The USA – Washington Take Two

A long, stormy drive took us from Alberta to the coast of British Columbia. Upon leaving the foothills of the North Shore Mountains and descending towards Vancouver, the skies cleared and temperatures soared into the 20s. What a sudden and dramatic difference with the North. Spring has arrived. Finally!

Tip: discover Vancouver by bike. If you’re smart, you don’t hire them right next to Stanley park. For some spare change, you and your complimentary helmet will have a full afternoon of two-wheeled, action packed fun :)

Stanley Park - Vancouver
Stanley Park – Vancouver

Even in the streets, Canadas crown jewel surprises. Take the “Vancouver Duck Lady” as an example: want to know your future, need a party-planner or just craving to pet a small farm animal? The duck lady is there for you!

The Vancouver Duck Lady
The Vancouver Duck Lady

Two days and a dinner in a luxury high-riser (it’s always good to know people all over the globe) was all it took to fall in love with this place. See you soon again, Vancouver!

A room with a view - Vancouver
A room with a view – Vancouver

A quick stop in, once again, Seattle (mainly for Amazon-delivered goodies) set us on course towards the Cascade volcanoes of Washington and Oregon. First stop: mighty Mount Rainier. Result: road and park closed. A minor panic-attack later we decided to drive around Rainier National Park to slip in via the Paradise entrance. And Paradise it was. Meters of snow, deep blue skies and an enormous volcanic peak right in front of you. The rest of the day was spent happily snow-shoeing across the slopes of the active volcano. A winter wonderland.

Mt. Rainier - Washington
Mt. Rainier – Washington

Next on the to do-list was Mount Saint Helens, world famous because of its 1980 record-breaking eruption. Upon our hike to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, Didem spotted the little fella pictured below. A standard frog, you say? No! Besides the fact that thousands of them had been keeping us awake every night since we left Seattle, the sound of the Pacific Tree Frog is the typical “rib-it” call used each and every time a frog sound is needed. There, you didn’t know that, did you?

Pacific Tree Frog - The frog!
Pacific Tree Frog – The frog!

Mount Saint Helens is pretty impressive. It’s hard to imagine by just looking at a picture, but in person you realise how massive the eruption and resulting debris blast must have been. Everything, as far as the eye can see, is destroyed. Trees flattened and the land filled with meters of ashes and rocks. Truly one of the wildest sites I have ever been to (especially now, with the roads closed and not a soul on the trails)!

Didem - Mt. Saint Helens
Didem – Mt. Saint Helens

Following: Hipsters, trees, little seaside towns and more volcanoes!

Canada – The Rockies

It seems our strike of fair weather is over. Each kilometre southwards added a couple of boring grey patches to the sky. Upon reaching Stewart, once again near the Alaska border, rain (no snow here!) started pouring down. The road leading towards the seaside was rough, but from what we could see, very beautiful.

Bear glacier - Stewart
Bear glacier – Stewart

The little town, with a population of less than 500 people, is surrounded by high cliffs (unfortunately covered in clouds and totally invisible), layered with glaciers (more about that later) and boasts the northernmost ice-free port in Canada (indeed, there was a vessel). It is also supposed to be prime bear-viewing territory, but it seemed all of them were still sound asleep. Stewart, however, is also the gateway to one of Alaska’s smallest ghost-towns: Hyder. Official population: 87, but I counted one hotel owner, one enthousiastic shopkeeper, three random Alaskan weirdos and your everyday angry old man. Why go there? Glaciers. Hyder owns the Salmon glacier, one of the largest road-accessible ice-tongues in the country. The road up was in very, very bad condition. Potholes, snow, ice…you name it. Thank God we had AWD. After 25km of shaking, just 10km away from the Glacier the road was closed with a heavy chain…!! And for what? No idea. It’s not that they maintained the rest it.

On the way to Salmon glacier - Hyder
On the way to see Salmon glacier – Hyder

Anyway, it was getting late. We turned back, ready to vent our frustration at the border control police. Oh, yes! There is a border control unit, occupied by two Canadians, to check that you are not illegally sneaking into the country. The conversation went like this:

  • Hi there!
  • Good afternoon.
  • How long where you in the US for?
  • You mean…like..right now? A couple of hours?
  • Did you bring any animals or rocks back with you?
  • Uhm…no.
  • Yeah, there isn’t much out there, eh! *laughs uncontrollably*
  • Ok. Why is the road closed just before the glacier?
  • No idea! I am not from around here!
  • Thanks…

We “set up camp” in Stewart in spent the night, hoping for a better morning. Unfortunately, we were greeted with the same wet weather the next morning. A quick stroll through the backstreets of Hyder (Didem wanted some shots of their shacks) and another border control later, we took off.

In the meantime, I realised that there are a couple of ex-Bornemenaars living in Canada. A few emails later we ended up in the charming town of Smithers. Charming, yes. There were shops, restaurants, bars, you name it! Quite a positive change after tens of boring 5-person villages. Meester Ivan, thanks once again for the warm welcome! 19 years….time flies!

Reunion - Smithers
Reunion – Smithers

Prince George, an uninspiring but large city further south marks the turning point towards Alberta. We head East to Jasper National Park. The road was, well, quite boring. Forests and mountains, snow, rain and clouds. The weather turned really bad and we decided to relax a couple of days in Valemount, just outside the borders of the park.

Elk spotting - Jasper
Elk spotting – Jasper

The town of Jasper is much like your average European ski-resort. Nice, but fake. The national park and the Rockies, however, are definitely worth seeing. Even in winter, when the lakes are still frozen.

Behind a frozen waterfall - Maligne Canyon
Behind a frozen waterfall – Maligne Canyon

The Glacier Highway took us from Jasper through the center of the Rocky Mountains towards Banff. An amazing trip, which I am sure, is even better in summer when the lakes show their colours.

The Glacier Highway - Jasper
The Glacier Highway – Jasper

From a frozen, snow-covered Lake Louise we drove west. See you soon, Canada. This time during the summer season. Next up: sunny Vancouver and Washington – take II!

Sunset over Lake Louise
Sunset over Lake Louise

Canada – The Yukon

It’s time to head South. Ready to drive the (in)famous Alaska Highway, connecting Alaska with Canada’s Yukon Territories from Fairbanks to Tok, we prepared ourselves to face extreme road conditions, broken-down vehicles with half-dead drivers calling for help and isolated towns who never saw a foreigner before. Aside from the last one, none of those rumours are true. The ALCAN is an excellent drive with wide lanes, a smooth surface and caring, helpful people in little villages. One of those villages, Tok, gave us the mental energy to spend another icy night in the car.

Tok - A moonlit goodbye show
Tok – A moonlit goodbye show

Enter Canada! How much money you have, that’s all they care about. Purpose of the trip? What do you plan to do with the car? Do you even have any insurance for that thing? Nope, not important. Off you go, enjoy Canada, hey!

After hundreds and hundreds of kilometres in the tundra, awesome is it is, though, the landscape starts to bore a bit. There is really nothing out there. Just an endless road lined with snow-covered evergreen trees. Didem starts to feel the long hours in the car. We are covering 350km a day now, which is more than double the planned average for the trip.

Just when we realize that the most exciting activity of the day is watching the fuel gauge go down, we pass Destruction Bay and the borders of Kluane National Park. No more boring snow covered plains, but once again exciting lakes and mountains. Yay!

Mountains - Kluane National Park
Mountains return – Kluane National Park

We cannot hide our excitement when entering Whitehorse, the capital of Canada’s Yukon. Yes, it is a small city in the middle of nowhere, just like Fairbanks. Yet, somehow they managed to be the exact opposite: an attractive, vibrant place full of interesting things to explore. Japanese Sushi in the evening and fresh cupcakes for breakfast? Yep!! It might seem like nothing, but after days of noodles and warmed-up tin cans this is paradise.

The mighty Yukon river carved out Miles Canyon right at the edge of Whitehorse. A surprisingly different landscape than the mountain – tundra – frozen lake – tundra scenery we have been seeing for some time now. Oh, we just crossed our first “road closed sign”. Many more to follow, for sure.

Whitehorse - Miles Canyon
Whitehorse – Miles Canyon

Gotta go now, or they will kick us out of the hotel :) Next stop: Alberta and SW Canada!