Alberta – Jasper edition

Banff and Canmore were beautiful, but it’s time to move on. To the GLACIER!

There is a route called the Icefields Parkway between Banff  and Jasper. About 2/3 of the way through are the Columbia Ice Fields, home to a number of glaciers. If there are glaciers, I want to see them and the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre is just the place to go!

They have 22 of these enormous bus-like vehicles called ‘Ice Explorers’, and each tire on these vehicles is about 5 feet high. These are the vehicles used to carry you and 55 of your closest friends over the various huge piles of rock and gravel left behind as the target glacier, Athabaska, has melted over hundreds of years. It also drives right across the glacier itself, so you have to opportunity to stand on over 900 feet of ice and collect your own glacial ice water – if you remembered to bring a bottle.

And it’s cold there. Really cold. If standing on top of a couple of miles of very thick ice isn’t enough, there is always a cold wind blowing down off the glacier itself. So no matter how silly you feel, wear a winter coat. And gloves. There were a lot of freezing tourists from all over the world on my bus, and I expect every bus has the same. Plus, the huge blob of cold causes weird weather patterns on the glacier. Just as we were boarding the ice explorer to return we were hit with the famous ‘wintery mix’ – snow, cold rain and hail.  Lucky we were leaving, the people just arriving were certainly not prepared to get out of their ice explorers!

The Discovery Centre  also has a ‘Glacier Skywalk’. A lovely opportunity for the insane to walk off a cliff onto a clear platform and view the Canadian Rockies ‘au natural’. Fortunately, I did not have to decline the opportunity because the storm on the glacier also triggered some lightning, which closes the skywalk. Too bad! Because Trish would have gone out there, and I would have had a heart attack.

And then onward to Jasper toward Prince George, British Columbia.  A new province, a new time zone. And very different weather. It rained most of the drive in. For the first time in over 1,000 miles the fire condition wasn’t High or Extreme. We’re all the way to Moderate! On the other hand, this is the area accepting the evacuees from the fires in the rest of British Columbia. When we arrived in Prince George, our RV park had filled with evacuees in RVs, and we were placed in an adjacent field for the first night. We had just come off a couple of days of boondocking and really needed to empty our tanks, but we made it through the night. We’re on a site now, the laundry facility is excellent and we finally have access to internet, so I’m not complaining.  There are now a LOT of pictures on Instagram. The National Geographic is supposed to have called the Icefield Parkway the most scenic road in North America – and I believe it. Look at the pics and see what you think.

Tomorrow, after a month and 3,400 miles of independent travel we leave to finally join with the Alaska Caravan in Hazelton, BC.. Can’t wait!!


Alberta, Banff edition

We’ve spent the last 4 days in Alberta, Canada. It’s downwind from the 160-odd forest fires currently destroying large parts of British Columbia and edging into western Alberta. The view is often obscured by a smokey haze and little flakes of ash dust the air. 

But even in these conditions, the area is just so beautiful that we don’t feel like we’ve come at a bad time at all. The mountains still loom around us like an old watercolor painting,  the many streams and rivers are crystal clear and burbling briskly, and nearly every building is designed to remind you that you are in a mountain community.  Seriously, the Chinese restaurant where we ate this evening was located in a huge log cabin!

There is a gondola in Banff National Park. It rises over 2,000 feet in about 8 minutes and provides spectacular views. It will be no surprise to those who know me, I did not take the gondola ride. Adjacent to the base of that, though, is the highest of 3 natural hot springs on Sulfur Mountain, piped into a lovely pool that also has a lovely view.  Guess where I went!

And even though all garbage cans everywhere are heavy-duty ‘bear proof’ vaults (even downtown), we haven’t yet had that terrifying experience. I did see an elk, and our campground has about 10 bunnies with little fear of wandering humans. 

Tomorrow we head northeast to Jasper, taking the Icefields Parkway. We’ll stop off at the Columbia Glacier and take a 3 hour bus ride to explore the glacier. (Am I the only one who hears the Gilligans Island theme song when you say that?)  We expect to be passing to the north of the fire zone, so don’t freak out if we’re quiet for a while. We have no phone signal up here and campsite wifi is kind of hit or miss. Remember to check the 2oldchicksrv Instagram for pics, it seems to require less bandwidth than any other app and is more likely to be updated.

This trip so far has been a wonderful adventure and I can’t wait to see the next thing!

Leaving the Lower 48

After taking a few days to rest and re-organize in beautiful Great Falls, Montana it’s time to make the jump to Canada. 

Montana is a beautiful place. Actually, it’s many beautiful places. Sometimes the landscape changes completely over the space of just a mile or two. For example, heading toward Great Falls we passed through the Big Belt Mountains. (Because I know it will bother you, yes, there are also Little Belt Mountains.) Beautiful, rocky cliffs of banded pink and green, with lovely fishing streams in every valley. I don’t know how many fish there were, but there were LOTS of fishermen!

Suddenly, as you crest a pass and head downward, there’s nothing but rolling plains of wheat ahead of you. There must have been farmers/ranchers somewhere around because after a long while, there was a lone bar alongside the road. It was mid-day when we passed so there were no tractors (or horses) parked out front. But really, nothing else for miles and miles. 

A couple of hours later, you start seeing buttes in the distance. You see Great Falls long before you get there, sitting on it’s own butte.  (There’s a series of adolescent jokes in that statement, which I will leave as an exercise for the class.) It’s a nice city, with all the usual stores/restaurants and a college. 

I did like Bozeman better, because it has a unique rancher/student/tourist vibe, lots of local businesses instead of chains, and is the home to the best collection of cool dinosaur stuff I have ever seen. The Museum of the Rockies is definitely worth a trip for that alone! But it also has a planetarium and an entire authentic homestead from the late 1800s. Thanks for the recommendation JK!

As usual, WordPress is refusing to upload my pics, so check the 2oldchicksrv Instagram for pictures.

So far we’ve gone about 2,600 miles of our 14,000 mile trip, all in the USA. Tomorrow will be our first experience with Customs and border crossings – wish us luck! I will post again when we have a signal, but I have no idea when that will be.

Lewis and Clark Caverns, Montana

You may have noticed that I haven’t written lately. Not because things haven’t been happening but because several states ago we reached the land of ‘Very Few Signal Towers’. Oddly enough here in the middle of the London Mountains (just east of the Rockies) we have a pretty good signal again.

We have landed at the Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, one of 47 Montana State Parks. The name is a complete misnomer, because Lewis and Clark had no idea that there were caverns here when they passed through. According to the journal their biggest concern in this area was the lack of game to be found for dinner. We came to explore the caverns though, because if there are caves to be seen I want to see them. Trish, bless her heart, is very considerate about that. This is a two entrance cave, so you go in one side, through the caverns and out another exit.

According to their website, the difficulty rating for this cavern is ‘Moderate to Difficult’. I can only assume that they mean it is moderately difficult for a 25 year old who actually uses their gym membership, and difficult for one who does not. I’m pretty sure they never asked any people over the age of 60 how they felt about it.

The website also says that ‘The tour begins with a 1-mile gradual uphill walk to the cave entrance’. What they don’t mention is that the path to get to the cave entrance goes up a couple of hundred feet in that mile, with fairly steep grades and a number of steps. ‘Gradual’ must be some kind of typo. They also don’t mention that the trail STARTS at over a mile high (5309 feet) and that people who aren’t used to that elevation may experience some difficulty dragging enough air into their starving lungs to continue. And that there is a precipitous drop off on one side of the path at all times. I am told it was a beautiful vista, but since I kept my eyes down and my feet as close to the wall as possible, I couldn’t tell you. The temps out here have been in the high 90s all week so I won’t mention that aspect.

I was pretty sure I was going to pass out on that trail and drop to my grizzly death. I would have had to roll several feet to get to the drop, but my panic had no interest in facts at that point. Thankfully, Trish kept a firm grip on my arm the whole way. I’m not sure if it was to help me or keep me from fleeing back to the start point, but either way it worked. I made it to the cavern entrance!

I am so happy that I stuck it out, because this was the absolute best cave experiences I have ever had! Of course they had stalactites, stalagmites, columns and helictites. They had bats and flowstone and fossils. Most of the route inside the cave is lighted, but there are some stretches where the light is pretty low. But this is an authentic cave experience.  This is no over-populated, groomed to within and inch of it’s cave-ness cavern. This is a cavern where you sometimes have to duck walk through a low area, even slide down a 3 foot section, go in single file most of the time. And there are 600 actual stair steps, both up and down within the cavern carved by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the 30’s. We were told the interior temp was around 48 degrees F, but no one over 40 ever used the jackets and sweaters we brought. The exertion from the climb up kept us all plenty warm – even Trish!  We had to wait in a kind of air lock to leave the cave, to prevent the Montana winds from rushing straight through the cave and killing it completely. Fortunately it is a mere 3/4 mile of mostly level, but still precipitous, trail back to the welcome center and automotive air conditioning.

We spend another couple of days in this general area of Montana. We were going to head out and mine some sapphires, but it’s just too blasted hot this week. I’m taking a good friend’s recommendation and we’ll visit the Museum of the Rockies. (Thanks JK!)

I’m still having trouble getting photos into WordPress, but there are lots on the 2oldchicksrv Instagram pages.

Phase One is complete

Since the last post, we have traveled through 2 time zones and 5 states. This has been the portion of the trip we refer to as ‘the sprint’.

That means that every day we rose early, gulped coffee and a breakfast bar and drove. And drove. Stops for gas were a time to grab a sandwich, run the towed car (to keep the fluids circulated) and walk the dog. We would make it to the night’s designated stop and essentially collapse.

The reason from the rush was simple – we wanted to be in Wyoming, at the Devil’s Tower to watch the Fourth of July fireworks over the landmark. Why didn’t we leave earlier? Where’s the fun in that?

So here’s a quick recap of what you’ve missed – Indiana and Illinois both had three work zones. Minnesota had 6 and South Dakota had 5. And considering how big South Dakota is, that was nothing. Wisconsin is the big winner so far with 13. And in one instance, we drove on the wrong side of the highway for miles.

Interesting note about that. Driving at near highway speed on the wrong side of a four lane highway is a wonderful way to get revenge on your GPS for any wrong it has ever done to you. It completely freaks it out! Of course the tone of voice never changes, it’s a professional after all. But it does repeat the instructions to get off that stretch of road and back on the right stretch almost continuously. “Please exit southbound Rt ## as soon as possible. Please return to northbound Rt ##  at the next exit’. I suppose I could be forgiven for mentally seeing a panicked driving instructor trying to remain calm and stop his student from killing them all by driving the wrong way on the interstate! Just me?

And then there was Wisconsin. I swear, we drove uphill ALL DAY in Wisconsin, and never really changed elevation. It was exhausting. Then Minnesota. I have always visualized Minnesota as having rolling hills and lots of trees and lakes. We didn’t see that.  It was really, REALLY flat and largely corn fields. That was the topography I was expecting for South Dakota, but South Dakota was really lovely. Gentle rolling hills, little lakes. Until the Badlands of course. Just like that, snap, and all the nice farmland was gone. Swapped right over to cattle country and the space of just a few miles.

Then came Wyoming. Steeper hills, a little greener. And tonight we’re parked at the base of the Devil’s Tower. Of ‘Close Encounters of Third Kind’ fame. And it is fantastic! The campground here plays the movie on an outdoor screen every night, with the Devil’s Tower as backdrop. We went, of course, and it was awesome!

We’ll stay here a few days to recuperate, do laundry and explore the tower.  And then we start phase two – Montana!