|Jasper the bear, a local cartoon character|
Our plan for today was to drive along the Icefields Parkway towards Lake Louise and Banff in the south of the Rockies. It gives great views of the glaciers along the way and although it is only two hundred and twenty kilometres it usually takes all day once you have factored in stops along the way.
We should have known our plan was doomed when we woke to grey and cloudy skies, not the best of weather for getting fabulous views along the way. Undeterred we headed south having checked the road conditions, not great but we thought we would give it a go. At the National Park control point we again checked the road conditions. They said the route was open but that we would be driving on compacted snow and ice in sections.
We set off, just one in a stream of vehicles heading south. Most were cars or pick up trucks and we should have picked up something from this too! We drove about fifteen kilometers, mainly on clear roads but also on some flat icy sections. I pulled over to let someone pass me with a view of a hill in sight. The hill was covered in ice. I was a bit wary driving on what we had so far and I could tell that Stef was wary too. We had a quick conflab and decided that much as we wanted to see the icefields the drive would be too dangerous for us in a motor home and in icy conditions that we are not used to.
Tentatively I turned back and we headed back to Jasper. We stopped at the park entrance to ask about alternative options and double checked them at the Parks Canada information office in town. The lady there was very friendly and you could clearly see that she thought we had wimped out until we mentioned we were driving a small RV. With that, her views changed and she confirmed we had made the right decision. The roads at the north end of the park are better than those at the south and on the way there are some pretty steep climbs with the total elevation increasing by over one thousand metres.
We were both a bit deflated that we could not follow our preferred route but she was great in helping us to plan an alternative. Our first though to just skim over hte Rockies and get as quickly as possible to Kamloops would also have taken over pretty tricky roads. Instead she recommended we headed back east so that we could join up with the main Trans Canada highway. As a key transport and communication route used by big trucks it is the highest priority road in the area to be kept clear and we should be OK going this way.
If we had gone south as planned we would have worked our way east to Calgary and beyond to Drumheller. Drumheller is in the Badlands, a bare almost desert like area which is renowned for its dinosaur finds. Our alternative route simply takes us via Drumheller first.
We have a clear run to Hinton but from here the skies were dark grey and there was a lot of icy snow on the sides of the road. The traffic had cleared tracks on the road but it was still pretty nasty driving especially when the big trucks went past. The HGV drivers here seem to have no concerns about the road conditions and still power down at and above the speed limit. Now they not only kicked out a big wind pull behind them but also lots of sand and snowy sludge.
At Entwistle we turned south on the route 22 and Stef took over driving. Almost on queue the road conditions improved and we were driving along clear roads, both musing again at the long, wide roads cutting through the flat prairie landscapes. They are interesting in a boring sort of way but also have a very hypnotic effect, especially with cruise control on. If we needed convincing that we were back in cowboy country the sight of a herd of horses being rounded up by a couple of cowboys did the trick.
Its also oil country in this part of Alberta and with views of the Rockies coming back to our right the landscape was also dotted by the signs of oil. Small oil derricks were spaced at regular intervals across the landscape all pumping away. They did not look big enough to be part of a commercial operation but I suppose lots of small derricks adds up to a lot of oil.
We knew we would not make it all the way to Drumheller today and opted to stop at Rocky Mountain House, a key stopping place on the old fur trade routes. Our guide books listed a lot of motels here so we thought we would find it easy to get a room at an affordable rate. Where Hinton had been full, here the hotel rates were high due to the oilmen. We ended up at the Voyageur Motel, run by a Chinese couple, where we had a room with a full blown kitchenette.
Needing clean clothes we used their laundry, meeting two different men from New Brunswick in the process. Both are here for the work. It sounds like they come here and work through the winter and are then able to take the other six months of the year off. Not too bad a deal but I expect they have to live in motels for the duration. At least here you can be self sufficient and cook rather than eating out all the time.