Levenworth

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit here, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

We drove from Kelowna through the border to Levenworth, Washington. While the US border guard wasn’t quite as awful as our previous experience, it reminded us again of how nice the Canadians were to visitors. We both remarked on how we missed the “Welcome Home” that one used to get whenever coming back to the USA.

The drive took us through fruit tree country so we bought some cherries and were please to see that Gaffney, SC isn’t the only one to have a big peach!

Leavenworth is a little town that (according to the rabbit hole Mike went down) fell on hard times and after a study by some economists decided to turn itself into a German alpine-esque Village. The plan seems to have worked, everything is themed like the Disney Imagineers have visited.

Even our overpriced hotel joined in

And best of all you could get a kaffe at MickyD’s!

We did enjoy a brat and a beer for dinner during our walk about the small town. They had a zillion types of mustard as well as quite tasty buttery pretzels.

The next morning we drove the part of the Cascade Loop from Levenworth to Seattle. This scenic Highway goes up and over the Cascades through Stevens Pass. It was a beautiful drive but I’m afraid we have become a bit jaded. After 6 major National Parks in less than that many weeks, we find ourselves going, “oh that’s a pretty waterfall, but not as impressive as….”. So we don’t have any pictures to share. If you find yourself needing to get from the east side of the Cascades to the west though, we highly recommend the drive.

The only pictures we took were of the large carvings of bears below since we have yet to see a live grizzly these will have to do.

After we reached Seattle we stopped near the University of Washington for Mike to try on (and then buy) some allbirds. These trendy shoes are made from wool (they have another model made from bamboo) and are reported to be the most comfortable shoe ever. We heard about them through the Senior Nomads, the couple who inspired us to undertake our adventure of the last two years. Debbie just reported she had to replace her old pair and stated how she lived hers.

Mike seems to agree with the assessment that they are very comfortable.

After a Costco stop we headed on to Portland and arrived about rush hour 😢 but eventually made it to our home for the next month or so.

More on our adventures in Portland to come…

Kelowna

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit here, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

After our stay in our less than fabulous motel room in Golden we were thrilled when we got to our very nice Airbnb in Kelowna. I spent most mornings sitting on the patio drinking coffee while enjoying the view of the mountains and sound of the water feature below.

Kelowna is the third largest metropolitan area in British Columbia and its primary industry is tourism. It sits in the valley around Lake Okanagan which is the big draw in the summer while skiing in the mountains is the main winter focus.

We spent a relaxing three nights here. After more than a week of eating out every meal, it was nice to fix something and eat it in front of the tv.

One beautiful day we went into town and had a nice Thai lunch on a patio overlooking a beautiful park across from the lake.

We then took a walk along the lake. This blog’s title picture was taken there of someone para-sailing. There was a beautiful park and a beach where lots of folks were enjoying the beautiful day.

There was a city sponsored floating bouncy water playground that was very popular even at what seemed a crazy price to us-$28 canadian a day so about $21us! Looked like everyone was having a great time.

On our last night in Kelowna, we connected with Dawn and John a couple who are going to be on our cruise to Japan. They invited us to join them for dinner at their friend’s Patricia and Peter’s who had two other friends, Vera and Doris staying with them. While we thought it would be strange since we hadn’t even met Dawn and John yet, it turned out to be a fun and entertaining evening. They continued to live up to the stereotype of friendly and welcoming Canadians. I hope someday we can reciprocate!

We left Kelowna headed to Levenworth, Washington (not the prison!) on the eastern side of the cascades which our friend Gail has recommended as a good stopping point before we took US Highway 2-a scenic road through the Cascades towards Seattle and on to Portland. More about that in the next post!

Icefields Parkway

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit here, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

“The view that lay before us in the evening light was one that does not often fall to the lot of modern mountaineers. A new world was spread at our feet: to the westward stretched a vast ice-field probably never before seen by the human eye, and surrounded by entirely unknown, unnamed and unclimbed peaks.

-J.Norman Collie 1898 after discovering the Columbia Ice Field

The Columbia Icefield is about 325 square kilometres (125 sq mi) in area, 100 metres (330 ft) to 365 metres (1,198 ft) in depth and receives up to 7 metres (280 in) of snowfall per year. It is surrounded by beautiful mountains like the one pictured above. The two lane parkway was built in 1931 (as a relief project during the Great Depression) and follows the precious Glacier Trail which was opened after the Canadian Railway opened the transcontinental line.

The parkway is about 140 miles long and runs from Jasper National Park to Lake Louise in Banff National Park. It is an amazing drive and I highly suggest you try to make it. I would love to go back in late fall when there is snow on the ground, but given the number is gates and signs along the road it is pretty obvious that major portions are closed to traffic in winter so timing would be a real issue

As noted in the previous post we started down the parkway about 2:30 with the hope of reaching Lake Louise after the afternoon crowds had left but early enough for us to still get to Golden and our accommodations there by suppertime. So while we made a number of stops along the parkway, we could have spent a great deal more time if we had of had it.

Our first stop was a quick one along the highway to see the multiple cascades of the waterfall below.

From here we drove past mountain after mountain like the one in the title picture until we reached the Athabasca Glacier. This glacier is one of six “toes” of the icefield. Below is an online photo of the icefield. It’s amazing to think that what we saw was just one teeny tiny bit of it. I think the glacier we visited is the one running down towards the bottom right of the picture.

Athabasca is the most visited glacier in North American according to Wikipedia. Of course they also say it is “easily” accessible. Hmm, I guess in the sense that you can drive relatively close and don’t have to climb up and over mountains that is true but for this old fat out of shape fellow, it was far from easy!

You can see the glacier from the highway and there is a visitor’s center with a beautiful terrace looking across the highway to the glacier. Of course, there isn’t enough parking so we elected to go straight to the gravel parking lot on the glacier side of the highway.

The road to the toe (and parking) is built on the land where the glacier has retreated since the 1800s. There are signs along the road and then the hiking path that note where the toe was at various years. It is sad to see the signs getting closer and closer together. Currently, the glacier is receding about 16 feet a year. 😢

As you can see in the picture of Mike above, the trail takes you up and over some hills. What you can’t see is just how steep it really is or how rocky and uneven. Needless to say, we were very out of breath and sweaty (despite the cold temperatures caused by the air blowing over the ice) when we finally got to the end of the walkway.

We enjoyed seeing the toe but elected to not go down and actually touch it-we had done that in Alaska and we was tired (and still had the hike back to the car). But the views from upclose were interesting.

We also elected not to take the Glacier Adventure Drive onto the glacier itself. For a mere $103 you get driven onto the glacier and get to walk in it. In the picture below you can see the snowcoach on the far left and those specks to the right are people out for a walk. The snow coach looks pretty cool but we wondered how bad it is for the glacier.

After catching our breath and taking way more pictures than necessary we headed back to the car. It’s in that crowd of vehicles down by the pond. Phew, going down was just about as rough as going up.

Oh, the Visitor’s Center is the whiteish building at the base of the trees in the upper right quadrant of the picture above. It sits where the toe of the glacier was in 1844 when after an earthquake event the glacier started to recede.

Our next stop was at Peyto Lake. The color in the pictures below is not due to a filter, that’s really how it looks. It’s due to some scientifically explainable phenomenon due to the rock “flour” that is suspended in the lake water and reflects just the wave lengths of sunlight. The flour is created by the glaciers grinding against the underlying rock. All I know is, it’s mesmerizingly beautiful.

After the lake we rode up and across Bow Summit the highest point of the parkway, 6,840 feet. One of the nice things about the parkway is that it basically follows the continental divide so the road is relatively flat. There aren’t the switchbacks and steep slopes we experienced on Beartooth going into Yellowstone or The Road to the Sun at Glacier National. But all along it there are just beautiful mountains everywhere and the occasional goat!

About 7 pm we arrived at Lake Louise and while the signs still said the parking lot was full, they weren’t stopping you from going in..so in we went. We quickly found a spot and headed for the lake (with hundreds of friends-yes it was still crowded!)

The lake and it’s setting are indeed beautiful but we determined that the other lakes along the drive are just as beautiful and without the crowd and traffic issues here.

That’s Queen Victoria Glacier behind is that feeds the lake. Looking out on the lake is the historic Chateau Lake Louise built by the railroad. Like the other railroad lodges, it was initially quite beautiful.

However, after the above burned in the early 1900s, it was replaced with a less lodgy facility which has since been added to several times (2004 is the most recent) and to us is like any other big resort hotel-albeit one with an incredible view!

We left Lake Louise with plenty of time to make the less than hour drive to Golden but as we were finishing listening to our app tour guide, he mentioned two stops in Yoho National Park which we had to drive through.

The first was for the “Spiral Tunnels”. You will recall that we had been relatively high in the Rockies, so the grade to get back down on the western side was very steep. In fact, two steep for trains to safely make it down or easily back up. After several major accidents, a series of tunnels were built that spiral through the mountains so that the horizontal length the train travels is increased thereby reducing the grade. One can stand and see the train go into the first tunnel, come out a tunnel below (going the opposite direction) while the end of the train is still going in the upper tunnel! I’m putting pictures of it (and a diagram) below but I know it’s hard to see what is really happening through the trees. If you’re interested, here is a Link to a YouTube video I found that shows what we saw.

The second stop the guide mentioned was for a beautiful waterfall. Hmm, time is getting short, how beautiful can a waterfall be…I mean we have seen several just today. Unlike the narration in Yellowstone, the Canadian Rockie version doesn’t give you as much information as to the time it takes to reach sights of interest. We were torn, hotel or waterfall? We decided we might jot get back so we took a leap of faith that we could get to this waterfall and still make it to our hotel before the reception desk closed. 🤞🏻

It turns out it was about a 25 minute drive to the parking lot but boy are we glad we did it. Takakkaw Falls was the highlight of our visits to the National Parks in the USA and in Canada. It is indeed “magnificent” in any language whether seen from a distance, anywhere on the 3/4 mile walk to get closer, or at its base. Just incredible!

After the walk back to the car (turns out we walked 6 miles and 20 stories that day) we sped away from the falls, thankful that we weren’t driving a camper as there were special instructions for them on how to back down a section of the hairpin turns as the turns are too tight to make otherwise so they provide a long pulloff at each end!

Thankfully we made it to the motel with 30 minutes to spare and weren’t even the last folks to check in.

It was a very very long day-remember we left Hinton about 7 am and visited Jasper, the Icefield Parkway, Lake Louise and Yoho all in about 14 hours. Goodness so much beauty!

For anyone thinking about visiting the Canadian Rockies, we would highly recommend not killing yourself to see Lake Louise-the other lakes and glaciers are just as beautiful if not more so. We would suggest trying to stay in one of the accommodations in Jasper-there are some that are not expensive as the former railroad lodges so they are a little more affordable. Don’t be like us (me) and presume that there aren’t affordable places. It would have been great to wake up looking at one of the many glacier fed lakes. Oh well next time!

Our biggest advice is to make sure to include Yoho National Park. Why this isn’t on more people’s radar I don’t know. Thank goodness for the Gypsy Tours app or we wouldn’t have known about it. I am sure the other sights in Yoho are beautiful, but we barely had time for the falls, so again…next time.

Speaking of next time….the next post will be about our short stay in Kelowna, British Columbia. Hope you’ll hang around for it.

One more look at the Magnificent just as the sun was going down. If you look atb nothing else on this post, take the 12 seconds to watch this!

Jasper National Park

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit here, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

After a 6 am wake up call, we headed to Jasper National Park arriving at the gate before 8 am! While we didn’t luck out and see as many animals as we did at Yellowstone, we still saw elk just after we entered the park and Brown Bear later in the day.

Our plan for the day was to ride south through Jasper with stops as directed by the GPS based tour app GypsyTours including the village of Jasper, a picnic lunch and hopefully leave the park early afternoon to drive the Icefields Parkway south and if we are lucky, find a parking space at Lake Louise early evening and then hightail it west to Golden for our hotel where the front desk closes at 9:30. According to Google Maps, we had five and half hours of driving if we don’t stop which of course we will be doing. Fingers crossed we make it!

We, along with some other cars slowed to watch some elk grazing just after we entered the park.

Our first real stop was at a beautiful lake. It was places like these, here and at the other parks that made we wish we were campers. How wonderful to wake up and sit and have your morning coffee at a place like this. and be able to jump in the clear water-the rocks on the bottom look like an abstract painting.

We followed our audio guide and made a stop at one of the incredible gorges. There was a powerful waterfall and a very narrow gorge-in some places you could hear, but barely see the water several stories below.

We next stopped in Jasper Village. Similar to Banff but a bit smaller and more intimate and much less crowded, it was built as one of the stops for the trans-Canadian railroad. The totem is a replacement for one originally installed in the 1800s that finally was in such bad shape, they had First Nations artists from the original family carve a new one.

I loved the stone details on the original Ranger’s home which is now the visitor’s center.

Another Gorge and its waterfall beckoned and there we also found a nice spot to have our lunch with the wonderful sound of it in the background. FYI, British Columbian cherries are delish!

Shortly after lunch, we hit a bear jam and joined the others in watch several bears wander the woods. They are hard to see in the zoomed pictures below (unlike the fools in the pictures we were well up on the road) but trust me they are those brown spots.

From here we officially left Jasper National Park and entered the Ice fields Highway. This road was built to connect Banff and Jasper. Prior to the highway, one had to do what we had done to get to the two parks. Leave Banff, go to Calgary up to Edmonton and then over to Jasper. Of course if you’re like us and don’t like to camp and/or can’t afford the $600 a night lodges in the parks-then the Highway isn’t much good except for sightseeing. But boy are there lots of sights to see and it’s already almost 2 pm so we better get going….Tomorrow!

That’s right, come back to the blog tomorrow to see an incredibly colored lake, a Glacier that about killed us, a waterfall that so far has been the highlight of our trip and to find out whether we make it to Lake Louise and to our hotel in Golden…or will we end up camping in the car?

Here is one picture to whet your appetite.

On the way to Jasper

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit here, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

We spent one night each in Edmonton and Hinton on our way to Jasper National Park. Some readers may be wondering why it is taking us so long to drive between our stops. There are two reasons, after about two hours in a car I get very uncomfortable and need to take a break. So we typically have a leisurely breakfast, drive until time for lunch, then drive another couple of hours and arrive at our next accommodation about checkin time.

The second reason is: we can and what else do we have to do? LOL

We didn’t do much in Edmonton except have some tasty bbq!

In Hinton the big event was being attacked by the bear as shown in the title picture! LOL. Amazing what grocery stores have to draw attention to themselves.

We did enjoy an evening walk around the Beaver Pond in Hinton. This series of boardwalks is well used by locals and the few tourists as well. While we didn’t see any beavers (reportedly there are only two) we did see their handiwork! Hard to believe two little animals could create such a big pond.

At one point we had to leave the boardwalk and walk through the woods. There were warnings about real bears so we tried to do as told and make noise and clap and such. At one point we noticed ravens were following us, we figured they knew these two fools were about to get killed and they wanted the leftovers. You can hear how loud they were in the video below:

Luckily we made it safely back to the pond. I loved some of the wildflowers we around it.

We got back to the hotel early and tried to as my Dad used to say “sleep fast”. Tomorrow is Jasper National Park and like at Yellowstone we hoped an early start would result in some animal sightings.

Calgary

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit here, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

In addition to scheduling and planning our upcoming stay before we board ship headed to Japan (we originally looked at doing several days at several places but budget won out so we are going to spend most of August in Portland) we spend one day exploring downtown Calgary.

The photos above and below are of The Peace Bridge, a pedestrian bridge designed by Calatrava. You remember him from other designs I’ve shown you – the City of Art & Science in Valencia, the stiletto bridge in Buenos Aires, the new transit center in New York and many other interesting contemporary bridges and buildings.

The Bridge was actually prefabricated in Spain and shipped in pieces to Canada. Apparently like all his works, while interesting, they have issues. Here those include quality problems with the welds, suggestions that it is similar to another bridge designed by another firm, to its high cost -$25m!

Here is the other bridge-they do look pretty similar!

This bridge is significantly different from most of Calatrava’s other bridges which typically are asymmetric and suspended from a single mast (see the stiletto bridge in Buenos Aires below as an example).

Because of a nearby heliport this bridge couldn’t be very tall. It is also red in honor of Canada’s and Calgary’s flags rather than his usual white. It is based on a double helix. While not as impressive as some of his otherworks, the bridge certainly is popular. Reportedly (Wikipedia) over 6000 people use it everyday-mostly pedestrian and bike commuters headed into downtown from the residential area on the other side of the Bow River.

Based on what we saw on the weekday we were there, it is certainly heavily used as is the wonderful riverfront walk.

We spent a beautiful afternoon having lunch and stroking along the river. The people we met in Calgary were welcoming and friendly. It would be fun to go back for a little longer and see what living there is really like. The folks there said winter “wasn’t that bad”! LOL

Banff

(Reminder: this post is being published well after our visit, we are currently in Portland Oregon until Sept 4th)

We spent four nights in Calgary (using Mike’s fourth night free benefit from his Citi card) at the airport Hyatt Place. After the “legendary” it was so nice to be in a well appointed hotel.

We looked at staying downtown but parking was an issue and since the real reason we were in Calgary was to visit Banff National Park, this location was great as it was close to the ring road around Calgary.

We left very early for the hour and a half drive to Banff in the hopes we would beat the summer crowds. The drive was great once we got out of rush hour traffic and there were beautiful views of the Canadian Rockies.

We reached the village of Banff about 8 am well ahead of the crowds. We bought a picnic lunch and had a walkabout the little town.

We then returned to the highway headed towards Lake Louise. This is the place one always hears and sees about when folks talk about Banff.

When we got close to the exit for Lake Louise, there were signs saying the parking lot was full and to use the overflow lot and take the shuttle bus. Based on our experience at Yellowstone we were hopeful we would find a parking spot by simply driving through the lot once or twice, so we continued on into the lake Louise area.

Unlike Yellowstone, at Banff or at least at Lake Louise they simply close the lots when they get full and apparently do not take a count of cars going in and out. So we were stuck in traffic for at least an hour. Argggh!

Since it was almost lunchtime we decided to take the old highway back towards Banff Village and have a picnic lunch and to see some of the beautiful sites along that road.

The first spot was a turnoff near the railway where the title picture was taken. This was the spot where the iconic poster advertising the train and park was set.

Of course real life isn’t quite as romantic but it is beautiful!

After our picnic, we continued on to the lakes along the road.

About 2:30 we headed back towards Lake Louise thinking the crowds might be reduced and that the parking lot would be we open. However, the signs were still up on the highway to use the remote lot so we turned in but were stopped and told that they were now out of shuttle tickets. Arghhh!

We made one last attempt to drive ourselves into Lake Louise hoping against hope that the parking lots would be open. But as before they were barricaded off and we were turned away even though we could see empty parking spaces.At this point frustration reigned and so we headed back towards Calgary.

While our day had not gone as planned and we had not seen what is supposedly the centerpiece of Banff National Park we had enjoyed our day and seen some beautiful sites.

We planned on visiting Jasper National Park later in our trip and since the two parks are adjacent we agreed we would give Lake Louise one more chance later in the week.

Stay tuned to see how that plan works out!