Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Solo Adventure to Nova Scotia

  Pre-trip Decisions

I was supposed to fly into Halifax from Pittsburgh and rent a car to drive around Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. I thought that was adventurous enough for a solo journey.

I had airline tickets and a rental car reserved, but my airline changed my schedule with no comparable flight home. I was secretly happy about that, as I made the mistake of googling “car rental horror stories,” and decided all those things would happen to me if I rented a car.

But, then again, the pessimist in me wondered about driving the whole way from West Virginia. What if I got a flat tire? You have to understand that I always think my tires are low. I have a problem with that. But, I belong to AAA, so I needed to get over that prospect. And then I read about the moose. There are a lot of accidents involving moose in Maine. That would suck.But, then I realized I live in West Virginia, where avoiding deer crossing the road should be an obstacle course race.

But, sometimes the optimist wins and I began planning a road trip. My main destination was Peggy’s Cove, on the east coast of Nova Scotia.

I knew this when I made a reservation at a bed and breakfast near Peggy’s Cove. Since I am a pretend photographer, I hoped to drive to Peggy’s Cove at sunrise and again at sunset, before and after the tour buses and throngs of people come and go. I was staying for four nights and would use the bed and breakfast as my home base while I head to places like Burnt Coat Head and Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The main reason I chose the dates I did was to be here during a full moon. At the time, the weather looked good, but you can never depend on weather 7+ days ahead.

You have no idea how long it took me to make a decision on my route to Nova Scotia. Did I really want to have several 10+ hours a day in a car to get to my destination? Did I want to take a 5 1/2 hour ferry across the ocean and Bay of Fundy when I have motion sickness as quick as you can say, “motion sickness.” I was called Pukey Vickie when I was young and got sick on the school bus every day, so why would I do that to myself?

Google maps is such a great tool and I abused the little yellow guy many hours each day. I picked him up and dropped him off on roads left and right. He let me see if there is a cool looking fishing shack by a lake on a particular road. I jotted down cool photo opportunities in my “Nova Scotia” notebook. I know, I’m such a nerd.

I hoped to travel about 11 hours the first day and  try to make it to the Portsmouth, New Hampshire area. I wanted to visit Nubble Lighthouse on Cape Neddeck the next morning before the crowds arrive. There is also a web cam of the parking lot from the top of the lighthouse.

And from there I  was stumped. Should I continue to drive through Maine, cross the border and head to Saint John, New Brunswick, or do I drive to Portland and catch the ferry to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia?  I posed the question on Trip Advisor and a reader wrote that Route 9 from Bangor to Calais and the border is desolate and traveled by trucks. The statistics for vehicle/animal collisions is high on this road. My little yellow Google guy didn’t show me much in the way of photo ops on this road. I guess there would be one if there was a moose in the road, but did I want to be alone for two hours on a road with not much in between towns? I also have a weak bladder. I know you don’t need to know that, but I stop often at rest stops. I guess that is why the back seat in my car is littered with brochures.

On the other hand, did Pukey Vickie want to spend $306 one way to ride on a catamaran ferry for 5 1/2 hours? I would be stuck if I decided to throw up after three minutes on the ferry. And I’m pretty sure that is going to happen. My subconscious made me laugh one day when I saw that my buggy in Walmart contained the following: Bonine, a Sea-Band wrist thingy, a book called Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, a Sudoku puzzle book, and a pack of mechanical pencils. I guess that meant that I was going to reserve the ferry.

With that out of the way, I made reservations  at a cute-looking bed and breakfast about three minutes from the terminal. The CAT ferry was supposed to arrive around 9pm. We will had to set our clocks ahead an hour before we arrived. Little Yellow Google Guy showed me a McDonalds nearby, just in case I am through vomiting (pessimist) and need some late night food in my stomach. I like the thought of arriving late so I won’t have to hop in the car and drive hours to my next destination. I can crash at the bed and breakfast and put my foot on the floor to make the room stop spinning.

What Really Happened

So, I was off. My new Subaru was packed and ready for a long road trip. I was about to find out how long it really was going to take. I wanted to make it to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but didn’t make reservations anywhere just in case there were some time restraints.  I’m glad I didn’t, as it took me 15 hours to get from West Virginia to the border of Maine. I guess the road construction people decided to get work done in every state I drove through. I finally checked in at a Best Western in York, Maine at 7:45 p.m.

This was actually a very convenient place to stay. It was closed to I-95 and very close to the Nubble Lighthouse. I got up early and drove to the Cape Neddeck. I was one of the first in the parking lot and had great views of the lighthouse.

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I came back and loaded up my car to head to Portland, Maine. The ferry was to leave at 2:30, but I wanted to head to the Portland lighthouse before I got in line for the ferry. I am so glad I took a side trip to see this lighthouse. I could have sat there all day. It was breathtaking.

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After walking around, snapping photos and talking to locals who come to paint or just sit and reflect, I found a place for lunch and then headed into Portland to find the ferry terminal. Once there, I checked in at the gate, and sat in line waiting to board the ferry. I was excited for this part of my journey. I got out of my car and talked to others who decided to be early, like myself.

When they opened the gate, we got into our cars to travel up a ramp into the belly of the ferry. This is a huge vessel. As I started my car, my tire light came on.

What? This can’t happen now. I’m in a line with a hundred cars, motorcycles, and motor homes. It did go off after driving about 10 seconds, but that didn’t make it any better. I was sure my tire was going to be flat when we disembarked in Yarmouth. Well, that cranked my anxiety level up a few notches. As soon as we parked, I found the pursor and asked him if one of his crew could check my tire pressure about an hour before we came ashore. He assured me they would take a look at it, which made me feel better…..for the moment.

I really liked the CAT ferry. It had many areas to relax. There were screens playing movies, a bar, and a lot of amenities for a 5 1/2 hour journey across the bay. I just wished I was able to enjoy it. I had my book, a Sudoku puzzle, and people nearby to chat with. I was fine for about an hour. The ferry rocked back and forth, but it didn’t bother me until I went to the bathroom. As I entered a stall and turned around, it hit me. I got quite sick and had to stay in the bathroom for a while. When I finally made it back to my table, I couldn’t move my head left or right. To make matters worse, the movie they were showing on the screen in front of me was about an ocean voyage/storm at sea.

The crew was very helpful. One got me some water. Another told me I should go outside on the back of the ferry. I waddled back and plopped myself in a deck chair. It was chilly and mist was hitting me in the face, but I didn’t care. The air did make me feel better. The captain slowed down the ferry at one point and announced there were many whales off to each side. People were running all over the place to take photos. I didn’t care. I was sick. I actually was mad at people for having a good time while I was green and feeling greener.

It wasn’t until I decided I should eat something that a guy behind a counter said he would make me a concoction. It was a ginger ale and water, which then he microwaved, and told me to drink the whole thing. I did, and felt so much better. By the time we landed and I drove off my tire was not low at all), I was feeling good. I was running late for my bed and breakfast, as I was supposed to be there by 10pm, but also had to find a drive-through restaurant. There’s nothing like McDonald’s when you are sick….I’m serious.

My bed and breakfast, the Lakelawn Motel, was wonderful.

The breakfast in the morning was wonderful. The presentation was great and the food abundant. I checked out and headed to Cape Forchu, home of the Cape Forchu lighthouse.I was excited because it was a little foggy, and I usually have luck taking decent fog photos, but as I continued to drive, it became apparent, this was more than just a little fog.

For those considering the trip to the lighthouse, it is full of photo opportunities along the way. But, as I got closer, the fog became thicker. In the photo below, you would normally see the water and the lighthouse. Bummer.

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When I arrived at Cape Forchu lighthouse, I was all alone. People probably checked the weather before heading out. I didn’t get a very good photo of the lighthouse…and didn’t crawl up into the huge chair.img_4060

I then drove towards my next night’s lodging, which was White Point Beach Resort. Along the way, I had several stops I wanted to make. Remember, I abused the little yellow google maps guy and made note of places I had to see. The first one was the town of Shelburne. There was a building I wanted to photograph. But, alas, it was the town’s Founders’ Day Celebration, and many roads were blocked and parking was nowhere to be found. So, I took a few photos and went on my way.

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From Shelburne, I drove south for about 10 minutes to the Sandy Point Lighthouse.

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I then visited some small coves to photograph fishing shacks and then made my way to the resort. I’m so glad I stayed there. It was wonderful! I made a reservation at their dining room and the food was delicious.

The next morning, after taking a walk along the beach, I checked out and continued on to my next destination, Lunenburg.

Along the way, I stopped at places like Moose Harbor, had lunch in Liverpool (a pirate’s haven back in the day), and Fort Point Lighthouse. I also took a side trip to Port Medway lighthouse and then arrived at my bed and breakfast in Lunenburg.

I checked into the Lunenburg Inn. I would stay there over and over again. It was lovely. I was met with cookies and my room was wonderful. Breakfast was great and I had a nice conversation with several other visitors in the small dining room.

One of the biggest draws besides Lunenburg itself, was a small fishing village of Blue Rocks. I just had to go there.

 

Part 2 coming soon.

 

 

Cicada Love

I am here today to defend the poor cicada. I believe I am the only one on the planet who appreciates their dogged determination to live 17 years underground, emerge to have sex, and then lay eggs for the next generation. I find them fascinating and don’t think they are “gross,” the adjective I’ve been hearing a lot to describe them. They aren’t gross at all. They are harmless. Did you know they have five eyes? That right there makes them quite special, I would think.

But, no. My facebook friends, in general, do not share my love of these winged monkeys. I don’t know why. You can pick them up and pet them. This little guy in the photo below hopped onto my leg, wanting to be picked up. You can’t have too many friends, even if they only live about 6 weeks.

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When I was young, everyone called them “locusts.” I believe they were even called locust the last time they emerged in 1999. “The year of the locust.”  But, just to be straight, cicada is a member of the cricket family, where locust is a member of the grasshopper family.  Regardless, people aren’t afraid of crickets, so why should they be afraid of cicadas?  Could it be their red eyes?  One facebook friend said they were creepy looking.

Brood V made their appearance last week and I couldn’t wait to find one. Finally, one morning, I watched their arrival. They crawled out of the little lair and climbed up the tree from whence they fell 17 years before. They then struggled to get out of their bug shell, and once they did, clung to the tree bark for a few days to get ready to test their wings.

I had to laugh at a poster who took a picture of a cicada that just emerged and wrote, “omg, an albino cicada.” You have a lot to learn, Grasshopper. Cicadas all look like the photo below after emerging from their shell.

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Today was the first day I heard their chorus. It was loud, and sounded as if there was a spaceship hovering above the ground a la the movie “Day the Earth Stood Still.” It made me smile. I like the sound. It’s like the sound of spring peepers, but not really.

So, imagine my surprise (not really) when friends began posting on my facebook page  links to sites where people are making cookies out of the little fellows to sell at local Memorial Day festivals. What the hell, bakery guy?

Cicada abuse.

 

In the end, I hope all of you will step out of your comfort zone and approach a cicada and wish him well. He is only here for 5-6 weeks. He won’t bite you . All he wants to do is fly around, sing, and have sex.

And what’s wrong with that?

Blackwater Falls

I am ready to move to a warmer climate. I am tired of snow, spinning tires, and 2 hour school delays. But, despite this long snap of frigid weather and mounting snow drifts, I still find inspiration to get in my car and snap some photos. It would be much easier to snap pictures during the other three seasons, when I actually want to get out of my car for different angles, but right now I am basically a “shoot from the car window”  kind of pretend photographer.

When my son was in for Christmas, we decided to drive to Blackwater Falls right after a frigid couple of days. We wanted to see if the falls were frozen. What was I thinking?

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We stopped to take photos of this lovely old house.

Blackwater State Park is located in the Allegheny Mountains of Tucker County, West Virginia near the town of Davis. The park is about 1 1/2 hours away from my home.  It is named for the cascading falls of the Blackwater River, whose amber-colored waters plunge 62 feet and then tumble through the Blackwater Canyon, which is roughly an eight mile long gorge. The so-called “black” water is from tannic acid from the nearby fallen hemlock along with red spruce needles.

According to wvencyclopedia.org

“The river enters Blackwater Falls State Park at an elevation of 3,040 feet. For the next 2.2 miles it is a wild river, dropping 57 feet at the main falls and then descending another 560 feet, before leaving the park. The river, geologically young, has carved the spectacular, deep, and almost vertical walls of Blackwater Canyon, which cuts through the surrounding plateau. Blackwater Lodge opened in 1956 on the south rim of the canyon, and a 65-site campground was opened in 1961. The state park, consisting of 1,688 acres, was established in 1937.”

I have never been to the falls in the winter. Summer is a beautiful time to visit the whole area, but we wanted to see what it looked like after a few days of frigid temperatures. I was not too smart and wore tennis shoes and my gloves might as well have been made of thin cotton. But, I had my camera and it was great having my son along with me.

We arrived at the falls parking lot and were surprised to see so many cars. I thought we would be all alone, seeing that it was so cold. I noticed license plates from Virginia, New York, Delaware, and Ohio among the many from West Virginia.

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Did I mention there were 214 steps to get down to the falls? I hadn’t been there in years and hoped the slipping and sliding would be worth it.

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It was a beautiful walk and I was so happy the wind was calm. I am not a fan of cold, but I trudged on, hoping the falls would not disappoint.

They didn’t There were parts that were frozen, but a majority of the falls were plunging, business as usual. I was taken back by the surrounding beauty. This was a winter wonderland, no doubt about it.

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Trees in the canyon below showed the beauty of winter.

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My son is a great photographer. His photos look a lot better than mine.

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Blackwater Falls, one of the most photographed areas in the state.

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So, if you go down, you must go back up. In all honesty, the stairs that snaked their way down to the falls had many platforms along the wall. There were benches and different viewing areas for those who did not want to take the whole journey. It was not bad, and I am a complainer.

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My son was able to make this snowman while he waited for me at the top of the stairs..just kidding. I did fine. But, we felt we deserved a break, so we stopped at the Mountain State Brewing Co. for a beer.

 

IMG_3945All in all, I was glad we ventured into the mountains to visit Blackwater Falls. The best part, though, was spending the day with my son.

 

Etched in Tree

When my daughter graduated from NYU in May, I was hoping to squeeze in a visit to Central Park after all the activities.  We did and as usual, it didn’t disappoint. Spring had sprung and people, wildlife, and flowers were all around us.  I took pictures of turtles,

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my daughter watching ducks

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and just took in the beauty of the park.

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I then walked by and noticed a beautiful tree littered with initials carved into its base. I kept walking, but then smiled and turned around. It needed to have its picture taken and I immediately thought “blog post idea.” I’m just now getting around to writing about the  tree with the initial tattoo (ala The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

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This tree had initials carved on it on all sides. I am terrible at estimating how old the tree is, but I am sure many of the initials were from long ago. I thought about the people who carved the initials. Long ago men carried pocket knifes. I don’t know if this is still the case, but I imagined people strolling along the path in the park, holding hands when they decide to mark that specific moment in time by carving their symbolic love in the tree, a permanent reminder of their love.

This custom has been around for centuries. I know one instance of tree carving, but decided to google and see what else came up on the subject.

Well, I’ll be damned. There is even a name for tree carving: arborglyphs.

The lifespan of an arborglyph ( I feel smart writing that) is of course limited to that of the tree. If a tree in the forest dies, so does its etchings…eventually. So, archeologists are confined to perhaps a few hundred years with the tree carvings, unlike petroglyphs, which may date back thousands of years.

Too bad trees don’t last forever. What a story that could be told!

Which brings me to a lesson I teach every year about the lost colony of Roanoke and a famous tree carving.

 

On May 8, 1587, a group of 117 men, women and children left England to sail across the Atlantic Ocean.  The colonist,s under the command of John White, headed for a destination on the Chesapeake Bay, but landed further south.

This colony on Roanoke Island was the first English settlement in the New World.  White, then governor of the colony–left the settlement and returned to England to get more supplies. Because of England’s war with Spain, there were no ships to spare. Three years passed before John White could return to Roanoke Island with the supplies. When he finally returned to the colony in 1590, he found the island deserted. The only trace left by the colonists was a mysterious ‘cro‘ carved in a tree, and ‘croatoan‘ carved in a fence post. Croatoan was the name of the nearby island and a local tribe of Native Americans.

It is possible that some of the survivors of the Lost Colony of Roanoke may have joined the Croatans. Roanoke Island was not originally the planned location for the colony and the idea of moving elsewhere had been discussed.

In this case of tree carving, it was done for the purpose of relaying a message. There was no heart with an arrow through this one. But, in the end, it was etched in a tree and made the fourth grade history book ever since.

So, the next time you want to  show your love by etching the big plus symbol between your name and the one you love, remember that  announcement  will  last a couple of hundred years.

So, be sure of it.

Canadian Rockies: Day 6, 7: Lake Louise and Calgary

The bear jam broke up after a truck pulled up and two people from I assume Banff National Park walked towards the bear. I decided this might be a good time to walk away. The bear took off up the path and into the woods. This was a highlight of my trip to Lake Louise and I just got to the place.

I was hungry, but I wanted to walk on the path around most of the lake. I found this guy first. I have no idea why I take a picture of it wherever I go. I must just be a weird individual. The lake is absolutely beautiful right now in the evening, and you will see how different the photos look from evening to morning. I plan to wake up early for sunrise. We will see how well that works out…zzzzzzzz

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I love taking pictures of the canoes on the water. I actually zoomed in on this. The lake is huge and the canoes are just tiny specks across the way.

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I took a gazillion pictures. Seriously.

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IMG_2050I have absolutely no idea what kind of birds these are..They are noisy and are hyperactive.

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There was one shot I was hoping to get while I was at Lake Louise. I was hungry, but was willing to wait a bit to get it.

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Maybe I will wait for this boat. It’s close.

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Not there

IMG_2076Almost but not really. I think I will go inside and get something to eat.

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Looks they are calling it a day too. I was wanting to get a shot of a canoe near the center without another one around…wishful thinking. I’m hungry, but stopped to take a few more pictures. I hope to come back outside for a bit after dinner.

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I ran into my first unfriendly person. She was leaning against this wall in front of the sign. When I asked if I could get a picture, she sighed, picked up her bags and moved over about a foot.That’s why the sign isn’t framed nicely.  Gee thanks, German lady.

But, when I turned around and saw this beautiful sight, I forgot all about rude people and took another picture.

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And then ran into this little guy.

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I took his picture, told him how pretty he was, and then walked towards the steps, and looked around one more time, and noticed the little guy was  following me. He stopped in his tracks when he saw I turned around.

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I decided to eat at the Glacier Saloon. Chateau Lake Louise has several restaurants, but this menu was right up my alley. I ordered a hickory smoked Chicken club….smoked chicken breast, crisp prosciutto, provolone, tomato, lettuce, avocado mousse on a ciabatta bun and a side order of fries. It was absolutely delicious. I think the avocado mousse in the mix was what made it so tasty.

After dinner, I went back outside. I have to leave at 8:15 in the morning, so I wanted to spend as much time outside as I could.

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I took a picture of the glacier, and then……

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Yay…close enough

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The runner-up..lol… my day of pretending to be a photographer is drawing to a close. It was fun framing shots and seeing how each one is different.

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The little guy needs a hat or scarf…

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IMG_2117I’m back in my room now after taking many photos after dinner and can’t wait to wake up early to get morning photos on the water. It will make a big difference as you will be able to see. Since it is already 9pm, I decide not to get online since it is not complimentary.

Morning!!

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I need to get outside. There are two men standing by their tripods ready for the reflection pictures that make this lake even more beautiful. I’m glad I got up early and am ready to go. But, wait….

IMG_2127Is that a beaver in the same place where the grizzly was yesterday? Stay there, beaver thingy, I’m going to walk like I’m on fire again….down the hall, into the elevator, down 5 floors, out the door, down into the veranda, turn a right on the path and I can see it scurrying away. Darn.

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Ah, come on! Turn around! He was gone. But, I was outside and ready to take some pretty pictures.

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IMG_2134That rounded bank of windows is my room..front part and one window on the side….I was a lucky girl.

IMG_2136My favorite photo of the whole trip!

IMG_2143It’s not even funny how many pictures I took this morning.

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Another shot with some rocks in the front.

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Trees and rocks added

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Goodbye Moon, I need to go inside, check-out, and wait for my 8:15 transfer to Calgary Airport

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After I checked-out, I decided I better grab something to eat. So I headed to the deli. I hadn’t been down this hall before.

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Hi dead elk on a wall

Hi dead elk on a wall

My 8:15 transfer with Brewster arrived right on time. We traveled to Banff where we had to change buses, and then it was off to the Calgary airport. We are lucky the roads are now open after the flooding in Canmore and Calgary. We could see the devastation as we traveled.

 

On my way to Calgary. Just a few more photos.

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This adventure has truly been a trip of a lifetime. Canada is just beautiful, and the Canadian Rockies are majestic and just really moved me. I have never seen such a beautiful place in all my life. The Icefields Parkway is something everyone should witness, with stunning vistas at each turn. The Rocky Mountaineer and its goldleaf service was a dream. I’ve always wanted to travel through the Canadian Rockies on a train, and the trip was everything I could hope for and more. Vancouver was a beautiful city and its famous Stanley Park rivaled (but I still prefer) Central Park in New York City.

I  am all about wildlife and have seen a marmot, 20+eagles, numerous ospreys and blue herons, a moose, 3 bear and a grizzly, 2 elk, one with gigantic antlers, many deer (which should be West Virginia’s state animal because they are everywhere), 2 coyotes, numerous mantled squirrels, chipmunks, ravens, and the list can go on and on. I can’t believe I was close to a grizzly.

Bravo, British Columbia, and Alberta, Canada!  Thank you, Fresh Tracks Canada, for creating a wonderful vacation for me. I will call you again for my next Canadian adventure.

Oh, yes, I will be back.

Canadian Rockies, Day 6, Part 2: Lake Louise and a Bear

Even though I got to see Lake Louise yesterday on the Icefields Parkway tour, I deliberately stayed to the left by the boat house during our short stop. I didn’t want to go inside or even see the front of the hotel and veranda. I wanted to be surprised.

Our Sun Dog tour guide dropped us off and I stood in a short line in the immense lobby.

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My room wasn’t ready yet, as it was only 3:30 and check-in time was at 4:00. No problem, I will just sit down on a chair and take some pictures. I looked up at the enormous chandelier. Some women were looking at me. Well, not really.

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I didn’t want to lug my bags around or leave them behind the desk, so I continued to scope out the lobby area from my seat. Out of nowhere , a white labrador retriever walked slowly right by me, just taking its good old time. I then saw a dog bed and a dog food bowl near a pillar with a picture of the dog and an explanation. I wanted to get a picture of the dog on his bed, because a picture of an empty dog bed just didn’t cut it, but he never sauntered back my way. I found out later the dog is the official mascot at this pet friendly resort. If you can’t bring your own dog, he is here to welcome you. I found a short video from 2010

I had a great people watching spot and honestly, the 30 minute wait went by quickly. I got back into the short line and got my room key and I was on my way. I was in room 501. I had to walk a far distance down from the elevator. I loved it though, because it reminded me of a scene from the Jack Nicholson movie, The Shining.

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When I opened up the door, I immediately saw two suitcases by the door. Uh oh.This can’t be good. I walked all the way back down the hall until I found two maids cleaning a room. They were so very friendly and called for a manager to come up immediately. They brought out a chair from the room they were cleaning so I would be more comfortable. I sort of smiled to myself, because this was the first bump on my previously unblemished trip.

The manager appeared in a few minutes and immediately looked up the information. In the meantime, she asked if there was anything I would like to drink while I waited, and she called down for a coke to be brought to my room. She  then looked at her papers and informed me that was indeed my room. The luggage must have been part of a tour group that had not arrived as of yet and was put in the wrong room. She took the bags out of the room, and I entered. This was taken care of in less than 5 minutes. Not much of a blemish. I put my stuff down and looked about the room. There were so many windows. I was at the end of the building. No wonder it was a long walk down the wing of the building. I had so many windows.

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Room 501

Here was my view from my room:

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Room service brought up my coke and I then looked to the left. Another great view.

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I looked out the right side of the room, which was right beside a field and the tree line. What the hell?

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Seriously? Was this a grizzly bear in the side yard?

It was. Whaaat? This is crazy.

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Can this trip get any better? I grabbed my room key and my purse and walked like I was on fire down the hall, into the elevator, down 5 floors, out the door, stopped to take this picture of the veranda-

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I don’t know why I stopped to take this picture. After all, on was on fire, right? I hurriedly made a right on the path and noticed he was still in the field. He had walked over a bit and now had an audience. Please forget me with the amount of bear shots I am going to post, but I was excited to see a grizzly bear.

This was my favorite photo of him.

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IMG_1993 Watch out, orange shirted tourist! Ok, just kidding. He wasn’t close to the bear.

 

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 The management was right on top of things and didn’t let us too close. I had a contingency attack plan. See those two little girls in front of me?  Just kidding….maybe, I mean, you just never know what would happen if a bear came after you.

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Canadian Rockies Trip, Day 6: Banff Gondola, Upper Springs, Moraine Lake

I woke up very early because I had to jam a visit to the top of Sulphur Mountain via the Banff gondola before check-out time. There was much to see and do before my transfer to Lake Louise after lunch. So, I took a shower and off I went after another enjoyable breakfast at the Rimrock. I had a voucher, courtesy of Fresh Tracks Canada.

Sulphur Mountain is basically right up the road from the Rimrock Resort.  I could either wait for the ROAM bus, which would be free, courtesy of the Rimrock, or I could walk. All I knew is that I had to get to the top of Sulphur Mountain because I had heard the view from the top was absolutely stunning.  Everything I had seen thus far has been stunning. Actually, I have run out of adjectives. I am in awe.  I had my camera and off I went.

It was a quick walk to the gondola, only about 5 minutes.

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The views were amazing just on this short walk.

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Since I was early, there was a short line. A tour group from China was in front of me, but the gondolas came and went quickly.  I gave the person at the window my voucher and received my ticket. If you take the Banff Gondola, make sure you keep your ticket, as there is a charge to go up and a charge to go down. If you buy the combined ticket, keep it. A lot of people  who visit hike to the top and then purchase a ticket to go down.

The gondola, a four passenger cabin, is tiny, and rocks a bit while going up Sulphur Mountain. It is an 8 minute ride up the mountain in the cable car to the summit of Sulphur Mountain….2,292 ft. almost perpendcular.  On top, at the Summit Upper Terminal, I was standing at an elevation of 7,486 feet. I’m quite sure I have never been to a higher elevation. The highest mountain in West Virginia is Spruce Knob, which is 4,863 feet in elevation, also the highest in the Allegheny Mountains. But, this view is to die for. Every which way I turned, I found a majestic mountain view. Do I really have to leave here today?

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One gets a bird’s eye view of six mountain ranges. We could see Cascade and Tunnel Mountains, plus the whole town of Banff. Tunnel Mountain was first called, “Sleeping Buffalo” because, well, it looked like a sleeping buffalo from the north. As for Tunnel Mountain, it’s a great name considering there is no tunnel through the mountain. There were plans years ago to put the railroad through the mountain, but it was not cost efficient.

View from the gondola

View from the gondola

Up at the summit, the visitor’s centre contains restaurants, gift shops, and an observatory up at the top for the best view. I could see the Banff Summit Walk, which must have taken forever to complete the decking. I could see a small buiding on top of the next mountain, Sanson Peak.

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There are two research facilities up on the top of the mountain. The Banff SummitWalk  leads to the Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site of Canada, and the Sanson’s Peak Meterological Station. In 1903, a meteorological observatory building was completed atop Sanson Peak. The stone building is still there and since I am a weather dork, I wanted to peek inside. First, though, I wanted to get a better look. I didn’t have a lot of time and had no idea how long the hike would take over to Sanson Peak.

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I don’t know about this. I looked at the walkway and walked down a lot of steps. There were benches at each landing. It looks like this is an interpretive trail, as I am reading markers full of information at each landing.

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I decided that I just didn’t have enough time to hike over and up, so I concentrated on getting my pictures of the view from where I was standing.

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I zoomed in on the Banff Springs Hotel, a beautiful building. I was supposed to stay here, but changed my plans for the Rimrock due to its proximity to the gondola and hot springs, which I plan to visit after descending this mountain.

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I headed inside and climbed the stairs to the Observatory deck. The views were even more impressive.

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To see the view from the top, check out the Banff National Park webcam

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Town of Banff

Town of Banff

There is an interactive giant compass located at the top of the Upper Summit Terminal. I enjoyed taking a picture of this compass. You are able to find out the distance and direction to your home and other cities around the world.

This is for my daughter, who lives in NYC

This is for my daughter, who lives in NYC

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Is that West Virginia? :)

Is that West Virginia? 🙂

Since I wanted to visit one more place before I left Banff, I got back in the short line for my trip down Sulphur Mountain. I tried to take a picture of the Rimrock, but it was a bit blurry because the darn tiny bucket of a gondola was swinging just a bit.

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Once off the gondola, I started the short hike over to Banff Upper Hot Springs.

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It really didn’t take too long to get there from the Banff Gondola. I would say it was a 5 minute walk, maybe shorter. I tend to stroll when I like the surroundings and there’s a nice shade along the path. Since it was morning, it was crisp and just a really nice leisurely walk to the hot springs. You do go through a small section of a parking lot before you reach this sign.

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The mountain was named in 1916 for the hot springs found in the area. I walked over to the water coming out of the mountain in the picture above and immediately smelled sulphur, hence the name, Sulphur Mountain. Banff Upper Springs opens early and closes around 11pm, so if you have time to soak your weary bones, the time frame is wide open to you.

The water temperature is kept between 37 and 40 degrees Celsius or in my world, 98 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit

The hot springs in Banff National Park are what made Banff so famous in the first place. It is the reason the Banff Springs Hotel was built. At first, there was a railroad that was built right to the hotel for guests who wanted to visit the warming powers of the hot springs.  Guests came here for the medicinal waters and would take a dip year round as had an ideal temperature for soaking throughout the seasons. They are the highest springs in Canada.

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After taking a few pictures of the springs, I noticed the hotel was directly across the road. I could see it through the trees. So, I saw a long wooden ramp and thought I would try to take it to see if it leads down to the main road. There weren’t any signs, but I knew it was there for a reason. I was right. It took me to the bus stop and all I had to do was walk across the street.

Speaking of the bus, Banff became the first municipality in all of Canada to use an all-hybird electric transit bus. All four of the buses have wildlife imagery all the way around it, with pictures of grizzlies, wolves, elk, goats, fox, deer and moose looking at me as the buses pass by. It’s a convenient schedule and I never had to wait for more than 5 minutes until the next Roam bus appeared. Maybe I just have great timing.

I went to my room and packed. Check-out time is 12 noon, which is great for me. Sun Dog Tours will be picking me up for a transfer tour to Lake Louise at 1:30. I will have time to hang out in the lobby and write.

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I found the perfect spot by an open door leading to a terrace. The fresh mountain air combined with great scenery of the surrounding mountains made for an easy wait.

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The doorman, Jeff, or Geoff, or maybe I am wrong as I only heard him say, “with 2 f’s,” so I guess I made the assumption his name was Jeff. Could be Ralff, perhaps, but anyway, Jeff came over and we began talking about Banff. He knew a lot about West Virginia, which surprised me, I guess. He told me Banff is indeed wonderful, but not if I don’t like snow.

I don’t like snow. Darn. There goes my dream of moving here when I retire. All kidding aside, I would move to this area in a heartbeat. I am over the moon with the Canadian Rockies. West Virginia is known as the Mountain State, but in all honesty, in comparison maybe we should adjust that moniker to the “Mound State.” The Rockies reach high into the sky, poking right through the clouds. I have decided I am no longer a “beach person.”

I took a final picture of the Rimrock before I had to leave. This was a great hotel.

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A Sun Dog Tour bus pulled up at exactly 1:30. This promptness is just unacceptable. It made me smile, because I have never seen such promptness as I have witnessed on this trip. Bravo, Canadian work force.

There would be only 4 others joining us on the transfer tour to Lake Louise. When I climbed on board, I saw a couple from Texas who were on the Rocky Mountaineer with me in the same carriage. We then stopped at Banff Springs Hotel to pick up another couple.

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How ironic. They were also on the Rocky Mountaineer, sitting just a few rows in front of me. They were from England. After we got settled and began our trip to Lake Louise, we discovered we were all using Fresh Tracks Canada for our trips. We discussed how wonderful it was to use such a wonderful travel company. I told them that what drew me to call them in the first place was the fact that I liked their polar bear on the front page of their web site. You know, sometimes it’s just those little things that make you decide upon something. So glad I did. There is no doubt I will be using them for any future Canadian adventure I hope to take.

Our tour guide asked if we minded taking a side trip to Moraine Lake as she needed to take the couple from England there. Are you kidding me? Can this vacation get any better? I was wishing I had more time on this Canadian Rockies adventure to visit the Cave and Basin National Historical Site in Banff and Moraine Lake. The Cave and Basin is one of nine sulphurous hot springs clustered in three groups near Sulphur Mountain. Since I already saw one, I will visit The Cave and Basin on my next trip to the area. (See, already wanting to come back.) But, I will get to see this beautiful lake, even though we will only have a few minutes to get out of the bus and snap some shots. I’m a lucky duck.

We first went by Castle Mountain. The tour guide tried to go a back road, but the route was closed due to the recent flooding and mudslides. So, we had to turn around. I did get a photo of Castle Mountain from a closer vantage point.

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We were near Lake Louise and took the left towards Moraine Lake. The sign said “11km.” It was a nice drive. Our tour guide told us the road is closed in the winter and used as a cross country ski trail. The thought of snow closing a road made me shudder. They must get an awful lot of snow up here.

Finally, we reach the sparkling blue Moraine Lake. It was stunning.

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From where I stood Moraine Lake did not look so large, but looks are deceiving. It is a large lake. It is situated in the valley of the Ten Peaks, although being at an elevation of 6,183 feet does not seem like a valley. The photo does not do it justice. I even looked it up on Google Earth when I got home to see if looks were indeed deceiving. Indeed. It is spectacular. As I have learned earlier on this trip, the color is due to the refraction of light off the rock flour deposited in the lake on a continual basis.

After dropping off the couple from England and snapping a few pictures from this one end of the lake, we are on our way to Lake Louise, where I will spend the rest of the day exploring the lake.

Next up: Canadian Rockies, Day 6, 7: Lake Louise

Canadian Rockies Trip: Day 5: Athabasca Glacier/Icefields Parkway

Today I dress in layers and head to the Athabasca Glacier.  I think I’m more excited to drive along the stunning Icefields Parkway on our journey to the glacier. The total tour takes nine hours.

There are over 100 glaciers that line the Icefield Parkway, which makes it one of the most scenic drives in the world. I looked it up, and it is actually ranked the third most scenic drive in the world. That’s a big deal.

Normally, on the Essential Rockies by Fresh Tracks, I would have had the day to discover Banff. I wanted to visit the Athabasca Glacier, so Tyler from Fresh Tracks custom designed a great day for me. I don’t think he has any idea how well that worked out.

I looked at my itinerary, and was ready for the van or bus from Discover Banff Tours to pick me up. There are many tour operators who have tours along the Icefields Parkway, but this tour was supposed to have a small group and a knowledgeable tour guide for the day. The  company is rated quite high on Tripadvisor, so I was ready for a great day.

After I ate breakfast at the hotel, which was fantastic and opened at 6:30 so I didn’t have to rush as I was getting picked up at 8:15, I checked out the lobby area in depth.

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At exactly 8:15, a Discover Banff Tours van pulled up. The was one guest already in the van. The driver informed me he would take us to the Banff Springs Hotel to pick up our other guests and to change vehicles. I was hoping it was a small group, no larger than 20, so I could take great photos without squeezing in somewhere to get a good shot.

When we pulled in, there was a girl standing there. A short time later, a van pulled up and our tour guide jumped out. Mia, who will look after us for the day, informed us that normally the minimum guests they would take on a tour is 4, but since I had a voucher and purchased it a long time ago, they decided to honor it and give the tour. I have a feeling that there were a lot of cancellations due to the terrible flooding in the area. So, there were only three of us on the whole tour! It gets better. The girl was only going as far as Lake Louise, so that meant the man from Scotland and I were the only guests on this tour. Thanks, Fresh Tracks for setting us up with a fantastic tour company. I can’t believe they didn’t cancel the tour. What a class act!

This full day sightseeing tour that travels a glacial landscape begins at Lake Louise.  We settled into our comfortable Mercedes van and off we went. We weren’t even out of Banff when we saw a coyote walking near us on the railroad tracks. Mia is extremely interesting and knows her stuff. She told us about all the history of the area and was very sensitive to the environment. It was going to be a great day.

The first thing on the drive that we came across was the overhead wildlife pass. Built for the animals to traverse the highway safely, the park system painstakingly created a series of over and underpasses for the animals. Mia answered every question I had concerning the animals safety and was a wealth of information on the protection of the bears and the fences put up to help keep them from the highway. I found myself looking for the underpasses along the way. She had stories about some of the poor animal deaths due to motorists who stop and create a “bear jam” which can scare the bears into running into the road through the fence.  So, she let us know that she would not stop if there were any bears along the road. I smiled, as I agreed 100%, but I had my camera ready just in case.

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Our first stop along the Trans-Canada Highway is Lake Louise, which is 34 miles from Banff. We had some time to take pictures of the area before we headed back onto the parkway. I was spending the night at Lake Louise the next day, so I just walked over to the boat house and talked to the tour guide working there and snapped a few photos of the lake.

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We met back in the parking lot and continued on the Icefields parkway. It was amazing. The mountains completed surrounded us.

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Along the way, Mia told us stories about the early explorers, such as Wild Bill Peyto and David Thompson.

Well, we approached the so called, “bear jam.” Mia slowed the van down so we could get a good shot and planned to communicate to the park people as soon as we reached the Columbia Ice Centre as we are in an area without cell phone service. The bear was very close to the road…and to people. I hoped it would traipse back into the woods very soon.

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We came across Crowfoot Glacier, which has now retreated and has lost one of its “toes.” I see it through the window and decide to take a shot even before we get out of the van.

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Next up, Bow Lake. Mia explains how it gets its color, which as a teacher,  I find quite interesting. It is a beautiful color. It is beautiful.

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The landscape was remarkable at each turn

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I was in awe when I saw Peyto Lake. This can’t be real!  We just beat a huge tour bus to the small wooden platform. We were able to get great photos before the bus arrived. Mia noticed they were directly behind us, so we quickly got out of the van and made our way on the short trail. Yay, Mia! The beauty of the lake was beyond words.

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The place looks like a postcard. There is no way you could take a bad picture.  I could have stayed at this lake for hours. I think I took about 30 photos here alone. It was stunning.

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Mia explained what a moraine was near a glacier. I think this is what she meant. A retreating or melting glacier leaves a lot of debris of rock and soil behind. She was a wealth of information. How fortunate to be taking a tour with only one other person. The other tour bus was filled with people who filed out without commentary outside of the bus. Mia was pointing and discussing all aspects of the Canadian Rockies with us. I was lucky Fresh Tracks Canada put me with a tour company that specializes in small group touring.

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A moraine is a glacially formed accumulation of debris, as in rock or soil deposited in the area. I guess I just mentioned that.

Mia has informed us that since she usually has tour groups up to twenty people, we are well ahead of schedule since there are only two of us. She asks if we would like to see Mistaya Canyon. How wonderful.

As soon as we pull into the parking lot and we get out of the van, a raven flies right at me and then plops down right in front of me and just stares at me. I have never seen a raven, so this was a treat. I ‘m thinking he was looking for a treat as well. We have crows back in West Virginia, but ravens are much larger. And crows don’t want anything to do with me. I have tried to tame a few. This fellow hopped behind us until we were at the top of the trail.

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We weren’t even on the path yet when a chipmunk like creature crawled out of his hole and stretched in front of us. The animals in Canada are not afraid of people at all. I guess when you live at a scenic stop, you are bound to get use to the humans.

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It was a decent .31 mile walk down the rocky path to the canyon. Most of it was straight down. I was hesitant because I have the lung capacity of a worm. Really, a worm. But, boy was it worth it. Mistaya Canyon is beautiful. Over the years, the water has carved a path through the rock and has left just a beautiful canyon.

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And the drive continues

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like something you would see on a postcard

like something you would see on a postcard

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I can’t begin to tell you how many pictures I took on this magnificent drive along the Icefields Parkway. We have been traveling for a while and have now reached the Columbia Icefields and the Athabasca Glacier. It is amazing.

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I noticed little specks of black and realize those are the snocoaches we will be riding. I zoomed in to see if I was right.

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We take buses over from the Visitor’s Centre to a place where we will then climb aboard the Snocoach explorer.

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Once on board, our driver, who was from England, told us how fast the Snocoaches could travel (28 mph) and how each one cost $1 million dollars to build. I tried to listen, but the sight was just too amazing. I do remember hearing the driver also tell us about the Continental Divide and how the melt water from the Columbia Icefield flowed to the three oceans: The Arctic, the Pacific, and the Atlantic (via Hudson Bay) The glacial water is the purest natural water known. I couldn’t wait to taste it.

You could see the road we were about to travel onto the glacier.

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I felt like I was on a different planet.

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We had 20 minutes to take pictures before we had to return to our Snocoach. That was more than enough time to walk around, drink the water, and take some photos. It was remarkable to think that we were actually standing on a glacier.

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I took so many pictures while standing on this glacier. It would take me forever to load them all.

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We then loaded up and started our journey back to the Visitor Centre. Our tour guide was waiting for us at the bus, and we started on our journey back to Banff.

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As we traveled on our way back to Banff, Mia informed us that this is usually where her clients fall asleep as it is a long day, but I can’t keep my eyes off these amazing views. After driving for a while, we stopped at Bow Lake, but from the other side of the lake in a First Nations village. The scenery was just as beautiful.

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Back in Banff

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What an amazing day with an amazing guide. Mia, from Discover Banff Tours, could not have done a better job. I gave her a nice tip and she let me out in town as I wanted to get dinner and check out Banff one last time before I head to Lake Louise tomorrow afternoon.

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Discover Banff Tours at http://www.banfftours.com and their facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/discoverbanfftours?fref=ts

Fresh Tracks Canada at http://www.freshtrackscanada.com/ and their facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FreshTracksCanada?fref=ts

Canadian Rockies Trip: Vancouver Eve

I’m ready to go. I have my detailed itinerary from Fresh Tracks Canada, my passport, Canadian moolah, and my camera with several memory cards. In a few short days I will be hearing the clickety clackety sound of the Rocky Mountaineer train as it takes me through the Canadian Rockies. But, up first, Vancouver, British Columbia.

I’ve decided to drive up tonight and stay in a motel close to the Pittsburgh airport. My flight is at 7:00 a.m., so I really don’t want to travel on Pennsylvania roads with suicidal deer and other critters with their red eyes looking at me while they pause in the middle of the interstate. No, I’ll find a hotel tonight that has an airport shuttle, you know, just in case my car doesn’t start in the morning. I have a neighbor who has eyes in the back of his head keeping an eye on my house and he knows under any circumstance should a vehicle or person be “visiting” me. The guy has a gun and he is craaaazy. (That should work, potential blog-reading-robbers)

You have to understand that I over-think everything. My main concern about this trip was the fact that I would be staying for six nights in four different hotels. What if Air Canada loses my luggage? I was watching the nightly news and they were giving statistics about how many bags are lost or delayed at the airports. How in the world would they catch up to me, depending on when (and IF) they locate my luggage? So, I have decided to learn to pack like a pro and just take a carry-on…and a computer bag…..and a purse…..and a jacket.

That may prove to be a silly dream. I need to take a jacket and clothing for 7 days. And that means 14 days in my world. I always over pack because you just never know. I will also need warmer clothing because one of the days I am going to visit a glacier. But,  I have been watching  youtube videos on “How to Pack for a Week in a Carry-On” and think I can do it. I’ve been trying to do it for the last couple of hours.

I don’t think I can’t do it..

not even done....

not even done….

I am supposed to land at 12:04 p.m. After picking up my baggage that I’m still thinking I won’t take, I am supposed to wait in baggage claims for my personal driver. I will have a personal driver…. You know, someone who stands at the airport holding a sign with  a name on it.   How special am I?  I hope he won’t be annoyed when I snap a picture of him. It will be hard for me not to talk to him, but I have learned my lesson from the New York City cab driver a few weeks back and will try to keep my mouth shut.

I’m excited to visit Vancouver. I didn’t realize it until last week, but I will be in Vancouver during our next “Super moon.”  And not only that, the photo opportunities will be greater the next night when I travel to the top of Grouse Mountain on the “Sunset Tour.” It is almost like I did that on purpose. I hope the weather cooperates.

It’s not supposed to cooperate….well, now it is as I go to post this. Yeehaw!

For those of you who don’t know a lot about our northern neighbor, let me tell you a few things about the vast country up above us.  Canada is divided into 8…. or maybe 10 provinces. (Be right back) Ok, Canada is divided into ten provinces: Alberta, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, New Foundland, Ontario, Saskatchewan……damn, I’m not very smart. (Be right back)

…..and Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Quebec. There are also three territories. Vancouver is located in British Columbia, which is way over there above Washington state. My grandparents lived in Spokane, Washington, so that is the closest I have ever been to British Columbia. When you look at the atlas, it is amazing how enormous British Columbia really is. And I get to go there tomorrow.

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*Vancouver is one of Canada’s warmest cities…uh oh, and it’s wettest…. There’s just no way it better rain on my parade. The Weather Channel online states that the weather in Vancouver this weekend will be partly cloudy on Saturday, 20% rain on Sunday,and 40% rain on Monday. Bummer for Monday. I think Weather.com  may be lying. After all, this is a trip of a lifetime, so it can’t rain.

*Vancouver is a very diverse city. 52% of its residents do not speak English as their first language  Over 30% of the population are Chinese. I will have to remember that if I get lost roaming the streets of Vancouver. I wonder if they will know what “pop” is, because I’m sure as hell not asking for a soda. (Be right back)…………… Ok, good, both British Columbia and Albert say “pop.”  I knew I liked these provinces.

*35% of Vancouver’s population is foreign born, the highest figure in the world.

*Vancouver is North America’s second largest Port (in tonnage & physical size) – after New York

*Vancouver is the second or third largest film production centre in North America. The X-Files was filmed here as was the Twilight movies.

*Vancouver is probably the only place in the world where it is possible to ski, play golf, and go sailing all in the same day.

*-Vancouver is the birthplace of the one of the worlds largest environmental organizations – Greenpeace

*Vancouver sits atop one of the worlds most dangerous faults. Well, that’s nice to know. There is also a sizable active volcano (Mt. Baker) close to the city in nearby Washington state. Well, I guess I am close to the famous “ring of fire.” My students learn about earthquakes and volcanoes each year. I hope I don’t have a story for them when they return to school this fall.

*Stanley Park, Vancouver’s largest, is 1001 acres—making it 10% bigger than New York City’s Central Park. I was just at Central Park last month. I will scope it out and compare the two. I can not imagine any park being more beautiful than Central Park. We shall see….even if it is raining….sigh.

*The Vancouver Aquarium ranks in the top 5 around the world. I plan to go there if it is raining. I keep a penguin cam from the Vancouver Aquarium up on one of my computers in my classroom and turn it on at the end of most days. The camera is right in front of the penguins and it is fun to watch. I just may have to pay them a visit and wave into the camera for someone like me who is watching the penguin cam.

Well, I think I have everything. The next time you hear from me, I will be in Vancouver, British Columbia, day 1 of my Canadian Rockies adventure. If you don’t hear from me, that means I am still at the airport or the wi-fi sucks at the hotel. We shall see.

I guess I could always find a Starbucks. The have free wi-fi….  Vancouver has over 200 of them.

Too bad I don’t like coffee.

The Popcorn Muncher

Sometimes I get a chuckle from facebook status messages. One of those messages  made me laugh out loud this morning:

“If someone in Fairview is missing a goat it’s in my yard!!”

I laughed and then I smiled with a great memory from when my children were young. We lived “out in the country” if you want to call it that. We sat on 13 acres and I had wildlife at my kitchen door daily. It was wonderful. We used to watch a snapping turtle climb out of our pond and creep up to the top of  hill by our house and work for hours digging a hole to deposit her eggs. She did this every year. I had no idea that a snapping turtle finds the highest point she can for her egg delivery. I went out one year and dug a hole parallel to where she was working to no avail. She would look over at me like “What the hell, lady.”  As soon as I went back in the house, she moved over and continued where I started digging for her. My children loved it and I felt like an awesome mom and general turtle helper.

Well, every Christmas season, which is right after Thanksgiving in my household, I would bring out the air popper and make popcorn for our Christmas tree. I learned over the years to let the popcorn sit out for a few days for easier stringing. It just sucks to try to push a needle through fresh popcorn.It was hard not to curse in front of my children. “Oh….sugar” just didn’t make it. Some of those  needle-through-my fingers needed a full f-bomb rant. It wasn’t until after the internet was invented (thanks Al Gore) that I was able to read advice on proper popcorn stringing. Some years I would feel more energetic with my popcorn stringing and completely loop around the tree. Other years, not  so much. I would faux string it, which means cheating and only showing the popcorn string where people can see the tree.

After Christmas was over and the tree was taken down, I would slide the popcorn off the thread and put it in a large stainless steel bowl.

“Kids, I’m going to put the popcorn out on the mound so the birds can have a Christmas treat.”

Am I an awesome wildlife lady or what? The mound I am referring to was a place underneath a hickory tree near our pavilion. When we leveled the yard after we built our home, I wanted to save the hickory, so we left a little hill area in front of the tree. We placed a large granite stone at the base of the tree. This is where I would lay out goodies for the birds  and squirrels. And after Christmas, it was where I put the popcorn.

So, one day I had the kids put on their coats and I took that stainless steel bowl outside and explained to the kids what kind of birds may want to eat the popcorn.

“Let’s keep an eye out, because we may see blue jays…..and crows…..and..maybe a bird we haven’t seen on the mound before.”

It was starting to snow, which was great while decorating the tree. It really puts you in the mood. My daughter loved to help put the ornaments on the tree and it wasn’t too long when she too, would stand back after carefully deciding where to put a particular ornament. My son was generally waiting for me to put together my little Christmas  village of buildings and people as he loved putting a little boy headfirst down into the well or laying  him on the white ground with a horse drawn sleigh getting ready to run over him. To be honest, I loved walking into the kitchen to see what he moved around next.

A few hours after I put the popcorn out on the mound, my daughter ran into the Hearth room with a big smile on her face.

“Mommy, there’s a cow eating the popcorn!” Cackling is always a great laugh, and Alex was doing her share of cackling.

Whaat? We walked over to the  kitchen french door and lo and behold, there indeed was a cow munching on our popcorn. It was a big solid black cow and it was loving the popcorn. This was the year I made a large popcorn garland for the Christmas tree, so there was a heap of popcorn on the mound.  Popcorn was coming out of both sides of his mouth. The cackling from Little One continued. Adam took a break from putting a dog on a roof  in the village to join us at the door.

“Mommy, you never said a cow would come to the mound,” she managed to say between her wonderful laugh. Adam stood there watching the cow munching like it hadn’t been fed in a while.  It was a funny sight, especially since the most we were expecting were blue jays or crows.

We stood there for a long while, actually stunned that there was a cow in our yard. Our neighbors had cows, but they lived down over the hill and were far away from us. I knew it had to belong to them. The cow must have slipped through a broken barb-wired fence and trotted away and decided to visit us, I guess.

After I made the call and our neighbor came to retrieve the popcorn munching cow, we continued to decorate the tree and my son continued messing with the village, placing the little Christmas town on alert for the boy lost after jumping off a bridge.

It was a wonderful, wonderful memory and I thank my facebook friend who found a goat in her yard this morning.

It made me cackle.

What The Hell, Seagull?

I saw a seagull today. I realize that is not an unusual observation for many. People always see them at the beach. After all, that’s where they belong. So, why the hell are they flying around my local Walmart’s parking lot? In West Virginia.

I came to Fairmont to go to college in 1974 and there were a few seagulls in the Middletown Mall parking lot. I was confused then and I am confused now. They have no business being in the mountains of West Virginia. That is against the laws of nature. Why, that would be like seeing a polar bear on a Miami beach, a rattle snake crawling along in the Arctic, or a moose hanging out in Central Park. So, after going through more “animals out of their element” scenarios, I decided I needed to learn more about seagulls and why they are in Fairmont, West Virginia. We only have streams and rivers. And they aren’t even cool rivers, like the Columbia…..or the mighty Mississippi. No, my seagulls are near the Tygart and the West Fork Rivers. There is no sand, no waves, no crabs to peck at. Why, oh why, are they flying above me in the freaking Walmart parking lot? The search was on.

Many people are perplexed as well. A woman wrote from Iowa about seeing seagulls in her Kmart parking lot. Many other land-locked puzzled people were wondering the same thing. Is it a migration route? And if so, where the hell are they coming from or going to in Iowa? That makes no sense at all. Iowa is too far away. And a blogging friend informed me that the seagull is the state bird of Utah. Utah!  Seems that years and years ago locusts were eating a lot of crops and all of a sudden seagulls appeared and ate the locust. The Mormons saw that as a sign and the next thing you know, they’ve got a state bird. Apparently, the seagulls in that state like the brine in the Great Salt Lake.

Maybe the seagulls think West Virginia is part of Virginia. They, afterall, have Virginia Beach, seagull capital of a small stretch of beach. There are a lot of geographically challenged people out there who think West Virginia is western Virginia. Maybe the seagulls think the same.

Years ago, near Point Pleasant, West Virginia, people thought they saw a strange flying “thing” that was dubbed Mothman. Hysteria reigned in that small Ohio River town for many years afterwards. Mothman supposedly had red eyes, a large wingspan and could pick up a German Shephard and carry it off. There is even a statue to Mothman and a Mothman festival. But, a wildlife biologist said all along it was a sandhill crane,  a large American crane almost as high as a man with a seven foot wingspan featuring red circles around its eyes. He said  the bird may have wandered out of its migration route.

I guess not all birds know what the hell they are doing. Sure, Canadian geese flaunt their knowledge of their ABC’s by flying in a V formation. They fly south for the winter. Well, they used to until they decided that since these silly Americans are  feeding them, they’d just stay all year long. We can’t get rid of them or their trail of slimy algae green poop.

So, maybe my Walmart seagull got lost on his way to Bora Bora or Aruba or where ever they fly on their migration route. I had no idea there were so many varieties of gulls. All I know is that they can attack. I know this because I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Tippi Hedren got pecked in the forehead by one.

In the end, I guess I feel sorry for the seagull who is living at the Walmart parking lot. Where does he sleep at night? Sitting on a light pole can’t be fun. Doesn’t he miss the sound of the ocean waves lulling him to sleep?  And if he doesn’t leave, will the crows let him hang out with them? They are usually a tight group, not making friends easily.

I did just read that we may be confused by their name, as it implies the “sea.” Someone wrote there is no such thing as a “sea” gull.  Gulls can adapt inland. Well, then maybe their name should change. Canadian geese are no longer Canadian….. Hermit crabs are quite social……a teddy bear hamster is not a damn teddy bear……

and a jumbo shrimp is not a big little thing. Whoever is naming animals is on drugs.

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