Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Bunch is as Big as You Make It

According to all accounts it should have been a rainy day in Sequim, but we woke to a beautiful, sunny day. So we went exploring. We walked along the John Wayne Marina and up the main road till we reached a dead end. Then we drove to Dungeness Bay for lunch at 3 Crabs. Then on to a lavender farm because lavender is the top crop in Sequim. The purple blooms have been harvested and the plants pruned, but the gift shop was certainly well stocked with all things lavender. Next, we drove to the waterfront where two fishermen were unloading their catch. Things like this fascinate Robert, so we stopped so he could talk to them. He came back with a 20-pound Silver Salmon. It's still in a bucket on ice in the Tahoe, until tomorrow when Robert will fillet it into more manageable portions for our freezer.

All day we kept looking up at the sky marveling at the ring of clouds around Sequim, proof that the "blue hole" really does exist. Because of the way Sequim is situated behind the Olympic Mountains, rain clouds apparently are diverted away. The phenomenon is called a rain shadow. Whatever it 's called, it is a fortunate characteristic of this small seaside town.

Our last stop of the day was to cut flowers at a home on the roadside. A sign on the driveway said, U-Pick Flowers, $2.00 a bunch. The yard was loaded with rows of beautiful dahlias, mostly. It seemed like robbery to offer 2 bucks for our idea of a bunch, but the gentleman on the lawn-mower said a bunch is as big as you make it, (a phrase that has tickled me all day) so Allison grabbed for the scissors and ran. Whoops. We had so much fun selecting the best blooms for our bouquets. It was the best $4 dollars we've spent this whole trip.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

I Ponder Peace

Because the morning was chilly I pulled on my sweater that has the peace sign on it. Not that I'm an activist; I just bought it because I thought it made me look hip. It took on an odd significance for me, however, when we took a stroll through Fort Casey while waiting for the Keystone ferry. As we explored the fort I became conscious of the irony of traipsing through the military ruins wearing a giant peace sign on my chest. I really wasn't trying to make a statement-- well only a fashion statement.

Though Fort Casey has long been abandoned as unnecessary, it is still a formidable sight with its long stretch of concrete gun batteries aimed into the ocean. It was built in 1908 along with two other forts on the Admiralty Inlet as defense against possible invasion by sea. This leads me to ask, "Who were we protecting ourselves from in 1908? And the answer is, anyone and everyone.

To someone of my generation who was watching cartoons during the Vietnam War, the idea of a concrete fort, circa 1900, on the U.S. pacific coast seems so odd. I grew up assuming America was so bad-ass that nobody would dare mess with us on our soil, except for those insanely foolish Japanese bombing Hawaii, which is an island way out in the Pacific and hardly seems part of America. Forts, in my mind, were relegated to early-America when the threat came from Redcoats and savage Indians. But walking around the concrete batteries and parapets and underground magazines of Fort Casey I realized I was looking at the physical manifestations of man's desire to protect his ground. Though I'm never aware of it, someone else, someone running things, feels this defense is necessary. Even with no threat, the presence of defense to deter foreign invasion is something we don't appreciate.

Later, on the ferry we struck up a conversation with a local WWII veteran who became a missionary in Japan after his service. For 38 years he lived among the Japanese whom he had fought against years earlier. He didn't express any opinions on war or peace, for that matter, regardless of the statement I wore on my sweater. But that wasn't the end of my brush with the subject: When we were driving though Port Townsend, Washington we saw that someone had mowed a giant peace sign into a field which I made Robert circle the block so I could get a decent photo.

Tonight we are camping in Sequim (pronounced, Skwim.) Robert made us come here because someone told him Sequim was paradise, a magic spot where a blue hole opens to the sun over the Puget Sound. That we are staying at the marina named for John Wayne, the film-star known for rugged westerns and war movies, and his pro-Vietnam war politics, is another odd occurrence for me to ponder. Which I'll do to the sound of rain pouring from the skies above Sequim.

I am the Ag Man, goo goo g'joob

Success! We managed to get Carly on her plane back to Portland. As extra security we had purchased a reservation for the 1:00 ferry and left Roch and Cath's house in Victoria two hours early. When the ferry arrived in Vancouver we had some time to kill so we decided to visit the Granville Market. We pulled Airstream Abby through the city streets of Vancouver and into the Market drawing stares as we searched for a place to park. By the time we settled we only had an hour to see the place. Too bad, because we could have spent an afternoon loitering through the market. All that beautiful fruit laid out like boxes of jewels and the cheese and meat and fish and flowers and delicate desserts behind glass--what temptations!

We got Carly off and drove towards to border. At Peace Arch we were delayed a bit while the agriculture inspector took us aside. He asked for the keys to our trailer before grilling us on what illegal items we might be harboring. Do you have any beef? Robert shakes his head no. Then the inspector looks at me and I must have inhaled suspiciously for he followed with, "Now, if I find any in there, you're going to be paying a big fine." Now that he identified me as the weak partner he began directing his inquiries to me: "Any produce, any citrus, any flowers or plants?"

We were asked to wait inside the office while he searched our vehicles. He came back holding our frozen packages of Alberta beef, my fresh-cut flowers from the Granville Market, and the one forbidden lemon I forgot to claim. He held the lemon before my horror-stricken face and told me that not claiming this lemon could cost me $300 dollars, but since he was sure I had innocently forgotten the offending citrus he would let me off. Just tell your friends who plan to cross the border how serious we are. Then he handed me the flowers that he had checked for insects and said some cute things to Allison and off we went.

Our precious Alberta beef went into a special border freezer to be disposed of in a special sanitized landfill of which its owner was sure to be getting rich over, the ag inspector told us. All confiscated items must be destroyed. Yeah, right, we thought to ourselves. We imagined the guy rubbing his palms together saying, "Hmmm, what's for dinner tonight? New York strips, or ribeye?"

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Butchart Gardens

You can't come to Vancouver Island and not see the Butchart Gardens, so that's what we did. We rode the ferry from Mill Bay over to Brentwood and lucky for us it was a partly sunny day. The gardens are phenomenal. I wished I could pick a bouquet full of these luscious flowers. Allie snipped a tiny piece of something that smelled wonderful and I hid it in my pocket. Hours later I was tossing it out with the tissue and crumpled receipts as it was no longer recognizable.

We were supposed to get Carly to Vancouver Airport this afternoon, but when we arrived to the Swartz Bay ferry we found it full. Incredible for a Tuesday we were told, but still, it threw us into panic mode wondering how to develop Plan B on the fly. Remember, we are on an island, you just can't hop over to Vancouver at will. We drove straight to the airport to see about putting her on a plane to Vancouver, but three air carriers later, we were nowhere. How about a helicopter, a concerned bystander suggested. Well, we're just not that panicked, thank you, we'll work something out.

We worked it out by rescheduling her flight to tomorrow--same carrier, same flight numbers, same escorts. Tomorrow will be our own personal Groundhog Day as we re-live the preparations and drive to the ferry again. On the bright side, Allison and James get Carly as a playmate for another day. Oh, and we stopped for lunch in Sidney, something we wouldn't have done, for fish and chips. We had the most fabulous plate of F&C's served with french-fried yams and curry-mayonnaise dip at Fish on Fifth where the world's most enthusiastic waiter, Sean, responded to our news that we were traveling North America by Airstream with "AWESOME!" about a dozen times. I could hear him from the kitchen repeating it over and over again. I felt inclined to take him along.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Everyone has fun in Victoria

Through a degree of separation, you could say Victoria, British Columbia, is connected to us. It is home to the developer of Loreto Bay and many other principal players. We got to know many of them well during our time in Loreto. Now that we are here, we are able to visit and get reacquainted. This morning, Ed and Cliff whisked Robert off to a sports bar to watch football. I bid them goodbye knowing full well I wouldn't see or hear from Robert till dark. Beer before noon means makes for a long, long day.

I drove the girls to Cath and Roch's for James' eighth birthday party. Carly, Allison, and James were classmates at Colegio Calafia in Loreto. Allison spent first grade tapping James' shoulder for help since he was a Loreto Bay veteran and she knew no Spanish. I got such a kick from seeing them together again acting like no time had passed between them. I think it is so interesting how fate pulls people together. I can imagine these kids being friends for life. One day, they'll reunite in some city and reminisce about their school days in a small Mexican village.

I left the birthday party after a couple hours to stroll downtown Victoria. The day was sunny which brought out the crowds. I love getting lost in a city by myself. Everything fascinates me: the architecture, the shops, the way people dress and talk--the same things that make cities interesting to everyone, I guess. I shopped a bit before finding myself in a wine bar tasting Canadian ice wine. I walked out knowing more about ice wine than I ever imagined I wanted to know. A half hour earlier, Canadian ice wine hadn't even crossed my mind. I love that phenomenon--subject specific education to an unsuspecting and unprepared brain. It livens a jaded mind.

I finished my outing with a visit to Vic's for fish and chips. At five o'clock I was the only patron there, a bad sign for a restaurant chosen best in Victoria for fish and chips. Still, I ate my greasy cod with a funny satisfaction that I was not the least bit uncomfortable to be eating alone in public. I'm such a big girl doing whatever I feel like. I could just toss my hat to the wind like Mary Tyler Moore. I think cities can make you giddy that way. Along with wine tasting.

I picked the girls up and we went home to find Robert fast asleep. I fed and chaperoned the girls to the campground shower and then watched them play and construct paper dresses for their Webkinz. We watched one hour of Hannah Montana on Disney followed by another of me watching the girls re-enact the episode. It seems I live half my life in child-world which is why wandering alone in a city, drinking ice wine and taking photographs of archways and pediments and flags waving in the wind is a perfect day for me.

Loonie in Canada

The big news here in Canada is the rise of the loonie against the dollar. For the first time since 1976, their currency is worth the same as ours. What it all means is beyond me and my puny knowledge of how economics works, but I get the impression it is bad for us.

Leave it to us to pick the most expensive time in the world to visit Canada. It takes 100 dollars in gasoline to fill our tank, but that may become the norm in the U.S. too, the way things are going.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Day Ends Well After All

We got to experience a little of the Canadian health system today when I took Allison's friend, Carly, to a clinic. She was complaining of an ear ache on our way to the grocery store in Mill Bay that we almost didn't find. Normally, a trip down a grocery isle with kids is like watching an Oklahoma land grab, each one staking claims on the sugar-laden products. When she turned away from the Oreos I had to feel her forehead for fever.

I have some experience with ear aches, of course, being a mother. I know that it always means infection and that always means antibiotics. Please, someone tell me why that a seasoned mother armed with this knowledge just can't buy the darn stuff over the counter. No, we are required to go through the drill: sit at the doctor's office for an hour so he/she can spend 37 seconds looking into two eardrums and another 12 writing out the prescription.

Anyway, I, being an American traveling in Canada, did not have a clue what to do other than trot over to the drug store and see what I could drum up in the way of relief for this little girl. I explained our dilemma to the pharmacist and she answered, brightly, that a health clinic was located right next door, but would be closing in 10 minutes. Thanks, I said, and ran out the door. I was surprised to see that the grocery, pharmacy, and health clinic were side-by-side.

The doctor's receptionist told me it should be no problem to get her in. I had only to fill out a simple form and pre-pay the $58 dollar fee as a foreigner. We waited about 20 minutes in the lobby, while the doctor was treating two boys injured playing rugby. While the one with the broken nose was being treated, we watched the other one as he waited his turn. He seemed so sullen that my first impression was that the two of them were punks who got into a fight, but when I struck up a conversation later with the broken nose, he revealed himself as a very polite and well-heeled boy who was attending the boarding school across the street--Shawnigan Lake School. I learned he'd lived many places, and that when he returned from school in Japan he was so advanced he skipped fifth grade. This injury would probably keep him out of the rugby season and maybe that is why his friend seemed gloomy. Just another example of how we can be so wrong about people.

We filled the prescription, but only half-way. The pharmacist informed me that they had to sent for more and that when it arrived on Monday the would deliver it to me. "Come again?" Yes, they would drive it to my door (be it lot #33 Malahat Mountain Meadows RV Park) no charge. So overall, our little dilemma resolved smoothly. Carly feels a little better. The girls picked wild blackberries and roasted marshmallows tonight. Then they retreated to the Airstream to play while Robert and I watched our campfire burn down and listened to the grunts of the emu in the pen behind our campground. Yes, emu. Don't ask.


Down the coast to Victoria. We tried to get a spot at the Westbay Marine Village RV park, but it was full. The site was like an ugly parking lot, but the location was great--right on the harbor. The attendant was sorry not to have room for us; she loved Airstreams. "They class up the place," she said. Interestingly, we see few Airstreams on the road. Now that we have one we are always on the lookout for others. When we spot one we wave like fools trying to catch the attention of the owner. We imagine we are united in some exclusive club which ownership of the iconic silver bullet is claim enough to brotherhood.

We found another RV park, Fort Victoria, that for the time being will have to do, though I hate it. It is an unattractive parking lot, basically. We are used to the beautiful park settings of past campgrounds. We've developed definite likes and dislikes regarding our digs. We like to have a campfire, lots of space, good views, privacy. I like reasonable access to the internet and laundry facilities if possible. So, this morning we are packing up and heading a few kilometers north to Malahat Mountain Meadows Park in a more scenic setting among the cedars.

Yesterday, we picked up Allison's friend, Carly, from the Victoria airport. She flew in to spend a few days with us. Allison is thrilled beyond words. The atmosphere has altered dramatically towards all things girly. Giggles and games and slumber party antics. Robert and I are relegated to our bedroom to give them the space they need to be kids. Carly and Allison are friends from their schooldays at Colegio Calafia in Loreto. They share a unique experience that should bond them for a lifetime. An exclusive club, so to speak.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Ancients

We drove north from our campsite in Nanaimo to Cathedral Grove, an ancient forest of fir and red cedar. I think it is aptly named; there is something holy about 800-year-old trees. Most are decaying, but I don't know if that means "dying." Some stand 250 feet tall and nearly 30 feet in circumference, inspiring awe. It would seem a sin to destroy such majestic things, but the ancient forests of Vancouver have practically been wiped out. 97% wiped out since colonization. Logging. Ancient trees in unprotected areas are still in danger of
clear-cutting and logging, and there is continual protest from concerned people. Here is an excerpt from the Cathedral Grove website:

Stop Killing Big Trees Since Weyerhaeuser bought MacMillan Bloedel in 1999, the barbaric practice of old growth clearcutting has continued at an even faster rate on Vancouver Island. In the fall of 1999, Weyerhaeuser began cutting down 800 year old ancient Douglas firs adjacent to Cathedral Grove as part of a new logging road. Wide spread public outrage at this corporate vandalism led to a campaign to expand the boundaries of Cathedral Grove spearheaded by the Western Canada Wilderness Committee in 2000.

The political decision to destroy more forest habitat to construct a parking lot in Cathedral Grove is contentious. MLA Scott Fraser (Alberni Qualicum) cautions: "I don't want to see a problem à la Clayoquot Sound . . . if the public is not listened to here, there won't be just a few people in the trees" (9 December 2005, Parksville-Qualicum News).

I can see why a person would become a tree-hugger. Standing in that sacred grove I fully understood my compulsion to want to wrap my arms around a rare and magnificent living object as wise and knowing as an old cedar. Something that has stood so long must be deserving of our worship and protection. Oh, I could go on and on; there's a forest full of allegories to harvest here. Just watch my video:

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ferry to Forest

We arrived in Vancouver today after an overnight in a campsite somewhere near Yale, British Columbia. We meant to stay at Hell's Gate, but it was so insanely dark when we arrived and there was no campgrounds in sight. We thought of overnighting in the parking lot of Hell's Gate, an attraction like involves gondolas and deep gorges probably like the Royal Gorge in Colorado, that but we were too spooked being the only ones there under a massive sign reading "Welcome to Hell's Gate." No thanks. We found a almost equally deserted campground further up the road and timidly pulled in. In the morning there was no one to pay; in fact the campground was void of all human presence, so we scatted.

No one warned us how spooky dark Canada can be. If not for your car headlights you'd be immobilized. Still, we made it to Vancouver by noon and went straight to the Horseshoe Bay Ferry crossing. Our first ride with Airstream Abby on a ferry and it was a perfectly smooth and comfortable trip. I think it cost about 158 dollars for us to cross the hour-and-a-half distance to Departure Bay on Vancouver Island. I had the bright idea of videotaping our disembarking the ferry. I watched as Robert drove right past me and on to the freeway as he had nowhere to stop. I had to hike a bit till I found him parked alongside traffic waiting for his nutty wife.

I made up for it by locating a perfectly sweet rhododendron-thicket of an RV park called, Living Forest. Once again Robert went for view over internet access and we are perched oceanfront. As usual I am in the Tahoe next to the office where I can get wi-fi. Allison has cable t.v. so she's a happy camper. Overall, we all are.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Incredibles!

Add this to our list of dumb things we've done: Last night we locked ourselves out of our Airstream. Robert was preparing dinner, homemade meatballs and spaghetti and had shooed us away like all good cooks (after I had to give him tips on how to make meatballs.) The trailer was steamy and fragrant with his blossoming creation. I could no longer see into the fogged windows. When he emerged to announce dinner, he pulled the door shut. It locked. Or the lock was set and it just caught the latch. We don't know. And worse, both sets of keys were in the trailer.

We considered all the possible ways to get back in. Which window would be the least expensive to replace? What possible orifice could a human pass through? There has to be a way. I suggested going in through the storage compartment in the back. We would have to squeeze in and remove the back panel to the bed platform. But that task looked improbable. The bed on the other side would be heavy to lift and we'd have little leverage. Plus we'd probably tear things up. We had some things in our favor: We had a spare ignition key to hidden on the Tahoe. My laptop and phone were in there. We could call a locksmith though it might be morning before one could come, if there were any in the area. Best of all, we were parked outside Grant and Joanne's cabin and we'd cleverly spied where Grant hid the house key.

But, waaaahhh, we want in our trailer. ME: There's dinner in there!" ALLISON: "My Webkinz are in there!" ROBERT: "There's beer in there!" WE"RE GOING IN!

Being the smaller adult I stuffed myself into the storage compartment and commenced to removing the rows of screws so intensively implanted there by high speed factory drills, no doubt. Anyone thinking this would be a simple route to break into an Airstream be forewarned: IT"S NOT! After the first three or four screws I was re-thinking the hijacked cabin as a cozy possibility, but I'm a trouper so I carried on. Allison fretted and worried for me and Robert spoke silly encouragements. With three more screws to go I begged him to finish the job. He stuffed what he could of his torso into the compartment and began work. When the screws were removed there was still the plywood separating the compartment from the interior to unwedge. Finally, when he managed enough space we called for Allison. Someone small was needed to squeeze through. She was in within seconds and running the seven or eight steps to the door. After some encouragement on how to manage open the lock, she let us in.

Cheers! What teamwork! We were as proud as thieves after the heist. Dinner was served and we all got to sleep in our own beds. That is, after Robert reassembled ours and reattached the plywood partition. How he managed, I don't know. By then, Allie and I were on to other things. Apparently, he was feeling so giddy from our success and the savings of hundreds of dollars in locksmith fees that he suddenly grew svelte and agile. He-he.

By the way, his meatballs and spaghetti was divine!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hidden Treasures

Today was Allison's eighth birthday. We spent it searching for letterboxes hidden in Miligne Canyon and Lake in Jasper National Park. This was our first attempt at this game since learning about it just days ago. People make and hide these boxes in the outdoors for others to find by following clues online. It is very simple really and fun. It makes the hike up a steep terrain a little more tolerable for a kid knowing there's a mystery to solve. Allison just loved it. Now we are planning our own letterbox project.

Our friends, Grant and Joanne left for their home in Edmonton, sorry to say. They are so fun and it was cozy to hang with them in the cabin on Lake Edith. We parked the Airstream right outside the door and made ourselves comfortable. We would be happy to stay longer; it is so beautiful. The lake is glacier fed so it is that aqua blue color. I have seen elk, sheep and a coyote, but no bears yet. At night it is so dark you cannot see the ground you walk on. Elk are in mating season so there is a lot of bellowing or whatever it's called. I have to say I am a little fearful of the 50 steps from the cabin to the trailer for what could be lurking there.

Grant told us a story of how years ago he was unable to get out his front door for work because there were two huge elk in the yard. One charged at him hastening him back into the house where he phoned his boss with the worlds most improbable excuse for tardiness. Or, maybe not so improbable to a Canadian living in the Rockies. Now there's one good advantage to being a Canadian right there, eh?

The toe knows.

These belong to my friend, Grant.
Grant is from Edmonton. He says Edmonton rocks! Secretly, he wishes he was from America.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Walking on Thick Ice

I didn't realize it could only get better. Banff was gorgeous. Robert and I hiked the Tunnel Mountain Trail along the Bow River to town. It took us through the valley floor through alpine meadows and pine forests to the waterfalls below the Banff Springs Hotel. Later, we all rode the gondola to the top of Sulfur Mountain (no discernible smell there.) I wished we had a little more time to explore, but we needed to get on to Lake Louise with Drew and Cathy before they had to go home. Having them along was like having personal tour guides; they are familiar with the area as well as knowledgeable about the things we were seeing like Moraine Lake and the Rockpiles. This is where the glacier flow ends leaving boulders piled high and haphazard like thy were moved by a giant bulldozer. The color of the lake is stunningly aqua due to the sunlight reflecting off the mineral particles suspended in the water. Lake Louise is the same but bigger with a grander view. This seems to be everyone's favorite, but like Drew, we were drawn to the more intimate setting of Moraine. That's Allison looking out on the aqua water. (No Photoshop magic here, I promise!)

It was goodbye to Drew and Cathy and hello to Grant and Joanne in Jasper. The three hour drive might have felt out to the way, but what a drive it was. We follow the spine of the Canadian Rockies so that the thrill never ends. What, more pines, waterfalls, lakes, and big blue sky? When does it end? Along the way is the Columbia Icefields. Although we were cruising in 70 degrees Fahrenheit, suddenly we were presented with this enormous ice field and chilling wind. We only stepped onto the very end of the Icefield. To go further, you need to be prepared. There are enormous crevasses and spots where the ice can give way. Robert was told that people occasionally fall into a crevasse, and can instantly freeze before being freed. So, I only braved a path along the correct side of the roped-off section. I would love to go back and take a serious hike on the glacier. I want to jump a cravasse like this guy in a photo I snagged off the Icefield website.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Walking on Thick Ice: The Video

Here's a little video I made of our stroll on the ice.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hiking the Tunnel Mountain Trail to Banff Springs Hotel

Calgary, Who Knew?

From Waterton we drove to Calgary stopping for a quick visit to Head-Smashed-In, an historical site where Indians drove buffaloes over cliffs. In Calgary we hooked up with Cathy and Drew, friends and fellow neighbors from Loreto Bay. They treated us to dinner (Alberta steaks) and the next day a tour of their city. Calgary is a very nice town. It's similar to many Midwestern U.S. cities, ours included.

We stayed at the campground next to the Olympic Park where the 1988 Winter Games were held. We could see the ski jump and luge runs from the campground. The ski jump was our landmark for finding our way back from Cathy and Drew's.
The photo here is of the Saddledome where ice hockey and figure skating took place. Now the "Stampede" rodeo event is held there. Of course, we missed it since it takes place in July. We did a mix of the usual touristy things, like visit the Calgary Tower, where we stood on the glass floor looking down some 600 plus feet--and the neighborly things, like dinner with C & D's friends and a stroll through the neighborhood.

I worried we were not flattering enough with our comments regarding Calgary. After all, it is a refined cow-town not unlike Kansas City, right? We were expecting to meet a city of similar status. We're both known for great beef. We have the American Royal, they have the Stampede. We both have a river, a decent museum, a conservative outlook. I figured maybe they'd have us beat in the humor department. I maintain that Canadians are funny people, but they have to be to make up for not being Americans. However, a few days in the World's Cleanest City, and the city ranked 25th in the world for best quality of life, I began to see the error of my prejudice. Calgary may have us beat: a low crime rate, low taxes, a flat income-tax rate, light rail transit, great winter sports activities, skiing and Banff 75 miles away, and most importantly, a booming economy due to massive oil and gas deposits which recently are more viable as the the world's oil prices keep climbing. It's people are friendly and almost never kill each other (only 25 homicides in 2006). Calgary is looking good.

Then we saw Banff. The Alberta Rockies are stunning and Banff is out of this world beautiful. So what if you freeze your buns off living in Calgary-- with scenery like that just minutes away it makes it easy to downplay the long, cold winters. Hiking the alpine trails in Banff, seeing the brilliant aqua Bow River meander through the valley, the falls below the Scottish baronial style Banff Springs Hotel, the magnificent elk wandering through the parks--puts Canada in a whole new light for us.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Postcard to my boys

Our girl is getting so big, but she still likes to be held. I'm glad to oblige because I know it won't last much longer. She will be eight years old in a few days. She's my best buddy. I'm sorry that our boys are grown and don't get to come along on this adventure. I've been thinking about them a lot lately. I want to share all of this with them--all of them. We did so many fun things with them when they were young. It's bittersweet to have that all be in the past.

Now they get to watch their little sister enjoy those special adventures. Maybe they too, feel a tinge of sorrow that their childhood with us has ended. We sure had a lot of fun.

Going to the Sun Road

More of my shaky video as I hang out the car window. But nothing, not even Hollywood cinematographers could capture the absolute wonder of Glacier Park.

Princely Views

We left Whitefish, Montana yesterday morning. It didn't take long to get to the southwest entrance of Glacier Park. We camped in Apgar under the tall pines. If there was sunshine you wouldn't know it tucked away in that dense haven. It was quite chilly and we weren't allowed to run the generator. The night owl that I am, I ran the battery down and we had no heat by morning.

However, there was plenty of sunshine on the Going to the Sun Road. We left the Airstream and tackled the long incline up the gorgeous peaks. We drove as far as Logan Pass (about 35 miles) before doubling back. Once again I hung my head out the window to videotape while Robert was steady at the wheel.

Glacier Park is magnificent and we could spend a lot more time exploring, but we want to keep up the pace to get through Canada while it's still warm. This is the end of the summer season. So, this afternoon we headed north to Waterton Park in Alberta. This is the first time any of us has ever visited Canada. We had absolutely no trouble crossing the border. I imagined I'd see more security, or at least the Royal Mounted Police, but it was uneventful. The drive up was beautiful, breathtaking. Hard for Robert to keep his eyes on the road for all the wandering cows (kinda like in Baja!)

We are staying at the full-service campground in Waterton near the lake and below the Prince of Wales Hotel. We were so excited to have dinner in the Royal Stewart Room where the waiters wear Scottish kilts. We imagined Prince Edward hosting his royal friends there, hunting and fishing, dining in the grand room overlooking the spectacular mountains and lake.
I was very disappointed to learn that the Prince of Wales Hotel was actually built by ambitious American railroad big-wigs. They created it as a getaway spot for Americans looking for a drink during the Prohibition era. They boldly named it after Prince Edward (who owned a large ranch in Alberta) betting he would draw patrons. I don't believe he ever even visited the place. Prohibition ended after a few short years and the depression hindered profits further. Still, it was a nice idea. It must have been quite a sight years ago to tourists coming in on the train, just as it impressed us as we pulled in, Airstream in tow.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Goodnight America, how are ya?

Here's something I never knew until yesterday: When a train nears a crossing it blares its horn four times. Two long, one short, one really long blast from the horn. How do I know this, and why did it take me over 40 years to discover this esoteric bit of knowledge? Well, for the past two nights I've been jarred awake every hour by the passing of trains on the BNSF Railway.

Hwaaaah Hwaaaah Hwaa Hwaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh. Here, take a listen.

Although the code is always the same, there are subtle variations. Some horns are more baritone. Some engineers wail longer on each note. A sleepy person grows sensitive to these little variations of the nocturnal locomotives. It only takes one night of this auditory assault to become discriminating of style. I wonder--does the horn-blower relish this task? Is it fun to pull the lever that releases that piercing compressed air into the still night? Does he work on his style and delivery? Who is he and how do I find and kill him?

Our course, all this just makes me curious enough to google. The BNSF is a huge conglomeration of railroad transporters. I understand it works hard day and night for America. How else would all the stuff we like get to the shelves at the grocery store? These following italicized fact alone soothes me enough to forgive for now:

  • BNSF is the largest transporter of beer and wine by rail in the United States.
  • BNSF transports enough canned beverages to supply every resident of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles with one beverage a day for nearly one year.
  • BNSF moves enough sugar to make more than 3 million batches of cookies a year.
Still, it is time to move on.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

She'll be Coming Round the Mountain Every Hour

After Flathead Lake we landed in Whitefish, Montana to a tiny campsite along Whitefish Lake. At seven miles long, this lake is tiny compared to Flathead, but more charming. This photo shows the view from the campground. The other is of the view from our bedroom in the Airstream.

It would be mini-nirvana but for one thing: the Great Northern Railway. The tracks run not some 100-feet from our campsite and a train runs practically every hour 24/7 bellowing its horn as it passes.

We will endure it one more night and then we're on the Glacier Park and Canada.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Flatheads and Huckleberries

Polson, Montana. Never heard of it until yesterday when we landed here. We stayed in out first KOA camp. Apparently, it is one of the better ones, I'm told. We snagged one of the better spots with it's own wood deck overlooking Flathead Lake. The area is a little hazy from fire smoke. I read where this fire originated in the Indian reservation nearby. There was some controversy about the Indians supposedly neglecting to put it out before it grew so big.

I hadn't known it, but half of Flathead Lake and a huge portion of the land south is a reservation. I imagined a flathead fish as the origin of the lake's name, but no, it turns out that Flathead is the name European settlers gave to the local Indians. How lovely. But then I remembered how pioneers called Germans, "square-heads," so go figure. Which leads me to believe that a good portion of Polson's early settlers were Germans. Maybe they nicknamed the Indians Flatheads, as they were accustomed to cranial observations. There does seem to be a lot of Germanic names on mailboxes in the eastern shoreline of Flathead Lake.

The 1855 Treaty of Hellgate divided the lake. The Indians got a 1.2 million acre reservation and $120 thousand dollars. The upper portion was offered up to private ownership. Somebody found that the land was suited to growing apples and cherries, and more European settlers. Too bad they didn't throw out Flathead in favor of the true tribes' names: Salish, or Kootenai.
The east shoreline is dotted with cute homesteads and orchards. Some areas, like Finley Point are like quaint little hamlets. Long country roads are marked at the entrances by wooden picket signs.

One the east side of the lake is a cute little town named, Bigfork which is situated near the very top of of 26-mile long lake. It is a cute little town where the main street is named "Electric Avenue" due to the power plant that was created there in the early 1900's. We bought a jar of huckleberry preserves which is the touristy thing to do. Huckleberries are everywhere in this area, and having never tasted any we thought we'd give it a try. I can only describe it as "blueberry caviar." On the road back we stopped at a fruit stand to buy cherries and fresh huckleberries which cost a hefty $15.00 for a couple handfuls. Maybe I'll get Robert to make a huckleberry pie since he's getting pretty handy in the Airstream kitchen.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

You'd be Much More Interesting if You Knew Stuff

Coming up the Salmon Scenic Byway into the Sawtooth Mountains we saw many changes in the landscape. It went from forested and lush to dry and barren.

It was such a long drive that after awhile we grew silent, not knowing how to describe what we were seeing. "Oh, that's a weird looking mountain." "Look at that rock." It occurred to me that Robert and I could be having a terrific conversation if only either of us had any remembrance of Geology 101 back in college.

So, instead, we tuned in Disney Channel on XM Radio and listened to Allison sing along.

Theirs is sexier

Hotshots, Helitec, Smokejumpers, Incident Commander, ICP, backburning, bambi bucket. These are just a few of the terms people who live in forested areas are familiar with. It struck me as funny how different regions in America have not only their own dialect, but also a vocabulary related to their unique "disaster" concerns. In the Midwest we use "tornado warning" and "tornado watch" (often confusing the two). We know the terms: downdraft, micro-cell, funnel cloud, run-to-the-basement.
Growing up in California I knew these: fault-line, tremor, after-shock, seismograph, Richter scale. Luckily, I never experienced anything more than a mild earthquake.

Of course, I wouldn't wish for us in the Midwest to add any more potential natural disasters to the menu, but the stuff (and fit firefighters) used to combat wildfires sure is cool.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Follow the Salmon River

We woke up still exuberant about our previously fabulous day in Blaine County. We love this little piece of Idaho. So naturally, we couldn't wait to see more. We left beautiful Ketchum to take the scenic rode to Salmon, Idaho. And it was picture-perfect scenic. Every mile following along the Salmon River was breathtaking. The river is shallow so it's always rippling over the round rocks that make up its bed. I hung my head out the window like a dog lapping up the fresh air, trying to snap photos. I wished Robert could hang his head out too, but somebody had to drive. We should have just stopped and camped for the night, but the drive was so exhilarating we just kept going and going. Hours and hours. Not knowing any better I kept urging us on to Salmon like it was the Emerald City at the end of a long winding road. Was I wrong. So today, I added another new nugget to our travel wisdom bag: Don't pass up a good thing believing a better thing awaits you just a tad further down the road.

When we finally got to the town of Salmon we were met with two disappointments: The beauty of the drive suddenly dissolved into an unattractive town, and, there was a heavy smoky haze in the air. We wondered if it was smoke from the central Idaho fires just blowing up the state, but it only got worse as we kept driving. We asked someone about it and she shrugged, unconcerned. "We have fires all the time. Sometimes it's smoky. If you'd been here this morning you'd seen clear skies." Well, then.

We passed up North Fork as too claustrophobic with the dense forest and heavy fire smoke. If there is a fire nearby, we'd like a good vantage point to see it from and a quick route to escape. Suddenly we were climbing over the Bitterroot Mountains. The smoke was so thick that the sun turned red. Next thing we know, we're in Montana, (probably the ugliest entrance, too with all the burnt trees) and wondering where to find a campsite. This corner of Montana seems to be a center for logging and businesses related to the building trades. Also we noticed quite a few chiropractic offices tucked between the casinos. Logging has to be hard on the back.

So here we are in a campground south of Missoula I don't even know the name of. We pulled in at dusk and didn't bother to unhitch. We'll sleep, get up early and head north to Glacier Park, hopefully to clear skies.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Fire and Ice

We lucked out. The Castle Rock fires near Ketchum are not much of a threat at the moment. Firefighters say they should be completely contained by Monday. As a precaution, the town cancelled most Labor Day weekend events and the crowds stayed away giving us a rare glimpse into a quiet Ketchum. We even have perfect weather, too. Today we rented bicycles and rode the Wood River bike trail that runs some 20 miles through the valley, mostly along the river. Beautiful.

We got a bit ambitious and rode all the way to Hailey from Ketchum. Once there, we were too tired to ride the 13 miles back. We browsed a few stores and ate lunch at Shorty's (owned by Bruce Willis.) All over town thank you signs to the firefighters are posted in store windows. The residents are very grateful to them for saving their towns. There are over 1500 firefighters in town. Most are camped in pup tents on an open field in Ketchum. You gotta love their heartiness. The billionaires who own homes in Ketchum, Sun Valley, and Hailey sure do. Not one home was lost to the fierce wildfires. Nor one piece of art. A brisk business was made of removing valuable art from homes in the wake of the fire threat.
So far, the towns are safe, though the scare will put a sore dent in the economy. The loss of revenue expected from Labor Day weekend will be hard on merchants. Still, storekeepers were offering big discounts and freebies to the firefighters in gratitude.

We ended up loading our bicycles into a taxi van back to Ketchum. We rested, cleaned up, and went to dinner at the Pioneer Saloon. I finally had that Old Fashioned cocktail that the bartender in Deadwood recommended to me. No, not my favorite. Allison was put off by all the animal trophies hung along the walls. I thought the place was terrific. Robert had an Idaho baked potato the size of Rhode Island. After dinner, we went to the Sun Valley Ice Rink to see a show that included Olympic medalist, Sasha Cohen. Why that event didn't get cancelled, I don't know, but we were glad to enjoy it.