Tuesday, August 28, 2007


We have been in Banff and Jasper Park for two weeks and have had no access to internet conntections. Since it takes so long to post pictures, I will probably put up a small section at a time. Today, 8/28, we are in Pincher Creek, a short distance from Waterford/Glacier park. Lots of adventures and untold beauty since my last post. Please stay tuned.



On Friday the 17th we arrived at the Banff gatehouse around noon. Immediately after passing the gate house, the views became spectacular as the road threaded through a narrow slot between two multi storied cliffs. From there on mountains soared on both sides as we drove through the Bow Valley that winds from British Columbia into Alberta Province.

The Canadian Rockies consist of three ranges, the Western the Main and the Front range. The Bow Valley and its river run between the Main and Front ranges. This is the path that takes in both Banff and Jasper National Parks. Toward the east of the road is the Front range, which is characterized by softer uplifted weathered peaks that are gray in color. Part of the Front range is called the sawbuck and it is evident why from the silhouette it makes on the skyline. On the west of the valley is the Main range that is millions of years older and appears to have horizontal blocky castle like layers in different shades of brown and red.
These mountains are more than breathtaking, partly because they are so close on both sides of the road.

Just as Rote 93 passes over the British Columbia Provincial line into Alberta and intersects with the Canada Highway 1, a huge monolith named Castle Rock looms over everything. This location is ½ way between the town of Banff and Lake Louise. We camped here at Castle Rock campground and were pleased we choose this spot. It was a small wooded campground away from the crowds that overrun Banff. For three days we commuted to take in the sights near Banff.

On our daily jaunt we traveled on the Bow River Throughway, which parallels Route l. This road is a less used route and is a wealth of information. The park service has frequent pull outs with exhibit signs all along the road. They explain about animal habitat, park fire policy, mountain geology, specific behaviors of species, and information on how the park is coping with its mandate to protect wildlife at the same time allow people access to this wilderness landscape.

The town of Banff itself is a beehive of people and cars coming and going. Parking is a real challenge as is locating services such as grocery stores or ATM machines, but the jaw dropping beauty of this location is undeniable. The soaring mountain peeks enclose this spot on east and west, like giant hands held up to protect a glittering jewel.

Near the town center there are two natural hot springs locations. One, the Upper Hot Springs, is open to the public with modern pool facilities and a bath house. The second, called “The Cave and Basin Natural Historic Site” is where Banff Park began.

The Cave and Basin spring was discovered in 1883 by three Canadian Pacific Railroad workers at the time the railroad was building a train line through this part of the Rockies. Sensing a cash cow, the three men tried to steak a claim around this spring and actually built a hotel at the opening. Their hotel consisted of a one room log building, constructed with local materials to try and bolster their claim. When the government heard about the dispute over ownership of the spring, they stepped in and created legislation making this area Canada’s first National Park. Over the years, the boundaries have changed and expanded to include most of this magnificent valley.

The hot springs of Banff are created by rain and snow from the top of the mountain, percolating through natural fissures in in the rock, down to the heat of the earth’s core. The water is super heated and rises through different vents before coming to the surface as hot springs on the side of the mountain.

Banff village encompasses the National Park Headquarters building which is surrounded by Cascade Rock Gardens, where 50,000 annuals are planted and tended each year. The garden is an elaborate series of terraces, interwoven with cascading pools of water, bridges, pavilions and gazebos. Unfortunately, the water system has been in disuse for the past four years due to piping damage and lack of repair funds. There are many other interesting attractions within the village. A great take was the Banff Park Museum and The Buffalo Nation Museum. However the crowds of people are off putting for me. The town is about the size of Bar Harbor village with about 50 times as many people on the streets. Many attractions have signs that say “Come before 10:00 and after 5:00 if you hope to find a parking space.

August 20 Lake Louise

Monday we left our Castle Rock campsite and headed to Lake Louise. This lake of startling bright turquoise water is surrounded by mountains that have been glacier carved into steep walls and jagged peaks. At the base of the lake is an enormous hotel, Lake Louise Chateau, with wide paved sidewalks along one entire side of the water. When you reach the end of the paved path, there is a trail that leads to the Plane of Six Glaciers. From here the trail begins a gentle but constant incline, passing sheer rock cliffs where we watched several climbers ascending and some descending. About 1/3 of the way toward the destination you could begin to see the glacial moraine. At first the trail runs parallel to one side of lateral moraine but as we climbed higher we were actually walking on and around this glacial rock pile. I think I was more impressed with the moraine than I was with the glaciers. Some of the rocks were the size of tractor tires and some as small as washed pea gravel. It was hard to judge the height of the long narrow piles but I would guess at least 100 feet. Since it was a rainy foggy day, the Victoria Glacier, that feeds the lake, peaked in and out of the mist as we climbed higher.

When we arrived at the plane of six glaciers it was clear how far the six, now separate, glaciers had receded. At one time they had all come together on the plane that was now just a rock pile. At the end of the trail was a tea house where we stopped to have coffee and apple pie. The tea house was build in 1927 by the Canadian Pacific Railroad to serve tourists with refreshments after they had climbed nearby peaks.

Our campsite here near Lake Louise village is completely surrounded by electric fence to keep the bears out. Quite a site. It has special pedestrian gates because you cannot even walk over the cattle grate, that too is electrified. The ranger said it is not perfect, but it does discourage them from making the campsite a habitual hangout.

August 21 Ice Fields

After a drive to Lake Moraine, which is a short distance from Lake Louise, we went north again to the Columbia Ice Fields. Driving through the same narrow Bow Valley there is so much beauty it would take most of a thesaurus to describe it.

At the Columbia Iced field Center we caught a bus tour up onto the Athabasca glacier, which originates from the Columbia Ice field. The Athabasca glacier is only one of 30 glaciers that are born from the Ice field which is 130 square miles of 1200 foot deep ice. This glacier has receded almost a mile in the past 150 years. In 1844, the final terminus was at the edge of where the Ice field center is now located.

The Brewster Company has actually made a road up onto the glacier about halfway to the first of 3 ice falls that appear on the glacier body. Before reaching the glacier, you are taken on a tour bus up to where the “snocoaches” descend the 300 foot high terminal moraine and move onto the ice itself. The snocoaches stop at an area that has been graded flat so the vehicles can park and turn around. From here we had 20 minutes to explore out on the slippery ice as far as we wanted to go. There were some small cravases and tiny pools on this flat section of the glacier body. Some people did venture up toward the falls but it was a mild incline and pretty slippery going even with hiking shoes on so we played it safe and did not stray too far.

The tour was pretty basic, geared for tourists who just wanted to say they had been on a glacier. Not a lot of geologic information, lots about the sno coaches. At the center we spent time at all the exhibits and called it a day. Our pictures, although they are many, cannot capture the magnificence to be seen here. You can stand in one spot and see 5 major glaciers and some small ones. Incredible.

On the way back down from Jasper, we stopped again and took the walking tour up to the toe of the glacier. All along the path there are signs with the year that the glacier toe was at that point. It appears to be eroding faster and faster. Constant signage here about falling into crevases. Hypothermia is the real killer. A 3 year old died here in

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Flathead Lake

Just some "whimsy" on the way to Missoula.

We were very surprised when we reached Flathead Lake. 40 years ago this had been a sleepy kind of western town with not much traffic and fewer crowds at the lake. Time changes all things. The first campground was a state park on the lake. All the campsites were tiny, crowed together and there was only one open. We moved on to another state park about half way up the west side of the lake. This was much larger and less crowded. The host said it was because they did not have a bath house. Looked good to me.

The next day, Monday, we went on to Kalispell to retrieve our general delivery from the Dept of Motor Vehicles. Not there yet so we thought we would try Whitefish State Park on Whitefish lake. Unfortunately we got the last campsite, where the train track was about 50 feet behind us and the trains ran every 20 minutes. Win some, loose some.

Tuesday we traveled back to Kalispell and got the mail we were waiting for. We spent the day doing errands and getting Marlin a vision exam for the license renewal.

Wednesday, we played dead, except for an oil change and a Dairy Queen and stayed again at the Rocky Mountain Hi campground. Tomorrow we plan on heading toward Canada. We decided that Glacier would be crowded until mid September, so we will stop there on our way back from Banff and Jasper.

August 12

The night of the 11th, we camped at a State Park north of Helena called Crofford-Dixon in Helena Naional Forest. A very small but excellent campground. We could walk out of our wooded site to the edge of a field and sit watching the smokey sunset.

August 11 thru August 15

On Saturday 8/11, we headed toward Helena. In a small town called Townsend we passed a fairgrounds that had a dozen or so horse trailers in the parking lot with horses and kids milling around. We decided to check it out. It was a junior event of some kind so we stayed and watched about 15 kids from ages about 5 to 15 putting their horses through the paces of pole bending and barrel racing. We had apparently missed the roping because we saw a few kids twirling ropes and there was a pen of steers at the side. Watching these kids have such a good time makes us want a horse of our own, but then, since our kids are grown, who would we get to muck the stall!

Just north of Helena we took a boat tour through the "Gates of the Mountains" When we were in Montana in 2003, we skipped this point on the Lewis and Clark trail. I can't remember why, but do recall being told by someone that it was a good experience so we wanted to make sure we saw it this time through.

In MeriwetherLewis' journal he wrote, "I shall call this place Gates of the Mountains", because as they paddled up the river the towering limestone cliffs rose on both sides of the river to a height of 1200 feet. The cliffs began abruptly and appeared to open before them as they came around a turn. Our guide had lots of geological information and history about how this section of river has been preserved from development. The land at the southern end of the "gates" was purchased in 1886 by a man named Nicholas Hilger. It began as a ranch and then, to add income, he added a boat trip through the limestone cliffs. In the 1940's when his last decedents needed to sell the ranch and boat business due to financial issues, a foundation was formed to purchase the land and business. Restrictions were placed in the deed that the land must kept in one piece always be used as a working ranch. This foundation continues to run the boat tours.

The boat trip passes by a spot that was a campsite for the Lewis and Clark expedition, which is now underwater. No artifacts have ever been found but from the journals left by Lewis and Clark, it is believed the location is accurate.

The boat also passed by the site of the Mann Gulch fire of 1949 where 13 smoke jumpers were killed. The guide recounted the event and mentioned the book about the disaster by Norman McLean called "Young Men in Fire". We had read this account within the last few years, so we were familiar with the story. It made the retelling of events even more interesting to see the gulch and have a visual of how the disaster could occur.

Mann Gulch fire location. You can see how narrow the gulch is and how the fire jumped from one side to the other

These pictures posted in the reverse order. As you see them the "Gates of the Mountain" are open, then close. I intended them to post as closed, opening, and open. Guess you need to use your imagination on this one.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Friday August 10

Billings, Montana was our first stop today to find a bookstore. At a Barnes & Noble Marlin found several books on fishing and I got the Harry Potter book I was missing along with the next DOLLS book club book. We spent most of the morning there reading and drinking coffee - tough life on the road. Camped around 5 at White Sulphur Springs.

Thursday, August 9

On Thursday we headed North West again. Just before coming into Sheridan, Wyoming, we saw a sign for the Bradford Benton Museum so naturally we took the turn in. Benton was a very wealthy man who, after World War I, sold his tractor company to J.I. Case and retired to his homes in Wyoming, California, and New York. He spent the rest of his life amassing a large collection of Western art that included paintings, sculptures, and etchings by artists such as Edward Borein, Frank Tenney Johnson, Frederick Remington, Charles Russell, and Joe DeYoung, as well as many local artists. The collection also includes dozens Navajo rugs and exquisitely beaded native clothing. After his death at age 54, his sister created a museum at the ranch in his honor. Another great take that we just stumbled upon.

After stopping in Sheridan for awhile, we took Route 14 through the Big Horn Mountains. A spectacular drive up and over the range with a 10% down grade on the western side. This is truly Big Sky country. We stopped in a small town called Lovell and camped at a free town campground along with some Sturgis bikers.

Wednesday August 8

We stayed in Buffalo, Wyoming both Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Spent Wednesday just relaxing and catching up on emails and blogging. Buffalo is right at the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains. It is a small town about the size of Pittsfield. The county fair was in town while we were here so we spent some time roaming around there. It was fun to see all the 4H exhibits and a large photo display. We had lunch at a great eclectic cafe that was decorated with lots of odd couches, chairs, tables, odd displays of jewelery, with cards and games on some of the tables. Glen will be glad to know we took the opportunity to play a few hands of Golf while we waited for great grilled pinini sandwiches and potato bacon soup.

The town also has a museum that was started by a local pharmacist, Jim Gatchell, who became friends with two of the native survivors of Custer's last stand. This began his interest in Western and Indian artifacts and he did not stop collecting until he died. Over 8,000 pieces of everything from dishes to guns and saddles.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Tower Climbers


Prayer flags are tied to trees all around the tower.

Looking closely you can see two climbers on the Tower. There were three altogether and we think it was a climbing school because the man on ledge was calling instructions to the person below.

On the walk around the tower there were many prayer flags left by native people. They have requested that no one climb during the month of June because that is a time when they come to the tower for religious activities. In the past there have been as many as 1200 climbers on the tower in June. Since the request has been made only 220 people feel their right to climb is more important and the spiritual beliefs of native people.

One of the American Indian names for this formation is Bear Lodge, taken from one of their legends. It was named Devils Tower (no apostrophe) in 1875 when a Colonel Richard Dodge led a military expedition here. Native Americans don't like this name because of the bad connotations in the word devil.

The tower, which is 867 feet from the base was formed bymolten lava forced into sedimentary rocks. When the soft sedimentary rocks wore away, the harder igneous rock remained. A notation on a sign said that no rock has fallen from the tower since 1906. Think it is about time?

Devils Tower

Tuesday, August 7

Devils Tower from afar, up close, and capturing the flying saucer on camera. A trick of the light I suppose.

Mount Rushmore

Monday Afternoon

Since we were only a few miles from Mount Rushmore we decided to squeeze that in today (Monday) also. There were huge crowds here and we were tiring from squeezing in so much today so this was a fairly quick trip.

The 60 foot high figures are still impressive and it was interesting to learn about the hassles the artist, Gutzon Borglum, had with the government commission that was set up to monitor the projects finances and efficiency. Reading between the lines, it seemed like it was really about who was in control of the project.

Borglum had intended to sculpt the presidents down to the waist, however, he died before he could finish the work. The visitor center had films of the work in progress and pictures of all the men who worked on the mountain during its construction.

I think Jacob had asked me about these faces on the mountain last winter. You can tell somewhat how big they are by the full size trees at the base. In relation to Crazy Horse Mountain, these four heads would fit into the space Crazy Horse's hair is going to fill.
Monday Afternoon

This was a very busy day. After we left Wind Cave, we went to Crazy Horse Mountain. As you can see from the pictures, it is incomplete, but what an experience. The sculptor, Korczac Ziolkowski, began this project in 1948, He worked for years by himself, blasting away tons of rock to just get a general outline for the work. He wanted this mountain to be funded solely by private donations, and refused a 10 million dollar offer from the government. I would guess he knew it was the best way to maintain sole control of the endeavor.

When he died in 1983, his wife and some of his 10 children have continued the work. He knew it would take more than his lifetime to finish so he left three books of detailed plans on how to complete the entire piece. Today it is about 1/3 finished. The completed work will be 563 feet tall and 641 feet long, the largest statue in the world. The face of Crazy Horse was unveiled in 1998, and now work on the horses head is in progress. You can see a line of the ear and eye of the horse painted on the mountain below the outstretched arm.

The visitors center is a huge sprawling affair, made to accommodate large crowds of people. Outside on this day there were thousands of motorcycles, but inside it did not feel overly crowded. The center holds the usual theater, gift shop, restaurant, but also an artist studio, a Native American crafts center, Korczac’s studio and a huge outside patio where you see the original Crazy Horse sculpture model in relation to the real mountain sculpture.

Crazy Horse Mountain

Original sculpture and Crazy Horse Mountain

Bike Week

Just a few of the bikes in the parking lot at Crazy Horse Mountain

Wind Cave National Park and the Buffalo Crossing

Monday Morning

On our way to Wind Cave we had to stop at a Buffalo cross walk! We were lucky enough to be on the road when the local wild herd of buffalo decided the grass was greener on the other side of the road. Several cows and calves crossed, then a large bull. They stood in a group and munched for a while, then the bull walked back toward the road and watched another group of cows and calves who were skittish about crossing. He gave a bellow that sounded somewhat like a lion roar, and the dawdlers charged across, even with a parked car within 5 feet of where they were crossing. This area has a herd of about 800, that roams freely over 28,000 acres of parkland. We were lucky to have seen them.

The Wind Cave tour was interesting since there is only one known natural entrance and that is about two feet by three feet wide. The barometric pressure difference between the outside and the inside of the cave cause it to “breath”. Sometimes the air blows out and sometime in, depending on high and low pressure changes in the atmosphere at the cave entrance.

This cave is dry so it has no stalactites or stalagmites, but something called box work. The name refers to the formations appearance resembling post office boxes. They formed from gypsum seeping through cracks and turning into calcite after the water in the caves dissolved the limestone and the calcium in the gypsum. These formations were present when the caves were formed and will not ever change like the decorations in other types of caves. Wind Cave is the fourth longest cave system in the world, but the caves are like narrow low tunnels stacked on top of each other. The entire system is contained in an area of less than a square mile.

Buffalo Crossing at Wind Cave National park

Big Daddy goes first.

Badlands North Dakota

August 4 thru August 8

On Saturday we made it to Badlands National Park in South Dakota. We discovered that this was bike week at Sturgis North Dakota and even this far away bikers were out numbering cars at least 10 to 1. It is predicted that there will be 450,000 bikes in attendance. We have seen some “interesting” characters and we are still 100 miles away.
When we arrived and realized there were lots of people in the area, we made sure we could get a campsite around 4:00, then took a loop drive through the park. There were lots of views of the eroded hills and gullies that make this park famous. The drive passed through about a mile or more of prairie dog town. It was fun watching the little “dogs” pop in and out of their holes, with mothers squeaking madly at their kids to “get inside here”. I thought Jacob and Lola would like the pictures of them popping in and out.

The next morning we had on of those “small world” experiences. At the campground pancake breakfast, one of the Sturgis riders, who was from Massachusetts, asked where we were from. When we said Dixmont the wanted to know if we knew where Hog Hill was. Seems he has hunted there for years, and is soon moving to China where his Dad lives now.

Sunday night we stayed at Angostura State Park, which is on a reservoir. North Dakota is in the midst of an 8 year drought. The park host told us the water is down 27 feet from it’s normal level. We walked to the marina in the morning and saw the docks sitting on the bare ground with trees growing up all around them. I don’t think the thunderstorm that came through last night was much help.

Prairie Dog Town

Momma says "get back to your hole, right now"

Badlands Profile

Badlands photos

Badlands National Park

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The original poster from the Budddy Holly, Big Bopper, Richie Vanance event

Inside the Surf Ballroom

"Lady of the Lake"

"Main Street" at the Meridith Wilson museum

Surf Ballroom pictures

Buddy Holly's last venue

Saturday, August 4, 2007

July 31 thru August 3

If you ever have to move to Iowa, we found the ideal town. After spending three days in Clear Lake, Iowa we decided it would be a great place to live. Situated on a glacial formed lake, Clear Lake's claim to fame is the Surf Ballroom, the location of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Richie Valance's last concert before their plane crashed. An old fashioned late 50's style ballroom that still hosts top name entertainers today.

The town itself boasts a town park with an amphitheater, an old fashioned Main Street with out any fast food spots or big boxes, 2 state parks on the lake and public access with boat ramps to the lake every 1/4 mile. "The Lady of the Lake" paddle wheel tour boat offers a 90 minute cruse mid day and evenings, which we took advantage of on a beautiful balmy night.

Mason City, 8 miles east, is a larger city with equal charm and some interesting attractions. It was the boyhood home of Meridith Wilson, creator of "The Music Man", "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" and other popular songs of the 50's era, like "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas". The museum next to his home has recreated the set from the Music Man movie, complete with a "street" constructed with 4" wood blocks. An information sheet said some Mason City streets were paved with wood blocks to lessen the noise from horses and wagons. The quality of the exhibits far exceeded our expectations. Great take.

We scouted out the nearest nature preserve as usual, and again Mason City provided an outstanding product. Lime Creek Nature Center visitor headquarters has an extensive display of birds and lots of hands on learning tools for kids. We walked about 2 miles of the trails and explored the restored prairie section of the park. Learning the names of all the varied prairie grasses was as challenging as learning cactus names in Arizona.

Another highlight we were excited to discover was the "Stockman House", designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. This house, a hotel and bank downtown were done in his "Prairie School" style. The house we visited last year in Alabama was "Usonian" style. Our guide was very knowledgeable about the differences between the two styles. She also directed us to a near by block with 6 homes all built in this same Prairie School style. These homes were designed by Walter Burley Griffin, Wright's partner, William Drummond and Barry Byrne. I believe Drummond and Byrne were students of Wright's.

The Prairie School style boasts strong horizontal lines that create the feeling of the house relating strongly to the earth. Wright was so meticulous about the horizontal orientation that he even had the chimney grout made white for the horizontal mortar and black for the vertical. This created the appearance of only horizontal lines across the entire brick wall.