Seattle Flight

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We had an early flight with no traffic on the way to the airport. Our bags only weighed 38 pounds, actually less than what I had weighed at home by a couple of pounds, calming the anxiety of getting charged for overweight luggage.

With our TSA approved boarding passes we were off to the Fasttrack lane of the pre screening. We didn’t have to remove our shoes, belts, light jackets and could leave laps tops inside our carry on bags. However, I got randomly selected for an additional search of my carry on bag. After a cursory peek and an announcement that my bag had a phone in it, we were off completing the speediest TSA screening ever. We are sure to be jinxed now upon our return flight and I can already feel gloved hands gliding up and down my body. I’m Looking forward to it.

We bought a bottle of Dasani water to share on the plane and promptly lost the cap into to dark crevices underneath the airline seat. Marla spotted the flight attendant coming down the aisle pedaling almonds, pretzels and something called an “Omar”.  Later after hearing her repeat Omar several times, it was determined that Omar was an Oat Bar. I did notice that no one wanted an Omar, neither did we, until Oat Bar came out loud an clear and then people started requesting the Omar Oat Bar. 

There on the food service cart were big bottles of Dasani and hope of a replacement bottle cap. The flight attendant understood our bottle cap dilemma, however the big bottle caps did not fit our bottle and we were destined to slosh water throughout the flight.  

First world problem.

 

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Juneau

 

AK doesn’t stand for Arkansas but Alaska.

We spent a day at sea eating, napping and wandering about the ship before arriving at Juneau early the next day.

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We disembarked on the port side, or got off the big boat on the left side, and were greeted by sunshine? What the what? Juneau is known to be the most rainy city in southwest AK, but not today and all the locals kept remarking about it. Even the following day in Skagway the guides mentioned this anomaly of sunshine, it was news worthy. Yay us!

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Today’s tour was taking us to the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery, Mendenhall Glacier and Glacier Gardens..  But first we took  a trip through town where our guide Levi pointed out that Juneau has 23 jewelry stores most of which are owned by the cruise ship. We then made our way up the hill to the hatchery.

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Upon arriving at the Macaulay Hatchery we were introduced to the salmon fish ladders as well as a few seals laying in wait!  Inside the Hatchery were huge tanks showing the various stages of Salmon development.  Our guide explained the process of egg fertilization and the importance of the preservation of Salmon in Alaska.  Before exiting there was the proverbial gift shop next to some unique aquariums.

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Next we made our way to Mendenhall Glacier. Two hundred years ago we would have touched the glacier at what now is the visitor center, but now it has receded across the lake about a mile away.

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We took a short hike to a small point on the lake shore to view the glacier and mistimed the “must see” film at the visitor center never seeing it after two try’s. My gimpy foot was having a bad day and prevented us from walking another trail near a glacier waterfall that looked really cool from afar. We had to turn around after a couple of 80 year olds blew past us on that trail.

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We then went to Glacier Gardens that were created after a landslide. The owner was cleaning up from the landslide and rerouting a stream to better drain the hillside thus preventing a future landslide when something odd happened. He had rented a brand new very expensive earth moving machine and had not put a scratch on it until the day it was to be returned. On that day he backed into a fallen tree that pierced the engine compartment causing $4,000 in damage. In his anger he grasped the offending tree with the mechanical arm and flung it down.

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The tree stuck in the ground root side up, or upside down. This upside down tree gave him the idea to put some gardening cloth within the roots, now at the top of the tree, add some potting soil and then some plants. These upside down trees are now planted all over the hillside and they look wonderful. 

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We were treated to a shuttle ride up the hillside to a magnificent over look of Juneau and the bay. The airport was down below us which includes a waterway runway for water planes to land on. A local couple was up with us taking in their first view from Glacier Gardens and seemed equally enthusiastic as us.

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The shuttle took us downhill and our guide was entertaining and educational with his knowledge of trees, plants and the forest. 

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At the end of the tour was of course the ” exit through the gift shop”, where we bought some homemade cookies and coffee for the ride back to Juneau.

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Levi took us back to town and set us free. He had pointed out Alaskan Tee Shirt Co and had endorsed that as a place to shop so we walked about the town before heading over there. The store was having their End of the Season Sale and all the merchandise was at least 50% off. Wow, we walked in and after a 10 second scan I grabbed a shopping basket which is something I never do at these shops, but there were bargains to be had and we were going to shop! They were truly blowing out inventory, the shelves were empty and merchandise was being pushed to the front as the rear of the store became barren.

We scored some trinkets at 70 % off wishing we had gone here first instead of passing by all 23 jewelry stores. What bargains did we miss?

We took some photos on the way towards the ship and we shuffled back in a slight drizzle.

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Skagway, Bordelos and The Gold Rush!

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We docked in Skagway at about 900am.  This allowed us time for a little continental breakfast before hopping on our tour bus headed towards the Yukon. We had another very young tour guide and driver named Eli.

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After a ride up the Main Street of Skagway, that also had 23 jewelry stores like Juneau, we stopped at The Red Onion Saloon for a “hardy” breakfast (not really) that was pre-made, room temperature and not pleasing to the eye. Yummy. The ladies doing the tour were dressed in period harlot fashion and had some fun with it. The wise cracks with double  meaning abounded to the point of over doing it but it was perhaps the early hour, for cruising anyway, and the hardly breakfast that dampened our sense of humor. We toured the bordello including the upstairs rooms with antique red lamps and furnishings hearing the stories of these happy hookers.

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Gold Miners and Gold Diggers …….

One of the more interesting things about the gold rush is how much some ladies made, having never set foot in the field.

I recall a story I heard in 4th grade about a wife of a miner who made more money selling apple pies than her husband did mining for gold. The bordellos had a similar business model, give them what they want for a price.

These ladies were raking in the dough and one method a popular trollop was known for was that she would catch gold nuggets in her skirt while sitting up on the bar showing more and more skin as the nuggets got bigger. Who wouldn’t flash for a gold nugget? Then of course transactions could be had upstairs. These ladies became rich.

I later heard a song by Volbeat, Lola Montez, that reminded me of this. In the song Lola does her Spider Dance while the miners threw their gold.

The madam who ran the place soon became wealthy and owned more businesses in town and later returned to the East Coast a respected and rich  business woman. Unfortunately she married a man who took her money and she was last seen working as a hotel maid.

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Skagway is located 400 miles from where gold was discovered and was a starting point for prospectors to begin their journey. The prospectors had to accumulate 2,000 pounds of supplies at the top of the mountain before they were allowed to continue on by the Canadian Mounties. So they made several trips up the mountain before they started their long journey crossing even more mountains, lakes and then building a raft to float onto Dawson. Not Dawson Creek, but Dawson.

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The tour then headed up the Klondike highway while pulling over a few times to admire the view of the valley and lakes.

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We ended up at the Yukon Suspension Bridge. Marla was nervously expecting a really high suspension bridge like the one we had visited in Canada in 1991. I too was hoping for a long swaying/ swinging bridge over a gorge and roaring rapids 700 feet below. Cue the sad trombone, it was suspended over a river 65 feet below and overly safe and stable.

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We then ambled along the walkways at the bridge reading the historical signs before finding a mastodon tusk. 

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It was cold so coffee and cookies were needed and purchased before hitting the road back.

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Eli said that the original journalists didn’t want the hardship of trekking 400 miles to Dawson to report on the Gold Rush, so they interviewed miners as they came down the mountain. Only about 5% of the prospectors struck it rich and the other 95% lied to the journalists about the amount of gold and their “riches”.  These manly men also were disingenuous about how easy it was getting to Dawson and mining in general.

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This fake news caused the Gold Rush and the ruin of most of the prospectors.  Eventually in 1906, after only two years, the rush was all over and Skagway remained.

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The ladies however did strike it rich.  Girl power.

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Glacier Bay

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Today was a day at sea as they say with no port of call other than cruising around Glacier Bay. That in of itself was a port of call. 

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We cruised up the fjord as the temperature got colder and the fog was hanging over the shore. Eventually little chunks of ice appeared in the water floating by like pieces of a styrofoam cooler. Ice! Ice in the water! We approached the glacier as the chunks of styrofoam increased in size big enough to park a car on. How cool, or how cold.

The glacier is a bit of an optical illusion at first glance. It doesn’t seem real, it’s too big and our selfies looked like they had been photoshopped with the automatic exposure setting on the camera freaking out over the glare. Another couple was having the same issue and we traded photo duties to get better shots of each other.

7A1858D7-B7BC-4E06-987F-A69D2BE7E87E About that time the ship’s photographer came around to our deck. It was the one photo we purchased from the cruise and it looks fake. Interestingly one of the photo backdrops that the ship used to take photos looks about the same.

We decided to take some video to capture the ice in the water and then panning around to the glacier. That worked better.

US Americans pronounce glacier with a long vowel on the “a”, the Brits use a short vowel on the “a” that comes out like ” glassier ” that definitely sounds more classy.

The ship thankfully comes to a full stop at a safe distance and we were lucky enough to see a calving of ice, or a big chunk of ice falling off. The ship then slowly rotates around for all passengers to get a good view and selfie. It’s cold outside and after an hour we headed back in to join the rush to buy coffee. The clerk even mentioned that everyone seemed to be buying coffee. 

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Ketchikan

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We disembarked the ship to Ketchikan into a misty morning. This was our earliest tour and we got up at 500am, which was no big deal since we had crashed the previous night around 900pm.  Also our early morning wake up got us to breakfast at their opening hour of 600am and to our glee, our first window seat for breakfast!

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Ketchikan was cold and drizzling and we had bundled up hopping on the short bus feeling a little slighted as the other passengers were boarding their luxury coaches for their tours. We found out that our bus was an overflow bus and that actually made it better.  Linda was our tour guide and it was her last tour of the season before leaving back to Bose, Idaho. Her and her husband Todd were both retirees and this was their summer job.

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Our other tour guides were very young and she was no less enthusiastic with her practiced spiel and corny jokes. She did have a bad habit of pointing to things to the left and right with her hands while driving with only one hand on the wheel causing me a little concern over the wet twisting road to Saxon Village, the Native American destination for the day.

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The tribes people were dressed up in traditional yet modern costumes. They did some tribal dancing and singing that fell on our deaf ears after years of Native American museums and presentations from our California upbringing. Been there done that. 

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The show was a warm up act to see totem poles. They had some big ones including one with Abraham Lincoln to honor his buying Alaska from Russia. Good call Abe. It was a heavy drizzle turning into a light rain and we hit the gift store to dry out. Our guides were peacefully standing in the liquid sunshine no doubt scowling at our hunt for shelter.

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After a few minutes it was our group’s time to see the totem pole carving  building. They were working on a pole and told us about the tools and paint used to make the poles. When a totem pole gets old and starts to fall apart they actually have a totem pole graveyard to lie them down in until they rot and return to the earth. Do you want to buy one? Get ready to shell out a few thousand dollars per foot and wait about a year. 

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The drive back was uneventful with our one arm senior citizen at the wheel and we chose to be dropped off in town. She dropped us off at a place were she thought the shuttles back to the ship stop, and she was unsure of how often they come by. Due to the rain my unfiltered mouth said, ” Well that’s kind of important ” and she agreed but still had no answer.

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We only had 1 hour before we would have to start hiking back to the ship, or grabbing a taxi if it kept raining. So we did what one does in Ketchikan in the rain, hit the shops. We had a request from Marla’s friend for a ulu.

But what’s a ulu? A ulu is a small curved bladed cutting tool often used to chop up food in a bowl. And ulus are everywhere in Alaska once you know what they are.

After deciding on a ulu, it stopped raining. Coincidence? The ulu’s powers were clearly at work. 

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After strolling along the wharf and towards the ship we hit a couple more shops, took some photos before embarking on the ship.

We did a lot of reading the rest of the afternoon and I finished off my second book, Call of the Wild, which left me back on the Kindle reading The Infinite Jest that has been my vacation/airplane book for 2 years now. David Foster is an amazing writer and it’s a long book to get through and it takes many references to a dictionary. Foster’s life was cut short by suicide at the age of 46.  What else could he have written?

The afternoon was another cruise ship blur of eating, napping, watching movies, promenading and hitting a magic show before a comedian. Typical cruise stuff.

 

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Sleepless in Seattle

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We had a layover between getting off the ship and flying into Calgary the next day. So, I had a mystery date planned.

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A couple of years back while on a business conference I met my friend Rich downtown and we went to the Jazz Alley to see Ramsey Lewis. Ramsey’s three piece band of youngsters ( Ramsey is now in his 70’s) was great. His big hit in the 60’s was I’m in With the In Crowd. The food was good and it was a nice venue, so I thought of visiting it again with Marla. I saw that Victor Wooten was playing with Dennis Chambers on drums the night of our layover. How cool. I had seen The bassist, Victor, play a few years back also with Rich and it was a great show. Dennis Chambers is a phenomenal drummer. Let’s do it.

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Now, where to stay? Back on my first visit to Jazz Alley Rich had stayed at a local hotel for the night before returning to Whidbey Island where he lives. I had dropped him off and it was a recently renovated Art Deco hotel that looked amazing. I decided to book that hotel for our one night stay.  I wasn’t sure of the name of the hotel so I googled “Art Deco hotel Seattle” and the Hotel Deca popped up. The description and location sounded about right so we booked it.

We disembarked from the ship and grabbed a taxi to hotel Deca The drive was going away from downtown and the area I remember dropping Rich off. Oh well, another “travel adventure”. The hotel Deca is located a few miles from downtown Seattle near the University of Washington.

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It was definitely a hotel in the Art Deco style and also recently renovated.

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Our room was spacious and done in grey monotones with silver gilded accents like an old Fred Astaire movie set. Did we dance like Fred and Ginger?  No, we took a nap and then headed out to lunch. I had noticed a movie theater down the street on the ride in and we walked to it after lunch.  After the movie we headed back to the hotel to rest some before going to the Jazz Alley.
We had the front desk to call is a taxi and waited outside a few yards away from the taxi stand and waited. Couples were coming out of the hotel standing on the curb briefly before a Uber driver would pick them up. More couples and groups came out to board their Ubers and I went inside to check on the taxi. My smart and tech savvy wife downloaded the Uber app, ordered a ride and within a few minutes our ride arrived. It was our first of many Uber rides and it was great. He drove us to our destination and talked about attending college while driving for Uber.

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The hotel, movie and Uber rides were fantastic. Our seats at the Jazz Alley were up close and behind the drummer, perfect. The food was great but the rest of the evening was so-so. The three piece band of Jazz super stars, to me, never jelled and it seemed like they were winging it around some basic jam structures getting polite audience applause. The Victor Wooten Band that I saw years earlier was so much fun and it was a electrifying night of boogie and funk. That night the band was having as much fun as the audience and at one point Victor’s bass tech ( a fancy term for a roadie), who was a female grabbed a bass and laid down a funky groove while rapping a song. That audience went crazy. And on this night, eh, not so much. Every band has an off night and I cringed often feeling their pain. There was no magic. Victor tried yet Dennis and the sax player were phoning it in. The food and seats were good.

After the show we walked around the area and came upon a taxi stand in front of a hotel that had a taxi in it. I hailed the driver and we boarded into his dirty taxi and drove away into what became the most awkward, creepy and and cringe worthy drives that we ever had. The driver was wearing camouflage, smelled of smoker’s funk and had our Stranger Danger spider senses going off. The usual driver to passenger chit chat turned into his tails of robbery attempts and rat shit crazy pontificating. Great. How much longer will this drive take? Will we make it? Was this a real taxi or a serial killer’s bait trap. I thought of immediately changing our destination to a local landmark, any location. Yet, we made it and he wanted to take us to the airport the following day.
Sure, we will call you…

Destination Banff

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We bid adieu to our night in Seattle and caught a flight to Calgary.  Like clockwork we picked up our prearranged rental car and headed about 1 1/2 hour northwest.

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Our destination??  Banff National Park.  

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We pulled into our hotel The Georgetown Inn, which is located about 10 mins outside Banff in the town of Canmore. We chose lodging here due to the competitive rates.

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The Georgetown Inn is a small hotel with an English style pub below.  It’s cute…. if not a bit dusty.

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The weather predicted snow through the night and true to form we woke up with a blanket of that white goodness. 

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After a hardy breakfast from the pub below,  off we went to explore Canmore. But not before Allan cleared the snow from the car, a concept us Southern Californian’s had a hard time wrapping our heads around!

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Canmore is a small tourist town with lots of cute shops and restaurants.  We found the surrounding Rockies to be quite beautiful, especially with a dusting of snow.

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Photos from Banff National Park in Alberta on Sunday, March 26, 2017. This year marks Canada’s 150th anniversary and to celebrate, access to Canada’s national parks is free for the whole year. (Photo by Quin Hauck/SAIT)

Next we headed off to Banff National Park.  As it turns out, Canada was celebrating their 150th anniversary this year.  So to mark the occasion all of Canada’s parks and historic sites were free.  What a pleasant surprise! 

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Our first stop was at a natural thermal mineral springs at Cave and Basin National Historic Site. In 1883 three workers on the Canadian Pacific Railroad brought attention to this site by attempting to commercialize the springs. But in 1885 the Canadian government stepped in and reserved a 10 square mile radius around the basin. This was the birth of Canada’s National Park System.

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The Cave and Basin are made up of two large caves with one of them partially collapsed.  The site allowed us to enter the open cave through a man made tunnel.  It was only a short walk to the spring at the end of the cave.

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There are actually four thermal outlets.  The spring we saw inside the cave appeared relatively small but interesting. At one time tourists were allowed to swim in the springs, but has since been closed down to protect the delicate ecosystem and species such as the Banff Springs Snail.

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We saw a second outlet outside along the Marsh Loop trail.

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Before leaving we checked out the exhibits on the early Pioneer camps….. and like a boss Allan took a selfie for his peeps back home!

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Lake Louise

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From the Cave and Basin we drove about 40 miles northwest to reach Lake Louise. Allan’s mom had talked of visiting here, so it had a special significance.

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We parked at the Chateau Fairmont, which overlooks Lake Louise, and walked over to the resort. In a way this hotel has become its own tourist destination.

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The hotel reminded us of the hotel in the movie “The Shining”.

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I tried to imagine what the place would be like deserted in the dead of winter……  We originally tried to book lodging here, but they had long since been sold out.  The resort inside is mostly off limits, unless your a guest, but we roamed around anyway and checked out the shops.  We ended up having a snack at their “Starbucks like” coffee shop….. Not the picture above…..

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Outside The Chateau Fairmont we wandered around a really nice area while viewing Lake Louise.  We were bundled up for the chilly weather and were fortunate that it wasn’t raining.

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Lake Louise with its very blue water is glacier fed. It’s really quite beautiful with the Rockies surrounding.  There’s a trail nearby which leads to a tea house. Unfortunately with the weather there was no hike in our forecast!  There were also canoes to rent but none available.  Also in the winter there is ice skating on the frozen lake.

Moraine Lake

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While relaxing with a cup of joe at the Chateau Fairmont, a few fellow travelers mentioned that we had to check out Moraine Lake.  They had just come from there, which is located in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, and said it was probably the prettiest lake in Banff.

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Well we have to agree.  It’s an amazing lake with its deep blue water.  Like Lake Louise it’s also Glacier fed.

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We walked around the lakes sandy shore which had an abundance of drift wood.

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Occasionally we would come across these weird configurations….. hmmm maybe aliens?

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An interesting “note” to mention here is the depiction of Moraine Lake is on the Canadian twenty dollar bill. Issue date was 1969 and 1979.

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Banff Gondola and Sulphur Mountain

 

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It was day three in The National Park so we decided to sign up for an “Explore Banff” experience. The tour was an easy way to zone out on the navigation while exploring the park.

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Our pick up point was at a local hotel in Canmore.  After a quick cup of joe we boarded our designated bus, which wisked us off to a bus station in Banff.  Brewster Travel uses this station as a hub for its tours.

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Our guide was a young good looking enthusiastic European. He was a knowledgeable guide with amusing stories. He recounted his first mountain climbing experience here in Banff.  He pointed out an area where he and a few buddies were climbing with relative ease while taking selfies and just having a great time.  They had every intention of making it to the summit, but it was getting late with the sun setting forcing them to come back down. That’s when he got stuck.  You see climbing up is fairly easy when you can see where your going, but when you “ down climb “ you can’t see your feet so you begin to stumble around seeking a foot hold.  Climbers refer to it as sewing machine legs, which is a result of fear and fatigue.  Basically your legs can’t stop shaking. He eventually made it down with a new found respect of the mountain.

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Our first stop was at the Banff Gondola where we were loaded into 4 person glass pods and transported to an elevation 7,486 feet.

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Once off our sweet ride we were directed to a snow covered boardwalk, which led to various viewing decks of Sulphur Mountain. The hiking trail is about 0.4 miles long ending with a a stone weather observatory that was built in 1903.  We could also see from here Samson Peak which was named after the parks meterorologist Norman Samson who had made the trek over 1,000 times.

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For the brave of heart you can hike up the mountain which takes 2 to 3 hours and then ride the Gondola down… which about takes about 8 mins.

Peyto Lake

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Next on the agenda was Peyto Lake.  We pulled into the lakes parking lot then hiked, or more like walked, along a short trail to the various outlooks while viewing Peyto Lake below. 

The water was such an amazing bright turquoise color.  Our guide explained that this was a result of “rock flour” suspended in the water and that these of rock particles were created primarily from glacial run off during the summer months.

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Lake Minnewanka

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Lake Minnewanka translates to “Water of the Spirits”.  It was our last stop today and not to repeat myself …. but yes…. another beautiful glacier fed lake. 

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The lake is 13 miles long with a power dam at the west end, supplying the town with hydro electric power.

In addition, the surrounding area of Lake Minnewanka is of interest to archaeologists with the discovery of 10,000 year old stone tools and arrowheads.

As we explored the lake further we came across these cuties created from the previous nights snow.

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There also was a hamburger stand nearby as well as boat rides offered at the dock.

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