Dawson Creek is the home to the Mile 0 sign and the start of the Alaska Highway! While many travelers are excited to start driving the Alaska Highway, I would recommend that if you have time – or better yet, PLAN to take the time – to visit 3 unique towns and see some beautiful scenery that you’d otherwise miss completely.
Yep, Tumbler Ridge is southwest of Dawson Creek, so this does mean back tracking a bit. The drive is very pretty and everyone in the Visitor’s Center at Dawson Creek will reaffirm it. It’s not a long drive, maybe 1.5 hours, so don’t panic! 🙂
Tumbler Ridge was a big coal town. When the coal company left about 20 years ago, the town was on the brink of extinction. Then a miracle happened. Two boys were tubing down the river and one of them fell out. He swam to the river’s edge and scrambled up the rock. Looking down, he saw what looked like dinosaur tracks, and it turned out that they were!
This was right around the time of Jurassic Park, so the dinosaur fad was in full-swing. People flocked to the region to hike the mountains looking for fossils. Many were found, and today you can see them at the Dinosaur Discovery Center.
We checked it out and loved learning about the massive creatures that once roamed this area, and how the now mountainous area was once a hot, swampy marsh. It was also really cool to see that while paleontologists were working on uncovering fossils in the area, most of the discoveries were done by regular people like you and me out hiking in the wilderness! (Note: if you do find a fossil, it is recommended that you photograph it, note the GPS coordinates of its location, and provide that to the Visitor or Dinosaur Center – there may be others in the area and you don’t want to lose the location!)
We also hiked the Flatbed Creek Trail to the Cabin Pool Dinosaur Footprints down to see some of the dino tracks ourselves. It was hard to see them at first, but as our eyes and minds tuned into the shapes we could literally pick out dozens of tracks in the rock!
Besides the interesting dinosaur finds, there is an incredible amount of natural exploration to do in this area. There are hikes, waterfalls, and ATV trails galore! If we’d had more than just an overnight in town, we would have made the trek out to Monkman Provincial Park to see the massive Kinuseo Falls, the Cascade Falls, and a number of other amazing rock formations within in this secluded park. Source: TumblerRidge.ca It is a 60km (37 miles) gravel drive out to the campground (and it is also used by big trucks for logging operations) but from there it is an outdoorsman’s paradise. Stock up on provisions and fuel before heading out, and we’d recommend doing at least a 2 night stay to fully enjoy the experience.
As we drove into Chetwynd, we got so excited. Lining the roadway stood huge wooden carving depicting a wide variety of characters, creatures, and scenes in amazing detail! We couldn’t wait to find a parking spot and get up close to one of these works of art.
We learned at the Visitor’s Center that the wood carvings were all from an annual competition held in June. Twelve chainsaw carvers are invited from around the world to create a large carving out of a single massive piece of wood. They have just 36 hours to complete their work and have free-rein to select a subject of their choice.
We were astounded by the variety and meticulous details that went into each and every one of the 120+ carvings placed throughout the town. We reckon that we barely saw a quarter of the carvings in our couple hours of touring and admiring them on bike!
On the drive out of Chetwynd, there is a beautiful lake called Moberly Lake and Cameron Lake. We camped at Cameron Lake and fell asleep to the loons calling into the night.
We were told ahead of time that this area was beautiful and that we should see it “before it is underwater.” We were intrigued. Hudson’s Hope is the home to 2 hydro-electrics dams that form Williston Lake – BC’s largest manmade lake – and Dinosaur Lake. The dam that created Williston Lake dammed the mighty Peace River and created a lake that is 156 miles long and covers 680 square. While this brought power and prosperity to the area and to British Columbia, First Nation lands were flooded and people who made their lives on the river were greatly impacted.
We toured the dam and got to go down into the powerhouse to see the generator turbines. Like other dams we have toured around the States, the size of everything was impressive.
We asked about whether the area was going to be underwater soon, and learned about the Site C Project – the building of a third dam along the Peace River down near Fort St. John that would flood the river almost all the way to Dinosaur Lake. This project has been in talks for over 30 years, and it is expected that in 2024 the new lake will begin to fill.
It was strange to drive along the river and imagine all the land that would soon be submerged. Already workers were clearing trees and preparing to move the road. Most of the land that is to be affected had been purchased by BC Hydro over the years, but 20 homesteads remained and would be forced to move. We drove by signs saying “Site C still Sucks” and “No Site C, Keep the Peace.” (referring to the Peace River Valley)
The tour and the drive made us contemplative – What is the price of progress? When is it too much? And who is the final judge of it? What do you think? We made our way back to the Alaska Highway just north of Fort St. John and continued north to Fort Nelson.
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