grizzly bear


Vancouver, like most modern cities, reaches for the sky, and the streets are as full of cars, vans and trucks as any other city. The rather uninspiring street layout, a grid of roads intersecting at right-angles like most cities and towns in North America, at least makes it easier to find one's way around. But we were in 'downtown', the commercial hub of the city, and therefore busier than the rest of Vancouver. The name comes from George Vancouver who explored what is now Burrard Inlet in 1792.Vancouver
Vancouver mapVancouver is a widespread city on both sides of the Burrard Inlet, with the Lions Gate Bridge joining Vancouver to North and West Vancouver. Downtown Vancouver is relatively small and compact, the part under the large word Vancouver on the map. The green area above downtown is Stanley Park, with the Lions Gate Bridge above it. North and West Vancouver are separate towns.
A hop-on-hop-off bus took us round Stanley Park, a quiet and peaceful park, with well-laid gardens and views of the waterfront, about the same size as downtown Vancouver. The owl was spotted chasing black squirrels round the treetops, with no hope of catching one. We'd like to think they were all enjoying the sport but that is a bit unlikely.
Throughout Canada there are reminders of the First Nation heritage, and this collection of Totem Poles, all with full description of their story, was fascinating while reminding us of the darker effects of colonisation.
Stanley Park views
Royal Scot HotelDay 2 - we took our hire car across to Vancouver Island, a 90 minute crossing. We found that "Hotel and Suites" is a common feature in Canada, and we were lucky in being given a suite rather than a room. The Royal Scot Hotel & Suites, extremely welcoming and comfortable, even had a piper to serenade the public!
Victoria is a delightful harbour town. Granted the weather was perfect, the waterfront had charm and interest. It's small enough to walk round, so we explored the town away from the waterfront, and unsurprisingly found it like most other towns anywhere - cars, buses and shops. But the waterfront is utterly lovely - well-maintained and very attractive. Victoria waterfront
whale-watchingThe first adventure was whale-watching in a zodiac (a RIB - rigid inflatable boat). But first, we had to dress up in waterproof safety suits which made us feel as if we were going into space. Then it was "where are the whales?" and a long fast ride in the wrong direction. We eventually stopped so that our skipper could liaise with other skippers, and no-one seemed to know where to look. So we idled between little islands for a while, coming across some basking seals. Then off we went again, heading towards the mountains of the USA and with the primary interest of watching whales, ignoring the notional border between the USA and Canada - apparently the Americans ignore it as well! We briefly saw the backs of two whales, a mum and pup - and got wet and sunburnt.
We went to Buchart Gardens, a superb garden created in a former quarry. Robert and Jennie Buchart, the quarry owners, set up home nearby in 1904. In 1909, when the quarry was exhausted, Jennie began to create a sunken garden with the help of a Japanese garden designer, Isaburo Kishida. It is exquisite, and has been developed ever since into an extremely popular tourist attraction. The ever-changing fountain was installed in 1964.
Campbell RiverNext day we drove up to Campbell River (Vancouver Island is much larger than we had thought), which was the starting point for Adventure no. 2. It is a large town with almost nothing to its north except for Highway 19 which just goes on and on. And on. We were going north, and the only way was a 25 minute journey by seaplane. It seemed that everywhere we looked, there was a seaplane, and there always seemed to be one in the sky above us.
And so to Knight Inlet Lodge, so named after one of those intrepid early explorers looking for the North-West Passage. It is a set of floating platforms which hold accommodation, refectory, workshop and equipment rooms, designed to give visitors an amazing opportunity to view grizzlies in their own back yard. But it was no holiday. Breakfast at 0630 and the first trip out on a boat at 0730. Back for coffee, and a second trip before lunch. Two more trips after lunch, and maybe something else in the evening. But we saw bears! From a distance, of course, respecting their space.

So here are some bears:
The Lodge
grizzly mum & cubsgrizzly
riverThe next adventure was the Rocky Mountaineer, the train that runs from Vancouver into the Rocky Mountains. It was very comfortable, with excellent meals, and slow enough to see the scenery as we passed it. The first day took us to Kamloops, on the two-day route called Journey Through The Clouds which ends at Jasper. It was interesting scenery, but there was no real Wow! factor yet. In Kamloops we were taken to spend the night in a hotel, so we saw almst nothing of the town.
On day two we followed the South Thompson River towards Jasper, gradually getting closer to the mountains. But most of the day we were travelling through forest, with the occasional waterfall to break the greenery. Jasper is a pleasant town amongst mountains but obviously is a major point along the railway system. Unfortunately the hotel was rather scruffy and faded, unlike any of the others on our trip. The following day we took a shuttle from the hotel to the Sky Tram, a gondola ride that crests Whistler Mountain. A good view showed us the town and the railway sidings, and also mountains on the horizon. mountain
dying pine treesSadly, the gondola ride also showed us the extent of the damage caused by the Pine Beetle, which burrows under the bark and slowly kills the tree. All those brown trees are dead or dying, but the wood can be salvaged and made use of. It takes a cold spell (-60° for ten days) to kill the beetle, but recent cold spells were not long enough.
The next day we took the coach tour along the Icefield Parkway to the Columbia Icefield, and the journey on to the Athabasca Glacier. There was a glass-bottomed viewing platform - the skywalk - stretching out over the deep Sunwapta Valley, with mountain goats picking their way along the rocks. the Skywalk
mountain goatsThe valley bottom was way below us, with a craggy and almost sheer rockface. Needless to say, the mountain goats (so woolly I thought they were sheep) were quite at home walking down the cliffside. Watching them through the glass floor added something to the experience.
Thinking about goats, you are never quite sure who you'll meet on a drive. This black bear was just ambling across a highway, oblivious to high-speed cars and enormous trucks. But of course everyone slowed down.

It looked as if the deer were nibbling fresh asphalt but perhaps they were finding salt from the winter road salting programme (some of the lakes had only completely unfrozen the week before!), and anyway, they were rather less than oblivious - quite nervous in fact. But we saw hazard lights flashing, and that's the universal caution signal here for a wild animal. So of course everyone slowed down - or stopped. And the deer kept on nibbling.
black bear & deer
animal crossingsIt's worth mentioning here that almost anywhere in rural Canada you are likely to meet wild animals on highways and back roads, and Canadians are well used to driving with this in mind. But this short tunnel was quite extraordinary, in that it was built as a crossing place for animals. The top of it is fenced and filled with trees and shrubs, just as the forest would be.
OK, back to the Columbia Icefield! The glaciers are melting, but they always have been. Many of the lakes in the region are green, the colour coming from the glacial flour, or rock flour - the fine, powdery grains of rock caused by the grinding of the glacier on bedrock. It is this suspended fine dust that reflects sunlight and gives lakes their colour - more of that later. But walking on this glacier was wet and dirty, caused simply by atmospheric dust and the churning up of the surface by countless visitors like us! The arrow point to two buses, just to give you a sense of scale! The bus had a slope of 32% to get on and off the glacier.the glacier
Athabasca FallsThe glacial melt forms the Athabasca River, and the Athabasca Falls, some distance from the glacier, are known more for their force than for their height. Even when the river is at its lowest, a staggering amount of water hurtles through the Falls, carving its way through quartzite (hard) and limestone (soft). It is a very popular tourist "kodak moment".
Not all the lakes are green. Some are just bluish, but one is amazingly blue - again, because of the glacial flour. Peyto Lake is unbelievably blue - at least as blue as shows on this photo.Peyto Lake
BanffAnd so to Banff, a delightful town surrounded by mountains. Exactly what we had always imagined the Rockies to look like. Much of the town is built in wood, giving something of an warm, attractive alpine flavour. A string of hotels along the main street before the town centre reveal Banff's popularity amongst skiers and visitors. And now we began to see the Rockies we were expecting.
We might have seen more of the area had our hire car not broken down ten minutes after we received it. We spent most of seven hours trying to arrange a replacement, needing to get to Emerald Lake that evening for the next two days. Frustrating? Stressful? Oh yes! But it arrived eventually, and all was well. broken-down rental
Emerald LakeAnd so to Emerald Lake, in time for an evening meal! It is a private island on the lake, though folk do walk across. There is a canoe-hire business on the "mainland". The setting is superb, with the emerald-green lake surrounded by mountains.
It is a collection of wooden chalets built in the trees, each having four well-equipped rooms for visitors. But apart from walking around the lake and generally enjoying the tranquility and the views, there's little to do, so we used it as a base for the two days we were there.mountain view
spiral tunnel portalOne local point of interest is the Spiral Tunnel, a rail tunnel built in the early 1900s to allow trains to gain height without steep inclines. There was not enough land to lengthen the track in order to reduce the gradient, so the extra track was found by digging two loops within the mountain. One tunnel portal is indicated. The tunnel is still in regular use.
One more tourist "must see" is Lake Louise, a favourite viewpoint named after Queen Victoria's fourth daughter (who never ever visited it). The lake is turquoise (that flour again!) and named by the First Nation people "Lake of the Little Fishes". Lake Louise is so popular that there are strict access controls to the town and its car parks. But we walked the 2km lakeside path (and 2km back), enjoying the peaceful lake and trying not to bump into all the other people doing the same. Nearby Moraine Lake is said to be even prettier, but the access road was closed because the car park was full. Lake Louise
the ChâteauThe enormous and imposing Château dominates the eastern shore, with a glacier at the opposite end. The whole area is crowded every day, and yet the Château is reluctant to allow the tourist public to use their "facilities".
Our visit to Lake Louise more or less ended The Adventure, and the next day we flew out of Calgary to meet up with friends in Toronto. Gord & Mary have been Robin's friends for many years, and we all met up to spend the last of our three weeks together, and with Joyce & Dave, two other friends who now live on the shore of Lake Huron - more of that later. Naturally we had to see Niagara. Mary and Gord
While western Canada has been almost in drought condition, with serious consequences for planting this year's crops, eastern Canada is saturated, having had much more rain than is usual. So Niagara Falls is also even more dramatic than usual. Here is some video taken of the Falls during our brief visit. The Canada-USA border runs down the middle of the river, and you see the American Falls at the start of this clip. About 90% of the Niagara River flows over Canada's impressive and iconic Horseshoe Falls, and the rest flows over the Bridal Veil Falls and the American Falls.
We're all at the cottage of Joyce & Dave, all friends of Robin for fifteen years or more. And Lesley is a happy bunny!group round the table
the cottageThe cottage used to be a summer retreat only, and wasn't "winterised". But now it's been fully insulated and refurbished, and is now the permanent residence of Joyce & Dave in their retirement. It sits on the dunes of Lake Huron, just a stone's throw from the water's edge. It is haven of peace and tranquility - the ideal place to relax after a rather busy but wholly enjoyable fortnight.
Back in 2005 there was a sizeable beach - some twenty yards or so between water's edge and the steps. This year the beach has almost vanished - another indication of how much rain has fallen in eastern Canada this year. the beach
sunsetsSunsets are something of a feature here, and there have been many memorable light-shows over the years. A warm evening, a glass of wine - what could be better...

...except to do it again?

wineglasses and sunset