Moose warning along four-lane AB 43 between
Whitecourt and Grande Prairie
Canadians drive on the right side of the road, not the left as in the
UK. I've driven in England and Wales, and it was intense in a little
car. I can't imagine driving a big RV on the left.
Alberta has many of the same brands of items and store, restaurant,
motel, and other business chains as the U.S. except in very small
towns. They also have their own chain stores and brands.
Flying J is about the only U.S. gas station up here, though.
WalMart stores in Alberta gladly let RVs park overnight in their
parking lots. We spent the first night at a WM in Calgary, the second
in Whitecourt. The answer to our query about staying in both places was along the lines
of "Of course you can park overnight!" as if
there was any question about the practice as there is in some
communities in the U.S.
TV and radio stations in Calgary and Edmonton talk about U.S. news
almost as much as Canadian news.
Based on the news coverage we've heard, Albertans apparently follow a
lot of U.S. sports teams.
They also seem to listen to a lot of U.S. rock 'n roll, country-western,
and other music artists. Alberta has more of a "western" flavor
than the other provinces (think Calgary Stampede).
Alberta loves visitors.
Cowboys ride in the grass next to four-lane
The lush prairie in southern Alberta looks a lot like Montana and the
Plains states in the spring after a lot of rain.
Farther north in Alberta the lakes, wetlands, and forests thick with pines,
spruce, aspens, and paper bark birch trees resemble those in northern
Minnesota and New England. We haven't gotten into real mountains or
the tundra yet.
Great big dandelions are everywhere. <grin>
Dandelions are prolific in
Alberta this time of year; canola is yellow but it isn't up yet.
- So far our Verizon cell phones work up here, although we're
likely to lose service in British Columbia and the Yukon.
- We had
trouble getting WiFi while boondocking in Calgary and Whitecourt but
we have a good connection in the campground at Grande Prairie. It's too
expensive to switch our MiFi secure internet service for use in
Canada so we won't do any online banking or purchases until we get
to Alaska (i.e., back in the U.S.). We get an e-mail every time we
charge something so we can keep up with our credit card purchases
that way and know if someone is using our card numbers fraudulently.
ALBERTAN CHARM & HOSPITALITY
There are enough differences between Alberta and the U.S. to make
our first three days in Canada feel somewhat like we're in a "foreign"
- The people are very friendly, helpful, and cheerful everywhere
we go, and not just the ones whose livelihood we're helping support
- There is total civility on the highways, at least compared to the
U.S. In the road construction photo outside Calgary near the
beginning of this entry you can see two lanes to the right of the
vehicles we're behind. The sign advising traffic to merge left was
at least half a mile behind us when I took that picture. In most
places in the U.S. impatient, all-about-me drivers would be crowding
as far up as they could in those two right lanes, then trying to
merge into the far left lane at the very last second. That always
drives us nuts. Here, all but one semi and a small group of
motorcyclists got in line as soon as they saw the first merge sign
and stayed there the whole time it took us to clear about a mile of
construction (about 15 minutes of more "stop" than "go"). We were
amazed by the civility and self-control shown by 98% of those
Above and below:
agribusiness is as big an industry in Alberta as oil and gas.
Millions of acres of grains
like wheat and canola are grown here.
Albertans have a charming obsession with the UK
monarchy and the queen's Silver Jubilee even though Canada is no
longer under British rule.
As mentioned, we're still getting used to the
metric system. Although we're good with kilometers because of all the
years we ran long-distance races, we need a calculator to convert
liters into gallons -- and 18 degrees Celsius still sounds
doggone cold! We printed out a cheat sheet with Fahrenheit and
Centigrade equivalents to make those calculations easier. We've
already started thinking more automatically in terms of Centigrade
when we see/read weather predictions. Here's an interesting fact we
knew long ago but forgot: minus 40 F. is the same as
minus 40 C. Cool, eh?
Albertans may pronounce most words the way we
do but they don't always spell them the way we do. Examples are
the UK spelling for litre, centre, theatre, colour, flavour, etc.
We're heard/read that everything costs more in Canada
than the U.S. We believe it, and it's not just because of the exchange
rate being slightly favorable to U.S. citizens right now. Groceries,
supplies, gasoline, and diesel are noticeably higher when we can
compare apples to apples (for example, the same things we buy at WalMart regularly). We know we'll pay even more the farther north and
west we go because it's more remote territory.
Many of the road signs have intuitive symbols that
transcend language barriers. We should have more of those in the U.S.
Not only are they attractive, most are also easy to quickly understand
the first time you see them.
We've enjoyed seeing some traditional Inuit stacked
stone figures (such as the one above) along the road, in yards, and at
the visitor center in Grande Prairie. They resemble humans and are called Inukshuk. We first learned about them at Imperial Dam
in southern California last winter. Canadian
snowbirds had built them along the desert trails to remind them of home. I
liked the concept so much that I built one at our campsite (I included
a photo in an earlier entry this year). I hope that wasn't
disrespectful of the culture; I built it in admiration of the
There is less visual blight along the highways in
Alberta than in most places we travel in the U.S. --
many fewer billboards, noticeably less trash.
We've seen more warning signs for elk and moose in the
last three days than we see in moose territory in the U.S. Too bad we haven't
seen any of those critters yet.
Then there's that sun which doesn't set until after
we've gone to bed at night!
This is last night's sunset in Whitecourt.
It was already 10:35 PM. We went to bed before the sun sank
below the horizon:
That light-most-of-the-night phenomenon will only get worse as we go
farther north and get closer to June 21. We're at about the 56th
parallel now and will be going several parallels north of that.
"Land of the Midnight Sun" will be for real pretty soon.
So far we've been tired enough at night to go to sleep at our
regular bedtime even though it's still bright outside. (Not much
different than the bright lights in WalMart parking lots, after all!)
I've been waking up too early in the morning, though. It gets light
about 4:15 AM. The light-blocking curtains I added to our bedroom
window shades after we bought the Cameo help keep the room a little
darker but some light still filters in.
Cody seems more confused by the long hours of daylight than Jim and
I are. As soon as it gets light he thinks it's time for breakfast. Of
course, he plays the starved-dog role most of the time, so his
behavior isn't all that different now.
We could see the snow-capped
Banff and/or Jasper NPs under the clouds as we drove north
toward Calgary. We want to come
back in the fall or next summer to see those beautiful parks.
Although Calgary and Edmonton looked very interesting, we zipped on
through those cities because our goal is to get to Alaska as soon as
But because we may return a different route in the fall, we will do
some touristy things as we head to Alaska.
MORE ABOUT CUSTOMS
We've been stressing out about border crossings for months. We'll be
going back and forth across the U.S. and Canadian borders a minimum of
four times, more if we visit Haines, Hyder, and/or Skagway,
AK on the way back in the fall.
We did a lot of research while we were in Virginia and pretty well
knew what documents we needed and what items we could and couldn't
take into Canada on our first encounter with customs agents when
driving an RV.
Weather-worn house (and outhouse) along AB 43
We've heard/read stories of problematic border crossings from RVers
who have driven to Alaska. What we dreaded was the hassle a thorough
inspection of our camper and truck would involve. If you're selected
for an inspection you have to open the slides, unlock all inside and
outside doors/drawers, and allow the agents free reign of your
vehicle(s) while you and your dog(s) stay somewhere else.
Sounds like fun, eh?
We gathered all the documents we knew we might need (passports,
vehicle registrations, proof of vehicle insurance that's valid in
Canada, Cody's vet information, etc.), a couple bottles of
prescription sleeping pills and pain meds, and our big new can of bear spray. We had them in
the truck with us so they'd be handy.
Long story short, our border crossing from Sweet Grass, MT to Coutts,
AB was uneventful.
There were only two vehicles in front of us. We waited about ten
minutes to pull up to the window after the RV in front of us pulled
out (a Class A motorhome towing a pick-up truck, shown below). We noted that it had
to pull over in another area ahead of us, apparently for an
inspection. One of the cars in the lane to the right of us also had to
go to the same place.
The folks in the RV in front of us weren't so
Then it was our turn to pull up to the window.
The customs agent asked Jim about ten questions that we expected --
and didn't ask some that we expected -- and waved us
through in less than two minutes. Whew!!!
I can't begin to tell you how relieved we were to avoid the intrusion
and hassle of an inspection.
We believe inspections are mostly random (OK, we're done with that
vehicle, give us another one to inspect) and partly based on IDs
or answers that raise alarms.
I do know that our feelings for Canada were enhanced by our border
experience, whether that's a valid correlation or not. Next time, like
when we cross into Alaska, we may not be so lucky.
Welcome to Canada, indeed!
I may eventually expound on our customs experience in
For now, our best advice if you'll be crossing a U.S. or Canadian border in your
personal vehicle is to do your research so you know what to
expect, have the proper documents handy, be prepared for a thorough
vehicle/RV search, and don't try to sneak in anything that isn't allowed
(including too much of things that are allowed but in limited
Take the whole process very seriously. Customs
officials have even more power than TSA agents to affect your travel
GRANDE PRAIRIE IS GRAND
We really like Grande Prairie, a city of about 50,000 people
in far western AB near the British Columbia (BC) border.
Unique brick building designed
by Aboriginal architect Douglas Cardinal
on the campus of a regional
college in Grande Prairie
The weather was so nice this morning
that we decided to stop after only 179 miles and stay overnight in a nice Rotary Club
campground next to the Bear Creek Reservoir instead of driving a
little farther to Dawson Creek, BC today.
That's part of our MO this trip -- less driving per day than we
usually do in the Lower 48 and lots of
flexibility re: where we stay and how long.
After we settled in we got out into the warm sunshine (70 F. = 21
C.) for some exercise on the Bear Creek Greenway, one of the nicest
urban multi-use paths we've found in our travels.
There are numerous bridges on
the Bear Creek multi-use trail. This one is by the lake.
Jim rides over one of the bridges spanning Bear
The hilly, paved path loops around the large reservoir, goes past a
smaller lake, and follows Bear Creek for
several miles downstream. It runs through long, linear Muskoseepi Park
and is part open grass and part secluded shade in forests.
There were signs warning us about bears in the woods but we didn't
see any. There are several dirt single-track foot trails through the
wooded areas and many spur trails to residential neighborhoods.
Jim rode his bike 20+ miles. I rode about half of that with him,
then walked Cody for several miles. It was a nice break from all
the driving we've done.
HEADING FOR BC
We have a rather short drive tomorrow of just over 100 miles. Our
goal is to reach Dawson Creek, British Columbia, where we'll spend at least one
predicted rainy day. Dawson Creek is Mile O of the famed Alaska
Highway, the eastern route to Alaska.
I think we'll start feeling even more like we're on our way to
Alaska once we get on that highway.
View from the Bear Creek Trail
of historic buildings at the Grande Prairie Museum
I'll write another summary after we get through British Columbia and
into the Yukon Territory. Go back to the topics page and watch for
that entry to appear in a few days.
I plan to fill in more details and photos of our trip through Alberta
in the future. I'll probably highlight the newest entries in red so
folks can find them more easily.
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil