Welcome to Alberta……and the prairie wind, which never seems to be going the same direction you are!
I actually arrived in Grande Prairie, Alberta a couple of days ago, as stated in my post leaving BC. Finding, for the first time, an excellent wifi connection at the Service Plus Inn and Suites in Grande Prairie, I decided to stay an extra day and get some work done. I really liked this hotel. The cheap hotels in Grande Prairie had appalling reviews, so I used one of my hotels.com free nights on this one. Clean, comfortable and spacious, good bed and pillows. And free self-serve breakfast - bacon, sausages, eggs, pancakes, yogurt, bagels, toast, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, juice - you name it! That's worth $20 right there!
Grande Prairie itself doesn’t seem to have a whole lot going on. I asked the front desk what there was to do there and the options were shopping, casino or food. There are a couple of nice provincial parks several kms of gravel down this road or that road, but it wasn’t really what I was looking for. It seems that the city is pretty much industrial. It has a lot of construction going on, the usual suspects for big box stores and gas stations, and that’s really all you see coming in and going out. So it was a perfect place to focus on work for a day! When I slipped out for some food in the evening, there were some ladies who were in town from Slave Lake to work at the Casino and raise $$ for their community programs. That brought back memories of working Bingo for Big Brothers/Big Sisters! We had a fun time chatting and laughing before they had to go off to attend to their duties.
Headed out a bit later this morning, with the objective of making High Level by the end of the day. Not far out of Grande Prairie was a little town called Sexsmith that I took a quick ride through. There are a couple of similar towns on the way north that have preserved the frontier look on their building facades. Sexsmith was a well-kept little town, but I felt it too early in my trip to be stopping to spend time.
The road north took me back into North Peace country. The peace river, not knowing there is a border between BC and Alberta, winds its way through northern Alberta as well. I crossed a really impressive 2375-foot bridge on the way, which was critical a connector between the North Peace and South Peace regions. The suspended bridge deck is 1800 feet!
The community of Dunvegan has a great visitor centre and was a hugely important trading post in the Peace River region. It was shut down for a few years due to the HBC achieving monopoly on the fur trade and starting wars with the local tribes by not honouring agreements. It was re-established in 1828 and operated for another 30 years.
Dunvegan was also a place where Catholic missionaries came from France to carry religion to the west and start missions in Western Canada. They frequently set up shop close to trading posts as they relied heavily on them for supplies, transport and guides.
I stopped at the centre and wandered the grounds at will for about an hour. It is worth a stop to see the church, rectory, and trading post buildings and lots of story boards about the area. The visitor's centre had a fur press, which was something I had not seen before. Furs were packaged for trading using this machine so they could be more easily transported to market. They also had a display of cast dinosaur tracks that had been found in the Peace River valley at Dunvegan – some of very few found with skin imprints. Having just seen the tracks by the river at Tumbler Ridge, it made them seem very real. They were huge!
The town of Grimshaw sits at the junction of the highway to Peace River. And guess who shows up again?! Alexander McKenzie - since this is still the Peace River valley for which he is famous for finding the passage to the Pacific Ocean. Grimshaw marks mile zero of the McKenzie Highway to the Northwest Territories. They have a really nice little corner park there and I had to stop and take a photo.
Skirting a storm to the west, a bit of it dumped on me just outside of Manning, AB. Mother Nature’s way of reminding me what it felt like to be cold - the temperature dropped about 10 degrees and pelted me with huge drops of rain, soaking my mesh jacket and pants that I had worn for the heat. Seeing the dark clouds swirling around a bit, I stopped at Manning for some lunch at the local Chinese restaurant. Food was great, though I don’t recall the name of it. Not really wanting to stop for the day yet with only 3 hours into a 5-hour riding day, it seemed a good idea to keep an eye on the front and see what it was up to after lunch. The skies brightened to the north, which was the direction I was headed, though things were still a bit ominous to the east and west.
I traded out my gear for the waterproof stuff (better late than never) and headed out again. For the first hour or so, the skies stayed light and I patted myself on the back for perseverance. All was good until about half an hour out of High Level. The sky darkened and the thunder rolled and the west winds picked up their pace, trying to throw us around a little more. Lightning began to put on quite a show to the west and that was my cue. With nothing but long, straight road ahead, I laid the throttle down and Fury and I fled for High Level, confident we could outrun that storm. It was absolutely exhilarating to be flying along the road with the blackening sky and smell of the impending rain urging us on. We arrived in High Level with minutes to spare. I checked into a hotel, unloaded my gear, checked over Fury and closed the door. BOOM - the thunder crashed and the skies opened and it poured! And there I was, happily relaxing in a hot bath. I don’t think Fury was jealous – she was getting a much needed bath too and certainly needed to cool down! 😊 On to Hay River tomorrow, so you will see a choronological jump as we move to the Northwest Territories page and then back to Alberta.