Category: roadtrip

White Rim Road… alone in the desert wilderness

Canyonlands, Utah–White Rim Road

White Rim Road

To prepare us for this road trip, we took a side trip down the Shafer Trail when we visited Canyonlands, Utah in 2016. This road has to be seen to be believed.  It heads over the side of the Mesa and in 8 km it drops 1400 ft. into the canyon.  It follows the cliff with many switchbacks and is a single track gravel trail.  We didn’t need 4 wheel drive that day, but high clearance is necessary. Once at the bottom, we turned on Potash Road and followed an interesting road out to Moab, with views of arches and the river.

There is another road that continues from where we turned off.  It is 160 km and travels around a third of the park with the Green River to the west and the Colorado River to the east.  There are a number of campgrounds available for booking along the way.  Peter decided then he wanted to take this White Rim Road and explore the desert in his truck.

Planning

This was his trip so he did most of the research and planning.  He read up on the regulations in the park.  He watched YouTube on others who had done it and checked out the route on Google Maps.  The campgrounds were analyzed and booked.  The truck had all the fluids topped up and the tires checked.  Extra water jugs were pulled out of the basement and the backup battery charger for the engine’s battery was prepared.

I was rather anxious about this kind of adventure, but I trust his driving and I knew the truck was safe, so I was in.  Not ecstatic, but in.  I thought of it more like a backpacking trip with our Coleman Instant Tent, where you needed to be self-sufficient for a number of days, in this case, 4  We had 2 coolers, 1 for ice and 1 that runs off the 12 volt.  I checked the first aid kit and made sure we had all the necessary supplies.  

After a pleasant journey through Montana, Wyoming and Colorado, we arrived at Canyonlands National Park at 5 pm on a Friday afternoon.  It is about 45 minutes north and west of Moab, Utah.  We fully expected to have to camp somewhere in the Land Management Area in order to find a spot, but drove through Horsethief Campground just in case.  It was almost empty!  We couldn’t believe our good fortune.  Our site overlooked the desert and although it didn’t have water, vault toilets were available and it was only $15.  

It was hot and breezy, but the sky was so dark.  The moon was almost new and I enjoyed working on my night photography skills without having to wear my toque and mittens.  The MIlky Way was so clear and it was hard to see all the constellations for the stars.  

Milky Way

Milky Way with our tent and a plane trail

Shafer Road to White Crack Day 1

We stopped at the information center at Island in the Sky to check in.  The sites we booked were confirmed and after looking at the entire trip, we decided that 3 nights would be adequate for this trip and cancelled our final night.  The fee for our back country permit was only $30 and was good for up to 7 days.  It included our camping.  

There was water available here and we topped up all of our containers.  They recommend 4 liters per person per day when travelling in the desert where temperatures were usually 35 Celsius in the day and 18 at night.  We had 47 L plus our filled water bottles.  The cooler had a variety of canned drinks as well.  There was plenty to drink, but I felt thirsty the whole time between the heat and knowing that my water supply was not unlimited.

We tipped off the top of the world onto Shafer Road.  I felt okay since we had been down this cliff before.  I had been in the back last time so hadn’t seen how many times the road seems to disappear at the corners.  The road was smooth and a little more than 1 lane wide with amazing vistas.  Looking back though, it is hard to know where you just drove.  As we wound our way to the bottom, there are sheer red cliffs above you, and sheer drops below.  Fortunately we didn’t meet anyone until the bottom.

We passed 2 tour vehicles ready to head up the trail.  We also met a park ranger whose truck you can see in the picture.  The info center told us they drive the White Rim Road daily, but this was the only official we saw in 3 days.  We were also passed by a couple of Land Cruisers.  They didn’t have any camping reservations and were driving the entire loop in one day.  They could travel much quicker than us as they had a shorter wheel base, were not loaded with equipment and could reduce their tire pressure to go over the bumps and rocks more easily.  

The Road

The road was primarily one lane wide.  It was dirt or small gravel in lots of places which made for easier driving.  The challenging sections were in the drainage and washout areas.  Rain run off had washed away all the small rocks and left large rock or sometimes bedrock called sliprock.  There were many large holes in front and behind these larger rocks that required lots of driver attention.

It wasn’t too bad in the flat areas, but the same thing happened on lots of the steep up and down climbs. Some climbs were so steep we couldn’t see past the hood of the truck. Watching for rocks sticking out from the side, holes in the road, drop offs and having no idea if the road turned left or right at the top of a climb made for full-time navigating for us both.  Fortunately the 4 wheel-low works flawlessly.  4 high did a good job too when needed.

The advantage of being 1400 ft below the usual viewpoints is that you are that much closer to the canyons.  We walked into Mussleman Arch and could look at the other hoodoos and formations and colours that are not apparent from the top.  I took a picture of Mesa Arch from the top last year and was able to look at it from behind this time.  The Washerwoman looks so interesting from close up.  It is just a tiny formation seen through Mesa Arch.

Mesa Arch and Washerwoman from above March 2016

There were a few campgrounds and picnic stops along the way.  We had a picnic in the truck and completed 60 km to our first stop.  It had taken most of the day as we were travelling between 10 and 40 km/hr. White Crack Campground was 2 km off the road and set on a rise overlooking the lower basins.  We were at the very southern tip of Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands.

White Crack Campground

The camping area can be booked by a group of up to 10 with 3 vehicles.  Since we were only 2 people with 1 vehicle, that is all they booked into this site.  It is remote and silent. The sound of jets flying over were all there was to remind us that we were still part of the modern world.

It consisted of a vault toilet with the most spectacular view in the world, a large slab or red rock and a single juniper tree that we moved our chairs around to get a little shade.  There was a short squall soon after we arrived but the wind died quite quickly and we didn’t lose any of our supplies over the cliff.

The sunset showed itself with clouds and lots of virga, although by true dark, the stars could be seen through the open windows of the tent, even without my glasses.  We got up to watch the sun come up over the mountains and light up the canyon walls in the west.  There was a short trail that took us neared the views to the south where  we could clearly see the white rim of stone that was the uppermost layer in the canyons.

White Crack to Murphy Hogback  Day 2

Our second day was much shorter than the first at only 15 km and about 1 ½ hours. We returned to the main road and travelled over several washout areas.  We stopped several times to look at rock formations.  Erosion is always at work here.  We saw towers with harder rocks balanced precariously on top.  There were some rocks that stood out from the canyon walls like fins.  

Our first real challenge for the truck was driving up Murphy’s Hogback.  It is a section of land raised up from the White Rim where we felt like we were driving straight up like those trucks you see in the commercials.  It was very scary but the truck and driver did a great job.  By the time I arrived at the top, I had a few tears of relief.

The road up!

Murphy campground

The camping area was right at the top of the Hogback at almost 1600 m.  We were there by 11 am but I was glad for a break after all the anxiety of this trip.  The steep section was a success, but I knew we had to go back down the other side.  We did see one more truck go by all day, and that was the last of humanity that we saw until we completed our trip.

This campground had 3 separate sites, but we were the only ones there. Again we had a vault toilet with a view and a friendly juniper tree to give us so more shade. There were no tables provided, but we had a portable table top that unrolls and sits on a base.  

We also had Coleman Instant Screen room.  It was really handy on our trip to the Alaska Inside Passage.  We set it up over the picnic table and used the propane fire ring in the doorway to keep us warm and dry in all the rain.  Since we were encouraged not to exert ourselves in the heat of the day, we set up the room, covered the sunny side with a tarp, spread out our camping mat and had a day off.  I worked on my blog and read.  Peter read the maps and rested from the driving of the last week.  We had lots of water to drink and finished the day with rib steaks on the grilling pan and wished we had brought wine as well.  Those kinds of meals are definitely not backpacking meals. (Pinot Grigio)

The sky was very cloudy around sunset.  There was rain and virga in the area, but we didn’t get moisture.  I didn’t want to have to worry about slippery roads for the way out.  After sitting and relaxing all day, we realized that we didn’t need another night in the desert so planned to drive out the rest of the way.  We planned to stop at our last camping spot and check it out just in case.  It was also the day of the North American Solar Eclipse so we needed to be somewhere open enough to see what effect an 80% eclipse had on the landscape.

Murphy’s Hogback to Potato Bottom and beyond  Day 3

Getting up so as not to miss the Canyon sunrise meant we were on the road by 7:30.  The trip down off the summit was like pointing your skis down a black run.  You just have to go.  It was steep and rough, but it was okay.  Luckily no one was coming up at the time.  We used the GPS more today to see which way the road curved before we got there.

 

The road today took us along several canyon edges and eventually down to the Green River.  The weather was clear and sunny again and the views amazing.  We could look up at towers and mesas.  We got to our booked camping spot about 9 and decided to carry on to the Mineral Bottom boat lauch for the eclipse, just past the end of White Rim Road.

Or next scary section was up Hardscrabble switchbacks which very quickly takes you up and over a high section and back down to the river again.  It really took 2 of us to get through this.  I watched for rocks and holes on the  right and Pete kept his eye on the left.  I was also responsible for any big rocks jutting out from the right although there was seldom any room on the cliff side of the road to do anything about it. Neither of us looked down.  There was one switch back that we had to enter a turn around area to get the right angle to continue up the hill.

We got back down to the river again along a narrow trail that caught us by surprise and were soon found ourselves at the exit to the White Rim Road, 3 days and 160 km of adventure later.

We got a chance to see the eclipse through some paddler’s glasses.  The light seemed to glare less off the cliffs but it was really not that noticeable, considering how much of the sun was covered by the moon.  We did notice some really interesting shadows on the sand and the temperature dropped from about 35 to 25 Celsius for a short time.

After watching the paddler’s prepare for their trip, we finished our trip on the White Rim Road by exiting up the Mineral Bottom Road.  It was steep with lots of switchbacks, but it had signs for curves and reinforced corners and felt like a highway.  It was time for a shower and dinner in Moab.

Road trip on the scenic back roads of Montana, Wyoming and Colorado

Planning a road trip

As our home commitments finished and summer was drawing to a close, it was time to head out on the road for another adventure.  Our ultimate destination was the White Rim road in Canyonlands National Park in Utah, USA. We booked our campsites ahead since there are not many available.  That gave us 5 days of travel time to explore.

We opened Google Maps and discussed the route we should take to get there.  We wanted to visit some new places and were okay with a little backtracking if necessary.  I hadn’t been to Aspen and Vail in Colorado so we chose to travel through Montana, via Helena, then through Wyoming to Denver.  From there we would travel west to Vail and end up at Moab and Canyonlands in Utah.  It sort of worked out that way.

 Montana travels

We left home Monday, August 14 and drove to the very southern part of the province.  It was quite smoky from the forest fires to the west.  We couldn’t see the Sweetgrass Hills that usually signal that Montana is coming up soon.  

Montana is a very large state.  We have been to many parts of it, but not all.  The geography is so varied.  With Glacier National Park in the far NW, the high plains of Little Bighorn in the NE, reservoirs and fly fishing rivers as well as cliffs and bluffs in the SE and Beartooth Mountains in the SW, you don’t have to look at the same view for very long.  Another good thing about travelling through this state is that the backroads are excellent and have 70 mph limits.  The freeway is 80 mph!   

We followed the Missouri River for much of the way.  Water really brings life to the valley.  There were many big farms with outbuildings and fields with an abundance of baled hay.  Along the water were fishing lodges and summer homes.  The section of road where the glaciers had cut through the volcanic rock was quite spectacular.  It was first described by Lewis and Clark in 1805.

Montana Landscapes

Holter Lake State Park

We chose the road though Helena because it has lots of variety, such as rugged cliffs, shimmering water and the golden grasses of late summer.  Holter Lake State Park is just before it at exit 266.  We’ve stayed there before and it was our stop for the night.  The lake is actually a reservoir and there were many boats filled with fisherfolk.  The campground had grassy sites, pit toilets  (that are now called vault toilets), drinkable water, and only cost $15/night.  We got a spot in the second row from the lake.  I got some nice sunset pictures that had extra color because of the smoke slipping into the state.

Once the sun went down, the stars appeared.  The Milky Way was brilliant and filled the sky overhead from south to north. The crickets, yipping coyotes and video game shooting sounds from a nearby trailer were all that could be heard.

I met a couple from Oregon who are travelling full-time in their C Class motor home.  They have done it for almost 4 years and are looking for different options like house sitting or long stay somewhere.  They liked hearing about our time in Thailand and I had a tour of their unit to see what I would have to leave behind.  It is a great research opportunity when you travel and find others at a similar point in their lives. They also recommended we travel through Beartooth Pass.

Campground views

Canyon Campground-Gallatin National Forest

We drove from Helena towards Gardiner on roads that were mostly new to us. About 5 pm we passed a campground that looked to have empty spots.  We drove along a little further then decided the closer we got to the park, the less sites were likely to be available.  We turned around and claimed a site at Canyon campground in the National forest  There was no water supply but we had brought our own water jugs and the pit toilet was fine. This site had the Yellowstone River just across the highway, and huge boulders scattered everywhere.  It cost $7.

At Canyon Campground,as we were finishing supper, we noticed lots of vehicles driving in and looking for sites.  We decided to offer to share our site with another tenter as there was lots of room.  We know that feeling of being in a new place and waiting too late to find a spot.  Nick and Katie were travelling from Ohio to Portland, Oregon for an internship.  They had a ripped tent that we tried to repair with duct tape.  We had a lovely evening sitting by the fire ring sharing stories of travel adventures.  They were very appreciative of a place to sleep.. Travel is about the places you see, but also about the people you get to meet.

Canyon Campground

Beartooth Pass

It is an “All-American Road” and passes from the NE exit of Yellowstone up over the Beartooth Pass at 10972 ft., then winds its way back down the other side.  It is about 69 km but with all the hairpin corners it took some time.  The views were so spectacular though, I wouldn’t have wanted to go any faster.  

We were well above tree line for some time and there was quite a bit of snow still at the top.  At one point I commented, “There can only be marmots and pikas live up this high,” just as a marmot scampered across to the other side. The road was first used by some soldiers in the 1880’s on the advice of a hunter in the area.  The road itself was built in 1936.  What engineering!  My pictures barely do it justice.

Beartooth Pass

Yellowstone to Beartooth

To get to this road, we had to change our plans and head south to Yellowstone, where we have visited a couple of times before, then drive across the loop at the top to get to Cooke City where the Beartooth road begins. We purchased the $80 yearly park pass at Yellowstone, as we can use it in Utah as well.

The road from Mammoth Falls to Cooke City, inside the park was pretty quiet.  The landscape was high plains to begin, then more forested mountains on the east side.  We saw many bison in herds, mostly in the valley bottoms.  A couple crossed the road in front of us.  Several cars just stopped in the middle of the road to look at them in the distance.  That gets to be dangerous.

We travelled along the Lamar Valley where many of the wolves from Alberta were released.  It was mostly open land with water in the valleys and trees on the hilltops.  We looked, but couldn’t see any wolves today.

Yellowstone

Wyoming

Our trip through Wyoming was different because of our detour to travel the scenic byway.  We discovered there were roads that travelled mostly north and south from Cody, WY to Vail, CO.  We didn’t have to go all the way to Denver and then backtrack to the west.  It was good that we hadn’t booked all of our accommodations.  It is not as busy later in the summer as many Americans are back in school already so it gave us the opportunity to take advantage of visiting places we didn’t know about.

The roads in Wyoming are also very good.  We spent almost no time on the interstates. Wind River travels many km through a beautiful canyon.  It was such an unexpected feature in western Wyoming.  The cliffs are tall and steep.  The water was clear and the shade was nice.  We had another drive up to 2250 m where the horizon on the other side stretched forever.

Lots of the state is empty of people and although it is all fenced we saw many more antelope than cattle.  Sage and scrubby grass cover the land.  The southern part has lots of oil and gas activity.  We stopped at a Wal-Mart to use the washroom and I saw a mom and her 3 young boys walking out.  Those kids looked like they never took off their hats.  They were genuine cowboys.

Wyoming Views

Rawlins Super 8

It was early evening by the time we finished our epic drive over the pass, then drove through much of Wyoming.  We knew there were some campgrounds in Rawlins, but when we arrived, they were the parking lot kind that cost $30 and you listen to your neighbors snore, or they have to listen to mine.  Those in big RV’s don’t mind, but we are tent campers.  There was a Super 8 across the street for $64 with wi-fi, our own bathroom, shower and included breakfast.  We had salad and sandwiches from our cooler and made sure everything was chilled in the fridge overnight.  After our cheap, but rustic camping, it was worth it for the night.

Colorado

We had been climbing in elevation all day yesterday and continued today.  Rawlins was over 6000 ft., twice as high as Rocky Mountain House.  Colorado took us over another 10 000 foot pass and our campsite SE of Aspen is over 8000.  The 14 000 ft mountains don’t look as big as I expected as the trees grow so much higher up the sides.

Northern Colorado was more green than Wyoming.  Water must be more plentiful.  We stayed on the scenic byways and passed through little towns that seemed like towns you only see in movies.  There were a couple of huge power plants with mountains of coal that had been stripped from the hills where cattle now enjoy the reclaimed lands grasses.  We wondered why these roads to nowhere were so good until we saw all the workers at the plant.

When we travelled down the valley south of Vail, the views were so impressive.  Even though the mountains are huge, the valley is wide and green.  There were hay fields and horses in the pastures.  Rivers and wetlands were common.  We saw more homes in the country in an hour than we did in all of Wyoming.  Our GPS sent us around the wrong side of Leadville which is a “don’t miss” old mining town but maybe another time.  We did drive past the old mining town of Granite, which looks like a museum along the road.

Colorado Landscape

White Star Campground

When we stopped for lunch I looked ahead for camping on the way to Aspen.  White Star near Twin Lakes seemed the right distance away.  It is a state park along a reservoir just before the road to Independence Pass.  When we arrived it looked like every site was booked, but as we looked more carefully, there were different dates on the cards listing when they were reserved.  As it was Thursday, most were booked for the weekend, or next week during the eclipse.  Tonight was not in high demand.  This place has lots of space between the sites, pit toilets and drinking water.  It was $20 for the night and an extra $6 for a bundle of firewood, which we enjoyed very much.  

The skies cleared here after supper and it was a chilly evening.  The sun went behind the mountain at 7:15 and by 8:30 it was pitch black.  I enjoyed learning to take Milky Way photos, although I needed my parka and toque to stay outside.  It was down to 6 degrees Celcius for the night and I slept with almost all my clothes on inside my sleeping bag.  The elevation is 9200 ft which explains some of the cold in August.

Independence Pass

We managed to find one more scenic by way up over a pass.  It surprised me to find this road in Trip Advisor.  It was steep with switchbacks and few shoulders, but it was paved and rose quickly to 12 095 ft.  We walked a little trail to view the continental divide where the land it tundra here.  This area of the mountains was popular for mining in the 1880’s.  It was a toll road at this time.  The views were fantastic.  The warning signs for vehicles over 35 ft were quite entertaining.  They started with 35 ft vehicles not allowed.  The last signs stated

  • turn around here
  • you will get stuck
  • you will be fined
  • you will block traffic and make everyone else furious

I may have ad libbed the last one, but it gives you an idea of what they meant.

The road down to Aspen took longer and had some very narrow sections.  We were still at 8900 feet.  We passed lots of campgrounds, creeks, areas of rock slides and many cyclists on their way up.  Wow!  

Aspen, Colorado is a busy place, like a bigger Banff. There were lots of huge homes, old brick and homes, condos and vacation rentals.  It has an airport and 3 golf courses.  It was too busy to stop there.  Gas in Colorado was about $2.50 a gallon.  It was $3.59 in Aspen.  We can say we’ve been there and the road to get to it was so worth it.

We arrived in Canyonlands, Utah about 5:30 where our next adventure begins.

Independence Pass

Banff National Park…travel in our own backyard

Travel Close to Home

After writing about our travels in Southeast Asia and my trip to North Carolina, it excited me to share some stories and photos from a recent visit to the Canadian Rockies.  This is probably old news for the locals who read my blog, but I hope it may entice some of our “away” friends to come for a visit.  

This exquisite area is about 2 hours away from our home.  We know how lucky we are when we  can drive to the mountains for the day, and hear comments like, “ I’ve waited my whole life to come here”, and “This is just so beautiful, I have to just sit here.  I can’t even take a picture yet.”

Camping Plans

We are currently tent campers, but we are ridiculously good at camping, as our daughter points out.  Although she turned 30 this year, she still enjoys a road trip with her parents, and in fact, booked this trip for the 3 of us in April of this year.  It was necessary to book almost 3 months ahead as it is Canada’s 150th birthday on July 1 and the federal government decided to make all the national park entrances free for the entire year.  We also  wanted to stay in the village of Lake Louise in Banff National Park.  

It has a camping area specifically for tents and soft sided trailers that is contained by an electric fence.  This is  due to a bear attack in the past.  It didn’t help us sleep through the trains, but it did give us wild animal peace of mind.  The permit for firewood was extra, as was the fee for booking on-line.  The hot showers were free. There were fresh water spigots, covered cook shelters in case of rain, a sink area with hot water for washing dishes (our favorite luxury) and daily programs offered by the park on topics ranging from the value of bats in the park to demonstrations on how to camp.  The views were also free.

Love a campfire

Road trip to the Rockies

The drive along the David Thompson Highway, (a fur trader and mapmaker extraordinaire) takes us west from Rocky Mountain House towards the Rockies.  We travel past campgrounds and through the forests of the foothills bombarded with wonderful views as the mountains begin to appear in more detail around every turn.  

The only town halfway along the 2 hour drive to the park is the old mining town of Nordegg.  It was a booming community 100 years ago, but now provides tours of the old mine area, a small golf course, a gas station, hotel and delicious pie at the Miner’s Cafe.  Gas, snacks, camping and music festivals are also available at David Thompson Resort on the banks of Abraham Lake about 30 minutes further west.

Abraham Lake

Abraham Lake is actually a reservoir built to control flooding of the North Saskatchewan River.  It also generates some electricity as it passes through small turbines, and methane gas bubbles in the ice during the winter as plant matter decays below the surface.  It’s most noticeable characteristic, however, is its spectacular teal blue color.  Mountain lakes that form from melted glaciers contain “glacial flour” which is rock ground up to powder by the force of moving ice.  This powder, or silt, reflects and scatters the colors of light to send an almost indescribable color to the eye.  Unless you have seen it yourself, in photographs it looks fake.  It is especially impressive in the fall when the golden leaves contrast with the blue water.

Lake Louise

In order to manage all the visitors to Lake Louise itself, Parks Canada has a free shuttle bus from an overflow parking area a few km east of town.  School buses leave every 15 minutes and drop passengers at the visitor center in the village of Lake Louise as well as at the lake itself.  It sure beats driving around the parking lot hoping someone will leave.  

I love going to this lake.  I’ve X-Country skied and snowshoed on it in the winter, walked along it in the spring when the snow is still a meter deep, and hiked above it in the summer. The visitors who come are reverent as they stand in awe at the mountains and glaciers surrounding the lake. The majority of people have travelled great distances to come to this “bucket list” place.  

The Fairmont Lake Louise stands at one end and a company nearby rents red canoes to tourists to paddle quietly through the water.  In the winter, there is a skating rink cleared near the hotel with an ice castle sculpture. An ice bar with ice tables and stools is also outside.  Horse-drawn sleighs take people along the lake trail where they can see ice climbers ascending the waterfall at the end.  There is also a world class ski hill behind the hotel, overlooking the lake.

Tea House Hike

There are 2 tea houses on the mountain above the lake that were built as lodges in 1905 and 1924. My daughter and I have been to the Lake Agnus Teahouse a couple of times already so this time we chose to hike to the Plain of the Six Glaciers.  It is 10.6 km return and 365 m elevation change.  The trail starts at the hotel and the first couple of km are a paved path.  It climbs up through the forest with lots of views of the lake along the way.  This was a high snow winter and there were several avalanche path still in place along the way.  We had hiking boots, hiking poles and snow experience so we had no concerns.  Those people walking in runners had more trouble.  I heard one man comment as he turned back, “I wish I had my soccer shoes.”   The hike was in fact not recommended by the visitor center because of the snow.

The teahouse is a beautiful log building.  The staff hike in and stay for a week.  Supplies are carried up on horseback or helicopter. They serve tea, of course, and fresh baking.  Soup and chili were also available.  We joined a family from Pennsylvania at a picnic table and savored Banff Tea Company tea and cinnamon scones, along with good conversation.  It seems so decadent to enjoy such treats in a remote place.

Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House

Moraine Lake

After a quiet night in our campsite, we headed out at 7:30 am to Moraine Lake.  It is another iconic view place that used to be the main picture on the Canadian $20 bill for many years.  The area is also known as the Valley of the 10 Peaks because you can see 10 peaks along the side of the lake from the Rockpile viewpoint.

Moraine Lake is glacial blue and is named after the crushed rock that gets pushed to the side by a moving glacier.  This rock remains in place after the glacier recedes. We hiked above this lake last summer so we just wanted to take some pictures.  The water was ruffled by wind so there were no reflections but the changing skies and snow-capped peaks made it a spectacular place.  Listening to the visitors who were there for the first time also made it special.  There were lots of selfies being taken, but many offers were made to take group photos for others as a wonderful memory.

Banff

The forecast was for showers and I was a bit creaky after our hike so we decided to spend the day around Banff, which is about 55 km away.  Our plan was to check out some places that we had driven past and never stopped.  We travelled down the Bow Valley Parkway, which is the original road between Banff and Lake Louise.  It is quiet and scenic, although we didn’t see any wildlife.

Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake

Our first destination was the Lake Minnewanka loop.  It is near Banff townsite.  The entrance to the day use and boating area looked busy, so we continued to Two Jack Lake and stopped when we saw the National Parks red chairs.  Parks staff  have set out a double set of red Muskoka chairs at various parks throughout Canada.  You can take a photo and share it with #redchairs as a way to promote places in the parks.  I had never been to an area where they were located before so this was exciting for me.  It was a lovely by the lake so we stayed for a picnic after the obligatory photographs.  As it was just a few days before Canada’s 150th Birthday, it was extra special to share our red chair photos.

Cave and Basin National Historic Site

While the railway was being built across Canada, a couple of workers stumbled upon a hot springs, which was later named Cave and Basin.  The Canadian Government saw the economic advantages of bringing tourists to this area and in 1887 Banff National Park was created in first national park in Canada.  

Cave and Basin is now a National Historic Site.  It has been recently renovated and is open to visitors.  We saw the original cave as well as an outdoor pool.  Swimming is no longer allowed at this location, but it is  at the Upper Hot Springs pool.  The courtyard at the historic site had replicas of railway worker tents set up, along with staff portraying the workers from the 1880’s.

No visit to Banff is complete without a drive down Banff Ave. and a little people watching.  We wandered through the local farmer’s market then stopped for a cold drink next to the pub window.  We saw people from all parts of the world strolling past, admiring the views and the atmosphere of this old mountain town.

Mt. Norquay

As we returned to our campground we spotted a couple more red chairs on the hill.  They were next to the road that leads up to Mt. Norquay ski hill.  I didn’t remember being there either so we drove up to take a look.  There were 2 chairs on a hillside with a fantastic view of the entire town of Banff, including the Banff Springs Hotel and Vermillion Lake.  There was even a herd of Bighorn Sheep wandering past.  We were so lucky to find 2 chair locations in one day.  

Emerald Lake

For our last day, we decided that many of the day hikes would still have too much snow on the trails so we headed further west instead.  Emerald Lake is about 40 km from Lake Louise in Yoho National Park.  It is a small lake, but emerald perfectly describes the colour of the water.  There is a lodge at one end that is comprised of cabins and a regular hotel.

There is a 5 km path  around the lake.  The first half was quite smooth and level and had fantastic lake views.  The second half of the trail was more up and down but surrounded by temperate wetland plants like Devil’s Club and lady slippers.

On the drive back to the highway, we stopped at a natural bridge.  The Kicking Horse River has worn through the rock so instead of being a waterfall coming over the top of the rock, it now comes underneath the rock, forming a bridge.

Natural Bridge, Kicking Horse River

Bow Lake

 

Our final stop on this quick road trip was at Bow Lake on the Icefields Parkway.  It is located at Bow Summit which is the high point between our access to the park from Highway 11 and Lake Louise.  The Lake is fed by glacial water and is the start of the Bow River that flows through Calgary.  There is an old Swiss Mountaineer Lodge there that has accomodations and a wonderful restaurant called Num-Ti-Jah Lodge.  We had another picnic overlooking the lake and a fresh coffee from the trading post.  It was interesting to watch all the visitors see for the first time an area that we are very familiar with.

If this doesn’t excite you about visiting Banff National Park, then I have not done my job well enough.  Please comment any questions you have, or share your favourite place to hike or gawk in the mountains.

 

 

 

 

 

Oriental, North Carolina…I have time, I can travel

Although we are home from our winter in Thailand, I am still retired.  Being open and available to opportunities that present themselves is key to a successful retirement.

Jeanne

I met Jeanne in Thailand when she moved into our building for a month.  I admired her nerve and her interest in the world.  She had already been travelling alone for 2 months throughout SE Asia, as a single at times, as part of a booked group at other times.  Being 67 did not deter her from walking 5 or 6 km every day or tasting all the street food.

She was quick to join into a group of regulars who had happy hour every afternoon in our yard.  She talked to everyone and listened for the best places to tour, to eat and shop for fresh fruit.  Her energy was infectious. I got to know her when her phone was so full of pictures that the red bar couldn’t be ignored for another day.  I helped her download them to her computer and set up a Google Photo album.  Her blog site needed a little help too.

Oriental, North Carolina

Before she left for Malaysia, her last stop before returning home to North Carolina, she told me about her “girl’s retreat”.  Every year she has access to a large guesthouse in her hometown of Oriental.  She invites people that she connected with in her travels abroad and her life at home, women that made a positive impression on her.  When I received my email invitation in March, I was ecstatic!

I decided that I had time and AirMiles so booked a flight from Calgary, through Toronto to Raleigh, North Carolina.  A rental car and 3 hours got me to Oriental on Sunday evening, May 7.

Stallings House

The Stallings House, where we stayed, was built in 1890 and sits on a large lot facing the 3 mile wide Neuce River.  It has 5 bedrooms on 2 levels and an open third level with several beds.  A sitting room, large dining room, kitchen and several bathrooms fill the rest of the house.  There are 2 wrap-around verandas overlooking the river.  This old home is often rented for weddings or large family gatherings.  Jeanne did quite a lot of work on the house and bartered the use of this great accommodation for a week every year.

 

The Retreat May 8-11

There were 16 people stayed in the house.  I was from the farthest away.  There were 2 women from New York State that Jeanne had met in Viet Nam this winter.  There were 4 women from western NC who had travelled with her to China in 1982.  Another woman from Atlanta met her in Australia on another trip.  Jeanne’s cousin and a friend arrived from northern NC and another woman arrived from Florida. There were more but too many stories to keep straight.

There were about 25-30 local women who came and went through the week.

Things to Do

We spent the week doing a variety of activities that were mainly planned by the people who attended.

  • The town mayor/bank manager, Sally, used to visit the house as a girl and shared her stories with us from a book she is writing about her life in Oriental.

Sally’s stories

  • Flora, a 70 year old who won the over 60 North Carolina beauty contest demonstrated her incredible skills as a belly dancer

  • pedicures, facials and massages were also done on the lawn by the river

  • boat trips along the rivers and creeks in the area provided beautiful views and more history on the area and its connection to fishing and sailing
  • Miss Faye, who is a 94 years old, teaches several exercise classes a week.  She spoke on why the same streets have different names in Oriental.  She allowed us to visit her yard where she feeds about 40 turtles dog food every night in a creek behind her house.  They come when she calls.  She is also a Senior Olympian and Humanacare Game Changer. Check out the link about her and her daughter.
  • Pat brought driftwood, paint and wine to spend the afternoon deciding what we saw in our wood and bring it to life with colour.  Most women got right after it with excitement, even before they had their wine.  It surprised me the number who were very uncomfortable with this creative activity.  Their elementary art teachers must not have been very supportive.  Now that I’m in my 50’s I don’t really care anymore what others think of my creative projects.
  • Cheryl took a small group of us who live outside the state on a boat trip to Cape Lookout.  We travelled through the inland waterway, past Shakleford Banks to the lighthouse at Cape Lookout.  There were wild horses, dolphins and an enormous sea turtle along the way.  Many fishermen were fishing in small boats and there were several shrimp boats with the large booms holding the nets out to the side. We were gone all day.

Things to Eat

  • Finola and her husband, originally from Ireland served us high tea on proper china with cucumber sandwiches and scones with cream and jam.
  • Miss Lilly, who was on a cooking show, “Chef and the Farmer” spent the day with us teaching us how to make proper biscuits.  She used lard, buttermilk and self-rising flour.  The lard and buttermilk went into a well inside the flour and was squished together until it was “silky”.  Then it was swirled in the bowl until it incorporated enough flour to make a ball.  The biscuits were squeezed off the ball, flattened in the hand and the edges rolled under.  The baking sheet was filled and then baked.  I’ve never seen any technique like that before.  The results were delicious, especially with some local honey brought by a woman in the group.
  • We visited Georgie’s crab shedding operation.  When crabs get too big for their shells, they molt their shell and purge all their digestive tract and lungs.  Within 2 hours they start to grow new shells and organs.  If they are taken out of the water and put into the fridge, they can’t grow a new shell.  The upper skin is removed with scissors and you are left with a crab that is only meat.  Georgie came to the house one evening and dredged the crabs in flour seasoned with salt and pepper and deep fried them.  Eating outside on the lawn by the river at long tables made the food taste great.  The crabs, though, would be delicious no matter where you ate them.
  • Carol made chef salad for everyone’s lunch one day. This is Laura eating the salad.  Carol is enjoying the pedicure.

Food of North Carolina

Other things I ate for the first time

  • pimento cheese dip and sandwiches.  Everyone in North Carolina seemed to have their own special recipe, but the general ingredients are grated cheddar/monterey jack cheese, pimento, mayonnaise/Miracle Whip and maybe a little grated onion.

  • Grits mixed with chopped ham and bacon, butter and eggs then baked as muffins.  It also reappeared another morning baked in a casserole dish.  Laura arranged for Kentucky bacon and sausage to be sent to the house for this event.
  • low country boil.  After the Girl’s Retreat, Jeanne invited some old high school classmates from the class of ’67 for a “Big Chill” weekend.  Pat cooked up a boil for me before I left at the end of the week.  It consisted of new potatoes, corn on the cob chunks, kielbasa and beautiful shrimp caught the day before.  They are all boiled together with Old Bay Seasoning.  The food is drained then dumped onto a table covered with newspaper and you just pick out a little of each, and a little more, and a little more…  There were several cocktail sauces made with differing amounts of hotness available and lots of paper towels.  What a feast!
  • Not new but a catfish sandwich for lunch the first day.  Crispy fish topped with coleslaw and served between 2 slices of white bread.
  • North Carolina IPA and wheat beer
  • And I caught a fish…

Pin fish used for bait.

Lots of relaxing and story sharing

I had the best time with new people in a new place and I can’t wait to get back to this part of the world again.

Full moon over the river