Taking time to play tourist

In recent years, whenever we’ve come to Vancouver, it’s been a balancing act trying to spend time with my aging father, my mentally handicapped brother, and our quickly growing grandsons (as well as their parents, of course!) We’ve spent very little time enjoying this beautiful city that was my home many decades ago during my teen years. This time I decided to carve out a little bit of time to play tourist.

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Deep Cove

Deep Cove, the easternmost part of the District of North Vancouver, is one of the most scenic spots on the lower mainland. Once a sleepy little village at the end of the road, it has become a major tourist destination. While there are many things to do and see in Deep Cove, the hike to Quarry Rock, which we did with our daughter-in-law and grandsons a little over a year ago, attracts so many people that the District has recently had to introduce more stringent parking regulations and put a cap on the number of hikers allowed on the trail at any one time. Not knowing this, we headed out to Deep Cove late yesterday morning and were lucky to find what might have been the only available parking space in the area! We wandered the two block stretch of Gallant Avenue that forms the community’s commercial core checking out some of the galleries and boutiques before stopping at a tiny bistro for a fish and chips lunch.

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This morning, we crossed the Lions Gate Bridge and drove through Stanley Park on our way to English Bay Beach, Vancouver’s most densely populated beach area.

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Not far from the hustle and bustle of downtown Vancouver, we walked the long stretch of sandy beach and I breathed deeply of the salty sea air. Continuing on under the Burrard Street Bridge to the foot of Hornby Street, we caught the colourful Aquabus and crossed the narrow inlet to Granville Island.

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While a person could easily spend all day on Granville Island, one of Vancouver’s most popular tourist attractions, we only had time for a quick wander through the Public Market and a few of the shops and galleries. After enjoying an outdoor lunch overlooking the water, it was time to cross the inlet again and retrace our steps so that we could spend the afternoon visiting with Dad and get back to North Vancouver in time to watch the boys’ Little League baseball game.

Just before we got back to the car, I had to stop and take several pictures of this Pacific Great Blue Heron near the water’s edge.

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Snowshoe adventures

Until this week, the one and only time that I was ever on snowshoes was 43 years ago. While back home in Yellowknife, NWT for my Christmas vacation from university I joined a group of friends for an outing on Pontoon Lake, 34 km from town. The traditional wood-framed snowshoes that we wore that day were much more cumbersome than the sleeker, lightweight versions that are popular today.

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The outing was fun and I was glad I went, but it didn’t convince me that snowshoes were something I wanted to invest in and it wasn’t something I ever pursued doing again.

Then came this Christmas and a very special gift from our son, daughter-in-law, and two young grandsons here in Vancouver, an after dark Boxing Day chocolate fondue snowshoe tour on Mount Seymour! With 8 other people and our guide, we set off down moonlit trails through the quiet forest. The night was still, without the slightest breath of wind.  After awhile, we came to an enchanting hand-carved snow lounge in a clearing. Strings of lights twinkled in the trees above as we seated ourselves on the circular snow bench around the round snow table. Our guide provided “butt pads” to keep our rear ends from freezing as we indulged in delicious chocolate fondue featuring a variety of fresh-cut fruit. It was truly a magical experience!

This time, it didn’t take long for me to realize that snowshoeing was definitely something I’d want to do again, so yesterday Matt borrowed a couple of pairs of snowshoes for Richard and I to use and the six of us headed back up Mount Seymour where we snowshoed the First Lake Trail, an easy 2 hour loop. What a delight it was to be sharing a winter trail adventure with the same grandsons that we hiked with in Jasper in July. After a couple of days of heavy rain in the city below, the sun shining through the snow laden trees was absolutely gorgeous!

Snowshoes have now been added to our shopping list!

 

Magnificent mountain

There’s something about Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, that speaks to my soul. It’s a wondrous creation that speaks of beauty, power, and majesty.

Standing alone like a protective sentinel overlooking the Yellowhead Highway just west of the BC/Alberta border, Robson isn’t a distant and inaccessible peak like so many others are. It’s right there, in your face. You can’t miss it, unless it’s shrouded in cloud as it so very often is.

We make the trip to Vancouver at least a couple of times every year and we always hope to see the mountain. We’ve had some excellent views of it in recent years, but yesterday’s topped them all.

Mount Robson in early morning light

We left Jasper early in the morning as the sky was growing light. The highway was covered with packed snow and ice, but the sky was crystal clear. The snow covered trees and the morning light on the mountains were gorgeous.

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The closer we got to Mount Robson, the more hopeful we became that we would get a clear view of it. We’ve been disappointed before, finding it hidden in morning mist, but not this time!

Mount Robson, highest peak in the Canadian Rockies

It was absolutely breathtaking!

Hidden gems

In addition to world renowned sites like some of the ones in Jasper and Banff National Parks, Canada is home to many hidden gems usually known only to local people. We also found some of those on our recent travels.

After saying good-bye to our son and his family and leaving the mountain parks behind, we spent another week in the nearby foothills where we camped at Bottrel, Alberta with our daughter’s family. There’s actually nothing at Bottrel except a general store and a small unserviced campground, but we heard about it because our son-in-law’s mother lives nearby.

The campground is only 40 minutes from our daughter’s home in northeast Calgary. As soon as we’d set up camp on the bank of the lovely little creek that runs through the campground, we drove into the city to pick up Drew, our oldest grandson, who enjoyed two days of camping with Gram and Grandpa before the rest of the family was able to join us.

One of the things that we wanted to do during that time was introduce Drew to kayaking, but the creek was too small for that and we didn’t know of any lakes in the area. Richard spoke to the storekeeper, who also runs the campground, and learned of a small fishing lake nearby that’s known only to the locals. The highlight of our outing to Winchell Lake was the rare opportunity to watch a loon and her chick close up!

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About 20 minutes from the campground, on our way into Calgary, we had also passed signs for Big Hill Springs Provincial Park. A quick online search revealed that its 2.3 km (1.4 miles) hiking trail with an elevation gain of only 20 metres (66 feet) was popular with young families. Not intending to do the hike until the rest of the family joined us, we decided to take a drive over to the park just to check it out. Drew was so enthusiastic, however, that we ended up hiking the entire trail that day! Of course, as little boys are inclined to do, he put in a few more steps than we did!

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Later in the week, we packed a picnic lunch and returned with the rest of the family. With Drew as our guide, we did the hike again.

An interesting geological feature in this small park, which is located in a beautiful coulee, are the mounds of unusual rock called tufa (too-fah). Apparently tufa forms when water, rich in calcium and carbonate, emerges from the ground. As it comes to the surface, it releases carbon dioxide into the air and forms outcroppings of calcium carbonate rock.

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The first part of the hike was particularly pretty following a stream with lots of little waterfalls.

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I believe this was 3-year-old Simon’s first hike, but he was very keen to go!

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Later in the afternoon, back at the campground, the creek was a great place to cool off!

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Driving the Icefield Parkway

Though the Icefield Parkway, the highway between Jasper and Banff in the Canadian Rockies, is only 288 km (179 miles) long, it can easily take all day or longer to travel because there are so many amazing places to see along the way. Come along with us and I’ll show you a few of the places that we stopped on our most recent trip.

Athabasca Falls

Approximately 30 km (19 miles) south of the town of Jasper, Athabasca Falls is neither the highest or the widest waterfall in the Canadian Rockies but it is thought to be the most powerful. The falls can be safely viewed and photographed from various viewpoints on both sides of the river. The parking lot is on the north side, but be sure to cross the pedestrian bridge and view the falls from the south side as well. The morning that we were there, the sun was in just the right position to create a vibrant rainbow in the gorge below the crest of the falls when viewed from that side.

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Sunwapta Falls

Another 25 km (15.5 miles) down the Icefield Parkway is beautiful Sunwapta Falls. Sunwapta means “turbulent water” in the language of the Stoney First Nations people.

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Columbia Icefield

Another 49 km (30 miles) southward brings you to the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre at the foot of the Athabasca Glacier. Entering the Discovery Centre was like visiting West Edmonton Mall at Christmas time or a Tokyo subway station at rush hour as tourists from around the world crowded in to purchase tickets to the various tours and adventures in the area! If you visit, however, descend the staircase to the lower level where things are a lot quieter. There you will find a fascinating display of historical photos and a diorama that provides an excellent overview of the entire ice field.

Straddling the Continental Divide along the Alberta/British Columbia border as well as Jasper and Banff National Parks, the Columbia Icefield is the largest ice field in the Rocky Mountains and one of the largest non-polar ice fields in the world. Meltwater drains to three oceans – the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Arctic via three great river systems – the Saskatchewan, the Columbia, and the Athabasca.

The most accessible part of the Columbia Icefield is the Athabasca Glacier. Even though it has receded significantly in recent times, this six kilometre tongue of ice flows to within one kilometre of the Icefield Parkway. During the summer months, adventurous visitors can hike out onto the glacier with a guide or explore it from the comfort of massive all-terrain vehicles. We chose simply to walk up the trail that leads to within metres of the glacier’s edge.

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The Athabasca Glacier is only one of many tongues of ice that flow from the massive Columbia Icefield. Right next to it is the Dome Glacier, less accessible, but also impressive. Look at that amazing snow pack atop the ridge! It reminds me of icing on a cake.

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Lower Waterfowl Lake

There are numerous glacier-fed lakes along the Icefield Parkway; too many to stop and photograph each one! Lower Waterfowl Lake struck me as one of the most beautiful.

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Yes, that truly is the colour of the water! The incredible turquoise colour is the result of glaciers grinding the rock beneath them into a fine powder called rock flour. Meltwater washes this powder into the lakes where it is suspended in the water. These silty waters absorb all the colours of incoming light except the striking turquoise or vivid blue that is reflected back to our eyes.

Lake Louise

If you stopped nowhere else along the Icefield Parkway, world famous Lake Louise is an absolute must! Named for Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter, it is a truly awe-inspiring sight. With Victoria Glacier and an amphitheatre of rugged mountain peaks providing an imposing backdrop, it is a photographer’s delight.

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Two great hikes in Jasper National Park

As part of Canada’s 150th anniversary celebration, the country offered free Parks Canada passes to every Canadian and every visitor from around the world who requested one, giving each of us free admission to national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas across the country. We put our pass to good use when we spent a week camping in Jasper and Banff National Parks with our son Matt, daughter-in-law Robin, and grandsons Sam and Nate, who were enjoying their first family vacation in the Beatrice, a newly restored and much loved family heirloom.

Like most mountain parks, both Jasper and Banff abound with hiking trails of varying lengths and degrees of difficulty. While at Jasper, we took advantage of two of these.

Valley of the Five Lakes

We chose this trail on the recommendation of my aunt who has lived in Jasper since 1953 and who continued to hike into her late 80s. The 4.5 km loop, located about 9 km south of Jasper, was an excellent choice. With only 66 m elevation change it was an easy hike for all of us.

The loop takes in all five small lakes, each a different shade of blue or green, but all strikingly beautiful.

First Lake

First Lake

Second Lake

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Second Lake

Third Lake (and in my opinion, the most beautiful)

Third Lake

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Isn’t that just stunning?

Fourth Lake

Fourth Lake

Fifth Lake

Fifth Lake

While bears are known to frequent the Five Lakes area, especially in berry season, we saw only this frisky little chipmunk who was happy to pose for a photo.

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Maligne Canyon

With a depth of more than 50 metres at some points, Maligne Canyon is one of the deepest in the Canadian Rockies and certainly one of the most spectacular. For our second hike in the Jasper area, we started at the 5th bridge and hiked up the canyon trail to the teahouse at the upper end.

When I first looked at my photos, I was disappointed. Somehow they just didn’t capture the magnitude of what we’d seen. Then I realized that it was the thunderous sound of the water churning through the deep, rocky canyon that was missing! Use your imagination as you follow us up the trail and try to imagine what it sounded like as the canyon walls narrowed and the rushing water echoed below.

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Where does all that water come from? Located in the Maligne valley, Medicine Lake is formed by the Maligne River. One of the interpretive signs along the hiking trail compares Medicine Lake to a “giant leaky bathtub.” Water from the lake drains into what is thought to be the largest inaccessible cave system in the world and resurfaces downstream through springs along the canyon walls.

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The power of the moving water becomes evident when you look at the shapes of the rocky canyon walls that have been whittled away over eons.

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In some places, rocks and sand swirling around in the turbulent water wear potholes in the canyon floor or walls. Over time, as the canyon wears deeper these potholes, or bowls as we called them, are left above the water level, reminders of a previous time. You can see a pothole still being formed near the centre of this picture.

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Another interesting feature is the chockstone. Chockstones are giant boulders that have become wedged across portions of the canyon which narrows to only two metres at the top in some places. Over time, erosion slowly reduces the size of the chockstones until they eventually tumble to the canyon floor. There is a chockstone with moss and trees growing on it near the top of this photo.

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The promise of dozens of fossils preserved in the rock beneath our feet was an incentive to keep our young grandsons going as we climbed the last portion of the trail which is a bit steep. They became very good at spotting these reminders that this was once a very different looking world and enjoyed making rubbings of several of them.

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Though this hike isn’t a long one, if you go, allow yourself lots of time as there are so many interesting things to see and photos to take!

There are many trails in the canyon area and rather than retracing our steps the entire distance, we took a higher trail from the 4th bridge back to the 5th. Though we were above the canyon walls and further from the thundering water, the views were beautiful.

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The Hazeltons

After six weeks in the trailer, we are home! Though it was our plan from the beginning to arrive home today, I really wasn’t ready to end our gypsy wandering and I would have happily extended our travels indefinitely. Real life issues beckoned, however, and so it seemed wise to follow through on our original plan. As much as I loved being away from home, I did miss having access to wifi and being able to update the blog on a regular basis. Now that I’m connected again, I’ll do my best to share the remainder of our travels with you over the next few days.

The Hazeltons, a collection of small communities, located around the confluence of the Skeena and Bulkley Rivers in northwestern British Columbia, have been home to the Gitxsan people for centuries. The Gitxsan are a matrilineal society made up of the Frog, Eagle, Wolf, and Fireweed clans. Though their territory is inland, their villages with intriguing names like Kispiox, Gitanmaax, and Hagwillget as well as Hazelton, New Hazelton, and South Hazelton, are a centre of Northwest Coast native culture and, as such, are a place that I’ve long dreamed of visiting. My love for the art and the culture of the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest began as a child growing up on the coast of British Columbia and grew as a student of anthropology during my university years.

After settling into our campsite, we drove a few miles north to Kispiox, best known for the 15 totem poles, some dating back to 1880, that stand in the village alongside the Kispiox River. On the way into the village, we stopped to look at the art work decorating the band office.

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The following morning, we took a fascinating interpretive tour of the ‘Ksan Historical Village adjacent to our campground. It consists of seven replica cedar longhouses. One of the longhouses contains a small museum and a gift shop that are open to visitors who are also free to enjoy the grounds and photograph the buildings and totem poles. Only the guided tour, available in several languages, allows entrance into the three of the longhouses that contain an abundance of artifacts. The price is nominal and was well worth it! Aside from the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, I have not seen such an extensive collection of Northwest Coast history anywhere! Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside the longhouses, so I’m not able to share that part of the experience with you.

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The small, narrow door in the last photo was designed to prevent enemies from entering in full armour.

As always, the totem poles fascinated me. Here’s a closer look at a few of them.

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We were especially fortunate to be in the area on a Wednesday. Every Wednesday evening during the summer months, a local group offers a traditional song and dance presentation in the Wolf House, one of the historical village’s longhouses. Again, for a nominal fee, I was thrilled to have the unique opportunity to see and experience this aspect of the Northwest Coast culture. I was especially delighted to see that the group included all ages; that the traditional songs and dances are being passed on to the younger generations.

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As we explored the various villages that make up the Hazeltons, we were especially impressed with how welcoming the First Nations residents were. While we were strolling around the historical section of Old Hazelton a local woman stopped to chat and told us about an easy 10 minute hike from New Hazelton to a beautiful waterfall. Had she not been willing to share with us, we would never have known about it!

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