I was going to type a lengthy response to Graverobber’s Hooniverse Asks article earlier, but I realized I had a whole ton of photos that I’ve collected over time. So, since I can, I’m posting about it instead! And it seems to me it would make a great series for anyone planning a road-trip in North America, if we can find all the great roads and let you know about them.
This Best Road is the final portion of the Yellowhead Highway. This highway starts out at the corner of Portage Avenue and Main Street in Winnipeg, MB. This highway passes through Manitoba and Saskatchewan (where it’s boring), crosses Alberta through Edmonton and then the Banff-Jasper National Park (where it passes Jasper, and is quite interesting), weaves its way to Prince George, BC (where it becomes boring again) and culminates in a climax of almost artistic proportions beginning at Smithers, BC. The part that takes your breath away, however, begins just after you leave a town called Terrace, en route to Prince Rupert.
It’s difficult to describe this road in terms that will not sound overblown and exaggerated, but let me put it in context. I grew up in the mountains. My high school was quite literally at the bottom of a ski hill; you could hustle to the lodge, hop the ski-lift, and get in one or two runs during lunch hour. Then, on your last run, if you came down the back of the mountain, you could ski straight under the highway through a drainage culvert, and take your skis off at the front door to the school.
So I am quite used to winding, twisty mountain highways. In fact I delight in them. There are few pleasures in life as enjoyable as a powerful car, carving up and down steep mountain passes on a sunny day. And even I was unprepared for this portion of the Yellowhead.
This road literally has a taste of everything. It has more twisting curves than Denise Milani in a bellydancing contest; but it also has wonderful long straight stretches that rise and fall dramatically, just to keep you on your toes. There are narrow antique bridges that you can either slow down and admire or blast over at top speed to scare your kidneys up into your throat. There is scenery, there is wildlife, there is drastically changing weather. It is the most fun I have had in a car in years. Yes, including that. I’m too tall for that.
Leaving Terrace, the highway starts with an unexpected S-curve, involving two 90° corners to cross a railroad track. They are marked, but until you’ve driven it a few times, you don’t realize just how serious they are when the signs suggest that you slow down from 100 km/h to 20 km/h to navigate them safely. If there’s no traffic coming, however, it is just barely possible to swing wide for the entrance, and cut both corners in an almost-straight line and not slow down at all. The locals have all mastered the technique, but the first time you try it, you will scare yourself.
There are stretches of road where a huge rock wall is so close to your passenger-side mirror that you are actually risking knocking it off if you’re not careful — but there’s still a 100 km/h speed limit there, and all the locals still do that speed. In that same section, on the other side of the road are train tracks, maybe 10-12 feet away from the highway. But don’t worry, there’s a curb to keep you from accidentally hitting the train. Who would need more than a curb?
There is a section, behind a blind corner, called “Carwash Rock”. The name is fairly obvious, it is an overhanging rock with a perpetual trickle of water splashing down onto the road below. On very cold days, this trickle will create massive icicles that hang down onto the highway. As a large truck passes underneath, he will frequently smash them, sending large chunks of ice scattering onto the windshields of unsuspecting cars nearby.
There is a very long section that winds dramatically alongside the Skeena river. In some sections, during the spring runoff season, when I say “beside”, I mean that the river is at the edge of the pavement. But driving it, you don’t care in the slightest, because it’s accompanied with long, wide, sweeping banked turns that just beg to be driven with your foot mashed to the floor.
As you approach Prince Rupert, there is a sharp incline, and a series of tight back-and-forth corners swing you wildly to the top of a small mountain pass. If you are able to maintain your speed — most cars can’t, so you’ll need something with power and excellent handling — you will be rewarded with the crest of a hill that has the ability to make your vehicle leave the pavement briefly, and bounce your stomach decisively between your jaw and your tailbone.
It is worth pointing out that the road is maintained — but only just. There is not a whole lot of time spent on keeping the road nice and smooth, because it’s simply a losing battle. With that much water, and temperatures that fluctuate from +40°C to -25°C (just use the Metric system like the rest of the world already), the road disintegrates as fast as they can fix it. So you need to be ever on your guard for potholes, cracks and frost heaves. The road is organic; it will not be the same each time you drive it. It grows, it breathes, it moves, and it tests you as a driver.
I should point out, however, that in recent years, budget cuts have forced the RCMP to all but abandon patrolling this highway. They will come out if called to an accident, but they tragically just don’t have the manpower to cruise the road looking for speeders. So drive the road at your own risk, knowing there simply isn’t anyone making sure that all those other naughty drivers stick to the speed limit.
So what say you, Hoons? Do you have a road that will rival mine? Is there somewhere that the Corrado and I should take a road-trip to that I’ve been missing out on all this time? Or do you just have a Best Road that you’d like to share? Do a write-up, and send it to us at email@example.com. We’d love to hear it, since we’re making our vacation plans for next year pretty soon here.
Here are a few photos I’ve collected since I lived in Prince Rupert. They don’t really give a complete picture of the beauty of the area, but you kind of get an idea. (I have collected these over the last three years, and never expected to use them; some are mine, most are not, but I’ve long ago forgotten where they came from, so I have no idea who to credit for them. If they are yours, please comment below or email me, and I’ll be only too happy to give you the credit you deserve.)
For more photos of the scenery surrounding the highway, and around my home in Rupert, feel free to check out my Facebook Photo Album.