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Day 33. Tuesday 20 September.

……miles driven exactly, per motorhome trip meter, at our stop at Great Falls last night. My goodness what a collusion of numbers! (It is after all, Day 33).

From Great Falls the plains country (ranches) continued under another magnificent but heavier, cloudy sky.

The landscape constantly changed: from the plains, we unexpectedly dropped down into a lush limestone canyon/valley with green grasses and autumn colours. That scene changed again as we drove up and out into mountains (admittedly tame ones) forested with Douglas pines; that in turn morphed into rolling, sparsely treed hills that mostly had a mixture of sagebrush and grazing. Then some grain farming appeared until on the horizon, and getting closer, was our old friend the Rockies mountain chain.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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On the off chance we stopped in White Sulphur Springs for fuel and coffee (this vehicle drinks more ‘gas’ than D drinks red wine!). Dori’s Café, a blast from the 1960s in excellent condition that could have served as the set for Happy Days, looked like a good possibility. In keeping with its ambience, it hadn’t modernized enough to do espresso, but Dori (we assume) said that the cart just past the vacant block ‘did that sort of stuff’.

img_5617And indeed she did, serving a very nice espresso and latte while chatting happily about the sad little town, which only just “exists.” After ordering our coffee we were asked to buy a raffle ticket for the local SES (Meagre County Search and Rescue)….no, not a chook raffle but a rifle raffle. D declined the invitation, saying something about having seen enough of guns….

 

Back in the early 1980s the town supported a thriving timber industry, but when the mill closed there was an almost halving of the population: the coffee lady said that she was in third grade when it happened and her class halved immediately as families left looking for work. The town is placing its hope on a copper mine development, that promises only 10 years of production. Possibly the scenario will repeat, an all too familiar story in Australia as well.

On to Livingston, which put great store by its historic area. Much of the building seemed to be original, in good condition (but not very old), but the most interesting aspect was the number of galleries – it seemed that this town was focused on its culture, some of which we saw was very good. Writers, music, artists…and a great fabric shop!

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Can you tell what’s wrong with this sign?

 

 

 

A stop for a bite to eat at a ‘Fishing Access’ point on the Yellowstone River. The river was very fast flowing but fly fishermen were using a specialised boat, rowed, to get into the fish. It appears that the fishermen stand in specially constructed supports in the boat to cast. Great idea. D spoke to one pair of fishermen who stated that they had caught a couple (do you believe anything fishermen tell you?)

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And what happens when there are no wildlife warning signs?

Very relaxed Bambi lookalikes!

 

 

Tomorrow it’s into Yellowstone Park proper (and the river up here is now BROWN), with promises of bison, bears and elk!

Some truths for taking photographs as a traveller:

  • You are always looking into the sun when trying to take those vey best scene shots;
  • Tourists taking selfies will gladly let you in once the moment you were hoping to capture has passed;
  • When you are taking shots of birds, they will fly away in the split second between focus and clicking the shutter;
  • When you are taking shots of wildlife, they will turn their back on you, or run away, just as you click the shutter.

 

Riding the Big Sky

Day 32. 19 September.

The day started with a pink sky, then cold, blustery and sleety. Nature balanced the physical discomfort with a magnificent rainbow – and as the day went on the sun dominated, although the wind was ever present.

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The first stage was through some narrow winding roads (yes, and windy). Signs warned us of ‘Range Cattle’ and sure enough, coming down a sharp corner, there they were, on and off the road. Needless to say, the situation was shared with several other vehicles and three motorbikes, but no disaster. That slowed us down!

A stop in Browning to visit the Plains Indians Museum – but of course it is closed Sundays and Mondays. T visited a quilt/sewing shop while D stocked up, probably for the last time, at Teeples’ IGA. Great service: a young man packed our purchases and then trolleyed them to or vehicle. D offered a tip – he refused. D asked ‘are you sure?” and his reply, a bit tetchy, was ‘No, its not needed, sir, I’m paid’.

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img_5607Looking for a coffee, the recommended place was at the casino, the only imposing place in that pat of town (we later discovered other developed parts as we drove out). As it turned out, the coffee was very good.

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The scenery, so different from where we’ve been, was equally magnificent. Now travelling down the eastern side of the Rockies, in prairie country, glaciers have gone. As the number plates in Montana say “Ride the big sky” and we did, coming across just the odd private oil well and another “oddity” on the road.

 

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The First Peoples Buffalo Jump was reached via a side road, partly gravel and mostly corrugated. But we were the only visitors. It was here that bison were herded & lured over the cliff by the ‘buffalo runner’, who had to leap ahead onto overhanging ledges to avoid meeting the same plunging fate. Running the bulls in Spain comes to mind.

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As we approached T drew attention to what appeared to be rabbits, but on a closer look they were gophers…no, marmots….no, meerkats! Wrong still, they were in fact prairie dogs, a very social and alert community who create and live in underground tunnels. They play, cuddle, ( probably fight) and chatter (rather bark) and disappear into their burrows at any approaching sound. They were just delightful, but didn’t trust us for a minute. The other protected wildlife at this spot is the rattlesnake.

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The drive back took us onto a motorway that had an 80 mph speed limit (note, miles per hour). With the side winds and a mobile metal box – no way!

South of the border, down Montana way

Day 31. 18 September.

The Rockies disappeared from in front, to be just a glimpse in the rear vision mirrors. Flattish, pasture country: T remarked at one stage that we could be in Australia, on the Hume Highway between Canberra and Sydney or Melbourne. A fellow traveller made the same comment unsolicited a bit later. Downtown Calgary appeared ahead, an island of skyscrapers in a totally flat, treeless plain. Traffic/highways/wind, wind, wind. Managed to be blown straight past the turn-off to Smashed-In Head Buffalo Stampede…but no point in trying to turn around.

First stop was for coffee at a little town called Nanton, chosen only because it was about the right time/distance for a rest stop. Almost disaster – D tried to drive the wrong way (but on the right hand side, at least) up a one way street. This did not faze the few Canadians coming the other way: not one beeped, blared, glared or gestured. Turned into a church parking lot, where an elderly couple matter-of-factly provided hand signals to help with the u turn. Found a little establishment tucked away up a flight of steps, run by an Englishman from Norwich – very chatty. The coffee, finally, was right!

img_4993Fort McLeod is the home of the first Royal Canadian Mounties…the police always pursuing the right ‘Droit Mientien’. And what a “boys Saturday afternoon pictures set”! D, being a westerns tragic was re-living the wild west myths (or was it F-troop?). T was particularly taken by a hand-stitched log cabin quilt…the strips were less than half an inch wide.

 

And completing the Q&A…name someone famous born in Fort McLeod…..Joni Mitchell, of course. Main St was mostly closed, being a Sunday afternoon but there was a little evidence of frontier architectural conservation in the business frontages.

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More wheat and dairy, Blackfeet country, then suddenly, the prairies gave way to foothills and…. the Rockies reappeared on our right, blue, angular and very big with low cloud promising thunderstorms/rain/hail/snow? Border post for USA (Montana) where we were asked had we “acquired anything in Canada”. D replied, “Do you mean fresh produce?” We had none; moreover, D had generously left 5 onions, half a garlic bulb and 10 potatoes with the Banff Park staff as we left this morning. Delighted with the gift, the staff would have hash browns tonight. So when the General Store at Bapp appeared, guess what T announced she needed…..two potatoes and an onion later we were into the final 10 kms. And more signage re strong, gusty cross wind.

We were glad to get in to St Mary Glacier Park where the gale continues (it is drying our washing but knocking out wifi) but we’re secure inside.

Today we passed 3000 miles, and just a bit later 5000 km.

Internet access here is intermittent and low capacity, so will post photos from today and yesterday later.

Banff

Day 30. 17 September.

Rest day in Banff. Breakfast at a bakery in town as a special treat – the worst meal we’ve had in memory, with grubby cutlery to rub it in! The saving grace was high speed, powerful internet, so we were able to catch up.

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An interminable wait for a free public bus to Sulphur Mountain to catch the gondola up the mountain. So long was the wait, in fact, that our tickets had time expired, but the driver waved us on. We came back to town on the equally free Brewster commercial bus.

 

 

The views were terrific and gave a better perspective of the Rockies, and the insignificance of man – the city of Banff snuggled in as a small blot, surrounded by sheer grey quartz peaks. The weather remained kind, although pretty cold in the wind – not surprising for the top of a mountain at 8000 mts as winter approaches.img_5561   img_5566

img_5590Drifted around Banff through a grey afternoon, with a cup of lapsang souchong at an appropriately named tea shop, visited the Whyte Museum which was bequeathed by an artist couple who lived in and loved the mountains. Small, but comprehensive and informative. Aussie accents everywhere – quite a few tourists, but lots also behind counters and bars. Signs everywhere looking for staff, probably reflecting the start of the ski season soon.

A few Canadian beers before dinner to get onto Facetime for an important birthday catchup (early) then a group dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory. D’s ribs were lovely if a little sweet, T wondered where the clams were (maybe powdered clam sauce?) – still nothing beats home cooking!

Tour de Banff

Day 29. Friday 16 September.

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Getting some perspective here; our “little motorhome” (much bigger than anything we’ve ever had) is dwarfed by the next door neighbor in Jasper.

 

 

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Highway 93…Promenade des Glaciers, 290kms of lots of lycra on 2 wheels and Asian tourists, but the mountains of sheer rock were the highlight. Is it the most beautiful road in the world? Every bend delivered gasping views. Glaciers, jade streams and lakes, waterfalls, more and more and more….. Past the Columbia icefields.

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And suddenly we’re sharing the landscape with thousands of other “shoulder season” travellers at the iconic Lake Louise.

Another 65kms and we’re at the equally iconic Banff, where the campground officer tells us about wolf & grizzly drill. D chops the onions & garlic outside, but they come in promptly. Banff is bustling this weekend, with the Terry Fox run on Sunday. There are not many (make that none) starters from our group.

Some of the thousands of shots taken on this leg – but they don’t do the spectacular scenery justice.

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Athabasca Falls

“Alberta, Let Your Hair Hang down…”

Day 28. 15 September. “Alberta, Let Your Hair Hang down…”

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Mt Robson, highest mountain in the Rockies…..just majestic.

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Four weeks in….my, how time flies. Heading for Jasper (Alberta) today. Along the way 2 short stops: one at Moose Lake boat ramp where a small boy was doing what small (and not so small) boys love to do with stones.

 

 

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And then a walk in bear – forest at Whitney Lake, where the grandeur of a freight train (D estimates at least 1 km long) rolling beside the water’s edge was captivating.

 

 

We reflected on the juxtaposition of this mechanical behemoth with a solo cyclist from Delhi who was 5,000kms into his 18 month journey from the top of Alaska (Prudhoe Bay) down to Argentina! Plan? Make it up as I go…My bike and I flew into PB….only one road from Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks…The timeframe? End-time, December 2017. He was up for a chat; he’d decided to do this bike ride in slow time, as the backpacking he’d done before (just from A to B) was not delivering enough of a cultural experience. He admitted to carrying lots of food, including original cornflakes supply from home. We wondered how he chose his campsites, in a little tent, in bear country. T is reading the story of Chris McCandless, a young American guy who hit the road in the US in a Datsun, hitched up to Alaska and then walked into the Denali wilderness to find himself (he was found dead). We wondered at the motivation of this Indian cyclist….he said his blog is happening a bit sporadically at landscapeexplorer.com. We’ll check on it at next connectivity point.

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Then to Jasper in brilliant sunshine. The coffee confusion continues. The “Red Eye’ seemed to be an extra strong espresso. D ordered the double, from the menu and after checking with the server, so this was not of his imagination – this is what arrived, and by the way that is a soup spoon! T enjoyed her latte; he almost drowned.

 

 

There have been 4 days straight of warm clear weather, after rain all of August and a blizzard only 5 days ago. So the cruise on Lake Lavigne was pretty special. We arrived at 1545 for the 1600 (last boat of the day) cruise – mostly complying in the 60 minutes we had to get there with the 60 kph speed limit over the 48 km leg -and T got the last 2 tickets. She likes to time things finely (T wrote that: D has another description).

The views speak for themselves.

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The bonus is the story of tourism/fishing at this lake. A bit like “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”….the industry came about because an early adventurer/businessman recognized potential but there were no fish. It’s a lake fed entirely from snowmelt off the surrounding mountains and had no marine life till this guy brought in brook trout fingerlings, pack horsed in via whisky barrels. These fish were not enough sport, so the government introduced rainbow trout and ….freshwater brine shrimp (to feed the fish). …… they thought the rainbows would eat the brook and take over, but the rainbows inhabit the north end and the brook the south – living, spawning in comfortable proximity.