Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Oh Canada

We've heard horror stories about crossing the border into Canada. One expects to be asked certain questions. Why are you crossing into this country? How long do you expect to be in our country? Do you have pets with you? Do you have their requisite health certificates? Do you have certain foods that may present a disease or pestilence problem if crossed into their space? Do you have weapons? Do you have $10,000 or more in cash? Do you have alcohol or tobacco products and in what quantities? (Products that would allow customs to charge duty).

People tell of having their motorhomes or travel trailers tossed by Canadian customs agents, like burglars searching for potential bounty—and, just like with burglars, you're not allowed to watch let alone be present. One must be herded to another area while perfect strangers go through one's belongings. Possessions pulled from drawers, tidy bedding becomes unmade, kitchen cabinets rearranged. We heard from one acquaintance about another who had a small cache of, what else, cash, from which some went missing. How do you go about telling customs agents that they have a thief in their midst? And people say that what took 10 or 15 minutes for the customs agent(s) to do, took an hour or more to put everything to rights before they could move on. People have felt insulted at the very least and violated at most, and question themselves as to why they even wanted to come to or through such a country. And this happens to even those who are on their way home to their own country.

This was not our experience. The customs agent asked few questions. We were asked if we had any fresh fruits or vegetables. No. Did we have any firearms? No. Did we have any alcohol? Half a bottle of vodka. Any tobacco products? Just my cigars for my personal use, said Rob. Do you have $10,000 or more in cash? I wish. (That was my answer). We were not queried about our pets or their health certificates. And we were not asked to park The Beast for a thorough undoing.

So what decides whether or not one wins the customs lottery? I suppose if one has shifty eyes, sweat popping from forehead and upper lip, nervous tapping of the steering wheel, knee bouncing, avoiding eye contact or overthinking one's answers might be a giveaway of something awry. Or maybe the customs agents have to put every 25 or 50 or 100 RVers through the wringer just to make sure they can justifiably claim they are not committing, gasp, racial profiling or stereotyping criminals.

Although I can't say for sure because we have two more border crossings each out of and into Canada before we get back to the lower 48, I would suspect that the non-hostile and friendly body language and openness of our faces will be just as important for smooth border crossings as is our innocence of any nefarious behavior that concerns customs agents. I just wish I knew if we will be asked about our pets during either of the future crossings this summer. I'd rather not have to pay a Vet to get new health certificates just because what we have is stale dated in one agent's opinion over another's.

After crossing the border, we were busy doing rough calculations as to how many miles per hour we were supposed to be driving when the signs indicated 70 or 80 or 100 kilometers per hour. And, how much are we really paying for gas or diesel per gallon when the price is by the liter? And how much is that after applying the exchange rate? And how many miles per gallon are we getting? And, if the sign says 253 km to go, how many miles is that? I finally downloaded a unit converter app for my smartphone. It got used a lot. Rob said he's just glad that other countries don't use a different measure for time. Ha! What a nightmare that would be! And when we actually crossed into Alaska, I was still trying to convert the mileage and speed limit signs from metric to the units of measure that only the USA still uses. I had to remind myself that we are in the USA and I can let it rest.

* * * * *

Banff National Park was our first stop on our way to Alaska. We spent four nights at a nice campground with views in every direction. Banff is a lovely little town that caters mostly to the winter crowd, but has lots of hiking trails and things to do for the summer crowd as well. Towering, rugged mountains surround the town. Plenty of good restaurants, too, along with all the requisite shops. I only went into one shop because of a blouse I saw in the window. If only it had come in any other color than a corally orange…

The mountains made a spectacular backdrop when we soaked in the Banff Upper Hot Springs pool. I have no photos of the hot springs pool because it was not the ideal place for my camera, but I do wish I had a visual record of our afternoon there. As we swam and soaked among other aging adults like ourselves and a couple of families with young children, we were suddenly besieged by a drove a pubescent middle schoolers on a field trip from Calgary. Though the decibel level increased exponentially because of the sheer numbers, the anticipated childish behavior did not. Rob engaged in conversation with a couple of the boys and learned that the group there was the school band. Coming to the hot springs was a treat before heading back to Calgary. These 12, 13 and 14 year old boys and girls behaved respectfully and appropriately. I never heard anyone say anything mean to or about anyone else and there was easy interaction between the four or five clusters of friends. I noticed, however, one boy who kept to himself, separate from all the others. He was the one kid who had the nerd look. No one invited him to join them. He had a serene enough expression upon his face but I couldn't help but wonder what he was really thinking. Did he prefer to be on his own or did he feel as left out as he appeared to be?

Then, as suddenly as they all appeared, they disappeared.

We went to see the famous Lake Louise. Beautiful. Ice still covered most of the deep turquoise lake. Because of the mild winter, the peaks towering over the lake were lacking their typical blanket of snow and deprived us (me) of an anticipated postcard view. Still beautiful, though. An understatement. But there is just something so appealing about snow capped mountains. 

After Lake Louise, we drove the short distance to Moraine Lake. Moraine Lake boasts only a parking lot—no resort there. It is also surrounded by soaring mountains and it was still iced over enough that people were walking far onto the lake. I was not wearing appropriate shoes so I didn't follow others onto the ice, although I really wanted to. Instead, Rob and I found a couple of small boulders to sit upon and partake of our picnic lunch and one of the boldest of the Banff birds, a Clark's Nuthatch, joined us.

After Banff we went farther north to Jasper National Park via the Icefield Parkway, which was amazing and beautiful, and spent two nights in a thoroughly awesome campground. In a way, I wish I'd known the difference and because I would have given us one day less in Banff and one day more in Jasper just to hang around the campground. Not only was it a place where I felt like I was really camping, but it was the time of year when the elk come to birth their young in a relatively safe place. By coming to the campgrounds, they are free of the predators that prefer to avoid humans. We saw one cow and her calf wander by. I couldn't get to my camera fast enough before they moved on. Doh!

From Jasper we headed to Grande Prairie, Alberta, for one night then on to Pink Mountain and the Sikanni (SIC-an-knee) Chief River, British Columbia, for another one night stay. When we arrived in Pink Mountain, we stopped at the only place of business in the area (other than the two campgrounds), for diesel fuel. While there, a man who wore a security uniform and obviously worked for one of the natural gas companies in the area asked Rob if he might have something like a carabiner that he could buy from him. Rob gave him one and refused payment. They got to talking and found they had something in common. Helicopters. They chatted for quite a while so Rob invited him to our campsite by the Sikanni Chief River after he got off work for more talk and a cocktail. He said he'd like that and that he'd come. Well, you know how many people are: strangers saying yeah, yeah, sure, I'll be there and then never show up. They have no obligation to you, no concern whether or not they might inconvenience you or they think you were just making nice and didn't mean it. After all, they'll never see you again. But I thought this fellow might actually come visit. Living amongst so many guys in the back of beyond, I thought this bright, engaging man just might want some fresh conversation with a like minded person. I was right.

Lyle arrived and Rob offered him a drink, to which he declined. Apparently, no one is allowed to drink alcohol while they are working for the gas companies. Its policy. On duty or off. They can wait until they go home on their days (weeks) off and drink then. Not only does this strict policy prevent potential irrational and nonsensical drunken brawling, it prevents even one guy from going to work in the morning still drunk or dangerously hung over and causing a catastrophic event.

Rob and Lyle were so into conversation, and it wasn't slacking, so I invited Lyle to stay for dinner. He ate so little saying, basically, that he was watching his waistline. I think he felt like he was intruding a bit but he wasn't. He is interesting and kind. He was one of Canada's Mounted Police. He flew helicopters for them. Because of an injury, he now does security work as a supervisor for Tectonic Energy Consulting. We hope to see him again. Really nice guy.

One of the things that surprised me as we drove through Alberta and British Columbia were the trees. I expected to see lots of firs, spruces and pine trees, not the vast forests of Aspens and Paper Birches with their beautiful white bark and shimmering, freshly unfurled, spring-green leaves. At times we'd crest a hill and below us laid sweeping vistas of rolling hills mottled with patches of the dark green of conifers filled in with the bright greenness of the Aspens. Then, farther in the distance rose the blue-gray, granite monoliths of the Canadian Rockies. Breathtaking beauty. 

Well, this ends our first week in Canada. Enjoy the photos, share the blog with friends and family, and stayed tuned for the next installment of our trip north to Alaska.

Crossing over the border.

Traveling through southern Alberta.

A roadside attraction.

This handsome Black Bear looked me straight in the eye as we passed him. I hope no one has been feeding him. As they say in Canada: A fed bear is a dead bear.

Mt. Rundle in Banff.

Just a sample of the views as seen from our campsite. Rob is in the middle of the road for the warmth of the sun.

My photography assistant on the way to see Lake Louise.

Lake Louise.

That's us in front of the iconic Lake Louise view.

Our first introduction to the friendly (fearless) Clark's Nuthatches.

My favorite shot of Lake Louise.

On the way to Moraine Lake.

Our picnicking buddy.

I know tortilla chips aren't good for them but, if we didn't give him some, he was dead set on stealing them anyway.

Moraine Lake and the brave people who walked upon it. Glad no one fell through the ice.

One of our resident ground squirrels at the campground. This one and others would come take almonds (raw and unsalted) right out of my hand.

The old and famous Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.

See? We were really there.

The Bow Waterfall on the Spray River.

The cave at Cave and Basin National Historic Site. This basin is filled with warm sulphur rich water.

The opening to the cave from which discoverers of the cave lowered themselves to reach the rich waters.

A display at Cave and Basin NHS.

In this outdoor (as in not in a cave) pool, this algae releases itself from the depths of the sulphur rich water and floats to the surface before sinking again.

Looking down into the pool you can see the yellows and greens of the algae on the bottom.

A dramatic view from the Cave and Basin NHS.

Looking toward Banff town from the Cave and Basin NHS.

Brandy soaking up the sunshine before we left Banff.

On our way up the Icefield Parkway toward Jasper.

Rob in front of Bow Lake

Bow Lake. You can see where the ice has melted. The lake must be a dazzling turquoise.

At Bow Lake.

One of the Waterfowl Lakes.

One of the waterfalls at Weeping Wall.

North Saskatchewan River. Yes, the river water really is that color.

The multiple waterfalls of the Weeping Wall.

North Saskatchewan River Canyon.

Had to stop to see Canada's Bridal Veil Falls.

Bridal Veil Falls. Beautiful, but it doesn't trump Yosemite. But then again, I'm just slightly biased.

Objects in this photo are larger than they appear. That was one huge avalanche.

Our lovely and peaceful campsite at the Whistlers Campground, Jasper National Park.

No, this fella is not a Grizzly. He's just a very blond Black Bear.

Brandy and Louis checking out the goings on.

A handsome, young elk buck.

A coal mining operation.

More of the coal mining operation.

An Aspen forest.

We saw this when leaving Grande Prairie, AB. They say there are only two seasons up north: Winter and road repair.

Here is where one officially begins one's journey on the Alaska Highway.

The new(er) and improved Sikanni Chief River Bridge.

The footings for the original Sikanni Chief River Bridge, built in 84 days in 1943—the first structure completed on the Al Can Highway. The wooden structure was destroyed by fire in 1992. 

Rob, the Vietnam helicopter pilot, was sitting at his computer entirely ignoring the increasing volume of an approaching helicopter. I went to the window to see where it was and asked Rob why he wasn't looking for it. He finally took a look at the sky and said where is it? I pointed and said LOOK! Yup. Just as I expected. Like a moth to a flame.


  1. Ohh, I love all of the photos. But the last one has to be my face. Pop <3 propellers!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.