Friday, July 26, 2013

Oh Canada! Beautiful Banff

When you share with people that you are planning a trip to Alberta Canada, one of the first things they say is "you must go to Banff and Lake Louise!"  So, as with our habit, we happily added them to our "list" of places to see.  Once the Stampede was over and we spent some time with our friends, we learned that Banff wasn't all that far from Calgary and that it was actually more practical for us to leave our rig at their place and just take our small truck and do a two-day/over-night trip there and back. So that's what we did.

We decided to drive straight to Lake Louise first.  The drive itself goes through Banff National Park with the Canadian Rockies all around you.  They are breathtakingly beautiful.  Not as much snow on them though as I would have thought, so that was a bit of a surprise.  It was also interesting, I thought, how different their shapes were from each other and as you traveled through the Park and saw them from different angles.  I never tired of looking at them.  Another sight that I have enjoyed my whole time in Canada is all the Canola fields.  Acres and acres of sunshine yellow flowers!  They are so very pretty to look at.  It seems that the farmers are not particularly keen on growing them, but that they are a higher cash crop than the grain crops are, so that's what they have to grow, and boy do they!  Miles and miles all across the country.  Besides seeing the cultivated lands, all the wildflowers are in full bloom too.  So as we drove to our destination green and yellow fields, dotted with open grazing land full of wildflowers, interspersed with creeks trimmed with trees and all of this edged with those beautiful mountains, filled our scenery.  Jealous yet?  (had to tease!)

You would think all that would have prepared us for the lake we were about to see (that and every one's insistence on us going there), but I don't think anything's that spectacular.  I don't think I have ever seen a turquoise colored lake before.  Deep blue perhaps, even emerald green, but the shade of that lake is almost surreal, so when you see my pictures, don't think they were doctored up, it really is that color!  Put that in front of those Rocky Mountains with the Victoria Glacier and you have a perfect picture postcard!  It was mesmerizing, you just wanted to sit there and stare at it for a long long time.  We lucked out and the day was perfect as well, sun shining and just warm enough.  Only down side were the crowds, hunting for parking took almost as long as you stayed looking at the lake!  Oh well, guess one can't always have everything (not sure why not, but that's what they keep telling me anyway!).

After a bit of lunch, we headed to another sweet lake that our friends recommended that they said wasn't as "popular" as Louise, but that they really liked as well, Moraine Lake.  A little smaller, a little bluer, a little less crowded but very nice.  It had a large "rock pile" next to it that people were climbing to a high plateau to see further.  I walked around it and found some stairs to it and climbed them (150!) and the view was worth the effort, besides I figured it worked off my lunch!  A nice gentleman took my picture up there to prove I actually made it that high (Jack declined the climb).

After the two lakes, we traveled into the town of Banff and to the Banff Ave Bed & Breakfast spot we had made reservations at.  Connie was a wonderful hostess as well as the B&B was the perfect place to stay.

The next day we took the time to walk around Banff then headed out to see a couple of lakes & waterfalls nearby and to take a look at "the castle" as the The Fairmont Banff Springs National Historic Hotel is called locally, and we could see why.  Phew, what a place!   We even ran into some friendly wildlife...a small heard of Big Horn Sheep (Ewes), that wandered over to see who we were.

Time to head back to Calgary and start to get ourselves ready to head back to the US and our next adventure, Glacier National Park.

Canada, you've treated us well, and it's been a beautiful trip that we will long remember.

 Canadian Rocky Mountains
 Canola Fields
Lake Louise & Victoria Glacier
 Moraine Lake
City of Banff
Johnson Lake
The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel
Ewes saying Goodbye as we left Banff

...kicking back in Alberta Canada,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:   

Monday, July 22, 2013

Oh Canada! A bit of history...

There is a wonderful park in Calgary called Heritage Park Historical Village.  It’s billed as Canada’s largest living history experience and the park’s attractions and exhibits span Western Canadian history from the 1860s to 1950s.  They have costumed interpreters all along the way, in every building, sharing their knowledge with you.  It’s very much like Colonial Williamsburg VA, in the United States. 

Jack and I had a delightful day there.  The sun was shining and the mosquitoes were not to bothersome!  The park is127 acres, so we didn’t get to every area (an excuse to come for another visit?) but where we did visit we were quite impressed with not only the detail of buildings (most were restored, not reproductions) but that they were also completely furnished right down to clothes in the closets, china on the tables, towels in the bathrooms, etc.  Many of the interpreters were actually experienced in the field they were representing.  The blacksmith had started blacksmithing at age 14 and had done it for many, many years before leaving it.  He had been working at the park in another capacity when they found out he had been a blacksmith, then quickly swooped him over to Flett’s Blacksmith Shop (c1902).  The interpreter at the school house had been a teacher for many years herself, and had even taught in a one-room school house at one time.  Same background with the interpreters at the Synagogue (c1910).  It was great because they brought in that background along with their enthusiasm and it really shown through.  It was very interesting talking with each of them.

We had a nice long chat with the fellow at the Shonts Grain Elevator (c1909).  I have a fondness of them and am forever taking pictures of some of the old ones along the roads, and have often wondered what they look like inside and how they work.  He was great!  He took all the time we wanted to show us every detail of how they have separate bins for different kinds of grains and how they are brought down into the wagons for loading, how their weighed, he even showed us a variety of grains and the “new crop” we’ve seen everywhere in Canada, Canola.  The whole thing was so fascinating.  Jack had just as much fun (as he always does) at Flett’s Blacksmith Shop.  What a great shop, with tons of tools and wonderful instruments.  The interpreter was super to talk with as well, I think they both enjoyed the long conversation (I took a walk along the shops).

The railway area with it’s Roundhouse and Turntable was a treat for us as well.  If you’ve read many of my blogs, you know we have a love of old trains, so it should be no surprise that seeing some early 1900 trains was a treat.  I especially loved seeing a complete caboose in it’s true form.  So many of them have either been converted for other uses or stripped.  This one was as it was, the engineer’s office & break area.  They also had a Jordan Spreader that’s used for plowing snow.  Those are pretty rare. 

I must say, the village was pretty complete, everything from the usual homes, stores, hotel, medical, church, school, fire, train, etc. but also a synagogue, a children’s midway area (Farris wheel, carousel, etc), an Aboriginal encampment, an agricultural area, an 1860s fur trading fort, a natural resource area (mine, well, etc) and Gasoline Alley with antique cars, gas pumps, signs etc. 

So much to see, and so well done!

Jack at his favorite spot!
Inside Montefiore Institute with their treasured early 1900's Torah
Shonts Grain Elevator
Canadian Pacific Rail
Inside the Caboose
Gasoline Alley

...kicking back in Alberta Canada,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:   

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Oh Canada! Courageous Calgary...

A flood is a horrible disaster to happen to any town, at any time.  But when it happens to a town that relies heavily on a specific event held once a year, just two weeks away, it’s a huge disaster!  That’s what happened to Calgary Canada this year

The Calgary Stampede has been held here for over 100 years.  It’s huge, not just in size, but in tradition, in meaning to the town, to the folks that live here and to the ones who come here year after year.  The flood not only washed away roads, but buildings and electronics as well.  The Saddledome was so filled with water that it will be virtually unusable to use for quite some time.  All the headline entertainment was to be held there. 

What does a city do when faced with such a disaster?  Well, if you are a Calgarian, you pull together and make it happen!  The city itself had it’s hands full just making the city safe and usable again, so it was up to the Stampede people to handle their own situation, and boy did they ever.  Hundreds of volunteers and Stampeded staff worked around the clock for two solid weeks, non-stop and made it happen. 

When we first heard about the flood, we didn’t think the Stampede was going to happen.  It was an event we had planned on attending for months and was not only disappointed, but sad for our friends involved.  We had met Sherrie and Ken earlier this year when we camped out in the California desert and were kindly invited to come stay with them when we told them of our wish to see the Stampede.  Their daughter works for the Stampede and they live not to far from it.  We were thrilled to not only have new friends, but someone to share the experience with, so we made plans to come for our visit to Canada in July.  We kept in close contact and were surprised when they said that the Stampede was going to go on as planned!  The only thing that had to be cancelled was the headline entertainment because they didn’t have another venue large enough to replace the Saddledome, but all else was going on as scheduled.  We were thrilled, but wondered how it would all look.

As we drove into Calgary I kept looking for signs of the flood, but really couldn’t see any.  We arrived at our friend’s on Thursday, and our tickets were for Friday.  Driving into town, we were just amazed at how clean and neat everything was.  I (finally) saw one area that a small bridge was still washed out and hadn’t been repaired yet, but very little else.  It was amazing how much work this city had done to put it all back together!  As the week went by, and as we drove further out of the city, we saw river beds that had receded back and left the debris where the flood had brought it in and our friends told us of their country property that was still in a horrible mess with silt and trees and debris etc that they are working on, and will be for quite awhile, but even with that, it still is so much further along than anything I’ve ever seen in the US.  Canadians don’t mess around, they get right to it and fix it now.  We could learn from that. 

The Stampede itself was WONDERFUL!  Sometimes, as I’m sure you’ve experienced, when you’ve looked forward to something for a long time, then when you actually get to go, your a bit disappointed.  Well, not this time.  When we arrived, we met up with Sherrie & Ken’s daughter, Chantelle, who gave us the VIP treatment (fun to be on the “other side” for a change!) and drove us in her little cart to the Stampede grounds.  Jack had never seen a live rodeo before, so that was first on our agenda for the day!

After taking us to the arena, she then took us up to the Grandstand's Sound Control Room where we got to see what they see and meet some of the crew.  From there we went and stood next to the railing to get the feeling of being “up close and personal” for a bit before we went and took our seats.  The rodeo riders come from all over the US and Canada and are the best of the best and compete for over 2 million dollars in prize money given out that week. 

It was a couple of hours between the rodeo and the chuckwagon races, or “chucks” as they call them.  Canadians seem to abbreviate a lot of words and phrases I found.  Kind of cute.  Anyway, we then went and checked out the rest of the grounds.  It was set up pretty much like any county fair - rides, food, exhibits, etc.  After getting a bite to eat, I wanted to see how Canadian “exhibits” were like.  You know, all the gadgets and stuff that's for sale that “you just can’t live without and have to buy at the fair!”  Well, it had a lot of the “usual”, but it had a lot more “attire” than what we are used to at the San Diego County Fair.  And, being the Stampede, it was all Cowboy!  Hats, belts, belt buckles, boots, leather everything, shirts, and on and on.  Lots and lots of cowboy, other than that, nothing I hadn’t seen, no new gadget for me this year, oh well. 

We visited the First Nation of Treaty 7 Indian Village, complete with beautiful tipis and PowWow dancers in full regalia.  The Native Americans compete with each other on their tipis as well as their dancing.  It was really something to see.

Back at the Grandstands to catch the “Chucks” and what a sight!  I was a little disappointed that they had “downsized” the wagons, due to safety reason, a few years ago, but it was still fun to watch.  After the races they put on the most spectacular stage show I have ever seen - ever!  It will be very hard to describe, so you will have to go to my Flickr account and just take a look at the pictures...but what I can say is that hundreds of talented young guys & gals danced, sang, and did acrobatics.  They had all kinds of lights, floating mechanical horses, a piano that floated down from the sky, same with some cages with singers, flames bursting from the top of the stage, beautiful fireworks, and "KISS"! 

All I can say is WOW!  We were so blown away by it all, and to think, two weeks earlier, all of that same area was under water...
Washed out bridge
Inside the Grandstand Sound Control Room
Calf Roping
Cowboy hats, all sizes all kinds!
  First Nation Tipis
Chuckwagon race
Grandstand Show
 Happy friends!

...kicking back in Alberta Canada,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sometimes it's nice to just sit back and go ahhh...

After we left the Badlands in South Dakota, we decided to slow down a bit and just "mosey" towards our friends in Montana and then on to Calgary where we are headed to catch the big Calgary Stampede before it ends July 15th.

The night before we left our campground at the Badlands we were saying goodbye to a couple we had met and doing the usual "where are you heading next? routine and when we said "Spearfish" (because it was about a 4 hour drive, which is our preference.  Immediately the response was "Spearfish!, are you doing the canyon?"  As typical of us, as well, "what canyon?"  Our new friends promptly got out a map and showed us where it was and then shared what a beautiful scenic drive it was as well.  We thanked them and added it to our "list" and decided that we should then probably stay in Spearfish two days!

That evening, while talking about Spearfish, Jack remembered that someone else had told us about a City Park there that you can camp at that was really special.  We looked it up and found it, so I called and was able to get us two nights (this is now the two days before Independence Day!)

As we pulled into the City of Spearfish Campground we were in awe.  What a beauty!  It is right in town, attached to the Fish Hatchery, filled with trees, a creek, lots of lush green grass and lovely sites.  You can walk to town, if you don't mind walking about 10+ blocks.  Another place we would have loved to stay longer, "if only".

The next day, off we drove to check out the Spearfish Canyon!  What a treat it was too!  Glad we did it in the truck.  We could have done it in the RV, but parking would have been a challenge, especially at this time of year, as there were plenty of others enjoying the drive with us.  Several nice waterfalls to see, even though their flow is a lot less than in spring (or when they have had more rain than this year).  The canyon walls are beautiful to look at and really, really steep.  Lots of variety in trees and terrain.  We were glad for the suggestion.

We also decided to take a quick trip to Deadwood for the fun of it.  It was ok for an afternoon.  Pretty much what we expected...a lot of "saloons" and tourist stores.  Some nice old buildings, which I like.  We had a nice lunch, walked around a bit, took a few photos, then left.  They charged to go into the cemetery where Wild Bill Hickcock is buried, so we nixed that, we've seen plots before.

On to Montana.  We spent the 4th in a little town called Hardin.  Flat land, filled with barley on one side and sugar beets on the other, as far as the eyes could see.  Not much happening in Hardin.  The local Rainbow Girls came out to the campground each night and sold ice cream sundaes, so we "contributed" to their cause and enjoyed talking to the other campers.  Met some really interesting folks.  Learned about how the sugar factory closed down in Hardin and moved to Billings, now they not only have that smell, but the oil refinery smell too!  Met a gentleman who represents the cattleman's association and learned a lot about how many acres per cow it takes, how big those hay bundles are, how expensive the balers are, and all kinds of fun stuff!  We were able to see 5 different fireworks from our little perch across that barley field.  It might be a small town, but it had a lot of patriotism.

Before meeting up with our friends in Missoula, we pulled into another small town, Big Timber.  I found another gem of a campground, that once again, would have stayed here another week, "if only"!  Spring Creek Campground & Trout Ranch is a real treat.  Hidden behind a strand of trees, that you wouldn't even know it was here if you weren't given directions (you need them because GPS only gets you lost!).  Two nice ponds for the kids to fish in, a big fast moving, beautiful river that our site was right in front of, nice trees, etc.  Super friendly people.  They had a pot luck the first night we arrived and everyone was so friendly, mixed and mingled, brought all kinds of extra food (just to make sure).  We added a day just because we didn't want to leave!  There was a bench just on the edge of the river that I would sit my rocker at and prop my feet on and just read and gaze out at the river and listen to the birds, wave at the fishermen as their boats went by and relax...

Now that's the things that just make you go ahhh...

City of Spearfish Campground
 City of Spearfish Campground
Bridalvail Falls, Spearfish Canyon
 Roughlock Falls, Spearfish Canyon
 Spearfish Canyon
 Historic Golden Door Hotel, Deadwood
 Boulder River, Spring Creek Campground
 Spring Creek Campground & Trout Ranch
 Our site facing the river,  Spring Creek Campground & Trout Ranch

...on the road in Montana,  Marie 

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at: 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Exploring the Badlands...

Before we left South Dakota for good, I had one last place I wanted to see...and that was the Badlands.  Growing up a “semi-cowgirl” I had heard about the Badlands all my life.  Ok, my definition of a “semi-cowgirl” is this - my Dad was a cowboy.  A real one.  He grew up in Independence California, which is in the middle of nowhere on a small cattle ranch.  He and his brother helped their Dad herd some, but mostly they pretty much ran wild.  Their Mother was quite ill and died when they were very young and so they were left on their own “to be boys”.  So out on the range, on their horses, with the local Indians, they went.  When Dad was in his late teens & very early 20’s the movie makers came to town to make western movies.  Many of the actors didn’t know how to ride very well, so Dad did a lot of the actual riding and even doubled for Hopalong Cassidy and some of the other actors.

Years later, when I came along, being a “girl”, I didn’t get to do much “cowboy” stuff, but my Grandfather would let me ride out on the open range whenever I wanted (the cattle ranch long gone by then).  But the one thing I did grow up with, was lots and lots of cowboy stories, songs and western movies...and a love for it all.  Hence, the “semi” and my desire to see the Badlands.

As usual, I didn’t really know what to expect, which I find to be the best, because that way I’m always surprised and usually not disappointed...and that rang true this time, big time!

My first big “wow!” was how big it is!  240,000 acres, that’s a lot!  My other surprise was that I thought it would be more colorful than it is.  For the most part, it’s pretty much “tan”.  There are some reddish bands (that can be very wide) and there is one area of the park that does have some wonderful yellow and red (that looks like rainbow sherbert ice cream).  What’s really cool is how very different each area is. Rather than the color that distinguishes it, it’s the unusual shapes.  Peaks and mounds that look sculpted by giant children building sand castles with the wind and water knocking them down. 

You never tire of looking at them.  I can only imagine the fun it must have been for the people who got to name the various overlooks.  Names like Window & Door, Bigfoot Pass, Hay Butte, Pinnacles and Prairie Wind. 

In addition to all the peaks, gullies, buttes and wide prairies, we lucked out and came at a time that was fertile after weeks of heavy rain.  The tall grasses were a deep green dancing in the breeze, many filled with beautiful wildflowers.  Little yellow sunflowers, pink and white Field bindweed, and pretty white Narrow-leaf yucca.  To top it all off, the sky remained clear blue with soft puffy clouds here & there, with the days ending in beautiful sunsets.  Each night filled with bright stars.  We even heard a ranger talk, who shared fun stories for the kids about all the various fossils found in the park.

It was a great visit, one that I will cherish and long remember.  I can almost see those cowboys on their horses riding off into the sunset...

...on the road in South Dakota,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

Friday, July 5, 2013

Special Treasures...

I, for one, am glad that there are people in this world that care enough to preserve “special treasures”.  Maybe it’s just “nostalgia”, or maybe it’s “history”, or I guess you could put any number of different tags on it, but the bottom line is that there are just some things worth saving, I think (and obviously, so do others).

We were fortunate to spend some time with a couple of them...

Just outside of Rapid City is a wonderful historical church called Chapel in the Hills.  It is an exact replica of a stave church in Norway called the Borgund Stavkirke built about 1150.  It was originally built as the home for the “Lutheran Vespers” radio program and completed in 1969.  The radio program moved to their national offices in Minneapolis in 1975 and ultimately became a non-profit corporation using monies from donations, wedding fees and sales from the gift shop.

The chapel is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and probably you too!  The early church builders in Norway were the same ones who built the Viking ships, so many of the details were the same.  For instance, carvings around the door frames are of snakes and dragons representing the battle between good and evil.  The Vikings being pagans, considered dragons to be good luck which is why dragons adorned the prow of their ships.  You will also see dragon heads adorn the Chapel.  (The fact that crosses outnumber the dragon heads demonstrated their confidence in their new conversion to Christianity.)

The timber for their staves went through a special hardening process of two years where they were left standing, but had all their bark and branches removed.  The Chapel has 16,000 hand-cut (with a saw!) shingles on it.  Standing inside the church, the ceiling is constructed like a Viking ship turned upside down.  Pretty cool looking.

The side door is known as the women’s door (front door being the men’s door, of course!).  The door portal around this door is also a pagan sculpture.  The top of it has carved lions and the bottom has heads of bear or wolves.  The door locks on the doors are also interesting (and cool iron work).  The large ring on the front door served a dual purpose.  First it was a door knocker, but it was also known as a Sanctuary Ring.  At the time the Borgund church was built, outlaws could be killed by anyone but if the outlaws could get to the church and grip the ring, no one could touch them.  Folklore says many outlaws starved to death holding onto the ring!

In addition to this beautiful little Chapel they had a small gift shop that has a sod rooftop, Norwegian museum and short prayer walk along a hillside with a few statues.  It was a lovely place to visit and quite enlightening as well.  I’m glad we found it.

The other special treasure is a vintage steam engine train.  Now if you know Jack and I at all, you know we love trains, so whenever we get the chance to ride an “old one”, we take it!  This scenic one is called the 1880 Train and it runs from Hill City to Keystone.  It’s about a 2 hour, 20 mile round trip that winds through the Black Hills National Forest

We rode the #110 which is a 2-6-6-2T (low speed locomotives commonly used on logging railroads)  which is an articulated Mallet that was built by The Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1928 for the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company of Vail, WA and was retired in 1968.  It is the only 2-6-6-2T Mallet in service in the world. During the late 1940s, diesel engines became more common than steam.  After years of declining use a public relations man with railroad experience, William Heckman, decided to start a railroad where steam was actually operated, and was not just relegated to static display. 

The first official train began operation in August, 1957.  The route had been nicknamed "the 1880 TRAIN," as it was likened by Heckman to riding a train in the 1880s. While not quite historically accurate (Heckman was never a rigorous advocate of historic accuracy), the dating of the operation stuck, and if nothing else, captured an illusion of the railroad history.

As for us, our train traversed around one bend then another and we saw such sights as the Good Luck Tungsten Mine, Harney Peak (elev 7242) with it’s rock fire lookout tower outline on the very top, Indian Cliffs, old abandoned houses and pretty new houses, even a deer dashing through the tall grass. The ride was smooth and the  whistle blew often.  Big puffs of steam shown in the blue sky and I could see the beauty of that big engine ‘round each bend from my seat way back in one of the beautifully restored cars. 

What a lovely trip it was...scenic, relaxing and yes, reminiscent of another time.

...kicking back in Rapid City South Dakota,  Marie

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at: