I have just returned from my annual trip to Tyler, Texas, to visit my almost 92-year-old mother, and, this time, to make a short (three-day) jaunt with my sister, who lives down there, too. We planned this several months ago, before all of the problems with my condo made me decide to sell it and take another Long Trip, and the plane tickets were already bought, so I didn’t try to cancel it.
Anyway, Mother is getting more and more fragile. I won’t get into her health issues here except to say how grateful I am that she’s still alive for me to go visit. I stayed with my sister Ann, and that’s only one reason I’m grateful she’s down there nearby for Mother.
Anyway, I’d been wanting to go to Austin and San Antonio and the Hill Country for a long time, and since this time I had to rent a car, anyway, I decided to go, and to invite Ann to go along with me. After a couple of days visiting with my mother, we headed south to San Antonio.
One of the nice things about Tyler is that to go any direction but due east or west, you pretty much have to get off the Interstate. The drive to San Antonio, aside from missing one turn, not realizing we had until we’d gone too far to turn back, and having to reroute ourselves, was fun. Wide open spaces, small towns, and wildflowers scattered all over the roadsides.
We arrived in San Antonio in the late afternoon, and found a hotel within walking distance of the River Walk and the Alamo, and went to eat supper along the River Walk. The River Walk reminded us both a bit of certain parts of Disneyland, but it was still fun (and about 10 degrees cooler than up on the street), and we ate fancy pizza right next to the water.
The next morning, it was raining just a bit. We strolled over to the Alamo under Ann’s umbrellas (she had two).
I liked the Alamo. It was very interesting historically (they did a terrific job with the museum exhibit part of the thing), and the gardens were lovely. The rain was a minor nuisance, but not a big deal. Yes, the Alamo is basically a shrine to Texas, but I knew that going in, and, well, I eat history up with a spoon, so I had no problem with it.
On our way back to the hotel to pack up and check out, we saw a whole bunch of carriages decorated as if for a wedding. Turns out we’d arrived the night before San Antonio’s annual Fiesta began. According to one of the carriage drivers, Fiesta attracts more people every year than New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, and was started when a bunch of ladies got drunk and flung flowers at each other 🙂
In the afternoon, we drove up to the Hill Country, which is sort of legendary for its spring wildflowers. It did not disappoint. After lunch in Fredericksburg, we took some back roads out through the rolling countryside (calling it hilly would have been stretching things, IMHO), and saw whole fields of flowers. Bluebonnets, of course, but also winecups and evening primroses and all sorts of things. Just gorgeous.
We wound up spending the night in the town of San Marcos, just south of Austin, and came in for a rude surprise when we turned on the Weather Channel. A huge storm was headed our way. You might have seen the recent news reports about flooding in Texas? Well, we weren’t in Houston, where it got really bad, but the rest of it? We were right where it was about to hit.
So we decided to cut our trip short by one day and go back to Tyler the next morning.
People think it rains a lot here in western Washington, and we do get a fair amount. But it’s a soft rain. Texas rain is like driving through a bleeding waterfall. I’m not overly fond of thunder and lightning, either. At least we didn’t have any tornado warnings. But we made it back, and my only disappointment was that I didn’t get to go to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. Maybe next time, if there is a next time.
Once back in Tyler, the weather cleared up (bad weather seems to go around Tyler a lot of the time, which is really weird), and until I left several days later (having planned the trip with the jaunt in the middle so Mother could rest up while we were gone), I not only spent as much time as I could with my mother, but I got to stroll around a nature trail just down the street from my sister’s house, where there were also lots of wildflowers.
The last day before I left, Mother and I drove out to a place called Love’s Lookout, about fifteen miles south of Tyler, where there’s a nice little bench with a beautiful view, and we sat and talked for a while. It’s kind of our place, and I’m glad she was still able to go out there with me.
And that was my visit to Tyler this year. Every year now I wonder if this will be my last visit with my mother. I hope not.
Waughop Lake is part of Fort Steilacoom Park in Lakewood, Washington. It used to be a farm for the mental hospital across the road, where the patients doing farm work was considered therapy back in the old days. Nowadays it’s a city park, with soccer fields and a bark park (as my sister calls off-leash areas) and trails. And an old cemetery managed by a wonderful group called Grave Concerns.
Waughop Lake is not a Native American name, even though it sounds like it ought to be, at least to me. It’s named after a former superintendent of the mental hospital.
Anyway, it was a lovely spring day, and my new camera lets me take much better photos than my old one. So here’s some of what I saw.
I love my new camera. And the fact that we’re edging towards spring. This glory of the snow blossom is in my front flower bed, and I took the photo from a distance of about three inches, which is about two feet closer than I could have taken it with my old camera.
The maple key to the right of the flower is about two inches long.
It is the first of February, and astronomical spring is six weeks away. However, it is starting to look like spring at my house, and here’s the proof.
First, indoors, on my kitchen windowsill. My local grocery store sells pots of sprouting forced bulbs this time of year, and they’re so inexpensive I can’t resist. I’ll find a corner of ground to tuck them into once it warms up a bit.
And outside. Please forgive the weeds. I still haven’t cleaned up the garden yet. Soon.
Oh, and something unrelated to plants, but definitely related to the weather: yet another needlework experiment. Someone posted on Facebook back in early January how they were going to make an afghan by crocheting one row every day. The color would be determined by the day’s high temperature. So I thought I would do it, too. Anyway, here’s the yarn:
And here’s the afghan at the end of the first month:
It won’t be officially astronomical autumn until the 22nd, or unofficially autumn until after Labor Day weekend, but still. It’s been feeling like autumn all week, cool and showery (and we had a very autumn-like windstorm on Saturday).
You can also tell because the hardy cyclamen are blooming beside my front door (please excuse the weeds).
So today when I went for my walk along the Nathan Chapman trail, I decided to take my camera and see what I could see.
Here’s a shot of the beginning of the trail.
Here’s some blackberry foliage already beginning to turn color.
I don’t know what kind of berries these are. Currants, perhaps? The foliage does not say pyracantha or serviceberry to me.
The photo below is part of the result of our very hot, dry summer this year. Things are starting to green back up now that we’ve had some rain, but some things won’t be back till next year now.
The vine maple will be flame-colored in a few weeks, but for now it’s still green.
There are even a few flowers left.
I found some blackberries, too, but the only ones that hadn’t been picked and eaten were up high enough to be at an awkward angle for photographing, so I’m not going to inflict my blurry efforts on you.
No Mountain today, either. Mt. Rainier is visible from where I took the picture below when the sky is clear. It should be out when my friend L and I go to Sunrise on Saturday!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
I stopped at another viewpoint just south of Bow Pass (over 2000m/6000 feet) to look back towards the Bow River Valley.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
After lunch in a restaurant (in a mall! in a national park!), I went exploring. Found the Bow River Falls, which were gorgeous.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
But it had an interesting little historical museum where I took a break from the road.
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!