June 2, 2014 - Day 8
I awoke at 6:30 AM to the comforting sounds of the quiet campground in Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia. I didn't plan an excessive amount of driving for the day so I took my time with breakfast, enjoying pancakes with doesn't-require-refrigeration Mrs. Butterworth's syrup.
I was on the road by 8:00, heading north into the vast and awesome wilderness of northeastern British Columbia. The solitude on the road was magnificent. (I love the names they give highways in BC. I wasn't just on Highway 52. I was experiencing the Heritage Highway!) I saw one white-tailed deer just north of Tumbler Ridge and another three west of Dawson Creek.
I stopped at Buckinghorse River Wayside Provincial Park for lunch and pressed further north in the afternoon.
There aren't many camping options in the area so I opted to go 12 km off the Alaska Highway on a gravel road to Andy Bailey Regional Park. It's a very small park with fewer than two dozen campsites. It's on a secluded lake and it looked perfect for me.
The only other group in the park when I arrived was a large group camping right beside the lake. However, they left before nightfall so I seemed alone. Kayaking on the lake that evening was when I first realized the potential for real problems if something happened to me. I was way out of cell phone range. If my car didn't start I was at least a three hour walk to the Alaska Highway. I didn't even want to think about the potential of an encounter with an aggressive grizzly or mountain lion,
Thankfully, none of the above happened and I reveled in the serenity of the wild. In between kayak trips I read guides about my upcoming destinations - Yukon and Alaska. I was going to get even more remote!
June 3, 2013 - Day 9
The serenity continued overnight and I slept very soundly. I got up at 6:30 AM, prepared my typical hurried breakfast of oatmeal and hot chocolate, and got on the road before 7:30. I stopped at the Fort Nelson Visitor Centre for WiFi, gassed up for $1.569 a litre, and stopped at the Parker Lake Ecological Reserve just north of the city. There was a hare, unidentified easily-scared ducks, and huge mud ruts on the road but not much else other than a great mirror view.
I stopped at Tetsa River for their famous (and very tasty!) cinnamon buns, where I saw my first violet-green swallows. They were darting around like crazy, gorging themselves on the plentiful airborne insects.
My morning was filled with fantastic vistas and the best roadside wildlife viewing I have ever seen. Large mammals were everywhere! I saw multiple bighorn sheep herds, my first-ever caribou, a black bear, a moose, and several bison, all in the span of a few hours.
I stopped at Muncho Lake Provincial Park's Strawberry Flats Campground for lunch and kept going on the Alaska Highway afterwards. There were still more mammals in the afternoon - two more sheep herds, another black bear, and two more bison. Glorious!
I arrived at my intended destination, Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park in mid-afternoon, got my campsite set up, and went off for a brief but refreshing dip in the hot springs.
It was quite strange to be in steaming hot water but still be close to Yukon. Even stranger was the odd smell that was ever-present. The water temperature allows plants to survive that would normally perish in the northern climate. Behind the hot springs is a short boardwalk to hanging gardens that further display the unusual flora:
June 4, 2013 - Day 10
I got up at 5:30 AM and became aware that something rare had happened overnight... it rained on my tent! I was lucky to get to day 10 before experiencing any precipitation and it was a minor inconvenience at best.
The crazy good wildlife viewing continued as I approached Yukon. Before 9:00 AM I had seen a herd of about 50 bison (including about 10 young ones) plus four other individuals and five separate black bears!
By 9:45 AM I was very happy... I was in the Yukon! I saw more bison and then encountered animals that I was not expecting - horses! Four horses were ambling along the shoulder with not a care in the world.
I hiked the Liard Canyon/Lucky Lake trail (so named because an enterprising woman once set up a tent there so she could ensure that nearby men "got lucky") south of Watson Lake. It was a good introduction to Yukon and one place where my heart nearly skipped a beat. Hiking alone in grizzly country made me acutely aware of my surroundings. Every sound was a potential disaster. My mind turned the tiniest chickadee into something much greater. I was startled on the Lucky Lake trail by a loud rustling noise right beside me. I was ready to put my bear safety techniques to work before I realized that it was only a spruce grouse. Grouse are notorious for startling hikers and it was neat to be startled by a northern species rather than the ruffed grouse of the south.
I picked up supplies in Watson Lake (oranges were super-expensive but so worth it!) and hiked around Wye Lake with a nice woman I met from Australia. We enjoyed coffee and a chat afterwards before we headed off in opposite directions. On my way out of town, I stopped at Watson Lake's iconic Sign Post Forest:
The forest contains over 70,000 signs that travelers have brought from around the world. I searched for one from Belleville but the closest I got was Hoards:
There were spectacular vistas as I drove west from Watson Lake. I eventually stopped at the Rancheria Hotel & Restaurant and asked about campsites. For only $10.50 I got a site with electricity right near a beautiful small lake. What a bargain!
I took advantage of the extremely late sunsets and returned to the picturesque lake several times. Note the shutter speed of 1/10s on the final image. I definitely needed a tripod for that one!