May 31–July 1, 2011

Rockies Panorama


    From Nederland we drove north through Wyoming, then west across Montana and Idaho’s finger to Spokane, Washington, for a family visit with Hughes’s sister. Then north to the Canadian border and east on the Crowsnest Highway to Creston and Cranbrook. We drove up the Columbia River Valley to Radium Hot Springs, gateway to Kootenay NP, which we crossed to visit Banff NP. North of Banff we camped at Lake Louise, then took the Icefield Parkway to Jasper NP for four nights. We returned south on the Icefield Parkway to Lake Louise where we turned west and visited Yoho NP, Glacier NP (the Canadian Glacier NP), and Mt Revelstoke NP.

    Leaving the national parks, we drove slowly south from the town of Revelstoke to Shelter Bay to cross the Columbia River at Galena Bay and on to Nakusp, Kaslo, across the Kootenay River to see the bottle house at Boswell (a highly recommended side trip) before landing in Nelson. We completed the circumnavigation of this once-fabulous Slocan Mining Region by going north to Slocan, Silverton, New Denver, back to Nakusp to Fauquier for another ferry across the Lower Arrow Lake on our way to Kelowna.

    We visited Desert Trails friends Ron and Edna who live in Kelowna before heading south to Penticton and Osoyoos to return to the Crowsnest Highway that would take us across southern BC to Creston where we crossed the border to visit Judy’s childhood friend Vicky in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. We began our return home through Montana’s Glacier NP, south to Great Falls, Livingston, through the north entrance to Yellowstone NP and out the east side to Cody, Thermopolis, and a dash home to Nederland.

    In all we drove 4560 miles, used 263 gallons of diesel (some of it in litres), and got an average of just over 17 mpg. We camped in three driveways, one highway rest area, two Canadian national parks and 11 private campgrounds in four states and two provinces.


    We have never seen northern Colorado and Wyoming along I-25 as green as they were at the end of May. The grasslands, which are usually tan or yellow (or covered with snow) when we have passed through before, were as green as an Irish landscape, like the top of an undulating pool table. The very wet spring in Wyoming and Montana, coupled with big snow melt created both dangerous flooding and very lush grass. Lots of pronghorns mixed with very happy cows. We wished we had taken pictures along the way; people would not believe how green it really was.
    We passed through Douglas (WY), home of the fabled jackalope and River Side Park, one of the few free public campgrounds anywhere: green grass, plenty of shade trees, spotlessly clean rest rooms (including showers), situated on the banks of the North Platte River in the heart of town. We have camped there before and recommend it to anyone coming through the area.

    We stopped for the night in Buffalo, a very pretty town nestled at the foot of the snow covered Bighorn Mountains. Deer Park CG is a very comfortable and clean campground just enough on the edge of town for a quiet night’s sleep. There are easy hiking/walking paths around the property that offer a likely glimpse of deer. The rates ($32) seemed reasonable for complete hook-ups, including wi-fi and cable, plus a pool and hot tub.

Buffalo, Wyoming    In the morning, Judy needed to run and Hughes needed a place to complete a minor repair to the water intake valve of the RV. We drove a half hour to Sheridan, parked in a Kmart parking lot next to a county road perfect for a 45-minute run. We both finished about the same time.
    We drove north and entered the waterlogged valley of the Little Bighorn River, where streams and creeks were running outside their banks, and fields and pastures held great pools of standing water. In Billings, we picked up the Yellowstone River and followed this wide, verdant valley nestled like an artist’s painting against a line of snowcapped peaks: the Beartooth Range, the Absaroka Range, the Gallatin Range and the Elkhorn Mountains each provided a distinctive, jagged horizon on our left (to the south).

    Hughes thought it was time we saw Montana’s state capital. We have been in many parts of the state on several previous trips, but Helena was always out of the way. It still is, but we decided that we were not on a tight leash, so we took the detour north along US 287. It cost us at most 25 extra miles. Hughes had heard it was a scenic drive and an historic mining town dating back to the 19th century boom days. It was the home of the Last Chance Placer and, in 1888, 50 millionaires—more per capita than any city in the world! This rollicking Victorian boom town must have been something to see back then.
    Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons we were disappointed with Helena today. There was no rollicking, no booming. The scenery escaped our efforts to find it, the town we saw was conventionally strippmalled, and the only campground near the town was exorbitant, difficult to find, and run by gleefully snide owners who knew they could get away with gouging customers (and said as much). It was late in the day so we bit the bullet and paid their tariff, but we’ll never return to the Lincoln Road RV Park; Judy wrote a scathing review for other Good Sam Club members to read and heed.

    After two beautiful days of sunny weather, it rained hard that night and we headed west out of Helena on US 12 (probably this was the scenic route into town) over MacDonald Pass (6,320') where the dense clouds produced both rain and snow across Mullan Pass into Missoula. The rain picked up again along the Clark Fork and over Lookout Pass and down into Wallace, Idaho, once a rich silver mining center and now a charming (at least on the outside) tourist destination with rows of Victorian buildings lining the three blocks of its main street, including at least three incredible antique stores and other emporia to appeal to collectors of anything western, 19th century, or mining related. Wallace is also the hub of a number of mountain biking trails that stretch between western Montana, across the Bitterroots to Spokane, including the Old Milwaukee Road, the Route of the Hiawatha and the Coeur d’Alene Trails. This is a prime destination for both road bikes and mountain bikes.

    With a population of about 210,000, Spokane is Washington’s second largest city. (Surprised?). The city is large enough to contain both Gonzaga College and Whitworth College, in addition to a Carnegie Library (1904), a beautiful Looff carousel (1909), the centerpiece of Spokane’s graceful Riverside Park, plus one of the most striking county courthouses to be found anywhere: a Disneyesque castle more at home along the Loire Valley than on the shore of the Spokane River. It is also home to Auntie’s Bookstore, a destination whenever we are in town.
    We had an early dinner with Nils and Pam at the Steam Plant Grill (converted from the  original city steam plant) followed at their home with a game or two of “Heads and Feet,”  a new card game to us that may rival Shanghai Rummy in the future.

    The next day we all drove back downtown to see a mighty force of water pour over the Spokane River Falls, followed by a quick browse through Auntie’s, and a leisurely walk through Spokane’s Artfest in a city park in the Browne Addition section of the city. Perfect weather, good street food, a nice variety of good art pieces, and a friendly crowd. That evening, Pam’s two children and spouses came for dinner and catch-up conversation, mostly reminiscences of childhood times. It was a lovely visit, one we hope they will reciprocate with a trip to Colorado.


    We headed north the next morning for the Canadian border, driving along the scenic Pend Oreille (PEN-door-RAY) River through small logging towns like Usk, Tiger, and Metaline. We had passports, the dogs had papers, and we all had honest faces, so the crossing was handled with ease and dispatch. We picked up the Crowsnest Highway (locally known as “The Crow”) for the first time, drove over Kootenay Pass (5,300') and through the fertile valley of Creston (forestry and agriculture, especially cherries and, some say, marijuana!), and home of Canada’s popular of Kokanee beer. Forty miles up the road we came to Cranbrook where we stopped for the night. The Mt Baker RV Park was centrally located and close to the Rotary Club bike path that runs throughout the city of 20,000. Though the path was only occasionally marked, we managed to get from one end of town to the other.

    The next morning, we drove north and dropped Judy off on the highway about five miles from Fort Steele, a reconstructed gold rush boom town that originally was the location of an early ferry across the Kootenay River. (It was never a fort, but rather named after a popular NWMP officer, Sam Steele, and NWMP station established there in the 1880s.) As we pushed farther north up the valley of the Kootenay, through Skookumchuck, Windermere to Radium Hot Springs, the snow-capped peaks of the Rockies were a constant reminder that winter had been long and wet, just as it had been all over the west. In contrast, the towns along the Kootenay were decked out in lush green areas dominated by tourist lodgings and galleries that appeal to golfers, skiers, fisherfolk, and sailors.  There are plenty of streams and lakes and hot springs on the western slopes of the Rockies.
Big Horn Sheep

    [Note: In Canada it’s spelled Kootenay. In the USA, it’s spelled Kootenai. Anthropologists now prefer and use Kutenai. Park Canada literature includes this last spelling in their latest brochures. First Nations people also refer to the Ktunaxa language. However, the older signs and maps continue to use Kootenay.]
Road Through Sinclair Canyon
    Radium Hot Springs, the gateway to Kootenay National Park, is a laid back town of about 1,000 folks and small roaming herds of bighorn sheep that meander through the small town. The main activity in town is seeing to the needs of tourists who come to ski, white water raft, fish, hike, bird watch, and enjoy the relaxation and health benefits of the mineral hot springs that are just a few minutes east of town within Kootenay NP. We decided against camping at the nearly deserted and out of the way National Park campground at Redstreak and chose instead the very comfortable Canyon RV Park on the banks of the Sinclair River from which we could easily walk to town and to the hot springs.

    We hiked that afternoon to the hot springs (about two miles up through the spectacular Sinclair Canyon along part of the Juniper Trail and into the park) to enjoy a few hours of soaking in 103° mineral baths. That evening on our walk to town we encountered several of the bighorn sheep groups that munch grass along the highway and streets of Radium Hot Springs. In fact, on our return, the path we took was blocked by a half dozen or so of these full grown and probably peaceful animals grazing along our path. With our limited experience in dealing with big horn sheep face to face, we decided to return by a more circuitous and prudent route. Besides, the dogs were going ballistic.

    We stopped in at a Parks Canada headquarters in town to gather information about the six parks we were planning to visit (Kootenay, Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Glacier, and Mt. Revelstoke): maps, brochures, local weather conditions, and permits. Rather than spend $8–$9/person for a daily pass, we opted for an annual pass for $57.50 (seniors get a $10 break over the 17–64 year olds). We thought fondly of our Golden Age passes that permit us free entry into all US national parks and half price camping fees. All Canadians, except those under 6, pay a fee, plus daily camping fees and special entrance fees within the parks. Say what you will, it is a chunk of change. But then we soon learned that most everything is a chunk of change in Canada.    
Trail to Dog Lake
    Inside Kootenay NP, we:

    •Hiked to Dog Lake. This five-mile round-trip hike was on a comfortable trail across the Kootenay River, through McCloud Meadows CG, and through a dense forest to a modest lake, probably good for fishing. It did make a scenic destination and an easy first hike for us and the dogs.

    •Visited the Ochre Beds and Paint Pots. A half mile or so from the highway is an area where iron ore flows from springs and the water stains the ground and mud that native people are believed to have used for painting clothing, faces, tipis, etc. Just above this mucky area are three nicely formed pools of gray bluish-green water which may or may not have had any use or function.

    •Walked up Marble Canyon where Tokumm Creek creek flows into the Vermillion River. Several bridges cross and re-cross the very narrow canyon the higher one walks to the top where the falls of the Tokumm can be seen. Through the centuries this fast-flowing creek has cut a slit in the rock making a very deep and narrow chasm through the dolomite rock that makes up the “marble” in Marble Canyon.

Town of Banff
    Canada’s oldest national park (1885) is a World Heritage Site (along with Jasper NP, Yoho NP, and Kootenay NP). Banff National Park is probably Canada’s most visited national park; we were among over 5,000,000 or so visitors this year. Originally the area close to the Banff Hot Springs was set aside to form a park, and was later expanded to include Lake Louise and the Columbia Icefield. Tourism was spurred by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) that built the magnificent Banff Springs Hotel (1888) and Chateau Lake Louise (1911). Automobiles reached Banff by 1911.

    By planning our arrival before the summer swarm, we had no difficulty finding a place to camp. In fact, we landed a spectacular grassy site (#B72) at Tunnel Mountain II that provided a completely uninterrupted view of Cascade Mountain (9,836'), Mt. Rundle (9,675'), Tunnel Mountain 5,545'), the Bow River, and the Fairholme Range. It could not have been nicer.

    [Note:  There are 13 campgrounds in Banff NP. Tunnel Mountain, about a mile from downtown Banff, is the largest and is divided into three sections: Tunnel Mountain Village I ($27/night) has 613 sites with flush toilets and showers, but no hook-ups; Tunnel Mountain II ($32/night) where we were has 188 sites with electricity, showers, and flush toilets; Tunnel Mountain Trailer Park ($38/night) has 312 sites with full hook-ups. The only other campground with electricity in the park is at Lake Louise village (also $32/night). As we were coming into the Tunnel Mountain area we shuddered at the thought of over 1,100 campers crammed into a relatively small area. The truth is that there is plenty of space, lots of grass and trees in most areas, and we did not feel cramped at all.]
Tunnel Mountain #2
    In spite of weather predictions, the skies were filled with puffy clouds and the temperature in the low 60s. We rode our bikes to town for stamps, postcards, and visit the Information Centre; had the weather been moist, we could have taken a local shuttle to town from the campground ($1/senior each way).

    The first morning, Lucy woke us earlier than usual for an emergency trip outside. Judy returned saying how sunny it was. An hour later, the clouds/fog settled over the Bow River Valley such that we could not see mountains in any direction. And that was the best part of the day! The rain that followed was not heavy, but it was steady. Judy got in a 45-minute run and showered before breakfast just as the rain began.

    While we didn’t do and see everything, in a few short days—and in spite of thickening clouds and rain—we managed to visit:

    •Lake Minnewanka. This popular lake, one of the most beautiful in the Rocky Mountains, is less than 10 minutes of paved road from downtown Banff. It is the largest lake in the park and has been a popular resort destination since the l880s when the village of Minnewanka Landing served visitors until a new dam was built that submerged the village. Scuba divers now come to explore the underwater bridge pilings and remains of buildings. Today, it is also popular for fishing, boating, nearby hiking and biking trails, and excursion boat rides ($60/person). We found that even with clouds on all sides, the setting was almost magical. We could not imagine a more beautiful lake in the parks (but then we hadn’t yet visited Maligne Lake, Peyto Lake, Lake Louise, or Moraine Lake).
Fairmont Banff
     •Bow Falls sits at the foot of the Banff Springs Hotel and its only notable feature is that parking is free down by the falls and you have to pay to park at the hotel, which is only a short walk from the falls parking lot. Other than that advantage, Bow Falls is not much to write home about. We watched folks pile into orange rubber rafts for what was probably a comfortable float trip down the Bow River. Leaving the dogs in the RV for a short time, we walked up to the hotel and through the maze of hallways until we found an affordable splurge: coffee and scones. A few days later we viewed the hotel from the top of Tunnel Mountain; from there, the hotel seems to emerge like some surreal castle out of the forest that surrounds the buildings. At $400/night and up, we thought the coffee and scones gave us sufficient experience to say “We’ve been there.” Putting costs aside, the hotel, fashioned in what’s called “Scottish Baronial Style” is amazing, if cold, and worthy of one of the most beautiful mountain settings we’ve seen.

    •Canmore, just 10 miles south of Banff, is a more comfortable town of 12,000 folks who probably live there because it’s less expensive than Banff yet just as scenic. There are “real” stores in Canmore (e.g., Safeway, Dollar Store, et al.) with none of the glitz and high prices of Banff, and the least expensive diesel we found in all the places we visited in Canada.

    •Vermillion Lakes has a bike path that runs alongside the shallow lakes that are home to waterfowl and eagles.

    •The Fenland Trail is a yawn. Never mind what the guide books say, spend your time doing something else.
Top of Tunnel Mountain
    •Bankhead had been a thriving coal mining town (peak population was 1,000) between 1903–1922. It was located between Lake Minnewanka and Banff. The lower town (where the poor folks lived) is visible from the road, but the upper town, where the rest of the people lived and where the mines were, is a short distance out of sight of the road. Hughes rode his bike eight miles from the campground up to the upper town (now a picnic area) and hiked a mile or so in to see the crumbling remains of concrete buildings and a good sized mound of high grade anthracite coal left over from the days when the town was an important source of coal for the CPR.

    •The Banff Park Museum National Historic Site features a collection of stuffed animals from the region, as well as specimens of woods, plants, and minerals. The collection was put together in 1895, long before Parks Canada put a halt to killing, stuffing, and displaying animals. (There was also a zoo on the grounds at one time, but that was abandoned.) The small entrance fee ($3.40 for seniors) got us out of the rain and a chance to see animals we would not otherwise have seen up close (e.g., we never realized how big beavers are) or plants that we would never have seen. The building, it should be noted, is constructed of logs and the interior walls are works of art for the period and style of the building.

    •Tunnel Mountain had been in our view everyday from our campsite. It was named for the tunnel through the mountain that was proposed by the surveyor for CPR but never completed. The popular three-mile round trip hike to the top on a rare sunny day gave us excellent views of the town of Banff and the entire Bow River Valley, plus a 360° view of the mountain ranges that surround the area.
Weather Station at Sulphur Mt.
    •The Banff Gondola. The same clear day inspired us to fork over $30/person and ride the gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain and continue on to the top of Sanson Peak (7,402'). The views from the top of the gondola were breathtaking for showing the full beauty and complexity of the Canadian Rockies. It was crowded with tourists and tour groups; we wondered what it would be like in the middle of summer. We walked on the wood plank “skywalk” to the top of Sanson Peak where there are the remains of a weather station (built in 1903) and the Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station that was completed in 1957 in order to study cosmic rays during the International Geophysical Year (IGY). The Cosmic Ray Station was dismantled and removed in 1981.


    The Lake Louise section of Banff NP is about an hour north of the town of Banff if you drive the Bow Valley Parkway (rather than the faster 4-lane divided highway.) We weren’t in a hurry and didn’t want to miss the wildlife—and we were not disappointed. There were dozens of folks bicycling this particular afternoon, not because the road is flat—it’s not flat, it’s rolling. Sometimes it has big rolls—but because the weather was outstanding.
Looking Out at Lake Louise
    We found a good campsite at the Lake Louise park campground, said good-bye to the dogs and biked up to the lake. Just under five miles and all uphill. Our first view of the lake caught our breath. It is clear why the view from the east shore has inspired painters, poets, and photographers for generations: the strangely greenish-blue water sweeps on both shores to a vanishing point where a glacier comes down a V-shaped valley and fills the lake with water that appears teal/turquoise from above. In early June, there was a layer of thin, slushy ice along the shore but the water was as clear as gin. We wondered if we have ever been in a more scenic place in our lives: Switzerland? the Tetons? Yosemite? the Himalayas? On this particular day, Lake Louise stood out above the others.

    We wandered through the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a hotel that successfully contributes to the natural beauty of the lake and mountains. It is, as they advertise, “Elegant and polished yet relaxed and inviting.” It is warmer and far more charming than the cold, severe atmosphere of the Fairmont Banff Hotel: the Chateau was designed to enhance the visual impact of the lake, the glaciers, and the mountains with lots of windows and light, especially in the dining area that overlooks—actually frames—the lake from several angles. But the weather was perfect that day and we spent most of our time outside, slurping on the tiniest scoop of ice cream we got in the hotel and at hotel prices. Chintzy in the first word that came to us both.

    We rode back to the campground for showers, dinner, and a walk along the campground path that skirts the Bow River.

    [Note: In spite of real or imagined horror stories, we did not encounter any flying, biting insects in Banff National Park—at least in early June. We did dispatch one from the RV that evening, but we think she had been with us since Montana or Washington. We had brought some lotions and sprays from home, but we wouldn’t have any reason to apply them until we found their nests in the Okanagan Lake area a few weeks from Lake Louise.]
Moraine Lake
    The next day we drove to Moraine Lake, thought by some to be the most beautiful lake in the Canadian Rockies. The Valley of the Ten Peaks creates a spectacular backdrop for the lake making it an iconic representation of the Canadian Rockies. In the first week of June this year there was so much ice on the surface of the lake that we did not see a reflection of the peaks off the water, but we could imagine what it will look like mid-summer. Our son and daughter-in-law took fabulous photos of the lake on their trip in August, 2000.

    The good weather continued to hold and we had a chance to do some hiking, specifically to Mirror Lake and Lake Agnes. From the Chateau to the teahouse at Lake Agnes is a long two miles of steady uphill hiking on a wide and generally smooth trail. This short hike was made more demanding at this time because of packed snow and ice covering the last mile. Bella and Lucy came along for the adventure (as they did when we climbed Tunnel Mountain back in Banff). The teahouse is a welcome oasis of comfort of warm food and drink (waterbowls for the dogs) on their deck overlooking the lake. It is a civilized concept that reminded us of the gasthauses in Switzerland (and elsewhere) though guests in Europe could spend the night as well as eat. We wonder why they have not caught on in this country.

    A half mile before the teahouse we paused at Mirror Lake, a small but scenic lake formed from the spillover from Agnes above. At Mirror Lake the trail forks: we could have taken the left fork which leads to the Plain of Six Glaciers, but that was another two and a half miles with the trail becoming even more treacherous because of deeper snow and ice. Our son and his wife hiked there on their trip to the area in August, 2000. It is an incredibly beautiful area also. However, given the snow and ice, we didn’t think twice about taking the right fork leading to Lake Agnes.
Teahouse at Lake Agnes
    We had such remarkable vistas from the top of the Banff gondola, we thought we could duplicate the experience at the top of the Lake Louise gondola. What a disappointing experience; it was not nearly as pleasant, as informative, nor as scenic as Banff’s. The ride got us near the top of their local ski area and dropped us off. We took a few photos, but had no other reason to stay. Of course there were no grizzlies to be seen in spite of the seductive possibility suggested in their advertising brochure. All in all, we should have spent our money elsewhere.

    [Note: We know that other campers have not given high grades to the campground at Lake Louise, citing noisy trains (occasionally) and bathrooms that were not very clean (we disagree). The setting along the Bow River is spectacular, the snow-capped peaks can be seen from most sites, and there is a wide, flat path that follows the river from the campground to town (about a mile). Except for an occasional train (not at all unusual in any part of Canada we were in) it was quiet. We’ll carry the image of the mountains, the river, and the path with us all the way to our next stop in Jasper.]


    The 142 miles from Lake Louise to Jasper takes visitors along one of the most dramatic highways in North America. The Icefield Parkway passes waterfalls, lakes, glaciers, and ever-changing mountainscapes around every bend in the wide highway. Along the way there are many opportunities for short or long hikes, as well as remarkable scenery to photograph. Mile by mile we stopped at:

Bow Lake    •Mile 10: Hector Lake, just ten miles from the beginning of the parkway, is really too far off the highway to photograph from the pull-out area. We tried anyway. However, shortly after we pulled back into traffic, we saw groups of cars on both sides of the road: a sure sign of a wildlife sighting. Not more than 40 yards off the east side of the highway was a lone black bear quietly munching on berries and grass.

    •Mile 20: Crowfoot Glacier is just ten miles further and offered a glimpse of what we would see by the time we reached the Icefield Center.

    •Mile 23: Bow Lake (on the left) is the third largest lake in Banff NP beautifully set at the base of Bow Glacier. On the east shore is the rustic historical Simpson’s Num-Ti-Jah Lodge built in the 1920s and still run by the Simpson family. As we hiked alonog the shore, we noticed there was still a layer of ice all around the lake, though the trail was generally dry. Staying at the lodge is a bit pricey, but the rustic exterior gives way to a comfortable dining room and creature comforts inside, including satellite TV so current occupants would not miss any of the Stanley Cup action.

    •Mile 25: Peyto (pea-toe) Lake, just around a bend from Bow Lake, is another (#3) of the five most beautiful lakes in the Rockies because of its teal/turquoise water fed by glaciers in the area. The photos we took overlooking the lake (see below) looked as though they’ve been touched up, but be assured the color is real.
Peyto Lake
    •Mile 44: Mistaya Canyon is an impressive slit in the earth carved through the limestone as the Mistaya River has sliced a deep, narrow gorge through the rock. The swirling action of the water has scooped our whirls and potholes in the rocks that are now well above the water level. The half mile walk is an easy climb and well marked.

    •Mile 64: The Icefield Centre marks the halfway point between Lake Louise and Jasper. The expanded Visitors’ Centre faces the Athabasca Glacier, the most visited glacier in North America, and can be accessed by foot (to the “toe” of the Glacier) or by guided tours in a SnoCoach with proper equipment. The Centre has informative displays on glaciers in general and the massive icefields that visitors can see across the highway.

    We had planned to drive directly to Jasper from the Icefield Centre in order to secure a campsite with electricity at Whistlers Campground. We decided that any attractions we missed in the northern half of the Icefield Parkway we would see on our return.    


    There are thirteen campgrounds in Jasper NP, but only Whistlers and Wapiti have hook-ups. There were no powered sites at Whistlers by the time we got there mid-afternoon, so we spent the first night across the highway at Wapiti, a paved parking area with electrical outlets. The next three nights we moved over to Whistlers which has treed sites (fir, pine, and spruce) in the heart of bear country and where elk cows are calving their young. In spite of having nearly 800 sites, it is a very quiet area with lots of space between campers, and less than two miles to town.

    [Note: Each of the three campgrounds we stayed in at the two parks (Banff NP and Jasper NP) have a different policy on campfires: Jasper provides each site with fire pits and firewood at no charge; Lake Louise charges $8/night for a site with a fire ring, but the firewood is free; Banff permits fires only in selected sites, but we’re not sure about any charges. Ask when you pull in.]
Maligne Canyon
    We loved the town of Jasper! Unlike glitzy Banff and tiny Lake Louise village, Jasper is a town of just over 4,200 people who, at least all the ones we spoke to, love living there. It is surrounded by stunning mountains on all sides, yet is open and filled with parks, bike paths, stores and services that don’t seem too proud of themselves. The owner of the first store we stopped at to ask about a laundromat was friendly and polite; he took time to give us a map, showed us our choices, identified two grocery stores, and said he hoped we would enjoy our stay. What a lovely start. We did our laundry, passed up tickets for a Rotary Club lobster dinner that evening ($55/ticket for a full dinner with all the trimmings), and dined “at home” and rested.

    In the morning, Judy did a “Sunday morning” run—an hour run just as she would if she were in Boulder. Afterwards, our first destination was a drive north and east of town to the Maligne (mal-EEN) River Valley. We hiked along the Maligne Canyon, a steep-walled limestone slit in the rock the river has carved our to a depth of 180' through the limestone karst. The trail (a mile and a half each way) crosses the river six times as we walked upstream to the deepest section near the first bridge.
    After lunch at the trailhead, we drove  on to Medicine Lake, described as a “most peculiar” lake—a sinking lake, since the Maligne River “flows” underground for many miles until it emerges at Maligne Canyon near the 4th bridge. The holes (sinks) in the limestone make the lake like a leaky bathtub, allowing the lake to drain at a rate of over 6,300 gallons per second! When we saw it, the water level was down significantly. Some seasons water flows in faster than it can “leak out” into the bedrock which causes the lake level to rise. At other times the “lake” is a gravel wasteland with a shallow trickle running through it. The Maligne Karst System, we learned, is one of the most studied in the world.
Maligne Lake
    Our destination was Maligne Lake, (see photo on the right) the largest lake in the park and one of its most beautiful: nearly 14 miles long and half a mile wide. While it is fed by melt water from the Brazeau Icefield 18 miles to the south, it does not have the turquoise color associated with glacial melt (like Lake Louise or Peyto Lake). However, it is a stunning area that has been popular with visitors for fishing and boating, as well as hiking, for over 100 years. The 90-minute cruise ($57.75/person) has been described by Reader’s Digest as “the best cruise in Canada.” We chose to walk the shore along the Mary Schaffer Trail for great photos.

    We spent a morning window shopping and had lunch at De’d Dog Bar and Grill (part of the historic Astoria Hotel—very tasty, reasonably priced, very friendly waitress/bartender, and free wi-fi). We’d go back again in a heartbeat.

    We drove 24 miles to the northeast entrance to the park at Pocahontas (a coal mining ghost town that boomed in the 1920s) to indulge ourselves that afternoon relaxing in the mineral waters of Miette Hot Springs. It was interesting to be surrounded by groups of mostly seniors who spoke probably ten different languages: French, German/Austrian/Swiss, plus languages from eastern Europe and Scandinavia.  Both days (in the Maligne River Valley and along the Fiddle River to the hot springs) we saw grizzlies and several herds of mountain goats by the roadside. We had not, nor would we see, a moose (very shy?) or caribou (not too many and they’re still up high?).
Grizzly Bears
    Our last day in Jasper we spent biking through and around the town, shopping for some last minute necessities (groceries, beer, four screws, and a fuel fill ($94 for 83.8 liters [22.1 gallons] at $1.12/litre [about $4.28/gallon]).

    We drove above the town to Patricia Lake where a local dive shop gives lessons and takes divers down to the wreck of one of the strangest ships in history that was purposely sunk in the lake during World War II. The story of the top secret ship made of ice (called “Operation Habbakkuk”) was an experiment that had the approval (or at least the interest) of Winston Churchill as a means to move goods and troops safely across the Atlantic (they wouldn’t attract magnetic mines and would be more durable than conventional ships). A large scale model was created and tried out on Patricia Lake and, while it proved feasible, it was determined to be too expensive to be practical. So the wood frame of the structure was sunk in the lake and divers now use it as scuba destination.

    Just around the corner from Patricia is Pyramid Lake, a serene lake with a small island connected to the shore by a walking bridge. We could just make out Mt. Edith Clavell shrouded in clouds (and access closed because of snow and avalanches) to the south, and Pyramid Mountain (below) with its surprising gold/bronze surfaces reflecting in the morning sun. The distinctive color comes from Gog quartzite which has particles of iron pyrite embedded in it.
Pyramid Mountain
    We biked an easy 8K on the “Discovery Trail” (partially paved, part gravel, part neighborhood streets) to photograph some of our favorite buildings in Jasper: the Visitors Information Centre, fire station, Lutheran and Anglican Churches, and the library, where we encountered the coldest, least informed, least helpful, least interested librarian in all of Canada. ‘Nuff said.

    [Note: Its, It’s, and Its’. If you’re over 40 we’re pretty sure you were taught in the 4th grade that /its/ is a possessive (i.e., belonging to it) and /it’s/ is a contraction (it + is). /Its’/ is a misspelling. You see the confusion and misuse of /its/ and /it’s/ more and more frequently in newspapers and magazines and in personal writing, probably due to over-dependence on spell checking software coupled with lazy, ignorant, sloppy, or non-existent copy editors. (We hope we've been careful in this article!) However, we’ve begun to notice it on public signs, plaques, and other official documents while traveling in Canada (and in this country we must acknowledge). It’s shameful when it’s misspelled on road signs or TV ads, but we’ve seen it on engraved plaques in parks and on buildings. The librarian in Jasper said no one has ever mentioned anything about the misspelling of /it’s/ for /its/ on their memorial plaque embedded in the exterior of the building, and if it were mistake (and she didn’t think it was) they wouldn’t do anything about, now would we? No matter—its (sic) a beautiful library.]

    We biked out of town to Lake Edith and Lake Annette, two small lakes each with picnic sites and access to the water. Our last stop was the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, another in the Fairmont chain though not as ostentatious as most others in the Fairmont family. Jasper’s Fairmont is constructed in a rustic log style spread out along the banks of the Athabasca River and generally out of sight of town. The golf course would make almost anyone want to take up the game just to enjoy the beauty of the course; Score Golf magazine rated it last year as Canada’s #4 Best Golf Resort, in spite of being heavily populated with grizzlies and elk, both of which were bearing their young. (For the protection of the golfers or the animals, there is a high, strong wire fence surrounding the course.) Bear bells, golfers there know, simply don’t do the trick; the bells are ultimately a harmless tourist souvenir that are helpful in locating bears after they’ve eaten the tourists: the bears jingle when they move.
Jasper Public Library
    We got back to the RV parked in town to feed and walk the dogs prior to a local and very informal weekly 5K race that usually draws anywhere from 10–30 runners. While Judy did not come in first, she won the overall 30-up age group.

    [Note: Robertson Screws. We wanted to get a couple of screws to put up a bulletin board in the RV. A fellow in a hardware store in Jasper said I could take a couple from one of the bins of bulk screws. No charge. I said “Many thanks,” took a couple and put them in my pocket and rode my bike back to the campground. A couple of days later when we remembered we wanted to mount the bulletin board, I discovered the screws were neither slotted screws, nor Phillips head screws, but Robertson screws! They are all over Canada and it’s next to impossible to find any other kind. Stores sell a few Phillips heads for hanging drywall, but the rest are Robertsons. I’d never heard of them nor seen one. But they are the screw of choice in Canada. The history of Mr. Robertson’s screw (and other types) is fascinating and worth a minute to learn about it.]


    Our return trip south on the Icefield Parkway was cloudy (mostly) and moist (occasionally). The photographers for Parks Canada who produce the mouthwatering brochures must have to wait days in July through September for the perfect combination of bright sunshine and puffy clouds or clear blue skies. Patience in a virtue of good photography. Travelers like us take what we can get and use our imaginations to fill in the beauty spots.  We made the most of the stops we wanted, but decided to bypass some others because of really poor weather.  We made several stops between Jasper and the Icefield Centre, places we intentionally passed over on our way up:

    •Athabasca Falls is a short hike from the highway. Approaching this amazing waterfall, we could feel the tremendous force of the Athabasca River (which carries more water than any other river in the Rocky Mountain Parks) as it swirled around the resistant rocks in the gorge. It drops 75 feet over an outcropping of highly resistant Gog quartzite.

    •Suwapta Falls is just eight miles below Athabasca Falls and is similar in formation and appearance to Athabasca Falls.
Icefield Centre
    •Tangle Falls can be easily missed by travelers since there is no sign alerting drivers to its location. A fellow who works for a Banff art company also stopped for photos and told us it was first time in the years he’d been making the Banff–Jasper run that he’d stopped after he saw us taking pictures. Tangle Falls is a classic cascade of water that is featured in several travel publications. It is a good photo op for someone with variable lenses to catch different portions of the water as it flows over rocks in several steps.

    •The Icefield Centre was the final stop to hike out to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier. Signs claim that it’s the most accessible glacier in North America, though we found several in Alaska as easy to get to (e.g., Exit Glacier near Seward). Barriers and signs warning of the dangers of walking on surface of the glacier (hidden crevasses, falling, etc.) face those who approach the glacier. The story of a nine-year-old boy who ventured onto the ice behind the barrier and died falling into a crevasse was prominently posted, as was the fact that the last three rescue attempts failed. Organized groups are transported by “ice tractors” onto the glacier above the walkers’ trail. These groups are given yellow waterproof pants and jackets, ice axes, and crampons for walking on limited portions of the glacier.


    Yoho NP is a picturesque extension of Banff NP and Jasper NP into British Columbia and is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site . Like Kootenay NP which borders on the south, its fortunes were tied to building of railroad lines across the Rockies in the 1800s. Yoho is not without some diversity of scenic beauty, but if the railroads had not wanted to have safe passage across to British Columbia, Yoho may never have been developed as it has. (The same can be said of Kootenay NP.)

    There are fewer unique attractions than in Jasper and Banff to claim a traveler’s interests. In less than a day we visited:
Lodge at Emerald Lake
    •Emerald Lake. This small jewel sits in a lush forested basin enclosed by Mount Burgess, Wapta Mountain, and the President Range that collects snow melt and frequent rains in the summer. We were fortunate to have fair weather to hike the three-mile loop around the lake enjoying the wildflowers that had just begun to emerge. The first half of the path is flat, wide, and smooth; the trail narrows and proceeds through a rather soggy, shady area on the east side. Plank boardwalks help to keep the feet dry, but only a little. The Emerald Lake Lodge (with facilities for conferences, weddings, etc.) enhances the romantic mood of this near pristine area.

    [Note: Within two weeks after our visit, there were two separate grizzly attacks on groups of hikers on the hiking trail we had completed. No humans were killed, but the bears eventually were captured and Parks Canada were, by policy, forced to put them down.]

    •The Spiral Train Tunnels, an engineering challenge that permitted trains to descend the steep western slope into the Columbia River Valley, are likely of interest to hard core train buffs.

    We were lead to believe that the road to Takakka Falls was temporarily closed to public access. It may be that we misread the signs, which in all the parks is often easy to do; throughout the Canadian parks we visited, signs are damaged, illegible, or, worse yet, missing.  

    [Another disappointment was not stopping in the middle of the park at the small town of Field, which houses the museum that features fossils from the nearby Burgess Shale fossil beds. The importance of the fossils, many of which are exceptionally preserved soft parts, was the focus of Wonderful Life by fellow Antiochian Stephen Jay Gould (also class of ’62) that showed that life forms then were much more diverse than today and that many lineages were “evolutionary experiments” that became extinct. Public access to the fossil beds is severely restricted, but the museum is said to be excellent.]

    We spent the night at Golden Municipal Campground operated by the city of Golden, BC. An excellent walking/running/biking path parallels the Kicking Horse River on “our” side of the river (the train runs along the other side of the river). Judy got in a long run after dinner. We should have suspected that though trains may not stop, they do make their presence known to campers and the rest of town. We biked around this small town, shopped at a local produce and craft market, caught up on days of emails, and watched game seven of the Stanley Cup finals. There were lots of disappointed Canadians that evening; the hooligans that wrecked downtown Vancouver were an embarrassment to everyone we talked with in the weeks that followed.
    We woke to thick low clouds that hung over the town of Golden and the mountains to the west that we would travel through to visit the last two Canadian national parks on our itinerary. We were able to see only half the parks: the bottom halves.


    Canada’s Glacier NP was created in the 1886 to protect over 400 glaciers within its boundaries and to add new preserved land along the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Because of what rangers at the Rogers Pass Information Centre called a “very late winter” in the entire Canadian Rockies region, many areas were not accessible due to snow and avalanches.

    •The Loop Brook Trail was one area we could hike. This self-guided interpretive trail follows a section of an old CPR train bed with old photos and information emphasizing the hardships faced by the workers who built the railroad through this area. The massive stone trestle supports are amazing testament to the efforts of to bring the railroad to this area.

Giant Cedars

    Mt. Revelstoke NP is a small park that was added to Parks Canada in 1914 to protect more railway as it crossed the Selkirk Mountains to the Columbia River, and features two attractions: The Meadows-in-the-Sky Parkway and a grove of old-growth cedars and hemlocks. The Parkway begins at the town of Revelstoke, so stopped on our way to town to see the trees.

    •Giant Cedars Boardwalk is a short self-guided interpretive boardwalk through a small grove of old growth western hemlocks and western red cedars that are over 500 years old. The section of temperate rainforest is thick with devil’s claw and fern. It is a perfect walk during rainy weather: there’s no mud and the dense forest provides protection from the rain.

    We drove down to the very pleasant town of Revelstoke, found a comfortable site at the Lamplighter Campground close to town. The rain persisted through the afternoon so we made plans to drive the 16-mile Meadows-in-the-Sky Parkway in the morning—weather permitting. However, it rained off and on all day. While it rained we did maintenance inside the RV. When the rains stopped, Judy got in a run on and, later, we rode our bikes on Revelstoke’s “Discovery Trail” that led us along the banks of the Columbia River. We shopped town, picked up some groceries, and gave up on driving up the Parkway.

    It rained all night and in the morning the grassy campground was soaked. We pulled out promptly in order to hit the farmer’s market in town for fresh produce (the leaf lettuce and arugula had just been picked and washed that morning) and scones with which we could finish our coffee. A stop at grocery for some manufactured staples and we were on our way south on lonely Highway 23, heading for Nakusp (rhymes with the-CUSP) where we learned there was a hot springs and an adjoining campground.

    [Note: We hadnt seen so many slugs before. Once out of the high mountains we found ourselves hiking and camping in areas not unlike an interior rainforest (like the Olympic Peninsula except well away from the ocean). Mosses are thick, the ground is soft, and there are areas where you can find thousands of black slugs underfoot, in the grass, on the road, etc. They don’t bother anyone, unless you step on them. The dogs are not interested. They don’t move fast and don’t make noise. Some claim they’re icky!]


    In between Revelstoke and Nakusp was a 15-minute ferry across a very wide place in the Columbia River from Shelter Bay to Galena Bay. The ferry ran from our side to the other each hour on the hour. We were there at 10:10 and had 50 minutes to wait, just long enough for Judy to get in a morning run. She headed back the way we drove down and hadn’t been gone 15 minutes when a ferry arrived, dropping off half a dozen vehicles. The captain announced the ferry was leaving in three minutes. It turns out this ferry was a “small” one that runs only in the summer on the half hour. Meanwhile a couple arrived to get into line and said they’d seen Judy on the road. They’d also seen at least one bear on the same road, but not near where she was running at the time. “Not to worry. I’m sure she’ll be OK,” said the young woman. Easy for her to say! It turns out she was right: Judy returned five minutes before the ferry left. She had seen a fox, but no bears.
Nakusp Hot Springs
    The rest of the drive to Nakusp was quiet: no towns and very little traffic. As we approached the outskirts of Nakusp we followed the signs to Nakusp Hot Springs which, it turned out, is about eight miles up in the mountains along the Kaskanax Creek, a wild stream the thunders down from above the hot springs, past the campground, and plunges down into the Columbia River at the town.

    The small, isolated campground was nearly deserted and there were fewer than five soakers in the pool. We were a bit ambivalent about staying. However, we were glad we made the choice. The facilities, owned and operated by the town of Nakusp, were sparkling clean, the folks who worked there were very friendly, and the campground was nicely located on the banks of the Kaskanax Creek. We hiked a mile or so up the creek, past a rushing waterfall, to a small meadow where the hot water comes out of the ground and is piped to the pool below. We saw the remnants of the concrete tubs that were the original “soaking pools,” now surrounded by a fertile field of poison ivy. We soaked away the afternoon under warm sunshine in the two pools (one at +104°, the other a 103° or less). The forest setting was equally relaxing; there were few people, no train whistles, no barking dogs (except ours), and no traffic.

    The small town of Nakusp (pop. 1,500) sits like a picture postcard on the shores of Upper Arrow Lake, which is part of the Columbia River. We were disappointed when we drove down the main street on a  Sunday morning; the “cute” brochure photos featured only the waterfront, which was really quite attractive. We enjoyed walking on the well-maintained shoreline sidewalk. past the “Japanese” gardens which were in full bloom, having had a generous natural watering and enough periods of sunshine to encourage growth. The view across Upper Arrow Lake reminded us a great deal of the Alaskan coast without the rain: low clouds and mountains that rise steeply from the dark water on all sides. Away from the waterfront were a few active businesses, some commercial vacancies, and little activity.
Roadside Lupines
    [Note: Lupines seem to be everywhere. These beautiful flowers can be seen growing wild along the highways throughout the river valleys between the Purcell Range, the Selkirks, and the Monashee Range. The blooms are usually about two feet high, come in a range of colors, and brighten the monotonous green of roadside vegetation.]     [
 Sandon City Hall 
    South of Nakusp is New Denver and, a few miles beyond that, a good dirt road (today it was muddy but firm) that we followed to the ghost town of Sandon, a silver mining town that boomed at the turn of the century (i.e., around 1900). Where once lived 5,000 wild and hard working miners, gamblers, saloonkeepers, and various other members of a typical western mining town, now 15 folks attempt to eke out a living in an area they call home. They tend to the Sandon Museum, maintain the oldest electric power station in British Columbia, sell various snacks and souvenirs to tourists at the general store (once city hall and the fire station), and take care of Molly Brown’s Brothel that has been lovingly restored. During WW II, like other towns in the region, Sandon was an internment camp for Japanese-Canadians, though there are no visible signs of this period. Derelict buildings that escaped the 1900 fire and the floods of 1925 and 1955 are scattered along and above Carpenter Creek. By 1962 the post office closed, a familiar sign that the town was pretty much gone ghost. Visitors today will be surprised to find a small fleet of Vancouver trolleys carefully parked awaiting restoration.  
    Highway 6 continued to Kaslo (pop. 1,000), a pretty and apparently thriving resort town on a bay overlooking Kootenay Lake (it looked a lot like Ketchikan or Sitka). As we drove through we were very tempted to stop, maybe even spend a night, if only the weather had been drier.

    We caught the ferry at Balfour (pop. 500), also a very scenic resort town farther down Kootenay Lake, to take us across to Kootenay Bay. We drove on to Crawford Bay, a center for artists and crafters, and down to Boswell, home of the well known Glass Bottle House. This remarkable building was built of half a million empty embalming fluid bottles by retired undertaker David Brown between 1952–1970. The castle-like building was the family home and is still used by the family during the off-season. Hughes’s sister insisted we should pay a visit and we were not disappointed. We’ve since learned there are a surprising number of bottle houses still standing throughout the world, though most seem to be in North America. We have seen one other (only because we didn’t know about ones in towns where we’ve traveled): the less elaborate bottle house in Rhyolite, Nevada, built by barkeeper Tom Kelly from 51,000 bottles (mostly Busch beer, but includes some medicine bottles).
Glass Bottle House
    [Note: I’ve always had trouble quickly converting Celsius to Fahrenheit. I remember from 8th grade science that Mr. Matiasz gave us a convoluted formula that used 9/5 and/or 5/9 to make the transposition. It never stuck. The guide at the Bottle House gave me a quick rule of thumb: multiply Celsius by two and add 30. It’s not perfect, but close enough.]

    We drove back to the ferry to return to Balfour and make the drive to Nelson (pop. 9,000), one of the favorite towns we visited in British Columbia. We found the centrally located Nelson City Campground on High Street one of the bargains on our trip: $22 for all hook-ups, wi-fi, showers, laundry, kitchen facilities for campers, and a couple of non-cable TV stations. It was clean, comfortable, supervised by fabulous hosts; it offers visiting RVers and tenters an attractive incentive to come to Nelson and spend time (and $$).

    We woke our first morning in Nelson to the bluest sky of the entire trip. Judy ran on a great pathway along the waterfront and through downtown. Later we shopped the bakeries: we discovered Oso Negro coffee and outstanding scones at The Only Bakery (apparently they are too busy making great scones to get a website up and running), bookstores (found a great book on BC ghost towns, but didn’t write down the title!) sports shops, and enjoyed the variety of architecture in downtown stores and neighborhoods.
Nelson from Pulpit Rock
    We left the dogs at the campground and biked across Kootenay Lake to the trailhead for a hike to Pulpit Rock, a very steep one mile (it seemed much longer!) to a vista overlooking the city. We had great views of Nelson and the surrounding area, plus we could see the dark clouds coming from the south that threatened to cast their shadow (and rain) over the town. We took our photos, made our way carefully down the steep descent to our bikes and almost made the three mile ride back to the campground before things got very wet. We did laundry and showered, had dinner, and hunkered down while the rains washed the streets of Nelson.

    Getting to Kelowna from Nelson usually means driving south to “The Crow” (Highway 3), west to Osoyoos, and north to Kelowna—about 160 miles. Instead, we chose to drive 240 miles back to Nakusp through Silverton and New Denver along the Slocan (slow-CAN) River, then south to the ferry at Fauquier. (We never heard anyone comfortable pronouncing that place name in our presence. The best suggestion we know is to say “folkier,” which is close enough and easy to remember.) From the ferry we drove over the Monashee Mountains to Vernon and on to Kelowna. Why the extra 80 miles? To complete our “tour” of the Slocan Mining District, especially to see BC’s Silverton and how it stacks up with the Colorado town of the same name.

    North of Nelson is a fertile farming area along the upper part of Lake Slocan. Lots of gardens, but fewer livestock than we would have thought. We pulled off to drive through the tiny village of Slocan (pop. about 325), at one time the smallest incorporated city in the British Commonwealth. It was once a booming silver producing town; later it was a internment center for Japanese-Canadians during WW II (geneticist David Suzuki was incarcerated there from 1942–45); now it’s a logging town with neat houses, many community facilities, a nice school, etc., typical of a company town supported by the logging operation.
Silverton, BC
    Silverton (pop. about 200) was, like our Colorado namesake, built on silver mining. The setting, however, is quite different: where Silverton, Colorado, sits at 9,300' surrounded by 12,000' peaks, the BC version sits on the east shore of Slocan Lake. Both towns are small and just hanging on financially, though the Durango to Silverton Railroad still holds the Colorado town back from the brink of bankruptcy.

    New Denver (pop. 600) shares its history with Slocan and Silverton: silver boom in the 1880s, followed by huge decline in population, and then an interment center during WW II. One difference makes New Denver stand out: The residents of New Denver created and maintain a Nikkei Internment Memorial Center where about 22,000 people of Japanese descent, labeled “enemy aliens” by virtue their heritage (never mind their Canadian citizenship) were confined. Original houses and a beautiful Japanese garden make stopping there worthwhile.

    [Note: In the 1950s, children of the “Freedomites,” a Doukhobor group were forcibly removed from their homes by the government and confined to a boarding school in New Denver because their parents refused to send their children to school due to religious beliefs.]


    The remainder of the trip to Kelowna required another ferry transport at Fauquier and and a long, lonely drive on a twisting mountain roadway surrounded by forest and crisscrossed with streams rushing down and under the highway. There was very little traffic until we reached Vernon (population 50,000) where we felt the stinging slap of civilization after two weeks in wilderness and small towns. We arrived finally in Kelowna (population about 120,000), called by some “the closest you can come to California in Canada.” We suppose it’s true; there are orchards and gardens everywhere, and there are over two dozen vineyards in the valley.
Ron and Edna at Winery
    We stopped for a couple of days to visit with Ron and Edna, friends we’d met in Tucson during the winter. Their house borders the Myra-Bellvue Provincial Park and overlooks the town of Kelowna and Okanagan Lake. We visited a farmer’s market in town and went to lunch at Summerhill Pyramid winery that overlooks the city. We followed lunch with a wine tasting: reds, whites, sparkling, and dessert wines from which to choose. (Hughes can testify that Summerhill’s “Diva’s Delight” is one of the finest late harvest/dessert wines he has ever tasted.)

    The dogs got their walk in the afternoon, and we relaxed on the porch with Ron and Edna and enjoyed candied salmon with our cocktails. After dinner, Ron drove us up to the top of Myra Canyon where the tracks of the Kettle Valley Railway, built in 1915 and abandoned in 1961, are close by. This railroad is the foundation for a network of nearly 375 miles of pathways for use by hikers and bicycles throughout southwestern British Columbia. The area in Myra-Bellvue Park suffered a wildland fire in 2003 that burned 13 of the 18 trestles in this area, which were restored five years later. We walked to the first trestle of the Myra Park section until the mosquitoes, the first we’d encountered on the trip, drove us to the safety of Ron’s truck.

    It rained hard that night, but when we left the following morning we could see patches of blue and the skies cleared by mid-morning.

    We passed south of Kelowna through the vineyards of Summerland, stopped along the splendid waterfront Penticton (pen-TICK-ton) at the south end of the lake, passed quickly through Okanagan Falls, turned east at Osoyoos, and up into the mountains where an outfit called Regal Ridge is buying land and building mountain estates like crazy. Down the other side of the hills we passed through farming and former mining towns like Rock Creek, Kettle Valley, and Midway.

    [Note: Osoyoos marked our return to the Crowsnest Highway or “The Crow” (Highway 3) that runs between Hope, BC and Medicine Hat, Alberta, the shortest distance between the Pacific and the Prairies. Its name is from Crowsnest Pass that was a route through the southern Rockies. We were to follow that all the way to Creston where we eventually went south to the US border.]
Greenwood, BC
    We arrived at Greenwood in the early afternoon and knew immediately that we should linger here. It felt very comfortable like a (former) Colorado mining town. Miners once dug a lot of copper out of the earth nearby, the British Columbia Copper Company’s smelter ran 24 hours a day, and the Columbia & Western Railway built tracks to Greenwood in 1899 to haul it all away. It was once one of the largest copper producing areas in the world. But production fell off before WW I and the smelter closed; the population dropped from 3,000 to about 200. Even today, with a population of 600, Greenwood is Canada’s Smallest Incorporated City.

    When the Second World War came, the mayor of Greenwood requested that Greenwood become a camp for Japanese-Canadian internees. The folks of Greenwood generally welcomed 1,000 of their fellow Canadians, got along well with them, and when the war was over and the government’s policy was to remove the Japanese-Canadians east of the Rockies, the folks of Greenwood voted to request that they be allowed to stay. Many did and transformed the character of this tiny city. The person in charge of the visitors center, at least when we visited, was of Japanese descent, perhaps old enough to have been a member of a family once interned at Greenwood.
Greenwood Church
    We found a small RV park with lots of green grass and only one other camper at the back of the Greenwood Motel and RV Park ($23/night for hook-ups, wi-fi, and cable TV) just two blocks from “downtown.” In many ways, it may have been the nicest place we stayed on the trip. We walked through the town, taking photographs of the churches, downtown storefronts, the post office, public swimming pool, and many marvelous Victorian homes most still in good repair. However, it’s clear their best days are behind them: there’s no work, no grocery store or pharmacy, no high school, and most folks we were told are either on senior pensions or getting poverty support. We saw many homes and businesses for sale.  

    There is a chance that tourism may grow as outdoor enthusiasts discover great biking, running, and hiking on the Trans Canada Trail that goes through town; or hiking, kayaking, fishing, and cross-country skiing nearby and in two provincial parks in the area, Jewel Lake and Boundary Creek; or downhill skiing on Phoenix Mountain; or driving tours that offer a glimpse into Greenwood’s mining history. Judy had a morning run on the Trans Canada Trail (which is really network of nearly 400 trails that cover over 11,000 miles and crosses the country from Newfoundland to Nunavut and the Northwest Territories). She said it was wide, flat, and a joy to run on.

Phoenix Cemetery    [Note: The town of Greenwood is featured in the movie “Snow Falling on Cedars,” which was filmed there in 1998. The movie, ironically, is the story of deep anti-Japanese prejudices that remained following WW II.]

    We drove up into the mountains behind Greenwood to Phoenix, where it and other mining towns once boomed. We stopped at the Phoenix Cemetery, walking through the graveyard noting most of the inhabitants were from Wales, Scotland, and England who died in their 20s or 30s. We passed the sign to the Phoenix Ski Area (a mistake we later learned) and kept driving for 22 extra miles (the better part of an hour) before the road quit on us! We should have taken the fork to the ski area and dropped down to The Crow on the backside of town. Next time we’ll stop at the visitors center for a map!

    “The Crow” continued to be a beautiful drive through the Selkirks and over two +5,000' passes (Bonanza and Kootenay) following part of the Trans Canada Trail. We stopped at The Borsch Bowl in Grand Forks for some of their “world famous” beet soup, then on to Castlegar and Creston, and finally to border crossing where a young customs agent inspected our refrigerator and officiously and proudly confiscated our single tomato—holding it like a dead rat—before we were allowed back into our country, just a few miles north of Bonners Ferry, Idaho.

Vicky and Judy in 1948
    Judy and Vicky were childhood friends for several years growing up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. (The crinkled black and white photo on the right is from 1948. They could not agree on the name of the third girl with the dog dish on her head.) Though they were evenutally separated as Vicky moved and Judy stayed in Bucks County, they didn’t forget each other, even though they never corresponded and for most of their lives didn’t know for sure where the other lived (Judy thought Vicky had gone to Bonners Ferry in northern Idaho, but couldn’t say for sure). Or what their married names were.

    Some two years ago, Vicky’s father, a very well-known author in the 1950s and 60s, died and his obituary was in the New York Times. The obit identified his children and gave their names. With the help of the internet, Judy found Vicky’s last name and address (she has no phone, no internet, etc.). So she wrote a letter and got a response, and so regular correspondence continued. In planning our trip to Canada this year, she also got directions to her house and a welcome invitation.

    Vicky and Fred live well outside of Bonners Ferry at the end of a road they named themselves. Their house is a fixed up pre-WW II model with a wood stove in the kitchen and windows above the sink that take in the panorama of mountains to the east and look out over their 70 acres of rolling hills that they share with deer, elk, wild turkeys, bears, wolves, and an occasional moose. Vicky also raises chickens and is known as the “egg lady” to over a dozen regular customers. Behind the tall grass in the back forty is a Volkswagen graveyard, with hundreds of rusting carcasses left from when Fred was a VW mechanic. He currently owns and operates The Shop, Inc. where he has designed and manufactures a high tech precision hair clipper blade sharpener which he designed, manufactures, and sells worldwide. After years of struggle and changes in their lifestyles, they have created a quiet, rewarding, and very satisfying life for themselves.
In Vicky's Field
    Vicky walked us around the property, and gave us a tour of her huge garden. Fred showed us how he makes each part of what is a complex machine of his own design and how his shop is organized to complete all the steps required to manufacture his machine. We ate dinner outside by their barbecue, slept in the RV as usual in one of the quietest sites on our trip, and had fresh eggs for breakfast. Judy and Vicky played the “Do you remember.....” game for hours, while Fred and Hughes talked some politics and philosophy. The dogs chased the wild turkeys off and pestered the chickens that were safe behind their wire fence. It was a wonderful reunion. The only regret we have is that since they do not like to travel far from their home, we won’t likely be able to return the favor of hosting them at our place.

    We spent the next night in Libby, Montana, at the Two Bit RV Park ($25 for full hook-ups, lots of grass, and pleasant hosts). We were so tired that evening we missed the lawn mower races at the Loggers Days celebration in the local park. Memorable as that might have been, we were mightily impressed with local artist Tom Berget’s two rather large eagle sculptures in town. They are massive metal sculptures of steel and bronze, and express the majesty of the birds in two different poses.
Garden at Vicky's
    Flea markets often capture our attention, especially when the weather is warm and sunny and we’re in no hurry. Kalispell was one of those spots that made us pause. Just a few miles farther down the road in Hungry Horse, we sampled the finest ice cream of any kind we’ve every had, and we want to tell the world. There are, in this part of the world, lots of roadside places that sell huckleberry jam, T-shirts, ice cream cones and shakes, etc. They tend to all look alike, and so we chose one at random: Willows Huckland (or Huckleberryland). What luck! They serve up such superb ice cream that we defy you to find any better anywhere. It’s on the left side of the highway as you approach the park entrance at West Glacier. You will thank us for the recommendation.

    The Going-to-the-Sun Road across Glacier NP was closed because of heavy snows and avalanches, so we were forced to take US 2 around the southern flank of the park. We followed the Flathead River to Essex, an historic railroad town and home of the Isaak Walton Inn (we should stop in for a meal or snack sometime). We passed the fabulous Glacier Park Lodge, one of the great national park lodges built in 1912-13 by the Great Northern Railway to attract travelers to the national park. It lacks the majesty of the Chateau at Lake Louise, but its lobby is one of the finest in the world.

    Looking for a campground for the night was a challenge. We had hoped to find one in Browning, 12 miles east of the park and principle town on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation. It has a well-known museum that shows off their history and culture. Unfortunately, the campgrounds we counted on were either out of business or way too far out of town. We were able to find two others in town: one was a joke and the other way overpriced and didn’t look clean or kept up. So we left Browning, missing the museum altogether.

    We found our place to stay some 40 miles south on US 89 at a rest area near the “town” of Dupuyer (not shown on all road maps). There was no sign saying “No Overnight Camping,” the vault toilets were spotless, the area was surrounded by lush grass, and there was little traffic. And we were next to a flat National Forest access road where Judy ran in the morning.

    [Note: Today Dupuyer is a collection of a few dozen ranching folks, many of whom may well be descendants of followers of Louis Riel, the founder of the province of Manitoba who stood up for the political and cultural rights of the Metis people in Canada. He led two rebellions that prompted him to relocate to the US, taking with him followers who supported his cause. The Red River Rebellion of 1869-70 was followed by the Northwest Rebellion in 1885 (after his return to Canada), which led to his capture, arrest, and execution for high treason. Both rebellions are important footnotes in Canadian history and Riel is a fascinating historical figure.]

    We drove to Great Falls for some groceries, filled the tank with some of the cheapest diesel we had seen in several years, and went to the visitors center for some suggestions for exploring Great Falls. We did bicycle a good portion of the extensive bike path along the Missouri River to Black Eagle Dam, the site of the former Anaconda Copper Smelter that stood on the north bank from 1909 until 1980 when the company shut it down. Its 506-foot smoke stack was the tallest in the world until 1919 when a taller one (585 feet high) was erected in Anaconda, Montana. The Great Falls stack was demolished in 1972 because it was thought to be a hazard, though it had the strength to withstand two attempts to bring it down.

    We were encouraged to visit the “great falls” that gives the town its name and gave Lewis and Clark fits as they had to portage around the falls on their way up the Missouri during their 1804-06 expedition. To our surprise the falls are 15 miles out of town over an absurdly awful road which, though paved, was like a potholed gravel backcountry road. The falls, in the end, were not very approachable nor spectacular. We would not go back nor urge others to visit. In fact, we left Great Falls with mixed feelings: the biking was great, the falls were a bust. To add another disappointment, a great dog park was closed for no apparent reason, though there was a sign that said it would be closed only for the morning (we were there in the afternoon) for “turf maintenance.”
White Sulphur Springs Castle
    US 89 south took us through the Little Belt Mountains and the Kings Hill Scenic Byway, as lush as an Irish hillside with snow-capped peaks on all sides. We slowed through the old mining town of Neihart, which boomed in the 1880s, and had periods of prosperity until WW II when the rail spur was abandoned and the rails pulled up for scrap metal for the war effort. Though about only 100 folks live there today, the signs of its heydays remain in the skeletons of the mills and the tailings that are visible. Neihart is a place to shich we’d return to dig for fossils and the variety of minerals found there: gold, galena, sapphires, and amethyst.

    We spent the night at the Conestoga Campground in White Sulphur Springs, a pleasant town of historic buildings (some of which have seen much better days), a hot mineral spring, and home of all the mosquitoes in Montana. Before we left in the morning, we crisscrossed town looking at the historic houses, only one of which was inviting: “The Castle,” a restored Victorian stone house built in 1892 and now the home of the Meagan County Museum.

    We arrived in Livingston in time for sandwiches in the shade of the railroad depot park, then walked the streets of this attractive and vibrant tourist town: an historic train station with a free museum, well kept buildings downtown that date to the 1890s, the classy Murray Hotel which is on the National Registry in spite of its iconic 1950s-60s name place sign, and three bookstores! They also have a better than average thrift store on the east side of town where we scored good paperbacks, women’s clothing, and a box of postcards, all a rock bottom prices or free.

    South of town we took the scenic East River Road along the Yellowstone River overflowing its banks past Chico Hot Springs (down a side road) to Gardiner, gateway to Yellowstone NP. Gardiner clearly exists for the purposes of serving tourists and seems very full of itself and quick to extort what they can from park visitors. If campground rates had been even close to reasonable we’d have stayed and dropped some coins in cute stores. But no one likes to get gouged, especially by a snotty RV parkkeeper, so we pushed on into the national park hoping for a campsite without a reservation.
    We had no luck, so we drove out through the east entrance, enjoying the park’s scenery and wildlife along the way, and for $5 found a woodsy, quiet campsite at Three Mile National Forest Campground (no hook-ups, no trains, no traffic, few mosquitoes, a level site, and clean vault toilets) on the banks of the swollen North Fork of the Shoshone River, which rushed by the edge of the campground. We slept well that night.

    The next morning we drove on to one of our favorite towns in Wyoming: Cody, with its stretch of retail shops along Sheridan Avenue, the historic (haunted?) Irma Hotel (named after Buffalo Bill’s daughter) and its funky shoot-out every evening for the gathered tourists, and one of three Sierra Trading Post outlet stores in the country which saved us going through online shopping. We bought some necessaries at the Sierra Trading Post store, skipped the Sheridan Avenue enticements, and headed south for another visit to another of our favorite Wyoming stops: Thermopolis, home of the world’s largest mineral hot springs.

    The last time we stayed in Thermopolis we camped at a funky small campground a short walk from the Hot Springs State Park (where no camping is allowed). We looked for it again and learned that it had been torn down and replaced with a single home. We needed a place with electricity so we could leave the dogs in the RV with the air conditioner on (the temperature was 96° at the time) and maybe some shade. We had three choices, none perfect: the best of the bunch was a three-mile bike ride to the hot springs (too far to ride our bikes in the heat we thought). The worst was only two miles but right on the highway and without wi-fi for a lot of money. We settled for the Fountain of Youth RV Park three miles from the state park but with their own private hot springs on site. Not as nice as the state park, but they did have shade, full hook-ups. We soaked the afternoon away, kept the dogs cooled when we were not walking them, had dinner, soaked again. In the end, it was a relaxing day. However, we had forgotten that the campground was right next to a train track and the trains’ passings, plus rather noisy neighbors and high winds, made this probably the worst campground for sleeping of the entire trip. We won’t return to the Fountain of Youth but will ride (or drive if necessary) the three miles to the hot springs from the “good” RV park.

    In the morning we stopped at the Hot Springs State Park for a soak and shower (no charge at the state park) and aimed for our last night of the trip somewhere in the area of Saratoga (Wyoming) or the nearby Snow Range. Two events discouraged us from stopping there and prompted us to make a beeline for home:

    •Dark, ominous clouds were in constant view to the south as we drove in that direction. A good-sized thunderstorm was brewing and, as we later learned, hit the Snowy Range with full force and devastating and destructive results; and

    •In the middle of Wyoming’s nowhere a gust of wind that was so strong that our slide-out popped open! Not for long and not more than about six inches, but is scared the beejeebers out of Lucy who was asleep on a bench seat, to say nothing of our surprise and alarm. We pulled over immediately and saw that the slide had returned securely to its normal position. We tied a rope across it to provide some additional security until we got home. When we checked it carefully at home and found no evidence—that we could see—of any damage.

    [Note: Another disappointment faced us when we arrived in Shoshoni, just a few miles south of Thermopolis: The best milk shakes in the country can no longer be found at the Yellowstone Drug Store on Main Street in Shoshoni. It's gone out of business and with it the heart and soul of Shoshoni—and only reason we know of to stop there.]

Looking Back

    We were been gone 31 days and returned feeling “vacationed out.” We saw some of the most breathtaking landscapes in North America: the Canadian Rockies and the lakes and mountains along the Columbia and Kootenay River Valleys. We saw most of the “big” animals we had hoped to see: grizzlies, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and bison. We struck out on sighting moose and caribou. We saw no snakes, one very large bullfrog, thousands of black slugs, and not nearly the widespread plague of biting insects that we anticipated.

    We have seen and poked through and talked with some folks who live in some intriguing (to us) old mining towns in both Canada and the US and found their charms and sensed their historical vitality. We visited towns in which we think we’d be comfortable living (Jasper and Nelson, to mention just two). We’ve learned more about the importance of trains, especially in the history and development of western Canada, than we expected. We’ve visited family, old friends, and new friends along the way. Bella and Lucy hiked many miles, slept a lot, ate well, and seemed to enjoy the traveling as much as we did.

   We are so very glad we have had the opportunity to make the trip at last, and we recommend our travels to all who enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. Western Canada is a beautiful part of the world, and it’s just across the border.

    Someday, if you visit the same areas we think you will be as awestruck as we were.

Judy and Hughes Moir
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