Rocky Mountain High

Kananaskis County lies in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, and is home to an extensive provincial park system that includes venues used in the Winter Olympics and a G8 Summit. Our explorations were enhanced when Tim and Corky joined us for the week, and after their alarmingly too close bear encounter (3 adults and 2 cubs) during a walk in the woods near our hotel, we proceeded with caution and Tim’s bear spray.

The area is replete with gorgeous vistas, valleys, lakes, wildlife, and the pleasant town of Canmore. Bighorn sheep love to lick the salt on the highway, which provided initial amusement but ultimate annoyance with the frequency of our meeting. Our challenge was to make forward progress while avoiding sheep leaping over guard rails and moose deciding whether or not to cross the road in front of us. It was a highly entertaining few days.

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Bears

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I took this photo of a bear prop near the road leading into Red Rock Canyon at Waterton Lakes National Park, convinced it was likely to be our only wildlife sighting on the trip. And then we turned the bend… (I do have a reasonably good telephoto lens on my camera, but without a tripod, not the steadiest hand).

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Watertown-Glacier International Peace Park

It was a pleasure to drive through the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and the Blood Indian Reserve, from the eastern Montana side of Glacier National Park to the Canadian side in Waterton Lakes National Park. The Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, and it is a richly diverse ecological wonder. Watertown is also home to the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel (dating from the early 1920s) which sits on a wildly windy precipice overlooking Upper Waterton Lake.

It was wildflower season in the park, which added to already dramatic scenery, and we loved the red Adirondack chairs beckoning us to rest. The Canadian National Park Service places these chairs in gorgeous locations all over the country as a call to sit and appreciate…what an idea! When we finally reached sensory overload, we found refuge by taking afternoon tea in the lobby of the Prince of Wales Hotel. Very close to Heaven.

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Glacier National Park – East

It was cold, wet and miserable the day we entered Glacier National Park from the east entrance. The Going-to-the-Sun Road was open for 22 miles from east to west, more than we’d seen of the park from the west side, so we set our sights on reaching Many Glacier Lodge, it’s first day of operation for the season. The road into the park was pitiful; deep winter ruts and loose gravel made for slow going (and there are more budget cuts ahead for the National Park Service?) We made it to the Lodge for lunch, huddled with others wrapped in ski jackets, stepped out to the rain and wind lashed deck for a minute, and imagined how beautiful it must be when visible. On departure, we marveled at a small group of riders heading into the mountains on horseback, ruminated on the spirit of frontiersmen, and happily rolled up our car windows and turned on the heat.

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Beargrass

I‘d never heard of it, but as more and more of these tall white stalks appeared along the roadside, I began to wonder what it was. And then I had to stop and walk into the woods to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me.

The National Park Service website informed me that beargrass is a wildflower that blooms near the west entrance to Glacier National Park, and was named by the Lewis and Clark expedition. It can grow up to five feet tall and each rosette blooms only once. Bears don’t eat it, but sheep, deer, elk and goats do. Beargrass can be seen annually, but sparsely, in the spring… but if conditions are just right, with ideal rainfall and soil moisture, mass blooming can occur… every five to ten years! Who knew we would be so lucky?!!!!

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Glacier National Park – West

We had hoped for smaller crowds by planning our visit to the Montana side of Glacier National Park during early June, and got our wish for a disappointing reason. The touted fifty mile long Going-to-the-Sun Road, which bisects the park, was still blocked for ongoing snow removal only eight miles from the west entrance. We may have been one week too early for full appreciation of the park, but were rewarded with beautiful weather to enjoy Lake McDonald, Avalanche Creek, mystical wooded trails, and the lovely old Lake McDonald Lodge, built in 1913. The requirement to drive around the park rather than through it brought wonderful compensation in big Montana skies.

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Seen One Mountain, Seen Most All?

I wondered if I would feel that way during our extended driving expedition in Montana and the Canadian Rockies, but I never tired of turning the next corner, no matter the weather.  It is quite impossible to grasp the scale and vastness of this magnificent country through the windshield; this is just a glimpse as seen from the passenger seat. More to follow.

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