Visiting a ranch was on my list of experiences to build into the trip. Alberta provided such an opportunity and I included this on my little circular journey from Calgary. Of course like so many of the other features it would be fleeting but enough to give me a taste.
After reaching the small town of Claresholm I continued on a while longer before joining a metal road, an all too familiar sight from my childhood and a sure sign of being in the sticks.
Lucasia Ranch is a working cattle and horse ranch in the Porcupine Hills area of south-western Alberta. These photos are a summary of my sub-24 hour visit.
There were a few other guests as well. Naturally given where we were a trail ride was high on the agenda.
Channelling my inner cowgirl… I know, I’m missing the hat.
As you might expect they have a menagerie of farm animals including a bunch of rather cute barn cats.
A cattle skull with horns that I found in the grass while out exploring.
Other dilapidated discoveries…
I walked to the top of some surrounding hills to get another perspective on the place and to find the eagle’s nest that I’d been told was up there. The ranch has percherons, large stocky black horses, and they were out and about to observe and admire.
Corral on the flat and homestead in the distance.
Early the next morning a chorus of dogs, roosters and coyotes ruled out any thoughts of a sleep in. But once the sun started to rise it propelled me out of bed and back up the hill to try and find that eagle’s nest again. I was successful this time.
A quiet back road.
The town of Fort Macleod.
A Fort Macleod original.
A fence at dawn.
A happy barn.
OK so this post has a slightly gruesome theme.
Head-Smashed-In is one of the oldest and largest buffalo jump sites in the world. It is accorded World Heritage status so is a place of historic and cultural significance.
The name came from the practice by native tribes of driving herds of buffalo / bison along a stretch of high land (to the left in the photo below) where they would run over the edge and fall several metres to the ground below. Tribe members would be waiting to begin the massive task of dealing with all the dead and near-dead animals.
This happened for more than 5000 years until the bison had been hunted to near extinction.
The foothills of the Canadian Rockies merge here with the great plains.
This looks up to the jump site. The sign has a fairly graphic description for anyone keen enough to enlarge it!
A few hours passed and it was time to move on again, though not too far. To Claresholm first, a little town to the west, and half an hour beyond that, to the ranch where I would be staying.
I duly collected my beige box-on-wheels from Calgary and found the highway. The 110km speed limit helped the first leg of my Alberta Odyssey to pass quickly.
Brooks was my stop for the night in the relative luxury of a motel. However, it was not the city that I was there for. The next morning it was an early start for the half hour drive to the Dinosaur Provincial Park. This is a World Heritage Site, a status earned through its badlands terrain and wealth of dinosaur fossils.
At the entry to the park you can stop and walk over to see the huge open valley of badlands. It was amazing, the photo simply doesn’t do it justice.
From there it was a drive down the hill to park the car. I was again visiting somewhere that was winding down for the season and no tours were running. I picked up a map from the visitor centre, put on some more layers and set off walking. It was a very cold day with cloud cover and dull light.
All around there were so many different layers and shades and shapes and textures.
One of the fascinating features was this surface called popcorn rock.
Elsewhere the terrain becomes grasslands and mule deer with funny big ears roam around.
Cottonwood trees line the banks of the Red Deer River that winds through the park.
There are a couple of places where dinosaur fossils have been left in situ, visible to visitors through windows of the shelters placed over top. At least 39 species of dinosaur and 300 complete skeletons have been found, so it is quite the paleontological treasure trove.
After my walkabout it was time to get moving again, south to Lethbridge. The next day I was visiting an historic buffalo kill site.
The Greyhound service to Edmonton ran only three times a week which meant departure needed to be planned ahead. Andrea stayed on in Whitehorse so I joined what became a full bus. Space is a godsend on these long journeys but it wasn’t to be this time.
At Watson Lake we could get off and wander around for a while. I was really keen to stop here but on the way up we passed through in darkness. This time it was late afternoon.
Watson Lake is famous for its signpost forest – a massive collection of signs which grows with the contributions of passing tourists, in much the same way as the jandal fence does which I recently passed on a drive up to Auckland, and the bra fence a few years ago near Cardrona.
It was boggling how many signs there were. Today there is over 60,000.
The first sign was placed there in 1942 by an army engineer during construction of the Alaska Highway, which was built primarily to provide a supply route during WWII.
When we got back on the bus there was still a daunting number hours to go. Eventually we made it to Edmonton where another brief hostel stay was followed by another bus ride, this time over to Calgary. There another box-like rental car was waiting to transport me around rural Alberta for a few days.
Having reached the end of the Top of the World Highway, we continued through Alaska and its stunning landscapes.
And the occasional evidence of mining operations long past.
The Taylor Highway started to take us back south, eventually handing us over to the Alaska Highway.
We passed lots of waterways.
Spot the beaver dwelling!
As we transitioned into evening we also transitioned back into Canada, passing through a somewhat bigger border post this time.
Not far away was Beaver Creek, Canada’s “westernmost community”, and a roadside lodge which allowed us to call it a day. The next morning it was back in the saddle for the final stretch back to Whitehorse. We had a lunch stop beside Kluane Lake.
This was near the village of Haines Junction, next to the Kluane National Park. We ventured out in drizzle along a 5km trail beside the Dezadeash River.
Bears were apparently around, but on this day at least they weren’t lying in wait for juicy tourists.
After a few long days on the road we rolled back into Whitehorse, seen here across the Yukon River.
But no time to rest, I was heading back to Edmonton the next day. The pace seems rather furious in hindsight, though I have a tendency to do this even now, and my diary makes no mention of travel weariness. So much to see, so little time, and the stamina to do it I guess!
We awoke to snow. It was late September by now and easy to see why the town closes its tourism operations at this time. The power went off – luckily when it didn’t matter.
The plan was to head back to Whitehorse and we had a couple of options. Return the way we had come, or go the longer way via the bottom of Alaska. The snow was a mildly worrying factor but we were both keen for the experience and so opted for a road called the Top of the World Highway.
We shipped out – which wasn’t too far from the truth as we had to catch a ferry across the river. First we scurried around for some final photos.
The ferry was a humble but practical affair and its operator warned us about the highway being slippery. Which made us think: were we doing the right thing?
We pressed on – albeit in cautious nana fashion.
Conditions determined that we didn’t veer off the road for photos on this day, rather just stop on the road. We saw only a couple other vehicles on the 127km long highway.
The landscape was amazing.
We reached the US border early afternoon and passed through the small customs post, staffed by two officers. Interesting job, stuck in the middle of nowhere like that.
Then we were in Alaska.
A teeny town off the highway called Chicken was closed but a highway service centre was open. Several hours of high concentration at the wheel was quite tiring and a pit stop was well earned!
And we still had a few hours to go.
First impressions of Dawson: unpaved roads, wooden buildings, boardwalks, and a clear sense that this would be a hard place to spend a winter. But it was charming in a rough-around-the-edges way, with a general atmosphere brought about by the dull cold day and absence of other people.
I had thought about staying in a hostel across the river. However, it is only open a few months of the year because it has no electricity and as it was a very cold day we wussed out in favour of somewhere warmer. A hotel room above a pub it was.
Bags down, we headed out for a quick explore.
The photo is reasonably straight, the same can’t be said for the building.
The cemetery was on a hill overlooking the town. Interesting to wander around and read the headstones.
Later on after our modest self-catered dinner we headed over to Diamond Tooth Gerties. A famous old gambling hall, it has a general demeanour reminiscent of its goldrush heyday. We stayed for two dancing shows, while sampling the local brew and having amusing conversation in halting English with a group of Argentineans.
I planned just the one night in Whitehorse before continuing north in my rental. A German girl who happened to be on the same bus and who stayed at the same hostel was also keen to go further afield, so she tagged along.
Our destination was the town of Dawson, some 500kms up the Klondike Highway. Originally a First Nations camp, Dawson boomed during the goldrush and shrunk just as quickly afterward. Today gold mining is still an important industry along with tourism.
We set out on the quiet road in the subarctic landscape.
There was no shortage of reasons to veer off the road for photos, such as these cabins – I think they may have been resting places harking back to days when horsepower meant just that.
The Yukon River is the longest in Alaska and the Yukon and it popped up numerous times along the way. A popular viewing spot is here looking down to the Five Finger Rapids.
I like that it wasn’t a blue sky day as it added to the atmosphere.
Another common sight along the way is evidence of forest fires. I read that they tend to let them burn up here and the climate inhibits regeneration.
And here again, closer to Dawson. Now that we were further north the snow started to appear.
On the outskirts of town we found this cute tourist gimmick and huge piles of mining tailings.
We knew we were visiting at a quiet time of year and happened to arrive at the visitor centre 15 minutes before it closed for the season. Most of the town closed the week before. However this was OK by us and there were still basic things open to last us the night before continuing on our way.
Since there was no lingering at the visitor centre we found a hotel and got out to explore this fascinating town in what daylight there was left.
I was keen to visit the Yukon as it seemed a bit more wild and off the beaten track. It also presented a great opportunity to visit Alaskan huskies in their natural environment.
During my research I came across Muktuk Adventures near Whitehorse, a 100 acre ranch with husky dog kennels, specialising in sledding adventures. It wasn’t yet winter so not yet time to break out the sleds, but they offer training runs in summer and fall. I booked a tour before I left NZ, planning on the bus from Edmonton arriving at about 4.30am with the tour starting at 9am. The late bus threw that plan out the window but after finding breakfast and picking up my rental car, I made the 20 minute drive out to Muktuk. Luckily they could still accommodate me.
The rows and rows of dogs and kennels was quite a sight and sound.
I was met by Frank Turner (left in the photo above), owner of the property. Muktuk has about 100 dogs, some retired. It is clear they adore their dogs and have a very caring philosophy.
A female musher, Simi, showed me around and took me on a training ride.
When there’s no snow they use 4-wheel bikes. On our run they harnessed up nine dogs and we went around some nearby trails. The autumn air was very fresh which was handy for countering sleep deprivation courtesy of the interminably long bus ride.
After the run I went to pay a closer visit to some of the huskies. All lovely and very friendly. There was a batch of 8-week old puppies – this fella could have made a good souvenir if it occurred to me to tuck him into one of my pockets.
The tour included lunch during which they showed a video of the Yukon Quest. The Quest is a 1000 mile sled dog race held each Feb. Frank Turner is a past competitor and Mutuk usually enters a team.
And that concluded my close encounter with huskies. It was time to head back into Whitehorse and find where I was staying.