Monday, August 19, 2013

DAY EIGHT - Johnston Canyon & Stormy Mountain Lodge

Many of the locals recommended Johnston Canyon as a must see for it's scenic walkway through the forest along a river featuring three gorgeous waterfalls.  Since it was nearby, we decided to give it a go for today's adventure.  Rain was coming down during the short drive to the Canyon.

When we arrived, we went to the local gift shop/diner to wait for the rain to stop.  The diner was like taking a step back into the 50's with an old fashioned ice cream soda fountain, and covered bins filled with the pastry of the day and "take back" metal signs hanging everywhere and little round bar stools at the counter.  One of the metal signs read, "We serve food times a day."  Since were were between feedings, we didn't order food, but settled in for a long rain delay with a cup of steaming hot chocolate.

Shortly, the rains stopped and armed with Bear Spray, Mosquito repellant and rain jackets, we were off, which was a blessing because our group is NOT the most patient.  

The paved trail was packed with people and mosquitoes (there is definitely a pattern developing here.)   Most of the trail was an elevated cat walk type of trail attached to the side of the mountain.  No way in Hell the "bunny huggers" in the good 'ole USA would allow construction of such a project in a national forest.  And I must admit, it did somewhat distract from the natural beauty, but sure made it easy to view the river and falls.

The three waterfalls were spectacular and incredibly powerful because of all the rain, but still the most amazing aqua color.  We did a Chevy Chase, "Look kids, it's Johnston Canyon." gaze, took a few photos and headed back down the canyon.  We didn't waste any time getting out.  The mosquitoes were brutal and  attacked when standing still.  Kenny had a huge mosquito on his face, so he moved his bug repellant fan to his cap to ward off the disease carrying pests.

Finally, some exciting wildlife.  Kenny spotted a huge Elk feeding along side the road.  I would loved to have put the skillet shot on him but decided it was probably not good form in a national forest in a foreign country with witnesses. So we settled for shooting a few photos and moved on.  Check out that rack!!  

Stormy Mountain Lodge

Our destination spot for lunch was Stormy Mountain Lodge, a quaint, rustic, isolated, unforgettable diminutive mountain lodge surrounded by cozy perfectly maintained log cabins.  The perfect spot to snuggle up with someone special for an uninterrupted day or two.
 Resting at Stormy Mountain Lodge 

The warm and welcoming lodge had an instant calming affect on us.  The walls were simplistically decorated with snowshoes, skis, bear skin rugs, elk mounts, antler sconces, local paintings and other pastoral items.  A bar with three bar chairs filled one corner, while the check-in desk stood opposite.
Large over stuffed sofas separated by a sleigh coffee table rested in front of a blazing fire where we enjoyed tea and scones after a delicious lunch.  An upright piano was sitting in the corner obviously reminiscent of times gone by when the innkeeper would entertain guests after a hearty meal.

Individual Cabins at Stormy Mountain Lodge
Guess you can tell I liked this place a lot.  Sheryl and I loved the experience.  Kenny seemed relaxed enough, but when Sheryl asked if anyone was ready to leave, Kenny shot off the couch like the "King of Speed"  when the light turns green.  He went from prone position to full upright in a split second.  

Lake Minnewanka
We also stopped to check out Lake Minnewanka, where boat rides and fishing charters can be arranged.  Not much special about this stop other than the beautiful scenery where the mountains plunge into the lake, and the water has that amazing aqua color.

                   Ice Cream Fix at Lake Minnewanka
Kenny found an ice cream shop while Sheryl and I explored the boat docks.

We had another fabulous dinner at Coyote followed by shopping for another suitcase to take home our Canada treasures, always a sign of a successful trip.  But NO BeaverTail tonight.  
Blue Corn Tortilla Chicken Enchilada
We were too full after the most amazing Blue Corn Tortilla Chicken Enchiladas at Coyote.  This is the second best find in Canada.  Not a traditional Enchilada, this delicious Enchilada is made like a tostada, loaded with chicken, onions spices, cheese and then stacked and topped with Mole sauce.  The last bite of this Enchilada was every bit as tasty as the first.  I told the Chef, I would come back to Banff just to have one of his Enchiladas.  Wow!  Makes my mouth water just remembering.  

DAY NINE - Lake Louise

Lake Agnes Tea House
Since we had such a great time hiking to the Lake Agnes Tea House at Lake Louise, we decided to do a repeat.  We awoke to dark, cloudy skies.  The concierge assured us that above those low lying clouds was blue sky and sunshine.  Duh!  That's pretty much the case during any monsoon!  But we were not dissuaded by the threatening clouds and took off for Lake Louise.  Sure enough, before we reached Lake Louise, the sun was shinning as brightly as KB's face when we decided to leave Jasper.  

Kenny "pacing" himself.
We paced ourselves today because we knew what was waiting for us at the Tea House.  So in route to Lake Louise, we had a small snack for breakfast holding out for the tasty sandwiches on home baked bread, hot soups and an assortment of tasty treats.    It was announced early on in the hike that we were taking our time today.  But alas, we passed everybody on the trail.  The hot rod in KB just couldn't hold back.  We reached the tea house in record time and the lunch did not disappoint.

Sulphur Mountain Gondola

View from atop Sulphur Mountain
Before returning to the hotel, we went to the Sulphur Mountain Gondola for a quick sightseeing trip to the top of Sulphur Mountain.  Three hundred sixty degree views of Banff and the surrounding Rockies were stunning. 

We had early dinner reservations at Coyote so we could get back to the hotel in time for our final and best massage.  

DAY TEN - Home

For the first time in 10 days, we awoke to beautiful blue skies just in time for our drive back to Calgary to catch our flights home.  It's been an amazing vacation from my Aspen summer vacation.  Sheryl spent hours planning and organizing this trip and it was time well spent.  We ran from sun up to sun down and enjoyed every single adventure ... yeah, even Jasper.  We've done a complete recon for future trips and I've highlighted a few notes below.  

  • The Fairmont Hotel, aka Banff Springs Hotel, Stanley Thomas Wing, is a great headquarters, allowing for nice day trips out of Banff to areas like Lake Louise and Johnston Canyon.  Do not stay in the main part of the hotel.  It was built 125 years ago and the bathrooms are minuscule.  The Stanley Thomas is an add on but very nice.  There's really no need to pack and unpack moving to the Fairmont Hotel in Lake Louise.  There's nothing to do there in the evenings, anyway and it's only 1/2 hour drive from Banff.  
  • Lake Louise is a must see.  The Tea House hikes are spectacular.
  • The Agnes Tea House in Lake Louise is #1.  Awesome hike, strenuous, but not a killer.
  • The Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House in Lake Louise is #2.  It's a little longer and a more strenuous hike than Lake Agnes, but totally different views and well worth the effort.
  • The Banff golf course is nice.  Very scenic.   It's expensive and not quite worth the price.
  • Horseback ride was really fun and a great way to get the lay of the land.
  • Lake Moraine is a must see.  Climb the rock pile, but take the trail instead of forging a beaver dam and crawling up boulders.
  • If you want really GOOD food, eat at Coyotes.  Breakfast, lunch or dinner.  They have regular unsweetened iced tea, too.
  • Don't forget to get the best piece of tail on the planet at BeaverTails.
  • Don't miss the Stormy Mountain Lodge for lunch or an intimate weekend getaway.
  • You make the decision as to visiting Jasper or not.  Mountains surrounding Jasper are not as spectacular and rugged as Banff, there is not much to do, the Lodge is nothing special, service was pretty rough and the cabins look like double wide trailers.  It's a much older, slower crowd.  On the other hand, the drive up was stunning.
  • Most importantly, remember to travel with dear friends.  Wish everyone could have friends like Kenny and Sheryl.  I'm so blessed.

Friday, August 16, 2013

DAY FOUR - Lake Louise and Lake Moraine

Today's activity was a day trip from our hotel to Lake Louise.   We had breakfast at Melissa's, in town, and then drove 58 Kilometers to Lake Louise arriving around 10:00 a.m.  The parking lot was filling up already, but we arrived in plenty of time to get a parking place in the lot as opposed over flow parking on the highway and walking for over a mile up the highway to the lake.
Lake Louise rests at the base of some beautiful glacier covered mountains and is surprisingly similar in looks to the Maroon Bells in Aspen, except that the lake is much larger and a beautiful green turquoise caused by very fine sediment called glacial flour that is scraped up as the glacier moves and as it melts, the sediment runs down the streams to feed all the gorgeous colors to the lake.  The other difference is that at any given time, there can be thousands of people milling around, and let's not forget the millions of mosquitoes.  The Fairmont Hotel of Lake Louise, another luxury property, greets visitors to the lake.   After checking out the views around the lake, we began our first hike to Lake Agnes.   

3.4 Kilometers up the mountain later, we can upon a quaint little log cabin called the Lake Agnes Tea Cabin.
College kids live and work at the tea house during the summer.  They bake pies, cookies and bread and make soups and sandwiches for the hikers and serve them with hot tea on the porch of the cabin which has perhaps the most spectacular view a cabin could possibly have.  Supplies for the tea house are delivered by helicopter only once per season, 10,000 pounds of flour, sugar and baking supplies.  Fresh items like butter, milk and vegetables are brought up on foot daily.
This certainly would not be my choice for a fun summer job, but the kids seemed to love living here.  

They told us about a second tea house across the mountain.  When we expressed an interest in going there, they asked us to take a letter to the kids at the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.  They communicate with their friends via letter and have tourists deliver them to the next tea house.  Our hike to Lake Agnes Tea House was plenty strenuous, so we passed on the letter delivery and hiked back down the mountain and headed to Lake Moraine.

Lake Moraine is another Canada crown jewel of a lake surrounded by 10 peaks.  The water is a bright blue turquoise.  Sheryl and I crossed the creek to the recommended "rock pile" for exceptional photo opportunities, by way of a beaver dam.  We made it without falling in or busting up the damn and began to climb the huge slate rocks to find the perfect spot to take some photos.
We took a few photos and then decided to climb to the top ... just so we could say we conquered the rock pile.  The rocks were slippery which made for a difficult climb, but plenty of other people were climbing them.  So not to be outdone, we climbed to the top where we found the paved park trail and stairs to the top that came up the back side of the rock pile.  About the time we discovered "fast and easy" trail, it began to rain, so we ran down the trail and met up with Kenny who was inside the gift shop staying warm and dry.  

We are armed and ready to "break bad."
Everywhere we hiked, we found warning signs about the Grizzly Bears and Cougars and were encouraged to hike in tight groups of 4 armed with bear spray.   While at Lake Moraine, we had our first Grizzly encounter.  I bravely warded off the pesky bear with my Acme Bear Spray.  It's marketed by the same company the Coyote uses for his Roadrunner capturing equipment and I'm sure it's just as effective.
As a dear friend pointed out to me, I don't seem to be the type to "break bad" on a bear with can of pepper spray.  Sure doesn't seem like it would be the thing to use to stop a charging 800 pound Grizzly.  Then again, I guess all we'd really have to do is spray one of the other tourists in our tight group of 4 and then we could make our get-away while the bear was "breaking bad" on them.

We walked to town for dinner at the Bear Street Tavern Pizza, followed by a little shopping ... but NO Beaver tail tonight.  We ate too many sweets at the tea house and decided to use a little discipline, which is so unlike me.  

DAY FIVE - Lake Louise

We had so much fun hiking to the tea house the day before, we decided to go back to Lake Louise and hike to the second tea house, Plain of Six Glaciers.  It was a longer hike, 5.5 Kilometers, and much steeper than Lake Agnes.  But the glacier viewing was spectacular.  The hike began at lake front level for about one mile and then took a right turn through the forrest and up the mountain.
The Bear Bait Boys
We were a little uncomfortable at first because we were the only hikers on the trail.  With the grizzly warnings, the park service requires groups of 4 or more and to keep close together.  We hung out for a few minutes until some strapping young lads came by and we joined up with them ... and we let them go first.  Bear bait!  Turned out the guys were very nice.  Riley, a Chiropractor, lives in Calgary.  Matt, an engineer for Shell Oil, also lives in Calgary.  They recommended a nice hike for us in Banff called Mount Rundle.  They said it's not that tough, at 9700 feet, just an "easy scramble" to the top.  Turns out "easy scramble" means using all fours and crawling.  Pass!!
The Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House was quite nice.  Built during the 1920's, it has the original stone and logs.  It's decorated with colorful Buddhist Prayer Flags.  The girls at Agnes Tea House raved about their sister tea house, and it was quite nice, but we preferred the Agnes Tea House.  Better food and the cabin was cuter.

Made it to Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House

Today's hike kind of kicked our butts.  That and the rain made the decision to drive to dinner tonight an easy choice.  We had the best dinner of our Banff visit, thus far, at Saltlik.  The parmesan crusted halibut was cooked perfectly.  We also rewarded ourselves with our last BeaverTail of the trip since we were departing for Jasper the next morning.  It was truly the best piece of tail!

We were living large and told the BeaverTail cook it was our last night in town and to make it extra special.  She stretched the dough extra long, which made it very crispy and loaded it with Nutella and m&m's.  By far the best!

DAY SIX   Jasper

We had an amazing time in Banff, but it's time to  journey on.  We were all every excited about going to Jasper because many people told us how beautiful it is.  
The four hour drive from Banff to Jasper may be the most scenic highway I've ever traveled.  We were escorted by the rugged Canadian Rockies, glaciers, ice fields and pristine rivers the entire drive.   We made a couple of stops along the way.  One was to check out the Althabasca Glacier and ice field, where we decided to hike up a glacier.
Just kidding!
It was an "easy scramble" to the top.  

Gotta love those shoes!  
Healthy lunch after our climb.

We arrived at the Jasper Park Lodge around 2:30.  We were ready to leave around 2:35.  But after such an exhilarating 4 hour drive and glacier hike, we were too tired to leave, so we decided to make the best of it and stay.  But alas, our rooms/cabins weren't ready, so we drove in to Jasper to check out the options for dinner later in the evening and frozen yogurt spots for KB.  As we entered the down town area, all two blocks of it, we quickly discovered that our trip to Jasper may have been a mistake.  At 4:00, our guaranteed check-in time, we went back to the Jasper Park Lodge working on excuses for canceling our 4 night reservation.  Sheryl came up with the perfect excuse ... "Our friends that we were meeting went to the Fairmont Hotel in Banff.  We have to go back there to be with them."  They bought it, and since our rooms still were NOT ready, they gave us a coupon for drinks in the lounge ... a generous but failed attempt to buy our undying affection for the Jasper Park Lodge.  


After two iced teas, a diet coke and a virgin Bloody Mary with a limp asparagus stem, which for some reason made Sheryl and I laugh hysterically, we settled in and watched a storm come through.  The lightening show was the highlight of our JPL visit.

Around 5:00, we decided to go have dinner and then perhaps our rooms would be ready.  Sure enough, after dinner, our cabins (aka double wides) were ready.  So we settled in for the night, preparing for our get away the following morning.

DAY SEVEN  - Golf and Banff

After a very disappointing breakfast, we left for the golf course.  Jasper Park's golf course is the number one rated resort course in all of Canada.  It was nice, even with all the grizzly bear warning signs.  The hacker group ahead of us played so slowly.  It was like trying to chain a bull to a bamboo stake to keep from hitting in to them.  

We had plenty of time for photos.  
By the time we reached the last hole, I just couldn't stand it any longer.  After waiting for the group to take their 4th shot EACH on a par 4 and still not be on the green, I blasted a drive to within about 5 feet of the group.   After cheers and applause erupted from our group, I was dubbed with the title "Crush Momma."  Makes me laugh every time I hear it.  I would normally never hit into a group, and to be totally honest, I thought they were far enough away to not even get close.  It was a 330 yard par 4 and I landed a short chip shot in to the green.  By the way, the group in front of us never even noticed.  

I also picked up a great souvenir at the pro shop in Jasper, keeping with our theme of Beaver Tails, a Beaver Head Cover.  From now on, every time I pull the cover off my driver, it will remind "Crush Momma" of our time in Canada and BeaverTails.

After the last ball dropped in the cup on number 18, which, by the way, I parred, we loaded the car and headed home ... to Banff.  We checked in to the hotel and crashed for the night.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Julie's California Blog Goes Canadian, eh?

Several months ago, my dear friends, Sheryl and Kenny invited me to join them on a trip to Canada.  Some of you may remember my mantra when asked to go someplace or do something ... "I'm in!"

Sheryl worked tirelessly putting together a fantastic itinerary.   Sheryl and KB were to fly from LA, I was flying from Aspen.  The plan was to meet in Calgary, rent a car and drive to Banff.

When the day finally arrived, I got to the airport in plenty of time, breezed through security and waited for my plane to be called.  Soon the gate attendant got on the intercom and announced that the flight was delayed because of a minor repair and should be boarding soon.  My Denver/Calgary connection was tight so I was a bit nervous about making my connection if we were late but soon, the flight was called and we boarded.  After getting everyone comfortably seated, the pilot stepped out of the cockpit and announced that the repair that he thought was minor was really major and he uttered those words we all hate to here, "This flight was been cancelled."  So I got off the pane as quickly as possible and ran to the United Ticket counter to see about re-scheduling my flight to make my Denver connection to Calgary in time to meet Kenny and Sheryl.  But alas, the only flight they could book me on would arrive in Calgary at 10:00 that night.  SO, I pulled the "Jewish Mother" card and explained the situation about meeting friends in Calgary and coordinating transportation in a foreign country, bla, bla, bla.  (Some of you may remember my son pledged a Jewish Fraternity at USC and told me to claim to be Jewish ... in case anyone asked.)   Well the whining worked.  The ticket agent double booked me on standby for a flight that departed at 9:38 a.m. and perhaps I could make my original flight connection out of Denver into Calgary.  So I rushed to the security line AGAIN, 30 minutes after breezing right through unscathed.  This time, however, both bags were pulled for additional screening.   They don't have a lot of security personnel at the Aspen airport, so I had to wait for a bag checker.  I'm doing the whole nervous toe tapping thing watching them board the flight for which I'm on standby.  The bag checker finally arrived, dressed head to toe in a hazmat suit, and dug through my bag to find a dozen menacing looking Bridgestone golf balls, and ran the explosive detector strip over them.  Silly TSA agents.  Those golf balls only explode on the fairway!  Hazmat guy finally released my bags  and to shorten this story, I was the last and only person they called for a standby seat on the plane.  I made it to Denver just in time to board my connecting flight, but since I hadn't been on the earlier flight, they had given my seat away.  But alas, the "Jewish Mother Whine" was successful again.  They were able to get me on board and I met Kenny and Sheryl in Calgary on time and the fun began!

After the rental car situation was resolved, we loaded our Volvo with the broken windshield and our trek to Banff and the adventures began.  

Sheryl arranged rooms for us at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, a beautiful castle like hotel built 125 years ago for wealthy tourists.   It's a very imposing structure nestled on a hill amongst the mountains and pines, just a short walk from the action of the main street.  Our first dinner was at The Maple Leaf, a concierge recommendation.  
Great Halibut.  Interestingly, Canada serves sweet tea everywhere from a soda dispenser.  Not good.  We must be in southern Canada, eh?  If I wanted regular unsweetened iced tea, I had to order a pot of hot tea and a large glass of ice.
After dinner, we found a Dairy Queen for KB's evening frozen dessert.

DAY TWO - Sightseeing and Horses

The rain didn't stop our activities, but it did change them somewhat.  After a four mile power walk on this cloudy rain threatening morning, we cancelled our tee time and opted instead to explore the area.  We found the beautiful Bow Falls, along with about 1000 other damn tourists and a million mosquitoes.  Sheryl and I were headed to the floats to arrange a rental trip down river, when suddenly - out of nowhere - Kenny suggested that we go ride horses for an hour.  He clearly was not interested in the float trip.  So right then and there, it was established, if an activity did not interest someone in the group, we'd just suggest a horse back ride.  

The Horseback ride was just fabulous.  We rode over the rivers, through the woods and up the mountain for an hour.  We started out single file with Sheryl riding Pilgrim, followed by me on Preston and Kenny bringing up the rear on Concho.  Concho clearly was used to being leader of the pack, and it didn't take long for him to overtake the lead.  I'm sure Concho required no encouragement from KB!

We had a great lunch back at the hotel "Pantry," followed by an incredible massage at the spa.  Then we walked to town for dinner at Bison, recommended by my massage therapist.  Bison offers a collection of very interesting concoctions such as corn chowder with grilled shrimp atop a garlic cheese grit biscuit and a strip of applewood smoked bacon, or a roasted head of cauliflower topped with toasted bread crumbs and an incredible dipping sauce.  We sat at the bar and ordered the left side of the appetizer menu.  Very tasty!  

After dinner, we accidentally found the most incredible dessert.  BeaverTails.   Likened to a funnel cake at the fair, a Beaver Tail is a piece of pastry dough stretched and pulled to a long, flat shape, (like a Beaver's tail) deep fried and then covered with a topping of your choice, such as sugar & cinnamon or Nutella and powdered sugar and various other delectable delights.  Sheryl and I split a BeaverTail and it was true love at first bite.  Best piece of tail I've had in my life!  This should be noted as the best "find" in Banff.


We finally awoke to a beautiful sunny day in Banff.  Which was perfect, because we had an 11:50 tee time to play the Banff Springs Golf Course.  Rated 2nd in the country, the course was in pristine condition and totally surrounded by the rugged Canadian Rockies.  Each fairway featured a different mountain backdrop making for breathtaking views.  Our foursome was rounded out with the nicest gentleman, originally from Japan, now living in Las Vegas, Dokechi.  Dokechi, 65, retired from some kind of computer business at age 45 and is now spending his time gambling and playing complimentary golf at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, a very exclusive, very expensive course.  He must loose a lot of money at the casinos!  Anyway, back to our golf in Banff, we had a great time even though we played with rental clubs, so that had to be the reason for my score of 102.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it. 

After golf, we rushed back to the room just in time to change for dinner.  We walked to town for another dinner at The Maple Leaf.  More good food followed by shopping and another fabulous piece of tail ... BeaverTail, that is.  We walked back to the hotel and Mr. Energy, Kenny decided we had entirely too much daylight to retire to the rooms, so we loaded up in the car and went exploring.  I failed to mention that we'd already completed a four mile power walk, played 18 holes of golf and walked to town and back.  Anyway, we drove up to check out another hotel that was recommended to Sheryl by friends Penny and Harvey, the Rimrock, which is located near the Sulfur Mountain Gondola.  The hotel was pretty, not nearly as majestic as Banff Springs, but had amazing views.  We decided we liked our location much better.  We checked out the gondola at 8:45, but decided against going to the top for sunset, as the last ride down was at 9:00.   It was getting close to dark by now, so we returned back to our hotel and called it quits.  Well most of us did.  Kenny was just a few steps short of reaching 30,000 steps for the day, so he went for another 800 step walk and then quit for the day.

Oh yeah.  I almost forgot to mention that I finally met my knight in not-so-shining armor.  Like the tin man in Wizard of OZ, he needs a little oil ... just too stiff.  But hey, he's tall and carries a bad ass weapon!

More news is coming, so tune in tomorrow.