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Recognized Social Butterfly

CANADA (PART 2)

Zoning in on Rod Serling’s Universe

The parking garage for the Hampton Court condo that we are renting in Victoria, BC, is on another street around the bend opposite a shopping center where my wife and I had our first meal in Victoria. As we were leaving the restaurant, I was tasked with getting some items from our rental car. Instead of returning the long roundabout way to the condo and then taking an elevator to the garage, I directly entered the garage (as directed) with the condo room key, a key that also remarkably serves to enter the condo building and operate the elevators. I retrieved what I wanted from the car, and then tried to locate the elevators housed in a large cubicle with many doors, some of them marked maintenance, some of them unmarked. All of them required a key. After a few misses, my key fit into a door that led to another door that I was able to push open. Aha! I saw two unmarked elevators in a corridor that also had no signs on it.  I took the left-hand side elevator—I successfully inserted my key to operate it—and stopped at our first-floor condo, room 108.

But when I got there, I didn’t find the combination lockbox that was earlier on the door. Perhaps my wife removed it. So I tried to open the door with my key. It didn’t fit. Perhaps my key was defective, good only for the garage door, the cubicle, and the elevator, but not for the room door. So I knocked on the door. Surely my wife would be there as planned. No one answered.  I then knocked more forcefully. No response!  Bewildered, I went outside to find her. She wasn’t there either. Of course, she could have been in the condo unit but was indisposed when I had banged on the door.

I decided to try again to rouse her. But just as I opened the door to our condo building, while using the same key that wouldn’t allow me to enter our room, I looked up and saw the condo building name above the entrance: Churchill Court. Whoa!  How could my key for Hampton Court open the outside door of Churchill Court—curious and curiouser. And if that were the case, both condo buildings also shared the same garage and had different elevators accordingly.

The simplest explanation was that I had evidently used the wrong elevator, the one on the left side. So I retraced my steps to the garage, found the same spot where I had entered the cubicle, got into the right-hand side elevator that lifted me to the first floor, and approached the same condo (108) as before, the one still without the lockbox. I went outside to recheck the condo building name plate. Yup, it was the Churchill building. By this time, foiled again, I was feeling spooked.

Instead of trying to find another elevator in the garage (there had to be one that led to room 108 in Hampton Court), I hurriedly walked from Churchill around the corner and up the street to where Hampton should be.  After a few minutes, I was relieved (I guess I was sane after all) to see the sign for Hampton Court. I had no trouble getting into the building, I found the lockbox on our room 108, pressed the right buttons, and met my wife as I walked in. I babbled on about my misadventure, but I knew that my wife wouldn’t be convinced until I’d show her in person what I had experienced.

The next day, after we pulled into our parking spot, I determined to prove to my wife that I was not looney. Once in the garage, we made a couple of wrong turns but eventually found our parking slot. I escorted my wife through what I thought was the same cubicle door that led to the elevators that I had earlier used to no avail. When we arrived at the first floor, we walked to condo 108 and found a lockbox on the door. I was stunned. How weird!   Churchill Court room 108 all of a sudden had a lockbox that was not there only yesterday. In any case, I was sure that the combination numbers for our lock wouldn’t work for this alien lockbox.

Boy was I wrong. The green light came on, and, as hard as it is for me to admit, we entered our own rental unit. Although I was not vindicated, my wife kindly said nothing about my misjudgment.

Evidently, the day before I had willy-nilly located the cubicle door   that had led that me to the Churchill condo elevators. And the next day, trying to duplicate my error, I accidentally entered the correct cubicle door for the elevators to Hampton Court.

Since then, my wife and I have had no trouble finding the appropriate elevators to our condo room.

I know that there is another cubicle door leading to the Churchill Court elevators. Tomorrow, we leave our rental unit. The location of the elevator room to Churchill Court will always remain a mystery to me, for I have chosen not to find it. For some unfathomable reason, I prefer to dwell in my self-imposed Twilight Zone.

 

Gawking at the Audacious Rockies in Alberta

After flying from Victoria, BC, to Calgary, Alberta, my wife and I drove six hours to our rental unit in Jasper, Alberta. And what a ride it was, especially along the ice highway between Banff and Jasper National Parks. We were astounded by the kaleidoscopic variations of the mountain wilderness, at times gorgeous, at times savage, and at times surreal.

Massive mounds of beveled slate boulders connected to spiraling mountain tops graciously swaddled in snow. Some bare mountain bases looked like ivory carvings; others were pocked-marked with scraggly fir trees. Many of the peaks grotesquely jutted out (like wild primordial warriors) and resembled huge bulky swollen necks thrust over the underbelly of the mountain. Sections of other promontories seem to be caved in, battered and blackened by erosion. After seeing haphazardly strewn boulders beside the highway shoulder, my wife and I knew why there were frequent signs warning of avalanches.

One mountain blanketed with finely crushed brownish rock looked like the huge sand dunes near our home on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Right above the base was a smattering of greenery streaked with light grey. And at the mountain peak, pristine squares of snow alternated with smooth flat purplish spans of rock reminiscent of the granite countertops at our condo in Waikiki.

What a glorious way to begin our visit to the Rocky Mountains in Alberta!

 

A not-too Delightful Short Cruise

On our first full day in Jasper, my wife and I took (for about fifty American dollars apiece) one of the highest ranking enclosed boat tours in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the hour and a half Spirit Island Cruise at Maligne Lake a few miles from Jasper.

It was a little disappointing. From the lake shore, we could see pretty close up most of the glacial mountain chain that the boat skirted. Except for a few moments when the passengers allowed the windows to remain slightly open (it was a very chilly late afternoon), picture taking wasn’t ideal. The small outside deck at the back of the boat was potentially a better venue, but the engine fumes were overpowering.

The tour guide had lots of pertinent historical and topographical information to relay over the intercom: a portion of the lake was gifted to Queen Elizabeth, but she never came by to see it; an early explorer of the glaciers once noted that the most formidable adjacent peaks could have been thrones for the gods. The intermittent engine noise, frequent babbling from children and adults, and the rough-housing ruckus some of the small children made too often drowned out the besieged tour guide, who sensed that not everything that she was saying was appreciated or even heard.

One of the main features of the trip, tiny Spirit Island, was hardly worth visiting. It was at best nondescript and at worst drab. The view of the glaciers was no better than the boat afforded. And the much touted and universally welcomed state-of-the-art bathrooms were closed—there are no washrooms on the boat. Even if some of the passengers had wanted to explore the island a little more, the boat horn tooted at the ten-minute warning.

Throughout the trip, the sky was basically overcast with rain falling nearby.

My wife and I didn’t consult any other of the passengers to find out how they felt about their outing. But for us, the “Classic Cruise” was no classic. I don’t mean to malign the excursion. It was pleasant enough but certainly not a treat.

 

Peak Experiences                                     

The first Monday in August is a traditional holiday variously named in all of the Canadian provinces. In British Columbia, the holiday is called British Columbia Day, a day that my wife and I celebrated at Mount Robson Provincial Park.

Instead of remaining as planned in the environs of Jasper National Park, our base camp this week, my wife and I drove to nearby British Columbia to see Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies and one of the most photographed mountains in North America.

The scenery along the way from Jasper to Mt. Robson was a delightful prelude to the main attraction: particularly the vistas of lemony-lime colored lakes, the pockets of burnished reddish fir trees, patches of velvet green spread among the rocky crevices of the mountain slopes, and the brown sugary-like coating on some of the mountain tops.

Mt. Robson itself was monumental. Pastures of snow wrapped around the highest elevations, and remarkably there was a cavernous section half way up filled with a mound of snow. But what amazed me the most were the Grand Canyon-like swaths of purplish-pinkish rocks that laterally encircled most of the mountain side.

It would have been a guilty pleasure to have spent all of our time gazing at Mt. Robson without doing a little hiking. We wrested ourselves away from the spectacular view to trek a few relatively easy kilometers along a trail next to the swirling Frasier River that led to Kinney Lake. Even though there were no treacherous exposed roots or slippery boulders or steep inclines, we returned within an hour, not making it to the lake. It was our first hike in a while, so with both of our knee caps throbbing a bit, we decided to prematurely trudge back to the parking lot.

Afterwards, we drove a little more west on Route 16 in order to get a different view of Mt. Robson. But before we turned around, I saw in the distance a magical mountain softly illuminated by the late afternoon sun. The upper half of the mountain was curled up in snow. The bottom half had columns of voluminous turquoise tinted trees. As I later found out, the mountain is aptly called the Resplendent Mountain, and like Mt. Robson, is part of the Rainbow Chain.

As we did a U-turn, we faced the other side of Mt. Robson. As we continued to drive, I felt that the mountain was much wider than the frontal view we earlier had from the tourist vantage spot in the park. Perspective, perspective, perspective, eh?

 

Day Three at Jasper National Park: Three Scenic Wonders

Today, we had many sightseeing options. We chose to journey to Mt. Edith Cavell, a glacial mountain that, according to one of the Jasper Park employees, was a must-see because you can actually stand at its base after driving a few miles and then walking on a short paved path.

We arrived at noon; although we were not literally at the foot of the mountain, we were close enough to be dwarfed by it. What we saw was epic. A bubbling waterfall emerged from one side of a massive glacial ridge, gained momentum and mass, and then catapulted down into an azure pond partially embellished with ice floes. It was astounding; it was mesmerizing. And near the peak, we saw another amazing feature: a hefty, swooped-back angel-winged glacier formation that the Jasper National Park brochures had rightly touted. We marveled at Mt. Edith Cavell for quite a while, utterly enraptured. Mt. Robson now has a rival.

On our way back to the car, I took time to observe the people on the walkway. It was a motley crew, from babies to babushkas. At the top of the trail, I saw a man wearing a tiny yarmulke emphatically speaking Hebrew to a young boy, most likely his son. Many other tourists along the way were conversing (sometimes cooing, sometimes crowing) in other languages: I heard smatterings of French, German, Italian, Chinese, and possibly Hindustani. A bearded and black-turbaned Sikh appeared to be meditating as he approached one of the overlooks. A young lady who strode by was hooked up to a breathing tube that was fastened to her heavy backpack; perhaps she suffered from altitude sickness. A man ever so gently and so lovingly escorted a frail woman whose arm was in a sling; she walked very tentatively up the path as if she might have had a neurological or muscular problem as well. As I got to the bottom of the trail, I noticed a man bustling about in the crowd. His attire was incongruous: he wore a plain colored T-shirt and a flamboyantly decorated sarong-like skirt. I wondered: was he just being playful, did he have an identity issue, or did a woman lend him her garment because he had lost or soiled his pants?

By early afternoon, we had returned to the highway. Our next major attraction was Athabasca Falls, a spot that our rental host highly praised. We didn’t hear much of the waterfall at Mt. Edith Cavell because it was pretty far removed, but we were so close to the raging two-pronged Athabasca Falls that the sound was thunderous. All along the walkways, we saw and felt the force of the water as it plunged and squeezed into a narrowing cavernous pit and then into a lake that soon became rapids. Niagara Falls may not have another rival in Canada, but Athabasca Falls could be its awesome little sister.

There was a captivating interlude between Mt. Edith Cavell and Athabasca Falls: We stopped briefly to watch the mini-rapids merging of the milky white Whirlpool River and the turquoise Athabasca River. This phenomenon is dubbed “The Meeting of the Waters.” Seeing both contrasting colors uniquely side by side was eye boggling, a wondrously fashioned marvel of nature.

We have three more days left to explore Jasper National Park. I can’t imagine how the remaining three days could possibly be as mind bending and soulful as the first three. But I have been wrong before, as my wife rarely reminds me.

 

And the Last Shall be First

On our fourth day in Jasper, my wife and I scoped out four lakes, with a jaunt to a canyon in between. Not until we reached Pyramid Lake that afternoon, however, did we locate a scenic wonder that could approximate the splendor of the sights we visited yesterday.

Our first stop was at Annette Lake. Just before we got there, we saw lots of cars on the side of the road. One man, alternately crouching and standing in the bushes with an elaborate camera, was eyeing a female elk as it munched on some vegetation. At one point, the elk straitened up with her ears extended and stood still: an abnormally loud small tractor was passing by, a tractor that soon shortened our stay at the lake.

As we walked to the edge of the shoreline of Lake Annette, a magnificent vista of the surrounding mountains greeted us. We immediately recognized snow-laden Mt. Edith Cavell, one of my favorite peaks bookended by a red and orange tinted mountain we see every day in Jasper, one that my wife was very fond of, but we didn’t know what it was called until later on in the day.

We had hoped to spend more time at the lake. However, the tractor that had alerted the elk tremendously annoyed us as it incessantly bulldozed and hauled rocks in and out of the parking lot and then decided to deadhead across the lakeside before renewing its excavations. Because of this continuous racket, we reluctantly left Lake Annette prematurely.

We then drove to nearby Lake Edith. I presumed that it was named after Mt. Edith Cavell, but I guess I was wrong: mountains less renowned surrounded the lake. The only open spot to view the lake-scape was a small sandy outlet crowded with paddle boarders.

We glanced around a bit and then, hoping for better luck, drove to Maligne Canyon. The first thing we saw was a meandering slightly white-capped river. When we followed its course, we saw it lunge down the deep, steep gauged-out canyon walls. Although this waterfall at Maligne didn’t have the tremendous power of Athabasca’s, it intrigued me. A portion of it could be heard but not seen: it ran underground before mightily re-emerging from the cavernous depths of the canyon.

What I discovered at the visitor’s center was just as alluring as the canyon itself: there were glassed-in rows and rows of highly polished obsidian animal figurines (from caribou to trout) by David Wong and inordinately expensive items (from slabs to rings) made from precious gems (fossilized and mineralized ammonite) found only in the mines of southern Alberta.

While it was still daylight, we drove to the last sights on our itinerary: Patricia Lake and Pyramid Lake. The first turn we took at Patricia Lake led us to some super-private bungalows that had great access to the lake, but there was nowhere for us to park. Obviously, visitors weren’t welcome. Getting back on the main road, we found the public access to Patricia Lake. The mountain vista was almost identical to the one at Annette Lake, but the lakeshore viewing area was cramped. There was no comfortable place to commune with nature. We stayed for about a minute.

Things changed dramatically when we came to nearby Pyramid Lake, our last destination. Unlike at Patricia Lake, there were benches, picnic tables, and plenty of open spaces directly on the lake. And a short bridge led to Pyramid Island where we found many exceptionally serene spots to luxuriate in—from a roomy shelter constructed during the Depression to secluded grassy areas. As with Annette and Patricia Lakes, the mountain ranges were demarcated by Mt. Edith Cavell and the-as-yet unnamed red and orange speckled mountain. But unlike the site of the other lakes, phalanxes of fir trees girded Pyramid Lake. Moreover, we were much closer to the speckled mountain; and it finally had a name: Pyramid Mountain. We also learned that in addition to the piles of gritstone and slate, the mountain contained iron pyrite deposits (called fool’s gold during the Klondike gold rush).

My wife was so enamored with Pyramid Lake and Pyramid Island that she vowed to return the next day. And, as always, (with a bit of a nudge), I follow my wife’s passion wherever it may lead.

 

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