Posts Tagged ‘mountains’

On Wednesday my daughter Julia and I left the cats snoozing in the condo, loaded the dog Sheba in the car and took a day-long trek through the Canadian Rockies, specifically the Banff and Jasper National Parks.

Once Sheba figured out that not only were we NOT going to the vet, but that she was also actually able to stick her nose out the window (didn’t have to worry about cats escaping) and revel in the aromas of the Rockies, she had a blast. We all three did, actually.

Since I expended my vocabulary describing my first encounter with these incredible mountains (see “Squandered Superlatives”), I’m going to let pictures do most of the telling … but first some geologic commentary.

Julia was able to add a lot of interest to this journey because of her degree in Environmental Science, and because she’s always loved geology. Since she doesn’t read the blog, she didn’t know about what I’d said about mountains shoving fists or elbows up from the earth, so when she quoted her favorite geology professor, saying that the mountains looked like the result of a “continental fender-bender,” and (after I stopped laughing), I felt more confident of my impressions.

The Great Divide scenic stop was a further hint, as was a déjà vu moment as we were headed up into glacier country. Looking back over our route from a pullout close to the top of the pass, I could see the river winding through steep mountains, everything telescoping down to tiny cars in the distance, and I remembered vaguely seeing something almost identical at Estes Park in Colorado. When we got home that evening I hauled out my map and confirmed that, indeed, as most of the world probably already knows, the Rockies extend at an angle along the continental divide from New Mexico through Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Alberta and British Columbia.

To me the Canadian Rockies look bolder, harder edged, more muscular, but it’s easy to see that they’re part of the same family as the Colorado Rockies.

And now, without further adieu, here is our quickie tour of a park that would undoubtedly richly reward years of exploration. Don’t forget to click on any photo you want to see clearly …

It isn’t hard to guess that this first amazing sight is called … Castle Mountain!

My friend Daina was really excited about my first glimpse of Lake Louise, and it was as incredible as she intimated.

And, a little further down the side of the lake, here’s Julia.

And here’s a hotel near the lake which has the riot of English cottage garden-style flowers which you find everywhere in Banff, Harvie Heights (where we’re staying) and Canmore (a great little town full of hotels and lovely shops also near Banff).

We were amazed at our first glacier – Crowfoot Glacier – spilling over the edge of the mountain at the speed of geologic time, but we soon found out we hadn’t seen nuttin’ yet!

Athabasca Glacier, at the southern end of the Columbia Icefield in Jasper Park, is so huge that the tour busses buzzing around the crevasses look like insects and you’d really have to squint at the enlarged version of this photo to see the people trekking up a winding dirt road to the glacier.

But, as awe-inspiring as the glacier was, for me the most unforgettable part of the day were the blue, blue lakes we saw on the way back. Somehow the brilliantly clear blue sky, the mountains and the lakes themselves combined with the angle of the sun to produce truly extraordinary colors.

Today we hiked around a fen (wetland) which coexists beautifully with downtown Banff, which I’ll report on next … and, I am aghast to realize that tomorrow is not only my birthday, it’s our last day here (sniff!). But there’s plenty more excitement to come, including a major change in plans for the journey, so stay tuned.


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Ever since we left Abbottsford at the Washington/British Columbia border I’ve bounced wildly back and forth between delight and frustration … delight at the absolutely magnificent scenery, and frustration over the fact that Canadian highways don’t seem to have view points, so I couldn’t take pictures of all that magnificence. So I worked on composing descriptions for the blog.

For example, there was an extended drive between Abbottsford and Kamloops along Trans Canada Highway 1 that was bounded by steep, heavily forested cliffs with craggy granite faces snugged against one side of the highway, with a shallow, rocky river on the other, and a mountain, dancing in the distance, towering above a sky full of snow-white, wooly clouds.

Then, further on that day, the landscape softened and opened out, still running next to a river, but dryer and riddled with patches of what appeared to be diseased trees. Next, Kamloops was in a wide, dry beautifully shaped bowl in the mountains, a very prosperous, modern town (touted as the food processing and commercial hub of the region). Everything was brand new, with lots of chain stores you also find in the US, like Toys R Us, McDonalds, Bed & Bath & Beyond and so on. Our hotel was a very pleasant overnight stay although for some reason the critters didn’t like it much.

Revelstoke, our next overnight stay, was scruffy, full of mountaineers, bicyclers and hikers, with the loveliest mountain I could see out the hotel room window, flirting with me behind gauzy wisps of cloud that would come and go.

But when we got to Banff I felt like the breath had been kicked out of me. My mind went blank and then the weirdest thought crept in … that I’d squandered all my superlatives on the way here, and had nothing left to say in the face of such (literally) breathtaking scenery!

As we drove through on the way to the Banff Boundary Lodge I kept flipping through my vocabulary and discarding words … magnificent (not quite right), awe inspiring (certainly, but not good enough), spectacular (well, yeah, but … missing something), dramatic, splendid, rugged (pallid), and so on. Nothing satisfied me, so I took pictures and instructed my subconscious to get to work on what to say (my Inner Writer is a diligent and wonderful partner).

The next day (yesterday) I just sat around adjusting to the altitude (about 4500 feet above sea level), flipping through guidebooks for good hikes and car trips, and letting my impressions simmer. This morning I could walk up the stairs in our condo without pausing for breath, and when I was gazing at the mountains through the shower window, the concepts I needed bubbled to the surface.

The mountains around Banff, bare of all but glaciers in early September, are powerful, muscular, with knife-like ridges and striations of glaciers which show very clearly the tremendous force these mountains exerted as they emerged … sometimes the striations are as steep as 45 degrees, giving the impression of a powerful elbow or fist that had smashed through the earth’s crust, giants exploding from deep underground to stand sentinel over this wild, green land.

The only things I’ve ever seen that can hold a candle to these mountains for sheer, raw energy and power are a series of sculptures by Michelangelo called “Slaves,” sculptures which many people call “unfinished.”

I first saw them in my teens during a tour of Europe (see “Coming Home with a Thump”), and found them absolutely staggering even then. Our tour guide, an art history professor at San Francisco State, told me that, rather than being unfinished, he felt Michelangelo intended to show the figures as fighting their way free of the stone encasing them. And you can see below their indomitable will and the powerful struggle of bulging muscle and straining sinews.

One of the sculptures is the focus of the World card (XXI) of James Wanless’ Voyager Tarot deck, probably a big reason I first bought that deck, and why I still use it professionally.

More on the area after we’ve done some hiking and driving and watching for wildlife … originally we’d planned to leave Wednesday, but there are so many tempting activities, and our condo is so lovely and handy with a real kitchen and 2 bedrooms upstairs (and the critters are SO blissfully happy to be staying in one place!) that we’ve extended our stay.

Since we’re going to remain until the day after my birthday, September 10, I will have plenty of time to map out the next stage of our journey, start the process of house-hunting in Maine, and polish some of the articles I’ve promised … including a discussion of Runes for the next stage of our journey, the pros and cons of being different, helpful hints for traveling with 2 cats and an 80 lb dog, Google maps versus paper maps and what they reveal about one’s approach to life, and memories of traveling with my mother’s parents.

May what you see out your window be a feast for your eyes and heart!

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We saw some truly spectacular scenery today, mountain vistas to take your breath away, and magical patches of wildflowers. Since I’m sharing those, I thought I’d first also share why I’ve been muttering about Forks as the Twilight zone.

First, Forks, Washington. You may know (I didn’t) that the Twilight series of vampire books are set in the Olympic Peninsula, and particularly in Forks. Under the Twilight mania which has developed, Forks is still a pretty funky old logging town, and I got some photos to document the interesting, sometimes silly, and sometimes uncomfortable juxtaposition of the two.

Remember, if you want to really see any of these photos, click on ’em!

First, here’s the Twilight tour center and bus:

Next, we have a really nice Native Art gallery which has jumped on the bandwagon …

And I guess this hotel owner decided not to jump on the bandwagon …

Now, on to the magnificence of the Olympic Peninsula mountains, as seen from Hurricane Ridge.

Here is our first glimpse.

Then, here are some views from the top.

Then, on the way back down we saw some wonderful patches of wildflowers:

And here are views from the other direction, on the way back down the mountain.

And here’s Miss Sneakers, completely worn out from all that sightseeing … and, make no mistake, she watches out the windows as avidly as our dog Sheba.

We’ll be plowing through urban areas tomorrow, so probably no pix or deep thoughts. But the next night we’re in Kamloops, British Columbia, then Revelstoke, then Banff, and one of the three women mentioned in the “Walking the Dog” post from earlier today told me we would probably hear the wolves singing at night in Banff. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Till later, then …

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