Sunday, July 24, 2016

UNESCO World Heritage Site #112: Canadian Rocky Mountains - Lake Louise

Lake Louise with Glaciers in Background 

Red canoes, Lake Louise boathouse 

Okay, we're now about a tenth of the way through our goal of visiting all 1,052 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Only 940 more to go...we just have to live 200 more years to visit them all! Number 112 is the entire range of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, so there will be several posts for this one site. We arrived through Waterton Lakes National Park, which is the world's first international peace park, joined below the U.S. border with Glacier National Park. Our first stop in the Rockies was Banff, followed by Lake Louise. This area was designated a UNESCO site in 1984 for its outstanding natural beauty, geological importance and important fossil beds.  

Luis walking around the lake 

We arrived late in the afternoon, so took a walk along the lake, then got up early the next day to hike up to the Six Glaciers Plain lookout, about 18 km (11.19 miles) round-trip. It was a great hike since the weather was mostly cool and there were few people on the trail. I always say that if you want to avoid the crowds at popular parks, just go for a hike. After the first hundred feet, about 80% will drop off and after the first two miles, 98% will be gone. Most park visitors in any country hang around the photo op spots, then get back in their car or tour bus, so we generally have the trails almost to ourselves except for a few fellow intrepid explorers.  

Hiking up to Six Glaciers Plain  

On the way, we encountered teams of horses and mules taking riders and supplies up to the glacial plains. One poor young cowhand was stuck with a mule who refused to budge an inch. He couldn't get him to move no matter what he did including dropping a few F-bombs. He looked as if he was at the end of his rope (as was the mule, quite literally), when he finally got him moving. There was a large "horse jam" at the trail intersection since none of the teams could pass each other on the narrow ledges until the mule decided he was good and ready. 

Horse and mule teams on the glacier pass

"Nope, not going up there": stubborn mule and frustrated cowboy both at the end of their ropes

We had gorgeous views when we finally reached the top. The glaciers have receded greatly of course, due to climate change, but there are still enough of them to get some spectacular views. We wanted to visit the Glacial parks while there still are glaciers, since most are predicted to be gone completely in the next 15-20 years.
  Woo-hoo! We're here! 

Inching carefully back down the rocky trail; lots of loose slippery pebbles 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

From One Extreme to Another: Zion National Park, Utah

Weather and river conditions board at Zion Outfitters

We've been experiencing crazy swings in weather here in Southern Utah. A couple of weeks ago, we drove through a snowfall on our way down Scenic Route 12 and this week, the temps are in the 103-110 degrees F range. We tried to do a few short hikes in Zion National Park, but spent a good portion of the day soaking in the Virgin River eating oranges.

 Luis cooling off in the Virgin River, Zion Nat'l Park

It's a gorgeous park and really well-organized, despite the millions of visitors they get every year. We took advantage of the free hop-on-hop-off shuttle and saw as much as we could in the heat, then gave up and hit the Lodge for a couple of cold local craft beers. Ahhh! 

Toasting the amazing scenery from the shade of the beer garden

The views are spectacular and Luis is planning on hiking the Narrows tomorrow, a 5-hour hike over river rocks through a running, cold stream to the very narrow opening of a canyon. The park recommends renting special neoprene booties and non-slip shoes and a long wooden stick due to the slipperiness and so that your feet don't fall off from frostbite. Um, pass. I'll head to Deseret Industries, the Utah equivalent of Goodwill thrift shops while Luis is hiking. Yep, that's the secret to a happy marriage. 

The Narrows trail head at the end of Riverwalk


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Spring snow in Southern Utah

 Stopping at the visitor center on the top of Boulder Mountain. Really, Utah? Snow? You do know that it's almost June, right?? 

 Ahhh, finally over the mountain to the other (warmer, drier) side!

Overlooking the "Million Dollar Highway" on our way to Escalante, Utah. Next stop: Bryce Canyon

Thursday, February 4, 2016

South Padre Island, Texas - Spring Break: Senior Edition

The beach scene in February at South Padre Island, TX 

Another week away from the blizzards of the Great White North: sunny skies, low 70s, fresh shrimp, sunset sails, retirees, families. Not so many Canadians this year, so the locals say, due to the dropping value of the CDN dollar, but we’ve seen many Manitobans and Quebecois flocking here alongside Minnesotans, Wisconsinites, North and South Dakotans and New Yorkers. Despite, or perhaps because of, the greying Winter Texans and kids here, Port Isabel and South Padre Island have a nice, laid back feel, at least for now. Rumor has it that the snow birds are about to fly the coop since the college spring break mayhem is getting ready to erupt. For now though, it's peaceful.

Enjoying a cold beer and live reggae music at Clayton's, South Padre Island

But, hey, even senior citizens enjoy live music, dancing and a cocktail or two, so there is also a lively beachside bar vibe even before the wet bathing suit contests commence. Camping here is expensive by our standards though, so we’ve been Wal-Marting it in Port Isabel, 15-minutes away and driving over the bridge every day. There are lots of coupons and specials though, so I managed to snag a deeply discounted sunset sail and dinner on the Southern Waves catamaran.   

Eating grilled shrimp on the Southern Waves catamaran 

We did find an inexpensive campsite at Isla Blanca, right before you enter the park gates, there is a small camping area that can cost as little as $15 for a tent site. RVs can use those sites too, but there are no hookups (electric or water) although you can still use the showers and dump your tanks in the nearby park. We also visited the SPI Birding and Nature Center during an event with several lectures on dolphins, raptors, etc. and the Sea Turtle Rescue Center, where they rehabilitate injured turtles and are able to release 90% back into the wilrd.  

 Blue heron at SPI birding and nature center 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Texas Gulf Shores: Port Aransas & Mustang Island

Port Aransas seawall & ferries 

This week, while everyone else in the country was buried in snow, we traveled further south down the Gulf Coast to Port Aransas and Mustang Island, Texas. We’ve been trying to resist the urge to gloat, but, frankly, it’s not easy. Instead of digging our car out of our driveway, we’ve been digging our toes into the sand, strolling along the long stretches of beaches with the white winter sun glistening on the waves and the seagulls and terns swirling overhead.

Luis trying to eat his breakfast in peace

We’ve watched pods of dolphins following ferries and leaping in great twisting arcs out of the water in front of the oil freighters. White Pelicans bob on the waves, lazily dropping their pouched beaks into the surf to scoop up whatever unlucky sea creature floats into their paths. Comical toupee-wearing Royal Terns, stand side by side on the beach, all facing into the wind, and the aviary super-models, the Egrets, Ibis and Herons standing patiently on their long, thin legs in the wetlands, watching for the slightest ripple in the water before striking at lightning speed, their prey swimming shell-shocked in fish heaven before they know what hit them.

Snowy egret fishing for dinner

It’s the laid-back, easy way of life here that’s so appealing: friendly, helpful people, lots of restaurants with affordable menus, well-run free car ferries that connect islands to each other and the mainland, a $12 annual beach parking pass that allows camping on the beach for no additional cost. Technically, the restriction is for three nights in a period of 21 days, although, according to the locals, this is seldom enforced out of season. It is pleasant to camp between the sea and the dunes, with the sound of the surf at night, people walking their dogs, and the winter residents’ golf carts zipping along the flat, 18-mile stretch of sand between Port Aransas and Mustang beach. I think we'll dig our toes a little deeper into the sand... 

Dolphins playing at the bow of oil freighters