Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Canada - Banff and Yoho National Parks then Home


We have loved our Canadian experiences so we're excited to share more with you. After leaving Jasper we drove south to Banff National Park.  There is no geographic separation between the two parks so if there wasn't any signage you might not know the difference. However, they both have a delicious bounty of sites to behold.  A bit over the top don't you think?  Regardless, let me get started.  As I gather my thoughts I've concluded that, in some areas, it's going to make sense to cluster some observations about our activities.  For example: lakes.  There's the most famous Louise

 but there's also Minnewanka,


Emerald (Yoho National Park)

and oodles more.  On different days we went to different lakes. They're all similar but different. Different sizes, different mountains and different lighting depending on the time of day.  They'e all uniquely beautiful!  So what can I tell you.  We spent days visiting lakes.  The drives there were beautiful.

The hikes or promenades were pleasant and the aura was always peaceful.

Lake Louise also includes the village of Lake Louise whose prominent feature, in addition to the lake, is the Fairmount Chateau Hotel.

Travel book guidance says that if you're not in the village by 10 am you won't find a parking spot. We got there late afternoon and parked easily.   Ah, the beauty of traveling in the shoulder season.

Getting to Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park (also adjacent to Banff and Jasper) requires a trip dedicated to specifically getting to that location.  Once again I hear myself saying "time well spent". Our trip to Yoho included a jaunt to Emerald Lake as well as a stop at Takakkaw Falls which is among Canada's tallest waterfalls.

Just a cute little fellow standing at attention

Magpies greeted us throughout our trip

There was even the little roadside attraction called Natural Bridge. Here "the river is again carving a canyon into bedrock".  More rushing water, beastly rocks and waterfalls.

Apparently we never tire of these features so we assume you love them as much as we do.

We also stopped at a most unique "attraction", the Spiral Tunnel.

It's a bit hard to describe without you actually seeing it but here goes.  The Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1886. This particular portion of the track was way too steep resulting in multiple train wrecks.  So 25 years later, in order to lessen the grade, engineers built a pair of tunnels with a spiral route, out of site, within the mountain.  From the scenic look out you can see the train exiting one portion of the mountain, while at a higher elevation the same train is entering the mountain.  I doubt all this jabbering clearly paints a clear picture so I guess you'll just have to trust me when I say it was way cool.  In a brief period of maybe 20 minutes two separate trains happened along thus illustrating the design.  Phew! I'll stop.

Another worthwhile destination in the Banff area is Johnston Canyon. This is another one of those deeply carved canyons with a rushing river, great rock formations waterfalls and a terrific catwalk that is built deep in the canyon, rather than over the canyon.  Very nice!

You can have great fun without leaving  the town of Banff.  It's a wonderfully picturesque town worthy of endless strolling.

It has the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.

Lets say opulent and open to tourists who want to stroll through like we own the place.

There's the Bow River running through the heart of town complete with a worthy waterfall.

Banff is also the birthplace of the Canadian National Park system. This would be the Cave and Basin National Historic Site.  The hot springs and cave are not all that impressive but folks enjoy the historical significance of the location.

The site includes lots of historical stuff to view and read as well as some very pleasant trails. Debbie and I hiked one into Sundance Canyon that is on the backside of the historical site.  It was 4-5 miles.  The first half on an easy paved path along the river, the rest through a wooded canyon.

I'm breezing through the details because the highlight of our hike was our new found hiking partners. As we entered the canyon 3 ladies, that we later learned are from Germany,  greeted us and suggested that maybe we should all hike together. The concern was bears. We mutually enjoyed some great laughs and hiked on. Eva, Marie Rose and Inga were all wonderful hiking companions. So the hike was nice, the conversation substantive but the camaraderie was the best.

Later we received an email from them highlighting the fact that on a later outing they did encounter a GRIZZLY  bear.....from the safety of their vehicle. We will fondly recall our German friends and maybe even stay in touch.

Our campsite in Banff National Park was very nice.  Again, still, and as always, beautiful mountain views, elk bugling in the distance (it's mating season and they do get excited) and a glorious full moon.

We had a fully satisfying week in Banff but it's now time to leave Canada and return to the states. Our country is the greatest and it's always nice to go home but we could not ask for more wonderful neighbors to the north!

First stop USA is Whitefish, Montana.  Cute little town.  Great scenery and an easy one hour or less drive to Glacier National Park.  After getting settled we enjoy a nice Chinese dinner.  Nothing fancy but we don't feel like we get good Chinese back home so we've often chosen Chinese on the road. Not that this is important but earlier in our current blogging we spoke of seldom eating out.  Well, we have been steadily backsliding in that arena and I expect the scales will scream the truth.  Now you know. I told you it wasn't important.

Day two we head for Glacier to drive the Going to the Sun road.  One word: tricky road and breath taking scenery! Oops, I apparently got narratively wound up, that's more than one word. The destination for the day is Logan Pass. We did the hike to Hidden Lake Overlook. It was cold with a little rain, a little snow, some fog or low clouds and we couldn't have had a better day.

We are blessed blessed blessed!

Then we move on to Missoula, Montana.  These stops have to do with breaking up the drive as we head home but Missoula has a hidden treat that we particularly enjoy.  HuHots!  It's a mongolian grill.  We LOVE it! We were in Missoula two nights and, yes, both days we had dinner at HuHots. Please refer to the above paragraph regarding eating out. Missoula is an easy town to walk with a really great system of rails to trails adjacent to the Clark Fork River which runs through town.

I picked up this cute pianist  at a piano along the walkway
Maybe more importantly, an hour north  of town  is the National Bison Range, a National Wildlife Refuge established in 1908 (thank you Teddy) to provide a sanctuary for the American bison.  It's 18,500 acres of rolling mountains, open grass lands and Big Sky.

Commentary: As we left Canada we drove south on highway 93.  Now the truth is I often don't know what road we're on or maybe even where we're at (don't act surprised Bill). We live by GPS so it's easy for me to just blindly follow along.. But 93 is conceivably the most enjoyable route we're ever driven.  We were on it through Montana, Idaho and on into Nevada.  The scenery just never stops giving. I'm certain Debbie grew tired of me rattling on about how beautiful but that's just her good fortune. I'm telling you folks, Big Sky is not just limited to Montana and is a chilling concept! Thank you.

Back to the refuge.  We drove there mid afternoon and stayed until dark. It is a wildlife bonanza.  I've given you the lay of the land so please just sit back and enjoy the pictures.

We continue south, next stop Arco, Idaho.  Just a layover.  We often stay someplace two days because we have the luxury of time coupled with it's a nice break from driving.  Two attractions there. One, Craters of the Moon National Monument.  Lots of lava.  We've been to Hawaii, seen lots of lava, but lots of lava in Idaho is fairly unique.

Nice outing.

The other attraction is the little campground we stayed at has an even littler restaurant that serves killer ribs and smoked, not baked potatoes. You know, "to die for". Please refer to blah blah blah above.

I'm going to pick up the pace now.  24 September we stayed in a weed choked parking lot at a casino in Ely, Nevada.  It broke up the drive and was cheap.  Yep, lost $25 in the casino. Their plan worked.

By the time you read this we'll be home but right now we're in Las Vegas.  Again we're staying at Nellis AFB.  I've made more dumb decisions in life then smart decisions but 21 years of military service spread between the USAF and the SC Air National Guard was one of my better decisions. We'll be in LV 5 nights, 4 nights we'll go to shows.  We also had the great pleasure of meeting up with Dave and Marilyn from our Quail Creek neighborhood for dinner.  Debbie is still sorry for spilling a cold, full glass of water in Dave's lap!  30 September we drive to Casa Grande, Arizona then home 1 October.

So here's the wrap up.  We have a small comfortable home in a very nice community, enjoy great activities and have wonderful friends.  It's always nice to go home but the truth is we'd rather stay on the road then go home.  The trip has been nothing less then wonderful, maybe perfect! We vacationed for 4 1/2 months, visited places we'd never been to before, saw so many truly wonderful sites, met lots of very nice people and enjoyed each other 24/7!  Did we have less than pleasant moments?  Absolutely!  But day after day we smiled, laughed, hugged, enjoyed our dogs, and marveled at our good fortune!  The only thing that went wrong is that we bought a squeeze bottle of relish that in no way squeezes out relish. Leading up to our departure back in May I often heard myself say (I do listen) that I didn't need to depart for the summer, this is all about Debbie.  Well, thank you Debbie.

Hopefully you have at least mildly enjoyed our journey. Thank you for being with us.