Driving from Edmonton to Grande Prairie covers the same route to Alaska, a destination Jerry and I have been thinking of going for a long time but haven’t got an opportunity to visit yet. The online research showed that there were not many things to see along the way, but the drive became scenic when you reached Grande Cache, a city in the middle of the Rockies. This meant we needed a detour to transform this working trip to a sightseeing one. So, I suggested driving from Grande Prairie to Grande Cache and to Hinton and then to Edmonton for our return trip.
The road trip is by far my favorite way of seeing the world. I enjoy its affordability and flexibility. I had never come to this part of Alberta before, and the sheer newness of the route and the destinations was a big attraction.
The drive northward from Edmonton to Grande Prairie unfolded a combination of the prairie land dotted with farms and small areas of woods that were still bare at this time of the year. What appeared unique to me was the patches of wetland – or bog – underneath the woods along the way. It is said this is why northern Alberta is rich in oil; these wetlands indicate its existence.
I am always mesmerized by the serenity of the landscape wherever I go. The road trip from Utah to California and from San Francisco to Seattle to Kelowna and to Edmonton last summer, and another drive from Phoenix, Arizona, to the Antelope Valley impressed me with the vastness and beauty of the American land. Now the wetland of northern Alberta—the dark mirror of the water, the black dots of the remaining tree trunks, the broken trees cut off from the middle with the top half still connected to the bottom at various angles, and the charcoaled image of the forests overall both enhanced and disturbed the peace of the scene.
The company site where Jerry loaded the damaged car bought by his client at an auction was located beside a range road in the middle of nowhere. Scattering on a big, dusty yard were a few trucks with long trailers. In the middle of the yard stood a flat line of rooms—obviously the office of the company. As soon as we entered the office, I started to sympathize the people who worked there. What kind of life did they have living in a place like this? The desolation of the place reminded me of Fort McMurray I visited a few years ago before the big fire. I didn’t see the camp built for the oil field workers here, though—mobile homes assembled together into long lines of residential space which were a dominant view of Fort McMurray; but the bare walls of the office and the emotionless faces of the staff seemed to tell me that the place was temporary and prone to disappear at any time.
On our way back to Grande Cache, the scenery became more attractive as the tripadvisor website users said. The bog continued to enchant you—more so because of the variety of the plants decorated the surface of the water. If you see mostly trees when driving from Edmonton to Grande Prairie, here you also see the water grass, the one used to decorate the naturalized pond in the neighbours back at home. The roads are getting hilly, too.
We stopped at Grande Cache Lake Beach. Having visited Invermere in BC two weeks ago where there’s no sight of snow and ice on the surfaces of the Windermere Lake and the Columbia River, I was surprised that the lake was still covered with a thin layer of pieces of floating ice. The azure sky and cotton-like clouds in the sky saw their enhanced beauty in the fragments of the mirror of the lake; the floating ice appeared dark green and formed a charming mosaic of blue, white, various shades of green on the wrinkleless face of the lake. Jerry and I were the only souls in the world. A luxury.
Feeling saturated enough in the beauty of nature, we continued to drive toward the direction of Hinton, a familiar place about an hour’s ride from Jasper. Our next stop was at Caribou County, a place attracting people from the highway to a creek running merrily in between its cobbled banks. Jerry started his artistic exploration by looking at the cobbles intensely, hands behind his back. His effort didn’t end in vain: he was so delighted to see two artistic pieces of rocks about the size of a paperback – one looked like a smiling-faced guy turning his head toward you, and the other showed the silhouette of an ancient Chinese official whom he would say XU Jiujing, a character in a classical Chinese opera. These two rocks were his favorite treasures from this trip.
Fear and anxiety coupled with the delight of exploration. Driven by curiosity as I always am, I suggested that we drive onto the unpaved road that – as the roadside board showed – led to a preserved area of nature. The road was winding. On both sides were the stretches of meadow inlaid with bits of snow. As we kept moving forward cautiously, we saw a big sign which said: “A red bear is dangerous.” Not a soul was in sight. Only the loud-sounding silence interfered by the noise of the truck and the attached trailer with the red Ford on top.
Agitated by the thought that we might have entered into the place that led to nowhere, we decided to turn and go back onto the highway. Yet Jerry’s attempt at making the U-turn failed as the road was too narrow for the truck and the trailer. We decided to keep driving forward, hoping that we could get onto the highway from the end of the road. But the further we went, the less confident we were. “No service” glared on my smartphone. The icon of the truck on the google map moved farther and farther away from the highway where we departed. Seeing no hope of finding the end of the road, we decided that we should back up no matter what. It took us close to an hour to back to the place where Jerry failed to make the U-turn. This time, though, perhaps out of desperation, he did it! We high-fived cheerfully, and I felt Jerry’s hand—which is always warm—cold and wet!