I spent a lot of time in the car last week, “touring” northern Alberta and parts of BC. My boyfriend had business up there and I came out for a visit to help out with some of the driving (and to see that part of Canada, of course). We went up to Fort McMurray (the land of Canada’s oil fields), back down and east to Bonnyville through Lac La Biche, across through Athabasca to Whitecourt, Fox Creek, Valleyview, and Grande Prairie, and up again to Dawson Creek and Fort St. John along the Alaska Highway, coming down the BC side through Tumbler Ridge to make it back to Calgary. After a week in the car all day every day, I was rather surprised by just how little wildlife we saw along the way. In fact, except for a very dead fox frozen in a rather horrifying position, we didn’t see any. For a good chunk of it, we didn’t even see animal tracks in the snow.
I got my hopes up when we started to head west on Highway 43, much of which is billed as Moose Row. Albertans are not big on advertising speed limits and road signs of that nature are rather sparse. There were, however, very frequent signs for moose crossings and I figured that with so many of these around, there must be quite a few moose in the area. I was sorely disappointed when I failed to spot them in the numbers the frequency of the road signs had me imagine. After two days on Moose Row, it wasn’t until we got close to Grande Prairie that we finally spotted one up on the hill, and then another one in the woods not too much further. This was also the first time all week we spotted any deer when a handful of them pranced across a field chased by a farm dog (which did not seem to bother them in the least).
We hit the real jackpot, however, when we took a very scenic drive from Dawson Creek to Tumbler Ridge. Loads of animal tracks along the road had us hopeful but it was the wrong time of day for animals to be out. However, when we decided to make a mad dash to Kinuseo Falls to catch a glimpse of Kinuseo Falls (billed to be an icon of Northern BC) before the sun set and daylight failed, we got the reward of a lifetime. After a white-knuckled race of a drive through ice and snow in the park (where I was told I must go faster than 40km/hr to make it in time and this was pretty much my first time driving in deep snow!), I thought we had it made when we spotted a couple of moose just ahead of us on the road (which I scared away, not having yet mastered the art of driving quietly over the deep tracks left in the snow by much heavier maintenance trucks). But we had a bigger surprise waiting for us at the foot of the cliff.
Light was fading fast and we wouldn’t even dream of attempting the steep hike down to the base of the falls in the dark. We took our time taking in the sights from the viewing platform and spotted an animal running around by the water below. At first we thought it was a bear but it was too small and was moving around much faster than a bear would. In fact, it looked like a big furry kid frolicking around in the snow, having the time of his life. Suddenly paying closer attention, we realized (with shock!) that it was in fact a wolverine!
No, not Hugh Jackman, but a real-life, wild wolverine. I didn’t realize at the time just how rare this sighting was. Wolverines are incredibly elusive and most people would never see one in their lifetime. Even footage of wolverines in the wild is incredibly rare. In fact, Andrew Manske, a Canadian wildlife filmmaker, made history when he captured groundbreaking footage of wolverines in the wild. It took him 5 years to acquire it and he does this for a living.
We tracked down the documentary after we got back to Calgary and I am absolutely humbled and in awe of our incredible beginner’s luck at spotting one of these amazing creatures in the wild. Without even looking for one. Simply amazing. You can watch “Wolverine: Ghost of the Northern Forrest” on CBC here. We both loved it and wolverine quickly shot up the list of my favourite animals.
I must also note that this area of BC is beautiful and one of our favourite visits. We can’t wait to come back to do some hiking and explore the 30+ waterfalls in the area. For the vast majority of the drive from Tumbler Ridge to Kinuseo Falls (60 km), we were the only car on the road. This was also the only part we passed on that week’s travel where we actually found some decent snow, which is incredible considering that it was the end of February! Despite the winter conditions, the park was open and while it takes some skill (and some nerves!) to navigate the roads if you are not used to driving on snow, it is definitely passable and we had no trouble getting in or out. Definitely putting this on my all-season roadtrip short-list!