Prettiest Drive in North America?

Watson Lake to Fort Nelson, about 300 miles

Wildlife:  Bison; caribou; mountain sheep; black bear; moose

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I knew that the Alaska Highway crossed through the Canadian Rockies somewhere north of Fort Nelson, British Columbia, from my map-hawking last winter when I was planning our trip.

EB1A1125It did not occur to me that I didn’t really know what that meant until I got there.  I’d always thought of Banff and Jasper as the Canadian Rockies, but they don’t stop in Jasper.  The highway has to get around them somewhere.  More appropriately, it has to get through them.

The fall colors coming out of Watson Lake were even more vivid than they’d been the previous thousand miles, if that’s conceivable.EB1A1106

Right out of the gate, we encountered a bison grazing beside the road.  Soon enough, we encountered several dozen more, congregating on the shoulder and in the road.

The rights-of-way of the highway are kept closely cropped for 20 or 30 yards to each side.  It turns out that’s done so you can see the animals along the side before you run into them.

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The landscape was Montanish, open country with big rolls and some good-sized mountains here and there, along with a goodly number of rivers and lakes.

EB1A1217Then we got to the Rockies, and all bets were off.  The mountains rose steeply to either side.  There was an interesting mix of yellow-bottomed mountains, with reddish tundra tops.  There were giant gray stone mountains devoid of plant life.  The road hugs the shore of Muncho lake as it twists, narrowly, toward the southeast. (Where, incidentally, I saw the highest-priced gasoline I’ve seen on the trip, by at least 30%; extortion, I tell you.)EB1A1098

It wasn’t just a quick climb over the mountains and drive off.  The route wound its way through the Rockies for a hundred kilometers.

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Summit Lake

It finally crested the mountains at Summit Lake, at around 4000 feet, and then started down.  There’s a nice Provincial Campground at Summit Lake that would make a great plae to stay a few nights.  There are dozens of hiking trails in the area.  We didn’t.

The going down was more radical than the going up had been, culminating in the broadest vistas we have seen on the trip.  At one point I thought I saw Denali (just kidding, not even Denali is visible from 1000 miles away, at least not 1000 miles on the planet).

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Did I mention wildlife?  In the space of an hour we saw bison, a moose, two groups of sheep (not the domestic variety), caribou, a pair of deer-like beasts we weren’t sure if were caribou or Elk, and a black bear.  (Mikey, if you don’t know what they are, that means they are probably elk.)

Walter

Walter

The road out wasn’t all roses.  There was a lot of construction,

Karen

Karen

leading to several miles of pilot-car-led excursions across mucky gray stuff that goes underneath pavement.

Not long after we got settled into our campground, Karen and Walter pulled in, and we had them over to our picnic table for munchies.

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That night, we got another look at the Aurora Borealis.  If we see them again, I believe we will have seen the Northern Lights from as many different locations as we saw Denali, I mean Mount Denali.

Mystery Meat

Mystery Meat

Don't try this at home.

Don’t try this at home.

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