GLACIER NATIONAL PARK & CANADIAN ROCKIES, DAY 9: GLACIER SKYWALK AND LOWER BANFF NATIONAL PARK

Do you remember when I said, “(Thankfully, that was not the case when we returned two days later!  Stay tuned…)?” That followed my comment about the gloomy and cold (36 F) weather at Columbia Icefields.  The weather changed dramatically, and we had our prettiest and warmest day yet.

(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Scenes from the bus window along Columbia Icefields Parkway

Our travels took us back on Columbia Icefields Parkway for a scenic drive that parallels the Continental Divide and runs through the heart of both Jasper and Banff National Parks

We first stopped at Sunwapta Falls for an up-close look.  The thunderous sound of the rushing water was mesmerizing; I could have taken a glorious nap there with the falls as sleep-inducing white noise!

Next stop was back at the Columbia Icefields base station to catch our shuttle bus to Glacier Skywalk.  If there was any day to do it, this was the day.  The sun was shining bright, there were beautiful white clouds in the sky, and my jacket came off to enjoy the comfortable 75-degree temperature. 

Athabasca Glacier
That’s me in between Karen and Edie on Glacier Skywalk

I was amazed by the construction of this award-winning architectural marvel; however, I was too distracted by the fantastic views to get too caught up reading the information displays.  Just look at what you can see out in the distance—and, 1,000 feet below my foot!

Our guide, Scott (R) along with some of our group

For lunch, we had a relaxing riverside picnic while we enjoyed lovely scenery.

Our next stop was a hiking trail looking down at glacier-fed Peyto Lake.  The views were magnificent!

Shot out the side window on our way to Banff

Meanwhile, the drive between each stop along Columbia Icefields Parkway was stunning—so much prettier than two days prior!  Unfortunately, bugs on the bus windshield ruined what would have been some nice shots, but here they are anyway:

Before heading into the town of Banff, we were able to get a fabulous view of the town from above—a perfect backdrop for our group photo.

Our group, along with Scott and our driver, David (R)
On our way down the mountain, we saw WILDLIFE(!)

Our spectacular day concluded at the Rim Rock Resort where we stayed for our final two nights.  Set amidst pine forests on the side of a mountain, the setting provided scenic views of the surrounding mountains. 

Dinner was in small groups at the hotel’s Primrose restaurant where Bruce and I both ordered salmon to end our streak.  What a lovely way to end one of the best days of our tour!

Next up:  More of Banff National Park

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK & CANADIAN ROCKIES, DAY 8: MALIGNE LAKE, CANYON, AND RIVER IN JASPER NATIONAL PARK

Scenes around the town of Jasper:

Located 27 miles from the town of Jasper, Maligne Lake was our afternoon destination, after having the morning free to explore Jasper on our own.  On the way to the lake, we learned about the devastating pine beetle that has destroyed 30% of the trees in Jasper.  There was also a Class 6 (of a possible 6) fire in 2015 that caused even more destruction of the forest, and we saw plenty of evidence on each side of the road that ends at the lake.  Several park staff and tourists were trapped when the fire started, but were airlifted out by a helicopter.

The fourteen-mile-long lake at an elevation of 5,500 feet is a deep one—318 feet at its deepest point; and, it has that gorgeous water like the other glacier-fed lakes we had visited.  At an average water temperature of 40 degrees, it is quite frigid; however, the air temperatures drop a lot further than that in the winter. The coldest air temperature ever recorded there was -58 degrees Fahrenheit! 

The day was mostly cloudy, so the views during our boat tour of the lake were not as spectacular as we had hoped, especially considering that it is rated the most beautiful boat tour in Canada.  Still, the scenery was amazing!  And, we were able to see all three glaciers as well as Spirit Island, considered one of the most beautiful and photographed locations in all of Canada.

(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Indigenous people of the area date back 18,000 years, and tiny Spirit Island is sacred to the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, who believe mountains are physical representations of their ancestors.  The fact that Spirit Island is surrounded on three sides by the same mountain range is very rare and makes it particularly significant to the Stoney.  They conduct healing ceremonies on the island, and it is considered an honor to be invited to attend, if you are not a Stoney Indian.

Access to the island is extremely limited due to its geography—14 kilometers (nearly 9 miles) from the docks at Home Bay.  It is hard to get to—paddling on your own can take four hours each way, so most tourists book a boat tour that stops at the island. 

It was interesting to see how the water changed to a more emerald color, the further south we traveled, and the closer we got to Spirit Island.  This was due to the presence of rock flour from the glaciers.

Adjacent to Spirit Island was a dock for boat tour guests to disembark at and walk a short trail to see and photograph the island from different viewpoints.

Following our cruise, we hiked around Maligne Canyon, a magnificent 160-feet deep slot limestone canyon that is only six feet wide at its narrowest point.  Maligne River flows out of Medicine Lake, and then drops down the canyon.  It is constantly being eroded by the churning and swirling of the water, and the resulting limestone formations were fascinating—and, photogenic. 

On the way back to town, we finally saw some photogenic elk (WILDLIFE!) beside the highway:

Speaking of photogenic, how do you like this view from the rooftop terrace at Jasper Pizza Place?  I don’t remember ever enjoying a pizza with a view quite like that!  What a beautiful way to end the day.

Next up: Glacier Skywalk and Lower Banff National Park

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK & CANADIAN ROCKIES, DAY 7: LAKE LOUISE & COLUMBIA ICEFIELD

One of the things Bruce and I enjoyed on the small group tour we did to Slovenia and Croatia with Vantage Travel, and this tour with Odysseys Unlimited, is the flexibility to go off on our own at each destination.  We were given a deadline to be back at the bus, but how we spent our time was an individual choice.  Our guide would give us all the information we needed and wanted on the bus ride to each location.  For those who wanted to stay with the guide, that option was available as well. 

(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Four different morning views at Lake Louise Village before we headed to the lake

At Lake Louise, we opted to walk the recommended lakeside path; however, some members of our group hiked on alternate trails or visited the hotel.  It was a beautiful, calm morning, so the reflections in the emerald green water were breathtaking throughout our walk! 

Beautiful flower baskets and plantings graced the front of the hotel above the lake.

We were thankful the blue skies stayed with us for our drive along Columbia Icefields Parkway to our next destination:  Athabasca Glacier.  The parkway was one of the prettiest I had seen, and I ended up snapping quite a few pictures out the bus window along the way:

Unfortunately, by the time we arrived at the glacier, it was a bit cloudy, windy, and a chilly 36 degrees at that high elevation.  It was not a good day for photography, because the white ice of the glacier blended in with the white clouds for a very flat appearance.  (Thankfully, that was not the case when we returned two days later!  Stay tuned…)

Dome Glacier, near Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier and the ice field where we were headed next. Since 1844 when the glacier reached its maximum, the edge of the glacier has retreated about one mile. That retreat continues today as warmer local temperatures continue to melt each summer than is replaced by winter snow accumulation.

The Columbia Icefield, in Banff National Park, is a UNESCO site.  At an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet, this 125-square mile tract of snow and ice is the largest ice field in the Rocky Mountains.  It also marks a triple Continental Divide point—meaning waters originating from the 23 feet average annual snowfall ultimately flow into the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans. 

An Ice Explorer all-terrain vehicle transported our group to Athabasca Glacier—the most visited glacier in North America.  Equipped to drive right onto the glacier itself, the vehicle has 5-1/2-feet-tall tires especially designed for glacier travel.  Each one of these super-sized tires costs $6,000!  The vehicles were originally purchased for $500,000 each; however, when they were due for refurbishing, $750,000 was spent on each vehicle, for a total investment of 1.25 million for each Ice Explorer.

Walking on the glacier was slippery and cold, but it was an awesome sight!

Bruce kept his mask on to keep his nose warm!
The view out the back window as we made our way back to the base station

Following our buffet lunch back at the base station, we stopped for a hike at Athabasca Falls and River after passing by this waterfall:

Finally, we headed north to another UNESCO site, Jasper National Park, our home for two nights in the town of Jasper.  We had a nice view from our room at the Whistler’s Inn!

Flowers outside of the local grocery store

The town is small, so I took a quick look around before Bruce and I met up with the group for dinner.  Opting for the salmon (again!), our streak continued!

Next up:  Maligne Canyon, Lake, and River in Jasper National Park

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK & CANADIAN ROCKIES, DAY 6: AN UNPLANNED SURPRISE VISIT TO MORAINE LAKE, BANFF NATIONAL PARK

This was our longest travel day, a journey taking us from the U.S. back into Canada to visit Banff National Park.  I’m not a fan of long bus rides, but the scenery was stunning.  Entering Canada required stopping at their border patrol station to have our passports processed.  Although Canada had dropped its mandatory Covid testing for everybody entering their country, a random testing policy was implemented, resulting in one of every 8 travelers being required to take a self-administered Covid test and send it via FedEx to the processing center.

Before crossing the border, we stopped for a restroom break at a duty-free store with this banner greeting us at the door:

At the station, three members of our group were selected; however, it was a Saturday.  They had 72 hours to self-administer and FedEx the tests back, so our guide figured he would hold off sending them in until we got to Jasper, on Monday.  Since the backlog for processing tests had reached 4-7 days, (and it had taken almost a week for others in our group to get their results back after entering Calgary at the beginning of the tour), I shook my head as I did the math.  It was August 27th, and our trip was scheduled to conclude on September 1.  The tests weren’t going to be turned in until August 29, and they would take one business day to arrive at their destination.  The guys would be home in the U.S.A. before receiving their test results!  What the…?  If they had tested positive, they would have already spread Covid to a bunch of people!  What’s the point?  We all had a good laugh about that, but what a waste of resources!

Onward we traveled along Canada’s western edge of the Canadian Rockies, entering Banff National Park.  Along the way, we noticed that all of the road signs in the park were in English and French, a federal law. 

The original itinerary stated that we would check into our hotel late in the afternoon, and then go for a walk at Lake Louise; however, our guide, Scott, and driver, David, had another idea in mind.  Since we were going to see Lake Louise the following morning anyway, how about trying our luck at getting into the parking lot at Moraine Lake before continuing on to the hotel?  Scott explained that the car parking lot would already be full, but since we were in a bus, we would possibly have a shot at getting into the bus parking lot.  Besides, Lake Louise, originally named the “Emerald Lake” was green, and seeing Moraine Lake would give us an opportunity to see an azure blue lake.  Were we game?  We voted unanimously in favor.

The day had been gloomy, and when we arrived, we couldn’t even see the ten mountain peaks surrounding the lake, due to the cloud cover.  We made it into the lot, though, so at least we could see some bright blue water.  Good enough for me; blue is my favorite color!

To get the best view of the lake, Scott suggested climbing the 79 feet up the “Rock Pile,” a popular hiking trail leading to one of the most photographed locations in all of Canada.  I bolted up ahead of everybody in the group, so I would have the most time to spend up at the top.  I anticipated the clouds hiding all ten peaks in the distance, but seeing the lake was better than nothing.  Surely, it would be beautiful and photogenic, regardless.

Just as we made it the top, the sun broke through for a spectacular view!  A few of the ten peaks appeared just in time for our arrival, and the brilliant blue water of the glacially fed lake shined.

(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Until I saw the lake with my own eyes, I thought the pictures I had seen of the lake were Photoshop-ped to-the-max.  No way could that water be such a bright shade of blue!  I was wrong; it really is that blue! 

Rock flour is what causes Moraine Lake’s water to be so blue, and Lake Louise to be that pretty shade of emerald green.  Also known as “glacial flour,” it consists of fine-grained, silt-sized particles of rock caused by glacial erosion.  The super-fine consistency becomes suspended in the melted snow and ice, causing the water run-off to appear cloudy.

We were all in awe and snapped a bunch of pictures, along with the other tourists.  This was definitely the highlight place for a photo with Bruce; I always make sure to get one from each trip. 

Log jams are caused by winter avalanches that sweep trees off the slopes onto the lake ice. When the ice melts, the trees drift over the stream outlet.

The nine-mile bus ride to Lake Louise Village, was buzzing with chatter about what we had just seen.  We all agreed the climb up the Rock Pile was well worth it!

Back down at 5,200 feet, we arrived at the village of Lake Louise, Canada’s highest community.  After checking into our room at Lake Louise Inn, I braved the cold air and biting wind for a look around the village and a walk along the river, while Bruce rested.  Beautiful!

The glacier in the upper left mountain is pictured below.
These beautiful stained glass windows were in the attractive visitor center in Lake Louise Village.

Next up:  Lake Louise & Columbia Icefield

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK & CANADIAN ROCKIES, DAY 5: WHITEFISH, MONTANA

Breakfast this morning was another grab-and-go affair.  Due to the labor shortages throughout the U.S. National Park system (and just about everywhere else), the hotel was unable to staff the restaurant for breakfast.  Instead, tasty hot and cold items were offered to-go at the coffee bar.  Our voucher included both, so we selected a delicious veggie quesadilla to eat hot and took the fruit, yogurt, and granola parfait with us for lunch.

The day started with a hike at Swift Creek Trailhead, just outside of the town of Whitefish.  The Whitefish Trail System consists of 15 trailheads and 47 miles of natural surface trails through forests, wildlife habitats, and lakes.  During our hike we learned about the different trees and plants, as explained here by Scott:

(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Scott, our tour director

If you ever come across a plant, flower, or animal you can’t identify, check out an ap called “Seek,” created by iNaturalist, which is a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.  One member of our group was using it and explained how it worked.  I am currently finding it very helpful in identifying the flowers and plants I photographed before I learned about the ap.  After opening Seek, I hold my phone’s camera up to my computer monitor and let the ap try to identify the photo on the screen.  It works!

“Pearly Everlasting,” as identified by using the “Seek” ap

Following our hike, we were treated to a taste of Wild Huckleberry liquor.  More about huckleberries on the next hike of the day…

Next, we headed to Whitefish Mountain Resort where we boarded chairlifts that took us to the top of “Big Mountain,” where the 2001 U.S. Alpine Skiing Championships were held.  At an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet, the 360-degree views of Whitefish and Whitefish Lake were spectacular.

We had the option of riding in a gondola or chair. Much to my surprise, Bruce agreed to join me in the chair!

Bruce and I ventured off to hike a loop trail to see more of the mountain.  The low clouds were creating such dynamic views and weather—warm when the sun broke through, and cold when the clouds blocked the sun. 

Along the way, we came across huckleberry bushes, so my continuous pauses to snack on the tasty berries along the way allowed for the remainder of our group to catch up with us. 

Huckleberries are a cousin of the blueberry, but smaller and purple in color.  In the gift shops throughout Glacier National Park, Huckleberry everything is available for purchase.  From flavored chocolates to preserves, they have it all.  In addition to the Wild Huckleberry liquor, Scott treated us to huckleberry licorice, which was quite tasty.  Nothing, however, beats a fresh huckleberry picked from the bush!

The high-altitude hike back up to the chairlift was a bit steep, which momentarily took the wind out of Bruce and some of the others, but I surprisingly managed ok.  I was pleased that the previous weeks of post-swim, masked track walks in my community’s gym had built up my lungs for the thin air.

Chamaenerion-angustifolium

While riding the chairlift back down, we were treated to sweet view of a mother and baby deer cuddled up under a tree.  Wildlife!  I tried to get a picture, but the chairlift was moving too quickly, and I missed it.  Oh well, how about these two babies that were hanging out in our backyard (several years back), while their mom foraged for food, instead?

In the summer, Big Mountain is also a popular destination for trail riding, so I caught this guy in action on his bicycle.  Considering we were moving on the chairlift, and he was flying down the mountain, I’m surprised my little Panasonic Lumix was able to capture these shots as good as it did:

Tansies- “Golden Buttons”

The remainder of the day was open for an afternoon and evening at leisure, so we checked out the town of Whitefish and ended our day with an early dinner,  topped off with Sweet Peaks ice cream.  Selecting two new (and different) flavors, Bruce and I had enjoyed five in all during our Montana visit. Yummy!

Mural on the side of Sweet Peaks Ice Cream
Tile and glass mosaic on the side of a craft shop. There was one for each season. This was my favorite, “Summer.”

Before walking back to the hotel, we picked up a copy of Flathead Beacon to read about local life.  The free newspaper includes “Police Blotter,” a listing of calls received by the local police and sheriff departments.  Check out some of these entries: 

Friday 7/29

8:49 a.m.  The actions of a man jumping around and climbing on a wall was described as gorilla-like.

9:05 p.m. A woman called to tell law enforcement she was missing the calendar that usually hung on her wall.

Saturday 7/30

9:05 a.m.  A woman called to complain about the governor.

7:58 p.m.  While playing with his owner, a dog accidentally chewed on a watch and dialed 911.

8:54 p.m.  Two dogs kept chasing the local deer.

Sunday 7/31

11:03 p.m. A bull and 10-12 cows escaped their pasture and headed east.

Tuesday 8/2

12:22 a.m.  A grizzly bear knocked over a trash can and made off with a bag of garbage.

8:19 a.m.  A man was in the process of divorcing his wife but she kept sending him explicit photos.

Now, wouldn’t it be nice if those were the “crime” reports in our local news?  I’ll trade it for shootings any day!

Next up: An Unplanned Surprise Visit to Moraine Lake

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK & CANADIAN ROCKIES, DAY 4: RIDING THE RED JAMMERS ALONG GOING-TO-THE-SUN ROAD

Gazing out our balcony window towards the mountains, I could see it was probably going to be another gloomy day. After I shot the photo above, clouds enveloped the mountain peaks, and rain threatened to ruin our Red Jammer ride on the iconic 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road.  At least that’s what we thought…

(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Our group of 24 divided ourselves into two “jammers,” but when Scott hopped into ours, he noticed there was room for two more.  None of the other 14 in the other jammer wanted to budge, though, so we had a little extra elbow room, which was nice. 

Fortunately, the rain held off so Zack, our driver, could roll back the canvas roof top, allowing us to enjoy better views of the mountain peaks surrounding us.  We were riding in style!

In the early days, visitors experienced Glacier National Park on horses.  When gravel roads were built, bumpy horseback rides were replaced by equally bumpy automobile rides.  In 1914, White Motor Company touring buses began taking passengers through the park. 

Fast-forward to today, and what has become the “Red Jammers” are part of the largest, longest-running fleet of vehicles in the National Park Service.  From 1999 – 2002, Ford Motor Company refurbished the buses, each getting a new V8 bi-fuel engine and a new chassis atop its original wheel base.  They are now a safer, cleaner, environmentally friendly, and more comfortable ride to go with that classically stylish look.

The “Jammer” part of their name comes from the bus drivers who were affectionately known as gear jammers, because they had to jam the buses into gear so frequently.

Zack, our driver, did a great job of sharing what he had learned about the jammers and the sites we saw during our ride.  Whenever we were about to approach a beautiful vista or a roadside waterfall, he slowed down and announced, “Prairie Dog!” giving us permission to stand up and take pictures through the rolled-back roof.  Bruce and I looked at each other simultaneously and said, “Meerkat!” in memory of one of our favorite critters at the San Diego Zoo.

Our adventure took us from St. Mary Village west to Lake MacDonald, with a stop at Logan Pass, the highest elevation of the road at 6,646 ft.  Until we arrived at Logan Pass Visitor Center, it was, indeed, a gloomy ride.  The fog had lifted enough to catch some views, but it was a bit depressing.

As Bruce, Scott, and I hiked the trails behind the visitor center in search of spotting a big horn sheep (as Scott was sure we would see), I lamented to Scott that Bruce’s and my luck of having great weather during our previous travels had run out.  Not more than two minutes later, magic!  The clouds began to lift, we could see the glaciers, and my sullen mood brightened along with the beautiful blue sky.  (We never did see a mountain goat, but we did spot this squirrel—wildlife!):

The windy, hairpin-curved road down from Logan Pass to Lake MacDonald was spectacular, making Going-to-the-Sun Road a must-see highlight of Glacier National Park.  The road was the first to be recognized on the National Historic Registers as a Place, Landmark, and Civil Engineering Landmark.   It crosses the Continental Divide, which marks the border between the eastern and western portions of North America.  Rivers originating east of the divide flow into the Atlantic Ocean, while rivers with headwaters west of the divide flow to the Pacific.  The panoramic views of the mountains and glaciers along the road was breathtaking!

Our ride terminated at the Lake MacDonald Lodge, a beautiful location for our lunch break.  While others dined in the lodge’s restuarant or skipped lunch, we parked ourselves on a bench behind the lodge to enjoy the panoramic views of the lake and enjoy the remainder of our huge grab-and-go breakfast.  The setting was lovely, and it was a perfect end to a morning spent on one of the most beautiful roads I had ever traveled.

David, our bus driver, met us at the lodge and drove us the remainder of the way to the Grouse Mountain Lodge, in Whitefish, Montana; our home for the next two nights.  As soon as I walked into the lobby and saw the massive rock fireplace with the carved wood mantel, I immediately loved the place.  Besides, it had a pool—tiny, but large enough to prepare for some upcoming swim meets by doing a modified workout, and logging some yardage into my U.S. Masters Swimming Go the Distance fitness log.  At just 30 feet long, the biggest challenge was trying to remember my lap count!

Grouse Mountain Grill was where we savored our included group dinner to put an exclamation point on the day.  The veggie option on our limited menu was grilled cauliflower, bok choy, (and more), in a coconut-ginger curry sauce.  Salmon or chicken was an optional addition, so we extended our salmon streak and thoroughly enjoyed every bite.

We got a kick out of the dinner served to a couple in our group.  It was Flinstone-sized full rack of ribs for each of them!  They happily enjoyed the remainder of that rack throughout the following day.

The dessert, however, was what those of us who ordered chocolate torte raved about throughout the remainder of our tour.  It was simply amazing.  What a fabulous end to a wonderful day!

Next up:  A Bird’s Eye View of Whitefish, Montana

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK & CANADIAN ROCKIES, DAY 3:  ST. MARY LAKE & MANY GLACIER

Except for this day during our cruise of St. Mary Lake, it was amazing how the sun came out during the best possible time during our sightseeing throughout our travels.  Mother Nature worked her magic the previous day when we were enjoying the views of Waterton Lake from the Prince of Wales Hotel.  As the afternoon progressed, the clouds enveloped the area when it no longer mattered.  The same thing happened as our tour through the Canadian Rockies progressed, and we were amazed at the timing of the weather changes—all in our favor!

(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Located on the eastern side of Glacier National Park, St. Mary Lake is about ten miles long. Taking a narrated cruise was a wonderful way to see it and learn about the area.  It was breathtaking to be surrounded by the steep mountains that began forming 170 million years ago, and to be on one of the park’s more than 130 named lakes.  In all, the park encompasses more than 1 million acres!

I never saw Stanley Kubricks film, The Shining, but the opening scene was filmed at the lake.  Scott showed us the beginning of the movie, so we could see the lake from a different perspective.  Of course, the weather was perfect when they filmed the movie, but the low-hanging clouds did add drama to the gloom we experienced.

Halfway through the cruise, we docked for a short hike to see a beautiful waterfall:

White Twisted Stalk- The flower that blooms from this plant is white and hangs from kinked twisted stalks. Towards the end of the season, it produces a berry that starts out green, changes to orange, then bright red.

During the afternoon, we headed out to Many Glacier Hotel, located in the northeastern area of Glacier National Park.  Built by the Great Northern Railway in 1914-15, the hotel is situated overlooking Swiftcurrent Lake.  The area is known as “Switzerland of North America,” and it was beautiful!  A hiking path circles the lake with great views of Many Glacier, the lake, and the hotel.  If you are lucky enough, you will also see a lot of wildlife.  Along with Linda, one of the other group members, we hiked ahead at a faster pace and just caught a glimpse of a female moose with her baby as they ran across our path and headed into the woods.  I tried to capture a photo, but all I got was a blurry shot of Mom and the butt of her baby.  It all happened so quick!  As it turned out, that was our only moose sighting of the trip; and, other than elk, we never saw any other large animals, such as bears or mountain goats.  It became a joke with our group as Scott’s confidence in seeing wildlife resulted in spotting nothing but small rodents.  That was where our luck ended…

A gloomy view during our walk near the Many Glacier Hotel
Scott capturing a reflection photo
Many Glacier Hotel

I thoroughly enjoyed all of our walks and hikes, though, and savored the fresh air and gorgeous (“gowajus”) sites.  (That was another joke with the group.  Linda, her friend, Wanda, and their husbands were from New Jersey; so, Scott playfully poked fun at their accent with his Kiwi/Australian/Canadian/British accent—a melting pot of some of the places he had lived since leaving New Zealand at the age of 19.)  We laughed a lot on this trip!

The evening was spent back at St. Mary Village where Bruce and I thoroughly enjoyed using our dinner vouchers for a repeat of the night before, except for a change in Sweet Peaks ice cream flavors.  We even had the same nice waitress!

Next up:  Riding the Red Jammers along Going-to-the-Sun Road

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK & CANADIAN ROCKIES, DAYS 1 & 2:  FROM CALGARY TO MONTANA

Bruce and I headed back up north again, this time on a small group land tour of Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies.  We had never done a 100% land-based tour, and it was our first time traveling with Odysseys Unlimited, a company that specializes in small group tours of 12-24 people.  Like everything else in travel this year, the tour was sold out, and 24 is the largest group size we would travel with in the future.  Fortunately, we had a good group, though. Everybody was punctual; and, amazingly, nobody even caught so much as a cold.  We returned home from our 11-day trip on September 1, and we are happily Covid-free.

Let’s get the trip review out of the way first, so I can move on to what I like sharing the most.  Would I travel with Odysseys Unlimited again?  Absolutely!  The tour was excellent, and our tour director, Scott Robertson, did a fabulous job.  Buyer beware, though:  The Covid-19 policy in place when you book (and pay for) the trip may not be the same by the time the trip actually occurs.  We booked with Odyssey expecting mandatory masking on the bus (as stated in their policy); however, Canada dropped that policy right before we arrived, so it was dropped for our tour. The majority of our group still masked; however, some did not.  As a result, us maskers tended to gravitate towards each other during group dinners whenever possible.

Having said that, I’m sure glad we booked a group tour and paid for it before the prices went up!  The prices of everything up there has skyrocketed, so we would have probably paid more for the trip had we done the exact same things on our own.  In addition, when car parking lots were full at the highlight spots, our bus/ “motor coach” was able to drive right on in to the separate bus parking area without a problem.

Otherwise, my only other recommendation would be to avoid flying with Air Canada if at all possible.  Ranked as one of the worst airlines in the world, they lived up (or down) to that reputation.  Our flight to Calgary was canceled, and we ended up arriving seven hours later than we were originally scheduled, missing our only day in Calgary.  The silver lining was being re-booked on Delta Airlines and through Minneapolis rather than Toronto.  Our experience flying home on Air Canada reminded me of uncomfortable past flights on old United Airlines planes with cramped seats, and that’s not saying much.

Now that I have the negativity out of the way, it’s all positive from here on out.

Since Bruce and I arrived at the Hyatt in Calgary too late to join the group for the welcome dinner, we didn’t meet everybody until the following day when we set off for Glacier National Park.  As it turned out, at 60, I was the youngest of the group by ten years; however, most of the group were active enough to handle the walks and hikes.

Before our lunch stop at Waterton Lake, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which adjoins Montana’s Glacier National Park, we took in the views from the Prince of Wales Hotel.  The wood structure was built in 1927 and perched high above the lake.  Thankfully, it survived a fire in 2017, because it is a beautiful hotel with spectacular panorama views!

(For all pictures in my blogs, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Prince of Wales Hotel
Hotel lobby

Our group lunch was in town, followed by enough free time on our own to walk to Cameron Falls, see the town, and walk along the lakefront.  This was the first of many beautiful waterfalls and lakes we enjoyed during the trip, and my first opportunity to test out my hip after having a second surgery on it last spring (the first was in 2014).  SUCCESS!  Eleven days of hiking and a lot of walking with zero pain.  Thanks, Dr. Andrachuk!

Cameron Falls

After crossing the 49th parallel into Montana, we arrived at St. Mary Village, our base for two nights.  This is where we had the gloomiest weather; however, it rained while we were enjoying our dinner, and then stopped before we left the hotel’s restaurant and were greeted with this:

We saw both ends of the rainbow, but just missed seeing the middle, due to the cloud cover.  Scott happened to capture the rainbow in its entirety on his phone and was nice enough to share it with the group:

Beautiful flower baskets hung from every hotel and in every town we visited.

What an amazing first night in the Rockies!  That beautiful sight followed what proved to be a big surprise for dinner.  Our voucher covered a three-course limited-menu dinner at the hotel’s Snowgoose Grill, which was fabulous, even though it is rated only 3.5 of 5 on Trip Advisor.  I should have photographed the massive and delicious marinated strawberry, goat cheese, and candied pecan salad that was served on a bed of mixed greens.  It was as large as a main course salad I would order in a restaurant for lunch.  Bruce’s soup was tasty!  We both ordered salmon, which we ended up choosing for our main course every night, when dinner was included during the tour.  Fabulous!  When dessert arrived, I had to break out the camera for this giant-sized brownie and Bruce’s apple crumble with huckleberry sauce, both served with delicious Sweet Peaks Montana ice cream.  How we made room for it, I’ll never know…

Dinner also included any glass of wine or beer from the list, or a non-alcoholic drink.  Bruce’s local huckleberry lemonade was awesome!

We didn’t expect this, that’s for sure.  As (mostly) non-meat eaters in beef and buffalo country, we were prepared for 11 protein-craving days of “you’ll-have-nothing-and-like-it.”  Oh boy, were we wrong about that!

Our upstairs room at the lodge had rustic mountain décor too cute not to make me laugh.  The highlight, however, was the balcony looking out over the river flowing by.  We kept our sliding glass door open until we got cold, so we could enjoy the mesmerizing and thoroughly relaxing sound of the water.  Ahhh!

Shower tile
View from our room
True Magpie

Next up:  Glacier National Park: St. Mary Lake & Many Glacier

CRUISING THE GREAT LAKES #12: Captivating Chicago, Part 2

I shot a lot of photos in Chicago!  What you saw in my last post was just a fraction!  Chicago is such a photogenic city, and shooting digital (rather than film, like I did in the good ol’ days), allowed me to photograph freely and delete rejects later.  Yes, I deleted a lot of pictures in my editing; however, there were many more that I kept.  Culling them down for my blog was difficult, but I thoroughly enjoyed the process!

Editing my photos and writing my blog posts has allowed me to savor the memories of our vacation for longer than I would have otherwise.  Sure, I’m back in my home office in Georgia, but as I edited, wrote, and read my drafts to Bruce; my mind traveled through the cruise ports and Chicago all over again.  Here it is, nearly one-month post-travels, and I have spent the past four weeks “traveling.”

To conclude, I will leave you with views of the Chicago skyline from above, along, and on the Chicago River.  If you would like to see larger versions of these photos, click on them for a full-screen view.

Marina City, better known as the “Corn Cob” has parking on the lover levels and a marina on the river (see below).
Merchandise Mart has its own zip code!
That’s our architecture tour boat reflected in the building.
Yes, that is real gold!

Thank you for joining me on my journey through the Great Lakes and Chicago! I hope you enjoyed my posts.

CRUISING THE GREAT LAKES #11: CAPTIVATING CHICAGO, PART 1

“Be careful in Chicago; there is so much crime!”  “Don’t go out at night in Chicago, even in the tourist areas!”  These were the warnings I received from a couple of acquaintances who used to live in Chicago.  I had heard it all before.  Chicago’s crime was all over the news, and it had gotten much worse since I visited the city with my best friend, in 2012.  Those warnings, however, weren’t going to stop me and Bruce from seeing U.S.A.’s third largest city together, and this was the perfect opportunity—at the end of our cruise, before flying home. 

During our three days in downtown, we took the necessary common-sense precautions, walked all over downtown, and thoroughly enjoyed it!

For a good overview to begin our stay, we used our on-board credit and took a city tour that was offered through American Queen Voyages, the company we had cruised the Great Lakes with during the previous two weeks.  On our final day, we did an architecture river cruise to learn about the skyscrapers that lined the Chicago River.  Both tours were excellent!

What most impressed us about Chicago was how clean and beautiful the downtown city center was everywhere we walked.  The city is situated along Lake Michigan, and the city planners did a fabulous job lining the waterfront with attractive parks that offered great vantage points of the amazing skyline.

There is so much I could write about Chicago, but I will let my pictures tell the story instead. (To view them larger, click on the photos.)  Here, then is Part 1:

Navy Pier
View from the end of Navy Pier
Buckingham Fountain

Scenes from Millenium Park:

Cloud Gate, aka “The Bean”
That’s us at the bottom, center, looking up at the sculpture

It was fun watching the faces change on Crown Fountain, and then “spit” water every ten minutes. The kids loved it! What a great way to cool off during the hot, humid summers.

Chicago hosts the Millenium Park Summer Music Series at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion for free!

Jay Pritzker Pavilion

We stayed on the 14th floor at the Warwick Allerton Hotel, on North Michigan Avenue. This (right) was our (zoomed in) view of Michigan Avenue from our room, including this gorgeous bird! Yes, it was real! I was able to photograph it by sticking my camera out the window that opened up just enough to fit my hand and camera through. Our room was on a corner, so it required a bit of maneuvering and guess work to angle my camera, hold it steady, and snap these shots!

The largest Starbucks in the world was located a block away. People actually line up around the corner to get in! We don’t drink coffee, and we aren’t Starbucks fans, but we thought it was worth a look inside when we happened to walk by when there was no line.

The planters along Michigan Avenue and neighboring streets were fabulous! They added such a beautiful element to soften the appearance of all the steel and concrete of the city.

Some of the buildings featured interesting artwork on their exteriors:

Although we thoroughly enjoyed our vegetarian deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s during our pre-cruise Chicago visit, we decided to try Giordano’s stuffed vegetarian deep dish pizza for comparison (see below). Lou Malnati’s crust wins the contest; however, Giordano’s wins for everything else! We loved their sauce and stuffed pizza! Want to make your mouth water? Click on the pizza photo to see it larger!

Now, for dessert. Kind Snacks is on their “Frozen Summer Tour,” and we were lucky enough to see them– twice! First, we saw the truck at the park at the foot of Navy Pier, and they were handing out free samples of their DELICIOUS frozen bars. They were eager to give you as many as you wanted, so we went back for seconds. 😀 The next day, they were on Michigan Avenue near the Chicago River! They would have given us an entire box if we wanted! The sample lady was eager to empty their coolers and call it a day. We ended up tasting one each of three different flavors and made pigs of ourselves. Damn, those things are good!

A window display on Michigan Avenue, better known as the “Magnificent Mile.”

Next up: Cruising the Great Lakes #12: Captivating Chicago, Part 2