August 31, 2017

Glacier National Park

by Rosemary

Glacier National Park, in northwestern Montana, was carved by the movement of glaciers over thousands of years. Much of the main road (called Going to the Sun) winds tightly around the mountains, with a sheer rock face on one side, and a perilous drop on the other. Around every bend is another beautiful scene. Mountains, valleys, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, flowers, wildlife ‑‑ this place has it all.

These pictures are just a tiny sample of what we saw in two days driving and hiking in the park.

No, we didn't climb over the rail, and yes, we did carry bear spray.

The water in those streams is crystal clear.

We encountered this group of bighorn sheep quite unexpectedly at a campsite by one of the lakes. They like to sneak in and lick the insides of the firepits; apparently the charcoal is good for their digestion.

We stayed in the town of Kalispell, about 30 miles from the park entrance. It was the height of huckleberry season, and everywhere we went we saw signs urging us to indulge in "hucks". The perfect ending to a long, amazing day in the park was to stop at Huckleberry Haven, where we had a piece of huckleberry pie topped with huckleberry ice cream.

August 27, 2017

Banff and Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

by Steve W

Upon leaving Vancouver and British Columbia, we drove east to Alberta and Banff National Park, located in the Canadian Rockies. I had never been to the Rocky Mountains, and I was constantly amazed at how beautiful they are. Everywhere we looked, there were peaks that defy description, so I will let these photos give you an idea of their grandeur. As we were staying in Canmore, on the east side of the park, we drove the Trans Canada Highway through the park before our visit "officially" began.

Due to wildfires in the area, there was usually a haze of smoke everywhere we went, which prevented clear photos of the mountains, but a close look at these pictures should give you a good idea of what we experienced. Even though it was the end of July, there was still snow on the upper peaks.

As we drove into the park, we noticed that some freeway overpasses were covered in vegetation, to provide a wildlife corridor from one side of the highway to the other.

Note the vegetation on the overpass.
On our first full day, we decided to go to Lake Louise, on the west side of the park. At the official entrance to the national park, we stopped to obtain a pass needed to park our car anywhere within its boundaries. To our delight, the ranger told us that it was Canada's 150th anniversary of confederation, and that all park passes were free and good until the end of 2017. We wished him a Happy Anniversary and proceeded on our way.

Due to its popularity, and limited space within the town of Lake Louise and near the lake itself, all the parking lots were full. Instead, the Interior Dept. set up a free shuttle service about two miles away from the town, where we parked, grabbed our backpack with food and water, and hopped on a school bus for a 15 minute ride to within about a quarter mile of the lake itself. The source of the water in the lake is runoff from the nearby glaciers, and the "rock flour" runoff from the glaciers is what causes the water to be so blue. It has to be seen in person to be believed, but these photos will offer a sample.

Snow on the mountains behind Lake Louise
The bluest water I have ever seen
At one end of the lake is the Chateau Lake Louise, a luxury resort pictured above in a photo taken from the Fairview Lookout, a 1.5 mile hike from the resort. It was a steep climb, but we made it! There were people canoeing on the lake. Everything was so beautiful that we didn't mind the crowds of tourists gathered around the edges.

On the second day, we drove the Bow Valley Parkway, a wilderness corridor with a low speed limit. Note that the sign is in English and French, as Canada is officially bilingual.

There were numerous reports of bear activity in the area, so we bought the bear spray that was highly recommended by all the local authorities. Luckily, we did not need it, as we did not see any bears. We did, however, see a herd of bighorn sheep that wandered down to the road for a snack, drawing a crowd of people. Some of the people tried to get too close to the sheep, which all the signs warned against, but the tourists didn't care. Fortunately, no one - sheep or human - got hurt.

In order to thin out some of the trees and vegetation and to stimulate plant growth by getting the nutrients back into the soil, there are sometimes prescribed burns of sections of the park. Here is a photo of a section of a prescribed burn from 1993 where vegetation had been rejuvenated.

Because of the numerous wildfires in the region, there was a complete ban on fires of any kind.

As we continued to drive, we saw more amazing views and some less threatening creatures.

Castle Mountain

What are you looking at?
Later that day, we went into the town of Banff, which was lined with hotels, shops and restaurants catering to the many tourists that were there. At the edge of town was the headquarters of the Parks Dept., with lovely gardens to stroll through. To get there, we had to cross the Bow River, which winds from Lake Louise through the park to the town of Banff and beyond.

Parks Dept headquarters

A view back into the main street of Banff

The Bow River as it passes through town
That night we ate in Canmore, where we saw a double-decker food truck, with a dining room on the second level.

We have seating on the upper level.  Do you have a reservation?
And, as they take the policy of being bilingual seriously, we saw this at breakfast on the day we left.

Leaving Banff to head back to the US, we passed the Continental Divide (which we did several more times on our subsequent travels) and drove though some areas where we could actually see some flames and very heavy smoke from the wildfires, to the point that our visibility was severely hampered.

Which way do I go?

These motorcyclists are not that far in front of us and still hard to see in all the smoke.
All in all, I was awestruck by the beauty of the landscape and the majesty of the mountains and can't wait to go back again. And we look forward to using our Canadian park pass as we travel further east across the US and Canada.

August 20, 2017

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

by Steve and Rosemary

After leaving Tacoma, we headed north to Vancouver. We drove through Peace Arch Park, a place where travelers can straddle the border and enjoy a moment away from the long lines of cars going north and south.

Crossing an imaginary line drawn at an arbitrary point, nothing seems very different, yet there are subtle changes. Colors become colours, distances are measured in kilometers instead of miles, everything that should be in Spanish is in French, and eighty cents have the buying power of a dollar.

Here we sometimes came across fun connections between one place and the other. On the left is a print photographed in the Tacoma Art Museum: "Memory" by Susan Point and Kelly Cannell. On the right is one of the designs derived from their work, on a sewer cover photographed in Vancouver.

Vancouver is one of the great cities of North America, and it includes everything we expect from a major metropolis, both good and bad. It has heavy traffic, crowded sidewalks, noise, dirt, homelessness, and high prices. It also has plenty of history, a wealth of cultural resources, distinct neighborhoods, professional and educational opportunities, great restaurants, and a stunning skyline.

On our first day, we walked along the shore of Burrard Inlet, the waterway that separates Vancouver from North Vancouver. The views are beautiful from every angle, as seen in these photos.

This is where the cruise ships arrive and depart, so the area is always full of passengers and other tourists (like us). While we were there, a Disney cruise ship was getting touched up, with a little help from a couple of ducks.

Are Donald and his nephew really any help to these guys?
We were staying in a high rise condo that was virtually all glass. Here is a photo of sunrise from our window.

We were surrounded by tall glass towers, including a controversial Trump Tower next door.

Overcompensating for some other shortcomings?
On our first full day, we went to Stanley Park, a large park with bike paths, tremendous views and an exhibit of Native Canadian totem poles.

It also has a beautiful shoreline, with views to North Vancouver and the city skyline.

The area is home to many seabirds, who enjoy the feast at low tide.

Who wants lunch? Too bad, suckers, this crab is ALL MINE!

Stanley Park also has a great aquarium, where we spent several hours enjoying the various exhibits.


Small men in tuxedos.

We went back into town for lunch in the West End district, a densely-populated area with diverse demographics, including a large LGBTQ community, celebrating its pride with rainbow banners and crosswalks.

The next day we went to Granville Island, a small island separated from the mainland by a man-made canal. On the drive over, we noticed a lot of cement trucks causing traffic delays, only to find that production of cement is a major part of the island's industry. At the manufacturing yard, they have large storage tanks which have been painted as an art exhibit.

One of the highlights of the island is the Granville Public Market, an indoor marketplace for fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, fish and baked goods, along with a variety of arts and crafts. Always crowded, it is an experience not to be missed.

The views from Granville are also amazing. In the canal we saw boats, paddle boarders, and water bike pedal boats, which look exactly like they sound.

On our last day, we drove to historic Chinatown which, like so many other Chinatowns, has a unique set of restaurants and stores. On the other hand, it also has a Starbucks.

Note the dragons on the traffic signal.
It also has some signs which defy description.

We don't know what a virtuous pie is, but we think we want some.

It may be a good idea to have your English speaking friends vet your signs before posting.
We decided to splurge for dinner at Five Sails, an excellent restaurant right on the water. Great service, amazing food, and a good way to end our trip.

We had been to Vancouver once before for a short trip, but this time we stayed longer and got a better feeling for the city. It is like New York in its hustle and bustle, but the Canadian people are unfailingly polite, which sets them apart from many Americans. A visit well worth the time.