In spite of everything, this seemed like a good time to head to the end of the road. Driving north from San Francisco, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada is where the pavement ends. From there, If you draw a line from Yellowknife to the North Pole you would find no roads. Ellen is off organizing a big Colorado photography reunion for the Fall, so my traveling companion on this trip is our son, Walker Dawson. Like our big Library Road Trips of 2011 and 2012, this is another epic father-son bonding road trip.
We left a strangely warm San Francisco and scooted up Highway 5 and then over to Bend, OR. This wonderful town has been discovered as a remarkable small Western town that has grown dramatically with people fleeing the large urban West Coast cities of Seattle, Portland, the Bay Area and Southern California. Our hipster tacos were delicious but as we tried to sleep in our cheap motel, we were interrupted in the middle of the night by a tweaker party in the room below that lasted for several hours. Nothing like being back on the road.
After a fairly sleepless night, we drove 14 hours north by northeast through eastern Oregon, the Columbia River basin, Spokane, and then eastern Washington to the border. The Canadian border guard was a little puzzled when I said we were really excited about seeing Edmonton. We then proceeded to have one of the most beautiful drives that I have ever experienced. This part of the Canadian Rockies is just north of Glacier National Park and just south of Banff National Park. But it is just as beautiful as its more famous neighbors. The weather cooperated as well with a dramatic dusting of snow and rain as we drove through massive, jagged, heavily snow-covered peaks towering in the sky filled with enormous clouds. Spots of sunlight occasionally ripped through the complicated weather. I realized that my ability to comprehend the profound beauty around us was limited but I knew that this was a great, life-changing experience.
The one library I photographed in the Rockies was in Ferney, British Columbia. A major ski resort exists here but the downtown of this former mining town had been restored in a beautiful and not overly precious way. The library was a classic old brick building offset by the huge, snow-clad peaks surrounding it. Two of the windows contained displays with red dresses and signs about “missing sisters”. This reminded me of the sad displays we saw in Canada in 2019 about the ongoing tragedy of missing Indigenous women.
As we exited the Canadian Rockies we entered the Canadian Great Plains. We arrived exhausted in Lethbridge, Alberta after our long drive, glad to have traveled so far and seen so much beauty. Sleeping that night was more like passing out after the previous night of no sleep. The next morning, we decided to photograph the childhood home of an old friend of ours from the Bay Area. His family left Lethbridge in 1957, but he spent the formative part of his childhood in this house. As we pulled up to front of this humble little home, we found it surrounded by a chain-linked fence and a crime-scene sign posted by the police. A passing neighbor explained that the place had been raided by the police five days ago and it had been a famous and dangerous drug house for the last three years. Guys in hazmat suits had been cleaning it out over the last few days and it would soon be torn down because it was beyond repair. It was hard to comprehend the tragedy of this place and to link it to the sweet memories of our friend’s childhood memories. But as is often the case when traveling, truth can be stranger than fiction.