This is going to be a long one again – 2 days in one, as there was no service of any kind along the way as I rode from Watson Lake to Liard River Hot Springs.
What a lovely couple of days. Left Watson Lake in decent time on Sunday and travelled to Liard River Hot Springs. This had been suggested to me by a good friend and everyone I met along the way confirmed that it was not to be missed. The trip being about 3 hours, it would make for a short riding day with a treat at the end.
The ride was warm and sunny and for the first time since leaving home, I was able to shed a layer of gear! The road was excellent and the scenery beautiful. I stopped frequently to sight-see and ended up at a little gas station/motel/campground for an early lunch. Can’t remember what it was called, but the food was good and I almost wished I wasn’t riding so I could try one of their alcoholic milkshakes! 😊
On the road again, it wasn’t long before I had to pull over to take a photo of some rapids and soak up the beautiful day. Along the way, I saw a sign for “Smith River Falls – 2 km”. Being a sucker for a waterfall, I turned in. Dirt and gravel with huge potholes that were very difficult to miss soon had me wondering if I had lost my mind. There was no going back though, so I did my best not to bounce Fury through too many. Sometimes there was no choice. But at the end of the road……oh my, what a beautiful waterfall! Hung out for awhile, lulled by the sound of the water, before heading back. The bush was fragrant with the wild roses that grew everywhere and it was a very pleasant little detour.
On the way to Liard, I kept seeing signs to watch out for bears and buffalo and caribou. I saw 2 black bears on the way down, but had despaired of seeing anything else when I came around a curve and saw 3 bison up against the trees feasting on the vegetation. One was a gigantic bull and there were 2 females. Then, as I watched, out bounced a calf! As I approached the Liard Hot Springs Lodge, there was another big bull sunning himself by a big rock. He must be the resident celebrity, because he was there again later in the evening and this morning.
I arrived mid-afternoon and fuelled up at the Liard Hot Springs Lodge. Even if you don’t need fuel, stop in and say Hi to Frank and Smokey. Friendly, helpful folks at the gas station hut there and they have water and chips and chocolate bars. There are RV sites with laundry facilities and showers for their guests. I had a tent so went to the provincial campground where there was supposed to be tenting and RV spots. They were full but had room across the road in the overflow. Turned out that I could have pitched a tent at the lodge RV site too – should have asked! Anyway, I pitched my tent and can officially say I camped. Wandering around exploring a bit revealed huge piles of poop from the buffalo. Clearly, they wander freely through the area. I was thinking what a start that would give you if you came out of your tent in the early morning and there was a big bison munching grass and leaves by your front door!
Ended up pitching my tent beside a nice young couple who are living exclusively on the road in an RV. She’s into social media stuff and he’s a photographer. They’ve been all over and seeing all kinds of great countryside. I took their advice and waited until a bit later in the evening before going to the hot springs, when it slows down due to kidlet bedtime.
The hot springs are a short boardwalk stroll from the provincial campground. It is a beautiful walk with a unique ecosystem. It reminded me of the boardwalk stroll at Clear Lake in Riding Mountain National Park. Then I arrived at the hot springs! They are truly incredible. So beautiful, and outside of the change rooms and planked area for entering the springs, they are natural - surrounded by forest and a feast for the eyes and soul. I spent at couple of hours there, the hot water tingling through my sore muscles. Felt like a limp noodle when I got out.
On my return, I ran into Chris and Randy – two women who were travelling by RV to Alaska with Chris’ husband. They have travelled all over the world and we had a great time talking. Chris suggested doing the 500 mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain. Though “not religious in any way”, she said it was an incredible experience.
Resolving to return for another soak in the early morning, I put myself to bed at a reasonable hour. I had originally intended to stay 2 nights, but tent camping really is as overrated as I remember. I woke up sore and couldn’t see getting up early, taking everything apart and packing it up to make the 8-hour trip to Fort St. John in one day on Tuesday. Instead, I got up early and scooted over to the hot springs. It wasn’t busy at 6:30 a.m. and I stayed for almost 2 hours again before returning to camp to pack up. On my way to the springs, a couple of squirrels chittered away at me and I swear one of them was posing for a photograph. So I obliged and took one. On the way back from the springs, I surprised a rabbit, who hopped up a few paces and then sat to see what I would do. Since I stopped, it stayed put and I took his/her photo too.
My tenting neighbour Bas was up when I returned and we had a talk, over packing our stuff up, about travelling and people and how everything we have seen has been so beautiful. He is from Holland and was visiting friends in Alaska. Being enamoured of all that he saw, he is attempting to get to Texas in the time remaining on his visitor’s VISA.
Many of the RVs in the overflow area had moved on by the time I was finished packing and as I was loading the bike, Steve and David came over for a chat. I had seen them the day before as they were arriving to the hot springs and I was leaving (with my motorcycle logo shirt on). They came over to bid me farewell as they were headed the other direction for Tuktoyaktuk.
By the time I was done visiting and packing up, I had a later start. It was already getting quite hot and I patted myself on the back for deciding to bring my mesh riding suit. With just my t-shirt and light shorts underneath, I was pretty comfortable for the ride in the rising temperatures.
Soon after heading out, I was entering Northern Rockies country. While there are some stand-out vistas and views, I can safely say the whole ride from Liard River Hot Springs to Fort Nelson is one of show-stopping, spectacular beauty. Bike-stopping too, since it “should” have taken me about 4-5 hours and it took me 7 hours. I suppose one could ride hell-bent for leather down that stretch, but one would be an idiot to do so. There were several long stretches of gravel, but the larger risk is the wildlife and curves. In any case, it is so beautiful that it is more fun to take one’s time and be able to gawk around a bit.
Pulling into a rest stop, I met a couple from Kamloops who were headed for Inuvik. We had a good conversation about bikes and trips and they recommended tonight’s hotel. Some time later, I stopped to top up with gas at Toad River and met Johnny from Dallas, Texas and another gentleman from Minnesota. Johnny had been up to Fairbanks and was headed back to Texas through the mid-west. The two had been chatting when I pulled up to the gas pump a couple hundred feet away. He said to me later “You should have seen the look on our faces when you took your helmet off and we realized you were a woman”. LOL. I’ve been getting that a lot and it gives me a sense of satisfaction every time I hear it or see the look of surprise! I have truly met so many interesting and friendly people.
I saw a couple of black bears along the road and one big brown one. Then, some kilometers south of Toad River, a rider coming from the opposite direction waved at me in an unusual way. I took it as a warning and luckily so, as I rounded a curve to see 5 sheep at the side of the road by a barricade. Two of them were babies and they promptly bounded over the barricade and down the steep cliff face like it was no big deal at all!
Another hour or so along and I began to see signs warning of caribou. I was thinking “yeah, whatever”, as I had seen no evidence of wildlife for a good long way. Then up ahead, there’s 5 of them off to the left. I slowed down and pulled onto the rest area to watch and see what they would do. Sure enough, one of the young ones headed across the road, followed by the rest. They all then stopped on the edge, just kind of standing there. After 10 minutes of watching them and wondering what to do next, I began to move, very slowly to the other side of the road where there was no oncoming traffic. As soon as I started to move, they began to run ahead of me. I kept going very slowly and they criss-crossed the road a couple of times before finally clearing it and staying off it to watch me and the other vehicles crawl by. Quite an amazing experience. There’s a short video clip below.
About 80 kms out of Fort Nelson, the landscape began to change very noticeably. The steep, rocky mountains gave way to heavily forested mountains. Throughout the whole day, I was struck by how “untouched” so much of the area seemed. It turns out it's on purpose. A story board states “At 6.4 million hectares, and approximately the size of Ireland, the Muskwa-Kechika was named after two of the major rivers running through the region. Muskwa means bear, in the Dene language, Kechika means long inclining river. Large, intact and almost unroaded, the M-KMA is a complete ecosystem, with an abundant diversity of large mammals supporting predator-prey systems on a scale not existing anywhere else in the world outside of Africa. This area is truly the world’s “Serengeti of the the North”.”
Arriving in Fort Nelson around 5:30 p.m., I checked into the Blue Bell Inn, which is associated with the Petro Canada gas station when you come through to the far end of town. As advertised by the kind folks from Kamloops, it is inexpensive ($5 less than the Motel 6 claiming to have the lowest rates…), with friendly service and clean, spacious rooms. There are a number of restaurants within walking distance and after attending to the first order of business (a shower!), I’ve had supper and fulfilled my blog duties! 😊 Until next time......