Great Alaska Adventure: Good. Friends.
When I woke at 6 a.m. to prepare to leave the ranch and start another day on the road, Linda was readying her tractor to start mowing. By 6:30 she was in a nearby meadow cutting hay so it would have all day to dry before starting to rake it. That’s what it’s like making your living off the land. I decided a long time ago I couldn’t keep up with her, either in the fields or in a bar, but I sure do admire her work ethic and her stamina. She stopped mowing long enough to come to the bunkhouse and say sad goodbyes as we climbed aboard our steel ponies and headed up the boulder strewn driveway for a six-mile, twenty-minute ride to the asphalt road to Laramie and the Interstate. We’ll miss her but know we’ll be back. Being with Linda at the ranch is always one of the high points of our travels.
We’ve not done much Interstate driving on this trip, but today’s ride was about 375 miles on the boring asphalt ribbon across Nebraska to Kearney where we had a chance to see our best friends from our days in Tullahoma, Tennessee.
Mike and Diane Mawby, like Linda, are hard-working, salt-of-the-earth folks. (It seems like all of our friends work harder than we do or did before retirement.) They treated us to an absolutely delicious rib and salmon barbeque and an evening of recollecting, catching up and just enjoying their delightful company in their beautifully restored early 20th century home. In Tennessee we watched their two beautiful (like their mother) little girls grow up and now they are grown, one married and one getting married in September.
We also got to tell them about our family news (which I’m about to announce here on the blog). Marilyn and I will become grandparents for the sixth time as Hilary and Peter add to their family in February. Don’t know what sex yet, but it will be smart and cute, given the gene pool the little rascal is swimming in. Can’t wait to take it for a motorcycle ride.
Tomorrow we head to Wichita to see my mother and two of my brothers. We’ll probably get a little wet along the way since rain is predicted for our route, but it will only be about a 300 mile ride and then 3 or 4 family days before starting the final leg home to Orange Park.
Great Alaska Adventure: Another Day at the Ranch
Friday. Time to check the springs to make sure water was flowing through the 10 mile watering system Linda installed a few years ago when the climate became dryer and natural water became increasingly scare in the pastures. Normally Linda would take her four-wheeler for this job, but she wanted to show Marilyn and me parts of the ranch we hadn’t seen before, so the three of us and two dogs loaded up in a Toyota 4 Runner and headed for the springs along a two-track road.
It was probably only 8-10 miles to the source of the springs, but the road was so rough the Toyota inched along at 10-15 mph to accommodate the rocks deposited by glaciers millions of years ago. If Linda could find a way to market rocks she’d have more money than Bill Gates. The three of us and two dogs bounced along the rutted track while Linda pointed out property lines, sections, water tanks and wildlife. Along the way today we saw a deer, 50-60 antelope, and the biggest rabbit I’ve ever seen in my life. That rabbit could have given a kangaroo a run for its money. I swear that rabbit’s ears came up to my waist.
As we drove further away from her house and the river, we climbed steadily up a small mountain to the spring, stopping to inspect a water holding tank and check the condition of very small reservoirs. When Linda first mentioned the reservoirs I had visions of lakes or large ponds covering thousands of square feet. Wrong. These small, dirt-dam, hand-built reservoirs that trap snow melt and the occasional rain cover a couple hundred square feet, though decades ago when there was more rain and snow and less heat they covered 3-4 times that much. Water is clearly the most precious commodity on a ranch in Wyoming. No water, no animals.
We arrived at the springs and Linda did what she needed to do to clean and treat the “spring boxes” where the springs are tapped and the crucial delivery system begins to route water to various dry pastures. All was well and we headed back to the house but took a different route so she could show us more of the ranch.
For the first two generations of this three-generation family ranch, sheep were the source of income. When Linda was growing up on the ranch, 1,200 sheep grazed these dry hills. A sheep ranch requires a variety of operations foreign to me, so Linda tried to enlighten me on what life on a sheep ranch was like. On the way back to the house from the springs, we detoured to the old “lambing camp” where for one month a year in May the family and a couple of hired hands would corral pregnant ewes and try to improve the survival rate of the lambs. The camp was primitive at best, with pens for the sheep, “jugs” where the new lambs and their mothers could get acquainted, a couple of shacks for the hired hands and a clapboard house where the family lived for a month. Linda’s memories of life at the camp are mixed: some good, some not so good. But that was the life she grew up with.
The tour done, we headed back to the house where Doug and Ean were smoking three huge chunks of beef for a ranch dinner later that evening. While the meat smoked in the smoker designed and built by then 17-year old Ean, we headed for the river for an afternoon soak in its cool waters. Linda’s 80-year old mother,, Jean, who lives in town arrived and joined us in our aquatic pursuits.
Several other friends arrived for dinner and we stuffed ourselves with smoked tri-tip and eye of round and beef heart, sliced potatoes with onions and green chilies, and a couple of salads. The dinner conversation was loud, raucous and always entertaining with stories that could only be told in Wyoming. Hunting stories. Drinking stories. Work stories. Character stories. All with only a little exaggeration and hyperbole. It was a great time. Listening to Linda explain everyday life at the ranch and the exploits of her friends is always a great time. By comparison, a 12,500 mile motorcycle ride to the wilds of Alaska seems tame.
In the evening as the party broke up, we headed back to the bunk-house, satiated by another full day on the ranch.
Great Alaska Adventure: At the Ranch
Linda’s ranch is an 8,000-acre working ranch that has been in her family for nearly 100 years. She lives there by herself, enduring the harsh winters and doing the hard work necessary to make a living from the land. Currently more than 250 head of cattle belonging to someone else graze in her leased pastures, fattening the calves on the short grasses of the Wyoming high prairie. She checks on them every few days to make sure the springs that provide scarce water are running freely and filling the watering tanks. And the cows and their calves have to be moved from time to time to a different pasture to ensure that pastures are not overgrazed, a job done with the help of four-wheelers and a couple of dogs.
But the real work on the ranch in the summer is haying. Linda has several meadows, some of which are carefully irrigated with the precious water of the Little Laramie River that flows behind her house, and several which grow with what little rain falls on these dry lands. When the snows melt in the spring and the brown land turns green, her annual work cycle begins again as she clears ditches, repairs fences and buildings, and services her various tractors, mowers, balers and wagons. The pace picks up in the summer as she begins in July to mow, rake, bale and load the rectangular, 50-pound blocks of hay. These early bales are destined for cow feed, because they come from the unirrigated meadows and have thistles, sticks and other impurities that make them unfit for horse hay. By the end of haying season in August, she hopes to have baled and stored more than 8,500 bales of hay, most of it destined for horses that provide work and pleasure in Wyoming and Colorado, though her hay has been known to go as far as drought-stricken Texas.
I had expected to work in the haying operation yesterday, but, like all ranchers and farmers, Linda is at the mercy of the weather. She needs three consecutive dry days in order to complete all the operations for baling hay and the forecast for yesterday included rain in the afternoon. Not much. Only a quarter of an inch, but even that would be enough to halt haying. She had already gathered several hundred bales the day we arrived and stored them for a buyer, but haying was on hold yesterday.
Work on the ranch doesn’t stop, though. If the cows are happy and the meadows are growing with the help of the additional and badly needed rain (she has only had 3.09 inches of rain this year), other work can always be found that needs to be done.
Today that work involved building a patio and sidewalk. Doug, a friend of Linda’s in Laramie, found himself with several pallets of cement stair risers that he had originally purchased to use on a job at a commercial building. But that job was cancelled and his unwanted 100-pound, 12″ x 41″ cement slabs would become Linda’s new patio and sidewalk. In the morning, Linda drove to town to pick up a couple of pallets of risers. (I used that opportunity to post yesterday’s blog.) In the afternoon Doug and his 18-year old hard-working son Ean came to the ranch and the four of us prepared the ground for the patio and sidewalk and laid the slabs. It only took about three hours and the predicted rain fell during our slab-laying operation, not enough to be a problem but enough to cool us off. Happy with the domestic improvements, Linda declared work for the day done. We had a couple of cold beers on the patio as a quality control check to make sure our work would hold up. So far so good, but we’ll probably have to do a repeat test tomorrow.
It wasn’t hard work, but it felt good to exercise muscles that had been getting a free ride on the motorcycle for the past 50 days. And it was satisfying to see the concrete results of our work.
After a not-so-hard-at-work day, a good ranch dinner and a couple more beers, Marilyn and I retired to the bunk house to listen to the sounds of the Wyoming night and sleep.
Great Alaska Adventure: Across Wyoming
No new roads for me. Today’s ride was the longest of the trip so far, about 420 miles. It would have been shorter if I had listened to my GPS, which wanted to route me one way, but I thought I knew better and added about 30 miles to the day. We rode through the Wyoming I remembered: mostly flat, with horizons stretching 20, 30, 40, 50 miles as mountains appeared in the distance but never seemed to come closer. The yellow-brown landscape punctuated by a dozen shades of sagebrush green becomes monotonous quickly, and I sat back on the Ultra’s big seat and enjoyed a peaceful, long ride across a very big state.
The one exception to the monotony was an exhilarating 15-mile downhill ride through the Wind River Canyon with sheer red and brown walls rising above and the rushing Wind River racing beside the road. As we travelled downhill through the canyon, we also travelled back in time as the river cut deeper and deeper into geologic layers, ending with a layer of rock more than 600 million years old. I couldn’t go as fast as I would have liked because of car traffic on the road, but I did pull ahead of Marilyn, who was doing a pretty good job of keeping up given her discomfort on roads that have drop offs of several hundred feet into a deadly gorge. But at the end of the canyon where a dam had been built to create the substantial Boysen Reservoir I pulled over and waited. She arrived at the pullout only two minutes behind me and no worse for the wear. She even managed a a smile, which may have come from the exhilaration of the ride or from the relief at being out of the canyon.
Other than occasional wind gusts that tried to suddenly redirect our direction of travel, the ride was uneventful to Laramie and the beginning of the ride to Linda’s ranch down 4.5 miles of washboard rock road then another 1.5 down the mini-boulder filled Croonberg Trail that serves as a driveway to her house. It took about 20 minutes from the time we left the asphalt until we rolled in like two noisy tumbleweeds to her front yard and an awaiting Corona with lime. And then another. And then another. And then I lost count.
We had a great evening catching up and meeting friends of hers who were there or who dropped by for an adult beverage. Conversations are never dull at Linda’s. Did you know that porcupines are born with quills? Linda, of course, had a new-born porcupine in her freezer to prove it. It was right next to the frozen prairie dog and an unidentifiable paw. But what would you expect from a woman who beat a ferocious badger to death with a stick?
At the end of the evening, as Marilyn and I shuffled off to the one-room bunkhouse in the silence that defines a ranch on the high plains, I looked into the clear, cool Wyoming skies and saw the Milky Way and a million stars. It was beautiful and peaceful and very much a part of the Wyoming I remember.
No doubt tomorrow’s average day at Linda’s will be an adventure for us.
P.S. Linda went to town Thursday morning to run some errands so I took the opportunity to post this. Don’t know when the next post will be, but no later than Sunday unless Linda mistakes me for a badger.
Great Alaska Adventure: Dinner at a (former) Brothel
In 1922, Cassie Waters opened a brothel just west of Cody, WY. A few years later business had grown and she expanded her building to include “cribs” for several working girls. By 1930 she added a restaurant and moved the girls to cabins behind the former brothel now a restaurant. In the 1940s prostitution was outlawed (or existing laws were being enforced) and the brothel closed. But the restaurant continued and tonight I had a 16 ounce medium-rare prime rib in the dining area where the cribs used to be. Cassie’s is now a landmark and popular eating/drinking/entertainment spot in tourist-driven Cody. Her original 1922 cabin is still part of the enlarged building, which features a regular Wyoming bar on one end, a bar/dance floor in the middle, and white linen covered tables in the formal dining room on the other end. The walls are covered with memorabilia and pictures from the past 100 years, including pictures of a variety of celebrities who have eaten or entertained there. The only working girls there now are the waitresses and bartender. (I asked.) You just never know where an Adventure might take you.
Getting to Cody involved a detour through Billings to Beartooth Harley-Davidson to have the oil changed on both bikes. They had me in and out in less than two hours. Good service and friendly staff throughout the store. The service writer pointed out that both bikes are about ready for new tires and brake pads, but I opted to push on and will have additional post-Alaska-trip work done when I get back to Orange Park.
While I was in the store a cute, polite young lady was walking through the place like she was much at home there. I asked her if she was the boss. She said, “No. But daddy is.” I met her dad, owner Barry Usher, while I was waiting for Marilyn’s bike to be washed and brought around. Nice guy. We talked about bikes, traveling, various local roads, and the horrible condition of the Alaska Highway. I thanked him for the service and complimented him on running a good store, noting that I had a couple of friends who had rented bikes there and also had a good experience.
We left Billings and headed for Cody. My freshly oiled bike desperately wanted to take the long way to Cody via the incredible Beartooth Highway and into Yellowstone National Park (OK, it was me that wanted to take the long way), but I knew it was not a road Marilyn would enjoy, so I opted for a shorter, gentler route. There will be other rides west and I’ll get to test my riding skills on the Beartooth Highway another time. It’s important not to overdo it on a single trip, which is why I didn’t have pie today.
Crossing into Wyoming always brings back memories of the years we lived here (1986-1990) and the landscape doesn’t change much. It’s much drier here than where we’ve been for the past month, but that’s typical for Wyoming. The prairie grasses are pretty well dried up and yellowed now, and the sagebrush dominates most of the flat land. But, as I recalled from my years here and the many miles I travelled around the state on business, the mountains are almost always visible. Sometimes with awesome views like the Tetons near Jackson Hole but more often a little more muted like the Beartooth Range to our west as we crossed the state line today and the Laramie Range where we’re headed tomorrow.
Cody is much like I remembered it. A “western/cowboy” tourist town with some great original buildings, like the Irma Hotel, and a world-class museum in the Buffalo Bill Museum. We didn’t go there this time. When we lived here before, a friend was the curator and he took us on a behind-the-scenes tour of one of the greatest gun collections around, as well as a great collection of Frederic Remington paintings and sculptures. Here’s another free travel tip: If you’re in the area visiting Yellowstone National Park, take an extra day to see the Buffalo Bill Museum. You’ll be impressed.
Tomorrow we ride from the northern end of Wyoming to the southern end, about 380 miles and one of the longest days of our two-month adventure. But there are few towns and the roads are generally unpopulated except for fence-jumping pronghorn antelope and mule deer, so we should make pretty good time. But that will take us to our friend Linda’s ranch, which has neither cell service nor Internet. I’m going to keep writing and will post if we go to Laramie, but there may be a 3-4 day hiatus in Great Alaska Adventure blog postings. I suspect three days on Linda’s ranch will provided plenty of fodder for posts. Be back in a few days.
Great Alaska Adventure: A connection to Lewis and Clark
I’m sitting tonight in Bozeman, MT, 330 miles closer to Orange Park than I was this morning and more than 10,000 miles into the Great Alaska Adventure. Marilyn and I toasted the 10,000 mile mark with a couple margaritas at a local Mexican restaurant before once again eating way too much.
Today’s ride took us through Montana ranching country, but included a nice stretch along a very small Missouri River as we, in a general way, retraced Lewis and Clark’s explorations in the first decade of the 19th century. A detour that specifically warned motorcyclists to seek another route added about 40 miles to our trip today only two hours after we started. While I doubt that Montana road construction could have been any worse than many psuedo-roads we encountered in Canada and Alaska, I decided not to take a chance and headed across the flat Montana Plains were we spent more than half the traveling day.
Part of the time we were on Interstate 15, beginning at Great Falls, we travelled south along a north flowing Missouri River, including one very nice stretch through a canyon carved by the river that gave the road more character than most Interstate slabs have. Then, at Helena, we left I-15 and rode southeast on US 287, also paralleling the river for nearly 50 miles to its origin at Three Forks, just south of Interstate-90 where three different rivers converge to form the Missouri. Mapping the river and attempting to locate its source were all part of Lewis and Clark’s expedition from 1804-1806 as they sought in vain for a water route that would connect the Pacific to the Mississippi River. Having grown up in Kansas and having seen a very wide and powerful Missouri River in Missouri, seeing the narrow end of it as a blue ribbon on the Montana plains was interesting. Today’s temperature reached into the 90s and the rafters we saw floating the river had a much cooler ride than those of us on the asphalt. I was remiss in not taking any pictures along the route, though I thought about it as we whizzed by several convenient pull-outs.
I wish I had done a little more research on this section of the trip. It was added as a change when the Washington-Oregon-California section was taken out. Had I realized how close I would be to an important historical experience, I would have made it a point to spend some time at some of the historical sites operated by the Montana parks system.
I was a little surprised to see Bozeman surrounded by mountains, though they are not nearly the size we saw yesterday and in previous day’s rides. Still, there are a couple large enough to still have a smattering of snow in the crevices at the peaks. Most of the mountains near here are of the size seen in the attached picture.
Marilyn is still hanging in there, sore ribs and all. Three years after learning how to ride a motorcycle for the first time, she takes on a cross-continent adventure in all kinds of weather and on all kinds of roads. Pretty tough lady.
Tomorrow had called for a trip though Yellowstone, but both of us have been there and I decided it was time to change the oil in the bikes, so I’ll spend the morning at Beartooth Harley-Davidson in Billings before heading to Cody, WY, for the night.
Great Alaska Adventure: Return to the USA
The mountains that surrounded us in Canmore disappeared quickly as we rode east toward Calgary. In my rearview mirror I could see the peaks that had kept us spellbound for the past few days, but ahead of me the country was growing flatter by the mile. There were still foothills to be seen, but the rocky, snow-capped peaks were gone. In their place was rich farm and ranch land filled with bright yellow canola fields and cattle grazing on lush green prairies.
I didn’t expect today’s ride to hold anything special, other than the border crossing back to the USA. But as we were leaving Calgary, I saw a sign advertising the “Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site” and remembered that Bob and Pat Ramer, new friends in North Carolina, had recommended we stop there. So I added it to the itinerary.
As always, Parks Canada has done an outstanding job of preserving, protecting, displaying and explaining this crucial archeological site. The Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, archeologists discovered, has been used by native Americans for 6,000 years as a hunting site where hundreds of buffalo at a time would be stampeded over a cliff and provide food, clothing and tools for hundreds of members of a tribe throughout a harsh northern winter. There are other buffalo jump sites in Canada and the United States, but this one was the largest and the best preserved archeologists have ever found. Hence its designation by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
We spent about an hour and a half touring the facility, reading the displays, and learning a great deal about the people who lived there for thousands of years. We could easily have spent that much more time learning about the lives of the northern plains Blackfeet and their aboriginal predecessors and how they survived in a harsh environment. I will give the same travel tip Bob and Pat gave: If you’re near there, make it a point to go visit. And allow about 3-4 hours.
If I was operating on a schedule we would have been about two hours behind after that stop, but since we’re retired I seem to care less about schedules than I used to. Still, we didn’t cross into the United States until a little after 5 p.m. and didn’t get to our hotel in East Glacier, MT, until after 7.
The first hour after crossing the border into the US the road was familiar, since we had ridden it four years ago when we did a border to border trip and headed up the Going to the Sun Highway through Glacier National Park. But the final hour, which continued south, was new road for both of us. For me, the twisty mountain climbs and descents were a pleasant diversion from the straight roads we had been on most of the day, but for Marilyn it was another white-knuckle, butt-cheek tightening ride to be survived rather than savored.
But we made it to the cozy Pine Mountain Motel, took the advice of Terry who checked us in and headed for the (world famous) Whistlestop Restaurant. Slow-smoked barbecue was ordered for both of us, but the real treat was the tart tasting huckleberry pie for dessert. My first huckleberry. I liked it. So much so, that we’re going back to the Whistlestop in the morning for the huckleberry French toast that did, in fact, make them world famous when it was featured last year in the New York Times.
It was a good day for gastronomic and archeologic discoveries.
After dinner, we went for a short walk and stumbled on the grand Glacier Park Lodge which, as it turns out, is having its centennial celebration this year. When we walked into the lobby with 40 foot ceilings and two dozen imported California redwood trunks to support the roof, I was reminded of the Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone. Except the Glacier Park Lodge was bigger. We didn’t stay long (blogs don’t write themselves, after all), but it was another pleasant discovery on a day from which I didn’t expect much.
It’s good to be back in the United States again, mostly because I understand the money and the measuring system.
Tomorrow it’s on to Bozeman on a route that will take us through the Lewis and Clark National Forest.
Great Alaska Adventure: Lovely Lake Louise
Several years ago when I began planning the Great Alaska Adventure, my aunt, then 88-years old, raved about Banff National Park and, especially Lake Louise. She loved to travel and she traveled a lot. (She also liked to ride on the back of my motorcycle when she was 88.) And other than her beloved Texas Hill Country, I think she liked Lake Louise in British Columbia the best.
“If you’re anywhere near there, you’ve got to go to Lake Louise,” she said. Today I was near there. And I went to Lake Louise. It was incredible, as she said it would be. The lake has been a favorite destination for tourists for more than 120 years, beginning inn 1890 when the Canadian Pacific Railroad built the first small chalet to house tourists riding its trains. That small chalet has been replaced several times over the years, and a world class resort–The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise–with more than 550 guest rooms, five restaurants and an extensive list of five-star amenities now sits on the shore of the indescribable blue-green waters of the glacier-created and glacier-fed lake.
Fortunately Chateau Lake Louise sits in the middle of Banff National Park and so the lake and all its incredible mountain surroundings remain open to the public. And the public comes in huge numbers, some to enjoy the world famous lake, others to gawk at a Chateau they will never enjoy as an overnight guest. Walking along the rocky shore of Lake Louise was a lot like walking the halls of the United Nations, as a polyglot of voices echoed across the water and into the forests. Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, French, German, Persian and English are the primary languages of the lake, similar, as I recall, to the rim of the Grand Canyon. It seems foreign tourists love North America’s world-class national parks as much as our own nationals do.
Like the thousands of tourists there today (and everyday) we strolled through the Chalet and its ornamented grounds, gazed at the lake and let our gaze rise to two of the six glaciers that feed the lake and give it its special, hard-to-describe color. Some refer to the color as turquoise, some call it aqua, and Jaguar fans wouldn’t be far off the mark if they insisted it was teal. But it is definitely not dark blue as we often picture the color of lakes. Among other things I learned this trip is that the color of glacial lakes is caused by sediments referred to as “rock flour,” which is the extremely finely ground powder glaciers create as they relentlessly grind their way down the mountain and wear away rocks under millions of tons of ice in their fatalistic acquiesce to the law of gravity. The suspended sediments that wash into the lake absorb most of the color of the sun but reflect back the light bluish-green that provides the lake’s unique color
We spent about four hours at the lake and the chateau and I thought a lot about my aunt, who died the same day as my dad a year and a half ago at age 90. I would like to have been able to talk with her about Lake Louise and why it was so special to her. And I would like to have been able to thank her for the travel tip. And for the advice she gave about living life by staying active.
After we finished our over-sized lunch and were walking through the grand lobby of the Chateau Lake Louise the harpist (of course they had a harpist) was playing a song that has been special to me since January 4, 2003. Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major. This was a day for good memories.
The village of Banff has it’s counterparts around the skiing world: Aspen, Vail, Zermatt, Chamonix, Jackson Hole. But I wanted to stop by and check it out, so on the 50-mile return trip to Canmore, we detoured into Banff. It was everything I thought it would be and worse. Trendy shops, trendy eateries, trendy people. Art shops, sports shops, clothing shops. And endless streams of tourists preparing to head home with T-shirts with the always clever sayings which vary only with the name of the trendy skiing town in which it was purchased. I have to admit that we bought some souvenirs in Banff, but mostly because I had some Canadian money that wouldn’t spend well in Florida. I suppose Banff and its twins must have an appeal because they’re always full of people. But that’s OK. It keeps lots of people off the roads where I’m riding and enjoying the SPECTACULAR scenery.
Tonight is our last night in Canada, and it seems like the Great Alaska Adventure has reached another milestone as we begin the long coast back to Florida. The adventure isn’t over and we still have more to see and friends to visit, but Alaska is growing smaller in the rear view mirror and a shrinking Canada won’t be far behind. Tomorrow as we head to East Glacier National Park in Montana, the trip odometer will roll over 10,000 miles since we first pulled out of the driveway in Orange Park. We’ve only got a few more weeks left of the Great Alaska Adventure. Then it will be time to start planning next year’s adventure.
Great Alaska Adventure: Icefields Parkway
As I was riding through the Canadian Rockies today, and especially this afternoon on the Icefield Parkway between Jasper and Banff, I kept looking for a word that would sum up, would capture all that I saw. I ruled out “Cool,” “Amazing,” “Inspiring,” “Stunning,” “Sensational,” “Breathtaking,” “Astonishing,” “Overwhelming,” “Grand,” “Extraordinary,” “Astounding,” “Magnificent,” “Marvelous,” and about 20 others as inadequate to the task and finally settled on “Spectacular.” And I think it works. These Canadian Rockies are, indeed, a spectacle, a grand presentation on a massive scale, something that must be seen because mere words do them injustice. With that caveat about “mere words,” I’ll try to use a few to give you a bland taste of the geographic smorgasbord we feasted on today.
Today’s weather was the best we’ve had in days. No rain, but last night in McBride and in some of the mountains we rode through today, we could see that a light dusting of snow had been added to the tops and sides, whitewashing an already snowy white canvas. At 42 degrees in McBride, this morning was the coldest we’ve seen this trip, but it wasn’t really a problem and by the time we were motoring through the biggest of the mountains, it had warmed to the mid 50s. I think the lack of low cloud cover made today special because none of the mountain tops were hidden as they have been for the past 3-4 days and for much of the time we were in Alaska.
I will post a few more pictures than usual tonight to try to give a sense of what we saw, but my pitiful excuse of a camera doesn’t capture all the shades in nature’s palette and some of the shot’s I’ll use were taken while I was riding by a hand encased in a thick, clumsy-but-warm insulated/heated glove. Forgive my photographic inadequacies.
I had said in last night’s post I expected today’s ride to be among the best of this trip. It was. I’ve ridden in the US Rockies in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. And I’ve ridden in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California and Oregon. But I’m confident that none of the rides was as SPECTACULAR as today’s ride. On both sides of the road, huge mountains, often crested with snow and occasionally dripping with ageless large and small glaciers, towered over two pitifully small motorcycle tourists who, beyond the sporadic “Wow!” or “Holy Crap” were speechless and just enjoyed the view as silently as their scooters allowed.
We stopped several times for pictures and to just take in the spectacle, but we quickly realized that if we stopped at every photo opportunity we wouldn’t get back to Florida until sometime after the snow fell in the Rockies. I’ve said I’m going back to Alaska, and I said I was going on the Cassiar Highway. Today’s ride will also be part of the route I take next time, too.
We also stopped at the Icefields Discovery Centre next to the Athabasca Glacier, which is a tongue of the immense Columbia Icefields. The Centre was packed with tourists. Damn interlopers. We got a good view of the glacier after dining on truly mediocre hot dogs for lunch, but opted not to take the $54 (times 2) bus ride to and onto the glacier itself. It’s possible to walk to the Glacier but it would have taken a couple hours that we didn’t have. I think the glaciers at Kenai Fjords National Park satisfied my glacier lust, at least for this year.
In addition to the mighty mountains, we saw a black bear, a deer, flocks of birds and a herd of brown-hatted park rangers giving tickets to speed-limit defying scofflaws. We were in no danger. We were putting along trying to try to see everything and still stay between the white and yellow lines.
There are a couple of major attractions near Canmore, where we are spending the night, that we passed by today. But we have time to go back and see them tomorrow. Lake Louise has a special meaning for me though I’ve never been there and I’m going to spend several hours absorbing its charms. We will probably stroll around Banff, the Vail/Aspen of Rocky Mountain Canada. Tomorrow is a non-riding day, the last of this trip except when we’re visiting friends and family so we’ll try to make the most of it.
One more time. Everyone say it with me: SPECTACULAR.