Calgary Zoo

While camping with our daughter and her family at Bottrel, Alberta we were less than an hour away from the Calgary Zoo so we made a day trip into the city to spend a few hours there. I’ve loved visiting the zoo ever since my days as a University of Calgary student in the early 1970s. In those days it was a great place to take a relaxing break from my studies. Now it’s fun to share it with my grandchildren!

One of the city’s favourite family destinations, the Calgary Zoo is home to almost 1000 animals from 119 unique species. One of only five zoos in Canada accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, its mission is to become Canada’s leader in wildlife conservation. I love the fact that the zoo is committed to high quality care, housing only those animals that they can best care for and being intentional about providing habitats that are well suited to each species.  The Calgary Zoo is also an urban forest boasting more than 7000 trees and numerous smaller shrubs and flower beds that add to its beauty.

The zoo is very spacious requiring lots of walking, but we bought Melaina and the kids annual passes for Christmas this year, so they’re able to visit often and we didn’t feel compelled to try to see everything on our recent visit. Before we left the campground, I asked the children which animals they most wanted to see. The penguins, said one. The tiger, said another, but for me this visit was all about the giant pandas!

The panda has been my favourite animal for as long as I can remember, probably going back as far as the big black and white stuffed teddy bear that I loved as a very wee child. In 2012, I was delighted to hear that a pair of giant pandas were coming to Canada on a ten year loan from the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Szechuan, China! Da Mao and Er Shun would spend their first five years in the Toronto Zoo and then come to Calgary for the second half of their stay. Simon wasn’t even born yet, but I determined then that I would be taking my Calgary grandchildren to see them!

Five-year-old female, Er Shun, and four-year-old male, Da Mao, arrived in Toronto on March 25, 2013. Canadians across the land were delighted when Er Shun gave birth to two cubs, Jia Panpan and Jia Yueyue, on Canadian soil in late 2015! All four were moved to Calgary earlier this year.

When we arrived at the zoo, we stopped first at the Penguin Plunge. Agile in the water and entertaining on land, all four varieties are delightful to watch. Here, the little fellows basking in the sun are Humboldt penguins and most of the larger ones shown inside their temperature controlled habitat are King penguins. If you look very closely, there’s also a Rockhopper penguin in the centre of the second photo. He can be distinguished by the yellow crests on both sides of his head.

On our way to the Panda Passage, we stopped to watch the flamingoes. I love their beautiful colouring. Though these two look rather elegant, a group of their mates were having quite a squawking match.

Then came the moment I’d waited over five years for! After my hand to paw experience with a giant panda at the Dalian Forest Zoo when we were living in China, I was afraid I might be disappointed, but that was not to be the case and we didn’t even have to wait in line! Da Mao, in his separate enclosure, was rolling around playfully.

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Next door, Er Shun was resting right in front of the plexiglass window. If it hadn’t been there, we could have reached out and touched her.

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Though his sister was hiding and we didn’t see her, Jia Panpan entertained us by playfully tearing up a large sheet of cardboard.

Outside the panda enclosure Drew, Simon, and I had our photo taken with this giant pretender!

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After lunch at the on-site Kitamba Café we continued on to see many more of the animals. The baby Bactrian camel, with his two humps just beginning to form, was quite hilarious looking.

IMG_6080 The Amur tiger didn’t disappoint, coming right up to the fence in front of us.

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Though I didn’t take pictures of every animal we saw, I had to photograph one of the zebras, symbol of my neuroendocrine cancer.

IMG_6088IMG_6084Perhaps the most fun of the entire day was watching and listening to four year old Simon as he watched the antics of the comical little meerkats following their keeper around their enclosure and getting underfoot as he prepared to bring in their food! Simon laughed and laughed! Unfortunately, neither he nor most of the meerkats would stay still long enough for a photo, but this one little character decided to chill while his buddies scurried around. Perhaps he was posing for me!

 

Devon to Edmonton by kayak

On July 16, 2008 we climbed Mt Fuji, Japan’s most famous peak. Yesterday, exactly ten years later to the day, we kayaked the North Saskatchewan River from Devon, Alberta to Edmonton, which turned out to be a much easier challenge. Much easier, in fact, than we had expected it to be.

According to the Edmonton Canoe website which offers all day excursions, the 33.6 km paddle would take “five to six leisurely hours.” Maybe in canoe. Maybe if you just floated and didn’t paddle. Maybe, but not in our kayak!

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At exactly 10:00 AM, with the help of our daughter-in-law who dropped us off and delivered the vehicle to our end point, we launched the kayak at Devon’s Voyageur Park and headed down river. We usually paddle quite vigorously, but expecting this to be a longer trip than any we’d done before, we reminded ourselves to set a leisurely pace. After all, the river would do some of the work for us. In fact, even if we stopped paddling altogether, we’d eventually reach our destination!

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The day was perfect, hot and sunny with a gentle breeze to keep us comfortable. We aren’t white water kayakers. This stretch of the North Saskatchewan flows steadily, but there are no rapids to contend with. Though there was the occasional small eddy, for the most part the water was very calm. With few other boaters on the river, it was very peaceful and we spotted a couple of deer as well as a bald eagle, though not close enough to get pictures.

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An hour after setting off, we broke for a snack and drifted by the Blackhawk Golf Club on our left. Forty minutes later, we passed the Windermere Golf and Country Club on our right and one of the golfers hailed us with a hearty “Ahoy!” We’d been told that this course was located at approximately our half way point. Already? How could that be?

Sure enough, we’d been paddling less than two hours when the Anthony Henday bridge came into view and it was exactly noon when we passed under it! We hadn’t even stopped for lunch yet and we were already entering Edmonton!

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We found a spot along the riverbank of Terwillegar Park where we could pull ashore for lunch and a rest before finishing our journey.

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When we spotted two replica York boats at anchor we knew that we were passing Fort Edmonton. Imagine taking one of those all the way to Hudson Bay with a heavy load of furs!

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Around the next bend we saw the Whitemud bridge and knew that our destination, the Sir Wilfred Laurier Park boat launch, was just beyond it. We pulled the kayak out of the water at 2:00 PM. The anticipated 5 or 6 hour trip took us only 4. Considering the fact that we spent 45 minutes on shore over lunch, it wasn’t any longer and was actually an easier paddle than last week’s jaunt on the Battle River!

I’m sure that we’ll never climb Mt Fuji again, but I definitely want to do another trip on the North Saskatchewan! I’d like the next one to be longer though.

#13 Haunted Lakes

Sometimes we travel long distances to see new sights when there are hidden gems right on our own doorsteps. Though they’re only about an hour and a half from home, I’d never heard of Haunted Lakes until I started looking for new places to golf and kayak.

According to legend, the natives of the plains had been in the habit of pitching their teepees on the eastern shore of the larger of the two small lakes. Once, in midwinter, seven braves camped there overnight and when they woke the next morning, they spotted the head and antlers of a magnificent buck that was caught in the ice on the other side of the lake. They hastened across the ice to claim their prize, but as soon as they started to chop the ice around the antlers, the mighty beast, still very much alive, broke free and smashing a passageway before him, swam straight to shore and disappeared into the woods. All seven braves were drowned and it is claimed that their spirits still haunt the lake. Supposedly, every winter when the lake is frozen over, a huge fissure appears along the exact path that the deer traveled to shore.

Not being even slightly superstitious, I thought it was pretty funny when I phoned ahead to reserve a camp spot and was told that we would be in site #13! It was actually the perfect spot for us as we were able to launch the kayak directly from our campsite.

I absolutely loved the picturesque Haunted Lakes golf course!

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Never before have I had to tee off with a freight train thundering overhead!

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After playing 18 holes our first day there, we kayaked the perimeter of the lake in the evening. Though it was bigger than it appeared from the campsite, it took just a little over an hour. Later, as we sat outside the trailer doing our devotions and enjoying the evening air, Richard glanced up and noticed what looked to him like the hand of God hovering over the water!

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Our first day at Haunted Lakes was so perfect that we  hoped to repeat it the next day, but after 16 holes of golf, we were driven off the course by thunder rumbling overhead and rain beginning to fall. We spent the remainder of the day hunkered down in the trailer listening to the rain on the roof and watching the wind churn up the lake. Considering how dry it’s been here in central Alberta, we weren’t terribly disappointed, but I look forward to returning again some day and hopefully enjoying more sunshine!

IMG_20180712_133842499_HDRSince this is supposed to be Fashion Friday, here’s a picture of me golfing on another course on our little trip. This is a typical golfing outfit for me. As long as the weather allows, I’ll be found on the course wearing shorts or a skort, a sleeveless golf shirt, a ball cap, and golf sandals. And yes, that’s a knee brace. According to one of my doctors, my knees are older than the rest of me! That’s a nice way of saying that they’re arthritic. I bought the brace mainly for hiking, but since 18 holes of golf (even with a cart) was beginning to cause discomfort, I decided to try it for golfing too and found it very comfortable.

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Strong arms at the ready?

I lift weights every winter to keep in shape, but this past winter I had a more specific goal to spur me on. I wanted to be able to paddle our kayak longer than I could last summer without feeling like my arms were going to fall off! In particular, I wanted to be able to do a five or six hour trip on the North Saskatchewan River this summer. I started lifting earlier in the fall than I usually do and I continued later into the spring. By the time I quit, just before my May 23 cancer treatment, I was lifting more than I had for several years!

No, we haven’t done that kayak trip yet, but over the past three days, I’ve tested out those arms and shoulders and I think I can do it! On Wednesday we played 18 holes of golf in our local seniors tournament. That’s not a big deal, but then on Thursday we paddled the kayak for more than three hours. Last year that would have been more than I could handle and I must admit that by the time we finished, my arms were sore. I went to bed that night wondering if I really could handle the long river trip, but when I woke up the soreness was gone and I golfed another 18 holes!

Thursday’s excursion took us back to the Battle River, a tributary of the North Saskatchewan  that meanders through central Alberta and western Saskatchewan. Starting at Big Knife Provincial Park, we paddled upstream for an hour an a half. The river moves slowly, so paddling against the flow isn’t as challenging as it might sound.

Battle River

Other than waterfowl, we didn’t see any wildlife, but we were both reminded of Psalm 50:10 when we saw the cows grazing on the grassy hills overlooking parts of the river. “Every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.”

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Can you see the curious bovine faces peeking at us in this one?

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Holding the camera still enough in a moving kayak to get crisp photos with the zoom lens is virtually impossible, but I did manage to get this one of a very protective Mama duck and her offspring.

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We really weren’t very close, but she squawked and flapped about in quite a frenzy trying to warn us away from her lone duckling. I’m sure her poor heart was beating faster than any duck’s is meant to and I wished I could reassure her that we were no threat. As if scaring her once wasn’t enough, we met her again in exactly the same spot on our trip back down the river. This time Junior was hidden somewhere in the reeds, but once again she did her best to scare us away.

In spite of the fact that the Battle moves slowly, the trip downstream should have been a bit quicker, but we were bucking a stiff wind much of the way and it took a little longer than we expected. We were glad when the bright yellow buoy marking the location of the Big Knife boat launch came into view!

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There will be more kayaking and more golf before we tackle the North Saskatchewan, but campgrounds with decent wifi are few and far between, so it might be a little while before I can post again. Even this one took hours to put together!

 

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.

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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