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!


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.


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





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



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



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.





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.




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.



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.


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.



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.






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


Second Lake

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

Third Lake



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.


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.



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.




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.




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.


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.


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.



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.





Paddling the Battle

Our new kayak’s maiden voyage on Sedgewick Lake yesterday afternoon just whetted our appetite for a longer paddle today. The Battle River, a tributary of the North Saskatchewan, meanders its way across central Alberta and western Saskatchewan. We headed for Burma Park, a small campground on the river about a 40 minute drive from here. The park itself is located on the south side of the river where the bank is too steep and unstable to access the water, but we found a perfect spot just across the river on the north side.


We spent an hour paddling upstream enjoying the beautiful sunshine and the breeze which kept the mosquitos away. The only sound was our paddles in the water and an occasional bird call. Paddling steadily against the river’s flow, I was very thankful for the weights I lifted all winter!

When we decided it was time to turn back, we lifted our paddles out of the water, leaned back and let the river carry us for ten minutes while we enjoyed a snack and simply enjoyed the solitude. After that it was only fifteen minutes of easy paddling before the vehicle came into sight again.


Though much of our kayaking will probably be done further from home when we’re on holiday, I also foresee many more hours paddling the Battle in our future.

Dinosaur fun!

It’s very rare that we ever have all five of our grandchildren together in one place. Three of them live in Calgary and the other two in Vancouver. Last Thursday was just such a day, however, and I was one happy Gram! We were camping at Drumheller, Alberta with our son, daughter-in-law and grandsons from the coast and our daughter’s family came out from Calgary to spend the day with us.

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The Drumheller Valley is known internationally for its rich abundance of dinosaur fossils and what can capture the imagination of children more than dinosaurs? Our day began at the world-renowned Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology where life sized skeletons abound.

My five littles are hardly any bigger than five giant dinosaur toes!


After our morning at the museum, it was time to visit the world’s largest dinosaur, an enormous statue at the downtown Visitor’s Centre.


Climbing the stairs inside and viewing the town from within the monster’s mouth 86 feet above the ground was fun, but so was clambering over its enormous feet!



Our third stop for the day was the hoodoos, natural columns of rock composed of sand and clay. Formed by thousands of years of erosion, their solid, strong capstones protect the softer, underlying bases creating their unique mushroom-like shape.


The surrounding badlands are a surreal landscape that just begs to be climbed and explored.

While some of our group climbed to the very top of the valley, the littlest one was sad to be left behind!


He was happier when we returned to the campground for some time on the playground though!


Our day ended around the campfire with hot dogs and s’mores.


It will be Christmas time before we’re all together again, but until then we’ll enjoy our memories of a great day of dinosaur fun!

Disaster! What should we do?


photo credit: Edmonton Journal


The images coming out of Fort McMurray, Alberta over the past few days have been terrifying. A city on fire and its entire population of 80 000 people evacuated!


photo credit: CBC



photo credit: CBC


We appreciate the messages of concern received this week from friends around the world who heard the word “Alberta” on the news and immediately thought of us! Fort McMurray is about 500 km north of us. Though the entire province is experiencing an unusually hot, dry spring and the risk of fire is high everywhere, we are safe!

It has been gratifying to see the outpouring of support from people across Alberta and beyond our borders for the residents of Fort McMurray. As Missions president for our church, I have been fielding questions about how we as a congregation can help. Here is Church of the Nazarene Canada West District Superintendent, Dr. Larry Dahl’s, response to similar questions:

We have had a number of inquiries regarding how people can provide support and help for the disaster in Fort McMurray.

We are suggesting to those who are interested in making a donation to send funds directly to Samaritan’s Purse, who are presently working on organizing a response. They were quite actively involved in helping with the Slave Lake fire and then with the High River flood crisis in the past.

Additionally, if they wish, they could send funds to the Salvation Army, designated to help with the relief for the area. I received the following information from Major Ron Cartmell, Divisional Commander:

“The Salvation Army has been mobilized to feed 1,000 first responders south of Fort McMurray. Our portable kitchen is in place, and as I write, three other teams from Alberta and Saskatchewan are en route to help.”

I concur with Dr. Dahl and would add that the Red Cross is another organization that you might consider sending a donation to. The Canadian Government has agreed to match all donations made to the Red Cross Alberta Fires Emergency Appeal.

Cash donations, even small ones, are by far the most effective way to help those recovering from any disaster of this nature, but what should a person not do?

No one wants to see the collective community’s goodwill offerings end up in the landfill, but sadly, in situations like this one, when people start filling trucks and trailers with used goods and hauling them into the affected area, that’s often exactly what ends up happening. It happened following the 2011 Slave Lake fire, it happened following the High River flood in 2013, and unfortunately, it will happen this time too.

Compassion tells us that we need to help these people get back on their feet by replacing the things they’ve lost, so we start collecting food, clothing and household items without thinking about the fact that someone has to sort, warehouse and distribute what we collect. Also, people may not realize that for heath and safety reasons a lot of what is collected can’t be distributed at all. If you do want to donate material goods during the first few weeks following this or any other crisis, the wise thing to do is to find out what specific needs have been identified by the emergency shelters and meet those needs which usually include things like disposable diapers, baby formula and toiletry items.

Many of the larger needs will come later. For example, during a wildfire, electricity to the community is lost. That means that by the time the Fort McMurray evacuees return home, if they have a home to return to, every single fridge and freezer in that city will be full of rotting food and will probably need to be replaced. We’re talking thousands of appliances. This is not a need that can be met by shipping individual donated items. It will require negotiations with manufacturers, huge buying power and major logistical coordination. Organizations like the Red Cross, in cooperation with government, are equipped to handle this kind of need, but they can only do that if they receive adequate monetary donations.

So give wisely. Instead of sending material goods, give a cash donation to Samaritan’s Purse, the Salvation Army, or the Red Cross. If you have clothing, furniture or other possessions to get rid of, hold a garage sale and donate the proceeds. Disaster victims don’t need your discards!


Fall camping

IMG_5618I’ve always wanted to go camping in the fall; always hoped for just one more outing with the trailer before winter hit. As teachers, it never happened. We were back in the classroom and up to our eyeballs in work by late August or the first week of September. Then, with retirement came several years of helping our friend, Louis, with harvest. I loved being out on the combine, but it meant that there was no time for camping in the fall.

Finally, this year it happened! We packed up the trailer last Wednesday morning and headed for Miquelon Lake Provincial Park, less than an hour and a half from home. Surrounded by the spectacular colours of the season, fall camping was everything I always thought it would be! Though we got caught in the rain while out geocaching on Wednesday afternoon, the clouds soon disappeared and for the remainder of our time the weather was glorious.

Here in Alberta, we don’t get the wide variety of fall colours that are found in eastern Canada, but everywhere I turned I was surrounded by beauty and I took dozens of pictures!

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We found 14 geocaches within the park boundaries, but the highlight of our trip was definitely Friday’s hike. We left the trailhead late in the morning intending to hike 7.3 kilometres, but we’d completed all but 1.5 km of that by the time we stopped to eat lunch! Digging out our trail map, we quickly decided to add what we had originally thought might be a separate hike sometime in the future. In the end, we covered 13.2 km! Considering the fact that just a few months ago, I couldn’t walk more than two km without playing out, I was pretty stoked!

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Those of you who’ve been reading my blog for very long know how much we enjoy exploring old abandoned houses that give us glimpses into life in days gone by. Imagine our surprise and delight when Richard spotted an old brick chimney rising out of the bush a short distance from the trail. Of course, we had to take a closer look! Although the girl manning the park office couldn’t give us any information about the house or its original inhabitants, it was easy to see that the two storey structure and its smaller outbuilding must have been there long before the park was established in 1958.




Though we didn’t see any of the larger wildlife, including deer, moose and elk, that live within the park, there was clear evidence of their presence along the trails. Plenty of fresh hoof prints and droppings told us they weren’t far off. What we did see were squirrels, muskrat, tiny frogs, a surprising number of garter snakes and an abundance of water fowl. As Miquelon Lake and the numerous wetland areas within the park are located within two of North America’s migratory flyways, flocks of migrating geese honked their way overhead and settled on the lake each evening.

Miquelon Lake is also part of the Beaver Hills Dark Sky Preserve, an an area that has been established to reduce the glare of artificial light and increase the visibility of the night sky. Each evening, as we sat around the fire in the crisp evening air, darkness settled around us and stars filled the sky. What could be more relaxing?

Dare I hope for one more camping trip before winter arrives?