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Start Writing . . Not Enough Good Literature Coming Out
CANADIAN VIGNETTES (6)
A Saving Grace
The afternoon after my wife and I combatted the marauding insects at the summit of Mt. Revelstoke, we regrouped and decided there was enough time to visit one of the greatest engineering marvels in Canada, the Revelstoke Dam. I expected to see torrential waters rushing into the dam. Instead, even from the highly touted elevated platform, all I witnessed were slight currents of water leaving the dam, nothing else. Inside the visitor center, a documentary and multiple interactive activities were informative but hardly inspiring.
Although our stay at the dam was a letdown for me—my wife wasn’t overly impressed either—I soon got revved up at a gourmet coffee shop in Revelstoke, ready at the wheel to venture anywhere else as long as it was close to the highway home. Driving a few miles towards Golden, we decided to stop at a short boardwalk within Revelstoke National Park, the Skunk Cabbage Trail that we had earlier bypassed. Unlike at the dam, I didn’t have any preconceptions at this site. The walk turned out to be enjoyable. Even though we were next to swampy terrain, not one mosquito bothered us. That was a plus. And it was pleasantly cool on the path as well. At first, we didn’t see any skunk cabbage, but after a while, bushels of them emerged on both sides of the boardwalk. The cabbage wasn’t in bloom and the leaves were limp and a bit brownish. Nevertheless, they were humongous, each one big enough to enwrap bundles of cabbage kids.
By the way, never did I smell anything skunky or funky.
I yearn for revelatory moments on a vacation, but I also feel that it’s a shame to overlook the little things along the way.
The Big Chill
A few days ago, a man from the condo unit either adjacent to mine or underneath mine repeatedly and meanly bellowed out the f-word in the presence of another male, two females, and a toddler. Because I was in the process of watching a video, I tried to blot out his harangue, but the f-word still got through. His ranting lasted for over 10 minutes. I had no idea what the context was. Did he use the f-word to emphasize a concern, to express shock or disgust, or just to vent? Was he directing the f-word at anyone with him or was he speaking to someone on his cell phone? Was he sober or was he high? Again, I can only speculate.
Ever since that day, the man had either been muzzled or had gone elsewhere. But this morning, he started spouting off again. This time I heard a meek female voice and then the following frightening curse: “F-you, for real!” That sure sounded personal to me, most likely aimed at his wife. Their child soon began screaming, and then I heard the f-word no more. What a dysfunctional family!
I’m glad that when my wife and I were raising our two children, we consciously avoided using such foul language, and if an expletive did slip out, it certainly wasn’t broadcast to the neighborhood.
The man’s uttering the f-word itself didn’t irritate or anger me the most. No matter how often he did so, if he had used the expression in jest or disbelief or in grief, I would have been more understanding. I cannot, however, abide his consistently vicious tone. Nonetheless, I have not said anything to him, although I have been tempted.
But because whatever choice words that I might muster from my arsenal of invective could adversely affect my and my wife’s well-being, I will remain silent—with my wife’s blessing, I’m sure.
A First and Some Seconds
Yesterday, my wife and I did lots of sightseeing. But before we got to our destinations, the ride on the Trans-Canadian Highway itself was especially scenic. New snow that looked like confectioner’s sugar was sprinkled on the tips of some of the glaciers. On another mountain, one ski trail was almost completely filled with batches of snow. What a delightful beginning to our day.
Soon afterwards, we reached the easily accessible Natural Bridge in nearby Yoho National Park. What we saw was remarkable. Mini rapids from the Kicking Horse River churned around massive boulders that formed the natural bridge. At one spot, however, the millennial force of water had carved a small shaft through the rocks that ultimately would form a gorge. Many of the knife-sharp cliffs surrounding the rapids looked like they had been filleted in pillars. Some tilted at odd angles. They all glistened in the sun.
My wife, wanting to get closer to the rock piles, fearlessly scooted over boulders to reach the river’s edge. What better way to take an intimate selfie, eh? As usual, I followed. After we stopped, I felt the rocks next to us. Their wood-like texture reminded me of the ones we had examined so long ago at the Petrified Forest in Arizona.
After we climbed back to the parking lot, we drove up the road to Emerald Lake, a site that we explored last week. This time, my wife took scads of pictures with her selfie, an inexpensive but extraordinarily useful invention. You don’t have to rely on strangers to snap a photo that may not be posed or focused just the way you want it to be. With the selfie, you can fine hone your shots and take as many photos as you want.
Speaking of strangers, as we reached a spot where we were ready to take a picture, a woman in a small group admonished us not too politely that we were intruding on her spot. What a crock! Nonetheless, we moved away while the woman cackled with her coterie.
Our last jaunt for the day was Takkakka Falls, another site that we visited last week. This time, we stopped next to a sign for Yoho Lake, less than a mile from the parking lot around the bend. Yoho Lake wasn’t visible, but we were amazed to see a waterfall we had not noticed before. Even though it was substantially smaller than the main attraction up the road, watching it snake its way down the mountain was an unexpected treat.
From the roadside we found a path to Takkakka Falls. Because the wind was blowing the mist away from the main trail, we could get a closer look at the falls than we did last week. But the vantage point doesn’t make much difference; the sight is altogether majestic. What was very different, however, was the color of the mist. The other time that we were here, it was slightly light grey; yesterday, it was dark grey, like smoky ash. In fact, parts of the cliffs surrounding the falls seemed to be darker as well, as if they were charred. Perhaps any kind of scenery is not exactly the same in subsequent viewings.
All in all, it was another rewarding day in Yoho National Park. Yahoo!
Yesterday while driving back to Golden from Yoho National Park via the Trans-Canadian Highway, I encountered two menacing vehicles, a car dangerously passing me and a truck tailgating me within only a wisp of air between us.
The car, speeding at least 30 kilometers over the limit, illegally passed me on a two-lane stretch of Highway 1. That was safe enough, but he then continued to pass the car in front of me, barely avoiding another vehicle coming from the other direction. Further down the road, I saw that the same speeder was trapped behind a row of semis crawling up a two-lane mountain pass. I didn’t rejoice; he could have been speeding because of some emergency. But I did feel somewhat gratified.
Later, while driving on a four-lane section of the same road, I passed a super-slow car and temporarily stayed in the left-hand for about a second. Then in my rear-view mirror, I was shocked to see a semi so close that it was almost nailed to my back end. I guess I wasn’t going fast enough, although I was exceeding the speed limit by 10 km. Obviously, he wanted me to get over to the right-hand lane. Yet I couldn’t do so because another truck was neck and neck with me. That standoff lasted for a while. In the meantime, with high beams blazing, the gargantuan semi still loomed behind me, completely filling up my side view and rear view mirrors. I was afraid that he would bump me off the road if I didn’t get out of his way.
I had no choice. I floored the gas pedal and roared slightly ahead of the truck beside me. In order to keep a safer distance between us, I continued to excessively speed to gain more leeway. By that time, the semi behind me was now barreling down the road, most likely to intimidate other drivers.
I was overjoyed when I safely got to my condo at Golden. But I did get rattled today when I learned that there was a fatal crash on the same highway just west of where I had driven yesterday. In fact, the Trans-Canadian Highway had to be closed most of the day to clear the area from the aftermath of the accident.
Everyone may know that driving is the most dangerous thing we can do at anytime and anywhere. But too many of us remain clueless about our environment on the road; and by driving offensively, we up the ante and the body count.
On the Road
Jumping Pound Creek and Two Jack Lake are located far away from one another in Banff National Park. As I was driving through a series of switchbacks the other day, I thought about connecting their names. Crisscrossed, the result would be, perhaps more memorably, Jumping Jack Creek and Two Pound Lake.
More about names: That same day on the road, after I passed by a sign for Dead Man’s Flats, I happened to get behind a vehicle labelled ChemoRV: Quite an unsettling coincidence, eh?
Ninety kilometers per hour (slightly under 60 mph) is the maximum speed for the Canadian national parks featured in Alberta and British Columbia. From what I have witnessed, drivers habitually excessively speed as if that limit were a meek suggestion. Perhaps it would be appropriate to change the signs to 90 km Minimum.
Glacial runoff colors many mountain rivers, lakes, and streams a bluish tinted milky white. You can get a similar color at home: mix two cups of skim milk with a gallon of ice blue Gatorade.
Just before driving into a mountain storm, I saw an amazing tableau: spinning swaths of clouds releasing huge rain droplets that shimmered in the soon to be obscured rays of the sun.
Yesterday, I stopped the car when I noticed a bear in some bushes near the road. My wife grabbed her camera and silently approached what turned out to be a mother bear and her two cubs. Not as fearless as my wife, I decided to stand next to the car. My wife took multiple pictures of the three bears when they were foraging together and when the mother bear briefly left her cubs, crossed the road, feasted on berries, and then returned to her brood. What a coup, considering that a few weeks earlier my wife had only gotten a flickering glimpse of a bear as it progressed into the woods.
Just as my wife was completing her shots, a park ranger on patrol told me to immediately retrieve my wife because the local bears’ “stress level” had recently risen. My wife reluctantly complied, but not before she had amassed a treasure trove of photos, a tribute to her adventurous (if perhaps a bit foolhardy) spirit.
Kudos to Yoho National Park
Yesterday, my wife and I visited two attractions near the town of Banff: Minnewanka Lake and Bow Falls. If we had seen the lake and the waterfall at the beginning of our trip six weeks ago, I might have been more wowed. But even then, despite the silken turquoise sheen of Minnewanka Lake and the stately mountain ranges embracing it, despite the jaunty mini-rapids of Bow Falls with celebrated Sulphur Mountain in the background, I would still have been somewhat disappointed: neither venue sported any glaciers tinged with or tousled with snow. To me, snow on a mountain peak is the ultimate high in the Canadian Rockies. It enhances and enlivens all the scenery within its borders.
Later that same day, driving from the outskirts of Banff National Park into Yoho National Park elevated my mood: snow was compacted on one glacial peak and threaded its way through another one. At that sublime moment, I truly felt at home on my way home to Golden.
I then fondly recalled the famous title of one of Alfred de Vigny’s 19th century romantic poems, “Ou sont les Neiges d’Antan”: Where are the snows of yesteryear? Well, yesterday, although I was cut off from snowy peaks at Banff, I got plugged into them at Yoho. I remain unapologetically spoiled.
Our Last Hurrah at Lake Louise—and an Old Memory
Relying on the weather forecast (sunny, zero percent chance of rain), my wife and I made our last visit to our sentimentally favorite spot, Lake Louise.
Usually we get to Lake Louise in the late afternoon, when the sun is not too strong. But yesterday, we got arrived in the early afternoon. Because there was little breeze and lots of unfiltered sun, we tried to find some shade. But all of the benches that offered some shelter were facing the hotel. Undaunted, we spied some relief from the heat: a mostly shady area at the top of some stairs leading to an abandoned structure beside the hotel. After a short climb, we had a respite from the sun and a partial view of the lake and the glacial mountains.
With my back to the locked gate, I was pretty comfortable. My wife stayed with me until a few clouds drifted over the sun. At that time, she scampered down to one of the hotel chairs in front of the lakefront. When more clouds clustered, I joined her. For about an hour, we had an ideal time beholding the imperial scenery to the saturation point.
After a bit, I noticed showery sheets of precipitation wrapping around the glaciers. At first, I couldn’t tell if it was snow or rain. But because the air suddenly got so chilly where we were seated, the temperature at the peaks was probably cold enough for snow. Gradually, all the glaciers became shrouded. Then the far lakeshore became hooded with squally rain. My wife and I, transfixed by the encroaching storm, remained in our chairs until we got pelted and had to rush to the hotel lobby.
What an awesome time it was! I remember a similar summertime incident years ago at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. As a sunny day turned overcast, I told my wife that something like confetti was streaming toward us from the far end of the canyon. She was skeptical at first. Perhaps it was a mirage. But it didn’t take long for her also to notice the white stuff as it ever so slowly and methodically came closer to our perch on the lookout. It appeared to be snow, and soon we felt some flakes. The canyon was totally obscured, and our visit was cut short; but it was worth it.
What we witnessed decades ago, a summer snow squall in the Grand Canyon, was a precious treat stored in our bulging hope chest of vacation memories. Now we will enter yesterday’s exceptional experience at Lake Louise.
CANADIAN VIGNETTES (5)
Alberta’s Emerald Lake is a Gem
My wife and I tremendously enjoyed our three-mile walk around Emerald Lake. Dense tree cover often obscured the glacial lake during the first half of our trek through exposed roots, muddy patches, and loose gravel. But when there was an opening, we spied variously enchanting vistas. At one spot, we were regaled with a choreographed mountain scene that reminded us of iconic Lake Louise: a queenly snow-encrusted glacier lodged between two muscular mountains that served as her body guards.
Mid-way through the trail, as we entered a panoramic clearing, we got an even closer look at this same splendid grouping. Other sights were alluring as well, sights not visible from the entrance to the lake: to our right was a waterfall slinking down a distant mountainside; and we walked further on, we saw a series of partially covered mountain peaks emerging to our left. And all around us was the crystalline turquoise lake that brilliantly reflected a cobalt sky interspersed with pure white clouds.
The wide second half of the trail was much easier to traverse than the first half, and it afforded us a continuous view of the lake as well. After a while, just before we returned to the lake entrance, the road narrowed, and the tips of trees on either side of us almost embraced, a fitting ending to our uplifting tour of the lake.
The Falls are Uplifting
Takakkaw Falls, in Yoho National Park, BC, was the first venue in our sightseeing today. Not as massive as Niagara Falls but seven times higher than it, Takakkaw Falls is a masterpiece: Impeccably white glacial water spurts from the lower chambers of Mt. Daly and smashes against the cliff crags so furiously that some of the water loops upward before finally cascading into the river below. Waves of mist flutter in all directions like angel wings.
The Cree nation called the waterfall Takakkaw, translated as “it is magnificent.” I was so stirred in its presence that I felt like devoutly addressing the waterfall as “Your Magnificence.” Is it any wonder that the glacier at the entrance to the Takakkaw Falls is named Cathedral Mountain?
Later on in the afternoon, my wife and I drove to nearby Lake Moraine. At first, I was wowed by its sensuous color: aqua-marine. But without warning, some of the lake began to turn pale, a bit dingy. Nothing like that ever happened when we were at its sister lakes Emerald and Louise. Another let down for me were the glacial mountains surrounding Lake Moraine. What little snow remained on the peaks was dirty, the scant vegetation was dreary, and the mountains themselves looked menacing. The mid-section of one of them resembled a hippo’s face distorted by a gruesome smirk. When I blinked, I saw instead the gaunt face of a beast similar to that of the treacherous Scar in The Lion King. Another companion mountain had a huge festering protuberance on its side, a boil that needed to be lanced.
I was in a bit of a funk until my wife (when doesn’t she rescue me from downbeat thoughts?) told me to turn my head high to the left. My arthritic neck slowly responded. When I did so, I saw a delicate waterfall drifting out of a peak topped with pure feathery snow. It was a precious sight that counterbalanced my negative impression of Lake Moraine.
No Ride to Lake O’Hara
No matter how rocky the road, my wife loves to search for obscure mountain lakes. Yesterday, she found out that a bus makes daily trips to Lake O’Hara from an otherwise inaccessible trailhead. Because reservations were needed, we drove to the nearest visitor center (at Lake Louise) to obtain one for the next day. No such luck. According to a national park employee, there are no slots left for the bus ride. In fact, reservations were completely booked 10 minutes after they had gone on sale three months earlier. And this was the reason: “boutique hikers” flock to explore trails leading from Lake O’Hara. He then explained that he used the word boutique because the national park service has smoothed out all of the hiking trails to make them easier to traverse. These trails are still somewhat steep, but there are no longer any impediments like elevated roots, uneven rocks, or loose gravel.
Sounds like a perfect outing for me at Lake O’Hara, even though I would have turned scarlet if anyone had exposed me a boutique kind of guy.
Our Day Trip to Kootenay National Park
Kootenay National Park is about 80 miles long on Rte. 93. Although we didn’t do much walking, we took advantage of every overlook and got close to most of the main attractions from south to north (Numa Falls was blocked off; the bridge was washed out): Sinclair Canyon, Redwall Fault, Olive Lake, the Kootenay valley viewpoint, and Marble Canyon.
Before we even drove a mile, the enormous scalloped cliffs of Sinclair Canyon (unbelievably not marked by any road signs or any plaques within the overlook) loomed over us on both sides of the highway. Rollicking water spilled into the deep canyon. Beside one area of the overlook, tiny but hardy fir trees somehow managed to cling to the smattering of soil on the canyon ledges. The pillars of Sinclair Canyon, although on a much smaller scale, reminded me of the one in Utah’s Canyonlands that years ago thrilled my wife and me.
From the overlook, a sidewalk led to another scenic wonder, Redwall Fault, the only bright-red cliffs we have seen in the Canadian Rockies. They aren’t as extensive as the ones in Sedona, Arizona, but they “burn with a gem-like flame.”
Olive Lake is a very comfortable place to commune with nature. The coloration is soothing, the water is exquisitely transparent, and the mountains surrounding the lake are completely robed in emerald-green fir trees.
The Kootenay Valley Viewpoint offers a panoramic swath of massive grey mountains that contain glacial peaks that seamlessly flow into one another. At the edge of this majestic scene, a forest fire had defoliated thousands of spruce trees. Their white spear-like skeletal remains, however, have defiantly survived.
Marble Canyon, the last attraction we visited, is not as impressive as Sinclair Canyon, either in height or magnitude or waterfall velocity. But it has a couple of features its big sister canyon lacked. On the way to the waterfall, I was a bit clammy from the late afternoon sun. Once I approached the waterfall, however, I felt as if I were inhaling refreshingly cool purified air. Another plus awaited me as I started back to the trailhead. I looked up and saw two unusual mountain peaks. One had many delicately recessed chambers carved into its border. Another one had elongated tubular rocks that looked like organ pipes.
Just as we left Kootenay National Park, we entered Banff National Park. In the distance, we saw a formidable array of flat-top peaks in the distance. They looked like battalions of battlements. As we found out later, this cluster is appropriately named Castle Mountain.
It was too late in the day to dwell any more in Banff National Park, so we drove back to our own tucked-away condo castle at Palliser Lodge.
Lighthearted Observations at Golden
Every time I look at one section of a mountain peak readily seen from downtown Golden, I envision the bold outlines of two identical faces joined back to back like the mythical god Janus, from whom we derive the month January because he looks backward (to the previous year) and forward (toward the new year). Perhaps I’ll put in a request to rename the mountain Janus, especially because I’d love to see mounds of drifting snow on the peaks in January, even if I could no longer then reflect on the faces of Janus.
Another delightful back-to-back situation occurs in the elevator at my lodge. High up on both sides of the elevator door, there are two triangular metal casings joined at their bases and outlined with 10 dots. The upper portions light up when you go up, and the lower ones are illuminated when you go down. But whether the elevator goes up or down, four laser-like rays stream out of the dots on the light casings and then playfully crisscross along the top half of the elevator. For some reason, I enjoy gazing at this wondrous minor spectacle. I do so only when I have a need to use the elevator. But who knows? I might take the elevator just to see the laser show.
There is a third set of conjoining twos that fascinates me. At the pub where I frequently order calamari (sometimes spelled kalamari), the washroom has a counter with two sinks. The one on the left directly faces you. That’s normal enough. But the other one to its right is perpendicular to it. So if two people are using the sinks, and the person on the right happens to look straight ahead, he sees only a profile of the person on the left, but if the person on the left turns to the right, that person sees the complete face of the other person.
Staying within town has its arresting moments. A lot of them come in twos.
Perspective, Perspective, Perspective.
Today, my wife and I got up early to drive up to the summit of Mt. Revelstoke in Mr. Revelstoke National Park, BC. We figured that we needed lots of time to handle the lengthy drive to the Park, to navigate the 10 miles of switchbacks plus the obligatory stopping at overlooks, to wait up to 20 minutes for a park vehicle (a “navette”) to take us to the summit itself, and to stay as long as we wanted once we got to the top of the peak. Well, we miscalculated the last part.
Everything went fine at first. We had little traffic to contend with from Golden to Revelstoke. The switchbacks weren’t hard to maneuver, and the first and best overlook was a terrific tableau of the sun-drenched glacial mountains, the sparkling blue Columbia River as it snaked along its waterways adjacent to historic railway tracks and burnished bridges, and the tapestry of the quaint town of Revelstoke. When we parked, the navette soon came to escort us to the 6,300 foot summit.
The grandeur of the other glacial peaks surrounding Mt. Revelstoke notwithstanding, we (particularly my wife) were so pestered by bees and flies that we had to prematurely leave, or should I say escape, the summit.
My poor wife, always a bug magnet, furiously swiped at the swarming insects with her hat and with her walking stick, killing at least one biting fly in the process. In another life, perhaps she was a samurai warrior. But her efforts were futile; I wasn’t doing much better warding off my own attackers. After managing to take a few photos, we both raced back to the relative safety of the enclosure where we in a few moments got onto the navette. Once we were released to the parking lot, we both hurled ourselves into the car and sped off down the mountain with the AC blasting and with gasps of relief.
By the way, the navette driver on the return trip from the summit explained that the insects today were negligible. Sometimes they were so densely packed that you literally inhaled them if you didn’t wear a net over your face. I guess everything is relative, but our experience was bad enough.
At one point, my wife tried so hard to shake off some flies biting her legs that she kicked up her heels as if she were the Lord of the Dance. But she met her match with the Lord of the Flies.
ODDS AND ENDS
What’s in a name? A Reelsboro, NC, man was recently arrested for possession of a variety of hallucinogenic drugs, primarily pot: his last name is Roach. There is a Mt. Moloch, near Revelstoke National Park, BC. How ominous: Moloch was an ancient pagan god of human sacrifice. And close to Mt. Moloch are two glaciers appropriately called Dismal and Fang. Further east in Banff National Park, Alberta, is a body of water called Lake Magog. According to the Book of Revelation, Magog is one of the main enemies of God in the end times.
An unexpected pleasure: There are plentiful outdoor washrooms (that is the term universally used to designate toilets no matter where they are located) in the Canadian Rockies’ National Parks. These facilities are solidly built (log-cabin style), have abundant toilet paper, look clean and smell clean, and have hand disinfectant dispensers.
A bit absurd! On the Canadian highways, signs warning motorists to be on the lookout for wildlife (deer, elk, caribou were pictured) don’t make much sense. If you are going at least 100 kilometers (60 miles) per hour, how can you possibly steer clear of these large animals? I saw one written sign (no picture, just words) at the beginning of Revelstoke National Park stating that there might be amphibians on the road. Because amphibian might refer to anything from alligators to frogs, I wasn’t sure what to avoid hitting.
Right time? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to have (at least on all major thoroughfares) a sign indicating that you are now entering a different time zone? My wife loves Indian food. Yesterday when I asked the manager of an Indian restaurant when she opened, she said four o’clock. I then pointed to my watch. It was already four o’clock. No, she replied. It was three o’clock. No, I replied. I tried to convince her otherwise, but she persisted. Then it hit me: oops! The time zone had changed, even though I was still in the same Province, British Columbia, when I started my trip in Golden and when I stopped at Revelstoke. I apologized and relayed the sad news to my wife.
As I was driving many miles along the highway the other day and tried to use the brake, my foot wouldn’t cooperate. Although I found it hard to put enough pressure on the pedal to make the car stop, I managed to pull over. When I got out of the car and took my first step to the passenger side, my leg buckled from searing pain. I have had leg cramps before, but nothing this severe. I had to inch my way back into the car. After rubbing my taut calves, my wife assured me that I probably had a short-lasting charley horse, so I shouldn’t be too concerned. I wasn’t so sanguine. Perhaps I was having a phlebitis attack or maybe even a blood clot.
But then I realized that the source of my trauma might well be the excess potassium chloride from the sodium-free “salt” that I had added to my luncheon treat, otherwise bland pea soup. Sometimes, when I use that substitute salt, my face gets a bit flushed and tingly. Earlier in the day when I was driving, I felt that my face was extremely pinpricked, but not to worry. It was a harmless reaction. Now I theorized that I had potassium poisoning. As long as I put no pressure on my feet, I was fine. But I dreaded getting out of the car.
Fortunately, the next time we stopped and I tentatively stepped out of the car, the pain relented. I was even able to walk a little with only slight discomfort. And when we got back to our home base in Golden, I was back to normal.
Down the road from our condo is Kicking Horse Lodge. That’s where I like to permanently house my charley horse.
Wapta Falls: Well Worth the Trek
One of the closest waterfalls near us is Wapta Falls, in Yoho National Park, BC. To give ourselves a break from so many day-long jaunts to major scenic attractions, we chose to drive a short distance to the relatively unheralded Wapta Falls.
Once we got there (after skirting frequent and occasionally deep potholes on the gravel road), the dirt and pebbly trailhead for the first mile was level, wide, and airy—with lots of vibrant spruce trees spaced just far enough apart from each other to let in splashes of sun. The last mile was narrower and had oddly shaped and sized archipelagos of exposed roots that we carefully bypassed. I was surprised and a little spooked to see hundreds of downed trees, some mangled, some still very sturdy, with many of them scattered very close to both sides of our path. In fact, one such hacked-off tree limb was suspended at a 45 degree angle only a few feet above our heads.
But soon enough, we reached Wapta Falls. It wasn’t very high and it wasn’t very raucous, but it was the widest waterfall that we have seen in the Canadian Rockies. And it was in an unusual setting. Instead of massive pressurized churned-up water racing to get to the falls itself, caravans of white-capped rivulets without much fanfare tumbled down the chute. Something else was noteworthy. There was an obstacle that blocked a portion of the plummeting water from steadily making its way down the river: an unwieldy cliff that the water bashed against but couldn’t get beyond. Remarkably, I saw thin lines of water trickling back into the falls from two spots midway on the cliff. It was as if water behind the cliff had somehow bored through, trying to go upstream again.
Curious and Curiouser!
As for my wife, she was doubly delighted with Wapta Falls because, using her brand-new selfie, she was adeptly able on her own to take pictures of us posed in the forefront with the waterfall as a backdrop.
Don’t shortchange Wapta Falls. It may not win any of the scenic wonders divisional titles, but it could well be one of the wildcards especially with its peculiar, if sometimes eerie, charm.
CANADIAN VIGNETTES (4)
At a supermarket check-out counter in Jasper yesterday, a dour leathery-faced cashier instructed me to properly insert my credit card into the hand-held machine, wait for the receipt, and then sign a copy of the transaction. When she had finished her tutorial, I said somewhat snidely that I knew the drill. Just as I was on my way out, she abruptly told me to come back. Before I could ask her why she summoned me, I saw my credit card embarrassingly embedded in the slot. The cashier, trying hard not to smirk at my oversight, stared at me with a deceptively deadpan pose that rivaled Jack-Benny’s. I hurriedly left the store.
The procedure to check out might have been routine, but so was my faux pas. I guess it just substantiates what I wrote in my last vignette: the chronically senior moment strikes again.
The Ice Field Highway Revisited
Our first impression of the Ice Field Highway while driving from Bannf to Jasper a week ago: Wow! Ditto for our return trip from Jasper to Banff a week later.
But by going in the opposite direction, we noticed different enthralling glacial mountain variations within the 140 mile parade of behemoths: a flat-top peak crowned with acres of pristine snow (no comb-over there), snow drifts plastered at the base of a mountain pass, a series of serrated peaks that almost pierced the sky, bundles of stray morning clouds hovering half way down a mountain side, the top half of a cobalt slated glacier striated with rings of snow, huge vertical ghastly-gray boulders that protruded like tumors alternating with flat-bellied rock, glacial ridges that in a rain storm looked like ghostly silhouettes as we approached Banff.
Last week, we didn’t stop at the much hyped Columbia Ice Fields that contain stupendous glaciers. This time, we spent a few minutes taking pictures without being jostled by other visitors. We were lucky; the tour buses with their frazzled and frenzied tourists hadn’t yet arrived. The glaciers were stunning, granted. But we had seen so many others just about as magnificent—distant and close up, whether on the way to the Icefields or in other areas of Jasper National Park throughout the week.
Am I getting a bit jaded? Perhaps. But after a refreshing four-day respite in Calgary visiting friends, I will be ready to appreciate and applaud the last segment of our trip in the Canadian Rockies. From our upcoming one-month strategic home base in Golden, BC, we will drive to nearby highly touted national parks: Banff in Alberta; Kootenay, Yoho, Glacier, and Revelstoke in British Columbia.
My mantra will continue to be, Revel on!
Clueless in Canada
While my wife and I were enjoying a lakeside view in Victoria, BC, I was a bit chilly, so I decided to retrieve my light-weight coat that I had left in our rental car, a hatchback Nissan Versa that was a cinch to locate because of its distinctive deep turquoise color. But when I got to the car, I couldn’t unlock it, no matter how gently or how vigorously I pressed on the key button. And my coat was gone. I paced about, trying not to panic.
But then I noticed that there was no rental sticker on the back bumper, so the Versa couldn’t have been mine. Relieved, I approached the row of cars directly in front of me. I spied another Versa, identical to the one I couldn’t open: Yeah! It was inscribed with the telltale Thrifty rental decal. And as I peered into the back seat, I saw my coat. Overjoyed, I simply unlocked the car, and began to breathe steadily once more.
Two Nissans, exactly the same model with the same style and with the same unusual color, one parked right in front of the other one. What are the odds of that happening? Then I had a fanciful thought. How amazing would it be if I turn around and see a guy confidently approach my car, mistaking it as his own just as I had assumed that his car was mine? At that point, two duplicated senior moments would have converged into a vice-versa coincidence.
No such luck. As I returned to the lake, I saw no one from any angle walking into the parking lot towards either Versa. Of course, I might have missed that moment because I had to frequently look at the ground to hopscotch around the plentiful duck droppings.
I am Unashamed
Three weeks ago, as I was about to retrieve my computer as it slid to the end of the conveyor belt at the Toronto airport, one of the security agents got a hold of it first and started to examine it. When he saw that the battery housing was empty, he looked bewildered. He asked me where my battery was. I told him that I had left mine at home. I rarely used it, and I certainly wasn’t going to unnecessarily weigh down my suitcase with something that was a nuisance to begin with. The agent didn’t believe me. He started to fumble with the computer as if to conjure up the elusive battery. Frustrated, he vainly searched further up the conveyor belt and then underneath it. Finally realizing that I was telling the truth, he reluctantly let me have my computer, shaking his head as if I were an eccentric at best and a fool at worst.
Yesterday, a waitress thought that I was nuts. As she brought me some bread, she poured some olive oil onto a small plate and then tried to add balsamic vinegar to the mix. I quickly stopped her. I said that I didn’t like any kind of vinegar. She looked dumbfounded. After all, who didn’t like oil accompanied with vinegar? I bet no one has ever rejected the vinegar that she automatically poured onto the oil. She remained stunned for a moment, as if she couldn’t fathom the fact that I had somehow disrupted the natural order of the universe. Without saying anything to me, she wobbled back to the kitchen.
For years, my idiosyncrasies have stumped if not stupefied a few people (my incredulous high-tech friends keep pressuring me to get rid of my lowly flip-top cell phone and switch to a smart phone). I don’t feel embarrassed to be at times a nonconformist. In fact, with so many Canadians familiar with French, maybe I should wear a T-shirt here that proclaims Vive la difference!
Still a Fan of the Mountains
Driving from Calgary to our home base in Golden, BC, was wondrous and a bit wacky. As my wife and I began our trip north, we got closer and closer to a panorama of glacial mountains buttressing Banff National Park. Streams of wispy white clouds hovered over and under the peaks, but they didn’t obscure the massive snow banks of Mt. Athabasca in the Columbia Ice Fields. Going further west, we saw an unusually expansive flat-top mountain range, a formidable fortress so treacherously sheer that no one would ever dare to scale it.
As we got closer to Golden, the ride was awesome. Without warning, we approached a series of reddish brown cliffs that at one point loomed on both sides of the narrowing road. Because of rockslides, massive steel meshed nets had been draped from the bottom to near the top of some of the cliffs. Considering that we saw jagged chunks of boulders strewn against the netting, we appreciated the precaution. In one threatened highway switchback, an extensive towering granite barrier with entrenched cables abutted the cliffs.
Soon afterwards came the wacky part of our journey. At first, we saw a sign that clean-up road work was ahead. I figured that maybe some debris had fallen onto the road or that some pot holes were being filled in or that a boulder had to be hauled away. I was mistaken. Momentarily, a man loosely covered (Hazmat style) in a bulky yellow road worker’s outfit beckoned us to stop. Looking ahead, I saw a man with a broom meticulously again and again sweeping thin layers of dirt away from the middle of the road and onto the shoulder. We couldn’t pass until there wasn’t a speck left. It was a hoot to see him so preoccupied with something so insignificant.
At times, place names that we noticed on signs were equally humorous: Bugaboo Provincial Park and a Hoodoo River. But I guess I shouldn’t pick on this stretch of British Columbia. In Oak Bay near Victoria, there is a Foul Bay Road.
Lake Louise: Still a Treat
On the way to Lake Louise, Alberta’s most renowned scenic attraction, my wife and I stopped for a snack at the tiny hamlet of Field. While having a sandwich, I admired the mountains. Most of what I saw was pretty outstanding: snow glazing the peaks, wrinkled and rutted rock facings that resembled hieroglyphics, and waves of fir trees lining the slopes, except where ski paths had been sliced out. But what struck me the most was an unusual grouping of eight tightly triangulated bare coned peaks.
Knowing that hordes of tourists overwhelm the parking lot at Lake Louise during most of the day, we arrived very late in the afternoon. We readily found an empty slot, and the lakeside was relatively crowd-free. Forty years ago on our first trip to the Canadian Rockies, my wife and I (especially my wife) were so enamored of Lake Louise that we vowed to return after retirement.
This time, the lake vista was just as delightful. As we so vividly remembered, the glowing lake itself is picture-perfect turquoise. And the Victoria Glacier, theatrically positioned as the central backdrop of the lake, its peak enveloped by slightly caramelized snow and symmetrically flanked by smaller promontories, is still a powerhouse showcase. You don’t have to be outside to appreciate the ambience of the lake: even the postage-sized views from within the grand Chateau Fairmont are magnetic.
For the past month, we have seen other spectacular lakes and glaciers, but not one of them has the glamour of Lake Louise.
An Eventful Day at Glacier National Park
Yesterday, my wife and I visited Glacier National Park, BC. Everything at first was routinely spectacular until we got to Roger’s Pass. We saw more multifaceted glaciers in that spot than we had encountered at any other area in the Canadian Rockies. There were at least a dozen gigantic glaciers: they almost encompassed the horizon. And the topographical variety was astounding. There were round peaks, and there were peaks that resembled cathedral spires. A few glaciers had substantial snow on their peaks—others had none at all. One glacier had mingled rows of dark and light green fir trees—another one was mostly gouged-out bare rock. A couple of glaciers had sandy-brown patches that probably had been exposed from a series of avalanches. Rogers Pass was a unique mélange of glacial monoliths that would be a fitting setting for Edvard Grieg’s rousing classical music gem In the Hall of the Mountain King.
Our next stop was the Hemlock Grove Boardwalk that meanders through the world’s only inland rain forest. What impressed us the most were the humongous root tentacles of the old-forest dead trees, roots that have in their decay nourished a host of tree shoots.
While the Hemlock Grove Boardwalk was an easy stroll, the Rock Garden trail was unexpectedly arduous. I had read a bit about the walk from an on-line site. Nowhere was it mentioned that you would have to traverse the crevices of extraordinarily large and at times jagged boulders for half the hike. So when my wife urged me to follow her as she took what I thought was a dangerous detour through the maze of rocks, I emphatically told her that she was going the wrong way. But she continued to beckon me. I had no choice but to follow her precarious route and even take pictures of her straddling the boulders and then letting her take pictures of me doing the same. She was grinning; I was trying not to grimace.
Soon, I saw a couple of railings positioned to help people maneuver down one of oncoming rock piles. Only then did I realize that my wife had actually chosen an approved path. Eventually, without any missteps, we both made it back to the trailhead.
At that point, my wife asked me if I had read the information at the entrance to the rock garden. I said I didn’t because I had already done research on the internet. It turned out that I had read the sanitized version. For on the entrance wall was a picture of the trail that clearly showed that to complete the hike, you had to scamper over the boulders.
It may be that my wife is, on occasion, overly adventurous, but this time she simply stayed on track. I accordingly apologized for not believing her. Sometimes it is glacially hard for me to admit that following in my wife’s footsteps has always been the right thing to do.
Thanks to My Wife
Before we got to the top attractions in Glacier National Park, my wife instructed me to drive into an untitled trail that I had no interest in exploring. I complied, and I’m glad that I did.
After I parked and we began to walk a short distance, we greeted an older couple from Calgary who were quietly sitting in their car. As we all began to chat, my wife suddenly got distracted by some movement in the woods and then saw a few baby deer heading towards the road. Ever so cautiously, my wife stole towards them. When they tentatively moved away from us, so did my wife.
In the meantime, the man, who looked like a good-humored leprechaun, got very animated when he mentioned curling, a sport that I had never heard of. Surprised by my unfamiliarity with the game, his eyes twinkling and his body bobbing, he began to enlighten me. To curl, you roll a 40-pound rock across the ice at a distant button-like target within a circle. He then pantomimed the different ways you can hold and release the rock, explaining in detail the virtues of each method. Then he lobbed a bombshell at me. Curling is not only a favorite pastime in Canada. It is played worldwide; in fact, it is a sport long included in the Olympics. Wow! The man was so fanatically wrapped up in educating me about the game that I wouldn’t have been surprised if he lunged into the woods to find a rock suitable for a test curl.
I didn’t expect such entertainment along an unheralded trail. After my wife returned from her delightful deer pursuit, she renewed her conversation with the man’s wife. I didn’t hear what they were saying, but they seemed to be pleasantly engaged. Sometimes, the road less traveled can be a boon or a boondoggle. Yesterday, it was a boon.
A Nostalgic Trip
About 40 years ago during our trip to the national parks in the Canadian Rockies, my wife and I rented a cabin off the main highway in the small town of Spillamacheen. Yesterday, we drove 40 miles to see if that cabin was still there.
Along the way on Highway 95S, we noticed some unexpected scenery. Highly elevated rolling hills blanketed with bright green fir trees extended all the way to Spillamacheen. I didn’t know if any scenic wonders would greet us elsewhere until at one point and then at a few other locations, I did a double take: I glimpsed towering mountain peaks behind some of the shorter hills. That awesome scenario reminded me of a phenomenon in our Alaskan cruise for our 25th wedding anniversary. On the way to Juneau on cloud-covered days, we saw a continuous series of glacial mountains. On the way back to Vancouver on a clear day, we were flabbergasted to see higher glaciers behind the ones in the front row.
Once we got to Spillamacheen, (if you blink while driving, you have already passed it), we soon located a few cabins, one of which we probably had stayed in so long ago. My wife was as overjoyed to see our old haunt as she was in revisiting her favorite mountain/lake view, Lake Louise.
In one of the two restaurants in Spillamacheen, the manager, a former ecological designer and now a beekeeper on the side, regaled us with a history of his travels and in between, mentioned a few things about the evolution (or in this case, the devolution) of Spillamacheen. There were once about 100 people living there, with a school up the street—I told him that as we entered the town, I had noticed two streets with the word school in them. Now he informed us that that school no longer exists. In fact, and this was the kicker: even though the town caters to lots of extreme-sports tourist adventurers who pass by during high season, the town itself is comprised of only ten people.
Then my wife asked about Bugaboo Provincial Park. The owner related that there was a gravel service road that extended to the top of incredibly inspiring mountains. For convenience and for minimum damage to our rental car, I had hoped that the road would have been paved.
Driving up to the peak on a switch-back gravel road is my idea of extreme sports, my personal bugaboo.
CANADIAN VIGNETTES (3)
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.
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.
Day Five: Spectacular Mountain Views on an Off Day
My wife and I were intending to spend most of today reading and gazing at the mountain/lake scenery at Pyramid Island. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy and too cool (with oncoming rain) to stay for more than half an hour. But we had a backup plan: drive to the Miette Hot Springs about 40 miles away. As we took Route 16 to the hot springs, we saw some unusual mountain patterns. At the base of one promontory, I spied a huge boulder resembling a frog’s mouth with five recessed eyes. Another mountain had sluices of green pastures channeled from its peak to its midsection. There was a series of milky-white and bright grey flat-topped mountain ranges that covered the entire horizon. While passing by Talbot Lake, one side was deep blue and the other side was bleached out, almost colorless.
When we arrived at the hot springs, Mt. Hagan loomed close by. It was smothered in fir trees except for its bare peak that was crisscrossed with lateral yellow streaks. Except for the “bath” pool, we did not hike to the mountain springs: it was becoming stormy, and my back was sore from pouring over so many vignettes.
On our way to a motel before flying from Raleigh-Durham to Vancouver, my wife and I stopped at a restaurant, making sure to hand lock all of our car doors ( because of a fatal computer malfunction, we can no longer lock the car electronically). Confident that our stuff was safe, we entered the restaurant. After we finished eating, we returned to our vehicle: Well, the car was locked; but the trunk, which just happened to contain our luggage, was wide open, as it had evidently been during our hour-long meal.
After frantically searching for the most valuable items, including our passports, we determined that nothing had been stolen. What a relief! What a confirmation of the goodness of human nature that prevailed at least for that one hour. On the other hand, anyone who saw that the trunk was open—our car was situated in the middle of the crowded parking lot—ought to have alerted the restaurant manager so that we could have been aware of our oversight. In any case, no harm was done; and from then on, we promised ourselves to be more scrupulous.
In Western Canada, however, a few times we forgot to lock our fully functional electronically equipped rental car while we browsed in a store or started to hike in a national park. How hard can it be to remember to press a button, eh? But fortunately, ever mindful of the potential disaster in North Carolina, we caught ourselves soon enough, back-tracked to the car, locked it and, just to be sure, waited until we heard the welcome telltale sound of the beep.
I’m not sure about my wife, but whenever I have memory lapses, no matter what the context, I remind myself (okay, I rationalize) that I am genetically inclined to be absentminded. I have had senior moments for as long as I can remember. Yet without them, my life would be more standardized, less predictable. So perhaps I should celebrate, not deplore, those senior moments, as long as I can still find my way back to my train of thought and to, of course, my car.
CANADIAN VIGNETTES (2)
Misperception is Sometimes the Name of the Game
On the way to Duncan, BC, my wife and I stopped at a coffee shop called Serious Coffee. I couldn’t find a plastic stirrer for my wife’s mug, but I did see a bunch of silverware spoons in a metal container. The one I picked was a bit smudged, so I reached for another one. It too was smudged. I figured that the dishwasher had done a lousy job.
When I had my wife examine the spoon, she explained that all of the utensils in the container that I chose were used spoons and were labeled as such. I turned the container a bit and then saw the writing. My wife was right.
Okay, but then where were the clean spoons? I didn’t see any of them. My wife, ever so patiently, pointed to another container at the other side of the countertop. When I had picked out the smudged spoon, I had seen another container, but it didn’t appear to have any spoons in it at the time. Now they were filled with spotless spoons, and the container, if you twirled it around a bit, was labeled “clean spoons.”
I was misled at Serious Coffee. For the future, I suggest that the management put a bigger and longer label on the spoon containers so that it is obvious which one is used and which one is appropriate to use. Also, it would be a good deed to refill the clean spoon container as soon as it is emptied—seriously.
B and B—Butterfly Gardens and Beacon Hill Park
Today, my wife and I self-toured two highly recommended sights in greater Victoria, BC, Butterfly Gardens and Beacon Hill Park. We were not disappointed.
At Butterfly Garden is a misty indoor habitat that encloses parrots, flamingos, koi, ducks, parrots, turtles, and a lone iguana as well as omnipresent butterflies.
The first plaque at the entrance related that butterflies tasted food with their feet. At a nearby station containing peeled bananas, oranges, and cantaloupe, butterflies (large and small, multicolored with speckles and small squares on both sides), were methodically feasting on the fruit with their feet firmly planted on the nutrients. At another station, humongous blackish/brownish butterflies with a big black and white **bleep**
The fish and the birds were entertaining. The koi continuously scurried around the pond as if they were trying out for the Olympics. The ducks were oblivious to all of this commotion. They moseyed along in any direction that they chose, apparently ready to ward off anything that might encroach on their serenity. One of the most impervious ducks had strikingly unusual colors. Its body was black, and its head was white. Three pastel pink flamingoes slowly and gingerly stepped about in the pond, but at one point, the largest bird flamboyantly flapped its wings for a moment—just to let us know that it could do so if it wanted to. Above the pond were a few parrots. One of them had little to say. Instead, it ferociously chewed on the branch it was perched on until it was able to eat some tasty fragments.
The turtles in the pond created a lot of drama. Small to medium sized ones clustered around an upside-down giant turtle who was attempting to right itself. None of them offered any aid. They all watched unmoved as the poor turtle tried to gain its balance. One of its legs was caught in some weeds. The other one was trapped underneath another turtle’s hind end. For at least five minutes, I watched that besieged turtle struggle. Finally, it got loose from the weeds and wrested itself from the other turtle. No sooner that it did so, the oversized turtle stuck its head into its shell, as if it needed to regroup. In the meantime, the other turtles caroused with one another, their claws raised in mock battle and their heads bobbing in and out of their shells.
Before my wife and I left the garden, I noticed a totally still iguana plopped on a post eye level with me. We stared at each other for a minute or two. Neither one of us flinched. It was a draw.
Racing koi, imperial ducks, a histrionic flamingo, a wood-devouring parrot, turtles playing war games, and an imperturbable iguana: Wow!
Later that afternoon, my wife and I visited Beacon Hill Park. At first, on a whim, we drove to the most isolated spot at the top of the promontory. It turned out to be a scenic overview of Washington’s Olympic Mountains that looked as if they were delicately wrapped in gauze. Within this array of mountain ranges the peaks that were lightly glazed with snow appealed to me the most. It is also possible that the pungently swirling second-hand smoke from two potheads below us may have intensified my pleasure.
Interspersed throughout the remaining expanse of Beacon Hill Park are delightful oases of vivid flowers, gentle fountains, and contrasting foliage (from spiny firs to weeping willows) that would have incomparable Butchart Gardens earlier in the week.
But Beacon Hill Park did have one astounding thing that I never saw at Butchart Gardens. A few ducks, while searching for food, dove to the bottom of a lily-filled pond with such intensity that all that I saw were their tails shot upright for a few incredibly suspenseful moments. After they came up from the depths of the pond, the ducks who evidently weren’t satisfied (perhaps because they found no food or, if they did, they wanted more of it) again and again submerged themselves with only their tails visibly erect.
Watching these ducks scrounge around for food made me hungry. Realizing that it was suppertime, my wife and I left the park to dine on something other than worms, insects, or rotted vegetation.
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!
Yesterday, my wife and I drove back to Vancouver on Route 99 after delighting in the mountainous scenic wonders at Whistler, BC. Midway, as we approached a series of winding cliff-hugging Nascar-wannabe tracks, we approached a sign about the prevalence of motorcycles on the road. A few minutes later, we felt the full brunt of that notice. While driving on the right-hand lane, we were startled by decibel-defying high-pitched roars to our left. Without warning, a muffler-challenged convoy of motorcyclists whipped past us.
It took a while for our nerves to settle. But not for long! A sluggish camper trailer was barely ahead of us in the right lane. Before we had a chance to pass it, we had a jolt. A motorcyclist behind us, who could well have been a stunt driver, sped between our car and the camper. To accomplish this potentially fatal feat, he had to lean his motorcycle sideways so that it almost scraped the road before whooshing past us toward the left lane. We almost had a close encounter of the last kind. Or, as my one and a half- year old granddaughter would squeal, “Ah-oh.”
If it Ain’t a Motorcycle, It’s a Truck.
This morning, I began my power walk on the rain-soaked sidewalks of Maple Ridge, BC. None of the abundant cars on the road splashed me as they passed by, but a pick-up truck gave me a scare. I wasn’t aware of the vehicle until the driver tried to slow down at a stop sign right next to me. Suddenly, I heard the mother lode of all screeches. The truck’s tires must have been pretty bald, and the driver must have had to pummel the brakes to avoid going through the congested intersection.
For his own safety and that of others, I hope that the trucker soon gets new tires. Otherwise, he will have to tread very lightly with whatever threads of tread remain on his tires.
Don’t Discount British Columbia
Over forty years ago, my wife and I visited the most famous national parks in the Canadian Rockies, all of them in the province of Alberta: Banff, Jasper, and Kootenay. We both marveled at the astounding mountain views and figured that no other unheralded areas in the adjacent province of British Columbia could possibly be as splendid. So we departed Canada without entering that far-western province.
Our assessment was wrong, as we discovered yesterday during our second trip to Canada that began in British Columbia. On the recommendation of our home-exchange hosts, we drove to Whistler Village, located at the base of the Blackcomb Mountains. After taking the cable car to the 6,000 foot peaks enveloping us, my wife and I were amazed at how these snow-encrusted summits resembled the vistas in the Alberta national parks that enraptured us so long ago, especially the swirling wisps of clouds that hugged the jagged mountain tops.
The next day we had another BC revelation at Alouette Lake in Golden Ears Provincial Park, outside of Maple Ridge. As I first looked around, I thought I was in the presence of the expansive brooding, primordial mountains of New Zealand choreographed in the film The Lord of the Rings. And in the distance between two mountain humps there was a constricted waterway that reminded me of the epic fjords displayed in Scandinavian travel guides. Moreover, Alouette Lake reminded us of Lake Louise in Alberta, a scene that my wife has always longed to revisit—as we will later on in our trip.
So far, British Columbia could well stand for bounteous and captivating.
Two Contrasting but Equally Spectacular Venues
The other day in the morning, two of our Canadian friends escorted my wife and me to the wetlands of Pitt Meadows, BC. The mild summery weather was ideal for scouting around (at this time of year, such a venture in the wetlands of eastern North Carolina, close to our home base, would be an ordeal—having to contend with oppressive heat and humidity). From one of the two observation decks, we could see close up a huge heron serenely positioned, content in its habitat, oblivious to our presence.
Further down the road, we met a camouflaged couple intently huddled in front two supersized scopes, peering at a nest occupied, as we were told, by an adult osprey nurturing its chicks. Even without a scope, we could spy the bold outlines of the birds.
But even if we had not seen any wildlife in the Pitt Meadows wetlands, just ambling about, we reveled in its vast expanse. And an added treat was the omnipresent backdrop of mountains.
In the afternoon, our hosts for the day drove us to Queen Elizabeth Park perched high above Vancouver. This wonderland displayed gorgeous arrays of gardens (in fact, it could well have been billed as an inclusive 5-star garden resort) and housed the renowned Bloedel Conservatory for flowers and birds. As opposed to the wetlands, the park was filled with myriads of manicured bushes and strategically placed flowers. Oh, those lush flowers: whether solely one color or streaked, they were richly red, vibrantly blue, creamy white, deeply green, or passionately purple. The birds were just as distinctive, from the chatty parrots to the queenly cockatoos. One of the banana trees in the Conservatory had the most unusual outcroppings I’ve ever seen. A low-hanging leaf had the texture of velvet, five small bright yellow teeth-like projections jotted the top of the leaf, and a bulbous gray gauzy blob plopped itself at the end of the leaf.
The gardens inside and outside of the Conservatory are very people friendly. None of the plants were labeled poisonous.
There is another ultra-plus facet of the garden arena: from one open space, you can gaze at the panoramic Vancouver cityscape.
Yesterday, my wife and I traveled from Vancouver to Victoria, where we spent most of the day traversing the area from pig ironworks to parliament and scouring brochures about the attractions in Victoria and its environs.
But last night, my fond memories of Vancouver unexpectedly resurfaced. As I began reading Linda Fairstein’s Entombed, a novel that takes place in Manhattan, I was taken aback to learn that the lead detective had contacted an incomparable forensic anthropologist to study the remains of a skeleton unearthed in the former home of Edgar Allen Poe. This researcher comes from Vancouver. Now that is an eerie coincidence that Poe would have appreciated.
A Garden of Earthly Delights
Butchart Gardens, on the outskirts of Victoria, BC, is a densely populated effervescent landscape of flowering plants, a Disneylandish indulgence for the senses. The magnitude and magnificence of the gardens is almost overpowering in its profusion of colors and its exquisitely structured array of more than 100 different kinds of plants and flowers. There are no loose ends, no deviations, and no grotesque or surreal offshoots in the grand imperial design of the gardens—whether you stroll by battalions of bamboo or become immersed in acres of rainbow-tinted blooms a la Little Pony in the labyrinthine Sunken Garden.
There is one exception, however. At the far end of the garden is an uncultivated miniature rain forest with occasional flowers sprouting haphazardly.
It would be a shame to leave Butchart before dark because you would miss the artfully choreographed fountain extravaganza in the Sunken Garden. It is a spectacular display that reminded me of the laser shows at Disneyworld: Geysers of multi-colored water spurt at various prearranged heights and sequences; and wavy columns of water from either side of the fountain slowly reach out to each other and embrace as if they are praying. Rivulets of steam that envelop the bottom of the fountain are another awesome touch.
When you add free evening summer concerts (a Klezmer band played last night) and a variety of reasonably priced restaurants and gift shops to the beauty of the gardens, you would want to go back the next day. In fact, if you keep your receipt, you can return the next day for just one-tenth the entrance fee. What’s not to like, eh?
Yesterday, my wife and I drove to Oak Bay, BC, a municipality of Victoria, intending to browse through various artisan shops touted in the Vancouver Island travel brochures. Our GPS didn’t cooperate, but in our quest for the galleries, we happened to weave in and out of roads (beachfront and inland) bejeweled with mansions just as mammoth and ornate as the ones in Kahala, the ultra-posh beach community that we habitually frequent when we stay in nearby Waikiki. There is another similarity as well. Both towns have a 5-star hotel on the waterfront, and both have panoramic views of mountain ranges, lush Koko Head Koolau Mountains at Kahala and the partially snow-tipped Olympia Mountains at Oak Bay.
While Oak Bay reminded me of Kahala, it has one astoundingly delightful difference: upright pianos sporadically placed on the beach strand. These pianos are surprisingly playable, and a couple of them have been painted on all sides with idyllic ocean scenes.
After being dazzled by Oak Bay, we drove further “upland” to the village of Cadboro. Like Kahala and Oak Bay, Cadboro has plenty of gorgeous homes and spectacular mountain vistas, but it also has a smattering of unhospitable parks. You can’t see them from the road. You must climb lots of steep steps leading to a tiny desolate craggy abutment overlooking the ocean. There is no greenery, no picnic spot, no playground. It is utterly untamed, bounded by boulders and chilling—physically and psychologically.
After winding through more of Cadboro, we found a park that actually looked and felt like one. It was expansive and inviting. Children were frolicking on the grass and peeping out of colorful tubes dotting the play-scape. The adults engaged in animated, good-natured conversation with one another. Unlike the other parks, this one was friendly, not forbidding.
My wife and I may have been unsure where the art venues were located as we rode back to Victoria at dusk, but we may try again in a day or two. In any case, we certainly don’t regret inadvertently getting off course yesterday: we saw resplendent mansions in Oak Bay and Cadboro and a couple of mind-boggling oddities: pianos plunked on the beach, and rock-strewn postage-size parks.
A Farewell to Oak Bay
Thanks to a coordinated effort from our rental car’s GPS and my wife’s uncanny instincts, we finally located the artisan shops in Oak Bay that had eluded us the other day. All of the featured items— from miniature figurines to mammoth collages—were produced by local artists. Although I don’t care for modern art (a few of the abstract paintings looked like splattered vomit, the deranged doodlings of a toddler), some of the abstract paintings in the first shop we visited surprisingly appealed to me with their vibrant colors and intricate interweaving of geometric designs. In another gallery, I was fascinated by photographic sequences of a tree depicted from dozens of slightly different angles. At the back of the last shop we visited, I found three over-sized frog sculptures that, if my wife and I weren’t getting rid of the clutter in our lives, I would have bought on the spot. One frog, clinging to a smooth boulder, grins and appears to be blissfully content. Another frog, clinging to a ragged boulder, grimaces with an undercurrent of repressed rage. And the third frog, clinging to a pockmarked boulder, is ill at ease and looks a bit bewildered.
Later on, near the end of our excursion, my wife and I drove by a fairly small Chinese cemetery. There were no delicately carved monuments, no grandiose mausoleums, and no pompous or bombastic markings of mortality. Every headstone was vertical, short, narrow, and slightly rounded on top. At first glance, the cemetery, stark, drab, bleak, didn’t move me. But after more reflection, I appreciated its modesty, its unadorned simplicity: so unlike the glamorous, pretentious, cemetery superstructures that my wife and I roamed through in Europe a couple of years ago.
Before we left Oak Bay, we bundled up on a bench overlooking the ocean as dusk approached. It was a comforting scene: the glistening sea gradually changed color from aquamarine to light blue, and Mt. Baker’s creamy snow-caps became tinted with filmy pink hues as the sun was setting.
Oak Bay, just a few miles from downtown Victoria, is a tourist’s treat, whether you are a bohemian or a Brahman, whether you want to skydive from a cliff or just stroll along the beach.