The San Juan Islands, off the coast of Washington state, make for a relaxing getaway (oh the stresses of a 2 month holiday). Accessible only by boat or light plane the place definitely has a much more relaxed pace than the mainland. This was very welcome after a hard slog to get there and many weeks on the road to date. We stayed at an amazing rental property right on the water that looked west toward the shipping channels, Vancouver Island and the setting sun. Even had we never left the house we would still have many fond memories of grilling & enjoying wine and cheese on the deck and living life at Banana Slug pace. A bonus to the place was that a tree in front of the property was known as a perch for bald eagles who indeed made their appearance on the second evening as the final shades of color departed into the night. A boating expedition in search of the islands resident pod of Orcas unfortunately yielded no results. Despite the best efforts of the crew we had to settle for a brief sighting of a minke whale and a stellar sea lion. The Orcas were apparently a little further north hunting salmon, which were in low supply this year. Although a bit disappointed that we did not see any Orcas, we all enjoyed our 3 day 'weekend' on the islands.
The drive from Jasper to our next stay at Canmore turned out to be quite eventful. Half the group trotted off early in the morning to take a helicopter tour of the Colombia ice field, while the others opted to sleep in and meander down some side roads on the hunt for more animal sightings. Many many Candadian kilometres later the two groups meet up to trade tales. As expected, the wildlife team came up with zip, while the helicopter team spotted brother black bears frolicking as well as experiencing a magical heli ride above the ice field. A mudslide led to a most unwelcome delay while trying to get to Canmore, leading to some very tired, frustrated and hungry people dragging into camp late that night
The following day we toured Kananaskis Country Provincial Park in search of the elusive Grizzly and also a peculiar pidgeon called a Ptarmigan that spends all year in the alpine regions and changes its feathers depending on the season. Our goal was Ptarmigan Cirque where we had been told many griz reside. There must have been some truth to this rumor but we were unable to verify it because the area was closed due to Grizzly activity. Grrrrr. It still turned into an enjoyable day as we checked out a local fishing/picnic spot, got really close to a cow and calf moose (they look even weirder without the antlers) and took some backroads to return to Canmore.
Our final expedition in the area was to hike the trail past the Fairmont Chateau on Lake Louise up to a tea hut in a valley called 'Six Glaciers'. Over lunch it took a few rumbles for us to realize that when one hears the sound of a glacier calving, there is no point in running out of the tea hut to see it because it hit the ground long before the sound got to our ears. We were fortunate that there was plenty of calving activity that day due to the unseasonable warmth. Really spectacular to see what looked like small amounts of snow break off and cascade down the cliff face and seconds later hear the loud thunder-like rumbling of that 'little' amount of snow hit the ground. We also witnessed another mudslide as we walked back down the trail, thankfully well off the trail
After 2 full days in Jasper National park we have decided that everything is bigger and closer here. During a morning drive we were lucky enough to observe, from the safety of our car, a big black bear feasting on ripe berries on the side of the road. He paid no heed to us snapping away with our camera not 5 feet away, his only concern was to make sure he got all the berries off each bush he happened by. We encountered a few more bears having their morning feast on our way to Moab Lake; we headed there because it was a spot on the map. A short 0.2k jaunt to the lake through a gauntlet of hungry mosquitoes and we were nearly face to face with a giant bull moose. Neither of us expected to encounter the other so suddenly, but after a moment of staring at each other the moose resumed his morning meal. He must have found a great patch of food because he was reaching down into the water so far that we could no longer see his eyes. He even took a moment to blow some bubbles as he searched for food. The next morning we happened upon 2 of the largest elk we have seen thus far. The rack of antlers on each of them was absolutely amazing, they must have been 3 feet high and possibly 4 feet wide! None of us can understand how these animals can maneuver through the forest with antlers this large, but somehow they manage to appear and disappear in the blink of an eye. And this bigger and closer post would not be complete without a mention of the mosquitoes. We happen to be in Jasper for one of the worst mosquito seasons in local memory. The hoards of mosquitoes are larger and much closer than any of us would like, but we can’t really complain about being bothered by the mozzies after seeing what the poor bears have to put up with.
Although we have enjoyed the last 4 weeks of adventures on the road, were we all happy to have a place to call home for a week! Our bags were quickly unpacked and before long our belongings were strewn all over the house. How we marveled at having 2 living rooms to lounge in and a big kitchen to cook up delicious meals.
The stampede was quite an event, with the majority of attendees wearing the full cowboy regalia, we felt a bit out of place in our street clothes.
One day was spent examining the horses and cattle; we still can’t get over the size of the Clydesdales, especially after seeing the miniature ponies. We popped into the Big Top to see the cutting horses, for those of you not in the know – it is when a horse and rider separate out one cow from the herd and then work to keep the cow from joining the herd. I have never seen horses move like that before with their rippling muscles hard at work to head off the cow at each turn as tried to works its way back to the safety of the herd. The closest analogy I can draw is that of a dog bowing down as it prepares to run around and play. Bek’s favorite for the day – playing in a ‘sandbox’ filled with canola seeds.
Despite our best intentions, one day at the stampede was so tiring that we took the next day off. But we rallied for the final 2 days of the stampede.
Saturday first thing was Superdogs: dogs of all sizes running obstacle courses and relay races, and showing off their dancing skills. Then it was rodeo time – bareback riding, bucking broncos, barrel racing, calf roping, steer wrestling and the funniest – 6 groups of 3 kids getting dragged on their faces around the arena by a miniature pony while they attempted to jump on its back. It was amazing to watch the horsemanship and abilities of the riders and it made me want to get up on a horse.
And Sunday, the final day of the centennial celebration of the Calgary Stampede, it was pouring rain. Of course only long enough to get us completely saturated as we walked to the grounds. We spent the evening in the grandstands watching the chuckwagon racing and evening show. The chuckwagon event is a bizarre one apparently very popular in Canada with two different leagues and a large fan base. Each race involves four wagons with two ‘outriders’; At the starting horn the outriders throw a barrel into the back of the wagon and mount up to keep pace with the wagon as they weave around 2 barrels tracing nearly a figure 8 before they race out and around the race track . There is so much action with each race that it is impossible to take in all of the detail.
The post-wagon show was a mixed bag. A little disappointing that they had to cut some events from the lineup due to slippery wet conditions, but the remaining events were awesome. Lots of the typical dance and song and a fireworks display that was phenomenal. Really really close to where we were sitting. And after the finale of the fireworks, we discovered that there was a closing ceremony fireworks display. Our heart rates had not even slowed down before they were accelerating again.
And to top it all off, we got to have a reunion with Hayley, a college friend from Australia.
It’s very difficult to start to describe our five days in Yellowstone. Do I attempt to describe the Geysers that spasmodically erupt from dozens to hundreds of feet into the air? Or the celestial appearance of the hot springs formed by light playing off minerals and microbes? Shall we pause a moment to consider the osprey raising their chicks on the sulphor-colored precipice that is the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone where the jade river tumbles hundreds of feet behaving under the effect of Newton’s pet theory. Mornings waking up before dawn to glimpse dark shadows of wolves and bears in the Lamar Valley? Perhaps it would be simpler to reflect on picnicking in Mammoth Hot Springs with an elk herd, ground squirrels and a bull snake? Or do I just fall back on the old adage ‘A picture is…’?