CANADIAN CAPERS 26th September to 12th October ALBERTA: Farewell Chicago and onto Calgary in Alberta on Friday 26th - where we were met by our friend from Edmonton. A very pleasant 3-hour drive to Edmonton - again the weather is still brilliant. In keeping with sampling a city-unique highlight we went to watch the season's opening ice-hockey match between Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild - unfortunately the home side lost 3:2 after an over-time period. It is great to be in Canada again. Alberta – like most of central Canada is basking in an Indian Summer [or should that be First Nation Summer?] Fall [autumn] is in full swing and everywhere is a kaleidoscope of warm colours – from yellows, through shades of orange, ochre and brown to dark reds and russets as the leaves change, hover and then fall to the ground. All those maples, plains, cottonwoods, etc are shedding their foliage, despite daily temperatures of between 18 and 23 Celsius! We gently enjoyed Edmonton and its environs and had a few days R&R before more vigorous touring & exploring. What could be more relaxing than sitting on the deck drinking coffee, with Canada geese whooping overhead in spearhead formations on their migratory routes and red squirrels dashing about hoarding pinecones for the long winter ahead. And at night, falling asleep to the sound of distant freight trains hooting their way en route to …… wherever. To catch up on local wildlife we visited the Elk Island National Nature reserve and were suitably rewarded by spotting lots of bison – so Wild Bill Hickcock and his merry hunters did not manage to shoot them all! Also saw a few beaver lodges but no beavers. These creatures have got dam-building down to a fine art. We also spotted a herd of about 6 elk wandering through the meadows and on the way back to the car park a moose came crashing through the undergrowth about 20-30 feet from the trail we were walking on! We also learned from a ranger that a cougar had been spotted in “our neck of the woods” earlier that day, but we did not see it ourselves. We did a weekend trip [4-5th Oct] south to Drumheller in the Alberta Badlands – the scene of many important dinosaur skeleton discoveries. The 3-hour drive goes across the prairies of Alberta – flat, featureless grain-growing country, also studded with “nodding donkeys” – single rigs on oil and gas wells. The Badlands were so named by the early French fur trappers heading inland who came across this area of tortuous canyons and gulches and named it “mauvaise terre” – bad land, as it certainly slowed them down! We visited the Royal Tyrrell Museum and its jaw-dropping display of dinosaur skeletons and more! From the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex to tiny insects embedded in amber – they were all there. It is the biggest and best dinosaur exhibition in the world and most of the exhibits were unearthed in the Badlands during mining and petro-chemical exploration. Further examples are still being unearthed to this very day! We also visited the Hoo Doos – strange mis-shapen sandstone pillars, standing guard like sentinels, against a backdrop of wind-scarred buttes, gulches and canyons: layers of sandstone, mudstone, coal and shale. Our B&B hosts had invited us to a free [donations welcome] dinner at the local Baptist Fellowship Church: it was a fundraiser for the local youth club and attended by virtually the entire senior citizenry of Drumheller – except for us! On Sunday 5th we drove further south, crossing the mighty Red Deer River via the small Bleriot ferry [named after a brother of Louis Bleriot and it was for free!!] to the Dinosaur Provincial Park and went on a guided tour deep into the depths of the Badlands – an area closed to normal visitors. This was very fascinating, especially seeing 2 dinosaur skeletons still “in situ” , although protected from the elements by Perspex covers. Indeed, one was called “Plexiosaurus” – being a partial skeleton, it had not yet been positively identified by the park boffins. The mercury today reached 26 Celsius. Monday 6th Oct: we departed Edmonton on the Yellowstone Highway heading WNW towards the Rockies and our destination of Jasper. Gradually the flat rolling yellow prairies gave way to areas of extensive forestry and eventually the massive Rocky Mountains materialized in the hazy distance, before taking on a firmness and more distinct form. Shortly after reaching the hamlet of Pocahontas, we entered Jasper National Park. The mountains were towering above us, serrated, cockscomb ridges and massive buttresses, dark steely grey giants with hanging glaciers and permanent icefields clinging to them. And below – turquoise rushing torrents with golden-bowed trees on their banks. The town of Jasper was exactly as we had remembered it from our first visit in 1984 – not a lot had changed or been added! Which is why we liked it the first time and were here again: a nice compact, homely kind of place, unlike the brashness of Banff further south. We stayed 2 days in Jasper exploring various wildlife spotting routes [Maligne Lake, Five Lakes Trial, Mt Edith Cavell - pic below] both by car and on foot – despite my nervousness about bumping into bears. We did not see or come across any bears but did spot lots of elk, some moose, bighorn sheep, mule and white-tail deer and a coyote which obligingly crossed the road in front of the car. From Jasper we headed north for a further 377km to Prince George in the heart of major logging territory. This was to visit an old friend [from my sub-Antarctic days 24 years ago] who along with his wife now worked at the University of North British Columbia. By now the weather was very Scottish in character – i.e. cloudy, miserable and with rain showers on and off. Stopped to admire and photograph the mighty Mt Robson [@ 3954m it is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies]. This was also where we changed from Mountain Time to Pacific Time and gained another hour; we continued on the Trans Canada Highway northwards through endless conifer forests. When you’ve seen trees for about 260kms I think you’ve seen all the trees you want to see. The highway was fairly quiet – this is off the tourist route – except for locals and huge lumber lorries thundering along carrying their loads to the saw and pulp mills. Prince George itself boasted 3 enormous saw/pulp mills on the outskirts pumping foul smelling fumes into the air! That night we dined on a very fine meal of “planked” salmon. [Planked = salmon cooked on a BBQ on pre-soaked wood – in this case cedar, which gave the fish a very nice and distinctive flavour]. Thursday 9th Oct: 650kms lay ahead of us and so we headed south from Prince George with more endless forestry for company, through Quesnel, Williams Lake, Cache Creek – following the mighty Fraser River as it crashed its way to the distant Pacific Ocean. Gradually the forests gave way to more gentle and rolling countryside: this was ranching country with lots of cattle and fine horses in evidence. We even saw a couple of cowboys driving cattle! Spent the night in the tiny hamlet of Lillooet – a real frontier town, but with an excellent Greek restaurant and an even better German café with amazing breads baked right there on the premises. Fri 10th: We had a typical German breakfast in the heart of Northern British Columbia. Then it was on the road again, heading south for Vancouver via Whistler – the premier Canadian ski resort and site for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Unfortunately we had no time to explore Whistler as we had to get to Vancouver by 5p.m. to get the ferry across to Victoria on Vancouver Island. We found Hertz, dropped off our hire car, met up with our contact who had a car and with whom we had organized our ferry crossing. It was all very busy as it is Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, but an extra ferry was laid on and we got across, arriving with our friends in Victoria by 2230. Victoria – the capital of British Columbia – is a very genteel and cultured city and quite British as you might expect from the name. Very unlike other Canadian cities we have been to so far! It was originally settled in 1843 as an outpost of the Hudson Bay Co. The Victoria harbour area is bustling place – ferries coming in and out, small electric water taxies scuttling about like beetles on a pond and seaplanes landing and taking off fairly regularly and oh yes – the odd big plush luxury yacht anchored close by. Sun 12th Oct: our last day in Canada. We visited the world famous Buchart Gardens [pic below]. They were created in 1904 in an effort to beautify the worked-out limestone quarry site on the Buchart Estate. And it has certainly worked. There was still a brilliant display of colour despite the lateness of the season and the dull weather did not manage to dim the kaleidoscope of colours. Later that afternoon we left Victoria for Seattle on the Victoria Clipper pic below] – a 38-knot catamaran ferry which made short work of the crossing, via the Juan de Fuca Strait. Although the crossing was a bit on the bumpy side, the 2½ hour journey sped by and soon we were in the calmer waters of Elliott Bay and docked in Seattle – home of Boeing, Microsoft and Starbucks. We cleared customs and immigration without any hassles and met up with our friends [from Glasgow days] who now live in Seattle and with whom we will be spending the next week. Turn to the USA page to follow our travels.
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