Canadian National Parks: Banff, Kootenay, and Yoho

Our latest excursion was to western Canada, where we spent a week exploring small towns and three Canadian National Parks: Banff, Yoho, and Kootenay.

After a nine hour drive we reached what would become our base of operations: Sunchaser resort in Fairmont Hot Springs, BC.

Our week began with a drive southward to Fort Steele, a childhood favorite of good friend Bill. This small “heritage town” is a well-preserved and fun-to-explore slice of life in the 1800’s.

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We then began a pilgrimage to the town of Fernie, where one of Wm’s favorite people was born: Rush’s guitarist Alex Lifeson. While there we enjoyed a nice lunch and searched for the local hospital “holy ground” where Alex may have entered this world.

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The following day we drove northward to Banff through beautiful scenery and bridges used only by wildlife. As we’d heard, the town of Banff is indeed a charming place. We walked around town in search of a memorable meal, and helped a sparrow escape a candy store, before watching water flow down Bow Falls. We then travelled further north to one of the most beautiful lakes we’d ever seen: Moraine Lake, where we marvelled at its beauty and watched a few avalanches, before moving on to nearby Lake Louise. All the while, Lisa was on lookout for Grizzlies, which (un)fortunately never made an appearance.

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We then continued our drive northwest, past the towns of Field and Golden, before heading south through Radium, where bighorn sheep roam the streets. This is one of the nicer drives that can be done in a day, but as evening approaches one must remain vigilant about colliding with deer.

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Our following days were spent relaxing, soaking, and enjoying the good life in Fairmont Hot Springs.

Olympic National Park (Revisited)

When we first visited Olympic National Park, we didn’t get to see much of the coastline section due to heavy rain.  So, we chose to return on a beautiful sunny spring day.

Our first stop was Crescent Lake, where the sun was out and we finally got a photo of its beautiful blue hues.  We then took a short hike up to Marymere falls, passing deer and moss-covered trees along the way.  This is easily one of the more accessible and rewarding hikes we’ve taken, as long as the weather’s nice.
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A short drive later we found a great spot along the Sol Duc river where we watched salmon fight their way up cascading falls. We also saw skunk cabbage in bloom.
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We then drove further west, out to the coastline, where we had a wonderful dinner at Kalaloch Lodge and stayed for the night.  The following morning we explored its beach, and then drove up to Ruby Beach, one of the prettier spots along Washington’s coast.

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During our long drive back, we snapped this photo of a humorous trailer and sign near Forks:
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Great Basin National Park

GreatBasin (16)Great Basin National Park marked our 44th and final park for this leg of our trip.  300 miles North of Las Vegas stands the 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak. The ‘great basin’ itself is the 200,000 square mile area that surrounds the mountain where the rivers and lakes drain internally (as opposed to emptying into the ocean).  Recent snow in the area kept us from driving to the top of the mountain, but we were able to see the sweeping desert which surround the mountain with great contrast.  We enjoyed a hike that took us alongside an old water-sluice that fed a mining-camp 9 miles distant on the other side of the mountain, but was now just a few scattered timbers.

On our way out of the park, we enjoyed the crazy “lawn-art” that neighbors had displayed along the main road including the “horse” driving the old car below.

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Saguaro National Park

Saguaro (12)Straddling both sides of Tucson are both halves of Saguaro National Park. Named after the unique and beautiful saguaro cactus, which are found in very few places in the United States.  Saguaro are the cactus most people think of when hearing the word cactus. We discovered that virtually none of these armed cacti look as perfect as represented in things like the Taco Time sign.
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We were struck by how beautiful and downright hostile this desert is.  Everywhere you look there’s something waiting to poison, poke, bite, sting, or scrape you.  It was fun to recall the names of the various plants and cacti that we learned about during our last visit to the southwest.

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Since the park is too fragile/dangerous to hike through, we visited the nearby Desert Museum, a great place to get up close with the creatures and plants that call the desert home. We saw mountain lions, javelinas (think wild pigs), and many kinds of spiders & snakes.  We were also able to see a raptor free-flight demonstration featuring a family of Harris Hawks who uniquely hunt in packs.  This was a very nice, zoo-like, museum, that we highly recommend if you are in the Tucson area.

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During our evening drive in the East section of the park, we enjoyed one of Arizona’s legendary sunsets. The drive also gave us our first three rattlesnake sightings, quickly reducing Lisa’s excitement to see a wild one close-up after it coiled and rattled at her.

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White Sands National Monument

Our drive took us close to White Sands, so we just had to stop and play in its majestic dunes of gypsum!  The area is also home to American rocketry, as well as the Trinity Test Site where the the Manhattan Project’s first nuclear detonation was tested.  Unfortunately, Trinity is only open to the public twice a year, but it’s OK – we didn’t really need the radiation anyway. 😉
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