Stewart, Hyder and a river of ice!

As we travelled south on northwestern BC’s Cassiar Highway, a 65 km (40 mile) side trip took us into the tiny town of Stewart located at the head of the Portland Canal, a narrow salt water fjord approximately 145 km (90 miles) long. The fjord, the fourth longest in the world, forms a natural boundary between Canada and Alaska. Stewart boasts that its deep harbour is Canada’s northernmost ice-free port.

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I had to visit this picturesque spot if for no other reason than I was born a Stewart!

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Most tourists come for other reasons though including the Salmon Glacier, the fifth largest glacier in Canada. A self-guided auto tour brochure, available at the Stewart visitor information centre, explains the history and natural surroundings of the area as you drive the 37 km (22.9 miles) to the Summit Viewpoint overlooking the glacier.

Although the Salmon Glacier is located in Canada, accessing it requires crossing the border into Alaska at Hyder, just 3 km (2 miles) from Stewart. If you go, make sure you have your passport with you so you can re-enter Canada after your drive!

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Once a booming mining town, Hyder, with its population of “100 happy Americans” is almost a ghost town. Though there are still a post office, 2 motels and couple of stores, most of its main street is boarded up. This building, a gorgeous reminder of days gone by, was definitely my favourite.

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About 6 km (3.7 miles) after leaving Hyder, we stopped at the Fish Creek Wildlife Viewing Area hoping we might be lucky enough to see some of the bears that come to feed at the creek during the annual salmon run from July to September. Though salmon had been spotted further downstream, they hadn’t made it that far yet and there were no bears to be seen. Further up the road, however, we did see several of these little creatures.

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We weren’t sure what they were until we checked with a wildlife officer at the viewing site on our way back down and learned that they are hoary marmots. They seemed completely oblivious to or unconcerned about human traffic. In fact, at one point, three of them engaged in a playful wrestling match in the middle of the road while we and other motorists waited for them to tire and move on! I was able to walk right up to one of them to take pictures!

The drive to the glacier, some 4300 feet (1300 metres) above sea level, was almost like climbing a mountain by car! The narrow, bumpy road, unpaved after the Wildlife Viewing Area, clung to the mountainside as we climbed higher and higher. Soon we were passing expanses of snow!

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A little further along, the toe or snout of the glacier came into view.

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Continuing onward and upward, we enjoyed many views of the enormous river of ice.

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I was still awe struck when we reached the Summit Viewpoint and realized that there was so much more to the glacier than we had been able to see before that.

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It was chilly, but we ate our lunch overlooking the vast expanse of ice.

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Turning around and noticing the bluff overlooking the parking lot, I realized that it begged to be climbed, so off we went!

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I’m so glad we did. It was an easy scramble and the sights that greeted us were amazing!

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I think the views of the glacier were even better from the top of the bluff. Looking down on the parking lot and our vehicle on the far left (with our bright red kayak on top) helped put the vastness of the glacier into perspective.

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Seven hours in Vegas

When you travel with Air Miles you don’t always have the choice of the shortest or most direct flights and sometimes that’s okay. When we flew to Mexico on February 9th, we left Calgary at 10:25 AM and after a two hour layover in Houston, arrived in Mexico City at 7:50 PM local time. Yesterday’s return trip was a lot longer, but also much more fun.

It was 5:15 AM when the alarm clock rang in our Mexico City hotel room. Forty-five minutes later we were in a taxi on our way to the airport. After being in the air for four hours and crossing two time zones, we touched down in Las Vegas at noon. Our connecting flight didn’t leave until 7:20 PM. We had seven hours to kill in Vegas!

After claiming our suitcase and passing through US Immigration and Customs in record time, we rechecked the luggage and caught a cab. I had the driver drop us at the Excalibur, close to one end of the famous Las Vegas Strip, where I stayed in November 2014 with the Rav4.

This was Richard’s first taste of Vegas. We started by dropping into the Excalibur’s lobby casino to try out a few of the penny machines. I soon turned my dollar into $2.50, but Richard lost his and it was time to head out and explore Sin City, USA! It was much chillier than my previous visit, but that didn’t seem to put a dent in the happy crowds strolling up and down the Strip enjoying its shops, restaurants and street performers. We joined them, stopping at Tom’s Urban for a late lunch.

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Continuing our walk, we arrived at the Bellagio just in time to watch the famed fountain show and then went inside to see the spectacular Chinese New Year display in the opulent hotel’s conservatory.

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Crossing the Strip, we made our way back to the Excalibur where we spent another half hour on the machines before catching a cab back to the airport. Seven hours in Vegas was definitely the best layover we’ve had in all our travels!

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Rav4 in the Mohave Desert

When I agreed to go to Las Vegas with three of my closest girlfriends, I knew that I would want to get away from the glitz and glamour for a little while and see the Mohave Desert but would the others agree? I know that they would do almost anything for me but would they enjoy it?

See for yourself. Do they look like they’re having fun?

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At first, we considered a tour. In fact, we almost booked a 4 hour Pink Jeep tour. After all, one of the girls loves all things pink and frou frou. Look carefully and you’ll see her pink iPhone in the photo! What could be better than a pink Jeep?

Practicality led the way, however, and we decided that renting a vehicle would be a better option. We wanted a small SUV so we reserved a Toyota Rav4. Sadly, when we went to pick it up early Tuesday morning, that model was unavailable and we were offered an “upgrade” to a minivan. A minivan… are you kidding? Our kids are grown and we’re past our Minivan Mom days! We wanted something sporty! In fact, we’d even considered renting a convertible but again, our practical sides and our purse strings said otherwise. A minivan was what was available though, so minivan it was. No problem, we’re flexible. We simply decided that we were the Rav4 and a group nickname was born!

Renting was definitely the right choice as it allowed us to go at our own pace, spending as much time as we wanted wherever we wanted. The half hour drive out to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area was an easy one. Our first stop was the Visitor Center where we were given a map, some great advice about where to stop and hike, and some valuable tips such as “Watch where you put your hands and feet. Rattlesnakes, scorpions or venomous spiders may be sheltered behind boulders or under rocks and shrubs.” Fortunately, though we saw lots of holes where they may have been hiding, we didn’t see any of those creatures!

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We were a bit disappointed that we didn’t see any of these ones either!

The 13 mile one-way scenic drive gave us ample opportunity to see the area from the vehicle but we were there to hike and explore. Our first stop was the Calico Hills where we were allowed to climb and clamber wherever we wanted. The sights were spectacular and the red rock against the brilliant blue sky was absolutely stunning.

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It was November 11, Remembrance Day or Veteran’s Day as it is known in the US, so we stopped and built a small inukshuk, a Canadian symbol adopted from the Inuit people of our far northern region, and pinned a poppy to his lapel.

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Throughout the Commonwealth, the poppy is a familiar Remembrance Day symbol and people on the streets of Las Vegas recognized us as Canadians because we were wearing them.

On our second hike, in the Willow Springs area, we saw the remnants of an ancient agave roasting pit as well as one of the “Hands Across Time” pictographs waving to us from the canyon wall, reminders of those who made their home in the desert centuries ago.

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There was abundant and interesting plant life in the area, much of it looking like something out of a a Dr. Seuss storybook!

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As much as I enjoyed Las Vegas itself, it was when we drove away from Red Rock Canyon that I truly felt like I’d had a holiday!

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Las Vegas!

Las Vegas was never on my list of places I most wanted to visit but when three of my closest friends suggested last July that we replace our annual Christmas shopping trip with a trip to Vegas in November, I immediately found myself saying yes! It wasn’t the destination that captured my attention but the opportunity to travel together and enjoy several days of “girlfriend time”.

When we booked the trip last summer, we had no idea how perfect the timing would be. After an unusually long autumn, we woke up to winter on Saturday morning. We drove on icy roads through snow and slush on our way to the airport, happier than ever to be leaving Alberta behind! As the temperature here at home plunged to around -20ºC, we enjoyed daytime temperatures in the +20s in Vegas!

We packed a lot of living and a lot of laughter into the next few days and proved that four Christian women can have a fabulous time in “sin city”! The laughter started Sunday morning when one friend, who shall remain nameless, discovered that she’d forgotten to pack her pants! Not all of them, fortunately. Just the ones that she intended to wear to church that morning. It continued until we arrived home and she found out that the pants had actually been in her suitcase the entire time!

We stayed at the Excalibur Hotel, a fairytale castle near the south end of the Strip.

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On Sunday afternoon, we strolled the Strip enjoying the sunshine, eating lunch on an outdoor patio and taking in the sights.

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We stopped at the Bellagio Hotel to enjoy the conservatory with its multitude of flowers and floral statues, see the world’s largest chocolate fountain and watch the outdoor fountain show. We visited a few shops along our way. Can you imagine four storeys devoted to anything and everything related to M&M candies? That’s Vegas where everything is over the top!

We took in two shows during our three day stay. We saw the Blue Man Group at the Monte Carlo and The Tournament of Kings back at our own hotel. How does one possibly describe the Blue Man Group? Hilarious! Fun! Unforgettable! Or, according to their own website, “an energetic and innovative combination of music, comedy, and multimedia theatrics.” The Tournament of Kings was a delicious dinner served medieval style with no cutlery while the audience, seated around the outside of an arena, watched the non-stop action of knights on horseback engaging in competition.

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Shows in Vegas are over early in the evening leaving patrons plenty of time to spend at the casinos. I’m not a gambler but I had lots of fun playing the penny machines and when we left for home on Wednesday, I was ahead by a whopping 55 cents! Pretty cheap entertainment!

We shopped til we dropped at Vegas’ two factory outlet malls. Even with our Canadian dollar at an unhealthy low, there were plenty of bargains to be had and one friend was heard to say, “I had money left over so I had to buy more!”

Though there are many strange things to be seen on the Strip after dark (a large hairy man in a wedding dress is probably forever etched in our memories!), we really saw the underbelly of Las Vegas on a late evening visit to Freemont Street. With a zipline overhead and live bands playing, it’s billed as a premier entertainment destination but it felt to us like a carnival gone wrong. There were many, including the scantily clad dancers atop one of the outdoor bars, who would have frozen some pretty intimate body parts if they’d been on an Alberta street but I think we were most disturbed by the two young beauties wearing huge glittery angel wings and very little else who were selling themselves to passersby. Sad.

This trip was more than just our annual Christmas shopping trip in a new location or a girlfriend getaway. It was also a celebration! When we started planning it, I was two-thirds of the way through 30 rounds of radiation. Now, with that ordeal several months behind me, we were celebrating survival and on our final evening in Vegas, my friends treated me to a very special celebration dinner.

The destination didn’t matter but the company did! I am so blessed!

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