Reentering Canada on our way south was super exciting. We got phone service for the first time in a week and I got a voicemail from my folks letting me know that they might be evacuated because of a forest fire and where I would be able to find them in that event. Let it be known that potential evacuation is a great way to elicit a phone call from a child. I called home while waiting for our turn with the customs agent at the Canada border. Out of respect for the process, I ended my phone call with my mom mid-conversation so we could give our full attention to being allowed back into Canada. It went pretty smoothly. He asked us where we were headed and Scott said, “Argentina.” Border guy took a deep breath and said, “Let’s just stick with your intentions in Canada.” We didn’t have as concrete an answer there so he got a jumbled list from us. “Banff, Rockies, camping, Jasper, uhh…” “Nope, no weapons, no firewood, no plant products,” (whatever that means) and we were in! I called my mom back to finish confirming that everyone was safe and healthy before losing service again and then we were back on the open road, looking for adventure.
We camped and hiked our way back to Whitehorse to re-provision and eat a meal that someone else cooked served on dishes that somebody else was going to wash. We posted up at Long Lake right outside of Whitehorse just like we had on our way north. It was warmer this time and there were fewer bugs. Also, we were less afraid this time of sleeping in bear country. In the time that had lapsed between visits to Whitehorse, a burn ban had been placed in effect. Both nights we spent there, locals showed up and started raging bonfires. Well, we didn’t actually stay there the second night. We intended to stay but as we were chilling out on the shore of the lake the second night, Scott with guitar in hand and I, with my journal in hand, a couple arrived at the adjacent campsite. They were playing pop country at full volume on their car stereo and proceeded to immediately lite an unsanctioned campfire. Despite the fact that we were directly in their line of sight and Scott was unabashedly strumming his guitar they didn’t notice us. We witnessed an emotional break, gained privy to knowledge about the neighbor he likely wouldn’t have shared with us and felt very uncomfortable sitting by the lakeshore. Eventually, we were noticed. Our neighbor was very unhappy to have had an audience for his breakdown and we felt very unwelcome. Usually, when we roll into camp we set up our tent first thing. For some reason that day we chose to chill by the lake first. It was a good thing as it made it very easy for us to throw our camp chairs and the guitar into the bed of the pick up and make tracks. We gave him his privacy and headed south of town to Ear Lake where we spent an uneasy night accompanied by nearby crashes in the forest and planes flying so low that we felt wind with their passing.
Aside from an uneasy night of camping our time in Whitehorse was super fun. We went for a run along the Yukon River while a marathon race was happening. We even had the cowbell rang for us before they realized we weren’t wearing race bibs. It was pretty funny. We were passed by the front runners when we began our run and crossed paths with the mid-packers when we finished our run. We learned later that a pair of grizzly bears cost the leader time in the middle of his run as he had to wait for them to leave the course. He ended up coming in second thanks to those pesky bears! Anyhow, we capped off our run with a 2-loony shower at a private campground and enjoyed our time in civilization. The thing about civilization is that it is expensive! It was really our pocketbooks that drove us out of town but we welcomed the wilderness.
We made our way leisurely in a southerly and easterly direction. Our next destination of note was a hot spring but we took our time getting there. I managed to finagle my way into the driver’s seat for a morning when we passed through Watson Lake. I had forgotten about Watson Lake from my prior visits to this northern land. Watson Lake is the home to a sign forest. It is my understanding that a homesick fellow up in Watson Lake working on building the Alaska-Canada highway posted the first sign. It was from his hometown and the trend continued. They quickly ran out of trees to post signs upon and now the city provides poles for travelers to essentially tag with their origins. Had I remembered this funky tourist attraction we would have come prepared with a sign to add to the forest. Luckily my husband has a knack for improv and is very artistically talented. Scott miracled a sign for us and we were able to tack it up on the most recently installed “tree” in the sign forest!
Once we had left our mark on Watson Lake we buzzed out of town before they had a chance to lure us into buying a pizza or spending our money on something we didn’t need. We had a hot spring to get to and didn’t need any more distractions.
Of course, there were distractions. This time in the form of wood bison. We did not expect to be derailed from our plans by bison until Yellowstone! Apparently, these are different from their plains cousins in that they are larger and have darker fur. We saw one really big guy lounging by the side of the highway in a patch of dust. It was apparent that he spends a ton of time there laying around and making sure that nothing is growing in his dust bed. As we drove we saw a couple vacant dust beds waiting for a bison to come and lounge. And we saw more bison. They seemed to favor the highway corridor. Eventually, we came across a herd of bison! Baby bison, mama bison, papa bison, and entire extended family and their friends were hanging out along the highway. They didn’t seem to even notice us as we slowly crept by taking their pictures… until they did notice us! A couple of young males were casually headbutting each other and then one of them turned, looked at us, and took a couple quick purposeful steps in our direction. I squeaked and Scott hit the gas. Tangling with wood bison is not something we have on our bucket list.
Anyhow, eventually, we rolled into Liard Hot Springs Park running on fumes. Luckily, there was a gas station across the street at a resort. Unluckily, that gas station was selling the most expensive gas we had encountered as of yet. Even more expensive than the gas beyond the Arctic Circle! We bought enough liters to get us to the second most expensive gas further on down the road. Since we arrived late in the day and wanted to maximize our soak time with the $5 entry fee we opted to camp for the night and soak in the hot springs the next day. We camped down by the Liard River under a bridge. When we arrived a friendly German fellow on a bicycle let us know that he had just had a face to face encounter with a black bear moments before. It takes more than a little black bear to scare us off from a beautiful and convenient campsite so we proceeded to set up camp. For the record, we used the buddy system for all of our forest potty breaks. We were a little relieved when a German biker gang arrived to share our campsite. We figured all of the engine revvings would keep our ursine friend from making any late-night visits to our camp. We warned the biker gang about the bears. They were unfazed but did say that they weren’t going to tell the ladies they were traveling with.
The next day we took our time packing up camp (rock stack for Scott, journal and coffee for Rachael) and headed over to the hot springs for some serious relaxation.
For a developed hot spring Liard has managed to keep a lot of its natural charm. Conveniences have been built around the site and they mainly keep the public from destroying the place. There are bathrooms, a changing room, and a ¼ mile long boardwalk above the surrounding wetland that leads you to the hot spring. Benches have been placed in the water so that you can have a seat and relax with just your head above water. Different areas of the pool are hotter and cooler depending on the proximity to the area where the hot water bubbles in to mix with the cool water. People challenge themselves to swim up to the source and place a small stone on the edge of the pool by the inlet. Also, because heat rises it is hotter on the surface than deeper in the pool. I found I could comfortably make it to the source as long as I kept swirling the water around me to mix the surface with the deep water. It is well worth the $5 entry fee. We took a long soak and then went back to the truck to cook up some lunch.
We made some delicious potato wraps on a picnic table near the parking lot. After waiting the requisite 30 minutes after eating we headed back to the pools for another soak. It didn’t take us much time to get overheated on the second soaking so we dried off and hit the open road. We made one pit stop at the entry kiosk where I had seen a book exchange. I traded one murder mystery for another and we were on our way feeling completely relaxed and smelling faintly of sulfur.