Tag Archives: 2015 trip

Coming home from the Canadian Rockies, Days 10 and 11

The last of the Rocky Mountains, along the Trans-Canada Highway.
The last of the Rocky Mountains, along the Trans-Canada Highway.

Two weeks ago, June 21 and 22, 2015.

So, yesterday was the Fourth, which means I didn’t spend a whole lot of time on the computer. Plus my monitor died Friday night. Fortunately, Best Buy was open on the holiday.

The penultimate day of my trip was the summer solstice. I also crossed back into the Pacific Time Zone, so it was quite a long day. I woke up at the crack of dawn again, into a gray-gloomy rainy day (which sounds so lovely right now — the temperature outside right now is over 90F, and has been for the last five days).

I’d had a reservation at a hostel in Kelowna, 215 miles down the road from Golden, but I’d decided to cancel it the previous night, because, well, now that I was on my way home, I wanted to see how far I could get. I always get sort of antsy the last day or two on the road on a trip like this — ready to get home.

I headed west again on the Trans-Canada Highway, through two more smaller national parks, Glacier National Park (yes, Canada has a national park called Glacier, too), and Mt. Revelstoke National Park, but there really wasn’t much reason to stop. The section through Glacier, over Rogers Pass, was the last section of the Trans-Canada Highway to be completed, in 1962. That road is younger than I am! There’s a historical site at what I’d call a rest area here in the States at the top of the pass, and I stopped to take a few pictures.

Approaching Rogers Pass, in Glacier National Park.
Approaching Rogers Pass, in Glacier National Park.
Trans-Canada Highway monument, Rogers Pass.
Trans-Canada Highway monument, Rogers Pass.
Looking east from the Rogers Pass Monument.
Looking east from the Rogers Pass Monument.

From there on it was down, down, down. I stopped in the town of Revelstoke, at a combo Tim Hortons and gas station, for liquid refreshment for both me and Kestrel, then turned south off of the Trans-Canada at the small town of Sicamous, onto Highway 97, which stays the same number in both Canada and the U.S.

Chicory flowers, near Sicamous, BC.
Chicory flowers, near Sicamous, BC.

I drove past a pretty lake, and saw some blue wildflowers that had to be inspected and photographed, then south to the big city of Kelowna, where I arrived just in time for lunch (and was really glad I’d cancelled my hostel reservation). By that point, I’d left the lush forests of the western side of the Rockies behind, not to mention the rain and the cool temperatures. It was almost 30C, according to a bank thermometer in Kelowna, which translates to the lower 80sF, and not a cloud in the sky. It only got hotter the further I went, too.

The map had been somewhat misleading. I’d assumed that the double line that was Hwy. 97 through Kelowna meant that I’d be on a freeway, but no, just a four-lane boulevard with stoplights every hundred yards or so. It took me a while to fight my way through the traffic and reach the bridge across long, narrow Lake Okanagan. Then, after I was out of town, it turned into a freeway. Oh, well.

A glimpse of Lake Okanagan, south of Kelowna, BC.
A glimpse of Lake Okanagan, south of Kelowna, BC.

Lake Okanagan is lovely, and the road clings to the cliff as it threads its way down past vineyards and through small towns and the good-sized city of Penticton. After Penticton, orchards were the order of the day, and I could have stopped and bought cherries any number of times. Alas, I was down to my last couple of Canadian dollars and didn’t want to get more at this stage, plus, I wasn’t sure if U.S. customs would let me through with them. So I didn’t.

Lake Osoyoos, BC.
Lake Osoyoos, BC.

I reached the U.S. customs station, just north of the little town of Oroville, Washington, along the shores of Lake Osoyoos (oh-SOY-oos — I asked the customs agent), about the middle of the afternoon. A very nice Hispanic lady checked my passport, asked me to take my sunglasses off for a moment so she could get a better look at my face, and to pop my trunk. If I’d known she was going to want to look in there, I’d have put all my dirty clothes back in my suitcase, but the only comment she made was how she, too, liked the brand of chips I had in my food bag. Oh, well, worse things have happened.

And then I was back in the land of miles and Fahrenheit (a rather high degree of Fahrenheit at that, almost 90 degrees, alas). I drove past Tonasket, which was the knot of the lasso of this trip, on to Omak, another hour or so, and got there around four. Found the motel I stayed at on my research jaunts for Sojourn, and crashed and burned. I’d been on the road since about 6 am Pacific time, and I slept like I was really working at it.

And the next day I got up and drove the five hours home, over familiar roads, down 97 past Wenatchee to Blewett Pass, to I-90 and home. I think I made three stops, one for gas and real MickeyD’s iced tea in Brewster, one just north of Wenatchee for cherries, and one just before I got back on I-90 to gather one last picnic from my cooler and food bag for lunch that I ate as I drove over Snoqualmie Pass. I got home about 2 in the afternoon. The condo hadn’t burned down and the cats were fine (although extremely eager to go outside, and beyond annoyed with me).

And that was my trip to the Canadian Rockies. Decidedly one of the best trips I’ve made in recent memory.

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 9

Along the Icefields Parkway.
Along the Icefields Parkway.

Thirteen days ago, June 20, 2015.

And so I turned towards home. But I had one more day in the Rockies, driving back down the Icefields Parkway, then west through yet another national park, so while I might have been headed back technically, there was still more than plenty to see.

For some reason I woke up at the crack of dawn, and was on the road by 7:30 in the morning. I wake up a lot earlier than I normally do when I’m traveling, but this was sort of ridiculous. On the bright side, because I was out so early, I got to see some elk alongside the road just south of Jasper townsite.

Elk just south of Jasper townsite.
Elk just south of Jasper townsite.

I’m sort of jaded about elk — I’ve seen so many of them in Yellowstone, and even had one bull in rut bugle under my hotel room window all night there once — but they’re still beautiful animals. I was less enamored of the tourons who were walking right up to them to take photos, but Darwin knows what to do with them.

I arrived at Athabaska Glacier by late morning, and stopped at the Icefields Centre, which I hadn’t done on the way up, just to see what was there. An unfinished (they were still working on the exhibits) big fancy building, mostly, but I did buy my fourth and last magnet of the trip in the gift shop there. I also took some photos from that new vantage point (up the slope on the other side of the valley from the glacier), and when I got home, discovered that among the slides I brought home in January from my mother’s house, there was one I’d taken (my Instamatic took square slides, so that’s how I know it was mine, not my father’s) of the same glacier from a similar viewpoint back in 1970. So here’s what a graphic example of global warming on a human timeline looks like:

Athabaska Glacier, 1970.  The parking lot is in the same place in both photos.
Athabaska Glacier, 1970. The parking lot is in the same place in the photo below.
Athabaska Glacier, 2015.
Athabaska Glacier, 2015.  The glacier has retreated about half a mile.

Then it was down, down, down into the Bow Valley, with one brief stop to keep from running over another small group of bighorn sheep, to Lake Louise village, where I bought tea and then headed west on the Trans-Canada Highway toward Kicking Horse Pass, my last crossing of the Continental Divide, and Yoho National Park.

Female bighorn sheep, just south of Bow Pass.
Female bighorn sheep, just south of Bow Pass.

Kicking Horse Pass (so named because an early explorer got kicked in the head by his horse there) was a fascinating place. I’m not that much of a railroad buff, although I’ve ridden Amtrak cross-country several times, but I’d never seen a railroad do what this one does before. The grade is so steep that it was all but impossible for trains to make it over the pass. That is, until an engineer got the bright idea to build tunnels in a figure eight configuration, giving more room for the trains to climb more gradually, with the tracks crossing over themselves as they climbed. If the train is long enough, you can see the engines and first cars passing directly over the later cars below them. I was lucky enough to be there when a long train passed through, and actually got to see this happen. It was hard to get good photos, but here’s one.

Train going through the lower Spiral Tunnel.
Train going through the lower Spiral Tunnel.  The part of the train below is passing underneath the part of the same train above.

After I finished marveling at the turn-of-the-last century engineering feat, I drove a bit further west and turned onto the Yoho Valley Road, which winds (including a couple of “I hope Kestrel doesn’t rear-end himself” switchbacks) up the Yoho Valley to Takakkaw Falls, the highest single-drop waterfall in Canada, at 850 feet. There’s a trail right up close enough to feel the mist, of course. It really reminded me of Yosemite Valley, only without the crowds. It was also a great place to picnic.

Takakkaw Falls, the highest single drop in Canada.
Takakkaw Falls, the highest single drop in Canada.

And I saw another bear on the way up there. My seventh and last of the trip. I’ve never seen that many bears on one trip before.

My seventh and last bear of the trip, along the Yoho Valley Road.
My seventh and last bear of the trip, along the Yoho Valley Road.  The white is snow.

And more wildflowers, of course.

Forget-me-nots along the Yoho Valley Road.
Forget-me-nots along the Yoho Valley Road.
Wild orchid at Takakkaw Falls.
Wild orchid at Takakkaw Falls.

The visitor centre at the village of Field, back on the Trans-Canada Highway, was my next stop, with its little exhibit about the Burgess Shale, one of the most famous fossil beds in North America. Unfortunately, the site itself is only accessible by guided tour and a long, steep hike, but at least I got to see some of the fossils.

My last side trip of the day was the road to Emerald Lake and the natural bridge along the way. I was more impressed with the natural bridge (and its lovely waterfall) than I was with Emerald Lake.  It was still pretty, though.

Natural bridge, along the Emerald Lake Road.
Natural bridge, along the Emerald Lake Road.
Emerald (in name only) Lake.  The Burgess Shale site is up on that mountain somewhere.
Emerald (in name only) Lake. The Burgess Shale site is up on that mountain somewhere.

And another flower along the Trans-Canada Highway which I’d never seen before. Gorgeous red lilies.

Wild lily along the Trans-Canada Highway.
Wild lily along the Trans-Canada Highway.

Then it was on to the town of Golden, and my hostel for the night, run by a very friendly Scottish woman who fosters cats for the local humane society. First cat fix I’d had since I left home, and very pleasant. She also recommended a restaurant, the Wolf’s Den, which was part historic log cabin and part sports bar, serving an excellent hamburger, salad, and the best onion ring I’ve had since Burgerville perched on top of the burger. The TV was playing the U.S. Open golf tournament, playing this year at Chambers Bay, just down the road from where I live (and part of the reason I timed my trip as I did), which I found rather amusing.

And that was my last day in the Canadian Rockies. For this trip, anyway. I’d love to go back someday.  I had a day and a half drive to get home, and a few more things to see along the way, though.

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 8

A grove of aspens at Pyramid Lake.
A grove of aspens at Pyramid Lake.

Thirteen days ago, June 19, 2015.

Exploring around Jasper townsite.

It was another misty moisty day and cloudy was the weather, as my mother would say (in sharp contrast to what we’ve got here in western Washington as I write this — we just came off the hottest June on record, and it’s supposed to get over 90F today, which is 20 degrees above normal), so I decided to start with something indoors, to give things a chance to improve.

But first I stopped at a Tim Horton’s in Jasper townsite, where they sold me a large hot tea and Timbits (doughnut holes) for breakfast. I’d never been in a Tim Horton’s before (I’ve seen their ads on the Canadian TV station I get on my cable at home), but they do very good tea and doughnut holes.

Jasper townsite has an active historical society, and an excellent museum telling all about its human history. The woman staffing the museum told me about at least one place I wouldn’t have known about otherwise, too, and was very friendly and informative in general. I am a big fan of local historical societies who are lucky enough to have volunteers like her.

A display at the Jasper Historical Museum telling about where the local First Nations lived.
A display at the Jasper Historical Museum telling about where the local First Nations lived.

It had cleared up a little by the time I left the museum, so I headed out to a pair of lakes, Patricia and Pyramid, which turned out to be a lovely short drive. I don’t know who Patricia Lake is named after, but Pyramid Lake was named after one of the mountains that looms over it, which is sort of pyramid-shaped. If you squint at it from the right angle. More to the point, Pyramid Lake has an island, accessed by bridge, with a pleasant walking trail around it. Even the rain, spitting and spatting, didn’t ruin the pleasure of that walk.

The bridge to the island in Pyramid Lake
The bridge to the island in Pyramid Lake
A robin and her nest on the island at Pyramid Lake.
A robin and her nest on the island at Pyramid Lake.
Pyramid Mountain.
Pyramid Mountain.
Yellow gallardia, white non-native oxeye daisies, and spiky butter and eggs, on the highway just outside Jasper townsite.
Yellow gallardia, white non-native oxeye daisies, and spiky butter and eggs, on the highway just outside Jasper townsite.

My next goal was Maligne (pronounced Ma-LEEN if you speak English, Ma-LINE if you speak French, according to the lady at the museum) Canyon, the third of those slot canyons I saw on this trip. More deep narrow recesses with water thundering down, more all but unnecessary bridges because it was basically close enough to jump if you were crazy, more wildflowers, more thundering waterfalls. And a sign telling all about how this canyon, at any rate, was created because I was standing on a karst formation. Karst. Here. I always associate karst landscapes with Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave. It seemed very odd to run across it way off up here, for some reason. And the landscape was so green and lush. I’d had it in my brain that the whole of Jasper National Park was going to look like the area around Athabaska Glacier, but it doesn’t. Not at all.

The karst exhibit at Maligne Canyon.
The karst exhibit at Maligne Canyon.

Just after I turned around (the trail and canyon go on for several miles, but I only walked down to the third bridge and the waterfall, about a kilometer, mindful of the steepness of the trail going back uphill), the skies opened up. If I hadn’t been wearing my raincoat, I’d have been drenched. My feet absolutely squelched, though.

A view of Maligne Canyon.
A view of Maligne Canyon.
Another view of Maligne Canyon.
Another view of Maligne Canyon.
The waterfall at the third bridge on the Maligne Canyon trail.
The waterfall at the third bridge on the Maligne Canyon trail.

While eating my lunch in the car after, I discovered Jasper must have a repeater for the Edmonton CBC radio station, because I got to listen to a gardening show, which was fascinating. Seems to me like it would be an uphill battle to garden so far north (although many of the houses in Jasper have nice gardens), but apparently it’s worth it.

And so on to Maligne Lake. I passed Medicine Lake on the way, which, because of the karst, drains completely by late summer.

Medicine Lake, which had not disappeared for the summer yet.
Medicine Lake, which had not disappeared for the summer yet.

Maligne Lake is another of those jewels dropped into the middle of a forest, with mountains all around, and should be part of the seven wonders of the natural world, not Lake Louise, IMHO. If it weren’t for the mosquitoes and the rain continuing to threaten, it would have been almost too perfect. But about the time I got back to my car, I got showered with ice pellets. In late June.

Maligne Lake, seriously, utterly gorgeous.
Maligne Lake, seriously, utterly gorgeous.  That’s a historic boathouse on the left.
A view of Maligne Lake from the bridge at its outlet.
A view of Maligne Lake from the bridge at its outlet.

On the way back to Jasper townsite, I saw four bears. One lone male, then a sow with two cubs. Pretty exciting stuff, and by far my best bear photo of the trip.

Mama bear and one of her babies.  The other one was out of sight at that moment, alas.
Mama bear and one of her babies. The other one was out of sight at that moment, alas.  This was taken with the zoom, from the safety of my car, just so you know.

When I got back, I prowled town for a bit, ate supper (better than the night before, thank goodness), bought some candy called naked bear paws (cashews on caramel), and headed for the hostel. Back down the Icefields Parkway tomorrow, the first step in heading home <sigh>.

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 7

I don't know the name of that hanging glacier (if it has one), but I thought it was cool.  I have literally dozens of photos of mountains like this.  Just amazing.
I don’t know the name of that hanging glacier (if it has one), but I thought it was cool. I have literally dozens of photos of mountains like this. Just amazing.

Thirteen days ago, June 18, 2015.

Off to Jasper! By way of the Icefields Parkway, which I’d been thinking of as the big highlight of the trip, and it did not fail me.

First, though, I want to mention a restaurant called Wild Bill’s (Peyto, not Hickok — a local fellow from the early days) in Banff townsite, where I ate the night before. Highly recommended, in an old-fashioned western sort of way. I had three sliders, one each of three different kinds, and a really good salad, and was treated to some boot-stomping music along the way.

Anyway, I was up and out early, checked out of the hostel, and walked to a local McDonalds — in a national park! — for a large hot tea (not even Mickey D’s does a proper unsweet iced tea up here <sigh>) before heading out of town, into enough on and off rain to clean my windshield.

And into a serious surfeit of stupendous mountains. The clouds came and went with the rain, but it was clear enough a good chunk of the time, and the cloud deck high enough when it wasn’t, that I had a good view most of the way. I did run into a bit of road construction just north of Lake Louise, but it wasn’t bad. And, after all, they have the same problem with road construction up there that they do in Yellowstone. A very short season for doing it, that coincides exactly with tourist season. Not much to be done about that.

Who cares about a little road construction when the view's like this?
Who cares about a little road construction when the view’s like this?

But the views were absolutely amazing. Mile after mile after mile of amazing. After a certain point I just sort of went on gorgeousness overload.

I *think* this is Crowfoot Glacier.
I *think* this is Crowfoot Glacier.
And I think this is Bow Glacier.  There was a lodge and a lake partially hidden in those trees.
And I think this is Bow Glacier. There was a lodge and a lake partially hidden in those trees.

So here are some highlights of a day that basically was all highlight:

I took a short but steep walk up to a viewpoint over Peyto Lake (named after the same guy as the restaurant — and pronounced PEE-to, not PAY-to), which was a beautiful strip of aquamarine dropped down in the evergreens. Lots of wildflowers, too.

Peyto Lake from the viewpoint.
Peyto Lake from the viewpoint.
Arctic willow blossoms on the Peyto Lake trail.
Arctic willow blossoms on the Peyto Lake trail.
Wild yellow columbines at a picnic area along the parkway.
Wild yellow columbines at a picnic area along the parkway.

I stopped at another viewpoint just south of Bow Pass (over 2000m/6000 feet) to look back towards the Bow River Valley.

South from Bow Pass.
South from Bow Pass.

And I hiked about half a mile straight uphill to the foot of the Athabaska Glacier (which feeds off the Columbia Icefield, the largest icefield in the Rocky Mountains). It provided a graphic example of why living on a moraine as I do results in a garden full of rocks.

The trail up to Athabaska Glacier.
The trail up to Athabaska Glacier.
Athabaska Glacier.  A lady I spoke with there was disappointed that they don't let people just walk up on the glacier anymore the way they did when she was a kid.
Athabaska Glacier. A lady I spoke with there was disappointed that they don’t let people just walk up on the glacier anymore the way they did when she was a kid.

It was cold up there. I was so glad for my heavy jeans and my insulated jacket — and the hoodie with the hood up underneath, especially when it started raining on me again on the way back down to my car.

Then I drove down, down, down, into into Jasper National Park and a climate zone that felt much warmer than at Banff townsite even though it’s over a hundred miles farther north (since Jasper townsite’s altitude is 3484 feet, and Banff townsite’s is 4800 feet, it makes a certain amount of sense — 100+ miles distance is negligible in comparison). It was also sunnier, which was pleasant.

I stopped at Sunwapta Falls, where three rivers come together to form the Athabaska River, which flows into the Arctic Ocean, which just flabbergasted me at the time. I knew I was far north, but really? The falls are pretty spectacular, too.

Sunwapta Falls.
Sunwapta Falls.

And on to Athabaska Falls. This time of year, with the snowmelt, I was seeing all the waterfalls on my trip at their best. And more wildflowers, too.

The upper part of Athabaska Falls.
The upper part of Athabaska Falls.
Another part of Athabaska Falls.  It was impossible to take a photo of the whole falls at once.
Another part of Athabaska Falls. It was impossible to take a photo of the whole falls at once.
Mertensia at Athabaska Falls.
Mertensia at Athabaska Falls.

Somehow, after I left the parking area at Athabaska Falls, I wound up on a sort of back road (not really another Bow River Parkway, but more like a paved forest service road back home) which wound north and eventually dumped me on the Parkway just south of Jasper townsite.

And so I arrived in Jasper townsite, which really reminded me of Libby. The scenery was different, but the ambiance was very similar. Small and remote (the nearest big city is Edmonton, about 225 miles, compared to Banff’s proximity to Calgary, only 75 miles) and touristy, but in a much more understated way than Banff. Unfortunately, my supper there was the polar opposite of what I’d had in Banff the night before, but even that didn’t dampen my spirits.

The hostel was several miles outside of town, and they assigned me a bed tucked way back in a corner, which was fine by me.

It was an incredible day. I was exhausted, even after just about 120 miles, but wow, was it worth it. And in a couple of days, I was going to do it all over again, in the other direction.  After I explored Jasper.

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 6

A cloud-shrouded Lake Louise.
A cloud-shrouded Lake Louise.

Thirteen days ago, June 17, 2015.

Yesterday got away from me. So we’ll start again with day six today.

Off to Lake Louise. The literature says that it was once counted as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. I can’t say it lives up to that sort of hype, but it was rather spectacular. And about as crowded as Johnston Canyon was yesterday, due mostly to tour busses carrying folks speaking at least a dozen different languages (primarily French, but several other European languages and at least that many Asian ones).

It was pouring rain when I left Banff townsite to drive the thirty-odd miles to the lake, but by the time I got halfway there, to leave the Trans-Canada Highway for the upper half of the Bow River Parkway, it was just barely spitting.

Memorial for WWI internment camp along the Bow River Parkway.  Men in that camp helped build roads and trails in the park.
Memorial for WWI internment camp along the Bow River Parkway. Even unfairly imprisoned (shades of Manzanar, etc., in the U.S.), men in that camp helped build roads and trails in the park.

It was much cooler, though, and today was the first day I really appreciated the fact that I’d brought my insulated jacket. I was also glad I’d taken as many photos of the mountains as I had over the last two days, because the cloud deck was low enough to drape like a shawl over the shoulders of the mountains, and I wouldn’t have nearly as many unimpeded photos as I do if I hadn’t (I uploaded my photos to my laptop that night, to discover I’d taken about five hundred on the trip so far — thank goodness for digital cameras, is all I can say, and you’re getting the cream of the crop).

Lake Louise.
Lake Louise.
These lakeshore memorials to early pioneers in the area made me think of Han Solo, for some odd reason...
These lakeshore memorials to early pioneers in the area made me think of Han Solo, for some odd reason…
Clark's Nutcracker at Lake Louise.
Clark’s Nutcracker at Lake Louise.

So. Lake Louise. One of the most famous lakes in the world, or so I’m given to understand, named after one of Queen Victoria’s daughters, bright turquoise, nestled in a glaciated valley just below the Victoria Glacier, and ringed by mountain peaks. Really beautiful, actually. The hotel at the foot of the lake, also famous, I gather, is almost exactly like the one in Banff. Big and fancy and run by an international hotel chain, so without the kind of character and uniqueness a hotel in a place like this should have.

The big, blocky Chateau Lake Louise.
The big, blocky Chateau Lake Louise.

There’s a nice, paved path around the west side of the lake which I strolled for some distance, hoping for mountain goats on the mountainsides above, but no luck, alas. Perhaps tomorrow on the Icefields Parkway. And, my curiosity satisfied, I head back down to the turnoff for Moraine Lake, which I’ve also heard good things about.

Moraine Lake.
Moraine Lake.

Moraine Lake, is, if anything, more gorgeous than Lake Louise, backed by a whole range of mountains. The outlet of the lake is marked by a huge natural rockpile, with a trail going to the top. By then it had pretty much quit raining altogether, and the clouds were beginning to rise, so I took the short hike up there to goggle at the view, spotting more wildflowers along the way as a bonus.

I think these are some kind of currant blossoms.  Along the rockpile trail at Moraine Lake.
I think these are some kind of currant blossoms. Along the rockpile trail at Moraine Lake.
Arnica along the rockpile trail at Moraine Lake.
Arnica along the rockpile trail at Moraine Lake.
Least chipmunk at the rockpile viewpoint at Moraine Lake.
Least chipmunk at the rockpile viewpoint at Moraine Lake.

One of the exhibit signs said this was where the picture on the back of the Canadian twenty dollar bill was taken, but I took one out of my wallet and apparently they’ve changed the design. Still, the view was well worth immortalizing, so I did.

The view from the rockpile viewpoint at Moraine Lake.
The view from the rockpile viewpoint at Moraine Lake.
Doesn't the water look almost opalescent?  Especially next to that dark green tree?
Doesn’t the water look almost opalescent? Especially next to that dark green tree?

On my way back to Banff townsite, I stopped in the village of Lake Louise (a couple of miles from the lake itself), and went in their visitor center. Unlike the ones for Kootenay National Park (actually in Radium Hot Springs), which only had a tiny exhibit section, and Banff townsite, which was just a bunch of information desks (although, to be honest, with the Whyte Museum and the Cave and Basin site it would have been redundant to do more), the Lake Louise visitor center had a great set of exhibits on the geology of the area.

And so back down the upper section of the Bow River Parkway, where I saw a wild canine! It was either a very large, very healthy coyote, or a lone wolf.  Or maybe, from the tail, even a huge fox. From the distance at which I saw it, it was hard to tell (this photo has been cropped and enlarged to a faretheewell).

Lone wolf?  Really big coyote?
Lone wolf? Really big coyote? Enormous fox?

And then, further down the road, another bear! My second one of the trip.

Bear!
Bear!

Add to that the loads of Columbian ground squirrels and least chipmunks (the latter of which were all over the place at Moraine Lake), and the ravens and magpies and Clark’s nutcrackers (the latter of which were all over the place at Lake Louise), and I’ve seen lots of critters so far.

Once back in Banff townsite, I filled Kestrel’s gas tank against the drive to Jasper tomorrow, which I was seriously looking forward to. Especially if the weather improved.

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 5

I love aspens.
I love aspens.  These were at Lake Minnewanka.

Twelve days ago, June 16, 2015.

This morning I visited Cave and Basin National Historic Site, on the outskirts of Banff townsite. It contains the hot spring that first brought the area to the country’s attention and thus ended up being Canada’s first national park in 1885. Something they’re very proud of and make a bigger deal of than we do with Yellowstone (or some misguided folk, Yosemite), believe it or not. The first preserve was just a big spring inside a cave, discovered by the Stoney Indians, then rediscovered by some prospectors, who brought it to the attention of the railroads. It was developed into something of a resort, as have most of the other hot springs in these national parks.

They let you go into the cave, via a tunnel that was apparently blasted through the rock (the only entrance originally was in the top of the cave, and the only way in down via rope — the current entrance is a simple stroll). The basin, basically a pool, is still in fairly pristine condition, too, but the facilities built back in the early days for the tourists have all been closed down and paved over.

Display at Cave and Basin National Historic Site.
Display at Cave and Basin National Historic Site.
Another display.  I find it fascinating that it takes almost twice as many words to say something in French as it does English.
Another display. I find it fascinating that it takes almost twice as many words to say something in French as it does English.
The cave.
The cave.
The original entrance, looking almost straight up.
The original entrance, looking almost straight up.

The main exhibits were about the Canadian national park system, with a big multimedia program which was well worth watching. I do find it amusing that it was hot water that started both the U.S. and Canadian national park systems. I didn’t know that the Canadian national park service (whose members are called wardens, not rangers) predates ours, though. The Canadians have the first national park service in the world. We just used the Army to patrol our parks until we finally got our act together and created a park service.

Next, I made the brief drive out to Lake Minnewanka, which, like Jackson Lake in the Tetons, is not an entirely natural lake, having been dammed at some point in its past. But it was still a pretty drive, and I saw my first bighorn sheep of the trip alongside the road here, which was very cool. It was also a good place for a picnic lunch.

Lake Minnewanka.
Lake Minnewanka.
Lake Minnewanka dam with mountains rising behind it.
Lake Minnewanka dam with mountains rising behind it.
A rather scruffy-looking male bighorn sheep, who was in the process of shedding his winter coat.
A rather scruffy-looking male bighorn sheep, who was in the process of shedding his winter coat.

Then I headed back up to Johnston Canyon, where I did find a parking space this time, and I saw more bighorn sheep along the Bow River Parkway on the way there.

Along the Bow River Parkway.
Along the Bow River Parkway.
Another small herd of bighorn sheep.
Another small herd of bighorn sheep.

Johnston Canyon is, like I said before, another one of those narrow slot canyons, except that the trail for this one goes through the canyon itself, rather than along the rim. The trail is cantilevered out over the river for several stretches, which makes for some good views, and about half a mile in, there’s a waterfall. You can see it from the main trail, but there’s a tunnel, the far end of which is so close to the waterfall itself that you’re standing in the mist.

The river flowing out of Johnston Canyon.
The river flowing out of Johnston Canyon.
Johnston Canyon.
Johnston Canyon.
A stretch of cantilevered walkway at Johnston Canyon.
A stretch of cantilevered walkway at Johnston Canyon.
The waterfall in Johnston Canyon.  I don't know if it's got a name.
The waterfall in Johnston Canyon. I don’t know if it’s got a name.

The whole thing kept making me think of the Mist Trail in Yosemite, only not nearly so strenuous. Not less crowded, alas — people were even pushing strollers up that trail, which sort of boggled my mind. It was a spectacular trail, though.

My last jaunt of the day was back in Banff townsite: the Whyte Museum, where I caught a tour of two of Banff’s earliest houses, both log cabins, one owned by the people who started the museum, and the other owned by some early pioneers here. The museum itself was about the history and culture of the Banff area, and well worth the time I spent there.

It was a full day, and a good one. One more full day in Banff, then off to Jasper on Thursday.

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 4

Along the Bow River Parkway, Banff National Park.
Along the Bow River Parkway, Banff National Park.

Twelve days ago, June 15, 2015.

From Radium Hot Springs to Banff, aka, why is there a city in the middle of a national park?

Canadians have a much different idea as to what’s appropriate in a national park than we USAians do. I knew that, in theory, before I made this trip. But there’s something just really odd about having what I think of as a gateway community (and a bloody big one) inside the national park as opposed to just outside its border. Let alone what looks like their equivalent of an Interstate highway right through the park.

But I get ahead of myself. Twelve days ago today I drove back up into Kootenay National Park, and what should I see right after I emerged from the red rock canyon? A bear! My first one of the trip, but not my last. I don’t have a good picture of him, alas — I’d already passed him before I could get stopped, and there was another vehicle behind me in the pullout so I couldn’t back up, so the two photos of him I do have were taken through the back window of my car (no way was I getting out of my car to get a better look — I pride myself on not being a touron, as the Yellowstone folks sometimes refer to people who seem to be aiming to win the Darwin award).

A bear!
A bear!

I drove on, chortling about seeing a bear, up the route I’d taken yesterday and beyond, past Marble Canyon and up to the Continental Divide, which is also the border between Kootenay and Banff National Parks. I’m afraid my photo of the sign proclaiming this got sun-glared, but here it is, anyway.

The Continental Divide and the boundary between both Kootenay and Banff National Parks and the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.
The Continental Divide and the boundary between both Kootenay and Banff National Parks and the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.
They mean that about the wild roses, too, especially in Jasper NP.  Geographically, I visited Alberta about the way I visit Wyoming when I go to Yellowstone.
They mean that about the wild roses, too, especially in Jasper NP. Geographically, I visited Alberta about the way I visit Wyoming when I go to Yellowstone.

It’s not far from the Divide to the junction with the Trans-Canada Highway (the aformentioned Interstate-alike), a four-lane behemoth of a road that bisects Banff NP. Fortunately, there’s an alternative, the Bow Valley Parkway, which is a winding two-lane that runs from just north of Banff the town to Lake Louise. I joined it about halfway between, just below the imposing and appropriately-named Castle Mountain (although apparently after WWII, it was renamed Eisenhower Mountain, of all things — that didn’t last long).

Castle Mountain.
Castle Mountain, at the junction with the Trans-Canada Highway, hence the light poles.

The Bow Valley Parkway is much more traditionally national parkish. Lots of pullouts with informative signs, trailheads, and so forth, and very peaceful, with one exception. I had thought to stop at Johnston Canyon, which was the second of those narrow, deep slot canyons, this one with a trail that goes along the bottom, but the parking area for the trailhead was so full that I couldn’t find a place to park. So I told myself I’d come back the next day, and kept going south to Banff the town.

Along the Bow River Parkway.
Along the Bow River Parkway.
One of the ubiquitous Columbian Ground Squirrels, which actually remind me more of prairie dogs than ground squirrels.
One of the ubiquitous Columbian Ground Squirrels, which actually remind me more of prairie dogs than ground squirrels.

Banff the town is beautifully situated, surrounded by some really oddly-shaped mountains (I have to say that I’ve never really seen mountains shaped like the Canadian Rockies anywhere else), and where the Canadian national parks began with a hot spring (more on that tomorrow). It’s also incredibly busy and touristy, but I really didn’t mind. Especially since my hostel, right on the Bow River (pronounced like bow and arrow, not bow or curtsey), was within walking distance of practically everything. The hostel was in a huge old building that used to be a hospital, but it was clean and pleasant and if it felt a bit institutional, that was okay, too.

The bridge across the Bow River in the town of Banff.
The bridge across the Bow River in the town of Banff.

After lunch in a restaurant (in a mall! in a national park!), I went exploring. Found the Bow River Falls, which were gorgeous.

Downstream from the Bow River Falls.  This looks so much like Yosemite Valley to me.
Downstream from the Bow River Falls. This looks so much like Yosemite Valley to me.
Bow River Falls.
Bow River Falls.

Visited the Cascade Gardens behind the big stone Banff park admin building, which were another anomaly, albeit an enjoyable one, from my point of view.

A view from the Cascade Gardens.
A view from the Cascade Gardens.
Lily of the valley blooming in Cascade Gardens.  Everything was blooming about a month later than at home, and they were just putting out bedding plants for the summer.
Lily of the valley blooming in Cascade Gardens. Everything was blooming about a month later than at home, and they were just putting out bedding plants for the summer.
Cascade Gardens and the Banff admin building.
Cascade Gardens and the Banff admin building.

Wandered through the public rooms of the Banff Fairmont Chateau Hotel, which was much less iconic looking on the inside than it was on the outside, and drove up to the foot of the gondola, decided that it was not for me (I don’t do manmade heights, and this one made the one at the Tetons that scared me half to death last summer look like a quick lift to the top of the bunny slope), and ended up parked in the shade in their parking lot writing in my journal and enjoying the view.

The Banff Fairmont Chateau Hotel.
The Banff Fairmont Chateau Hotel.
A view from the patio of the Banff Fairmont Chateau Hotel.
A view from the patio of the Banff Fairmont Chateau Hotel.

I’d meant to visit at least two of the museums this afternoon, but it was Sunday and they were closed. So I put them on my agenda for tomorrow.

I like Banff the town. It’s just not my idea of what should belong in a national park, is all.

A magpie perched on a ledge at the hostel.
A magpie perched on a ledge at the hostel.

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 3, Kootenay National Park

If that's not a glaciated saddle, well...
If that’s not a glaciated saddle, well…

Twelve days ago, June 14, 2015.

In which I run into an old friend, sort of. Or have one flow by me, at any rate.

My first order of the day was to go explore Kootenay National Park, one of the two parks of the contiguous four Canadian Rockies parks on the BC side of the Continental Divide.  So I went through the entrance gate, and paid for an annual pass (which came out to $50-something American), because it was more economical and convenient than buying eight days’ worth of daily passes, and there was no in between alternative. Not that I’m complaining. An American annual national parks pass costs $80, and I buy one of those every year because it always ends up paying for itself.

The road into the park leads up through a red rock canyon that had apparently been blasted out by navvies with dynamite back in the day, past the hot springs (which have been developed into swimming pools, etc., and aren’t in their natural state like the ones in Yellowstone), and up over a pass into the valley of the Kootenay River.

Looking north from Kootenay Pass.
Looking north from Kootenay Pass.
Looking south from the same vantage point.
Looking south from the same vantage point.
Kootenay River, on its way to Libby, Montana.  The turquoise is due to the glacial flour in the water.  All the water here is varying shades of opaque because of it.
Kootenay River, on its way to Libby, Montana. The turquoise is due to the glacial flour in the water. All the water here is varying shades of opaque because of it.
Looking north along the highway.
Looking north along the highway.

I used to live beside that Kootenay River when I lived in Montana. It flowed right through Libby, the town I lived in briefly. It was rather astonishing to look at a map that evening and discover that the Kootenay (named after a local Indian tribe) starts in Canada, drops briefly down into the U.S. by Libby, then heads back up to Canada where it eventually flows into the Columbia, which flows back into the U.S. and out into the Pacific Ocean. Rivers are very convoluted in this part of the world. Or maybe it’s just the national boundaries that make it seem that way.

I drove about an hour up into the park, through the valley lined with sheer mountains on either side. I saw a couple of deer, but that was it so far as wildlife was concerned unless you count the many, many chipmunks hanging around wherever I happened to stop the car. I kind of wonder if that’s the case because Kootenay is called the “highway” park, since the reason it exists in the first place is due to the highway, which the federal government built in return for the donation of the land to create the park. It’s a through road that connects southern BC with the Trans-Canada Highway — the speed limit is 90 kph (55 mph), and most drivers seem to treat it as a two-lane freeway rather than the kind of national park road I’m used to. I was passed frequently on the straightaways by people going considerably over 90 kph.

My destination that day was Marble Canyon, which was the first of several long, narrow slot canyons I saw on this trip. It’s not really marble, but dolomite (which I’d always thought was a kind of limestone, but the signs seemed to distinguish between it and limestone, so maybe not), and it’s pretty impressive, a stream at least a hundred feet below thundering and echoing off the vertical, sheer walls close enough together that if I was nuts I could probably leap to the other side.

Tokumm Creek, just leaving Marble Canyon.
Tokumm Creek, just leaving Marble Canyon.
Looking down into Marble Canyon from one of several bridges.
Looking down into Marble Canyon from one of several bridges.
The waterfall at the head of Marble Canyon.
The waterfall at the head of Marble Canyon.

Wildflowers everywhere, too, which surprised me as I thought I might be a bit too early in the season this far north. I suspect their abundance had something to do with fires that swept through this part of the park a few years ago, opening the forest and allowing plenty of sunlight.

A large clump of bunchberry, a member of the dogwood genus.
A large clump of bunchberry, a member of the dogwood genus.
Twinflowers.  I don't think I'd ever seen these before.
Twinflowers. I don’t think I’d ever seen these before.
White mountain avens, another flower new to me.
White mountain avens, another flower new to me.
The first of literally acres of Indian paintbrush that I saw on this trip.
The first of literally acres of Indian paintbrush that I saw on this trip.

On my way back, I stopped at the only commercial development inside the park, thinking I’d eat lunch at the little restaurant, but it was not quite ready for customers yet, so I picnicked, then drove back on down to Radium Hot Springs, where I stopped to photograph the red rock canyon, then crossed town to reach the north-flowing Columbia River and ponder just how long it would take for the water passing in front of me to end up in the ocean.

Red rock canyon (not nearly as red in the photo as in real life) just inside Kootenay National Park.
Red rock canyon (not nearly as red in the photo as in real life) just inside Kootenay National Park.
The north-flowing Columbia River, already pretty good-sized.
The north-flowing Columbia River, already pretty good-sized.

All in all, a very good day.

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 2

Self-evident.

 Twelve days ago, Saturday, June 13, 2015.

Into another country. Which was just different enough to remind me that I was in a different country, which was cool.

It was a long day, although less than 300 miles or 482 km. The kilometer thing was one of those things that was just enough different to keep me on my toes. It took me a little while to figure out that I could use Kestrel’s speedometer (which has km in red on the inside of the little wheel, and miles in white on the outside) to figure out mileage as well as speed, and I was inordinately pleased with myself when I did.

Along the road to the Canadian border.
Along the road to the Canadian border.

From Colville to the Canadian border just north of Metaline Falls is a stretch of road that felt more and more remote the farther I went. I climbed up out of one river valley and down into another, past several tiny hamlets, and at last I reached a very tidy-looking customs station in the middle of the woods, with a very pleasant white male customs agent. Among other things, he asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a writer, he asked of what, I told him, he asked more questions, and the upshot was I ended up giving him one of my business cards so he could look me up online and see for himself. He also said, well, maybe you’ll set a book at Banff, and I said, hey, I went to Yellowstone and ended up with a trilogy, so it’s not that farfetched. He laughed and told me to be sure and include the handsome customs agent. I told him I would.

I suspect those customs stations out in the middle of nowhere get pretty boring. That one isn’t even open 24 hours a day.

Canadian customs station.  My father used to pronounce that kind of stop sign as, "stop, already!"
Canadian customs station. My father used to pronounce that kind of stop sign as, “stop, already!”

Once I crossed the border and turned east on Hwy. 3, I started a serious climb up to Kootenay Pass, almost 6000 feet. Almost to the treeline.

My first view of the Rockies, from Kootenay Pass.
My first view of the Rockies, from Kootenay Pass.

Then down to another river valley and the farming town of Creston, where I found an ATM for cash and I bought my first gas in litres, which was interesting. I’d made a calculation before I left home, taking into account that a litre is a bit more than a quart and the favorable exchange rate, and had come up with multiplying the litre price by 3.2 so that I’d have a rough idea what I was actually paying. Gas is a bit more expensive in Canada than in the U.S., but it wasn’t as bad as I’d been thinking it would be.

From Creston, and lunch, where I also discovered that I couldn’t get unsweet iced tea (something that proved fairly consistent wherever I went — I drank a lot of hot tea instead and added my own lemon), I turned north and east towards the city of Cranbrook.

I’d read about a living history museum near Cranbrook called Fort Steele, which made an excellent afternoon stop. It’s sort of a cross between Greenfield Village at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, Michigan, and Fort Nisqually just down the road from where I live. It’s a whole village of 19th century buildings that have been brought here from all over the region, with living history demonstrations and the whole nine yards. Not a whole lot was going on at the time I was there (part of the issue was that I’d crossed into the Mountain Time Zone without realizing it, and it was half an hour from closing when I showed up), but it was still well worthwhile, learning about the Hudsons Bay Company and the Mounties and so forth.

The Mounties headquarters at Fort Steele.
The Mounties headquarters at Fort Steele.
The sign says, "Painless Dentistry."  Somehow, I don't think so.
The sign says, “Painless Dentistry.” Somehow, I don’t think so.
Main Street, Fort Steele.
Main Street, Fort Steele.

But I had another couple hours’ drive to get to Radium Hot Springs, a town on the outskirts of Kootenay National Park where I planned to spend the next couple of nights, and I’d just realized the time change (there’d been no sign, anywhere, to tell me), so it’s a good thing it was a straight shot north, up the valley past Columbia Lake, which is the headwaters of the Columbia River (which flows north at this point, which is just wrong). A wall of mountains on my left, another on my right, in between a string of lakes and me on the road. Just beautiful.

The headwaters of the Columbia River.
The headwaters of the Columbia River.

The hostel was on a hill above town just outside the park entrance, and had a lovely garden and a very friendly dog to boot. A good place to light while I explored my first Canadian national park (at least since I was a kid).

The view from the hostel deck, Radium Hot Springs, BC.
The view from the hostel deck, Radium Hot Springs, BC.

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 1

Wild rose at the logging historical exhibit.
Wild rose at the logging historical exhibit west of Sherman Pass.

Twelve days ago, Friday, June 12, 2015

I think it was about three months ago when it was pointed out to me that I’m no farther from the Canadian Rockies than I am from

Yellowstone (about a hundred miles closer, in fact) and I thought, you know, I’ve been to Yellowstone how many times in the 22 years since I moved to western Washington — why have the only trips I’ve made to Canada in that time been a couple of weekends via ferry to Victoria?

So I renewed my passport and started making plans for the trip as soon as the exhibit was finished. That this happened to coincide with the dates the U.S. Open golf tournament was held less than
fifteen miles from my house was just a bonus (I am told the traffic that week was pretty overwhelming).

Anyway. As is normal on any first day of a vacation like this, I spent most of it on the road. Northeast on SR 18, where I began my day with a hawk stooping at prey right beside the road as I drove by, then east on I-90, of course, to the town of Cle Elum, just over Snoqualmie Pass, where I picked up a back road for a few miles to U.S. 97, which stretches north to the Canadian border, and,
incidentally, allowed me to bypass driving up I-5 through the entire
Puget Sound conurbation, plus avoid one of the busiest border crossings between here and Detroit.

I did not, however, go straight up U.S. 97 to the border. I turned east at the little town of Tonasket, in the heart of the Okanogan country, to explore the northeastern part of Washington before I headed on. I’d always been curious about this area, but it was just a bit farther than I’d want to go for an overnight.

I don’t know if anyone familiar with eastern Washington who’s reading this is as surprised as I was to discover how mountainous the northeast corner of the state actually is. I mean, south of here it’s pretty much flat and seriously monotonous all the way from
Ellensburg to Spokane. But SR 20 climbs quickly up from the
Okanogan River valley and enters national forest land. I passed through the “town” (if there were half a dozen buildings, I’d be shocked) of Wauconda, crossed a 4500 foot pass, dropped down to the San Poil River valley at the town of Republic (which could be the twin of Libby, Montana, where I lived briefly a long time ago), then climbed steeply to Sherman Pass, elevation 5500 feet.

The Sherman Pass viewpoint looks out over one of those curvature-of-the-earth views, over mountains that had obviously been burned in the not-too-distant past. An exhibit board said that the fire had taken place in 1988, the same year as the Yellowstone fires, and the landscape looked similar to the park.

View of burned mountains from the top of Sherman Pass.
View of burned mountains from the top of Sherman Pass.

East of Sherman Pass were a couple of historic landmarks. The first one was the site of a CCC camp in the 1930s, with some fun
sculpture:

Metal boot sculpture at the CCC historical marker.
Metal boot sculpture at the CCC historical marker.
Metal sculpture of a CCC worker at the CCC historical marker.
Metal sculpture of a CCC worker at the CCC historical marker.

The second one was apparently about logging, but with no sign, it was kind of hard to tell. On the other hand, this is where I saw the first of many, many wild roses in bloom on this trip (photo at top).

I crossed the Columbia River, actually Lake Roosevelt above the Grand Coulee Dam, at the town of Kettle Falls, the namesake of which is now buried under the reservoir.

The Columbia River, from a viewpoint just west of Kettle Falls.
The Columbia River, from a viewpoint just west of Kettle Falls.

But it had an interesting little historical museum where I took a break from the road.

The Kettle Falls Historical Society Museum.
The Kettle Falls Historical Society Museum.

And then I drove the last few miles to the county seat of Colville (pronounced CALL-ville, not COAL-ville), where I spent my first night on the road!