Monday, August 9, 2010

Road Trip to Yellowknife, Day 3: High Level, AB to Lady Evelyn Falls, NWT

Text and photos (c) Robert Barry Francos
Images can be made larger by clicking on them

Our third day out was full of eye candy, making up for the torturously bad roads from the day before. I put on my three-headed-wolf She Wolves t-shirt, we packed up the tents, and we were on our way after breakfast.

We started off in High Level, Alberta. The town is not large, but it is an important hub, being the last major town in the province, so there are many motels, more than a few of them dives (well, they looked that way; it is only fair to say I did not go into any except one on the way back for dinner, but I digress...) named after famous Las Vegas hotels. The signs were modeled after the originals. Apparently, I am told, they are owned by the same gentleman. The morning was pretty warm, and the heat waves were rising off the highway tar.
Before leaving town, we stopped to get some fuel, and I couldn't help but be amused by this juxtaposition.
We headed north on highway 35, which runs down the center (up the center?) of High Level (AB). With less than 200K until the Northwest Territories (NWT), we steadily rode along, bugs smashing the windshield (much easier on the glass than stones). The two-lane blacktop is surrounded by trees and shrubs, with the boreal forest giving way to parkland. The south lane was on the other side of the trees, and we did not see it for most of the drive.
Finally, around noon (mountain time), we reached the NWT, 1530 k/951 miles from where we started. Just past the sign was the 60th Parallel Visitor's Centre. We stopped for a bathroom break, and to get some information about camping, sights to see along the road, etc. Before we could even open the door to the car, a fog of insects of every flying denomination surrounded the white car. We exited and closed the doors as fast as we could, and speedwalked to the modern log cabin that was used for the info centre. There were some stuffed animals in there, including a large polar bear and a wolverine if memory serves, and other spaces that were still to be filled. The bathrooms were nice and the people behind the counter friendly, though distracted by a confused traveler. I picked up a free Yellowknifer 2010 Visitors Guide booklet that came in very handy as it told of interesting sites, listed by mile along the way. Ian said that at one time they gave each visitor a metal lapel pin, but none was offered (which was fine, of course).

As we had hustled for the centre, we noticed there was a small, old looking log cabin off into the woods, and despite the insect invasion, we decided to check it out. Along the way to the cabin was a small wooden bridge, surrounded by willows that the sun shone through - one of my favorite natural lighting effects on flowers and plants.
The cabin was off a bit the path, and the insects were intense, but we made a go for it anyway. It looked old and run down; I believe, however, it was moved there, as the mortar looked fairly fresh. Inside the cabin was a desk that may at one time held a visitor log to write a note, and an old stove. My guess is that it is an older visitor's centre before it became a bigger tourist stop with professionals answering questions for those of us on the road to adventure.

We jumped back into the car, and after spending a few minutes killing whatever flew into the auto with us in those brief seconds, we left the centre, heading up the highway, which had turned from 35 in Alberta to 1 in NWT. We had reached the correct province, but still had a long way to go.
This part of the road is called the MacKenzie Highway, but is also known as the Waterfall Trail, and we quickly learned why. Our first stop was at the Twin Falls Cultural Interpretive Trail. In the parking lot, we saw the Austrian RV owned by the Swiss couple we met the day before.
We had stopped at Alexandra Falls, 73 K / 45 miles into the NWT. There was a trail leading to a viewing point, but there was also another one down to the rocks that ran along the river. While Ian chose to take the top view, John and I went down to walk along the rapids that approached the falls. It was deafening, with brown water fed by the last overly wet seasons rushing past. The beauty of the spot only increased as we approached the falls proper. Alexandra Falls is 33 metres / 109 feet high (see I told you the Yellowknifer booklet was helpful...), and led into a beautiful gorge with rockfaces many feet high that went on as far as we could see. Just past the falls, one can see a gap between the falls and the wall behind it, like a cave in a film where the heroes hide from the enemy. Climbing an unofficial but worn trail up to the sightseeing vantage point, we eventually met up with Ian, and headed back to the car.

Just less than 2 miles down the road was the next set of falls, also along the Hay River. Louise Falls is a strangely angular shaped waterfall that looked like a piece had been neatly cut off and lifted out, though we were told it was a normal formation. It also ran further into the gorge. Here we met half the Swiss couple from the day before. She was waiting with their dog for her husband who had taken a very steep spiral staircase down to the bottom, and she didn't want to put their lovely pooch through that, so she was waiting for him to come back.

Due to the hour, we decided to not go down the staircase to the base, but hold off to do so on the way back from Yellowknife (one has to return the same way to High Level, as there is only one road in the summer). Further, it was approaching dinner time, so we made a detour to the town of Hay River, led to by Highway 2, the cutoff being just after the town of Enterprise. After the Star Trek jokes and 33k / 22 miles from the split, we arrived in Hay River, which is on the southern end of Great Slave Lake (Yellowknife is on the north shore). As someone enters town, one of the first things you'll see is an Inukshuk, one of those human-shaped sculptures made of piled rocks that was used as the symbol of the 2010 Olympics (though this one predates it by many years). It is in a small urban park surrounded by flags.
Down the road is Diamond Jenness Secondary School, a huge and modern looking purple public school. The color didn't come out that well in the photo (thanks in part to all the bug remains on the windshield), but it was actually quite vibrant.
And, as with everywhere else, there is the poverty. These types of trailers are typical whenever we went in a large town.
And yet, there was encouraging signs of positiveness.
We managed to find our way to the beach, facing north on the Great Slave Lake. There were many old boats and ships (difference? A boat can fit on a ship...). Some were quite weatherbeaten, and houseboats bobbed right along the others. I recently found out that houseboats don't have to pay property taxes as they are not on the land. Three coast guard boats were at the ready, just in case. They were among the newer looking vessels.
Across the bay is the Roman Catholic Mission, on the Dene Nation Reserve. It a beautiful church, with a tee-pee (tipi) built next to it.

We spent a large part of our time in Hay River circling around looking for a place to eat. The Back Eddy Restaurant, which was recommended by someone on the street, was not open at that time, so we eventually found our way to the Keys Dining Room, at the Ptarmigan Inn, next to the political center of the Hay River Metis. The food was decent (though we had to sneak into the empty women's room as the men's was being repaired), and after the meal we went off to the supermarket to pick up supplies. On the way out, we were hit on by a middle aged woman inviting us to party with her daughter (who waited nearby smoking a cigarette, and looked to be in her mid- to late-teens), but we uncomfortably excused ourselves and high-tailed it out of there.
The NWT has a very idiosyncratic license plate shape. More provinces and states should think about that, rather than just having a slogan...what do you think?
It was starting to get relatively late in the hour (though daylight would still be around for a long time), so we headed on out of Hay River, back down Highway 2, and at Enterprise headed north on Highway 1. It was a well-enjoyed side trip.
The sky was a bit mixed, and it was pretty obvious it would rain at some point, so we had an idea where to look for a place to stay, and were hoping we'd make it before the deluge.
Though the sky was threatening with moisture, the road was dry and dust was flying from the vehicles in front of us.
Along the way we came to a pull-off where we had a beautiful eastward view. The sky had cleared a bit, so the light was warm. The rocks were kind of scary, as there were wide gaps that were too spread to jump across, but were partly hidden by the foliage. We walked carefully, but the view made it worth it.

We pulled off the highway at the Lady Evelyn Falls Campgrounds. We were fortunate to find a spot that was right against the river. The rapids were just over the fence, and were loud enough to be soothing and drown out whatever other noises were around in a campground. As a bonus, the path to the river and falls were just on the other side of our camp.
This sign, posed on the fence separating us from the river, made me laugh.
These are the rapids that were just on the other side of the fence. This picture was taken through the break in the fence that started the trail down to the falls.
Not far down the path, perhaps a quarter mile along the Kakisa River, was the Lady Evelyn Falls. Ian started to set up his tent, and John and I went to investigate the falls first, before setting up our gear.

While not very tall, they were still spectacular in the sheer violence of the water surging over the rocks. The falls were much louder than the rapids down by where we camped, but it was far enough away not to be distracting.

There was a big rock in the water by the falls, that looked like a walrus.

When we had set up our tent, we all ate supper of soup, veggies, and other store-bought goodies. As we dined, this squirrel made an extreme pest of itself, literally jumping on our legs, trying to get on the table. We had to be quite serious in our attempt to get it to leave, and eventually it gave up and did just that.
After we ate, Ian decided he wanted to see the falls, so I went back there with him. It was just as beautiful the second time.

It had been an eventful day, having traveled 480 k / 298 miles in the day, or 1808 k / 1123 miles in total. We knew we would finally reach Yellowknife the next day, and that was exciting. John read his book and I read my sci-fi collection in our tent by our flashlights, as the day ended and the rain finally came down.


  1. Awesome photos - brought back great memories. I have lots of similar photos in my album (1981). One day about 12 Snowbirds roared into town sideways about 100 feet off the ground and then shot straight up into the air. We grabbed our lawn chairs and rushed to the roof of the fish plant to enjoy the air show.

  2. Ummm, just an FYI those are NOT "These First Nations trailers". Those are regular trailers, lived in by all races, weird that you would make an assumption like that. I understand this is 7 years old, but I stumbled upon this page through google and figured I should let it be known. Hay River is my home town, it isn't perfect but for you to make a stereotypical assumption is just really disappointing.

  3. Thank you for pointing that out. Seriously. I guess I made an assumption, as everyone I saw around those trailers was First Nations. You are right, and I apologize and will change it. However, I am going to leave your comment up because, well, you are right.