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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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!

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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Miles Canyon

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We didn’t spend much time at Whitehorse on our recent trip to the Yukon, but there was one site we’d been to on a previous trip that I wanted to revisit. Miles Canyon, where the Yukon River has cut its way through a flow of basaltic lava, is probably the most picturesque and dramatic natural feature close to Whitehorse. The narrow channel through the canyon was a serious challenge for miners and gold seekers on their way up the Yukon River to the Klondike gold fields. Hundreds of boats loaded with precious supplies as well as several lives were lost trying to navigate this treacherous stretch of river. Though the hydroelectric dam built in 1959 to supply Whitehorse with power somewhat tamed Miles Canyon, it is still a spectacular spot.

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My main reason for wanting to revisit the canyon is the fact that since our previous visit in the early 1990s, I’ve conquered my fear of heights. This time I was able to cross the sturdy 85-foot-long suspension bridge over the gorge with confidence and I even managed to walk the narrow trail along the canyon’s rim. Of course, it probably helped that I didn’t have three young children in tow this time and didn’t have to worry about them plunging over the edge into the tumultuous water 50 feet below!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Hike to Quarry Rock

One of the big advantages of living in (or visiting) North Vancouver is the fact that you’re only minutes away from a wide array of beautiful backcountry hiking trails. Our grandsons didn’t have school today due to a teacher professional development day and though it poured rain overnight this morning’s weather looked suitable for an outdoor adventure.

Quarry Rock is a large rocky outcrop overlooking Indian Arm at scenic Deep Cove. Clouds hung low over the cove as we set off on our hike.

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The 3.8 km round trip trail, which is also part of the easternmost section of the much longer Baden Powell Trail, begins with a long stair climb that quickly informed me that after a long winter, during which the treadmill in our basement mostly gathered dust, my legs and my cardiac conditioning are somewhat out of shape. It didn’t help that in my eagerness to get out and onto the trail, I’d forgotten to have my morning cup of tea! Fortunately, the fresh air, the enthusiasm of our young hiking partners, and the wonderful smell of the damp forest were invigorating.

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The overall elevation gain on this trail is approximately 100 metres, but there are lots of ups and downs along the way. In addition to many flights of wooden steps, boardwalks and small bridges, much of the trail is a maze of tree roots.

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The terrain is typical of North Shore hikes with the trail wending it’s way through densely wooded areas of Douglas fir and hemlock. Morning mist hung in the trees as we set off, but before long the sun began to peek through and we soon started removing layers of clothing.

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Along the trail, many small creeks filled with spring runoff from the mountains tumble down the hillside in their rush to reach the ocean.

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Eventually the trail climbed up onto solid rock and we walked out onto the bluff where the views were spectacular.

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This trail is clearly a popular one. Even on a cool Monday morning, there were lots of hikers out and when we reached Quarry Rock, it was so crowded with people that it was difficult to get good unobstructed photos!

 

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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