Saturday, July 9, 2016

Our Road Trip to the Columbia Icefield, Yellowstone and Beyond

We've taken a lot of road trips over the years, but this May my wife and I decided to take what we called the "mother of all road trips."  We've traveled over the past decade through the western part of the United States; usually our road trips lasted anywhere from a weekend to a whole week and the most miles we ever drove probably added up to 1,500 miles round trip.  This trip lasted two weeks, extended beyond U.S. borders into Canada, and added up to 2,596 miles round trip!

We started early Saturday morning May 7 driving up the I-5 to southern Oregon to spend some time with my relatives.  I was able to spend Mother's Day with my mother as well as my 98 year old grandmother, who had recently taken a bad fall but was still able to see us in the hospital.  Then we headed up to northern Oregon in Tigard, which we used as a base for exploring the wineries of the Willamette Valley.  We tasted a number of great wines and saw some spectacular views of the area.

Continuing north on the I-5, we stopped off in Seattle and took an elevator to the observation deck of the Space Needle.  It was my first time visiting the iconic structure featured prominently in the classic 1974 conspiracy thriller The Parallax View, which I wrote about in a previous blog post.  Then we enjoyed a wonderful seafood meal at Ivar's Acres of Clams.  Their deep fried salmon and their salmon chowder was hot, savory and absolutely delicious.

We kept going north, leaving the United States (making sure we had our passports and our courage; the border guard was tough as nails) and heading into Canada to spend the night in Vancouver.  After viewing the city and mountainous horizon from the Vancouver Lookout Tower, we drove up Transcontinental Highway 1 on our way to Kamloops.  While the city of Kamloops was situated in a beautiful valley and we had a wonderful dinner at their local diner Harold's Family Restaurant (absolutely the best french fries ever - I'm not kidding - extra super crunchy on the outside, not overly salted, soft hot potato inside - and the kicker - served with a side of thick hearty brown gravy.  Must try!) Kamloops was just a one night stopover on our way to what for me was the ultimate destination, Canmore.

Located right outside of Banff National Park, Canmore is surrounded by Alberta's Rocky Mountains.  The drive from Kamloops to Canmore was an exercise in escalating exhalations.  With each curve of the road, our jaws dropped further as each stunning snow-capped peak would be replaced by a different one, perhaps larger, or more jagged, but each an awe-inducing spectacle.  There were other spectacles of nature to view besides mountains: at one point I had to slow from 120 kilometers per hour to zero for a few minutes to allow a young grizzly bear to pass across the highway.  Arriving in Canmore Friday May 13, we ate at their local diner Craig's Way Station where I had a great Canadian burger for dinner, then bought sandwiches at Tim Horton's to go for lunch the next day.  We tried to go to bed at 10pm, but were amazed to look outside to see the sun hadn't set yet!

The next day, Saturday May 14, is what I consider to be the pinnacle of our trip, the Columbia Icefield.  We drove three hours through Banff National Park crossing over into Jasper National Park, a drive even more spectacular than the previous day - each side of the road crowned with towering peaks stuffed with ancient glaciers - including crystal clear lakes and all different kinds of wildlife such as rams that we had to slow to allow them to cross the road.  At the Columbia Icefield, we could see the mighty Athabasca Glacier and how global warming had reduced its size over the last century.  It was there that I decided to shoot a video segment for American Judas to demonstrate the difference.

We continued in a specially designed truck to drive us onto the Athabasca Glacier.  There we walked on the glacier, which produced an especially bright glare for which I fortunately remembered to wear sunscreen lotion.  There was a flowing stream of water and we both drank a cup of glacier water.  There is no other water on earth that compares to glacier water.  It is simply the cleanest, clearest, coldest water on earth!  We hadn't planned on doing this on what would have been the 73rd birthday of my father - it was one of those serendipitous synchronicities of fate - but remembering how he traveled to 55 countries in his lifetime, it seemed like the perfect moment to honor him.

From there, it was on to Yellowstone!  We stayed in Gardiner, Montana near the Roosevelt Arch at the northern entrance.  We made good on our game plan to reach Old Faithful Inn first thing in the morning, then backtrack on the same road in the afternoon to see what we missed.  That meant getting front row seats for the 9:30am eruption of Old Faithful geyser!  Then we explored the Upper Geyser Basin, encountering many geysers, pools and buffalo.  After that, we drove to Fountain Paint Pot and Mammoth Hot Springs before heading back to Gardiner for dinner at the Two Bit Saloon.

In many ways this was the most rigorously scheduled of any of our road trips - some of our daily drives lasted over 10 hours and chewed up over 700 miles from one destination to the next - so we researched as many nitty-gritty details as possible to know where the next gas stop (at the cheapest price) was, where the next meal (sometimes stuffed in a freezer bag) could be munched and what points of interest might be observable along the way.  But sometimes my wife and I would learn something new upon reaching our destination of something not on the itinerary that we just had to check out.

That was what happened on the last leg of the trip in Las Vegas.  While staying at the El Cortez downtown, we read about a brand new land art installation just outside of Vegas at Jean Dry Lake.  It's called Seven Magic Mountains and this creation by artist Ugo Rondinone consists of seven stacks of enormous multi-colored totems.  Seeing such a bright playful exhibit amidst such a stark dry atmosphere was the kind of experience my wife and I yearn for as travelers.

This was really a transformative trip for us.  Shooting and watching so much video, like the one from Columbia Icefield I posted above, made me realize the power of images and how I would like to create more video-oriented posts for American Judas both here and on my new Youtube channel.  But there were so many other great adventures my wife and I experienced outside the scope of what I usually explore here that we've decided to create our own separate blog!  I'm very excited about this joint venture and hope that you will check it out along with all the great pictures and videos we're posting!

Our new blog is:

Please subscribe to our Youtube channel and be sure to check us out on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.  We hope to update our blog and Youtube channel once a week, while I'll still try to stick to once a month entries here.  I'll still try to find new things to write about (shouldn't be too difficult with all the crazy things happening in the world today) but I also hope to revisit previous entries by updating them with Youtube videos that will add a new dimension.  Stay tuned!


Tanya Savko said...

What a fantastic trip! So glad all went well, and I look forward to reading the new blog!

Unknown said...

Absolutely gorgeous. Stunning! Nothing like travel to make you really appreciate the entire world. Great job, you guys!

Robert Paulsen said...

@Tanya: Thanks! I hope you do enjoy reading the new blog. We should have a new entry up in the next couple days. Hope you enjoy watching the videos too!

@Eric: You got that right. Travel stirs and soothes the soul. Thanks!