Friday, May 27, 2011

Days 34 to 37—Edmonton (In which my husband actually wants to go to the mall)

After loading our car with maps in Calgary, we headed north to Edmonton. Along the way, my husband said, ¨Hey! I think this is the farthest north I´ve ever been!¨ 

Two minutes later I say, ¨Hey! I think this is the farthest north You´ve ever been!¨

In Edmonton we stayed with my cousin and her two super cute dogs. I got really attached to the little one.
The first night we went to the West Edmonton Mall and ate dinner at the Wok Box in the food court. We ending up going back all three days we were in Edmonton. The next morning, my cousin made yummy waffles, we played with the dogs and let them outside and we headed back to the mall. We were thinking of going to World Waterpark, but they were changing some slides and many of the rides were closed. They did have a discount, but it didn´t seem worth it. 

My next goal was to finally go on the Mindbender rollercoaster in Galaxyland. The last time I had been to the West Edmonton Mall (and the only time previously when I was tall enough to ride), I was recovering from being sick, and I actually managed to throw up before I got on the ride. I´d like to say my mind was bent by the thrill, but I think it was mostly my neck being bent.

The mall always reminds me of a childhood favourite book, Code Red at the Supermall, in which two teens help their police officer father solve a string of bomb threats in the West Edmonton Mall. Besides the premise, I am very skeptical, even with a parent working for the mall and receiving a discount, of the amount of money spent by the main characters. I would love to someday stay in the themed Fantasyland Hotel for a night, but not on this trip.
The West Edmonton Mall has lots of attractions. A pirate ship:
When I was younger they had dolphin shows here, but now the have Sea Lions:
Corridors Decorated like Paris and New Orleans:
An Indoor Skating Rink:
And of course, my childhood favourite mall treat:
When you add in the casino and shooting range, you can see why my Mall-Phobic husband wanted to come back again!

I'm still wondering if anyone told American Apparel that their shop is in Chinatown...
After staying at the mall longer than planned, we made a beeline through Saskatchewan, stopping only long enough for gas, late night naps and to take a picture of the Giant Ukrainian Easter Egg.
This Picture was taken at about 10:30PM when the sun was setting over Saskatchewan.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Days 33 and 34—Glacier to Calgary

After leaving Yellowstone after dark, we could have just driven a bit and found a hotel, but my husband was anxious to see Glacier National Park, and full of energy to drive, so we drove through Montana all night. This involved me periodically waking up to whine about how this was a really bad idea, how I could never sleep well in the car, how we should really just get a hotel, and then promptly passing out for another couple of hours. When I woke up again, we were in farmland full of cows and horses and deer wandering all around the road. Have I mentioned yet, the theory thawe've seen most of the cattle in the western hemisphere on our trip (including the part to Brazil)?
I was really, really sleepy and hence really, really wanted to stay at the Dancing Bears Inn, even though we were almost at Glacier National Park.
¨Oooo, Horsies!¨
This is actually the stretch of driving where a deer jumped into our car, cracking the (plastic) hubcap. I hope it was alright. ¨Ooo, pony!¨
Glacier National Park was still very snowy, but the Going-to-the-Sun Road was still open half way up, so we drove up it away.
We stopped and took in the vast, snowy landscape. I´ve always thought the Rockies look like they were painted on the sky until you begin to drive up them.
Triple Divide Peak is were the water flowing one way flows to the Pacific, another way to the Mississippi, and a third way flows to Hudson´s Bay. It was time for us to flow away from the Pacific as well.
We enjoyed the beautiful mountains and lakes....
And the snow beginning to melt...
Finally, after a long drive in which we had to stop for nap breaks a lot, we made it past the Canadian border, and got to spend some time in Calgary with my Uncle and Aunt and Cousins.
This is also the point at which we remembered we don´t have a map of Canada on our GPS, so we stopped in at a CAA (you know, AAA, but in Canada) and got a big pile of maps.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Days 31 to 33—Yellowstone

After leaving Washington, we drove through Idaho and Montana to Yellowstone National Park. There we discovered an entirely new kind of traffic jam.
The bison come so close to the vehicles that you could almost touch them. You worry a little that they might get nervous and headbutt your car. In fact, after one poor fellow´s bison-destroyed car was a prayer request at the church we went to on Sunday, I started to take this more seriously.
Yellowstone has an abundance of wild life, which you can often see from the side of the road. Two tips for enjoying Yellowstone wildlife:
  1. Pull over every time you see a crowd of people stopped on the side of the road.
  2. Bring binoculars or a telephoto lens, so you can see what everyone else is (half of the time the animal is very far away).
You´ll see animals close enough to get nice pictures with 3x zoom, but you´ll miss the excitement half the time. Also, you should probably listen to the safety stuff that´s all over the park and not get too close. I believe this is an elk.
Despite prophecies of the pending rapture, we decided to spend several days camping in the caldera of a supervolcano. Thankfully, the world did not end, nor did the volcano erupt, and we managed to enjoy the beautiful effects of this volcanic activity without undue danger.
The beautiful colours in some of the thermal features are caused by theromophilic (heat-loving) bacteria. These extremophiles live in some pretty extreme conditions. Needless to say, the walkways over these areas are great. I really prefer when my shoes don´t melt or get corroded by acid.
I´m fairly sure that the bacteria that make Grand Prismatic Spring so colourful are the prettiest bacteria in the world.
As we rounded the corner on one path, a large bison was just getting up from his afternoon nap. As we didn´t have the car or anything else to protect us, this was a little too exciting.
Most of the trees in this area are lodgepole pines. This continually made me think of Michael Chabon´s Summerland, my favourite baseball-fantasy novel, where a lodgepole pine is the backbone of the worlds.
Yellowstone is a huge park, and so you mainly end up driving between the different areas and then parking and following a trail or boardwalk though an area. Due to the elevation the paths along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone were still covered in snow, but we could still drive between lookout points along the rim.
In places the cliffs have mineral deposit from thermal activity that are beautifully coloured.
The frequently-photographed view from Artist´s Point allows you to see the lower Yellowstone Falls plunging into the 308 feet into the canyon.
Later we explored West Thumb Geyser Basin, which includes the ¨fishing cone¨ which was once famous for being the only place you could catch a trout and boil it with out taking it off the line. Of course modern safety and environmental preservation concerns have put an end to this. More fish for the loons, I guess.
I usually wear polarized sunglasses, so sometimes I am surprised to see things in my pictures I did´t see with my eyes, like these reflected trees.
One of the remarkable things about Yellowstone is how much life manages to thrive in some pretty tough conditions. Deep snow in winter, heat and acidity from thermal features don´t stop the plants and animals from taking advantage of this unique habitat. There´s no guarantee the thermal features won´t change and ruin a trees stop, either.
There are several ¨predictable¨ geysers in Yellowstone, although Old Faithful is predictable within 8 minutes either way, so unless you like sitting for 30 minutes to 2 hours to wait for another prediction, it may be the only big eruption you see. There are always some little ones going off.
After Geyser watching for awhile, we went into Yellowstone Lodge and had some coffee and ice cream. The atmosphere in here is really amazing, I would love to stay here someday.
This one´s just pretty.
Hey look! A Baby Bison!
Our last day in Yellowstone was Sunday, and we went into West Yellowstone to Community Protestant Church. The people there were very welcoming, although it was still fairly sparsely attended, given how early in the season it was. They have some interesting stain glassed windows, with places from Israel on one side and counterparts in Yellowstone on the other. Afterwards we went back north in the park to see the Mammoth Hot Springs. It´s amazing how spring springs up early near the warms of the thermal springs.
Finally, we went animal watching in the Lamar Valley towards the northeast park exit. I had told the park ranger my sad tale about how, as a Canadian, I had never seen a moose, and this is where I was told I might find one. We saw some pronghorn sheep early on.
A grizzly bear was sniffing around in a valley off the side of the road. We saw the cars lined up, and went to see want the commotion was about. Note that this Grizzly Bear was photographed with 12x digital zoom, and was probably a little close for comfort.
After driving almost all the way to the Northeast exit, I finally saw my Moose. This youthful Moose was peacefully grazing by the side of the road.
Since we were so close to the northeast exit, we decided to see if we could leave that way, even though our GPS kept insisting that we ¨perform a U-Turn when possible¨. Just outside the park we saw two more Moose. Unfortunately, they ran away.
We stopped at this store to ask for directions. Unhappily, the northward Beartooth pass, which is the longest highway above 10,000 ft in elevation, was still closed, so we had a very careful animal watch on the way back to the north entrance at twillight. Someday, we´d like to go back and drive the other way.