We feel very lucky to have started our journey to southern Alberta, Canada, in Blackfoot traditional territory after about 1,500 miles of driving and exploring. Our route was longer than perhaps needed, but we managed a couple of nights of camping in wilderness areas and a couple of National Parks… this map covers the route we took from Klamath Falls, Oregon to Fort MacLeod, Alberta, Canada with explanations embedded within the journey.
View The drive to Canada in a larger map
We left Klamath Falls, Oregon (Kelly’s hometown) in early September and headed east to spend a first night camping in Steens Mountain Wilderness area. Steens is remotely situated in southeastern Oregon. This section of Oregon is one of the least populated areas of the continental United States, only 7,000 people live within a county that is at least 4 times the size of the state of Rhode Island. Steens has dramatic glacially carved canyons. The highest point is over 9,000 feet in elevation.
During our first night, at Steens, as darkness crept in, the sky beheld an intense clarity and we laid on the ground to witness the entire Milky Way traversing the sky amidst untold numbers of stars.
We continued our journey across the desolate but strikingly beautiful high desert of eastern Oregon, passing but a handful of cars over a 4-hour stretch until we reached the Idaho border. Crossing Idaho was anticipated for each of us as Kelly had not been here since participating in the now famous Steens Mountain Running Camp when she was 15 and 16 and it was Udi’s first time in the state. Unfortunately, wildfire smoke seemed to blanket the entire state and there was limited viewing as we drove toward the Wyoming border.
This summer, across all states in the western US, there were more wildfires than ever before. Late summer is now referred to as ‘fire season’ and is expected to get worse in the years to come, particularly as the climate becomes increasingly drier with more serious droughts expected to occur. Nearly all of the wildfires across the western US were from lightning. The increase and intensity of wildfires is related to climate change. This was but one instance in which we directly witnessed the effects of changing climate patterns.
When we reached the Wyoming border, we turned north, heading slowly through Grand Tetons National Park and then camping for a night in Yellowstone National Park. Both National Parks are a feast for the senses, dramatic peaks rising up from a valley floor (that is the Tetons), old-growth ever-green forests, crystal-clear and fast-flowing rivers, steaming geysers and colorful pools of boiling waters and mud and an array of wildlife that are rarely seen elsewhere in the continental US, including grizzly bears, wolves, moose and buffaloes.
Sleep that night camping at Yellowstone did not come in abundance, as the temperature plunged below freezing and the bugling of the male elks (it being mating season) was not exactly a soothing sound. However, we immensely enjoyed the natural wonders of both parks and reluctantly exited at the north end, entering into Montana. At one point however we entered into a long discussion about the contradictions of preservation and human interaction. Although National Parks are places of natural wonder and awe, we reflected on how these places in many ways are zoos – areas that have been caged off from human habitation, with the exception of visiting. It is of course imperative that nowadays these places are preserved from development because of our current societal norms. However, we wondered about how it might be if we all had a closer, more respectful engagement with the land so that all places were treated as sacred places of visitation and interaction (in the midst of human habitation) rather than those that have been legally preserved and separated from day to day living.
The drive across Montana was relatively clear until we reached Billings, when again the air was saturated with wildfire smoke. We drove as far as Missoula before spending another night and leaving the next day with the anticipation and excitement of going through Glacier National Park before crossing into Canada. We planned to drive across ‘Going-to-the-Sun’ road, the only road that traverses Glacier National Park. Going-to-the-Sun road starts off very gently, along a beautiful light turquoise river for 15 miles or so. The road is between two dramatic cliffs of glacially carved rocks in the midst of the Rocky Mountains. Trees still grow half-way up these cliffs and we could see the yellowing of aspen trees amidst thick evergreen trees. There is a sign that warns larger vehicles that they will not be able to drive the rest of the way up Going-to-the-Sun. I was not quite prepared for the dramatic drops and turns that become part of Going-to-the-Sun after 15 miles. The road suddenly heads up and up and up and up… A storm was brewing and as we climbed there was wind that really started to blow and rain. We were stopped at the top of the road because of road construction and had to wait for about 30 minutes. We used this time to get out the car (in spite of the freezing wind and rain) to use our binoculars and view the tremendous scenery. Kelly saw a couple of white-haired mountain goat high up on one of the cliffs.
Once driving resumed, we carefully twisted and turned our way down the mountains and left Glacier National Park toward the Canadian border. The scenery suddenly opened up after 10 miles or so. There were no more mountains in front of us, only prairie. As far as we could see. The border signs suddenly appeared and we approached the controls with some apprehension. It was more difficult to enter Canada than we had both assumed. There were many questions of purpose, of financial resources, of employment, etc. It took us at least 30 minutes to get through the border.
Although we felt a bit ruffled by the experience, as we drove onto the Albertan prairie plains, a rainbow appeared in the sky and we both felt it was right to be just where we were. As we drove on, we noticed industrial farming equipment (lots of it) and eventually passed a sign that said ‘Red Crow Community College’ and then signs for Fort MacLeod. We were excited to learn from the area, the Blackfoot community – and were keen to be surprised…