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 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

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

Experiencing the CP Holiday Train in Calgary

Being a railfan (“train nut”), timing is everything, and luck counts. I could hardly believe my luck that the Canadian Pacific Railway’s famous CP Holiday Train was going to be in Calgary for 45 minutes while I was there! After our excellent day hiking Johnston Canyon, Andrea was still game to take me down to the south end of Calgary see it.

The CP Holiday Train began its cross-Canada tour in Adirondack Junction (Kahnawake), Quebec, on November 25th, and would finish in Port Coquitlam, BC, on December 17th. Most of the 171 stops are 30 minutes long, but a few large centres get a bit of extra time.

The CP Holiday Train began these tours in 1999. It operates in a charitable way to raise money, food donations and awareness for food banks across Canada.

The train was scheduled to arrive at Anderson C-Train Station at 6:45, and we got to the area almost an hour early. Good thing – traffic was heavy and we had to park almost a kilometer away. But we got a great spot to watch the arrival.

The Canadian Pacific Christmas Holiday Train in Calgary
The +9°C temperature (48°) brought out tens of thousands of people. I haven’t found an official figure, but my guess is about 30,000 – about the same number of people as the population of the Yukon! Pretty shocking for a country boy 🙂 I had initially said that I didn’t want to go because of the crowds, but I may never get another chance to see it.

The Canadian Pacific Christmas Holiday Train in Calgary
Last year in Calgary, the weather was very cold, and only 4,000 people showed up for the Holiday Train. This year sure made up for that!

The Canadian Pacific Christmas Holiday Train in Calgary
Even this year, many people only stayed for a few minutes, and Andrea and I kept moving closer and closer to the stage car as space opened up.

The CP Rail Holiday Train in Calgary
A big part of the Holiday Train event is the free concert – in Calgary, Colin James, and Alan Doyle and The Beautiful Band, were the main performers. I had to Google Alan Doyle – he was the lead singer of Great Big Sea, which broke up about 4 years ago. They were all clearly pumped by the turnout, and the concert was a lot of fun.

The CP Rail Holiday Train in Calgary

What a superb way to end this day. Sometimes (well, often actually), it amazes me how lucky I am 🙂

Hiking Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park

For the first day with my family near Calgary (Saturday, December 9th), I suggested that we drive to Banff and hike Johnston Canyon. It’s a spectacular canyon located 22 km west of Banff on the Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy 1A). I was thrilled that everyone wanted to go – this was the one day that both of my granddaughters weren’t working. The weather forecast was for +12°C in Airdrie, but it would be a bit below freezing in the mountains.

We had to take two cars for the 7 of us. In the first photo, we’re heading south on Stoney Trail (Hwy 201) in Calgary NW, a few minutes before 11:00. A slight telephoto (100mm) brings the Rocky Mountains a bit closer visually.

Stoney Trail (Hwy 201) in Calgary NW
Driving west on the Trans-Canada, Highway 1, six minutes later. It’s 170 km from my son’s house to Johnston Canyon, most of it on freeways. What an incredible day to see in December!

Driving west on the Trans-Canada, Highway 1, west of Calgary
Near Morley at 11:17. There were a few RVs on the highway, a pretty unusual sight this time of year. I had actually tried to rent a motorcycle for my time here, but the only company that responded to my request said that they don’t rent them in the winter. Okay, the calendar does say that it’s Winter even if the thermometer doesn’t agree!

Driving west on the Trans-Canada, Highway 1, west of Calgary
Ahhhhh, back into the mountains!

On Highway 1 in the Canadian Rockies near Banff><br />
Approaching the community of Canmore at 11:42. Canmore must be the most-changed community in the Canadian Rockies over the past 30 years. Although it reeks of money now, I still rather like the vibe.<br />
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At the west side of Canmore, you pass through the Banff National Park gates – the next photo was shot 3 minutes after that.

On Highway 1 westbound in Banff National Park
When we reached Johnston Canyon at 12:15, I was very surprised to see the main parking lot almost full (there are hundreds of parking spots in 2 lots). The Johnston Canyon page at the Town of Banff Web site, though, says: “The trail to the waterfalls of Johnston Canyon has to be the busiest in the Canadian Rockies. Nearly every day throughout the summer, hundreds of hikers follow its canyon-clinging catwalks and cliff-mounting staircases to the gorge’s Lower and Upper Falls. While the canyon and its unique trail are certainly worthy of a visit, you’ll have to do the hike in the evening or very early in the morning to avoid the hordes.” Or you can go in the winter, I thought. But seeing what it looks like on a sunny weekend in the winter, perhaps a cloudy weekday in the winter would work 🙂

The parking lot at Johnston Canyon in December
Most of my family in one place – all of my blood-family, actually. My daughter-in-law, Rachel, took the photo.

Murray Lundberg and his family hiking at Johnston Canyon in December
A network of steel catwalks bolted to the canyon walls makes the hike easy. We had just planned for a fairly short hike in any case – it was just a chance to get the family out for a while. It’s 1.1 km one way to the Lower Falls, and that would probably be where we turned around.

Hiking at Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, in December
The trail was extremely slippery in places – Andrea shows how to use the railing to get down safely 🙂 Having a pair of crampons (ice grippers that clamp on to your boots) is recommended for winter hiking. We saw a few people with them, and they were having an easier time of it.

Hiking at Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, in December
At Maligne Canyon at Jasper, you can hike along the bottom of the canyon in the winter. I expect that the same holds true here in normal winter temperatures, but it certainly wasn’t an option on this day.

Hiking at Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, in December
The catwalks go to the bottom of the canyon for a little way, giving you a different feel for the place.

Hiking at Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, in December
Being in the bottom of the canyon gave Kylie some new photo ideas.

Hiking at Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, in December
In some places the catwalk is very narrow. I can’t imagine that summer crowds make this a very good experience.

Hiking at Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, in December
Feeling of the power of the canyon is wonderful, and the overhanging cliff at this spot is very cool!

Hiking at Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, in December
The icy up-slope along this section was problematic when there was oncoming “traffic,” with both directions generally wanting the non-slippery snow part 🙂

Hiking at Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, in December
The trail splits here, with the Lower Falls to the right and the Upper Falls and Ink Pots to the left. There was a lot of ice on either route, and there was quite a jam-up of people here as many tried to decide whether or not to continue. Kaitlyn and Rachel braved the ice going down to the Lower Falls and came back with reports that it wasn’t as bad as it looked.

Hiking at Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, in December
Access to the Lower Falls is particularly impressive, with a bridge across the creek and then a small tunnel to go through to a very small viewing spot.

Hiking at Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, in December
The Lower Falls from the viewing spot beyond the tunnel. There’s only room for a half-dozen people there.

The Lower Falls at Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, in December
A couple of closeups of the Lower Falls. I love waterfalls at any time of the year, but winter is particularly special.

The Lower Falls at Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, in December

The Lower Falls at Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park, in December
With everyone thoroughly pleased with the Johnston Canyon hike (well, Brock slept through most of it on Steve’s back 🙂 ), we decided to stop for a snack, and Andrea suggested poutine at La Belle Patate (“The Beautiful Potato”) in Canmore. It’s just a teeny place, out of the way in an industrial area, and I was a bit shocked at the prices. But, our little group had a wide variety of poutines, and everyone agreed that it was exceptionally good. The upper one is a large “Saucisses” (hot dogs), for $15.24, and the lower one is my small “Steak Hache” (hamburger and onions), for $11.43.

La Belle Patate in Canmore
We took Highway 1A for part of the way home from Canmore rather than the freeway, and were quickly rewarded by this sighting of a Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep ram (Ovis canadensis). There was no place to pull over, so I just fired several shots through Steve’s open window as we went by.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep ram (Ovis canadensis)

That was an awesome day with the family. We weren’t finished for the day yet, but I’ll make a separate short post for the night activity.

A winter drive down the Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies

Day 3 of the trip (December 8th) got me to Airdrie, where both my kids and their families live. It was a fairly easy day with 635 km to cover, but having perfect weather on the Icefields Parkway made it a fairly slow drive with lots of photo stops. I tried to keep the number of photos in this post down to a reasonable number, but the day was so incredible, there are 47.

My stay at the Grande Cache Inn and Suites included a hot buffet breakfast, and it was quite good. I was the only tourist – the other 10 or so people were all workmen of some sort. Breakfast started at 06:00, and by 06:35 I was back on the road, headed south on Highway 40.

Grande Cache Inn and Suites

There is a great deal of road construction being done immediately south of Grande Cache. It was dark, but it appeared that pretty much the entire highway for 20 km or so will be 3 or 4 lanes. It will be a messy summer of construction, I expect, but it will sure be nice to have lots of passing lanes when it’s finished.

I decided to make a short detour up Highway 16 into Hinton to get gas, and then figured that I might as well run Ruby through the automatic car wash. For $14.99, the deluxe wash wasn’t a very good wash, but it was a fairly safe bet that it would be dirty again before I reached Airdrie.

At 08:40, I reached the Jasper park gates on Highway 16. Luckily, I had remembered to take my Parks Canada annual pass out of the RV, and a glance at that was all the ranger needed to wave me through.

Jasper park gates on Highway 16
Sunrise was officially at 08:56, but it takes a very long time for the sun to peek over the high rocks near Jasper. This was shot near the head of Jasper Lake, a widening of the Athabaska River. Very strong winds were raising a lot of dust off the sand flats.

Sand flats along Jasper Lake, a widening of the Athabaska River
I pulled off to the Jasper airport to wait for some better light to arrive, but didn’t stay long. I decided that I’d only have great light for a short period, and where exactly that happened didn’t really matter.

Mountains near Jasper
The view from the short road from the airport back to the highway.

Mountains near Jasper
I stopped along the highway a couple of times to photograph some of the more impressive mountains.

Mountains near Jasper
Four bull elk grazing in a meadow along the highway also stopped me a for a couple of minutes.

Bull elk near Jasper, Alberta><br />
I detoured through the Jasper townsite, and right at 10:00 was on the Icefields Parkway, Highway 93. The light was stunning, if blinding in places.<br />
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The Road Conditions sign at the Parks Canada gates, which were unmanned, reported “Poor” conditions. I’ve driven the Icefields Parkway in the winter when conditions really were poor, and thought that was extremely unlikely today.

Icefields Parkway, Alberta Highway 93, in the winter
After driving across the North Saskatchewan River bridge, I parked on the wide shoulder and walked back for a few photos.

North Saskatchewan River, Icefields Parkway

North Saskatchewan River, Icefields Parkway

North Saskatchewan River, Icefields Parkway
I tried a few Sirius stations to get the right mood for this day. Rock didn’t work, Blues lasted for a while, Jazz lasted even longer, but Silence is what I ended up with 🙂

I’ve never posted a phone selfie before – now I have 🙂 This was shot with Mt. Hardisty in the background.

Murray at Mt. Hardisty
Mt. Hardisty is the first of the mountains that really dominates the view.

Mt. Hardisty, Icefields Parkway
As many times as I’ve seen Athabaska Falls, I couldn’t resist taking the short side road to see them again.

The road to Athabaska Falls, Alberta
Athabaska Falls may be best seen in the winter, with only 4 other people instead of hundreds, and the infinite wonderful shapes created in ice.

Athabaska Falls, Alberta, in the winter

Athabaska Falls, Alberta, in the winter

Athabaska Falls, Alberta, in the winter

Athabaska Falls, Alberta, in the winter
The variety of mountains along the Icefields Parkway is quite remarkable.

Mountains along the Icefields Parkway
The way some of the mountains were created is clear – a break in the earth’s crust followed by an upthrust. We talk about the incredible forces of earthquakes and hurricanes, but what sort of force does this? Amazing.

Mountains along the Icefields Parkway
I drove past Sunwapta Falls, and a few kilometers later did a U-turn and went back to the access road.

Even in the summer, Sunwapta Falls gets a tiny fraction of the number of visitors that Athabaska Falls does. I had the place all to myself. This is the upper falls – I didn’t hike down to the lower one.

Sunwapta Falls, Icefields Parkway
It’s about 60 feet from the footbridge to the bottom of the canyon.

Sunwapta Falls, Icefields Parkway
This pond stopped me for a few minutes to get some shots of hoar frost and reflections.

Hoar frost and pond reflections along the Icefields Parkway
Thick hoar frost on flower seed-heads along the highway.

Hoar frost along the Icefields Parkway
The Glacier Skywalk (a glass-floored walkway) is a popular attraction in the summer, but it’s wide open now and there are plenty of footprints on it. There are “No Trespassing” signs but that’s clearly just a legal thing – in the summer, fences make it all but impossible to trespass. I didn’t go on it – it doesn’t look all that impressive to me with snow covering the glass.

The Glacier Skywalk in the winter
As I got close to the Columbia Icefield, the sun was at a good angle to show you the road surface. Yes, it is glare ice. It varies from about 60% of the road covered to 100%, but most of it is near the high end. I have all-wheel-drive and tires with a very high rating for gripping ice (Toyo Observe GSi-5), and to answer a question that I get fairly often, I drive at between 80 and 110 km/h (50-68 mph) depending on the condition of the specific section of road.

Ice on the Icefields Parkway
A road up the side of the glacier that’s locked in the summer was open, so I drove up it, but it wasn’t passable for very long.

Looking north on the Icefields Parkway from the glacier viewpoint road. There isn’t really a glacier viewpoint in the winter, though – it’s all just snow.

Looking north on the Icefields Parkway from the glacier viewpoint road
The shadows were so deep and dark that many of these photos are difficult even in HDR. The very popular viewpoint at the Big Hill and Big Bend gives visitors this perspective with the highway far below, but it wasn’t plowed, so I had to go a couple of miles past it, make a U-turn and come back to park on the safe(r) side of the highway.

Big Hill and Big Bend on the Icefields Parkway in the winter
Cirrus Mountain.

The Weeping Wall at Cirrus Mountain resembles a series of rivers of tears flowing down a wall some 100 meters high (330 feet). The main waterfall is called Teardrop.

The Weeping Wall at Cirrus Mountain in the winter
On the Icefields Parkway, “spectacular” just goes on and on and on… 🙂

Icefields Parkway, Alberta, in the winter
There seems to have little blasting done to build the highway – it just fit nicely into natural cuts.

Icefields Parkway, Alberta, in the winter
Some of the mountains are worth a close look – there are some incredible structures way up there.

Mountains along the Icefields Parkway

Mountains along the Icefields Parkway
At Saskatchewan River Crossing, Alberta Highway 11 meets the Icefields Parkway. Highway 11 leads to Nordegg and Rocky Mountain House.

Saskatchewan River Crossing, Icefields Parkway
The North Saskatchewan River.

The North Saskatchewan River, Icefields Parkway.
At Bow Summit, the snow all of a sudden got much deeper. I drove up the Peyto Lake parking lot, but when ice hides the lake’s incredible colour, the hike isn’t really worth it (unless you just want a walk in incredible surroundings).

Bow Summit, Icefields Parkway
As I got towards the south end of the Icefields Parkway, there were more vehicles parked along the highway, and I saw a few people with snowshoes.

At about 4:00 pm, I turned off the Icefields Parkway onto Highway 1 near Lake Louise. I don’t like freeways. This photo was shot near Banff. I thought about turning off onto Highway 1A (the Bow Valley Parkway) when that became an option, but getting to Airdrie at a reasonable time was now more important, and that’s why freeways exist.

Highway 1 near Banff
Out of the Rockies, east of Canmore.

Highway 1 east of Canmore
I lost daylight just after Big Hill Springs, so the timing was pretty much perfect. Now, I had 4 days in Airdrie with my kids and grandchildren.

Big Hill Springs,

Road trip Day 2 – Muncho Lake, BC, to Grande Cache, AB

Thursday, December 7th, was a long day with an early start. A look out my window at the Northern Rockies Lodge at Muncho Lake, with the moon lighting up the snowy peaks, got my blood pumping in a hurry. I took a few photos from the room, and at 06:20, my road trip continued, with the temperature sitting at an incredible +7°C (45°F). Although I hoped to make Grande Cache, I wasn’t committed to it – I’d just see what the day brought.

It’s a shame to drive through this country in the semi-dark, but with only 6½ hours of daylight now, some large sections of highway have to be black.

Driving along Muncho Lake at night
I stopped along the Toad River to try out the new 10mm Rokinon night-sky lens that I bought for my camera. While the aurora was intended to be the main subject, after seeing wat it does here, it may get much more night use. The aurora in the first photo wasn’t even visible to my eye, but the camera picked it up.

A faint aurora long the Alaska Highway
Looking back to the west, with the 3/4 moon lighting up the world beautifully.

The Alaska Highway and Toad River in moonlight
I stopped at the Toad River Lodge (famous for its hat collection) for breakfast and a bit of gas. I could make it to much cheaper gas at Fort Nelson, but especially in the winter, having some extra fuel is a good idea. Breakfast was a big disappointment – the lodge was so hot it was almost unbearable. It’s all Filipino staff now – they must have a different idea of what comfortable is. Wifi access is now $2, too.

Toad River Lodge
The first blush of dawn just east of Summit Lake, at 08:57. There had been no traffic at all until after 08:00, but I met a semi every now and then after that.

The Alaska Highway in a winter dawn
The sun started to light up the sky as the climb up Steamboat Mountain began at 09:24.

A winter sunrise on the Alaska Highway
The view to the south from a pullout near Steamboat Summit.

A winter sunrise on the Alaska Highway at Steamboat Summit

There was an impressive temperature inversion happening. While climbing in altitude normally decreases the air temperature, it was +1 on Steamboat Summit, but as I dropped down into the valley, the temperature dropped to -11C. The reason is basically that when there is no wind, cold air settles and warm air rises.

As I got near Fort Nelson, this sign got me wondering what the Liard Trail, the start of the route to Yellowknife, would be like in the winter. It was certainly amazing on my motorcycle a few Augusts ago.

The Liard Trail, BC
The temperature was back up to +5C when I took this photo at Km 386.7 – the rock formations ahead are a pretty sure sign of the presence of oil and gas deposits. The industry crash hurt this area very badly economically, but it’s sure safer to drive now.

Alaska Highway Km 386.7 on a mild winter day
The view at Km 323.8, with the Northern Rockies ahead.

Alaska Highway Km 323.8 on a mild winter day
It was an uneventful day, and I reached Dawson Creek, Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway, as the sun was starting to dim. I took a photo of my very dirty car at 3:30 pm, and posted the photo on Facebook with the comment: “She dresses up pretty in town, but I love Ruby when we get out of town and she turns into a dirty girl 🙂 “. That got some good comments!

Alaska Highway Mile 0
From Mile 0, I drove a couple of blocks to the best 1950s-themed diner in the North, Stuie’s. The Smokehouse Burger was excellent, for only $10.99.

Stuie's Diner, Dawson Creek, BC
East of Dawson Creek at 4:39, 11 minutes after the official sunset.

Coming over the ridge west of Grande Prairie and seeing the size of the city spread across the prairie below is always a shock to me. It’s about 5 times the size it was when I started driving bus charters from Whitehorse to Grande Prairie in the early 1990s.

Approaching Grande Prairie, Alberta, at night

Highway 40 south of Grande Prairie was terrible, with bad light and very heavy traffic. The oil/gas crash apparently had no affect on this region – the lights of gas camps can be seen everywhere in what used to be wilderness along the highway.

I reached Grande Cache just before 7:00 pm, having put on 1,035 kilometers (643 miles). I made a random choice to go to the Grande Cache Inn and Suites, and was very pleased to get a room for $89 with BCAA discount. While the staff was great and the room immaculate, the Internet didn’t work, even with an ethernet cable, but I was too tired to get much work done anyway.

The next day should be a fairly easy day to Airdrie, near Calgary, but if the weather was great along the Icefields Parkway, I could get distracted 🙂

Winter road trip, Day 1 – Whitehorse to Muncho Lake

I’m back on the road for 10 days or so, driving from Whitehorse to Calgary and back to see my kids. It’s both faster and cheaper to fly, but when I saw an absolutely incredible weather forecast for at least the first 7 days, driving was the easy choice. Well not actually “easy” – I even tried to find someone who needed a vehicle shuttled one way so I could fly the other and cut the trip down to a week, but that didn’t happen.

So, at 08:00 this morning, under a clear sky and with the temperature sitting at -5°C (23°F), I headed down the Alaska Highway in my all-wheel-drive Cadillac.

Fifty minutes from home, with White Mountain ahead. Sunrise wouldn’t be until 09:51, but the temperature had risen to +1C (34F).

White Mountain on the Alaska Highway
The view ahead at 09:27, along Teslin Lake. There were some crazy swings in temperature – an instant drop from +3 to -10 iced all of my windows up just before reaching Johnson’s Crossing. Windshield washers made the world visible again, but it took a few minutes to get everything cleared.

Winter sunrise on the Alaska Highway
The pastel colours looking back up the highway towards Whitehorse were wonderful.

A winter dawn on the Alaska Highway
The sun coming up over the Dawson Peaks and Teslin Lake.

The sun coming up over the Dawson Peaks and Teslin Lake on the Alaska Highway
The Teslin viewpoint is always a must-stop.

The Teslin viewpoint on the Alaska Highway
Km 1143, 101 km south of Teslin.

Alaska Highway Km 1143
A few places are signed as being high risk for caribou on the highway. This sign is at Km 1016. Although I saw huge numbers of caribou tracks, no animals appeared. A few minutes previously, I went through an area which would turn out to have the lowest temperature of the day, -16C (+3F).

Caribou collision risk on the Alaska Highway
The Church of Our Lady of the Yukon in the village of Upper Liard was built in 1955.

Church of Our Lady of the Yukon, Upper Liard
I made a quick stop for fuel at Watson Lake, and at 1:15 made the final crossing into British Columbia, at Km 964.5 (the highway crosses the BC/Yukon border a total of 7 times).

Welcome to BC on the Alaska Highway
By 1:45 the sun seemed to already be starting to dim, though sunset wasn’t until 3:52.

Winter sunset on the Alaska Highway
Looking up the Liard River from the Cranberry Rapids pullout at Fireside (Km 840).

Looking up the Liard River, Alaska Highway
Road conditions varied as much as the temperature, but by Fireside the wheel wells had a good load of slop.

Snowy Alaska Highway
Usually there are lots of bison along the highway, but I had only seen a few stragglers until coming upon this herd of some 60 animals about 25 kilometers from Liard Hot Springs.

Bison along the Alaska Highway in the winter
A glance in my rear-view mirror as I climbed the Washout Creek hill brought me to a stop to get a few photos of the Liard River valley.

Liard River valley, Alaska Highway

The temperature rocketed from -9C to +6C (from 16F to 43F) in less than 10 minutes halfway between Liard Hot Springs and Muncho Lake. That may be the wildest jump I’ve ever seen.

By 3:30 the sky was getting some great colours.

Winter sunset on the Alaska Highway
Wow! Km 740.

Winter sunset on the Alaska Highway
At 3:45, 7 minutes before sunset, I was at Km 725, a spot that I have many photos of.

Winter sunset on the Alaska Highway
3:50 – I was going to get to my lodging for the night just in time.

Winter sunset on the Alaska Highway
The main Muncho Lake viewpoint, right at 4:00 pm.

Muncho Lake, Alaska Highway
Five minutes later, I reached the Northern Rockies Lodge, having put 686 km on the odometer. It’s one of the nicest lodges on the Alaska Highway, and offers good value in the winter at $129, though having $17 in taxes added to that is an ouch. I thought about staying at Toad River this time, but really do enjoy the experience at this place.

Northern Rockies Lodge, Alaska Highway
My room, #306.

Northern Rockies Lodge, Alaska Highway
The view from my little deck.

Northern Rockies Lodge, Alaska Highway

It’s now 8:30 pm. I had an excellent schnitzel dinner and a couple of beer. As soon as I post this, I’m going to bed – tomorrow is going to be a very long day.

Bitter Cold and Beauty on the drive to Skagway

On Thursday, I drove down to Skagway again, to pick up another aurora-shooting lens for my camera (more about that below). The weather forecast wasn’t great, but it was supposed to get much worse in the next few days. When I left home at about 10:00 (sunrise was at 09:04), it was -24°C (-11°F).

Before getting into that story, I need to explain the problem that many are having, getting to the blog’s home page. That page died last Saturday, and despite many hours put into it, I haven’t found a solution yet. Luckily, all 1,043 posts in the blog are functioning okay. As soon as I load this post, I’ll be back trying to find an answer to the problem. Thanks to those of you who have sent me a message about it.

After a quick stop at the post office in Skagway, I went over to the Railroad Dock. I was surprised to find that a bunch of timbers have been chained to the dock railing to protect it from falling rock. Apparently there’s more to the story that engineers have said that no more rock is coming down, but those timbers won’t provide protection from anything more than small rocks.

Railroad Dock in Skagway
I didn’t stay long at the exposed dock area. Although it was only -7°C (+19°F), a 17mph north wind dropped the wind chill far lower. I have many more grave markers to photograph at the Gold Rush Cemetery, and it’s protected from the wind, so that was my next stop. I spent about half an hour shooting and got another 30 or so of the markers done.

The Gold Rush Cemetery in Skagway
On the way back to the highway, I noticed a rail car in the White Pass yard that I hadn’t seen before. It’s a new build, and was clearly for freight of some sort, but I didn’t know whether it was MoW equipment (Maintenance-of-Way, for track crews), or for hikers or other baggage. A post on the Narrow Gauge Railroad Discussion Forum at Facebook when I got home quickly provided the answer that it’s the baggage car on the Carcross train, used for Chilkoot Trail hikers’ gear, bikes, canoes, etc., and has coolers for the box lunches served on that run, and a generator.

A new WP&YR baggage and freight car
I love frozen waterfalls, and had seen some beauties on the way down from the White Pass, so I knew that it would be a slow drive back up the hill. In many places, water seeps out of what looks like solid granite, but it actually has tiny fractures.

Frozen waterfall on the South Klondike Highway north of Skagway, Alaska
Like snowflakes, each of these ice creations is unique. Some are very complex.

Frozen waterfall on the South Klondike Highway north of Skagway, Alaska
Some of the ice-falls grow across the highway – often called “glaciering”. The Department of Highways will certainly be keeping an eye on this one.

Frozen waterfall on the South Klondike Highway north of Skagway, Alaska
This wonderfully complex creation stopped me for a few minutes.

I shot quite a few closeups of it.

At the White Pass summit (Mile 13 from the ferry terminal), a glance in my rear-view mirror prompted me to pull over for a shot of the icy fog rolling down the slopes.

Icy fog in the White Pass, Alaska
That pullout also looked like a great location to do a test shoot of the range of what are now my 2 primary lenses. A Canon EF-S 18-200mm has been a fixture on my EOS 7D for about 4 years now. The first shot was taken at 200mm.

The same lens shooting the same view at 20mm. I bought this lens because I destroyed 2 Canon Rebel bodies by getting dirt in them while changing lenses – now I rarely feel the need to take the lens off.

The lens I got a month ago is a Canon EFS 10-18mm STM. While I had intended to use it for aurora shooting, it turned out that the nature of the STM focussing means that it is extremely difficult to focus at night. But it’s a superb lens for some of the tight places I get into – buildings and canyons primarily, but also some forests – so I decided to keep it. The next shot is at 18mm.

And finally the 10-18mm at 10mm. This takes in a whole lot of country!

So this will be my usual outfit for travel now. I also often carry a 75-300mm lens but it rarely comes out of the bag anymore.

Canon EOS 7D with a couple of lenses
To keep all the camera-gear comments together in this post, the lens I went down to pick up today is a Rokinon 10mm f2.8. Very wide and very fast, this is specifically for aurora shooting.

Rokinon 10mm f2.8 lens
Back on the road. Along Summit Lake at about Km 27, the view ahead and the hoar frost on alders along the shoulder stopped me for a few minutes.

The South Klondike Highway in the winter
It was very foggy in the Carcross area, so I made a detour over to the viewing deck to see the fog being created by the open water on Lake Bennett.

Icy fog being created by Lake Bennett
The next morning, it was -24 again, and seeing Cathy cleaning off her Jeep to go to work made me get to work to clear the garage out so both vehicles can fit.

A bitterly cold day to clean the car off
There, much better! And just in time – we have an even -30°C (-22°F) this morning. Now it doesn’t matter how cold it gets.

Both cars in my garage
While it’s bloody cold outside, we’re already in Summer-thinking mode. This map shows the route of the 4-week part of our season-opener RV trip that Cathy will be with me for. It’s basically the month of May, exploring the South Okanagan and Kootenay regions of BC. That part of the trip culminates in Calgary with my twin granddaughters’ graduation ceremonies.

I may be off on a major winter adventure in the near future. I’m feeling a strong draw to drive to Calgary to see my kids. If I do go, I’ll try to remember to shoot some photos to post 🙂

Roads – it’s about the Journey, not the Destination

A comment on an RV group on Facebook got me thinking a few days ago. Yes, with me, that can be dangerous 🙂 But in this case it wasn’t – it got me thinking about how it’s almost always been the Journey that’s important, rather than the Destination. Today, I’d like to show you some of the roads that have been important on my journey.

The Facebook comment prompted me to create the meme below in response, and that led me to dig through my photo files so I could write this post. The meme shows the campervan that we rented to explore the North Island of New Zealand in 2008. It’s at Waipiro Beach, a gorgeous beach that’s far off any of the normal tourist paths.

Campervan at Waipiro Beach, New Zealand

A few days ago, I discovered that there are now 146,587 photos on the external drive that I keep the digital files on (1.06 TB of them), and about 30,000 slides in the 11 feet of shelf space where the slides are kept. And that’s after editing, meaning that I’ve shot nearly 300,000 photos. If you like numbers, that’s an average of 14 a day for the 59 years I’ve been taking pictures 🙂

I inherited my Dad’s love of cars, and of The Road. I bought my first motorcycle when I was 14, had a car at 16, and was soon building some pretty extreme custom cars. By the time I was 20, the Journey had taken me to some very interesting places, but not always in good ways.

When you’re 20 years old, have a brand-new 1971 Triumph Spitfire Mk IV and a beautiful girlfriend, The Road beckons quite insistently. We drove from Vancouver to San Francisco and back (about 3,200 km) for one particularly memorable long weekend. The next photo was shot at Merritt, BC.

My brand-new 1971 Triumph Spitfire Mk IV at Merritt, BC
A buddy and I popped down to Tijuana (seen in the next photo) and Ensenada for a day in 1972. That was my first trip outside Canada and the States, and was a cultural shock but a great adventure. We drove down in a former Vancouver City Police paddy wagon that I had turned into a pretty wild “hippy van”.

Tijuana in 1972
On the Mexico drive, we quickly discovered that nobody drove on the freeway, which had toll booths every few miles. The narrow, winding road along the beach was not only free, it was much more interesting.

The freeway between Tijuana and Ensenada in 1972
The adventure of exploring back roads has always been part of my journey. There used to be plenty of great 4×4 roads within a short distance of my various homes in BC’s Fraser Valley. The next photo was shot above Chilliwack.

4x4 road above Chilliwack in 1989
Further in the Chilliwack back country with my daughter in our 1970 Blazer, our second Blazer (the first was a ’75).

4x4 road near Chilliwack in 1989
Getting on Highway 1 and leaving the Fraser Valley took us to other 4×4 roads all over southern BC.

Hwy 1 near Chilliwack, BC
When I was driving a semi-trailer around the Fraser Valley for Overwaitea Foods, I never passed up an opportunity to make long hauls for friends, and did many trips to California and Alberta. The next photo was shot along I-5 in California, heading south in a buddy’s Kenworth to get a load of produce. The slide is discoloured because I fell in a creek with my camera while taking a break on a very hot day 🙂

The view from a Kenworth on I-5 in California in 1989
In 1967, I discovered the incredible adventures available when you begin on very short roads called “runways”. After I bought my own airplane in 1983, those adventures took me further and further afield. The next photo was shot by my Dad in 1987. I was taking off from my aunt’s guest ranch at Glenora, on the Stikine River in northern BC.

Cessna 172 C-GWDM at Glenora, BC
Starting trips by “driving” on paved runways in other people’s planes allowed me to expand the range of those adventures substantially.

I’ve put thousands of miles on in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Italy. The next photo was shot near Paderborn in northern Germany, in October 1991.

Freeways were part of my regular life when I lived in the Vancouver area. I never thought much about them generally, but now, I avoid them whenever possible, much preferring the slower and more interesting side roads. The next photo was shot in Seattle.

I-5 in Seattle
In 1990 I left the world of semis and freeways, and moved to Whitehorse. The roads in my working world suddenly became much more varied and interesting. The next photo was shot on the last trip of my second season driving tour bus. That section of the Alaska Highway along Kluane Lake no longer exists – the road was moved and upgraded a few years ago.

The Alaska Highway along Kluane Lake in 1991
I got stopped for a few hours by a wildfire along the Taylor Highway north of Eagle, Alaska, in 2005. Luckily, my passengers were on their way to Dawson City by boat. By the time I reached the border crossing at Little Gold Creek after the highway re-opened, it was closed. I spent a very cold night in the bus.

Little Gold Creek border crossing - closed
Even the Alaska Highway got too busy for a few years, and it got the point that I really hated having to take the bus down into the Peace River oil and gas district on winter sports charters. The crash of that industry in 2008 solved the busy-highway problem.

Alaska Highway in the Peace River district
One of the roads that I’ve been driving a lot for the past 27 years, both for work and fun, is the South Klondike Highway to Skagway. Even after perhaps 300 trips, I still love it. There are 6,183 photos in my South Klondike Highway folder!

The South Klondike Highway to Skagway
Sometimes, people really upset me, even on the South Klondike Highway. To act this way, this bear has been fed (these people didn’t feed him). Everybody who comes up here needs to understand that “a fed bear is a dead bear”. This photo might have nothing to do with today’s story, but I came across the photo and it is a trigger for me.

A fed bear along the South Klondike Highway
Back to New Zealand, where these photos began. Wandering around the North Island will always remain one of our best vacations ever, I’m sure. That’s partly because Cathy and I got married on the beach at Cathedral Cove a few days into the wander. The next photo was shot from the campervan near East Cape.

Near East Cape of the North Island of New Zealand
On most of the roads we saw in New Zealand, we were in our campervan, but we did take one long day-tour up to Cape Reinga, the furthest-north point of land that’s accessible by road. Among many other places, in the little tour bus, we got to drive for many miles along incredible 90 Mile Beach, a place I might not have taken the campervan. On this tour, we even got our wish to experience a sheep-jam on the road! 🙂

In 2010, we were on a pair of cruises in the Caribbean, and were on one of the first 2 ships to be allowed to dock at Castries, St. Lucia, after the devastation and death brought by Hurricane Tomas just a week before. The tour on the roads that were open on the part of the island that was accessible was shocking, not only because of the damage but because of the way many people live. Getting that sort of perspective is important, I think.

St. Lucia after Hurricane Tomas

St. Lucia after Hurricane Tomas
Now we’re up to my new world – a world of retirement and RVing. The next photo shows the real start of that world, on August 8, 2014. I was on Arizona Highway 10, following the motorhome I had just bought in Phoenix, for delivery in California to save about $1,500 in state taxes.

Arizona Highway 10
I made a rushed trip home with the motorhome, but still saw some incredible country (and made some detours) that we’ll get back to some day not too far away. The next photo was shot along Highway 89 in northern Arizona.

Highway 89 in northern Arizona
The funniest detour I made on that drive wasn’t intentional. I was following my Garmin GPS to Bryce Canyon, Utah, and didn’t question when it said to turn off Route 89 and head north on Johnson Canyon Road. It looked like a reasonable idea at this point, but when the pavement disappeared and cows started to appear along the road, I knew that it was going to take longer than I’d planned on.

Johnson Canyon Road, Utah
When this arch appeared in front of me on Utah Highway 12 en route to Bryce Canyon, I pulled over and thought for a minute about whether or not the motorhome would fit or whether some pieces from the roof would be left on the road. Once I saw other vehicles go through so I could judge the size of the arch, I knew that it was okay 🙂

Natural arch along Utah Highway 12
Although buying the motorhome was intended to eliminate our travel other than by road, we had one more trip already booked. A cruise to Hawaii with friends was a good way to end that sort of travel – for a while, at least. The road in the next photo was on the north shore of Oahu, seen during a circle of the island we made.

I’ve driven the Icefields Parkway many times, but it’s a road that is best seen in a motorhome, especially when you can spend 12 hours with a grizzly. This bear certainly provided one of my best bear experiences ever, and even our cat, Molly, enjoyed it immensely.

Grizzly on the Icefields Parkway
In the motorhome, we generally choose the road less travelled, as we have in any vehicle. So far, the roughest road has been Alaska’s Denali Highway, but my plan for next year is to take it up the Dempster Highway and the new road to Tuktoyaktuk (it opens next week).

Denali Highway, Alaska
Towing a 4×4 Chevy Tracker behind the motorhome allows us to get as far into the back country as we like. The road in the next photo runs to a communications station along the Dempster Highway.

After being with us for 16 years, the Tracker has been replaced by a Jeep Cherokee for Cathy’s daily driving, but still gets plenty of use to get us into the high country around Whitehorse. The next photo was shot on the way down from Mount McIntyre.

Chevy Tracker on the road to Mount McIntyre
I’m going to end this post with a photo that shows you the event that gets me on the road on some winter nights – the aurora borealis, a.k.a. the Northern Lights. The photo was shot along the Alaska Highway about 10 miles from home.

Showing Cathy these photos, our conversation soon turned to New Zealand – we both feel a very strong pull to get back. But, on this cold and snowy day, I have a lot of work to do as soon as I post this.

May the roads on your journey excite and inspire you…

It took 67 years to get here

I completed my 67th year on this earth a few days ago. More and more, I think about how incredibly lucky I am to be where I am, and that anniversary seems to have ramped up those thoughts. That’s at least partly because I see so many people who never make it this far, chronologically speaking, but also because I see so many people who are unhappy.

To use a particularly apt saying, I prefer windshields to rear-view mirrors, and try hard not to spend much time thinking about what was (yes, that’s an odd thing for a historian to say!). Scanning my journals from many years ago recently brought back memories of some really awful times, and I thought about just tossing them. But keeping things in perspective is important, so the digital files of those journals are tucked away in case I ever need another reminder. And the really bad times are at least as important as the good times in the creation of who you become.

Although moving to the Yukon 27 years ago created some of the really bad times, it ultimately was the most significant decision I ever made. This is simply where I belong.

Now, my daily world revolves around my little family of 5 – Bella, Cathy, and Tucker…

Cathy with our dogs Bella and Tucker
…and Molly and I.

Murray with his cat Molly
I’ve been blessed to share my world with some amazing dogs and cats, most recently Monty, who stayed a few weeks longer than expected to teach baby Tucker some important lessons

My dogs Monty and puppy Tucker
The Yukon provides the incentive to stay active, and we’re out a lot. This was at Kluane Lake this past July.

My family at Kluane Lake, Yukon
I’m thankful for every day that I’m able to get into the wilderness. The tougher the access, the better, though most of these canyons at Muncho Lake this past August were too tough to even take Bella and Tucker.

Canyon hiking at Muncho Lake, BC
When I come back from the wilderness, though, I do appreciate the comforts of our home, and our home on wheels. All in all, it’s taken me 67 years to reach a state of deep contentment. That’s the state that I hope you all reach at some point in your journey. Cheers 🙂

A drive to Skagway – a busy day

It’s been quite a while since I posted. My regular readers may wonder why I didn’t post at all during my trip to Ontario. Well, Cathy got sick, then I got sick – we had to cancel all of our visits with friends. And on top of that, it rained for much of the week – I often shoot 100-150 pictures a day when I’m travelling, but I shot 12 photos during that entire week, except for a short day at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. Oh well…

This past Monday, though, I drove to Skagway, mostly to pick up a new lens to replace one that I was returning as defective. But as usual, I got busy with a few other things as well – Skagway never fails to keep me interested.

The weather was really flat, but the 14 days that the post office will keep a parcel was up, and there was no choice. And it wasn’t snowing 🙂

The South Klondike Highway south of the White Pass.
At the William Moore Bridge site, work has quit for the winter – a solitary grader was doing some final levelling before leaving.

William Moore Bridge, Skagway
My first stop in Skagway was the airport, to send the last lens that I bought back by UPS. Alaska Seaplanes‘ 1997 Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, N750KP, arrived from Juneau just after I arrived.

Seaplanes of Alaska's 1997 Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, N750KP
Heading over to the ferry terminal, the MV Kennicott was just backing in to the dock. Fairly new on this run, replacing the much smaller MV LeConte, she can carry 748 passengers and 80 vehicles.

Alaska ferry MV Kennicott at Skagway
More transportation stuff. The White Pass & Yukon Route is finally sending locomotive #96 out for a rebuild following a fire.

White Pass & Yukon Route locomotive #96
Another look at the MV Kennicott, from the Small Boat Harbor breakwater as she started unloading vehicles.

Alaska ferry MV Kennicott at Skagway
One of things things on my list was to have a good look at the last rock slide at the Railroad Dock. It was huge.

Rock slide at the Railroad Dock in Skagway
The slide happened early in the morning long before any cruise ships arrived, and “only” took out a section of railing and scattered rocks all over the dock.

Rock slide at the Railroad Dock in Skagway
Just to the left of the top of the rock slide is what one of my Skagway friends calls the Death Rock of Doom. While many people believe the engineers who say that it’s safe, the Laws of Gravity tell me that it’s not.

The Death Rock of Doom above the Railroad Dock in Skagway
Another look at the Death Rock of Doom. I guess we’ll see next summer whether or not any cruise lines will believe the engineers and agree to dock there. I don’t think it was used for the few days left in the season after the slide. I know that I wouldn’t want to be working there anymore.

The Death Rock of Doom above the Railroad Dock in Skagway
My next stop was at City Hall to see how much information I cold get for my cemeteries project. The clerk was awesome, and I left with 2 maps, and the most complete burial lists available for all 3 cemeteries. I’ve already made huge changes to my Pioneer Cemetery page, but there’s much more to do.

Skagway City Hall
I got reminded a few days previously that there’s a grave along the railway line. Harriet Pullen, owner of the legendary Pullen House Hotel, requested that she be buried there, close to what is now the ruins of her hotel, seen in the next photo. It was demolished in 1991, the year after I arrived in Whitehorse.

Ruins of the legendary Pullen House Hotel
“Ma” Pullen arrived in Skagway on September 12, 1897, and lived there until her death on August 8, 1947. Over the years, she collected a vast amount of material documenting Alaska’s history. The collection was offered to the State in 1973 for $200,000, but legislators refused to allocate the money. It was auctioned off, and sources variously estimate that the owner grossed somewhere between $269,000 to $350,000.

The grave of Harriet Pullen in Skagway

The grave of Harriet Pullen in Skagway
Another look at the William Moore Bridge project as I headed home.

The lens didn’t work out the way I had planned – it just would not focus at night. After a great deal of research and posting questions, Canon Canada finally acknowledged that the lens is no good for what I want to do. At this point, I’m not sure whether to keep it or not – I certainly run into situations where it’ll be useful.