Thursday, August 5, 2010

Road Trip to Yellowknife, Day 2: Athabaska to High Level

Text and photos (c) Robert Barry Francos
Click on photos to see larger version

This is the second day of my trip to Yellowknife from Saskatoon with John and Ian. The first day we drove to Athabasca, Alberta, and camped in the town's nice albeit NOISY site.

We awoke to a lovely fog that had settled along the river. The white bark of the trees shimmered, like ghostly sticks standing guard. I got dressed, wearing my The Nerve! t-shirt, and we happily snapped some photos.

Ian rigged up this gizmogology of white gas to heat some water for coffee. Seems John and Ian are Java mavens, whereas I just enjoy it for what it is (except the burnt tinge of Starbucks... but I digress). Every morning the pot, aluminum shield and Coleman gas came out, and we boiled up a cup. Well, singluar for me, usually two for the guys.
To celebrate the Ukrainian masses that came and settled this part of the country was this Ukrainian Pioneer Monument, reminding me of Ellis Island's images of refugees and "unwashed masses."

After making our breakfast, we finally headed out and drove toward the Northwest on Highway 2. Every time I saw a sign for this town, I kept hearing "Baby, It's You" in my head.
Along the road was the beginning of the boreal forest, only in some areas there had obviously been forest fires at some point, with toothpick traces of trees lining the road for miles.
After a while, we came to Lesser Slave Lake (supposedly pronounced "Slah-vee," named by the Cree, though I didn't hear anyone say it in that way). While this is "Lesser," it is the second largest lake totally enclosed by Alberta. Oh, and Greater Slave Lake is at Yellowknife, but more on that later.
And, of course, there are the big box malls...

...and others.
We did some shopping at the Extra Foods supermarket, got some groceries, and had a picnic lunch at the Lesser Slave Lake Information Centre at about 1 pm. Then back on the road through the boreal forest.

We decided to take an alternative route, along road 88. Days later when we returned, I told my brother-in-law we went this way, and he said, in a you-poor-schmuck voice, "Yeeeeeee." It started out just fine, but after a couple of hours, it turned into a dirt road. You could see trucks coming for miles by their trail, and then came the blinding dust storm behind it. Stones flew in the wake, and John's car suffered more than a few windshield chips. And the times the truck was in front of us, we had to go really slow because it was just like driving through either a thick fog or blinding snowstorm, so we had to be careful not to drive into them. But this was only the beginning. The further north we went, the more the path deteriorated. A huge rainstorm went through, and the roads turned from dirt to mud, with us sliding around. Sometimes there were tire ruts a foot deep or more. There was no way off the route, so we just had to grit our teeth and trudge on, which we did. Then came the road construction (either re-graveling or repaving, depending on how far north we were). Truck and construction crews held up Stop and Slow signs, and the 4-hour-plus route ended up taking 6 or more. We stopped once along the side of the road for a, well, pee break (during which time we so no traffic in either direction), and were swarmed by bugs of all types (my brother-in-law said our white car was a factor, and I believe him). Got did our business and got back in the car as fast as we could, and spent the next few miles killing mosquitoes and opening the window to let out wasps (yellowjackets) and horseflies.

Finally, as we reached the town of Ft. Vermilion (AB) and the route changed to 897, the roads greatly improved. We didn't stop in the town as we were all tired from the long slag, but there was a beautiful waterfront and a quaint old country store that was still functioning, though from the outside looked like it had been around since the Klondike days, and lots of obvious poverty around the Tallcree Reserve.

We drove west on to highway 58, and went on to High Level (AB), the last big town in the province. Most of the hotels were not only named after Vegas casinos come and gone (Flamingo, Dunes, Stardust, etc.), but they even had the same logo'd signs. It's hard to see though the rain in the photos, but there are more photos later.
After questioning the gas station attendant, we went a couple of miles to the south on the main road (route 35) and camped at the Aspen Ridge Campground, which was actually quite nice. We were able to get the tent on grass, rather than gravel for the only time on the trip.

In the campground, across from our space, was this interesting camper, where the tent was on the roof. We went over and talked to the people who owned it. While they had been in Canada for many years, they were originally from Switzerland, and the camper was imported from Austria. We ran into them again and again right on into Yellowknife over the next few days, which was special. Nice couple.

After we put our dinner together from the cooler (which was now just a container), we all got ready for bed. Interestingly, I got up at 2 AM to go to the bathroom, and the sun was still out, just above the horizon. This was the furthest north I had ever been, and we were perhaps half way. We had come 1328 kilometers / 825 miles so far, and was 190 kilometers / 118 miles from the North West Territories border.
In the shower/bathroom "pavillion" ($1 for a shower), there was a book rack with a "take one leave one" sign. Most of them were beat-up romance novels, but there was a short story compilation called The Best of Sci-Fi 14. I took the thick paperback to read, as I had learned quickly that even though the sun was not fully down, it was still to dark to write as I had planned, and reading was somewhat easier.


  1. `maps r ok map quest gives u the milage but..................................ask some one who has bin there LOL..............Moral of the story....................................DON'T TRAVEL FROM RED DIRT AKA RED EARTH CREEK TO FT VERMILION IN THE SUMMER OK BUT U LIVED AND ITS A GOOD STORY 4 UR FRIENDS IN THE LOVER 48 SOUNDS LIKE IT WAS INTERESTING TO SAY THE LEAST

  2. While it is true that Websites give mileage, each individual car will achieve different milage just by turning off a road here, stopping for gas there, and even changing lanes. I kept account most of the way of ours. Yep, we made it, and summer didn't help, considering the volume of rain that's been occuring (the melting ice caps have to end up somewhere), not to mention construction...oh, wait, I did...