 22nd.

The Alaska Highway at Whitehorse in January
Man Not Working! Taking a break on January 25th at my favourite pub, The Cut Off, a couple of miles down the highway.

Taking a break at the Cut Off Pub, Whitehorse
The delivery guys from Home Hardware scratched the modular shower getting it off the truck, and I refused to accept it. They had to order another one in, and on January 30th, a different crew successfully got it into my garage.

Modular shower in my garage
I’ve hardly taken photos of anything except stuff from my collections for weeks now, but did manage to stop long enough to get a few shots of the Toyota dealership’s new building on the Alaska Highway near the airport.

Whitehorse Toyota dealership's new building
The City of Whitehorse arranged an Indoor Garage Sale for February 10th, and I booked a couple of tables to see if I could make some substantial headway in my downsizing. I had a whole lot of stuff to go through, and some of the bulkier stuff like this router system went on the local Buy & Sell site, priced to sell (and for $50, it did quickly).

Router for sale
Holey moley I have a lot of stuff! Sorting, sorting, sorting… It took me about a week to make some sort of sense of what needed to go. A lot went on the Buy & Sell site, but I soon had far more than what would fit on the 2 tables at the Indoor Garage Sale.

Sorting my collections during the downsizing
The Indoor Garage Sale was very successful. Not only for me – everyone seemed to be pleased. As fast as a spot opened up on my tables, I added something else from the boxes below. I went home with a full wallet and half a dozen fewer boxes πŸ™‚ I also heard about an Antiques and Collectibles Sale coming up in a couple of weeks – more about that below.

Indoor Garage Sale in Whitehorse
Even with all that’s going, it’s very much in my mind that Spring is coming quickly. April 20th is still my planned date to be on the road in the motorhome, so on Valentines Day, I shovelled the snow off its roof and took it for a short run.

Shovelling snow of the RV roof
With the Antiques and Collectibles Sale coming up on February 24th, I booked 3 tables and got back to work. With the material for this sale, there’s some scanning of documents to do before I let them go. This is a photo of what is now known as Old Valdez (Alaska) because it was completely destroyed by the tsunami that followed the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake. It’s in an album of photos from an Alaska cruise in 1930.

Old Valdez in 1930
I have many envelopes (called “covers”) that have been carried by sled dog teams, including this one from the 1987 Carcross-to-Atlin Commemorative Mail Run.

1987 Carcross-to-Atlin Commemorative Mail Run cover
Pretty much anything that doesn’t store well will be on the block, like this limited-edition diecast Alaska Highway Jeep Cherokee (it left the table very quickly at the sale).

Limited-edition diecast Alaska Highway Jeep Cherokee
It really pains me to get rid of some stuff. For 60 years now, I’ve been moving/storing/moving/storing an extra roll of wallpaper from when Dad papered my bedroom in our home in Surrey. Is this design classic or what? It went to the first person I showed it to at the sale, a collage artist πŸ™‚

Vintage car wallpaper
I have a lot of royalty china. In theory, the Antiques and Collectibles Sale would be the perfect place for it. I only took a haf-dozen pieces, and there was zero interest in it at any price πŸ™

I’m still pulling out other stuff as well, such as my scuba gear. It went on the Buy & Sell – I could have sold 6 tanks, but to get it, you have to take everything, and I still have it all.

Sure, let’s babysit a puppy for a couple weeks, too! Elvis is a cute little bugger, but Tucker hated him. He’s a pug and Brussels Griffon mix – apparently a popular designer-dog.

pug and Brussels Griffon mix
Regardless of what Tucker thought, Elvis got very comfortable. This is what happened a few seconds after I sat down on the couch to make a phone call one afternoon πŸ™‚

pug and Brussels Griffon mix
We had very little snow until February 23rd, and then Mother Nature dropped a load that came close to breaking that day’s record. Which still wasn’t a lot – about 9 inches.

Heavy snow in Whitehorse in February
Bella loved the deep snow and fairly mild temperatures (about -15°C). With the snow pretty much over his head, Tucker more shared my level of enthusiasm about it.

Heavy snow in Whitehorse in February
The Antiques and Collectibles Sale was very successful, and the Yukon Historical & Museums Association (YHMA) hopes to be able to sponsor another one in April. As well as selling a lot, I met a few people from my Yukon History group, which was fun.

Antiques and Collectibles Sale in Whitehorse
February 27th – more snow. *sigh*…

Heavy snow in Whitehorse in February
A post by the Yukon Animal Rescue Network (YARN) a few days ago, looking for a short-term foster to help get a dog from Carmacks spayed, put me back in dog mode. I met her family in Whitehorse on Tuesday, and once we got home, Ruby settled in quickly. She’s a Siberian husky, but I think there’s a pit bull in there as well. She’s incredibly sweet, and she and I bonded quickly and deeply.

Ruby, my foster Siberian husky
Even in dog mode, there’s lots of other work to do. Raking the snow off the roof is one of those jobs. The overhang and the gutters are the only worrisome areas – other than that, the roof will take far more of a load than we’ll ever get.

Yesterday, March 8th, I took Ruby to the vet to get her spayed. I had planned to keep her for a few days after the operation, but that didn’t work out, so after I picked her up, I drove an hour north to the Braeburn Lodge where I met her family. It was lovely evening for a drive.

One last photo of Ruby as we waited for her family to arrive. She’s a very special girl, and she made me wish that she could join my family. Cathy jokes that I do this with all dogs, but that’s not true – very few dogs get this reaction from me. Anyway, she has a wonderful life in Carmacks now πŸ™‚

So there we are, all caught up. The craziness isn’t quite over yet, but the end of the tunnel is near. Soon – very soon – I’ll be talking about the summer’s plans. And have I got some cool places to show you this year, my friends! ttyl…

Another DC-3 crash site in the Yukon

A post a couple of days ago in one of the history groups I belong to was a query about a DC-3 crash that I hadn’t heard about. The thought was that it is in the Richardson Mountains along the Yukon’s Arctic Coast.

The query was prompted by this photo in the book “Flying the Yukon Bush” by Kit Cain – it can be downloaded for free at the author’s Web site (pdf, 5MB). The photo was shot in 1962.

'Flying the Yukon Bush' by Kit Cain
My initial search for a crash report came up empty. Once I looked in the right place with the right search terms, though, it only took me a few more minutes to find it. Here’s the article in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner of January 17, 1958.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - January 17, 1958

To go further in finding information, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada says “To find the report of an investigation that began in 1990 or earlier, contact Library and Archives Canada.” Following that lead, I found the archival record information here, but the record itself isn’t online. However, I found a basic record of the crash at the Aviation Safety Network – it records the registration as N75391, a C-47D built in 1944 (construction number 26366), but other sites disagree with that construction number’s history.

If any of you researchers really have lots of time on your hands, that area is posted online at high resolution, and a DC-3 should show up well. Here’s the area where the crash is according to the newspaper report – click on it to open the hi-res map in a new window.

Map of approximate location of DC-3 crash

An Introduction to Exploring Northern Scandinavia

One of my readers in Finland sent me an article he wrote about exploring his part of the world, and I thought it was worth sharing. Scandinavia and Iceland are certainly on my short list for future exploring! I actually used to cover Scandinavia on ExploreNorth but it got too overwhelming so I tightened my focus a few years ago.


The world is a beautiful place with so many cultures, landscapes and magical experiences to explore. Each country sings from its own hymn sheet – and one of my favourites has to be the music from the northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland. These majestic Scandinavian countries are full of unique and wondrous moments, from witnessing the Northern Lights to trying delicious local foods.

Norway is a picturesque landscape full of shades of green and blue. When you drive around, you can’t help but pull over to take in some of the unique scenery. It’s the perfect place to visit for hiking, cliff-climbing, kayaking, camping and time outdoors.Β 

Lofoten is a mesmerising archipelago in Norway with jutting peaks and dramatic views. The Svolværgeita pinnacle juts into the sky, while the Himmeltindan Mountain sits breathtakingly on Vestvågøya Island. You can just imagine the Viking ships navigating through these rich blue seas, passing by the fishing spots and colourful villages that have since evolved along the waterways.

Steinsfjorden near Unnstad on the western side of Vestvågøy in Lofoten

Steinsfjorden near Unnstad in Lofoten

There’s also the Geiranger Fjord, which can be found in the Sunnmøre region of the Møre og Romsdal county. The stunning area is packed with waterfalls, glaciers and space for hiking and kayaking. Another great location for such active pastimes includes Prekestolen, a famously steep cliff that is found within Forsand in Rogaland county.

Sweden is another country packed with coastal islands (14 in total) and inland lakes, glaciated mountains, municipal cities and boreal forests spanning vast acres of land. With more than 50 bridges to cross, plenty of history and heritage, the Royal palaces, mesmerising opera houses, and the medieval old town of Gamla Stan (the oldest section of Stockholm), it’s a key point on a road trip of Northern Europe.Β 

Kornhamnstorg square in Gamla stan – photo by Holger Ellgaard.

Packed in with the Scandinavian country’s historic roots and culture are bursts of modernity too. Sweden has fast become known for its innovative and creative cuisine, with people travelling far and wide to try the local foods and many Michelin-starred restaurants. It’s always worth booking in advance as waiting lists can be long and many restaurants close during the summer as well for long holidays.

There’s plenty to do. From Vasa – a Maritime museum which is home to a 17th-century Swedish ship – to many churches and museums within the city centre, you’re hard-pushed to find yourself without anything to visit. In moments when you want to feel more local than tourist, there are many Swedish restaurants to try, boutique shops to visit, and bars to head to – as well as many outdoor activities to take part in, including kayaking and hiking. For true local insight, try the local city tours.

Finland is another Northern European nation that is packed with diverse museums, stylish design areas, and stunning national parks and ski resorts with breathtaking views. The wilderness in many of the outdoor spaces is something of a picture postcard. The country borders Sweden, Norway and Russia, providing a great point for continuing a car journey through to wider parts of the world.Β 

The capital city, Helsinki, is a popular destination and is home to Suomenlinna, an 18th-century sea fortress. You can island hop around the Archipelago Sea, take boat tours, try your luck at a well run casino, kayak through the country’s thousands of lakes, swim, fish and sail – among many other cultural activities and locations. The highlight for many Finnish trips is a visit to their saunas, as well as their stylish furniture shops.

Nuuksio National Park, a short drive from Helsinki.

So much to see! Thanks, Mike – I may yet get over for a look πŸ™‚

Night Sky Photography Fun – stars and Milky Way and glow sticks

A few days ago, a friend called and asked if I’d join to join her and her daughters for an aurora photography night. I suggested that she bring some glow sticks in case the aurora didn’t show, and when 3 more young people showed up, we had a lot of fun with them (the aurora never did show despite a good forecast).

It was just to be a fairly short outing, so we just went to the Fish Lake Road, initially to the aurora-viewing parking lot that’s been built. As Whitehorse gets brighter and brighter, the Fish Lake Road gets to be a poorer and poorer location for aurora viewing due to the light pollution. The clouds in the first photo, though, cleared a few minutes later so the light scatter was hugely reduced.

Night sky light pollution - Fish Lake Road, Yukon
This is a shot I set up of me looking at the Milky Way.

Night sky - Fish Lake Road, Yukon
When the kids showed up, the glow sticks were brought out. We hadn’t played with them before, so started out simple.

Night sky - Fish Lake Road, Yukon
Sometimes the coordination between photographers and glowstickers was off πŸ™‚

Night sky - Fish Lake Road, Yukon
We soon got creative with the glow sticks and they were a great way to wish you all a “Merry Xmas” πŸ™‚

Night sky - Fish Lake Road, Yukon

Night sky - Fish Lake Road, Yukon
… and a Happy 2018!

Night sky - Fish Lake Road, Yukon
Throwing the glow sticks produced some cool effects – our own little mini-fireworks.

Night sky - Fish Lake Road, Yukon
We then moved a few kilometers further up the Fish Lake Road for darker skies. The Milky Way shows up nicely over a heart formed by an engaged couple..

Night sky - Fish Lake Road, Yukon
Without the glow stick light, the Milky Way showed up much better here, just a bit further from the city’s light pollution.

Night sky - Fish Lake Road, Yukon
We then moved right to Fish Lake. Although further yet from the source of the light pollution, some ice crystals in the air were reflecting it.

Night sky - Fish Lake Road, Yukon
One more shot looking across Fish Lake. The evening had been good fun, and took both of us off in new directions photographically. I’m extremely pleased with my new 10mm Rokinon lens, which is what I shot all of these photos with.

Night sky - Fish Lake Road, Yukon

A winter drive from Jasper to Whitehorse via the Stewart-Cassiar

From Airdrie to Jasper on Wednesday December 13th, I had had superb weather, but I reached Jasper just after noon, stopped for fuel, and my luck with the weather ran out soon after. My rough-draft itinerary called for me to reach Vanderhoof that night – 990 km from my starting point in Airdrie.

My fuel stop at Jasper was quick, and by 12:40 I was headed west on Hwy 16, with the temperature at -1°C (30°F). I was extremely surprised to see a cyclist struggling along the shoulder of the highway.

Cyclist on Hwy 16 near Jasper in December
The gates of Jasper National Park for eastbound traffic.

The gates of Jasper National Park for eastbound traffic on Hwy 16
At 1:00 pm, I reached Yellowhead Pass and crossed back into British Columbia, and Mount Robson Provincial Park.

Welcome to British Columbia, and Mount Robson Provincial Park
The mountain goat sign for Mount Robson Provincial Park has always been one of my favourites.

Mount Robson Provincial Park sign
It’s quite unusual to see all of Mount Robson, and I was pleased to get this much of a view from the visitor centre parking lot.

Mount Robson in December
With the temperature up and down a degree from the freezing point, it spit rain for most of the 270 km (168 mi) from Tete Jaune Cache to Prince George. West of Prince George, I soon ran into fog, which at times was extremely thick. It was a slog, down to as slow as 30 km/h for long stretches. The fog was compounded by the dark – it became one of those nights (though it was only afternoon) when the dark absorbs every bit of light, and the lines on the road were mostly covered by gravel so they didn’t help.

Highway 16 east of Prince George
By 4:45, I had had all the fog and crap I could handle, and the Coach Light Motel in Vanderhoof looked like the refuge I needed. This was my third stay here over the years – I got Room #205 in the small block of 4 units this time. It has a fridge, microwave, a tiny coffee maker, and the free wifi was good. Although it’s showing its age, it’s very clean, and it offers great value at $69.

Coach Light Motel in Vanderhoof, BC
I was up very early on Thursday (December 14th). The weather forecast when I went to bed called for very thick fog (down to “zero visibility”) from Vanderhoof to at least Smithers, and when I peeked out and saw minimal fog, I got up, and hit the road at 04:15.

Coach Light Motel in Vanderhoof, BC
Although there were some fairly small stretches of fog, the road was far better than I expected from the forecast. I shot the next photo east of Smithers at 08:40, ten minutes before sunrise.

Winter dawn on BC Hwy 16 near Smithers
I usually stop for a minute or so at Moricetown Canyon, located 30 km west of Smithers. If nothing else, it’s a good spot to just get out and stretch.

Moricetown Canyon, BC
The Skeena River has always attracted me. Even on dull, dreary days like this, it just has a good vibe for me.

Skeena River
At 11:35, I reached the junction of Highway 16 and Highway 37, the Stewart-Cassiar. I had fueled up in Smithers at $1.149 per liter (and picked up 3 gallons of windshield washer fluid) so only needed a small top-up here. Sometimes the fuel is quite pricey at the Petro-Canada station at the junction, but this day it was the same price as Smithers.

The junction of Highway 16 and Highway 37, the Stewart-Cassiar
I hadn’t stopped at St. Paul’s Anglican Church (Episcopal) at Gitwangak (formerly Kitwanga) for a few years, and decided to have a look. It’s now abandoned.

St. Paul's Anglican Church (Episcopal) at Gitwangak (formerly Kitwanga)
It’s sad to see such beautiful stained glass at the rear of the church, with some of the regular glass windows at the front broken.

St. Paul's Anglican Church (Episcopal) at Gitwangak (formerly Kitwanga)
The “Highways Open” sign at Km 6.6 of the Stewart-Cassiar was reassuring. The temperature was 0°C and a light rain was falling.

The 'Highways Open' sign at Km 6.6 of the Stewart-Cassiar
My draft plan was to reach Dease Lake to overnight. When I shot the next photo at the KM 90 post at 12:50, that was only 398 km away, so with these good road conditions, easily attainable.

Stewart-Cassiar Highway Km 90, in December
I pulled in to the Meziadin Junction Lodge just to check the fuel price – last summer it was very high. This day, not bad at all – $1.248.

Meziadin Junction Lodge
I reached Bell II Crossing, the second crossing of the Bell-Irving River, at 2:50 pm. The bridge is at Km 249.3. I stopped in at the Bell 2 Lodge here for a second to check the fuel price – $1.40 per liter. From here northbound in the winter, the next fuel is at Iskut, 155 km away.

Bell II Crossing bridge on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway
The next photo is a good example of why I love the Stewart-Cassiar – it still looks the way the Alaska Highway did 25 years ago. The little bridge ahead crosses Ogilvie Creek at Km 286.

The Stewart-Cassiar Highway at Km 286

About half an hour from Dease Lake, as I descended from Gnat Pass, I got hit by a wild (!!) snowstorm driven by high winds. I was down to about 50 km/h because I simply couldn’t see. I had been doing about 90 km/h, and a vehicle that had been steadily gaining on me from behind for a few minutes vanished – I never did see him again.

The snow only lasted for a few minutes, but when I got to the valley bottom where Dease Lake sits, I discovered that the storm had arrived there as freezing rain, and the whole world was a skating rink. For a few reasons (mostly, I wasn’t tired and really wanted to get home), I decided to continue on – I’d catch some sleep in the car when I needed it. I fueled up and headed north just before 4:00.

The highway was now in terrible condition, but my car handles this sort of crap really well as long as you’re careful. About an hour out of Dease Lake, though, things went sour in a big way – the all-wheel-drive and ABS systems died! This has happend twice before – large magnets on each rear axle control these systems, and can break.

Dead awd system in my Cadillac CTS

Testing how bad things were now, I totally lost control of the car on the ice, but managed to get it back. I drove another few miles, and when a large pullout appeared, I parked, pulled out my Arctic sleeping bag, and caught 2½ hours sleep. The skies had now cleared, and the stars were incredible – Dark Skies of the finest kind πŸ™‚

I started driving again at about 8:00 pm, slowly making my way north. There was nobody else on the highway. I saw a semi running at Jade City, and then saw his tracks chipped in the ice – he had chained up to get that far and then gave up.

Ice on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway

Conditions were so bad that I was surprised that the highway hadn’t been closed. I think that it was simply a case of nobody from the Department of Highways seeing it yet. I knew that most of the highways in the Yukon had been closed the day before because of freezing rain. Which of course didn’t bode well for the rest of the drive home.

Things improved slightly towards the north end of the Stewart-Cassiar, and I stopped and went to sleep for another 3½ hours.

The Alaska Highway wasn’t bad, but there were stretches that hadn’t been sanded so drivers could never get cocky. There were many signs of vehicles having recently gone off the road, though they had all been recovered. Until I reached Km 1182 (east of Teslin). When I stopped to check on this pickup just before 06:00, there was nobody around even though the truck was running. A single set of footprints led to the road where a vehicle had clearly been sitting for a few minutes. Very odd.

I got home just after 08:30. This will certainly remain in my memory banks as the worst ice I’ve ever seen, and one of my worst drives ever. Thinking about it once I was safely at home, I wish that I had taken more photos of the ice, and a video of me skating on the road in the lights of the car would have been pretty awesome. During the drive, though, I wasn’t spending much time thinking about the possible entertainment value of it πŸ™‚

Despite the challenges of the road from Prince George on, though, it was a superb trip in every way. I had mostly glorious weather, and a wonderful visit with my kids and grandchildren. The map below shows the whole trip – about 5,400 km (3,355 mi). Click on it to open an interactive version in a new window.

Winter road trip map - Whitehorse to Calgary and back

Calgary to Jasper via Alberta Hwy 11, the David Thompson Highway

On Wednesday, December 13th, I began the 60-hour drive home. I had planned to start by heading west on Highway 1, but my son suggested that I take Alberta Hwy 11, the David Thompson Highway. He said that it was spectacular, particularly the section that runs along Abraham Lake. Was he ever right!

For this new and rather complicated route, I’ve added a map. Click on the map to open an interactive version in a new window.

Airdrie to Jasper via Hwy 11 - map

I left my son’s home at about 05:30, long before anyone was up. Heading north on the freeway, Highway 2, I was surprised by the amount of traffic. I wonder what gets that many people on the road 3 hours before sunrise.

As I drove through the small town of Sundre on Highway 27 in the dark, the old Sundre Hotel looked interesting and the restaurant’s “Open” sign was lit, so I made a U-turn for breakfast. Small-town hotel restaurants are as predictable as any franchise chain, and much more interesting. The food was good and cheap, the service very good. And in the centre of the restaurant was one of the largest curved counters I’ve ever seen – probably 60 feet of it forming an almost-complete circle. Although only 4 of the 25 or so seats at it were occupied that time of the morning, the waitress said that it’s usually full.

By 07:50 I could see the country I was passing through on Highway 11 west of Rocky Mountain House. Pleasant and very quiet.

Highway 11 west of Rocky Mountain House
Just east of Nordegg at 08:00, Highway 11 passes through a short spine of mountains.

Highway 11 east of Nordegg
This is oil and gas country in a small way, and I saw a few gas flares along the highway and across distant slopes.

Natural gas flare along Highway 11 east of Nordegg
I had done no research on the highway, but the sign for Nordegg intrigued me enough to take the short detour into town. A historic mining town? Heck yes πŸ™‚

Welcome to Nordegg, Alberta
The church is now just called the Nordegg Community Church. Some sources call it a historic building while others hint that it is a reproduction built after the original Protestant church burned down in 1975. Services were re-started in 2003 by CSSM Ministries, now called One Hope Canada.

Nordegg Community Church
Behind the church is long-abandoned Shanks Garage, which I would guess dates to the 1940s.

Historic Shanks Garage in Nordegg, Alberta
I stopped for a brief look at the Nordegg Cemetery. The 250 graves at the cemetery have been thoroughly documented at Find A Grave. There is another neat little cemetery behind the museum, for 29 miners who were killed on October 31, 1941, in an underground explosion at Brazeau Collieries Mine #3.

Nordegg Cemetery, Alberta
This headstone, written in Czech, is for 5-year-old Petro Makara, who died in 1920.

Nordegg Cemetery, Alberta
These 3 tiny crosses near the entrance to the cemetery mark the graves of members of the Fabbi family – Malvina, Serana, and Giuseppe. Strangely, no death dates are recorded for them. Due to poor light and very limited time, I didn’t go much further into the cemetery.

Nordegg Cemetery, Alberta
I had expected to be able to find the historic Brazeau Collieries mine site, but I discovered while researching for this post that due to vandalism, it can only be accessed on tours run by the Nordegg Heritage Centre, which of course wasn’t open. The Heritage Centre building was built in 1945 as the Nordegg School after the original schoolhouse burned down.

Nordegg Heritage Centre
At TripAdvisor, the short page about Highway 11 from Nordegg west begins: “The most underated route into the Canadian Rockies and the grandeur of the famous Icefields Parkway is Alberta’s Highway 11, the David Thompson Highway. A glorious paved route, with barely another car in sight, will take you from the growing resort town of Nordegg to Saskatchewan River Crossing in Banff National Park through some of Alberta’s finest scenery.” I began the 100 km drive from Nordegg to the Icefields Parkway at 08:45.

Alberta Highway 11 looking west from Nordegg
Some solitary peaks along the highway just pop out of nowhere.

Mountain along Alberta Highway 11
By 09:00 I was driving along Abraham Lake. Created by a dam on the North Saskatchewan River, it’s about 32 kilometers long (20 miles), and in good light is a gorgeous turquoise blue. It has become known as “The Bubble Lake” in recent years due to the many photos that have been published showing frozen methane gas bubbles in the lake’s ice. The sharp peak is Mount Michener, named in honour of Daniel Roland Michener, who served as Governor General of Canada from 1967 until 1974. He was born at Lacombe, North-West Territories (it became the Province of Alberta in 1905), on April 19, 1900. Mount Michener is 2,499 meters high (8,198 feet).

Abraham Lake, Alberta
The drive along Abraham Lake was very slow – I was stopping often to take photos.

The drive along Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
There is some fascinating geology along the highway.

Folded rocks along Alberta Highway 11
Looking back to the east along Abraham Lake.

Abraham Lake, Alberta Highway 11
I think this is part of the Abraham Mountain massif, 2,940 meters high (9,645 feet). The incredible weather included temperatures of -2 to -4°C (25-28°F) along most of the mountainous part of Highway 11.

Abraham Mountain, 2,940 meters high (9,645 feet)

Abraham Mountain, 2,940 meters high (9,645 feet)
That’s an impressive slab of slate!

The next photo was shot near Cline River, which is still along Abraham Lake.

Near Cline River on Alberta Highway 11
I doubled back to get the next two photos. To the right (which is east at this point) of the highway in the lower photo, Rockies Heli Canada operates at the Cline River Heliport.

Near Cline River on Alberta Highway 11

Rockies Heli Canada at Cline River on Alberta Highway 11
A final shot of Abraham Lake, taken near its head at 09:30.

Abraham Lake, Alberta
I found the variety of mountains to be quite remarkable, from limestone to slate and granite.

Mountains along Alberta Highway 11
This Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep ram (Ovis canadensis) was quite unconcerned about my presence even as I crawled by him as far off on the shoulder of the road as I could get.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep ram (Ovis canadensis) on Alberta Highway 11
I almost missed this significant monument when I pulled off at the Siffleur Falls trailhead rest area. It got overpowered by the mountain that it points out. Ex Coelis Mountain has 4 main peaks – Normandy, Ardennes, Rhine, and Elbe – named for some of the battles that the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion fought in during World War II. “Ex Coelis” is Latin for “from the heavens”, very appropriate for a mountain honouring a parachute battalion. A separate monument was erected here to honour Corporal Frederick George Topham, a 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion member who was awarded a Victoria Cross as a result of his actions during a battle near the Rhine River in March 1945.

Ex Coelis Mountain has 4 main peaks - Normandy, Ardennes, Rhine, and Elbe - named for some of the battles that the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion fought in during World War II.
Here’s a better look at Ex Coelis Mountain from west of the rest area.

Ex Coelis Mountain, Alberta
By 10:00, the mountains were starting to look familiar in type – the quite distinctive forms of the main body of the Canadian Rockies.

The Canadian Rockies on Alberta Highway 11
The next photo is one of my favourites from Highway 11 – the North Saskatchewan River is to the left, and the glacier ahead is on Mount Wilson, 3,260 meters high (10,695 feet).

North Saskatchewan River and Mount Wilson
At 10:20, I crossed into Banff National Park – the Icefields Parkway was just a few kilometers ahead. I was already determined to get back to the David Thompson Highway for a much better multi-day look in June.

Crossing into Banff National Park on Alberta Highway 11
Turning north on Highway 93, the Icefields Parkway, I made a short stop at Saskatchewan River Crossing to get a few photos of The Crossing Resort, which only operates in the summer.

The Crossing Resort at Saskatchewan River Crossing
I’ve posted quite a few photos that I shot on the Icefields Parkway during my drive south a few days earlier, so I made few stops this day. Sunroofs were made for roads and days like this, though! πŸ™‚

Peaks along the Icefields Parkway, seen through my sunroof
On a day like this, some peaks are tough to not stop for, regardless of how many times I’ve seen them.

Peaks along the Icefields Parkway
Rocky Mountain sheep stop pretty much everyone. The ram was pretty sure that Spring has arrived πŸ™‚

Rocky Mountain sheep on the Icefields Parkway
There were only a couple of small areas along the Icefields Parkway where it really looked like winter.

Peaks along the Icefields Parkway
I hadn’t stopped at Tangle Falls on the way south, but took a few shots this day.

Tangle Falls on the Icefields Parkway
I reached Jasper just after noon. It was just a fuel stop and I continued on, but I’ve cut the post here because it quickly became a very different drive from here on due to weather.

Jasper, Alberta

Family time – Mennonite lunch and granddaughter’s basketball

We only had one special event for my 3rd and 4th days with my kids and their families in the Calgary area – attending one of my granddaughters’ basketball games with most of the family. But we kept busy with a little of this and a little of that. I had timed my visit to happen during one of Steve’s off-shift periods, so we had total flexibility.

The Elf on the Shelf was my evening and morning amusement – trying to figure out what to do with him in the evening, and watching Brock find him in the morning.

Elf on the Shelf
Steve had found a great little Mennonite restaurant in Linden – a 140-km round trip from his home. That sounded like a fine outing for the boys. Big sky country, with not much traffic on the secondary roads that took us to Linden. The next photo was shot heading east on Hwy 567.

Alberta Hwy 567
Steve took some detours into small communities along the way. There are many sad reminders of how towns like Irricana used to look. I’m lucky enough to remember when this country was full of vibrant, independent communities with grain elevators towering over them. My Mom’s family was from the area about 120 km further east of Irricana, and we visited a few times. The towns have pretty much all gotten quite flat and generic now.

The historic Irricana Hotel in Alberta
This was our destination – Country Cousins Bistro & Bakery, tucked away on a side street in the small community of Linden. We got there just before noon, and there were only about 10 people in the restaurant. Within a few minutes after lunch, it was about 80% full.

Country Cousins Bistro & Bakery in Linden, Alberta
The large menu has plenty of variety, but I wanted something unique, and the Mennonite Plate caught my eye. It has homemade potato cheese pierogis, bacon & onion cream gravy, cabbage roll with fresh dill & sour cream garnish, locally-made Chetin sausage, and fried red cabbage, for $15.40. It was a good choice – the pierogis in particular were the best I’ve ever had. That should have been sufficient, but Steve said that they make amazing peanut butter pie. The slab that was served could have fed all 3 of us, but I made it disappear! Yes, it was amazing πŸ™‚

The Mennonite Plate at Country Cousins Bistro & Bakery in Linden, Alberta

That was a fine way to spend 3 hours, and an afternoon nap was in order for me when we got back. That evening, Steve and I sampled some single-malt scotches and started planning a motorcycle camping trip to Yellowknife for next August.

What is it about the Prairies that creates such amazing sunrises? My guess is dust in the air. Whatever it is, this was shot from Steve’s front door the next morning.

I’ve been toying with updating my car for a while. I want exactly what I have, but newer – my car is now 8 years old. I had found what might be the right car at a Calgary dealer, so I went over for a look and Steve met me there on his new Triumph motorcycle. We took the 2017 Cadillac CTS out for a test drive, but it wasn’t the right car – it’s a base model, while mine has every option available in 2010. I moved my car over beside it to try to figure out why the 2017 wasn’t working for me. The new one is simply boring.

2010 and 2017 Cadillac CTSs
My last stop on my final day in Airdrie was Home Depot, where I’d shopped out some house renovation materials that aren’t available in Whitehorse. That cartload of stuff, mostly oak steps to replace the carpeted stairs to the basement, actually fit nicely, and the total weight was probably only a couple of hundred pounds. Now I had a particularly good reason for driving down instead of flying πŸ™‚

Loading up my Cadillac at Home Depot in Airdrie
Our last family event was attending a basketball game that my granddaughter Kylie was playing in. It was an excellent game, with the score back and forth right up to the final seconds (Kylie’s team won).

Girls high school basketball

Girls high school basketball

The next morning – Wednesday, December 13th – I’d be on the road before anyone else was out of bed. It had been as perfect a visit as I could have hoped for.

Touring a new micro-brewery, and Calgary Zoolights

We didn’t have any plans for my 4 days with my kids – we’d just see what came up. The Johnston Canyon hike the first day was a wonderful way to start it off. On the second day, Steve and I went to a new micro-brewery in Airdrie, then the whole family went to the Calgary Zoo for an amazing Christmas light show that they call Zoolights.

I’d never paid much attention to the Elf on a Shelf, though I understood the concept. When I saw that Steve and Rachel had one for Brock, I set him up for Brock to find the next morning πŸ™‚

Elf on a Shelf
This quickly became a very special visit. My grandson is no longer a baby, and I took advantage of being able to really play with him, building slides and caves and playing with trains and just goofing around. The view from his bedroom struck me as being a good example of what’s happening around Calgary, with homes rapidly pushing into ranchlands. Brock says that he sees cows out there sometimes.

The advance of homes into ranchland at Airdie, Alberta

Fitzsimmons Brewing

The 1:00 pm tour of the new Fitzsimmons Brewing Company was organized by one of Steve’s neighbours as a way to meet other people in the new subdivision, and 8 people showed up. What a great idea. The taproom had just opened, and tours started, a couple of weeks before.

Touring Fitzsimmons Brewing in Airdie, Alberta
Watching the process of manually putting labels on the cans was rather painful to watch, and the staff hates doing it. Painted cans will be coming as soon as possible.

Touring Fitzsimmons Brewing in Airdie, Alberta
The tour was both fun and interesting, but with a brewery tour, the taproom is where the thumbs go up or down in important ways. They got thumbs up from both Steve and I – they’re making really nice beers. Big Hill Blonde and East Lake Amber are their standards, and they had a couple of seasonal beers as well, Rye Off the Hop IPA, and Frosty the Brewman.

Touring Fitzsimmons Brewing in Airdie, Alberta

Calgary Zoolights

Our evening activity for the whole family was a visit to Calgary Zoolights. This is the 20th year that the Calgary Zoo has been lit up for Christmas. Every night from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m for 7 weeks – November 24th until January 6th – visitors can wander around among 1.5 million coloured lights.

The first photo shows the impressive entrance tunnel to the zoo.

Calgary Zoolights 2017
The fairly small number of people surprised me – far less than on a normal summer day at the zoo (when I’ve been there, at least). I suppose when you spread the event out over 7 weeks that makes sense, though.

Calgary Zoolights 2017
The further you walk into the zoo, the more impressive the lights get. Some of the large trees that have been decorated are quite incredible.

Calgary Zoolights 2017

Calgary Zoolights 2017
There is wonderful variety in the lights, including lots of animals. The baboon in the next photo even has a red bum πŸ™‚

Calgary Zoolights 2017
This is a particularly kid-friendly event, and there are lots of fun and educational activities. Everything except food and drinks is free – even borrowing skates for the ice skating (I didn’t check to see how that was working out at +6°C).

Calgary Zoolights 2017
There were several bonfires around the zoo, and they were popular places to take a break and chat.

Calgary Zoolights 2017
Brock thought that this frog was pretty neat πŸ™‚

Calgary Zoolights 2017
It was a bit of a challenge to keep the 7 of us together with all of these distractions – it probably would have been better to just meet back at the entrance in 90 minutes.

Calgary Zoolights 2017
This tunnel was a psychedelic wonder, rapidly changing colours and shapes, and attracted lots of attention.

Calgary Zoolights 2017
More amazing trees. I’ve looked for some information about how many people it took to install Zoolights, how many hours, costs, that sort of thing, but haven’t found anything.

Calgary Zoolights 2017
Howling huskies (or wolves, if you prefer), with what was originally called the Husky Tower in downtown Calgary in the background.

Calgary Zoolights 2017
One final shot as we started back to the cars. Zoolights is quite overwhelming, and like the Calgary Zoo itself, would be worth multiple trips to enjoy it to its fullest.

Calgary Zoolights 2017