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.
Otherwise known as Mahonia aquifolium. Playing with the zoom on my new camera this afternoon, out at the Dogwood Scenic Overlook out by Eatonville, where on a clear day you can see Mt. Rainier. Alas that this was not a clear day. But this shot pleased me very much, as I really like the sharpness of the flowers compared to the out-of-focussedness of the background.
I really can’t wait to actually take this camera somewhere, but it probably won’t happen until I go to the Monroe quilt show a week from Friday.
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!
My friend Loralee and I went to Mt. Rainier for a wildflower jaunt on Wednesday. This just goes to prove that I have an unending jones for wildflowers, because I’d just seen tons of them on my trip to the Canadian Rockies.
It was hot in the lowlands, our 14th consecutive day above 80 — we tied a record yesterday with another one — so the 70s predicted for Sunrise at 6300 feet (about 1920 meters) on the east side of the Mountain sounded wonderful. (it’s been remedied by the long overdue return of our onshore flow, the wind off the ocean that we often refer to here as our natural air conditioning — so far, today’s high’s been about 70F (about 21C)).
We stopped to pick up what I always think of as an insta-picnic at Subway on our way up, and got to Sunrise around noon. We had a lovely picnic, then I went for my usual jaunt around back behind Sunrise to Shadow Lake while Loralee strolled closer by.
If I hadn’t known for a fact that it was July 8th, I’d have sworn it was the middle of August. There’s usually at least some snow on the ground near or on the trail this early in the season, the pasqueflowers aren’t quite over, and there’s glacier lilies everywhere.
On this July 8th, there was no snow whatsoever except way up on the Mountain, the phlox that normally blooms in late July was all but finished (I found maybe two clumps that hadn’t gone to seed), the lupines were past their prime, and there were August asters everywhere.
It was still gorgeous, as usual, but still.
Here’s some of what I saw today:
All in all, given the lack of winter and a so-far unreasonably hot spring and summer, not bad.
But, as I said to Loralee on our way down the mountain, “Harebells! In early July!”
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
And more wildflowers, of course.
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.
And another flower along the Trans-Canada Highway which I’d never seen before. Gorgeous red lilies.
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 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.
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!
This time closer to home. It is that time of year again, after all.
These are all from along the Nathan Chapman trail in Puyallup, Washington, except for the first one, which is from the rainforest trail at the Carbon River entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park.
The next two photos are really blurry, but I’m including them for the sake of completeness. My apologies.
And, no, this isn’t a wildflower, but I’m including it, anyway.