South of the border, down Montana way

Day 31. 18 September.

The Rockies disappeared from in front, to be just a glimpse in the rear vision mirrors. Flattish, pasture country: T remarked at one stage that we could be in Australia, on the Hume Highway between Canberra and Sydney or Melbourne. A fellow traveller made the same comment unsolicited a bit later. Downtown Calgary appeared ahead, an island of skyscrapers in a totally flat, treeless plain. Traffic/highways/wind, wind, wind. Managed to be blown straight past the turn-off to Smashed-In Head Buffalo Stampede…but no point in trying to turn around.

First stop was for coffee at a little town called Nanton, chosen only because it was about the right time/distance for a rest stop. Almost disaster – D tried to drive the wrong way (but on the right hand side, at least) up a one way street. This did not faze the few Canadians coming the other way: not one beeped, blared, glared or gestured. Turned into a church parking lot, where an elderly couple matter-of-factly provided hand signals to help with the u turn. Found a little establishment tucked away up a flight of steps, run by an Englishman from Norwich – very chatty. The coffee, finally, was right!

img_4993Fort McLeod is the home of the first Royal Canadian Mounties…the police always pursuing the right ‘Droit Mientien’. And what a “boys Saturday afternoon pictures set”! D, being a westerns tragic was re-living the wild west myths (or was it F-troop?). T was particularly taken by a hand-stitched log cabin quilt…the strips were less than half an inch wide.


And completing the Q&A…name someone famous born in Fort McLeod…..Joni Mitchell, of course. Main St was mostly closed, being a Sunday afternoon but there was a little evidence of frontier architectural conservation in the business frontages.

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More wheat and dairy, Blackfeet country, then suddenly, the prairies gave way to foothills and…. the Rockies reappeared on our right, blue, angular and very big with low cloud promising thunderstorms/rain/hail/snow? Border post for USA (Montana) where we were asked had we “acquired anything in Canada”. D replied, “Do you mean fresh produce?” We had none; moreover, D had generously left 5 onions, half a garlic bulb and 10 potatoes with the Banff Park staff as we left this morning. Delighted with the gift, the staff would have hash browns tonight. So when the General Store at Bapp appeared, guess what T announced she needed…..two potatoes and an onion later we were into the final 10 kms. And more signage re strong, gusty cross wind.

We were glad to get in to St Mary Glacier Park where the gale continues (it is drying our washing but knocking out wifi) but we’re secure inside.

Today we passed 3000 miles, and just a bit later 5000 km.

Internet access here is intermittent and low capacity, so will post photos from today and yesterday later.


Day 30. 17 September.

Rest day in Banff. Breakfast at a bakery in town as a special treat – the worst meal we’ve had in memory, with grubby cutlery to rub it in! The saving grace was high speed, powerful internet, so we were able to catch up.



An interminable wait for a free public bus to Sulphur Mountain to catch the gondola up the mountain. So long was the wait, in fact, that our tickets had time expired, but the driver waved us on. We came back to town on the equally free Brewster commercial bus.



The views were terrific and gave a better perspective of the Rockies, and the insignificance of man – the city of Banff snuggled in as a small blot, surrounded by sheer grey quartz peaks. The weather remained kind, although pretty cold in the wind – not surprising for the top of a mountain at 8000 mts as winter approaches.img_5561   img_5566

img_5590Drifted around Banff through a grey afternoon, with a cup of lapsang souchong at an appropriately named tea shop, visited the Whyte Museum which was bequeathed by an artist couple who lived in and loved the mountains. Small, but comprehensive and informative. Aussie accents everywhere – quite a few tourists, but lots also behind counters and bars. Signs everywhere looking for staff, probably reflecting the start of the ski season soon.

A few Canadian beers before dinner to get onto Facetime for an important birthday catchup (early) then a group dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory. D’s ribs were lovely if a little sweet, T wondered where the clams were (maybe powdered clam sauce?) – still nothing beats home cooking!

Tour de Banff

Day 29. Friday 16 September.



Getting some perspective here; our “little motorhome” (much bigger than anything we’ve ever had) is dwarfed by the next door neighbor in Jasper.




Highway 93…Promenade des Glaciers, 290kms of lots of lycra on 2 wheels and Asian tourists, but the mountains of sheer rock were the highlight. Is it the most beautiful road in the world? Every bend delivered gasping views. Glaciers, jade streams and lakes, waterfalls, more and more and more….. Past the Columbia icefields.

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And suddenly we’re sharing the landscape with thousands of other “shoulder season” travellers at the iconic Lake Louise.

Another 65kms and we’re at the equally iconic Banff, where the campground officer tells us about wolf & grizzly drill. D chops the onions & garlic outside, but they come in promptly. Banff is bustling this weekend, with the Terry Fox run on Sunday. There are not many (make that none) starters from our group.

Some of the thousands of shots taken on this leg – but they don’t do the spectacular scenery justice.



Athabasca Falls

“Alberta, Let Your Hair Hang down…”

Day 28. 15 September. “Alberta, Let Your Hair Hang down…”


Mt Robson, highest mountain in the Rockies…..just majestic.


Four weeks in….my, how time flies. Heading for Jasper (Alberta) today. Along the way 2 short stops: one at Moose Lake boat ramp where a small boy was doing what small (and not so small) boys love to do with stones.





And then a walk in bear – forest at Whitney Lake, where the grandeur of a freight train (D estimates at least 1 km long) rolling beside the water’s edge was captivating.



We reflected on the juxtaposition of this mechanical behemoth with a solo cyclist from Delhi who was 5,000kms into his 18 month journey from the top of Alaska (Prudhoe Bay) down to Argentina! Plan? Make it up as I go…My bike and I flew into PB….only one road from Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks…The timeframe? End-time, December 2017. He was up for a chat; he’d decided to do this bike ride in slow time, as the backpacking he’d done before (just from A to B) was not delivering enough of a cultural experience. He admitted to carrying lots of food, including original cornflakes supply from home. We wondered how he chose his campsites, in a little tent, in bear country. T is reading the story of Chris McCandless, a young American guy who hit the road in the US in a Datsun, hitched up to Alaska and then walked into the Denali wilderness to find himself (he was found dead). We wondered at the motivation of this Indian cyclist….he said his blog is happening a bit sporadically at We’ll check on it at next connectivity point.


Then to Jasper in brilliant sunshine. The coffee confusion continues. The “Red Eye’ seemed to be an extra strong espresso. D ordered the double, from the menu and after checking with the server, so this was not of his imagination – this is what arrived, and by the way that is a soup spoon! T enjoyed her latte; he almost drowned.



There have been 4 days straight of warm clear weather, after rain all of August and a blizzard only 5 days ago. So the cruise on Lake Lavigne was pretty special. We arrived at 1545 for the 1600 (last boat of the day) cruise – mostly complying in the 60 minutes we had to get there with the 60 kph speed limit over the 48 km leg -and T got the last 2 tickets. She likes to time things finely (T wrote that: D has another description).

The views speak for themselves.










The bonus is the story of tourism/fishing at this lake. A bit like “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”….the industry came about because an early adventurer/businessman recognized potential but there were no fish. It’s a lake fed entirely from snowmelt off the surrounding mountains and had no marine life till this guy brought in brook trout fingerlings, pack horsed in via whisky barrels. These fish were not enough sport, so the government introduced rainbow trout and ….freshwater brine shrimp (to feed the fish). …… they thought the rainbows would eat the brook and take over, but the rainbows inhabit the north end and the brook the south – living, spawning in comfortable proximity.

Dunster Detour

Day 27. Wednesday 14 September.

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We took the long route to Beaver Falls – go past by 10 km and then backtrack. We have found that reading signs here is a bit of an art that we are yet to master. But it was worth it – a short forest trail to the rapids, but quite beautiful.



P9150190.jpgT then decided that we’d do a loop through Dunster, a small hamlet, crossing the Fraser River ( the best salmon river in the world) and rejoining the highway about 30 km later. The first part was bitumen, then a long section of well- graded dirt along a farming corridor. Dunster was a delight – the two buildings providing interest. We toured the little museum, located in the old railway office which had been bought and relocated by locals.

It was very well presented with lots of photos of valley life in the first half of 20th century, and maintained beautifully. T was particularly taken by a photo of a young woman feeding(what appeared to be ) a bear cub…sure enough that was so, and the young woman was the mother-in-law of the museum minder today. The General Store was a delight – a throw back to when a general store was a general store. The lady in charge (store keeper, postmistress, wood chopper, potato grower, etc) was happy to talk at length. It was a hard life, she said, but very satisfying.

On the road from Dunster two bird sightings: firstly, a pair of Rock Ptarmigan (remember Chicken?) then a Bald Eagle feasting on a very dead salmon in the middle of the road. It seemed a bit more sensible than our wedgies, and flew off when we appeared.



The Rearguard Falls were spectacular. Brilliant jade in colour and nature had created a glass/water display. We were too late for salmon viewing. This is the end-point for the Chinook salmon returning the 1200 +km journey from the Pacific to their ancestral home to spawn and die (late August). Only the big strong ones make it up these falls.


Terry Fox Mountain is dedicated to a young man who lost a leg to cancer and started a marathon-a-day run across Canada, only to have to stop running when the cancer reappeared in his lungs 3 months afterward – he died aged 22, but has left a legacy behind: a Canadian hero and huge sums have been raised internationally.


Then Mount Robson appears immediately ahead. What a sight!

Mount Robson Park and an afternoon walk through cedar forest along the Fraser River. The squirrels continue to delight.

All the Lovely People

Day 26. Tuesday 13 September.

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A few observations, based on an admittedly limited experience/exposure:

  • People in Northern America have been unfailingly polite; they’re not always effusive, but we have not really encountered anything but civility (we have observed some vey few aggro instances, but relatively minor in nature);
  • Drivers have been tolerant, patient and safe. One exception was a driver travelling behind one of our group on a dusty road for a long time, unable to pass (our driver couldn’t see him in the rear vision mirrors because he was too close). The driver gave the ‘bird’ as he passed, but that was all (and D reckons he would have done at least as much).
  • The reliance on boom industries – gas in particular – has had the same consequences as in Australia as the bottom has dropped out of the prices;
  • The cities (or the parts we’ve visited anyway) seem to be architecturally dead. A few new buildings (pretty much all government of some sort) are interesting, but most others are functional or utilitarian. There don’t seem to be any of the fine colonial or period structures found elsewhere.
  • Prices are comparable with Australian, although so far, fresh produce is cheaper.

As we travel along, complaints about the motorhomes are surfacing, perhaps inevitably. They include, just to mention a few, leaking seals, lumpy or collapsed mattresses, tired pillows, non-charging house batteries, wobbly steering, defective oven switches, ineffective water heaters, collapsing camp chairs, acrylic blankets not up to the task and self locking doors (three occupants have been inadvertently locked out, requiring break in!) Notwithstanding, everyone has retained a sense of humour with only occasional and very, very brief lapses. Our tour leaders are doing a good job of keeping us informed with just the right amount of information and suggestion.

We made it out second last this morning, something of an achievement. En route to Prince George we stopped at a service centre to top up on propane. As a certified attendant wasn’t available there was a short wait for the only available one to drive in: he gaily informed us that ten minutes later he wouldn’t be available as he was taking his daughter to the midwife to prepare for the home birth of her second child. The front of the bowser wasn’t registering the amount or cost of the gas going in, so he said he’d estimate it. D noticed that the back of the machine was working and advised him of this, plus the final amount. He preferred to use his estimate, which was several dollars less than the bowser amount. We left him under the counter starting and restarting the computer, as the screen had gone blank.

Prince George at least had a good coffee shop – Zoe’s was buzzing, and although a double shot espresso order came as two espressos, it was very drinkable. T wandered off to a quilt shop and D just wandered. As in many places the Visitors Centre, (like Libraries) provided excellent, fast, free wifi. The town, a business hub for Northern BC had no aesthetic appeal…wide streets, tired mall constructions intermixed with industrial facilities and lots of social service shopfronts.


The drive down to McBride was adorned with signs warning of wildlife: moose, deer and bear. Not one of any of those sighted. The road, forested on both sides stretched toward mountains. Lakes, rivers and trails made up the drive, but the horizon was generally out of sight. If there were any residences, they were not visible from the road.

The very hospitable hosts at the RV Camp provided a free sausage BBQ, as they do twice a year for these tours. T was initially reluctant but the sausages were quite tasty with a nice smoky flavor. The hosts are Brits – been here for about 9 years. He was a British Army pilot until 1982, and has flown extensively here.




Is this Paddington in disguise?

This One was a Windy Road

Day 25. Monday 12 September.



A reasonable drive ahead, so a detour to visit Bennetts Dam on the Lynx River – the largest body of freshwater in BC, held back by a packed earth dam wall. A (drip) coffee in the small café, that seemed to cater for the workers, who self served huge servings of Shepherds Pie.

What’s for dinner, T?


Then on to Hudsons Hope, a centre for the workforce supporting BC Hydro, as well as coal mining. Hydro is proposing to flood the adjacent valley – the one we drive through yesterday, to produce more power. The locals, unsurprising, are opposed, not least because they believe that the extra power is not required, as Hydro sell 25% of the power they currently generate to California. It has caused some friction: the woman who looked after the museum we visited is opposed: her partner works for Hydro and supports the protest! The museum itself is obviously a work of love and although small and simple, tells a good story of the area and how it was developed.




Next door was a church shared by a number of denominations: common sense demonstrated. Perhaps a thought for SWUC?



Having seen signs pointing to the Saltau First Nation Reserve, we dropped by, to find that there was nothing there for curious tourists: just a community getting on with its life. Although basic buildings (apart from the Community Centre), the reserve was neat and tidy. A lady enjoying her break outside the Centre was happy to explain the situation to us.




On to Chetwynd, a larger town/city. This provided T with the opportunity to browse an Op Shop – just like home! The upside was that we were able to pick up a second hand, washed quilt, that was perfect that night – warm and cosy. In 2015 the town  had a chain saw sculpture carving competition – an example shown.

This one is called ‘The space between heaven and hell.



The drive to our free campsite on Tudjah Lake was slow due to the high cross/head wind. These motorhomes are not aerodynamic and get buffeted each and every way in even slight winds. We were warned not to wander at night – the bears are about!


A Good Omen

9.30 AM – most travellers have gone leaving the usual stragglers. They’ll see a misty road – we see a misty, beautiful river. The road can wait – it’s a short day today.


The Sad Road

Day 24. Sunday 11 September.

Find an espresso in remote Canada? Not a chance! Once again, confusion over the order, so we got what the server wanted to give us. Ah well, but they are so polite.

The ‘Sad Road’ on a perfect autumn day. Early on, views of the Rockies. It reminds us of the boom and bust stories….massive investment in oil and gas infrastructure over a decade. Townships expand AND THEN? The resource prices drop, the drilling stops, there are few jobs, the big mining “donga camps” are empty. The only employment is road maintenance/upgrade (and there has been lots of that), the diners, international tourists flying in for the hunting season. Lots of real estate for sale and the car at the drive-thru Tim Horton’s coffee…”For sale or take over loan” sign says it all. There are big tanker trucks in both directions constantly. What are they carrying?

A few stops, one memorable. D was becoming increasing agitated about fuel – not so much to get to our next stop, but more about availability, once there, to get to the one following. A convenience store, restaurant and fuel point appeared as if by magic about 5 km before we pulled off the Alaska Highway onto a minor ring route. The restaurant was called ‘The Shepherd’s Inn’.

img_4981T went in to activate the plastic card and the guy on duty was so pleased that we’d stopped for a chat. He said he could have listened to our accent all day. He & T talked about the “sad road”….he’d been in this business for 11 years and it had gone sad in the past 15 months. However, he mentioned that the business was owned/managed by a church group….a Christian Fellowship of no particular denomination (they didn’t owe allegiance to and didn’t pay dues to any other body).

He’d been in church this morning and was now in the servo, doing his bit. We talked about church communities, having just got a new Minister etc…. He sent us off with a “God Bless” and some cake samples. We stood in the yard eating our icecreams and realized he’d not charged us. So, D went back in….the proprietor admitted that he had been so engaged in the conversation that he’d overlooked the icecream charge and didn’t really want it…but in such a context…


A bit later we said goodbye to the ‘Alcan’, the road through to the northwest that links the lower 48 through Canada to Alaska. It’s an historic/iconic route, built largely using Army Engineers in World War II (in only 8 months), and is maintained in very good condition. From now we’ll be on “lesser” roads.




Wildlife today? Deer…others sighted a few bears.




Now on Lynx Creek, part of the Peace River Valley, that supports hydro power and farming pastures (which deer love).