Saturday, August 30, 2014

Goodbye, Calgary; Back in the USA! Yellowstone

Suzanne’s three events in Calgary were all sellouts, a very nice way to end our visit to Canada. Many thanks to Pat and Karen at Self Connection, who made us feel like family and handled all our ticket and book sales. You are both very special people. We had a wonderful reception from the kind and loving community in Calgary, and we look forward to returning soon.

On the long drive south from Calgary, we got to see enormous wheat fields and very little traffic, and the occasional red barn.  

This farm/ranch had a lovely lake and river, and a line of trees to break the strong westerly winds and storms dropping out of the Rockies. The most famous wind here, the chinook, is a warm wind from the Pacific Ocean that dramatically melts snow and warms the prairie.

Our final tribute to Alberta comes in the form of an alien dentist’s spaceship… at least, that’s what this water tower and its ads reminded me of when we passed it in Lethbridge. Seems that there’s also a restaurant up there, Ric’s Grill, but we didn’t have time to stop for a meal.

Back in the USA! We are now in Montana, and it’s great to be back home. We stopped briefly at Malmstrom AFB in Great Falls to rest up and use the gym, and Suzanne gave a couple of phone readings. We also had an “Isn’t that interesting” experience at the military campground. We were in the process of prepping The Coach for a 1000 departure (most CG’s have an 1100 checkout time), when the campground “host” came knocking with a clipboard in his hand. Without a “Good morning” or other friendly greeting, he said, “I see that you were supposed to check out by 1000.” I replied, “It’s only 0947. We have 13 minutes.” “Just making sure you’re leaving on time,” he stated unnecessarily. I answered, “You must have been an Army supply sergeant.” “No, I wasn’t.” “Well, you missed your calling.” He needs some Remedial Host Training…

The first part of the drive to Yellowstone National Park was on the Interstate through farm and ranch land, but then we got on a small highway that dove into the mountains through which cut the Gallatin River, one of the prettiest streams in America. 

Here is My Lovely Bride celebrating the glorious day we were enjoying. The weather was perfect: 75F and sunny. After the wintry weather in Lake Louise, this was a treat.

After setting up in our campground near West Yellowstone, Montana, we dressed out for a hike. First stop was the ranger station at Madison, for some recommendations. Here’s the ranger himself, complete with Smokey the Bear hat, coming outside for some fresh air; what a setting. That’s National Park Mtn., 7,500 ft., in the background.  

This was the view down the Madison River valley just behind the ranger station. I could live here… maybe for 4 months of the year, which is about the length of time the road is open! After that, it’s snowmobile time.

The ranger recommended several easy to moderate hikes, and of course we chose the “strenuous” one instead… is this a recurring theme, or what? My Lovely Bride is incorrigible. So we drove a short distance, rigged for hiking, and up Purple Mountain (8,300 ft.) we went, climbing steadily up 1,500 feet over the 6 mile roundtrip. This was the view from Suzanne’s telephoto lens about 2/3 up the mountain, looking down the Madison River valley and the 7,000 ft. plateau rising above the river.

This was grizzly country, and we were both carrying bear repellant, but we didn’t see a single bear. I think my occasional singing may have frightened them off… to explain, rather than bear bells, or excessive conversation, we employ an occasional “Hey, bear!” or “La la la la” to keep the bruins apprised of our location. One might think that only gives them ample warning to get ready for a snack, but so far it’s worked. (Knock on wood.) 


The view from the top of Purple Mountain was not onto a fruited plain, but rather onto several fumaroles, geysers, and hot springs that Yellowstone is famous for.  

But before we headed down the mountain, MLB needed a break… or should I say a short nap… after a gourmet lunch of protein bar and a piece of Dove dark chocolate. Her “bed” was in fact the rocky mountain summit itself, not the most comfortable resting place, but beggars can’t be choosers. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Date! Alberta Weather; Bow River Trail; A Grizzly Fence? First Calgary Event; A Fancy Dress Road Crew

In yesterday's blog, I mentioned that I would have to take Suzanne out for dinner one of these nights. I finally got around to fulfilling that husbandly duty, and we went on a date to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Normally I would try to take My Lovely Bride out to a fancy place like Wendy's, Pizza Hut or Fred's Fish House, but I knew that there were none of those fine dining establishments in Lake Louise. In other words, I was in trouble. I didn't realize how deep the trouble was until I saw MLB prepping her dress... it wasn't just any dress, but a slinky number that I hadn't seen before. I knew I couldn't embarrass her by wearing gym shorts and a tee shirt, so I found the blazer I carry in case I'm summoned in front of a judge. I even had one of those neck-choking things... I forget the name of it.

 After getting some photos outside before the blizzard hit, we went into "The Chateau" for dinner. As we were waiting for drinkees to arrive, we noticed a four-legged critter running around with nuts in its mouth. There are chipmunks in the vicinity who manage to infiltrate the hotel to stay warm and clean up the crumbs and other detritus under the tables, thus saving on staff hours running vacuum cleaners.

This photo proves that we actually got a table, and I didn't just take a quick photo outside to make readers think I was a cool husband...

The setting was hard to match. Not only did we have a window table looking out onto Lake Louise, mountains and glaciers, but I had a beautiful date. Am I lucky or what? The meal was even delicious...

While we were in Banff, we enjoyed excellent weather - cool days with warm spells, and cool to cold nights, perfect for sleeping. Little did we know that when we moved just 35 miles north to Lake Louise, the weather would turn frigid. Daytime temps were in the 40s and low 50s, and at night the mercury dropped to the mid-30s. There was even a chance of snow one night, but it didn't materialize. We had to leave a heater on all night just to keep temps in The Coach bearable. (Whoops, "bearable" is probably a bad term to use around here). Gretchen is enjoying the warmth of our electric fireplace; Rudy is probably off chasing one of his stuffed toys.

One of our favorite places to bike and run is now the Bow River Trail in Lake Louise. It is a loop that runs along the Bow River south of the village, and is notable for two things; the first is the exceptional scenery along this ice-cold stream. 

The second thing that makes the Bow River Trail special is the electrified fence and cattle guard that keeps grizzly bears out of the tent area, and also discourages them from riding their bikes and running the trail alongside the tourists... I thought that was a bit selfish of the chamber of commerce and Parks Canada; after all, the grizzlies have a right to keep fit, don't they?

As much as we love Lake Louise, we had to move south to Calgary on Saturday morning, because Suzanne's events have grown from one to three over the past week. Tonight (Saturday) she gave her Making the Connection talk to a full house at Self Connection, a metaphysical bookstore in Calgary. It was very well received, and her remaining events here are both sold out. We were also happy to get our shipment of her new book, Wolf's Message, sent here. Thanks to Mike and Marla Simpson, owners of Self Connection, for hosting three events!

We are now staying at a campground in west Calgary, and when we returned from a run, found these two ladies, May and Petey, doing road repairs... we were shocked, because they were dressed up, and not wearing the usual grubby overalls that we're used to seeing on road crews back in the US. Canadians are obviously much more formal than Americans.

Finally, thanks go to Faithful Reader Terri of the Frozen North, who was able to translate the words from the Columbian ground squirrel (Urocitellus columbianus) that I met on the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park: "Dude. You are NOT gettin' past me without tossin' down a treat! This is MY territory. Din'cha smell the bushes?!" 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Kayaking with Elks; Brrr; Crumpets, Anyone? “Chubmunk”; “Hey Babe, nice platforms!”

One of our last outings in Banff was kayaking from First Vermillion Lake into a small stream connecting with the Bow River. After launching our sleek boats and pushing our way through some thick seaweed, we got into the nicer part of the lake with massive Mt. Rundle in the background. It was a warm, sunny day, and we enjoyed every minute on the water. Here is Kayak Queen showing off her perfect paddling technique.

The lake was pleasant, but when we headed into this narrow, winding stream, the forest closed in on us like a green curtain. We saw signs of wildlife – tracks of elk and beaver were obvious on the soft mud and sand banks. And then we came to a turn and met some of the locals…

That isn’t a big branch that Suzanne is pointing out to Your Faithful Correspondent - it is a big rack (12 points) of antlers on a bull elk. He is relaxing in the sunshine at the edge of the forest, which is close enough for him to make a quick getaway if some yokel blogger tries to come ashore and conduct an interview or get an autograph. (Hey, just because I had my correspondent’s notepad out doesn’t mean I’d be that dumb!)

Just as we thought that this was the coolest wildlife encounter we’ve had in ages, we looked about 100 feet upstream, and there was an even bigger bull elk in the shadows. Whereas the first (smaller) elk looked at us casually, this big guy seemed frozen, like he was napping with his eyes open. (Hmmm, I have been accused of that behavior as well.) As a card-carrying member of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (BPOE), I felt a fraternal affinity to my big cousins. 

 This is August, right? While many of our friends around the country are suffering from summer heat and humidity, we are downright COLD up here in the Canadian Rockies. It was about 36F last night (that’s like 2C), and even midday when we were out hiking, we were in fleece, jackets, hats and gloves. Here is My Lovely Bride along the shore of Lake Louise shortly after our arrival Tuesday afternoon, and she’s not wearing a swim suit! You know it’s chilly when you don’t see a single red canoe on the lake. On a sunny day, there will be 20 or 30 of the rental boats out on the water. It has rained every day we’ve been here, but the rain only lasts an hour or so and then the sun will peek out of the clouds for an hour, then go hide for a few hours, and the cycle is repeated. Even the locals are complaining about the Fall-like weather. 

On Wednesday we took another hike, this one up to Lake Agnes, where there is a tea house where you can get a warm drink or some crumpets. (No, Bob, not that other kind of “crumpets”… Shame on you!) The trail up was moderate, with an 11% grade that made it a bit of work. 


There are many religions on our planet, some more friendly than others. It is said that sitting in the silence and looking inward is one of the best methods of self-discovery and worship. We came upon this chipmunk, perhaps in the middle of his Zen meditation and introspection… he was definitely non-hostile.

Lake Agnes is a tarn, which are small lakes that fill the bowls left by glaciers.

On the way down from Lake Agnes, we had a spectacular view of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, the huge 5 star hotel at the far end of the lake. The blue color of Lake Louise is due to glacial till carried in suspension from meltwater from the glaciers themselves. The little dots that look like ants are actually red rental canoes. 

This close-up of a stream’s discharge into Lake Louise gives ample proof of the origin of the lake’s color.

The views of the glaciers that hang on Mt. Victoria (11,761 ft) are stunning. The largest is named Victoria Glacier.    

Near the end of the lake distant from the hotel, Suzanne sat and meditated, recalling one of the events from her new book, Wolf’s Message, when she placed a crystal in the lake to help connect the energetic grid around the planet.  

Two humorous events occurred at the end of our hike, and will close today’s blog post. The first was the sighting of this very well-fed chipmunk, evidently provided excessive handouts by visiting tourists. We named him “Chubmunk”, and Suzanne saucily inquired whether his ample girth is meant to be representative of my own if I don’t increase my running mileage… she can be such a smarty-pants.  

This fashionably-dressed woman was observed violating Hiking Rule #1 – before you leave home, make sure your footwear and socks are appropriate for the trail you’re planning to hike. She was only one mile along a 3 mile trail, and I wondered how her feet would hurt tomorrow, if she kept on going. Well, at least they weren’t stilettos… 

Finally thanks to My Lovely Bride for taking many of these photos and others on the blog... I may have to take her out to dinner one of these nights...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Banff; Up Sulphur Mountain; A Tent with a View; New Friends; Two Mountain Lakes

Our campsite in Alberta’s Banff National Park was in Tunnel Mountain Village 2. That doesn’t sound very “glamorous”, does it? The sites themselves weren’t anything to write home about, being laid out down wide paved roads where you parallel-parked next to picnic tables and electrical outlets (no water or sewer connections). But the up side was this view from our coach, looking at Mt. Rundle, 2,949 meters/9,731 feet.   

Need I mention that My Lovely Bride is an exercise fanatic? I was thinking about sleeping in until noon, until I was rudely awakened with a “Get yer boots on, Lazy Butt, we’re goin’ hiking!” Hiking is one thing, but a forced march up Sulphur Mountain, where most sensible people take a skiers’ gondola up the 45 degree mountainside, isn’t exactly what I had in mind to replace my weekly beauty rest. Here’s the view from the parking lot. For the record, I hadn’t even had my second cup of coffee, but My Darling Drill Meistress showed no sympathy, so up the mountain we went. 

About halfway up the 11% grade, I was wondering if the cardiac EMTs would be able to get to me in time, and MLB was as chipper as could be. Seems she had just found a new way to use her mantra meditation techniques to avoid any fatigue whatsoever. Sometimes I wonder if she was sent to me as penance for sins in a past life.  Smack!  “I’m just kidding, Sweetheart!”  
It was a two hour trek up, but the view from the top of Sulphur Mountain was spectacular. That’s the town of Banff and the Bow River in the valley far below. Luckily I met this lovely hiker who was kind enough to pose for me, even though it was cold and windy up at the summit; she even offered me lunch! 


One of the amazing sights at the summit was this weather observatory, which Norman Sanson opened in 1903. He continued collecting weather data for over 30 years, climbing up the mountain regularly even into his 70s. 


Rudy and Gretchen couldn’t make the hike with us, but we met this cute Dachshund Bailey and his dog mom Whitney, who had taken the gondola up. Bailey sure looks like he is enjoying life.  

As if that hike weren’t enough for the week, I suggested that I might take an overnight backpacking trip up to a remote glacial lake… or was that My Lovely Bride’s idea? Anyway, the next day she dropped me off on the Trans-Canada Highway at the trailhead, and I struck off into the deep woods for a two hour hike. It was a forbidding environment, and I knew that a hungry grizzly waited behind every tree for a dinner of tourist flank steak. I heard a noise, something coming down the trail, and had my hand on my can of bear spray… and there she was… a savage mother grizzly, protecting her cubs? No, it was a twenty-something girl in ponytail and gym shorts doing a trail run, all alone, not even carrying bear spray… Sigh.

I arrived at Taylor Lake and found that the stunning setting lived up to the vivid description provided by Travis, the tourist bureau rep, who had hiked up here recently. Taylor Lake sits in a bowl under Mount Bell, with Panorama Ridge on the northern side of the lake. I set up my tent near the lakeside, with one of the greatest views I’ve ever had from a tent.

Then it was time for another gourmet dinner… freeze-dried beef stew, a handful of peanuts and a glass of Cabernet from my Platypus container. (Okay, so to save weight I didn’t bring a glass, and drank straight from the Platypus, but it added a nice touch of civility to an otherwise pretty boring meal. Freeze dried foods only have one redeeming feature – they are very light weight.)  I thought about listening to music with earbuds during dinner, but I felt that would be sacrilegious, because the only sounds to be heard were the occasional chirps of birds or ground squirrels and the muted roar of a glacier-fed waterfall at the far end of the lake.

I had noticed that there was only one other tent at the lake that night, so I wandered over and met Jean and Natalie, two school teachers, originally from Quebec, but now living and working in nearby Calgary, Alberta. Jean teaches math and science, and Natalie teaches Phys-Ed. We must have chatted for an hour or more until mosquitoes began attacking us; fortunately my DEET bug lotion did the trick and kept most of the biting bugs at bay.

In spite of the fact that Suzanne had dropped me off in the wilderness far from any village, much less town or city, I asked Natalie to take my photo to prove I had actually hiked up to Taylor Lake, and wasn’t carousing at the local Hooters… she thought that was funny, since the nearest Hooters is about a thousand miles away. You may notice that I was not in shorts and a tee shirt; the temp was quickly dropping into the low 40s that night, and this was mid-August.  

I was up before the sun to get ready for a hike farther into the mountains. While preparing breakfast (yep, freeze dried eggs and hash browns with Starbucks Via instant coffee), the first rays of sunlight were lighting up Quadra Mountain in the distance. 

Taylor Lake was perfectly still, and the reflections of the sky, trees, mountains and snowfields, even in this subdued early dawn’s light, took my breath away. I wanted to share the moment with Jean and Natalie, but they were still snug in their sleeping bags in their tent; this being the last week of summer vacation, they would be keeping bankers’ hours today.

The hike up to the next lake only took an hour, even taking time to talk to two mountain climbers whom I met on the trail who were on their way up Mt. Bell, thousands of feet above Taylor Lake. Their route had a 5.3 rating, which meant that they would need the ropes they were carrying.  O’Brien is a small lake, and quite marshy around its perimeter. My Merrell hiking boots and socks were quite wet by the time I reached this viewpoint, but it had been worth the effort to get here. Because the shoreline is either very steep and rocky or swampy, there are no campsites here. 


I arrived back at my campsite and prepared for the hike out, but had to dry out my tent on some bushes, since condensation had built up on the rain fly of my mountain tent during the previous night. While it dried out, I watched the two climbers proceed up Mt. Bell. Here they are on a knifedge ridge with about 700-800 feet vertical to go to the summit. Even though they were about a mile away, it was so quiet and the acoustics were so good that we could hear them talking as if they were just across a large room.

I packed up my gear, said goodbye to Jean and Natalie, and started to head down the mountain to the trailhead, but first, one last photo; and this is why I go off alone into the mountains… here is where I find peace and tranquility...