Luinil - Traveling with the Blue Star

September 2015 — Canada
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Moraine Lake — Photo Gallery

Moraine Lake in the Valley of the Ten Peaks is one of Ann's favorite places. It is located about seven miles southwest of Lake Louise near Banff, Alberta, Canada. We did a short camping trip to the area in the early 90's. Since I retired this year we decided to take a more leisurely, 17 day, trip back to the area and also visit friends along the way.

Ann needed to be in Moscow, ID for a meeting by Friday evening so the plan was to leave Thursday morning for a campground near La Grande, Oregon. Then take the back roads through northeastern Oregon and western Idaho to Moscow. Unfortunately on Wednesday, two days before we were to leave, I came down with an intestinal bug that had me flat on my back. A quick trip to the doctor and some rescheduling found Ann headed to Moscow with a friend on Friday morning while I finished recovering. Saturday morning I loaded up the Sportsmobile camper van and headed for Moscow.

This first part of the trip falls in the “I cannot believe I did that category”: Was out the door on time headed for Moscow to meet up with Ann. Made it to Hood River, about 50 miles from home, before realizing that I forgotten my passport. If it had been anything else I would have kept going but no passport meant no entry into Canada. So it was time to turn around and head back home to get it. Was glad that it only added 100 miles to the trip. It could have been much worse.

The meeting that Ann was attending a planning the 2016 Chatcolab Adult Leadership Camp. We have both been to the camp so when I arrived at the meeting location I was greeted by many friends that I had not seen for quite a while. It was nice to catch up on what had been going on in their lives.

Sunday morning we headed north on the Wild Horse Trail Scenic Byway, in Idaho, to Kingsgate, BC where we crossed the border into Canada without issue. The line to cross was short and the questions by the border guard were few. Once in Canada the first order of business was to find an ATM and get some Canadian currency. It took two stops before we found an ATM at a small convenience store. Canadian currency, like many European currencies, is very colorful compared to the U.S. greenback. It also has more of a plastic look and feel to it.

The first night in Canada we spent at Moyie Lake Provincial Park about 15 miles south of Cranbrook, BC and 40 miles north of Kingsgate. The campground is located at the north end of Moyie Lake and is very picturesque and we were able to get a camping space near the waters edge. We paid the camping fee and the attendant gave me two coins as change, a Twony and a Loony. She explained that the 1$ Loony coin got its name because of the loon pictured on the back side of the it. When the Canadian government decided to mint a 2$ coin the people called it a Twony because it replaced the 2$ bill and was twice the value of the Loony.

Charlie Ed — Photo Gallery

The next day we headed north along B.C. 3 towards Radium Springs. Passing through Cranbrook we saw the statue of an Elephant in a small park beside the road. We took a quick detour around the block to check it out. The elephant is one of Ann’s favorite animals. It turns out that the Sells Floto Circus came to Cranbrook in 1926. While they were there 14 of their elephants escaped and headed into the surrounding country side. This started Canada's Great Elephant Hunt. The statue is of Charley Ed, the last elephant to be captured commentates the event.

Just after we crossed the Kootenay River on BC 93 we stopped for fuel at the general store in Skookumchuck. They had a great collection of native crafts for sale as well as local produce that included peaches that smelled great and were as big as my fist. We bought some gifts and some peaches.

Continuing north we stopped at spring fed Columbia Lake, the source of the Columbia River. The Columbia, at 1,209 miles long and is the fourth largest river system on the continent. It starts here at the lake and empties into the sea at Astoria, Oregon. During the last ice age the the river was forced to change its direction of flow from south to north because of a gravel berm that developed and created the lake. We stopped at a wayside overlooking the Columbia wetlands just outside of Radium Springs for lunch.

At Radium Springs we headed east into Kootenay National Park. To drive in the National Parks you need to have a travel pass. These are purchased at the entry booths at the park boundary. They have day, week, and yearly passes. We selected a four day pass, about $50 US, and headed through the gap in the Rockies that is the park entrance.

The drive through the park had beautiful vistas and we stopped many times for photos and to enjoy the views. The only construction that we saw was the building a 10 foot tall animal fence all along the highway. Every few miles they had installed a huge culvert under the road so the animals could cross without endangering themselves or traffic. The animals encounter the fence and travel along it until they reach the underpass, walk under the roadway and continue on their way. The concept is working very well. Accidents, involving animals, and animal injuries are way down. It has worked so well that Oregon is not testing a similar system of fences and underpasses along U.S. Highway 97 south of Bend. So far it is working very well.

Following B.C. 93 took us across Kootenay N.P. and into Alberta and Banff National Park. Where we headed north on Canada 1 to Lake Louise and then on to our goal Moraine Lake. On the way we saw the same type of animal fence along the side of the road but there were also overpasses that the animals could use to cross the highway. Unfortunately we did not see any animals using them.

Moraine Lake — Photo Gallery

Moraine Lake, at 6200 feet, is about seven miles south and west of Lake Louise and is located in the valley of the ten peaks. The valley was discovered in 1894 by two white men, Samuel Allen and his friend Walter Wilcox. The men spent two summers mapping and photographing the area. In 1902 the Canadian Pacific Railroad constructed a trail to the lake and later a wagon road. The first tea house was constructed in 1908 In 1912 a log cabin and tent facilities containing refreshments and souvenirs were built by three women, Miss Eileen Strick, Miss Barbara Dodds, and Miss Marjorie Danks. In 1922 the women built sleeping cabins. The current lodge was built in 1991 and replace the old log cabins. During the summer season more than 5,000 people a day visit the lodge and the lake. We were there in late September so there were very few people.

We spent two nights at the Moraine Lake Lodge and had a great views of the lake from our room. Tuesday morning I got up early and hiked up the rock pile at the end of the lake to photograph the sunrise on the mountain peaks. Other photographers were up early as well with each of us staking out our spots. The morning was crystal clear with only a few puffy white clouds in the sky.

Canoe rentals are included in the room cost so that afternoon we took one out on the lake. We paddled to the opposite end of the lake where it is fed from a river of melting snow. There was little wind so paddling around was easy. We could see that the larch trees, at 7,500 feet, were just turning yellow on the slopes above the lake. They made a beautiful backdrop of yellow mixed with the green evergreen forest and deep blue sky. We had been trying to coordinate a visit with a friend near Edmonton since before we left on our trip and it came together while we were out on the lake.

Wednesday morning I was glad that I photographed the mountains and the lake on on Tuesday because they were clouded in. After breakfast we loaded up the van and headed south and east towards Calgary. We bypassed Banff and stopped in Canmore for lunch, at a great deli, and fueled the van. From Calgary we headed north, on Alberta 2, towards Edmonton. We arrived at our friends in the afternoon and had a great visit with them. It was good to get caught up and to see their home.

Thursday we headed south along Alberta 2, to visit Ann's college roommate. They recently built a new house, near Caroline. It is tucked into a forest of spruce, fir and other trees. Again another great visit. Ann and her roommate enjoyed getting caught up with all that has happened in the years between college and our visit.

Friday we said our goodbyes and headed west along the David Thompson Highway, Alberta 11, from Rocky Mountain House to just outside Banff National Park. The drive was beautiful and we stopped to photograph and enjoy the views. We spent the night at Thompson Creek Provincial recreation Area, which is the last campground before entering the Banff N.P. This turned out to be the only night that it rained on our trip. The campground is nestled into the forest and has about 55 sites. One of the nice things about the campground is that firewood is included in the cost of a nights stay. On the highway heading for the campground we could see that there had been a forest fire in the area. The camp host told us that the only reason the campground was still there was because they had setup a fire line and water sprinklers around the campground to prevent the fire from consuming it.

Saturday we headed to Jasper along the Icefields Parkway, on Alberta 93. We stopped at the Athabasca Glacier and the Icefield Center where we and got a cloudy view of the glacier. The center offers bus tours of the glacier, a gift shop and other attractions.

Athabasca Falls — Photo Gallery

Alberta highway 93 is built in Athabasca River bottom, which looks to be about a half mile wide. As you travel along the river appears to be just a few feet below the road surface. It must be an exciting road to drive during the spring runoff. Since we were following the river it made sense to stop at Athabasca Falls. At the falls the entire river drained through what looked like a 30 foot wide opening in the rock where it drops 75 feet, and then takes a quick right turn and then a left before continuing on its merry way.

Continuing on we arrived in Jasper around lunch time. Ann needed to do some work on a grant request so we looked for the library. Unfortunately is was closed for a major remodel. Instead we went to the visitors center in town where there is free wifi. We were both able to check in with the outside of the world and see what was happening with family and friends. Jasper is of a one sided town. The main highway is the dividing line between a major rail terminal and the rest of the town. While Ann was working on her grant I walked around town visiting the different stores to look for gifts. One thing that I found interesting was that it appeared that at least four of the gift shops were owned by the same company. They all had the same merchandise at the same price.

After buying some gifts I headed back to see if Ann was done. She had a bit more to do so I went back outside to sit in the sun and read. She came out a bit later and we headed for Whistlers Campground that is just south of town. Whistlers is a huge campground with 781 campsites. The good news is that the sites are set well apart and the hot showers are great. After we got camp setup I could hear one of our neighbors chopping wood. I looked up to see a guy trying to split a 8 to 10 inch log with a hand ax. I grabbed my long handle ax, walked over, and handed it to him. He was grateful and returned it in a little later.

Sunday it was time to start our return journey. We stopped in Clearwater, B.C. to get gas and propane. Gas was no problem but propane was a bit of a challenge. The woman attendant that knew how to fill the propane tanks had not seen the style of fill valve that is on our Sportsmobile before. We both sat on the curb trying to figure out the instructions that were on the tank. She was an incredible nice person who was easy to work with. She had no doubt that she could fill it once she understood the problem. Working together we got it figured out and the tank started to fill.

From Clearwater we headed south and then west at Little Fort along B.C. 24 looking for Emar Lakes Provincial Park. The park showed on all of the maps we were using but we never found it. Throughout the our trip the road signage has been very good so we were surprised when we did not see a sign for the park. We continued along the highway and eventually came to Bridge Lake Provincial Park where we spent the night in a lakeside campsite that had a beautiful view of the lake. The fee for the campsite is 18.00$ CND per night but all I had was a 20$ so I put that in the payment envelope. As we were eating dinner the camp host came by to check to see if we had registered. She was very friendly and gave us a map of the area that showed all the other campgrounds in the surrounding area. A short while after she left she came back and gave me a Toony as change for the 20$. I was surprised and pleased that she had gone out of the way to come back to our campsite to give us the change.

That night was the night of the super moon and a full lunar eclipse. Our campsite was tucked into the trees so it was difficult to see the full eclipse. Monday morning dawned cold and frosty with the sun illuminated the trees and cabins on the opposite shore as it burned through the low fog over that hung over the lake.

Camping in late September can be a challenge in Alberta and British Columbia because many of the campgrounds close between the mid September and mid October. We were a bit worried about this when planning the trip because the websites for the campgrounds did not give specific closing dates. The campground websites that we checked only showed that they were open from May to September or June to October with no actual dates. We were able to stay in the campgrounds as planned with the exception of Emar Lakes. The camp hosts at both Bridge Lake and Thompson Creek told us that this was actually the last week that they were open for the season.

After breakfast it was on to Lillooet, B.C. We paralleled the Fraser River Canyon for part of the way to Lillooet. At 170 miles long the Fraser canyon is very impressive. Where we were the canyon was about 1,500 feet deep. In other places it is up to 3,300 feet deep. The Fraser River is 854 miles long and is the 10th longest river in Canada. Because of the high level of sediment that is in the river it has never been dammed.

In Lillooet we stayed at the Sturgeon Bay B&B. It was a delightful place with a view of the river and fresh bear scat in the backyard and down at the river. Lillooet has a very large First Nations population, over 50% of the people in town are indigenous. Because of the mild climate and great fishing the area has been inhabited for several thousand years. The Fraser Canyon and Cariboo Gold Rushes occurred in the area in 1858-59. Today prospectors still look for gold, copper silver and nephrite jade. Jade is so plentiful in the area that people use it for lawn decorations and street art.

Driving around British Columbia and Alberta you come across town names like 75 Mile House and 100 Mile House. These names date from the early settlement days when there was a road house located at specific intervals along the roads and trails where travelers could rest and get a meal. Lillooet is mile "0" for the Cariboo Trail that extended from Lillooet to Williams Creek. The roads and trails were developed so that supplies could be brought to and from the gold camps.

Cayoosh Creek — Photo Gallery

British Columbia highway 99 heads southwest out of Lillooet and is a drivers road. It is a steep, curvy, and narrow two lane wide road cut into the side of the mountains. It follows Cayoosh Creek from Lillooet to Pemberton. There are 11, 13, and 15% down grades with 10 MPH corners and shear cliffs on one side and steep drop offs on the other. It would be great fun to drive in a Porsche or Miata on the road. Driving the Sportsmobile camper van on it was an interesting experience. Ann was enjoying the scenery while I focused on driving. There are very few places to stop and enjoy the view or change a tire.

I was being very careful on the steep downhill sections trying to make sure that the breaks did not overheat. There were safety runoff ramps on the downhills but the goal was not to have to use them. As we made it around the last switchback and onto the flat by Lillooet Lake, near Pemberton, the breaks overheated and we lost all stopping power. Luckily the speed limit was 30 MPH, and there were no more hills, so we carefully drove into Pemberton and found the city park where we ate lunch. After lunch the breaks had cooled down enough to do their job so we continued our trip to visit friends in the Vancouver area with no further problems.

White Rock B.C. — Photo Gallery

Our friends live in White Rock which is in the greater Vancouver area about five miles from the U.S. border. White Rock, which sits on Semiahmoo Bay, was originally a fishing village as well as a place to have your summer cabin. Now it is a retirement community and tourist destination. Most of the old cottages along the waterfront have been torn down and multi story condominiums have sprung up in their place. Our friends took us out to dinner and naturally we had to try Poutine. Poutine, which originated in Quebec is made by layering french fries and cheese curds with a light brown gravy over the top. The gravy melts the curds making a slightly gooey but tasty dish.

The Next day we headed for the border crossing back into the U.S. The crossing went smoothly. The border patrol asked a few questions looked at our passports in the van and waved us through. It took longer waiting in the six car line to get to the inspection point than it did to get checked out and waved through.

Whidbey Island — Photo Gallery

Our last stop, before home, was Whidbey Island, W.A. Whidbey is mostly farm land with a few towns and very strict zoning regulations. They do not allow chain stores or shopping malls on the island and the minimum lot size in the countryside is five acres. It is very pastoral with lots of and open space. The only exception to chain store and shopping mall rule is in Oak Harbor which is next to the naval air station. Our friends took us on a tour of the island. There are a number of old forts from the 1900’s. The thing we found most interesting was that there are walking paths throughout the island. These paths follow the farmer fields and extend for miles.

We were back home as planned after a great a two week trip. We traveled about five to six hours a day including rest stops and lunch. The trip was a total of 2,600.3 miles from our front door and back again. The Sportsmobile averaged 12.5 MPG with a high of 13.7 and a low of 10.7 MPG. The average price per gallon we paid for gas was $3.21. The 26 year old van ran great and gave us no problems.

The end of September is a great time to plan a trip into Alberta and B.C. There is hardly any traffic, and the weather was beautiful. The trees are starting to turn yellow and there is snow at higher elevations but very little at road level. One of the things to keep in mind is that many of the campgrounds close between mid September and mid October so careful planning is required otherwise you could end up in a hotel or camping in the boondocks. The temperatures were in the low 60's during the day and we woke up to light frost a couple mornings while camping. It rained one night and we saw snow flurries on the Icefields Parkway other that that we had dry pavement and sunny skies all the way.

Thanks for reading.


Past Travels
Singing Canyon

Burr Trail

Beach at Conception Bay

Baja California Mexico



282 feet below sea level

Barrancas del Cobre

282 feet below sea level

282 feet below sea level

Summer Lake Hot Springs

Summer Lake Hot Springs

Twin Rocks

Twin Rocks