Glacier National Park

Of all the parks on my five-week trip, Glacier National Park was the only one I had never visited in the past (though, in the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t been to Yellowstone or Grand Teton since I was about seven or eight years old, so they barely count!)

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We drove from Banff to Glacier and crossed the border into Montana at the Carway border crossing, which is by far the smallest crossing I’d ever been through. It was easy and with no line, a tiny teardrop camper and no real declarations besides a cooler full of Canadian craft beer, we were passed right through. I’d read horror stories about RV’s returning to the United States and being searched, and have watched episodes of “Canada Border Control” which had me scared about every inch searched for narcotics or cash or the raw meat Chinese travelers always get in trouble with on the TV show.  (Shhh….. I did have a Kinder Surprise egg in the galley… it made it home unharmed!)

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After reading reviews of it being “the best,” I’d booked a site at Many Glacier Campground. It’s a gorgeous campground with spacious sites (all of the trailer sites are pull throughs, even!) and lots of clean bathrooms. The reviews did not lie – this was an amazing campground. Our site was right at the base of a huge mountain where you could see mountain goats and even a mama grizzly bear and her two cubs, if you had binoculars, anyway.

 

Many Glacier is in the North East corner of the park, and doesn’t connect to the main parts of the park – you have to exit the park, take a highway then re-enter to get to the Going to the Sun Road, which I will talk about later.  Many Glacier basically consists of the Many Glacier Hotel, a BEAUTIFUL 100+ year old hotel on the Swiftcurrent Lake, the Swiftcurrent Motor Lodge which looks like a very cool place to stay with their tiny log cabin structures, and the Many Glacier campground.

 

The road into Many Glacier is hands down, the worst “paved” road I have ever driven on, and this was frustrating since we drove on it so many times to get to other areas of the park. I have no idea what happened to it, but it is BAD. We drove about 10 miles an hour or less and still were jostled around. It’s like they started repaving it, then quit. It’s rough, full of cracks and bumps and potholes and is just abysmal.

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East Tunnel of The Going to the Sun Road – Photo – J. Propst

The Going to the Sun road is probably the biggest attraction at Glacier. It is one of the most epic roads I have ever driven on.  Construction on it started in 1921, and tool 11 years to complete. It covers about 52 miles and connects the East and West sides of the park. The road is magnificent – built into the side of the mountains with two tunnels through the rock. There are hairpin turns, beautiful views, and no modern guardrails other than a few rocks placed here and there. It’s only open for a few months each year. The road takes a couple of months to clear of snow in the spring, because up to 80 feet of snow can cover it in winter. They use heavy machinery equipped with GPS to clear the road, and it usually is ready to open in mid to late June, and closes again in mid October.

 

I’ve driven on some cool roads – my home state Blue Ridge Parkway is pretty epic. The Icefields Parkway in Banff and Jasper, and the Slea Head Drive in Western Ireland just to name a few, but the Going to the Sun Road probably takes the prize for most epic!

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On our first full day in Glacier, we left just after sunrise (to avoid the crowds!) and drove East to West to Logan Pass, which is the highest point on the Going to the Sun Road. My dad and I hiked the Hidden Lake trail, which is more like a super steep boardwalk of steps. We encountered mountain goats, and were at eye level with a number of glaciers. The wildflowers in the meadow were spectacular, and it was a great, easy hike, overall with countless photo ops (that I loved!).

 

We stopped for lunch at the Saint Mary Inn which is just outside the park… and what a disappointment it was. We actually never ordered a meal because the service was so terrible (we waited 15 minutes to order drinks, and the server could only tell us the color of the beer, not what style it was!).  Instead we made our way to the Johnson’s of Saint Mary Family Restaurant, and it was out of this world! Family owned and operated for over 60 years, this place is a real gem in the tiny community just outside the St. Mary entrance to Glacier National Park.

 

Before dinner, we had cocktails (aka craft beer, for me!) at the Many Glacier Hotel. Half of the hotel was undergoing major renovations so I didn’t get to see the grand lobby, but it’s another beautiful, historic property. I can’t wait to return to see it in it’s full glory!

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Our second full day in Glacier we left before Sunrise (stopping at Swiftcurrent Lake to watch the light show!) then drove East to West the entire Going to the Sun Road. We stopped at the Lake MacDonald Inn and marveled at the animal trophies and incredible architecture of the 100 year old hotel. Then we headed to Whitefish, where we had an outstanding brunch at the Bison Café (they had some of the best huevos rancheros I’ve ever had!) and a beer sampling at the Great Noimg_6460rthern Brewing Company. (Which will receive it’s very own post later!)

 

We headed back to Glacier, and got to see the Going to the Sun Road from the west to the east, which is possibly more spectacular just because you drive straight towards the mountains and can see the incredible road above you, practically hanging off the side of the mountain.

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Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park. Photo – J. Propst

In a nutshell, Glacier National Park is AMAZING and a must see, especially because those glaciers won’t be around for much longer.

 

 

 

 

Lake Louise and Moraine Lake

I’ve mentioned it before, but this was my third visit to the Canadian Rockies. I’d previously been here in 2010 and 2012, both at about the same time in August, but I had never before experienced the crowds of the summer of 2016. Maybe it’s because the American dollar is so strong and we are traveling north of the border to take advantage of it, and Canadians are in turn staying home. Despite the crowds even in the late afternoon, Lake Louise was lovely, but it’s never been my favorite lake of the Rockies (even though I named my teardrop after it!).

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What I was most looking forward to on the entire trip was Moraine Lake, a smaller lake about 12 km from Louise.  And I was not disappointed.  I immediately rushed to the top of the rockpile and gazed in wonder at my favorite place on earth. (Well, okay, it’s tied for my favorite place on earth with the Slea Head near Dingle, Ireland).

 

Moraine Lake though – it’s magical. It’s really like no other place on earth. The water is the most perfect shade of turquoise blue (I tried my best to replicate the color of the lake on my teardrop camper!). The mountain peaks that wrap around it are majestic. It’s truly an emotional experience to see it in person.  I enjoyed the view for as long as I could, then hiked back down to the parking lot to return to the campsite.

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Moraine Lake – I have better photos, but they are from after my photo class. Stay tuned.

 

Monday was to be an incredibly rainy and cold day, so we made the most of it.  We went back to Moraine Lake to see the color subdued by the fog and mist, and had drinks at a fancy hotel pub in the Chateau Lake Louise. It’s here I had one of my favorite beers of the trip (so far!), a Jerkface 9000 by Parallel 49 brewing out of Surrey, BC which is near Vancouver. I was familiar with Parallel 49 brewing and excited to try another brew, and this one I liked even more than their Tricycle, the best Radler I’ve ever tasted!

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The view of Moraine Lake from the water. You can’t see the beautiful blue color as well, but an amazing perspective!

We had dinner at the Post Hotel Pub – I had a fantastic Quinoa veggie burger and a couple of pints of Alberta craft beer.

We packed up for Banff the next day, and stopped at the Lake Louise Gondola – I’d purchased a groupon and even though the weather was a bit overcast and cool (it hadIMG_6072 snowed on the mountain peaks the night before!) we wanted to see, and it was worth the chilly ride up the ski lift. It was a cool perspective of the Lake!  You can’t see Moraine Lake – it’s in a valley to the left of Louise.

 

 

Parks Canada Camping – a review

I spent the last eight nights sleeping in Parks Canada campgrounds, so I figured I’d share a bit about my experiences booking and staying there.

Unlike the US National Parks where we book sites about six months out, Parks Canada releases all of their campsites for the coming year on a specific date. This year, it was earlier than usual, in early January at precisely 10am.

I researched with google maps and campground diagrams what my preferred campgrounds and sites were, and was ready to go when the reservation window opened.  I knew that Two Jake Lakeside was the hot ticket campground, so focused on it, and was able to reserve one of only three lakeside sites within a minute of the reservation opening.  After reserving Two Jack, I secured Lake Louise and Jasper sites, but both were in huge, relatively non-descript campgrounds, so specific location wasn’t that important.

 

At the Canadian campgrounds I stayed at, there were sites with and without fire rings.  If you had a fire pit, you were required to purchase a “fire permit” for about $9 CAD that allowed you to have a campfire, and in return, all the firewood you needed.  I think this is one of the most brilliant things Parks Canada does. First of all, it divides the fire users from the non-fire users.  You could go to campground loops with no fires, I you knew you didn’t want one, and could therefore avoid getting smokey. But if you wanted a fire (and I wanted one!) you paid a nominal fee and got all the wood you wanted.  $9 for campfire wood is cheap, if you ask me!  It was $8.50 a bundle at the Grand Canyon… and in Parks Canada, that $9 bought me all the wood I wanted, and there was no risk of people bringing in wood with all of those awful wood pests and beetles that attack and kill forests.  And of the eight nights I camped in Canada, I know there were two of three I didn’t build a fire but paid for one, and Parks Canada profited (something I’m okay with, mostly because I’m one of those leftie types that is happy to share what I have with others to preserve our amazing environment!)

 

Jasper National Park

I decided to stay at Whistlers Campground in Jasper. It was listed as right next to the townsite, and while in theory that’s probably true, it wasn’t as close as I’d hoped.  Instead of a 5 to 10 minute walk (like I imagined) it would have been a much longer hike, and therefore we always drove into town. We had decent cell phone reception here, which was nice. Even though I’m camping, it’s nice to be able to check in, especially since I’ve been on the road for so long already.

 

Whistlers campground is huge. HUGE. There were almost 30 loops, and each one had 20-30 sites. The loops all had bathrooms (aka washrooms, in Canada) with dishwashing sinks.  There was one showerhouse, that would have been a 10 minute walk from our site, and one woodpile that was stocked, that we drove to because carrying a bundle of wood 20+ minutes didn’t sound like fun! The washrooms were clean, but the traffic on a busy summer weekend meant I had to wait more often than not, and the sinks were usually clogged with girls doing their hair and makeup. (Seriously ladies, you are camping….)

 

Even though there were possibly 1000 sites in the campground, and almost every one was full, it was still pretty “wild” by my big city standards. A mama elk (she was huge!) walked through our campsite and ate a bunch of the wildflowers before moving on, and all five of us just stood by in awe. There were lots of magpies (a quite beautiful bird despite their sometimes pesky behavior), ravens (that weren’t nearly as pesky as the ones at the Grand Canyon and squirrels and chipmunks.

 

Whistlers had the heaviest “law enforcement” ranger presence, probably because it was one of the last weekends of the summer and packed with people. They were VERY strict about the “three units per site” rule and made us find a place for the second car, because one car, Louise the Teardrop and a tent were all we were allowed.

 

Lake Louise

Lake Louise is between Jasper and Banff, just off Highway 1, and has only two campgrounds – the Lake Louise Tent campground and the hard-sided RV campground. We stayed in the tent campground, where everyone with a soft sided camper (pop-up) or tent must stay. Because of the bear population in Lake Louise, this campground is gated with an electric fence and electrified cattle gates. Just like at Whistlers, we had a fire permit and fire ring. We were VERY grateful for the fire ring, because it was COLD and rainy during our two nights at Lake Louise. I have never been colder in my life than one of those nights in a tent, with temps reaching close to freezing.

 

The Lake Louise campground is much smaller than Whistlers, with more space between the campgrounds. The forest is thick with trees (mostly spruce and fir). We had three washrooms nearby, and a shower house as well.

 

The Lake Louise village was walkable from the campground, and Lake Louise and Moraine Lake were each about a 15 minute drive. There was a train track very near the campground that had trains all through the day and night, but the noise didn’t bother me.

 

The Lake Louise Village has a few small shops, a tiny market (they didn’t sell canned beans, and we really wanted chili,  but they had great produce and the fixings for pasta, so we were covered!) One night we had dinner at the Post Hotel Pub, and during the rainiest, cold, day, we enjoyed coctails at the Lake Louise hotel tavern with amazing service and a fantastic selection of craft beer (my favorite of which was Jerkface 9000, a white IPA from Parallel 49 Brewing out of Surrey, B.C.

 

Lake Louise was about a 45 minute drive via Hwy 1 from Banff (I know the drive well… since I visited Moraine Lake two more times after leaving the Lake Louise campground!). If you want to take the scenic route, the Bow Valley Parkway, it’s about an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and a half.

 

Two Jack Lakeside

If you want the camping experience of a lifetime, stay at Two Jack Lakeside.  There are only about 70 sites, and only a handful of those (literally, two or three) that were on the lake and accessible to a tiny teardrop trailer. I was super lucky to be able to secure one of these, and boy oh boy was it amazing.  Picture a magnificent, crystal clear lake at the base of Mount Rundle, and only 70 campsites nestled on its shores. That’s what Two Jack has to offer.  The sites were literally sold out in MINUTES back in January, so I know I was lucky to get the one I did.

 

The campground is located about a 10 minute drive from the Banff townsite. It had hot showers and running water, which is always a bonus when camping for a month. My tent sat about 5 meters from the shore of the lake.

 

The people in this particular campground were some of the best I’ve met of the trip. Lots of families and locals, which is understandable. Why travel far away when you have something like Two Jack Lake and Banff in your backyard!

 

I met amazing people – a couple who have traveled all over the US and Canada and encouraged me to move forward with my 2017 trip plans to visit New England and the maritime provinces (and even Newfoundland!). They did a couple of months around the Gulf of Mexico (with their six month old daughter!) and have camped all across Canada, but said the one place they want to go back is Newfoundland, so I am going to do some budget figures to see how much time (and money) I would need to make this camping dream come true. When we were packing up to head for Montana, they offered us breakfast for the road, and let me tell you, blueberry bacon pancakes are pretty delicious. I love Canadian hospitality!!!!!

Icefields Parkway

IMG_5879We spent most of Sunday driving along the Icefield Parkway, one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the world. We only stopped for a few of the very best viewpoints, but I could have easily spent a couple of days hiking and exploring just off the road. In French, it’s the Promenade des Glaciers, which I think is fancier and more appropriate for the scenery one sees traveling on it!

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The parkway is 230 km long, and was completed in 1940 to connect Jasper and Banff National Parks. It winds past turquoise lakes, waterfalls and countless glaciers. It follows the route many early Canadian explorers took as they mapped and charted the amazing Canadian wilderness.

 

I’d bought an amazing $5 audio guide for my iPhone that triggers off of GPS points and doesn’t use data since there is not cell reception on the parkway (The Gypsy guide) and we enjoyed listening to it, learning about the names of the mountain peaks, who named them, and who were the first explorers to summit them.

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The Athbasca Glacier, part of the Columbia Icefield. It will be melted in 80 years.

Some of the highlights included the gushing Athabasca Falls, Bow Lake and Peyto Lake which are the color of my very own Louise. I’d traveled the parkway a few times before and this was the first time I did the “Columbia Icefields Experience” which gave me the chance to ride in a gigantic snow coach bus (designed to drive a 36 degree grade!!!!!) across the moraine (that’s the rock debris at the edges of a glacier) and onto the glacier. We got to spend about half an hour walking on the glacier ice and filled up a couple of water bottles with glacier water. It was crowded with people, but still a fun experience. I, of course, had to take a photo of my chaco-clad toes on the glacier ice!

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Toes on a glacier! These chacos have been with me for 15 years, and walked in two continents and seven countries!

The environmentalist in me isn’t completely sure what kind of impact this experience has on an already receding glacier, but at the rate they are melting (most in the region have less than 80 years left), I’m not sure if letting people walk on them hurts them anymore than the global warming that is overtaking our planet.

 

We got to the campground and set up camp quickly (it’s so nice with a teardrop and an easy to put up REI tent!) and made it to Lake Louise and my very favorite, Moraine Lake, right in time for the magical late afternoon sunlight.

 

Jasper National Park

Jasper National Park is the largest one in the Canadian Rockies – it features glacier fed lakes, glaciers, hot springs and impressive mountain peaks. It became a National Park in 1930, and one of its earliest explorers was a woman named Mary Shaeffer who named most of the mountains in the region. It’s a beautiful place, less visited by Banff, which really adds to its intrigue!

 

We drove from Calgary to Jasper National Park via the icefields parkway – a much shorter, but just as (if not more so) road like the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It’s the only real route between Jasper and Banff. It took a few hours, mostly because the scenery is so awe inspiring and requires lots of stops to take in the beauty.

 

We made it to Whistlers Campground (no thanks to Siri, who directed us to the National Park Service headquarters “downtown”, and got checked in. It was a weekend, and one of the last of the summer, so the campground was packed. It was definitely the biggest campground I’ve ever been to… we were in loop 23 (there were at least 29 of them) and each had about 10 sites.  There were bathrooms nearby, and a showerhouse on the other side of the campground, and a giant firewood pile for us to pilfer from.  After only being there for about an hour, a mama elk (holy cow, she was HUGE!) decided to come walking through and eat some of the wildflowers growing in the site.

 

IMG_5886Saturday morning we headed for Maligne Lake. On my previous trips to the Canadaian Rockies, I’d always been rained out but the forecast was perfect! We took a boat cruise to Spirit Island, and it was incredible. I was a bit skeptical about 32 tourists crammed into a boat for an hour or so, but the view was worth it, and our tour guide Cam (and his partner, the boat captain Scott) made the trip spectacular. Cam has a real love of these mountains and their history, and it showed in his commentary. I loved learning the history of the lake, of the First Nations people who lived there and still find so much peace and power in its shores.

 

We got to see Spirit Island, a beautiful spot at the far end of the lake, only accessible by boat. Though the sun was high in the sky, flattening the landscape, my photos turned out well, and now I have the dream of visiting again, but this time via a canoe and one of the backcountry campsites that are only accessible via a canoe or kayak. This is just one of the many places I want to see again on my next trip to the Canadian Rockies (three is definitely not enough!)

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Spirit Island! I can’t wait to visit again, next time via a canoe so I can see it at sunrise.

 

We had pints at the Jasper Brewing Company (decent beer, but not at all worth of an entire post unlike the Dandy Brewing Company in Calgary!). From what I can understand Jasper Brewing and Banff Brewing have the same parent company and that’s probably the only reason they could exist before Alberta beer legislation changed in 2013.  Again, the beer was fine, but reminded me a bit of the other brew pubs that open mostly to service the one location. (The former Hops in Charlotte, or Rock Bottom Brewery (and that chain).

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The next morning I woke up before anyone else and headed for sunrise. I picked an easy to get to spot off of the Icefields Parkway with great views of the Athabasca River and Pyramid Mountain.  It was a great start to the day for me!

Dandy Brewing

Finally, a post about beer, eh?  Appropriate since I named this blog Teardrops and ALES.

I’ve had a lot of great craft beer along the way this trip…. breweries from New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Montana (I somehow missed Idaho beer… I hope to rectify that soon!), but not had the chance to visit many breweries (two, to be honest).

I’ve said it a million times… there’s nothing like finding the perfect brewery on the road. Last night, after a quick internet search I selected one to visit during my brief stay in Calgary, the Dandy Brewing Co. It’s a new brewery – established in 2014, and based on a quick internet search, I found it’s beer offerings most compatible with my tastes. (They currently have a grissette on tap, and a sour!).

The craft brew scene in Alberta is relatively young compared to my home state of North Carolina. Only recently (as in late 2013!) did “small” breweries have the ability to get licenses and brew beer in Alberta, and while the market is growing rapidly, it is still very young and growing. Calgary, a city much larger than my hometown of Asheville, NC, has only a handful of breweries and well, former Beer City USA has more than I can count.

I showed up to a small space in an industrial park, and nearly every single chair in the 20-seat tasting room filled. That was a good sign to me considering it was only about 4:00pm on a Thursday afternoon! Every beer on the four beer flight I had was delicious. It is truly craft beer, something I had never found before on my MANY trips to Canada.

After a few tastes, one of the owners who was sitting at the bar, Matt, revealed himself to me and offered to take me on a tour.  I was impressed. It’s a small, still-new operation, and they are brewing everything themselves in 3 and a half barrel quantities, and their beer is REALLY GOOD. From Oyster Stouts (yum!) to saisons to IPA’s, everything I had was good, and I don’t usually say that about an entire brewery’s offerings.

Needless to say, I planned on staying for a pint and ended up staying about three hours. But the beer was delicious. And even more so, the people were amazing. Canadians are amazing.  I chatted with beer enthusiasts about the evils of Donald Trump, the new brewery laws in Alberta and the craft beer scene, the Olympics (from the moron named Ryan Lochte to the Russian doping scandal to the supremacy of the American Women’s hockey team) and the beauty of the Canadian Rockies. It was a great first day in Canada, and one I’m sure I will build on as I continue the trip.

Dandy Brewing – you guys are awesome.  I regret not getting a sticker for my teardrop camper, or a tshirt to wear.  Keep up the amazing work, and I can’t wait to taste your brews in North Carolina one day!

Traveling, traveling…

 

Lack of wi-fi has me quite behind on blog posts…. this is from the day I arrived in Canada on August 19!

 

After an incredible day in Bryce and another night of sleep at Cedar Breaks, we headed north to Salt Lake City where Cat had to fly home.

 

We of course, had to find a yarn shop along the way, and chose Blazing Needles.  It was a great shop with some of the most friendly staff I’ve ever encountered in a yarn shop.  And their selection of fine yarns was top-notch.  Brooklyn Tweed, Quince and Company… neither of which I’d never seen it in a store, Malbrigo, and other high-end yarns.  I was a little disappointed in their sock yarn selection and “local”yarn choices, but overall, you couldn’t ask for a nicer shop.  I got a hank of Quince and Company to knit a hat, and a cute knitting bag, because you can never have too many!

 

After dropping Cat off at the airport many hours before her flight, I headed north. I had about 14 hours to go until reaching Calgary.  I spent the night in Idaho (state number 44!) at a rest stop with wi-fi, and got started early the next morning to get to Montana (state number 45!)

 

Montana and Idao were beautiful – the rolling hills and mountains and the rivers that snaked through the landscape. After I got to Great Falls, Montana’s scenery was less scenic, but I knew what was on the other side of the border once I crossed into Canada.

 

Interesting towns and sights I saw in my “new” states:

 

-Shelby, Montana has an “authentic” Mexican restaurant that shares a space with the “Dixie Inn Tavern and Casino.” The Chile rellenos were quite good, but the salsa needed more heat. Honestly, unless you need gas, this town is hardly worth stopping in!

 

-Sunburst, Montana is a place I would have liked to explore (though likely it would have only taken an hour!). It consists of an un-staffed gas station connected to their small refinery, a tiny store and what looked like a former church turned into a café and bar. I really wanted to check out that bar, but it was 9am and that seemed like a bit of a stretch.

 

 

The border crossing at Sweetgrass was easy, and I continued north to Calgary through Lethbridge (WHL hockey home of a number of present and past Checkers when they were members of the Lethbridge Hurricanes, including but not limited to Zach Boyhuk and Brody Sutter), and number of other tiny farming communities before making it to Calgary and my first indoor hotel experience of the trip. My room wasn’t ready so I killed time visiting a LUSH and stocking up on supplies. Canadian LUSH stores are so much better than the ones in America!!!

 

After checking into a hotel (a real bed and wifi!), I headed to a brewery, which was definitely the highlight of my trip to Calgary.