Death Valley

This post is being written in February long after the events described below which took place in October 2020

For those of you expecting a post about Las Vegas, my apologies. When I closed out the Yosemite entry, I forgot that we went through Death Valley to get to Vegas. So that will be the next post…I promise!

As with our other visits to parks, we stayed at one edge of the park (this time barely inside at Panamit Springs) and after our day in the park on the other side-in this case Pahrump Oasis (poor man’s Vegas!).

On the drive from Oakhurst California where we spent the night of our Yosemite day, we drove through the California green belt-mile after mile of irrigated fruit trees and we even saw the anti Devin Nunes sign that his cow had told me about on Twitter!

Shortly thereafter we noticed a lot of planes parked at an airport and thought perhaps we had found all the 737 Max planes that had been taken out of service. Turns out some of them were there but also lots of other planes in the graveyard and parked here for maintenance.

We then drive cross country through what was about a ghost town which he once served as the processing center for all the borax mined in Death Valley. We also watched our odometer turn over from 9999.9 miles hoping to see 10,000 miles…imagine our disappointment when it flipped to 0.1! So after 161 days, we had driven 10,000 miles

We soon reached Panamit Springs which had some camp sites as well as small cabins. While small and rustic, it was a nice stop for the night and the stars after dark were just incredible. The title picture of this post was taken as the sunset behind us and turned our view of the mountain to a beautiful pink.

We were up early the next morning and started our drive through America’s desert. What a desolate landscape!

We stopped at what is left of one of the Borax mines. Interesting that something that was once such an important commodity is now difficult to find and hardly ever used.

Our next stop was Badwater Basin, Death Valley’s salt flats. This was the first place we first felt real heat. It got up into the 90s, I can’t imagine what it is like in the middle of summer! I guess that is part of what packs the salt so hard.

Badwater Basin is located 282 feet (855 meters) below sea level. The white circle below is around a sign up the mountains marking sea level.

On our way from the salt flats we took a couple of mile (roundtrip) hike to see Death Valley’s natural bridge. Amazing to see the path water created.

Our last stop inside Death Valley was to see Artists Palette-a scientifically explainable phenomenon which creates colored terrain along this drive near the bottom of the mountains.

After leaving the park, we drove to Pahrump Oasis where we stayed at our cheapest hotel accommodations to date-$35 at a Casino Hotel. We even ate their buffet. It was nothing special (and certainly not a feast!) but after a long day in the car and the tiring hike in the heat, we enjoyed the cheap evening and went to bed early. Next post will be about our four day stay in Las Vegas-our first! Will it be our last?

Federal Way to Yosemite

This post is being written in February about our roadtrip last October)

After a great two days in Federal Way with Andy (including a delicious prime rib dinner, great conversation and Autumn leaves), Mike and I found ourselves back in the car headed south and then east.

Among our stops, we will finish out our visits to the big National Parks with stops at Yosemite, Death Valley, and the Grand Canyon. We also will also visit Las Vegas, Sedona, Tucson, Santa Fe and Dallas before getting to Houston in November for doctor and friend visits. From there we will continue East towards Florida for a cheap early December cruise and then back to Danville for Christmas and to Charleston just afterwards.

In order to get the blog caught up before we leave in less than two weeks, I’m only going to hit the highlights. If you see someplace we have been that you’d like to know more about, drop me a comment and I’ll be glad to answer any questions.

After a lovely night in the Anchor Inn and RV Park in Oakridge Oregon, we made a stop at Crater Lake where we saw snow for the first time in awhile.

Amazing how tall the edge of road markers have to be!

We drove through mile after mile of fruit trees fruit fields and stopped and bought some along the way. We soon entered California and were taken aback by the high price of gasoline! Thankfully we filled up in Oregon and only had to buy one tank of gas while in the state.

We spent a night in Lee Vining as our entrance point to Yosemite. It is on the dry side of the Sierra Range and is located on a huge lakebed that is slowly drying up. Los Angeles used to take water from here but a relatively recent lawsuit stopped that so they are hopeful that someday there will be a wet period and it will fill back up.

We got up early (very!) the next morning and headed into Yosemite through Tioga Pass. This steep (also very!) road up to the Yosemite High Country was a beautiful drive.

The sun rising behind our backs as we headed up the Tioga Road

Our first view of Yosemite from Olmsted (yes that Olmsted and his son) Point.

We continued through the park and stopped to take in the beauty. Unfortunately, many of the waterfalls had finished for the season and those that were running were a trickle of what they do in the spring and early summer. Will just have to go back sometime!

After our ride through the valley and a short hike across the grasslands, we stopped at the Ahwahnee. Like the places in Yellowstone it is beautiful, unlike them it’s on a more intimate scale. I would love to stay here sometime.

From the lodge we headed uphill (way uphill!) to Glacier Point to get an overview of the park from this high point on the opposite side of the park from Olmsted. Beautiful views of Half Dome but boy is it a long way down! Hard to believe those folks back in the olden days not only hiked up but then climbed out on the cantilevered rock.

After getting our breath back, we headed for our last stop of the day, Mariposa Grove to see the Giant Sequoias. Wow, just wow. Not much else I can say!

We left Yosemite just before dark after a long but great day. Yosemite is beautiful but did not impress us as much as Yellowstone. Perhaps we have become jaded? Perhaps the lack of wildlife? Or maybe if we had of been there in the spring when the waterfalls were at full power? I guess we will just have to go back. But first, Las Vegas! Our first time there…will it be our last? Stay tuned to find out.

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.

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!

Glacier

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

One day during our stay in Montana, we got up early and left the house around 8!am and Rick drove the four (oops, Poppy made 5) of us to Glacier National Park where we rode the “Going to the Sun” road.

This 50 mile long road road was built from 1921-1932 purely as a scenic road across the mountains as a way for tourists to experience the beauty of the park. More about it in a bit.

Along the way we stopped at Lake McDonald Lodge for a break and a nibble. Like the lodges we visited in Yellowstone, this historic building had some of the same interesting log details but was more intimate. It would have been great to stay a night or three here.

The lake is beautiful and one can take sightseeing cruises along the shore or swim in the clear (COLD) water.

At the lodge and throughout the park we saw the red (Yellowstone has yellow ones) open topped historic “buses” that were the initial way to take the road. Now in addition to these which cost a bit, there are free shuttles or one can at least at the moment drive your personal vehicle.

From the lodge we started the road to the sun which would take us up the mountain Vanna is showing you below.

The sights along the road are incredible but the civil engineering of the major portion is what is truly incredible. Rather than a series of switchbacks that would have resulted in a significant harm to the views of the mountain, there is only one switchback near the base and then a long, long, long continuous grade up the side which follows the curves of the hillside. This single slope allows the road to be camouflaged making for a more natural scene. Though it was significantly more expensive than the switchbacks, $2.5 million in 1933 dollars or $50 million today.

Through out our stay in Montana, Gail had been showing is small patches of white blooms of “Bear Grass” but she said she hated we arrived too late to see it in full bloom. Little did she know that at the higher elevation it was just starting to do so. Such an interesting and beautiful flower.

After the long and beautiful drive up the side of the mountain we reached Logan Pass. From here one could see mountain goats on the hillsides above.

Unfortunately, couldn’t get a photo zoomed enough to show you the goats, but we did see (and hear!) marmots which are a big species of squirrel.

Below Vanna is pointing out the same peak as shown in the original Vanna picture closer to the top of this post.

Since it was getting late, rather than driving down the other side of the pass, we retraced our drive stopping at several places including a jumping rock where we watched some fools.

We had a wonderful supper at the old train station at the park entrance that included delicious bison meatloaf-unfortunately we were so hongry that I forgot to take a picture.

Poor Rick, he then had to drive the 2 hours back home where we arrived about 9. It was a long but wonderful day seeing another part of our beautiful country.

Bob Ross wasn’t just imagining his paintings!

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

I always thought Bob Ross was just making up the images he painted on his show back in the day. After visiting Yellowstone and the other national parks both in the US and Canada, it became clear that while the configuration of his images might be made up, he was at least in some way painting from memory too. His painting below could have certainly existed in one of the parks!

I mean compare it to what we saw in real life!

Up next, day two at Yellowstone!