Driving Through Manhattan

My daughter usually takes the Megabus or Greyhound from New York City when she comes home to West Virginia for a visit. I don’t know what got into me this last visit, but I offered to drive her back to her upper East Side apartment so she wouldn’t have to take the bus back. Why did I do that?

I never wanted to drive in New York City. I have been there now about seven times to visit my daughter, and the traffic is a nightmare. I have either taken a plane or Amtrak, but knew I would never drive into Manhattan. Oh, I don’t mind sitting in traffic. That doesn’t bother me. What bothers me about New York City traffic is how other drivers don’t seem to mind cutting people off.  It should be called Sideswipe City.

But, I prepared myself. I had my trusting  GPS system, which I named Maggie, and I marked the route I wanted to take to avoid most of downtown Manhattan. She lives in Yorkville, which is in the upper east side. I was ready.

It was a nice drive for the most part. I really enjoy driving on Route 68 through Maryland. I have driven that route many times. But, I then had to turn north and head on Interstate 81 and then Interstate 78 in Pennsylvania and immediately noticed the heavy volume of long haul trucks. I mean, it was like being in the middle of a truck parade, minus truckers throwing candy out of their windows.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind driving in the least. I love taking road trips, but I had to wonder if this interstate is a main thoroughfare for truckers. Not only where there many many trucks, but there was a huge debris field of rubber tire pieces lying in the road and off to the side. It was a tire graveyard in some respects. Oh, sure, I see tire pieces along our Interstate 79 all the time, but this was different.  And then we got to see one in the making.

A truck had blown a tire and as we passed him we could see the tire shred right before our eyes. He managed to get off to the right side of the road, but not until he left a wake of rubbery debris in the middle of the road. It’s a wonder it didn’t fly up and hit another car.

Well, as I thought about this, a car in front of us ran over another tire shred and it flew up in the air and came right at us. And there was nothing we could do. It hit my front passenger headlight and then went under my car. Thank goodness it didn’t hit the windshield. I looked in my rear view mirror to make sure nothing was punctured and we continued on our semi-merry way.

As we approached New York City, after about 7 hours on the road, my GPS told me to take the next right. I looked up at the road sign that clearly said to stay on this road, as I needed to take the George Washington Bridge, but my daughter told me to follow what Maggie is saying.

Where are you , bridge?

Well, Maggie was banned to the glove compartment after she took us down by some loading docks along the river in New Jersey. This is after she made me go through a toll. I immediately turned around  as I  knew something was very wrong.  Maggie then took me the wrong way on the toll road.

“Dammit, Maggie, I don’t want to go West.”

After paying a toll three different times, I  found myself in front of the Holland Tunnel……..the $13 entrance fee Holland Tunnel. Seriously? It costs that much money to drive through a damn tunnel?  I was mad at Maggie, who made me backtrack three times and pay a toll three times only to drive me to the $13 Holland Tunnel. This is where she went into the glove compartment.

The Holland Tunnel is considered to be one of the most high-risk terrorist target sites in the United States. Is that why I had to pay $13 to travel through it? I didn’t understand.

Did not want to go this way…sigh

This was not good. The George Washington Bridge would have taken me along New Jersey and I would have been able to drop down from north Manhattan right onto the FDR Parkway, avoiding those mean Manhattan streets. But, now, with traveling through the Holland Tunnel, I would be deposited onto South Manhattan, where the street names don’t start with a number yet…..and I had to travel all the way to 95th Street. Great.

My daughter didn’t recognize any of the streets at first, but quickly got her bearings. I began seeing NYU flags on some of the downtown buildings, so I knew she would be able to pin our location. We were on the west side of town and we needed to get over to 1st Avenue, which would take us to her apartment. We passed through Greenwich Village via my daughter’s directions. I hoped she was going to do a better job than Maggie. After all, the glove compartment was too small for my daughter. I put my trust in the fact that this was her city and she was taking me on the right roads.

The traffic wasn’t so bad on the side streets. Oh, it was congested with a mix of cars and people on bikes with no bike lane, but it was manageable. You have to understand that I did not want to do this.  I was adamant in the fact that I was never going to drive through Manhattan. If there was a bucket list for things not to do before one dies, this would be #1 on my list. But, I now had no choice. I was in Manhattan…..in a car.  I’m not Catholic, but felt like doing the sign of the cross as we approached 1st Avenue.

Once we turned left on 1st Avenue, I gripped the steering wheel and charged on.

Drivers in this city are crazy. The best advice I can give is to never hesitate. Once you hesitate, a double decker sight-seeing bus will pull into your lane, even if you are there. I had to honk my horn, which is illegal in many places in Manhattan. We were almost side-swiped  more times than I can count on my fingers. Taxi drivers must have their own laws, bikers zipped in and out of traffic, and buses think they are the only ones on the road.

I found out quickly not to drive in the far left lane as delivery trucks will just stop there to unload and then you are stuck. People won’t let you back into traffic. Motorists in New York City aren’t courteous. They have places to go and people to see. My license plate clearly stated I was from West Virginia. And I was being eaten alive. I think other drivers smelled my weakness, as they were changing lanes right on top of me. I hope that some day they had to drive through West Virginia and were stuck on the top of Mt. Storm after a heavy snowfall. Yeah, city drivers, take that.

My daughter was nervous, as she was the passenger and on the side where most of the potential side-swiping was taking place. After driving about 45 blocks, with about 50 more long blocks to go, my daughter, who was holding on to something on her side of the car, looked over at me when we stopped at a red light and said:

“You’re sitting there, smiling, you weird-o.”

I was smiling. I couldn’t help it. I was driving in New York City! I guess I was having fun with the realization that I was doing something so brave, so daring, as to actually drive 95+ blocks through Manhattan. I deserved a prize or something. I was not scared at all. In fact, I was kind of enjoying the drive. I have been a guest in a taxi numerous times on these streets, sometimes wondering if I was going to arrive alive, but this time I was in charge of my own fate in my naive West Virginia Subaru.

I arrived on her street with no new dents or scratches. I was just going to drop her off and get the hell out of the city before rush hour.  But, she talked me into staying and I found a place to park on the street just one street over. We had a nice afternoon in Central Park north and we headed to a great Thai restaurant that is a requirement each time I visit.

I left the next morning at 4:15, hoping to beat morning traffic. This city never sleeps.  I followed the FDR right over the George Washington Bridge and back the way I was supposed to travel on my way in. It was so much easier.

But, I would never have had this experience. I can honestly say I drove through New York City.

Thanks Maggie. I may let you out of the glove compartment next trip.

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Our Disappearing Roadside Rest Areas

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

Robert Frost

Years ago, there were no interstates. We had two lane roads and that’s about it. Sometime during the summer we would hop into our family car and travel around West Virginia. My dad was a realtor and land developer and said he could not be away from the business for too long at a time. I’m thinking that he just didn’t want to be cooped up in a car with my mom, who was so much more than a co-pilot; she was a drill sergeant  driving instructor and a callous wife. That combination was not fun if you were sitting in the front seat…which I was not.

No, I was sitting in the backseat…with a bucket between my feet and my face out the window. The hairpin turns on these West Virginia roads did not make me a happy traveler. My dad would also make us get out at almost every scenic vista to pose for a picture. He had one of those huge press cameras, and also took home movies. So, it took us a while to travel 60 miles through the mountains.

The great thing about traveling on a two lane road back then was the fact that there were numerous places to pull over and take a break. You could tell  because there was a place to pull over and the three main requirements:

1) shade

2) a great view

3) a picnic table right by the road.

Many people would pack a lunch before their little jaunts as  restaurants and gas stations were just here and there. Nowadays, there are interstate rest stops along the way where you can buy food and drink out of vending machines. Just writing this makes me feel sorry for the youth in 2013, as this way of traveling in the 50’s and 60’s was ideal now that I think about it. Well, except for the fact that most of the pull-off picnic rest areas did not have a bathroom. But, for the most part, they were a welcome break from traveling with three fighting young children in the back seat and one continuously perturbed woman in the passenger seat. My dad would always say the same thing:

“Look at this beautiful view. We need to get a picture.” We would then get out of the car and strike a pose.

If you lived in West Virginia back then, there were certain places your family would travel.  I will never forget stopping by the smallest church in the lower 48 states.   Right alongside Route 219 in Thomas sits Our Lady of the Pines. My dad even let me sign our name in the guest book located right inside. This cute 24×12 foot church has only six pews and seats twelve people. Peter Milkint, a Lithuanian immigrant, built Our Lady of the Pines in 1938. You know, I’m thinking that since Hawaii and Alaska did not join the United States until 1959,  perhaps Peter billed the church the smallest before those states had their statehood. I may have stepped into the smallest church in all the 50 states.

This tiny sanctuary receives about 30,000 visitors a year.

There were other places we would venture on our yearly 2-3 day “jaunts” around West Virginia and stopping by the roadside rest areas were always part of the plan. We would visit Senaca Rocks, Smoke Hole Caverns, Spruce Knob, and come to think about it, we never went anywhere else except for the Monongahela State Forest area. Naturally, they had many pull over rest areas with added concrete fireplaces. But,the  one place I remember most vividly, and that was Cool Springs Park.

Cool Springs was not a destination, but a stop along the journey. It was what our interstate rest stops are today, minus the animals and rusty tractors. It was such a surprise the first time we came down a 3 mile hill and saw this great rest stop/souvenir shop/petting zoo and I was thrilled to death. Kids love souvenirs and this place had everything. This was roadside kitsch galore.

I’m pretty sure my brother bought a tomahawk and I liked the penny in a small bottle with the words Cool Springs Park written across the front. Parents are more than obliged to purchase these souvenirs because it may mean some quiet time once the kids climb back into the car. Well, not when there is a tomahawk involved. But, regardless, it was a vacation pressed in my memory and I decided last week to travel to Cool Springs once again on my way to nowhere in particular.

Now, this isn’t my first trip back to Cool Springs since I was little and was continually tomahawked in the back seat of the car. No, we traveled along Route 50 when I had my own children. But, it had changed since the early 60’s. In the early 90’s, it was, well, more rusty. The owners of cool springs had many displays of train cabooses and other mechanical devices showcased around the acreage beside the gas station/ souvenir shop.  You could walk through the park like grounds over bridges and see the large water wheel in action. But, the tractors had a lot of rust on them and I didn’t want my children to touch anything. The animals weren’t around that day, but there were a couple of peacocks walking around.

Inside, the kids picked out a souvenir or two. The tomahawks were still there. Thank goodness my kids walked right by those. I smiled when I saw the penny in a jar and I believe I had a thimble to add to my printer’s tray.

Cool Springs was the ultimate roadside park. So, fast forward to 2013, and I decided to stop there once again, this time with camera in tow. Earlier in the morning I decided to do something spontaneous and hurriedly packed an overnight bag and I was on my way. The only certain plan I had was to travel east on Route 50. I was going to get to visit Cool Springs again.

Since I was looking out for photo opportunities on my drive, I noticed numerous abandoned buildings along the way. Once an interstate is built, a lot of restaurants, motels, and small businesses had to close due to a decrease in people stopping. Roadside parks had decreased also. People weren’t really stopping to stretch their legs or check out their map. Afterall, that’s what a GPS is for. Coolers are kept in a car for longer jaunts, and people wanted to stretch their legs where ever there were also restroom facilities. But, Cool Springs Park was still open, after all these years.

Ah,nostalgia.

The sign was still the same.

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I smiled as I got out of my car and decided to walk left through the park and save the store and restaurant for later.

I immediately noticed the neglect of the once magnificent park.

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The collection box was quite rusted. I think they quit checking for donations years ago 

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There was a very pretty covered bridge, but what you didn’t see is that it was jammed with old pieces of machinery and cars so there is no way anyone could cross the bridge any more.

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I’m thinking this is where all the old steam engines and mechanical devices go to die.

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There were a couple of birds in a very muddy pen. With the amount of rain the area had earlier, the whole park looked as if the creek bed washed up over its banks and covered the whole park. It was a very muddy walk.

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The more I walked around, the more I realized that this park will probably not be here in twenty years. Fences were down, the water wheel was no longer working, and the shelters had fallen down.

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I remember climbing into this caboose when I was little.

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The water wheel is no longer working. It was such a wonderful thing to see.

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I have no idea why this wishing well is enclosed by a chain link fence and is now full of water. I stared at this for a while, trying to figure it out. I should have asked someone.

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Sit at your own risk.

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And then I walked into a swarm of about 25,000 gnats. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating, but they went up my nose, in my eyes and ears and all through my hair. There were so many shallow pockets of water throughout the park, I immediately thought that this could be a prime breeding ground for the West Nile virus as the bugs and mosquitoes were plentiful. Since there were a couple confirmed cases of West Nile Virus elsewhere in West Virginia, don’t think that wasn’t on my mind.

I was miserable. It is not fun having bugs up your nose or in the corner of your eyeballs. And then I stepped in donkey poop.

Yes, I didn’t see them, but I knew there were two donkeys on the property. And there was donkey poop everywhere.

So, now I was just a mess. I decided to make my way into the store so I could clean the donkey poop from my sandals and splash water on my face, you know, to drown the gnats.

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Once inside, a flower arrangement sits in one of the sinks in the bathroom that no longer works.

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A souvenir store on one side and a restaurant/hardware store on the other. I could not find a penny in a bottle.

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Darn, a blurry picture and I only took one of the crowd that was sitting for lunch. The place was crowded with tourists wanting a tomahawk, locals, and those just stopping for gas. There were three people in front of me at the cash register, so I knew this was still a hit with those passing by.

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As I left to continue on my trip on the scenic byways of West Virginia, I pulled over to take one last photo of Cool Springs Park. I then just sat and looked over the whole place. I remember such a manicured place with a water wheel and people sitting under shelters eating food they brought in their cars. This is the ultimate roadside park. And unless something is done, the shelters will be on the ground, the fences that are still up will have fallen, and the rusty tractors and train engines will be a further rusty mess. There’s no going back unless the decay is stopped.

I would so prefer driving the back roads. Interstates are rushed, impersonal, and agitating. Back roads offer scenery, a meandering pace, and a greeting from a roadside picnic table for stretching your legs and taking in the beauty that surrounds you.

I hope Cool Springs Park survives for future generations of tomahawk buying children. It was a West Virginia treasure, and still is, despite being so very rough around the edges. Luckily, it is a major route for those enjoying a ride on their motorcycles and short cuts across our state.

I hope you stop if you are ever in the area.

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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.

Room 501

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, Day 4: Kamloops to Banff

I’m very excited for this leg of the journey. I deliberately chose to travel eastward because I wanted to climb from the lower elevation of Vancouver up into the Canadian Rockies. The Rocky Mountaineer does operate in both directions. I think it would be more awe-inspiring than if I reversed my trip. So, yes, I’m excited. My camera batteries are charged (yep, I have two of them) and I am ready to go. We found out that we were not going to be able to make it past Golden today because of the horrendous flooding in the area. We are going to miss the Spiral Tunnels, but I’m glad the whole trip wasn’t canceled. Rocky Mountaineer is bending over backwards to make sure we are happy customers despite this drawback. It’s just something that has happened and it’s just a disruption for the last two hours of our journey. There doesn’t seem to be one person who has had a problem with this whatsoever. So, we carry on.

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Not only do I get to sit by myself, I am sitting at a place where there are no seats directly in front of me. I am right by the stairs, so I have a long counter in front of me and an amazing amount of leg room. It’s wonderful.

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I sort of liked the scenery approaching Kamloops and I’m excited to climb higher into the Canadian Rockies. This is the part I have been looking forward to the most. Kamloops is only at 1,100 feet in elevation and the Kicking Horse Pass between British Columbia and Alberta is over 5,300 feet, so we are going to be climbing higher, that’s for sure.

As I was eating breakfast, we came across the hoodoos outside of Kamloops. Since I was on the other side of the train, I knew there would be a glare in any pictures I took. We learned a trick on the train to get our cameras as close to the window so it would help eliminate those darn spots.

Anyway, about the hoodoos…

So, while researching the different places I would be seeing on my Canadian Rockies adventure, I stumbled across the word, hoodoos. I was going to get to see the hoodoos in along the way near Kamloops and in Banff. Ok, that’s cool, but I had no idea what hoodoos were. Sounded like something I would see on a ghost tour during Halloween night. Oh, no, here comes a hoodoo. Something like a Boogeyman…I’m not even close.

I’m a 4th grade elementary teacher, and we have studied rock formations. I’ve heard the word spires, but never hoodoos. So, I thought I would share what I found out about hoodoos, and if someone ever brings up the conversation at your next dinner party, you will look pretty damn worldly, because, you too, will be able to talk about hoodoos. You can thank me later.

Hoodoos are tall skinny spires of rock that protrude from the bottom of arid basins and “broken” lands. They have also been called fairy chimneys, tent rocks, and earth pyramids. Hoodoos are found mainly in the desert in dry, hot areas. That would explain why I had never heard of them. We don’t have any in West Virginia.

Hoodoos remind me of the drip castles we used to make every year while vacationing in Myrtle Beach. So, there you go; a little information about hoodoos.

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Since I had breakfast first yesterday, I will be in the second seating today. But, wait. The onboard director came back and said there were some open slots for first seating if any of us want to take it. I walked down and sat with a lovely couple from Tennessee and a woman from Alabama who had a strong southern accent. I enjoyed listening to her talk.

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We are traveling on the South Thompson River, with volcanic hills, and the hoodoos on the left across the river. I enjoy hearing the clickety-clack of the train in this portion of the country. We learn about Billy Miner, who committed Canada’s very first robbery in 1904 and coined the phrase, “Hands up!”  Our attendants came up the stairs, donned with a white scarf (napkin?) over their nose and mouth, yelling, “Hands up!” but we weren’t too scared, considering we knew who they were and for the fact they were carrying bananas. We all laughed, as it was quite amusing.

 

"Hands up!"

“Hands up!”

 

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This is one of my favorite photos of the whole trip

This is one of my favorite photos of the whole trip

The landscape is changing again as we are coming along lakes and the hills are getting higher.

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Lake Shuswap is also known as Osprey Alley, but to be honest, we saw many more osprey nests yesterday. I have called out “Eagle!” several times already this morning. I’m sort of having fun with it. We have been traveling for such a long time along the lake that I wanted to call out “Shark!” I knew that would get a laugh, but probably wear a little thin after a while, so I behaved myself and just said it to the Australian family. Speaking of the Aussies, the mom, Margaret, lost her voice and could not talk to anyone. I could tell she wasn’t feeling well today.

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We keep seeing the telegraph poles along the way. Some are sitting precariously over the lake. I like taking their picture.

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We pass places like Salmon Arm and Lake Mara. Salmon Arm is home to the longest wooden wharf in North America. I didn’t see it.

Craigellachie- Last spike for the  Canadian Pacific railroad is on the left. The train slows so we can all get a picture. I bet they were glad when the railroad tracks were complete. What a job!

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There are streams and creeks all over the place as we climb higher. Some of the water is still quite high due to the flooding as many of the trees and bushes are knee deep in the rushing waters.

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I am outside on the vestibule more this second day. I love the feel of the fresh air on my face. It is cooler, so I am wearing my new red fleece Rocky Mountaineer jacket. Feels wonderful.

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Ah, here come our snow-capped mountains. We all reach for our cameras to snap this one.

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A popular photo stop

A popular photo stop

We inch across the Stoney Creek bridge, a steel girder structure high above the canyon floor. I’m talking high. We travel slowly over the bridge, but approach it head on, so we aren’t able to get a picture of it. I have seen a picture of it, and it is imposing and scary. But, yet, since many of the guests have no idea what we are crawling over, they are taking pictures left and right and below.

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The creaking noise is a bit creepy. This bridge reminds me of one you see in old westerns, where the black locomotive goes over it and something bad usually happens. The creaking noise was unsettling, but we are over the bridge quickly, even though we are crawling.

looking down

looking down

 

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We are still climbing and the views are stunning.

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The last thing we pass through is the Connaught Tunnel, which is a long tunnel. I believe we travel through it for 5 miles. . The trip takes around 8 minutes to get through the tunnels. Our attendant tells us stories about the building of the tunnel at this time.

Our train journey is coming to an end and our attendants gather to talk to us and to pass out a postcard with their names on it. What a great group we had! I tipped them handsomely, as they did a great job to make sure our time on the Rocky Mountaineer was a good one.

 

IMG_1653We pulled into Golden, where there are buses waiting for us. I am on bus #7 with the other guests who will be traveling to the RimRock Resort.  Rocky Mountaineer is so very prepared in this flooding diversion. We have two onboard attendants who answer questions about what we are seeing next. But, what we are seeing next is amazing: two bear near the railroad tracks that are running parallel to the highway.

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I’m a big believer in things happening for a reason. Maybe today those bears are alive because we didn’t take the train like we were supposed to. That would have been awful and I know this happens every year on the tracks.

We missed traveling the Spiral Tunnels, but all the buses pulled over at the overlook so we can all get a good look across the mountain. We soon pass Lake Louise and follow Castle Mountain for a very long time. The Bow River follows us.

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We are soon entering Banff and I have immediately fallen in love with the town. Our bus meanders up a hill to the Rim Rock Resort, where my bags are supposed to be waiting for me. Check-in is smooth and easy.

It is hard to believe that my Rocky Mountaineer adventure has just ended. It was an amazing experience. I will sing their praises until the day I die, as for a solo traveler, I was in awe the entire time. Some people think it is an expensive vacation, and it is, but, you get what you pay for over and over again. I was pampered from start to finish, met some incredible people from all over the world, and saw a part of the country you can’t see in a bus or car.

I am ready for my days in Banff and Lake Louise.

So, when you are a guest at the RimRock, you are able to use your room key to take the Roam bus downtown. I entered my room to a most wonderful view. I have to thank Fresh Tracks Canada for recommending this hotel. It is closer to the gondola and hot springs and just a quick shuttle ride downtown. Thanks, Tyler!

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What a fantastic view.

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I was hungry, and decided to check when the next shuttle was coming through. It was almost 8:00 and I was ready for some pasta at the Old Spaghetti Factory. (Yes, I checked up on the eating establishments before I arrived. I knew exactly where I wanted to go.)

The concierge smiled and pointed outside. The bus just pulled up. I hurried outside and stepped on the bus. What luck, considering it arrives every 40 minutes. I would be eating 40 minutes sooner now.

Banff is already my favorite town. I love it! It is postcard beautiful!

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I ate, looked through some stores, purchased a t-shirt and a Banff Christmas ornament, and then walked to the bus stop. There is a live message board that lets you know when the next bus was coming through. I only had to wait 5 minutes. This was wonderfully efficient.

I got back to the resort to find complimentary internet, so I wrote a blog post and went to bed since it was such a very long day. Tomorrow I’m headed on a 10 hour tour on the Icefields Parkway. Off to bed I go.

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