Mayerthorpe, Alberta – a Community Honours Dedication and Sacrifice

On March 3, 2005, life ended for four members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police while performing their duties, and life changed for many others as a result of those deaths. The small northern Alberta farming community of Mayerthorpe could have become known simply as the nearest community to the site of those murders, but instead, residents rallied and built an organization and a memorial park that honours dedication and sacrifice in a positive way.

Last night, I had the honour of attending the 9th annual candelight vigil at the Fallen Four Memorial Park in Mayerthorpe. This is an event I’ve thought about a few times, but never thought that I would be able to attend – this year, the stars all aligned, and I made the 420-kilometer round trip.

The officers directly honoured at the Fallen Four Memorial Park are:

  • Constable Anthony Gordon: 28 years old, he was born in Alberta, had been with the Force since October 2002, and was a member of the Whitecourt detachment;

  • Constable Lionide (Leo) Johnston: 32 years old, he was born in Alberta, had been with the Force since 2001, and was a member of the Mayerthorpe detachment;

  • Constable Brock Myrol: 29 years old, he was born in Saskatchewan, had only been with the Force for three weeks, and was a member of the Mayerthorpe detachment;

  • Constable Peter Schiemann: 25 years old, he was born in Ontario, had been with the Force since November 2000, and was a member of the Mayerthorpe detachment.

I left Hinton at 3:00 pm to give myself plenty of time to take photos in Mayerthorpe before the 6:30 sunset, but heavy, snow-laden skies made the light very bad for shooting.

Mayerthorpe is a typical northern-Prairies farming town, with a population of about 1,400.
Wecome to Mayerthorpe, Alberta
The memorial park is located beside the Mayerthorpe RCMP detachment. In this photo, the park is in the distance on the left, the detachment on the right.
RCMP detachment at Mayerthorpe, Alberta
Behind the detachment can be seen some of the wide variety of vehicles needed to police a region like this.
RCMP vehicles at Mayerthorpe, Alberta
An overall view of Fallen Four Memorial Park as most visitors will first see it (though I’m sure that it’s a much nicer view in the summer!).
Fallen Four Memorial Park, Mayerthorpe, Alberta
As most of the park is deep in snow, only distant views were available for some features. The park cost $1.5 million to construct, and includes a picnic area, playground, a gazebo, gardens with walkways and benches, the memorial centre and the memorial sculptures.
Fallen Four Memorial Park, Mayerthorpe, Alberta
The original plan for the memorial was to have bronze sculptures of each of the slain officers, placed in a circle to represent the circle of life. The 24-foot-high obelisk in the centre, capped by a rush of doves, was a late addition.
Fallen Four Memorial Park, Mayerthorpe, Alberta
The plaque near the base of the obelisk reads: “Honouring ALL peace officers who have died in the line of duty. May their brave spirits soar. We give thanks for them, and for all who still protect and serve.”
Fallen Four Memorial Park, Mayerthorpe, Alberta
By over-exposing this photo, you can see the wonderful detail in the sculptures which were created by Don Begg of Studio West Bronze Foundry & Art Gallery in Cochrane, Alberta. The sculptures are 10% larger than life, and correct right down to the uniform buttons and boot laces. The families of the officers worked with Begg to ensure that even postures and facial expressions were right.
Fallen Four Memorial Park, Mayerthorpe, Alberta
I had no idea what to expect from the centre, and was immediately impressed by the size and quality of it. There are 2 main rooms, this one being the primary memorial room. The other room, about the same size, is primarily a gift shop, with a small area used as the Mayerthorpe Visitor Information Centre.
Fallen Four Memorial Park, Mayerthorpe, Alberta
I was invited to watch a 20-minute video that describes the planning and construction of the park. It does an excellent job of showing how the community came together to make it a reality, with support from across the country and around the world.
Building the Fallen Four Memorial Park, Mayerthorpe, Alberta
Margaret Thibault, seen here in the video, has been the volunteer president of the Mayerthorpe Fallen Four Memorial Society since its formation in May 2005, and I spent a while talking with her about the project. To hear her passion for it is very moving.
Margaret Thibault, Fallen Four Memorial Park, Mayerthorpe, Alberta
Each of the fallen officers has an area with personal items of many varieties donated by family and friends. Among Brock Myrol’s items in the case are a pair of tiny leather shoes.
Fallen Four Memorial Park, Mayerthorpe, Alberta
By 7:00 pm, about 30 people had gathered, a number that surprised me given the nasty weather – the temperature was -19°C but a moderate snowfall was being driven by a strong wind that dropped the wind chill into the -30s. While many of us were prepared for that sort of condition, the red serge dress uniforms that 3 of the Mounties were wearing are definitely not cold-weather wear.
Fallen Four Memorial Park, Mayerthorpe, Alberta
Five large candles had been burning in the memorial centre, and participants had the choice of lighting a candle from them, or using small electric candles. Those with real candles unfortunately found that the wind blew them out immediately once they stepped outside and had to replace them with the electric ones.
Fallen Four Memorial Park, Mayerthorpe, Alberta

The remembrance, read by Margaret Thibault, was humbling to listen to. She described the use of candles at such remembrances: “…candles represent the light of quiet faith, the light of courage, the light of memory, the light of hope for the future, and and the strongest of all, the light of love.” She went on to say that candles also help us to meditate and contemplate, “to still our busy minds.”

Each of the officers was introduced, and his statue’s position described: Brock Myrol is in the “stand easy” position, ready to take instruction and direction from his superiors; Anthony Gordon is in the “at ease” position; Leo Johnston stands “at attention”; and Peter Schiemann, the youngest officer but the longest-serving in Mayerthorpe, was given the “salute” position of honour.
Fallen Four Memorial Park, Mayerthorpe, Alberta

Six more peace officers were also added to the Honour Roll in 2013, represented by the fifth candle and by the obelisk:

  • Cst. John Zivcac 34 years old, served 7 years with the Toronto Police Service;

  • Cst. Michael Pegg, 36 years old, served 10 years with the York Regional Police, his last position being in the Air Support Unit;

  • Conservation Officer Justin Knackstedt, 23 years old, served briefly with the Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Division;

  • Cst. Jennifer Kovach, 26 years old, served 4 years with the Guelph Police Service;

  • Cst. Steve Dery, 27 years old, served 3 years with the Kativik Regional Police Force;

  • and Conservation Officer Howard Lavers, a 30-year veteran of the Newfoundland and Labrador Fish and Wildlife Conservation Division.

A baby crying during the minute of silence prompted a comment by Ms. Thibault after the silence that it was good to hear that noise, to remind us at such a time that the circle of life does go on.

It was an evening of many emotions – of pride that a small Prairie community could accomplish such a significant project, trying to imagine the pain as I was talking to Anthony Gordon’s mother, the pleasure of seeing one of the red-serge Mounties carrying his new baby, and so many more.

With the snow falling heavier and building fast, I had to leave much sooner than I would have liked to. My furry charges, though, needed me home that night. While I had arrived in Mayerthorpe with no small amount of trepidation about how the event might go, I left with a deep admiration about how the entire memorial had been handled.

Posted in Alberta, Policing | 3 Comments

To Coal Mining Country in the Alberta Rockies

Yesterday was supposed to be an at-home day. No, really, it was – I was just going out for groceries!

After putting a few bags of food in the trunk, I decided to go a few miles and get photos of some highway signs for my files, like this one offering a highly debatable statement.
Take Alberta Highway 40 - the Scenic Route to Alaska
While turning around to head home, I saw these signs – the blue one says “Check Your Fuel. Next Services 278 km”. Really? I had done some very superficial research about this route, and figured I’d go up for a few miles to see what the road is like.
Alberta Highway 40 South
When I saw this view ahead, my regular readers will know what happened to my plan to spend the day at home :)
Alberta Highway 40 South
A B-train fuel tanker heading off into the middle of nowhere – hmmm, that’s interesting.
B-train fuel tanker on Alberta Hwy 40 South
I came to several signs noting that the road was passing through various coal properties, and then this underpass, obviously for coal mining equipment to pass over.
Underpass at Cardinal Coal, Alberta
A sheep trail heading off into the reclaimed coal mine property. They seemed to have spent quite a while on the pullout at that spot, perhaps licking minerals off the road.
Sheep trail along Alberta Highway 40
All of a sudden, there was a large coal mine in operation ahead of me – I hadn’t expected that, but I always enjoy looking at mines, operating or not.
Cardinal Coal Mine, Alberta
This panorama of the property was created by stitching 4 photos together. This property was opened in 1921 by Luscar Collieries, and the company town of Luscar, which was at the far left of this photo, peaked at a population of 724 in 1941. The mine mostly supplied Canadian National Railway with fuel for their steam locomotives, and closed in 1956 when the railway’s conversion to diesel was complete. It was re-opened in 1969 by Cardinal River Coal, now owned by Teck, who ships the coal by rail to Vancouver and then by ship to markets around the world.
The shovel and pickup in the foreground will give you some idea of how massive that truck is!
Coal mining truck in Alberta
Continuing south on Highway 40, a sign pointing the way to Whitehorse Wildland Provincial Park led me off the main road in that direction.
Sign to Whitehorse Wildland Provincial Park, Alberta
“Welcome to Cadomin, Valley of the Winds”. All I knew about Cadomin was that it was an old town, now obviously an old coal mining town.
Cadomin, Alberta
I passed through Cadomin, but there was enough of interest within sight that I knew I’d be stopping on the way back. Many of the homes were 1930s vintage, a couple like this pre-dating that. Most homes were boarded up – I’m guessing that this is a popular recreational cabin community in the summer.
Cadomin, Alberta
Cadomin Cave is the hibernaculum (winter home) of up to 800 little brown bats and is considered to be at high risk of exposure to white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has killed more than one million bats in caves and mines in the northeastern United States, Ontario and Quebec. It’s not harmful to humans but is believed to be spread by humans when they explore caves.
Cadomin Caves, Alberta
A 1922 adit of the Cadomin Coal Mine, and a map showing the many other coal properties in the region.
Cadomin Coal Mine, Alberta
Heading slowly home – I had turned around at the base of the mined slope on the left.
Coal mining area south of Cadomin, Alberta
I poked around Cadomin for quite a while. The Canadian Legion…
…a 1930s cottage…
Cadomin, Alberta
…a 1930s cottage with a sunroom added…
Cadomin, Alberta
…and the general store and cafe, which is closed on weekends during the winter.
General store at Cadomin, Alberta
How could I resist not coming back during the week to sample his grub? :)
Cafe sign at Cadomin, Alberta
This sizeable herd of elk was happily grazing about half a mile from the Cardinal coal mill. The lack of snow here, as back in the Yukon, was quite shocking – this was at about 4,000-feet elevation, with the temperature at -25°C (-13°F) and a wind chill certainly into the -40s.
I had actually missed this little interpretive lookout on the way in – it provided some excellent information about the mine’s history.

I was home to give the fur-kids a late dinner (only a bit late :) ) and pop a pizza in the oven for myself. It’s now noon Monday – I’m closely watching the weather for a very special event tonight a couple of hours away.

Posted in Alberta, Mining | 1 Comment

A Day Trip to Jasper, Alberta

Saturday was intended to be an inside day catching up on paperwork, but it didn’t work out that way.

Just before 08:00, the kids left for Edmonton, en route to Maui. With the wind chill officially at -49°C (-56°F), Maui sure sounded like a good idea to me!
Leaving for Hawaii with the emp at minus 49 degrees
Here’s my fur-family for the next 11 days – Leah is the German shepherd, Gracie the older Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (“toller”) in the back, and Odin the toller youngster, with Conan guarding the door, confident that the glass and/or I will protect his position. If it hadn’t been so bloody cold outside, I probably would have let Conan gloat in his warm sunbeam for a bit longer :)
My fur-family
Despite the temperature, I decided just after noon to go to Jasper for a late lunch – how could I waste a day that looked like this? This is downtown Hinton – Jasper is only 77 km ahead.
Downtown Hinton, Alberta
Airports almost always distract me, and the Jasper-Hinton one was no exception – it’s only 5 km off the highway.
Jasper-Hinton airport sign
Excellent – a real old-time (pre 9/11) airport, with no security and a terminal that’s unmanned but always open. Most of the aircraft sign-ins for the last 3 months (the book that pilots sign is on a table in the middle of the terminal) were for this one aircraft, a 1980 Beech C90 King Air operated by a Hinton oilfield service company, Xtreme Hot Oil and Pressure Services. This photo was shot from the runway side of the terminal, the side that is seldom seen except by pilots and passengers now.
Jasper-Hinton airport
Back inside the very nice terminal.
Jasper-Hinton airport terminal
As I started up the airport road off the highway, a woman was walking down a very steep trail back to her Jeep. When I got back to that point, she was driving up that trail (you can see her halfway up). And another Jeep followed her, around and over the top of that rocky knoll. Cool trail!
Jeep trail near inton.
At a rest area on Highway 16, (this section is called the Yellowhead Corridor) this interpretive sign shows what it was like to drive through here in 1922, before the highway was built.
The Alberta Highway 16 route in 1922
I’ve looked for a resource to find names for the mountains along my route, with no luck. Too bad – this is one of the peaks that I’d really like to have a name for. As you’ll see below, I found some, but not all. After a great deal of research, I think that this is Roche Perdrix, but I’m still not 100% sure.
Roche Perdrix along Alberta Highway 16 near Hinton

You enter Jasper National Park 36 miles from Hinton. Steve had bought me a park pass which got me waved past the gate without even stopping. The normal park access fee is $9.80 per person per day (lower for seniors and kids). Established in 1907, Jasper is the largest of the Rocky Mountain parks in Canada, at 20,878 square kilometers (4,200 square miles).

This is Roche Miette, 2,316 meters or 7,600 feet high. Just try to imagine the forces that created that. Amazing stuff…
Roche Miette along Alberta Highway 16 between Hinton and Jasper
Puling over into a large parking area, I discovered this band of bighorn sheep in a depression. Bighorn sheep are fairly common in Jasper park, and they’re often seen along the highway in this area along Jasper and Talbot Lakes; their population in the park hovers around 3000. You’ll only see mixed herds of rams and ewes like this in the winter – in the summer they separate.
Bighorn sheep near Jasper
The screaming wind that was keeping wind chills in the -30s was also stirring up a lot of dust along the dry lakeshores and riverbeds.
Dust along the Athabasca River
More sheep, in a particularly scenic spot along the Athabasca River.
Bighorn sheep along the Athabasca River
One of the two yearlings in this band is in the middle.
Bighorn sheep along the Athabasca River
When there’s a view like that in the rearview mirror, it’s easy to look forward to going back, as well :)
The rearview mirror view near Jasper
Taking the turn to go into Jasper townsite, these 3 elk were slowing grazing their way along this meadow.
Elk at Jasper, Alberta
I gave up on lunch as I drove through the townsite – just couldn’t bring myself to go inside anywhere! So, I left and started down the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93), but soon took the Hwy 93A turn, though I knew that it dead-ended in the winter. Among many others, it got me this view up the Athabasca River to Mount Hardisty on the left (2,700 meters or 8,859 feet high) and Mount Kerkeslin on the right (2,984 meters or 9,791 feet high).
Mount Hardisty and Mount Kerkeslin in the Canadian Rockies
A closer look at Mount Hardisty from Hwy 93A.
Mount Hardisty from Alberta Hwy 93A
This is the northern tower of Mount Tekarra, whose rounded summit is 2,694 meters or 8,839 feet high.
Te northern spire of Mount Tekarra in the Canadian Rockies
Back on the Icefields Parkway, with Mount Hardisty dominating the view for many miles.
Icefields Parkway, with Mount Hardisty dominating the view
This spot always stops me for a photo or 3. That’s Mount Kerkeslin on the left.
The Icefields Parkway
A large viewpoint on the Icefields Parkway 24 km south of the Highway 16 junction has signs pointing to several features. There are also several panels describing the impressive mapping explorations of David Thompson, who travelled some 90,000 km between 1792 and 1812, by canoe, dogsled, horse and snowshoe.
Viewpoint on the Icefields Parkway
This was the comment-for-the-day that I posted on Facebook Saturday evening. One of the huge advantages to touring areas like this off-season is that you’re by yourself almost everywhere outside the communities – among the summer crowds, this definitely does not feel like the middle of nowhere.
Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes in the middle of nowhere you find yourself
Heading home at 4:20 pm, this was the view to the north over “Henry House Flats”, site of a Hudson’s Bay Company fur trading post. Officially named Jasper House, the nickname honours trader Henry John Moberly, who in 1858 re-opened the post, which had operated sporadically prior to his arrival.
Henry House Flats, Jasper
Almost back home to Hinton.
Alberta Highway 16 near Hinton

I really did have plans to stay home on Sunday, but… :)

Posted in Alberta, Road Trips | 2 Comments

Dawson Creek to Hinton, Alberta

I’m going to skip by Wednesday’s touring of Dawson Creek, as I plan to post that on the Explore BC blog and approval takes a few days. So, moving on, I spent about 1/2 an hour taking more photos around Dawson Creek on Thursday morning, then headed for Hinton, 462 km to the southeast.

By 08:40 I had crossed the border into Alberta and was well into the flat country on Highway 43.
Alberta Highway 43 northwest of Grande Prairie
The giant beaver at Beaverlodge is one of Alberta’s many notable roadside attractions, and I expect will be the only thing that will ever make Beaverlodge stand out :)
Giant Beaver at Beaverlodge, Alberta
From a rise just south of Beaverlodge, the Rocky Mountains can be seen to the west.
The Rockies as seen from Beaverlodge, Alberta
A screaming north wind swung around to the southeast, but the wind chill was still well into the -30s, and the cold had heaved the road enough to make it a surprisingly rough ride.
Alberta Highway 43 west of Grande Prairie
Dropping down off the plateau to Grande Prairie, the shopping/service centre for a huge region, and a community that I usually summarize as having all the personality of a Walmart parking lot. Over the past decade or so, I’ve been to Grande Prairie several times on winter sports charters (usually hockey). I stopped and had a leisurely lunch with a nephew that I seldom see, though, so I enjoyed being there this time.
Grande Prairie, Alberta
From Grande Prairie, the shortest and most scenic route is Highway 40, though I couldn’t convince the nav system in my car of that until I actually turned onto the highway. Highway 40 used to be a logging-access road, but now gas wells are the resource extraction feature seen most.
Alberta Highway 40 South from Grande Prairie
That would be an “interesting” load to see coming down the highway towards you!
A huge tank being hauled on Alberta Highway 40
I arrived in Hinton at dinner time. It was of course great to see my son and his wife, and all the fur-kids that I’ve adopted for the next 12 days. This is Conan on Steve’s shoulder.
My son adn his cat
Conan is a real sweet guy but quite a character as well. Here, he and Odin, a 10-month-old purebred Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, tease each other – their “discussions” are quite funny to watch.
Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
On Friday morning, I went for a long walk in the very cold air to get some photos of the reason Hinton grew to be a sizable community (10,000 people now) – the pulp mill, turning trees into paper and vapour. When it’s very cold, the vapour turns into snow, dusting everything in town. First, the log processing plant…
Pulp mill at Hinton, Alberta
…then the pulp mill.
Pulp mill at Hinton, Alberta
I was hoping to be able to get a mill tour – no luck there, but I was able to get to the secured back side of the mill.
Pulp mill at Hinton, Alberta
This is the water treatment pond – made me think of an industrial Yellowstone. The part that isn’t steaming is frozen foam.
Pulp mill at Hinton, Alberta
On a hill right beside the water treatment pond lives a large herd of elk.
Pulp mill at Hinton, Alberta
This is the view that the elk above were looking at – I shot these two photos from the same spot. Anyone who thinks that industry ruins the world for wildlife needs to talk to these elk :)
Pulp mill at Hinton, Alberta
It’s now Sunday afternoon – as you can see, I’ve got some very good weather ahead. Although the wind chill was officially -49°C (-56°F) yesterday morning, I still went out on a road trip to Jasper – that’s the next story I want to tell you :)

Posted in Alberta, Road Trips | 1 Comment

Driving the Alaska Highway in Winter – Muncho Lake to Dawson Creek

Tuesday was planned as another easy day with lots of time to stop to explore and photograph. The total mileage would only be 702 km (436 miles) – the previous day’s total from Whitehorse was 686 km. It would be a late start from Northern Rockies Lodge, though, to get good light.

This was the view to the north from my room at 08:45. Although the sun had officially risen over half an hour before, the high mountains wouldn’t let the warming beams hit the valley floor for a long time yet.
Winter morning view from Northern Rockies Lodge, Alaska Highway
A small buffet was set up in a corner of the dining room, at a cost of $16.50 plus 0.83 tax. The highlight was definitely a loaf of homemade bread that made wonderful toast.
Breakfast at Northern Rockies Lodge, Alaska Highway
After breakfast, I took a walk out onto frozen Muncho Lake, for a few reasons. First, to get a shot of the lodge from this angle.
Northern Rockies Lodge, Alaska Highway
I also wanted to see the 2,200-foot-long runway that had been plowed out for several pilots who were flying in for the weekend. Although the temperature was only -15°C (+5°F), there was a strong northeast wind that made it very cold out on the lake.
A runway on frozen Muncho Lake at Northern Rockies Lodge
I had stopped to take a few photos of 2 closed lodges on Muncho Lake on the way south last night, but went back the 2 km to re-shoot them in good light. This one, J&H Wilderness Resort at Km 710, closed permanently 6-7 years ago.
J&H Wilderness Resort, Alaska Highway, BC
Looking north up the highway from near the head of Muncho Lake.
The Great Northern Circle Route at Muncho Lake, BC
Gas at the Northern Rockies Lodge was $1.969 per liter, with 20 cents per liter off for lodge guests. I didn’t really need any fuel, and in any case like to spread my money around when I can so wanted to fuel up at another lodge. I drove by Double G at Km 698, then a couple of k down the road, decided to turn around and check them out, as I hadn’t stopped in for many years. When I saw that fuel there was $1.989, though, I decided to keep going to Toad River.
Double G Services, Muncho Lake, BC
The original post office at Muncho Lake, beside Double G, is still operating.
The original post office at Muncho Lake, BC
The view ahead at Km 675.8, at 11:30.
Mountains at Km 675.8, Alaska Highway
A closer look at the dramatic mountains in the photo above.
Mountains at Km 675.8, Alaska Highway
There are a fair number of tight curves, and some of the truck-specific warning signs like this one have solar panels powering flashing lights around them.
Tight curve on the Alaska Highway
This is another of the spots that stops me for a photo or two regardless of which direction I’m driving – this is along the Toad River, looking back towards Muncho Lake.
Toad River, Alaska Highway
Looking back to the north again, from about Km 657, with a large caribou warning sign.
Mountains along the Alaska Highway
On the spur of the moment when I saw their sign, I wanted to see the Stone Mountain Safaris B&B, which is about 5 km off the highway. I got about a kilometer in, though, and decided that I knew little about it and shouldn’t just pop in for a look without talking to them first. It was a spectacular drive, though.
The access road to Stone Mountain Safari B&B, Alaska Highway
Although there are sometimes a lot of elk along the highway in the Toad River area, I didn’t see any today. This is another of the solar-panels-and-flashing-lights signs.
Elk warning sign, Alaska Highway
If I had any doubt that I was in BC, it was verified when I saw the first unicorn-crossing sign! :)
I fueled up at Toad River Lodge, Km 647 (Historic Mile 422), at $1.699 per liter.
Gas pumps at Toad River Lodge, Alaska Highway
Every ceiling of every room in Toad River Lodge is full of hats.
Toad River Lodge, Alaska Highway
There’s a community of Toad River as well – that’s the school on the right, on the opposite side of a 3,000-foot gravel runway.
Toad River, BC
Crossing the Racing River at Km 641, at 12:43 pm.
The view back to the north at Km 629.2, just north of the MacDonald River bridge.
The Alaska Highway
The MacDonald River valley proved to be a good subject for an HDR image.
MacDonald River valley, Alaska Highway
The steep climb out of the MacDonald River valley uses this limestone gorge as the route, at about Km 603. There are often sheep along this section of the highway, but again, not today.
Limestone gorge on the Alaska Highway
Caribou beside the highway at little Rocky Crest Lake, Km 601.3.
Caribou beside the Alaska Highway
Summit Lake at Km 598 – though closed in the winter, there’s a lovely Provincial Campground at the far end of the lake.
Summit Lake, Alaska Highway
At the head of the lake across from the campground is the Summit Pass, Historic Mile 392 signpost as well as an interpretive sign. This is the highest point on the Alaska Highway, at 1,295 meters elevation (4,250 feet).
Summit Pass, Alaska Highway
The view ahead at Km 541, climbing up Steamboat Mountain. The old road here was legendary (I certainly remember it well – but not fondly!) but a new one was built in about 1995.
Climbing Steamboat, Alaska Highway
From Steamboat Summit there are both broad views and some interesting close looks like this one. A few miles back, a rather similar peak sports a famous profile that gives it the name Indian Head Mountain.
The view from Steamboat Summit, Alaska Highway
Dropping down the other side of Steamboat towards Fort Nelson, the view is very different, with high mountains out of sight for a while.
Steamboat, Alaska Highway
The oil and gas industry gets very visible from Fort Nelson on. The owner of 400-odd acres beside the highway at the edge of community used to run cattle and bison, but now has a lot of oil and construction equipment around the house and the property is for sale. It’s rather sad to have watched the farm develop over the past couple of decades, and now see it mothballed.
Former agricultural property at Fort Nelson, BC
Entering the commercial heart of Fort Nelson, Historic Mile 300, with the Visitor Centre (which was open) on the left, and the very good museum (which was closed) on the right.
Fort Nelson, BC
I turned in to the museum lot for a short look at some of the equipment scattered around the property.
Fort Nelson Museum
One of the last of the “beehive burners” in British Columbia is at a mill on the eastern edge of Fort Nelson. They were used to burn scrap wood, and the amount of smoke coming from them some days when I was a kid was very impressive. Some are still in use, but with “scrubbers” of various types that virtually eliminate the smoke – I believe this is one of them.
Beehive burner in Fort Nelson, BC
There is a great deal of oversize oilfield equipment on the highway south of Fort Nelson, and it gets more and more numerous as you get closer to Fort St. John.
Oilfield equipment on the Alaska Highway
Traffic gets very stressful for a country boy like me, with pickups trying to do 150 kmh taking stupid risks to get around lines like this backed up behind trucks that slow down to 30 kmh on some hills. Double solid lines mean nothing to some of these drivers – if I thought that anyone would care I would have reported a service truck from the Volvo equipment dealer in Fort St. John.
Oilfield equipment on the Alaska Highway
It wasn’t all bad, though – there were still some beautiful open stretches of highway.
Alaska Highway near Bucking Horse River
By 8:30 pm I was passing the gas plant at Taylor, and could relax again – back in relatively calm, largely agricultural country for a while!
Gas plant at Taylor, BC
By 9:15 I was in my large room at the Comfort Inn in Dawson Creek. It offers good value (for this region) at $119 plus $15.47 taxes per night, including breakfast. My only complaint was the extremely slow Internet. Other than that, it’s a very nice property.
Comfort Inn Dawson Creek

I joked on Facebook that night that I had told one of my Friends that I’d take lots of food photos on this trip, but I could’t get the lighting to work on this night’s dinner – Humpty Dumpty Party Mix and a Cariboo Honey Lager beer – even though the bag and can had complementary colours :)

Tomorrow, I’d spend the day with Dawson Creek Tourism staff, touring the community.

Posted in Alaska Highway, Road Trips | 2 Comments

Driving the Alaska Highway in Winter – Whitehorse to Muncho Lake

I’m back on the road again, this time for about 17 days, doing basically a loop around what Destination British Columbia calls the Great Northern Circle Route, with some changes.

I left home on Monday just over 2 hours before the 08:15 sunrise, to catch dawn at Teslin, seen in the first photo.
Dawn at Teslin, Yukon
Gorgeous light looking down on Teslin from the viewpoint.
Teslin, Yukon, in a winter dawn
Reaching Rancheria Lodge at Km 1100 (Historic Mile 710) just before 10:00, I was ready for a big breakfast and a load of coffee.
Rancheria Lodge
This is what their $14.95 Yukon Breakfast looks like – 2 pancakes, 3 eggs, 6 slices of bacon, and toast. The owner seemed surprised that a little guy like me could eat it all :) Ready for the road again!
Yukon breakfast at Rancheria Lodge
The view ahead at Km 1085.4, with that butte making it one of the more unique views along the Alaska Highway.
A butte along the Alaska Highway
The view back to the northwest at Km 1077.8 – this is one of my regular photo stops regardless of which direction I’m driving, for obvious reasons.
Broad mountain view on the Alaska Highway
As you cross into British Columbia south of Watson Lake, the Department of Highways makes sure that you know what’s ahead!
Bison warning signs on the Alaska Highway
Ah, yes, glare ice. A couple of hundred kilometers of it.
Glare ice on the √
Seeing a track plowed alongside the highway mile after mile, all I could figure that it might be for was to encourage bison to stay off the highway, and soon I saw the first indication that that guess was correct.
Bison beside the Alaska Highway
Soon, as always, the bison became more and more numerous.
Bison along the Alaska Highway
This section of highway (looking south at Km 855.4) is a new route built about 15 years ago – the very curvy old highway is a mile or so off to the right, on the other side of the broad valley.
The Alaska Highway at Km 855
The Liard River at Cranberry Rapids.
Here’s the bulldozer that was making all the bison trails.
Bulldozer making trails through deep snow for bison
More bison near the Smith River Bridge.
Bison along the Alaska Highway
This distinctive view at Km 779, with the Liard River on the right, is always my sign that Liard Hot Springs is coming up soon (less than 14 km away).
Km 779 on the Alaska Highway
Km 766.7
It was a gorgeous day to be soaking in the hot springs, with the temperature at -18°C (0°F) and only 6 other people there (4 of them Japanese men on a month-long drive around the North).
Just before the Liard River Bridge, I met a levitating bison!
A levitating bison along the Alaska Highway
The Liard River Bridge, the last of the original suspension bridges on the highway. This was Historic Mile 493.
Liard River Bridge
The sign says “Road conditions vary for 200 km, Use Caution”. I think that’s another way of saying “We’re tired of flagging all the bad spots, you’re on your own”. :)
Road hazard sign on the Alaska Highway
One of the last of the 40 kmh curves on the highway.
A 40 kmh curve on the Alaska Highway
This guy on the left stopped me for a minute and then I inched ahead while trying to figure out if he was really going to let me by without a problem. He did :)
Bison on the Alaska Highway
Nearing Muncho Lake I spotted the first moose I’d seen that day.
Moose along the Alaska Highway
Muncho Lake, seen from the large viewpoint at Km 712.2, Historic Mile 463, a few minutes before the 6:10 pm sunset.
Muncho Lake
My stop for the night, Northern Rockies Lodge.
Northern Rockies Lodge
My ground-floor room, #202, for $144 plus taxes of $18.72. Most of the guests that night were a drill crew from Surrey, BC (I don’t know what or where they were drilling).
Northern Rockies Lodge
The very impressive dining room. I had their very good Signature Northern Rockies Schntizel ($24) accompanied by a couple of mugs of German beer and a magnificent view both inside and outside. After dinner, the lodge owner, Urs Schildknecht, joined me for an hour or so and we had a very interesting chat that centred around tourism in the region, which I’ll be telling you more about in another post.
Dining room at the Northern Rockies Lodge

Tomorrow would be a late start while I waited for good light before continuing on to Dawson Creek.

Posted in Alaska Highway, Road Trips | 8 Comments

A Long-weekend Getaway to Vancouver

I love small-town life, but a long-weekend getaway to Vancouver allows me to indulge in great dining and other pleasures of the city that I sometimes miss. Read about our trip 2 weeks ago in “A Small-Town Foodie Goes to the Big City“, my first post as one of Destination BC’s official bloggers.

'A Small-Town Foodie Goes to the Big City,' by Murray Lundberg
Posted in British Columbia, Travel | Leave a comment

An All-night Northern Lights Road Trip

Just after 9:00 last night, taking my puppy out for a short walk turned out to be the start of a very, very special night. At that time, there was just a small aurora borealis display showing on the north-eastern horizon. I think that it’s worth noting that none of the images in this post have been manipulated in any way – this is what came out of the camera. You’ll see a lot of very heavily manipulated aurora images being published in magazines and online, but these photos show what the lights actually look like.

After bringing Bella back in the house, I posted a note to a Yukon Aurora Alert page that I set up on Facebook, got my camera gear together, and, still dressed in my pyjamas so I didn’t miss what I expected would once again be a brief show, went out in the driveway and shot a dozen or so images. I came back in, posted one of the photos on Facebook, and when the display was clearly getting better, decided to go for a drive.
The Northern Lights from my drivway in Whitehorse, Yukon
I shot this in the back yard in case the display quit while I was en route to my favourite photography spot, the Yukon River Bridge at Km 1393 on the Alaska Highway (that’s about 17 km – just over 10 miles – from my house).
The aurora borealis from my back yard in Whitehorse, Yukon
The bridge area offers a lot of variety in possible shooting locations. It takes patience if you want a vehicle, or vehicle lights, in your photo – there’s very little traffic on the highway late on a winter night. This was shot at 10:18.
The Northern Lights at the Yukon River Bridge on the Alaska Highway
The lack of traffic means that I can set up my tripod in what would be a driver’s normal viewing position on the highway, even for 30-second exposures. Thirty seconds feels like a very long time when you can hear a vehicle coming, though!
The aurora borealis at the Yukon River Bridge on the Alaska Highway
One of the places near the bridge that I always visit on my aurora shoots is a bluff high above the Marsh Lake Dam, or Lewes Dam. The orange lights in the distance are the lights of Whitehorse, the purplish light to the right is from the dam. The vertical shaft of aurora light in the centre is very unusual.
The aurora borealis over the Yukon River
It takes a very strong auroral display to be visible over the lights from the dam!
The Northern Lights at the Marsh Lake Dam, Yukon
My “itinerary” for the night was open – while I had told Cathy that I’d probably be a couple of hours, she knows that that is a very flexible number :) I headed down the Alaska Highway, taking a few shots looking north along Marsh Lake at the truck pulloff at Km 1376. The streak of light at the lower left is almost certainly a small plane taking off from the Whitehorse airport.
The aurora borealis over the Alaska Highway at Marsh Lake, Yukon
Further south along the Alaska Highway towards Jake’s Corner. The red glow on the snow is from my car’s taillights.
The Northern Lights over the Alaska Highway near Marsh Lake, Yukon
Before getting out of cell phone range, I pulled up the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center site to see what they thought the night might look like. Excellent – an all-nighter coming!
NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center
Reaching Jake’s Corner at 11:40, I turned off the Alaska Highway and headed back towards Carcross on the Tagish Road. This is a loop that I enjoy in any season, in/on any vehicle :)
Tagish Road, Yukon at night
There was an excellent aurora display as I neared the Tagish Bridge, a spot that I had high hopes for. There’s a lot of open water there, though, and with the temperature sitting at -23°C (-9°F), there was also a lot of fog, and the Northern Lights had changed to just a glow by the time I got a fairly clear view of the sky.
The Tagish Bridge, Yukon, in a winter fog
The stunning view to the west on the Tagish Road at Choutla Lake, at 12:46 a.m..
The Northern Lights on the Tagish Road, Yukon
The viewing deck over Lake Bennett at Carcross. The focus is off – more than once, I’d forgotten to re-check to focus ring every time I set the tripod up (auto-focus doesn’t work in conditions like this – you have to go manual, and because it’s so dark there’s no way to check whether you have it exactly right) :(
The aurora borealis at Lake Bennett, Yukon
I shot this in Carcross specifically to post on the Cadillac page on Facebook :)
My Cadillac CTS under the Northern Lights at Carcross, Yukon
The moon rose at about midnight, and even at 80% full it has enough power to dull the aurora quite substantially. This was shot near the Bove Island viewpoint on the South Klondike Highway at 1:35 a.m..
The aurora borealis Yukon
Looking south down Windy Arm at the historic Venus Mine. By this point the aurora was simply a bonus to an incredibly beautiful night. I hadn’t see another vehicle in well over 2 hours at this point.
The Northern Lights over the South Klondike Highway, Yukon
The aurora borealis over Windy Arm, Yukon
This is where I turned around – the boat launch on Tutshi Lake at Km 64.3 of the highway, at 2:30 a.m.. By now the aurora had changed to a fast-moving, vaporous sort of cloud – fascinating to watch but impossible to photograph because of the combination of low light and fast movement.
Tutshi Lake, BC, on a winter night
I drove past Emerald Lake, then decided that the auroral light might have just enough power in it still to photograph, so backed up to get this shot.
The aurora borealis Yukon

I got home at 4:00 a.m., and Monty was happy to share his basement couch with me so I didn’t wake up Cathy and Bella. While I really wanted to go through the photos I’d shot, I was absolutely exhausted. I got about 2½ hours sleep before I heard Cathy getting ready for work, so an afternoon nap is planned for a bit later today!

Posted in Aurora Borealis | 8 Comments

The Drive to Skagway in Snow-free February

Okay, most of the route isn’t quite snow-free, but as you’ll see in the photos below, there’s not much of the white stuff anywhere. The poor organizers of even the Iditarod sled dog race are stressing about where they’re going to find a suitable route.

I needed to go to Skagway yesterday for 3 reasons – I had stuff to pick up at the post office, the weather was forecast to be sunny most of the way, and Monty needed a day alone with me to reinforce his position in the pack now that a new puppy has no doubt made that unclear to him.

With the puppy, Bella, in her crate while we were away, Monty and I hit the road a few minutes after the 08:50 sunrise, with the temperature at -28°C (-18°F). I decided to make a little detour through Carcross to get this shot in particular, and a couple of minutes later discovered that there was a much better reason for me to have gone that way. I met an old friend who I really needed to see but haven’t called in a long time – we spent a wonderful hour chatting over coffee, and I’ll be seeing her a fair bit in the coming weeks to help her with a difficult project of a type that I’m good at.
Lake Bennett, Yukon, in the winter
Every now and then I think that maybe I do the drive to Skagway too often. Then I come around a corner…. and say “no, I’m good with this!” :)
The South Klondike Highway in the winter
We stopped at Log Cabin so Monty could go for a good run (this is the view north from there). This is where I really noticed just how little snow there is. I’m still quite stunned by what I saw on the drive.
Log Cabin, BC
The WP&YR railway runs along the lake at the base of the rock in the centre. That curve is known as Ptarmigan Point. There’s not likely to be much snow for the railway crews to clear this Spring.
Ptarmigan Point on the WP&YR in the winter
There’s not much danger of an avalanche at the White Pass summit now – there’s not even enough of a base for the snowmobilers.
White Pass summit in the winter
It was intended to be a quick trip, as this was Bella’s first time being crated during the day. Even if we’d planned on spending some time in Skagway, though, that would probably have been changed, as it was -17°C (+1°F) with a strong North wind that made walking quite unpleasant. I did see this new sign on the walkway along the Small Boat Harbor from the main cruise ship dock, though – very nice.
Welcome to Skagway, Alaska
The White Pass folks have been doing some really nice decorating lately as well – I don’t know if the caboose is intended for a purpose other than decoration, but it looks good, as does the new sign on the paint shop to the left.
The White Pass & Yukon Route Shops at Skagway, Alaska
Water has been a bit of a problem along the Alaska section of the highway, but it’s all frozen tight for a few days at least. A grader was working at cutting a drainage ditch in the ice just south of this waterfall.
Frozen waterfall in the White Pass, Alaska
The avalanche gate at Mile 8.2, and Mine Mountain – the historic Inspiration Point Mine is located high around the right side of it.
MIne Mountain, Alaska
One final photo stop to capture Lime Mountain, and we were home just after 2:30.
Bella was happy to see us and get out of her crate, though Cathy had come home from work to see her at noon. I’m thrilled to see Monty’s reaction to his little sister. Although a bit unsure of her in the house, he’s wonderful with her outside – so I’m very much looking forward to the warmer weather that’s coming back starting today so we can spend a lot more time outside.
Huskies Monty and his baby sister Bella going for a walk

Posted in Road Trips, Winter | 2 Comments

A Quick Flight to Calgary for a Husky Puppy

After a few days trying to adopt one of the husky-cross (a.k.a. “Alaskan Husky”) puppies from a rescued litter near Canmore, Alberta, it finally came together on Thursday. I booked a flight for the next day to go down and get her. Air North is well known for giving great service for this sort of thing in particular, and being an Air North shareholder helps to make last-minute bookings affordable.

Lining up for takeoff at 09:03 Friday morning. The weather called for deep cold both at home and in Calgary, with mixed sun and cloud for all 3 days of the trip.
The main runway at Whitehorse, Yukon
The view south over Lake Bennett, 7 minutes later.
Winter dawn over Lake Bennett, Yukon
There is some really intriguing geology in British Columbia – this is in the Dease Lake / Telegraph Creek area.
Aerial view of northern British Columbia mountains
Drainage patterns on Williston Lake.
Drainage patterns on Williston Lake
A broad view of part of Williston Lake, a 250-km-long lake created in 1968 by the building of the W. A. C. Bennett Dam on the Peace River.
Williston Lake, BC
Coal mining along Highway 40 north of Grand Cache, Alberta, with vapour coming from the H.R. Milner Generating Station, a 150 MW coal-fired power station. It’s always particularly interesting to an aerial view of places that I know from the ground – I last drove that road in May 2013.
Coal mining north of Grand Cache, Alberta
In the center is Mount Robson, the highest point in the Canadian Rockies at 3,954 meters (12,972 feet).
Mount Robson, BC
We flew down the eastern flank of the Rockies at 37,000 feet to avoid the turbulence that’s common over the mountains. In the centre can be seen one of the large icefields that gives the highway known as the Icefields Parkway its name.
Icefield in the Canadian Rockies
Descending into Calgary, looking down on Big Hill Springs Provincial Park in the centre, with the town of Cochrane in the distance.
Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, aerial view
Patterns in Alberta ranching country – the way this area is growing, there may be a mall there in 20 years.
Patterns in Alberta ranching country
The Bow River north of downtown Calgary.
This would have been prime property until the incredible floods along the Bow this past June – I wonder what prices are like now. Many businesses and homes are still being rebuilt.
Townhomes along the Bow River
The Aero Space Museum of Calgary is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in aviation.
Calgary International Airport (YYC) seems to have had major construction going on constantly for the past couple of decades. It’s one of my favourite airports, though access is a bit tougher than it used to be.
Calgary International Airport
YYC is trying out a cellphone waiting area, and it worked great for my daughter and I. Rather than circle around and around, she just waited for my call and then drove over from a small parking lot a few hunded yards away.
I had arranged to meet my pup’s foster parents at 1:00 Saturday. As we got close to their home in south Calgary, we pulled in behind this truck – with a plate like that, we thought that it might be them! It wasn’t – just a funny coincidence.
Alberta licence plate SHELTER
My first cuddle with “Cuddles”, the pup that we’ve named Bella. The black-and-white pup is Lemon, from the same litter. The rescue director sent me a message saying that she thought that we might like Lemon better, as she has a thicker coat and “looks more husky”. No thanks, we were already committed to being Cuddles’ forever home.
Alaskan huskies Cuddles and Lemon
Taxiing for takeoff at 1:10 yesterday afternoon. Getting through the airport took much longer than I thought – I got stopped over and over by people – airline agents, salespeople, passengers – with comments that often started with “OMG she’s adorable!” :)
Taxiing for takeoff at YYC
A great view of downtown Calgary with the Rocky Mountains to the west.
An aerial view of downtown Calgary in the winter
Looking over YYC to the northeast.
An aerial view of Calgary International Airport
Looking down on my daughter’s neighbourhood, with 2 more large subdivisions just starting to the south of it.
Airdrie, Alberta
Here’s a new subdivision south of Edmonton that leaves me wondering what the attraction is. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, with no lake, no trees, no anything that I can see. Different strokes, I guess :)
While the Air North flight from Whitehorse to Calgary is direct, on the way north there’s a 25-minute stop in Edmonton (YEG) to drop off and pick up passengers, many of them people who look like they work in northern Alberta’s booming oil and gas industry.
Edmonton International Airport - YEG
Looking down on downtown Edmonton at 2:50pm – our stop in Edmonton had been a bit longer than planned. The airport at the upper left is the former Edmonton City Centre Airport (Blatchford Field), which closed permanently in November 2013.
Looking down on downtown Edmonton
Highway 658 crosses the Athabasca River north of Blue Ridge, with the large Blue Ridge Lumber mill to the east of the road.
Almost home, over Teslin at 3:50 pm (we changed time zones going into BC and the Yukon, gaining an hour).
We made a very long, very low approach to Whitehorse. This has happened before when the guy who owns the airline, Joe Sparling, was flying the plane I was on, as happened yesterday. I love flying with people who love what they’re doing. This is the Yukon River Bridge on the Alaska Highway just east of Whitehorse.
That’s Bella’s crate being loaded onto the cart behind another, older Alaskan Husky.

Cathy saw first-hand the sort of reaction Bella got at the Calgary airport, because the same thing happened in Whitehorse. In Calgary, one of the Air North agents took a photo of her, in Whitehorse, one young fellow took quite a few.

Cathy and I were thrilled beyond words at how Bella’s first meetings with her new family went. Not only was Monty great, so was Molly (our cat), who walked right up to her and rubbed her head on her. The fact that Molly and Bella are pretty much the same size (for now) may help that relationship get off to a good start.

As I write this, my little “pocket husky” is napping at my feet. She’ll quickly realize that “the new guy” is her forever Dad. We’re going to have such fun :)

Posted in Huskies, Travel | 6 Comments