Monday, July 31, 2017

Rocky Mountain Elk Encounter

I'm glad to hear that you all have been enjoying my Canadian Rocky Mountain posts. So far, I have shared photos and commentary from the first three days of our trip. I'm looking forward to posting details and pictures from day four of our adventure, but I thought I would take a break and tell you about our first wildlife encounter.

Growing up, I visited the Rockies several times and always saw at least one bear or moose. On this trip, we heard many residents talk about all the issues the park rangers have been having this year with grizzly bears approaching humans, but never once did we see one.

Towards the end of our trip, Mr. Handsome and I were driving north along Yellowhead Highway, discussing the pizza we had just enjoyed in the quaint town of Jasper, when all of a sudden, Mr. Handsome shouted, "Elk!" He quickly pulled the car onto the shoulder, where a male elk was grazing in a meadow just 20 feet from the side of the road.

It was 9:30pm, and the sun was starting to set and shining right in our eyes, so I was very impressed that Mr. Handsome was able to see the elk. We watched it walk around, sit down in the grass, put its head down, and then stand back up--all the while taking tons of pictures. (I think we played the role of tourists quite well.)

Just when we were about to drive away, a female elk with a baby began walking over from the other side of the meadow. Out of nowhere, the baby bolted across the road. Thankfully, the cars stopped just in time.

We decided to stay just a few minutes longer, and boy were we glad we did. About a dozen other elk appeared in the meadow.

By that point, other tourists had stopped behind us. A couple brave (and perhaps a little foolish) folks approached the elk, and when those around them saw that nothing bad was happening, they, too, walked closer.

I stayed beside the car, while Mr. Handsome joined one of the more conservative groups of people. Both of us were able to get within 10 feet of an elk.

The elk continued to eat, not paying any attention whatsoever to the humans, but I did manage to snap a few photos that look posed.

A mother and baby came near the car, so I readied my camera. I snapped this fantastic photo of the mother sticking her tongue out.

 The baby approached the mother and attempted to suckle her...

...And the mother proceeded to kick the baby in the face. The baby backed away and stumbled off into the meadow. Poor little thing!

Here's a short video I made from the car window. Stay tuned for photos of the unique wildlife we encountered on our last day in the mountains!

Friday, July 28, 2017


Thank goodness it's Friday! We have had a very busy summer. Just a week after returning from the Canadian Rockies, we moved into a new place.

Anyone who has moved at least once in their life (which is probably most folks) understands what a huge undertaking it is to gather up everything you own and transport it to a new location.

I started packing a box every day about a month in advance. Visitors to our house gave me strange looks when they saw boxes stacked in the corners and found out we weren't moving for another few weeks, but I am so glad I started early. The packing process ended up taking much longer than I had expected.

I had about 20 boxes saved from our previous move and had to acquire 10 more. (A word to the wise: Rather than paying for moving boxes, ask local grocery and clothing stores if they have any to get rid
of. Kmart pulled through and gave me all I needed for free.)

On the day of the move, Mr. Handsome's family brought their van and trailer over, and nine of us transported everything in just a few hours. Although it was evening, it was the hottest day of the year, so we were all sweating buckets, but the feeling of accomplishment at the end was well worth it.

It's going to be a while before I finish unpacking, organizing, and changing addresses, but I'm trying to enjoy the process. I am especially thrilled because we made it through the move without any major catastrophes!

How many times have you moved in life?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Canadian Rockies Day 3

If you're like me, you're probably wondering how on Earth it can be Wednesday already. Where has the week gone?

I'm thrilled to hear that you have been enjoying my Rocky Mountain posts. If you missed them, click here to view Day 1 and here to view Day 2.

On Day 3, we woke up very sore and tired, following our intense hike up the Iceline Trail. One thing I forgot to mention on my post about Day 2 was Emerald Lake, another beautiful spot in Yoho National Park. We didn't have time to visit after our long hike, but if you're in the area, I highly recommend it. The access road is located just west of the town of Field, British Columbia.

Now for Day 3...

We "slept in" until 7:00 and spent a relaxing morning on a group fishing charter on Lake Minnewanka, located about 15 minutes northeast of Banff Townsite.

As you know, Mr. Handsome is a fishing enthusiast, so he was eager to get a pole in the water.

Most of the fish species were catch and release only, but determining which was which didn't turn out to be an issue. We didn't catch a thing. 

Canada is celebrating its 150th anniversary with free park admission, so 2017 is projected to be one of the busiest years on record in Banff. We also chose one of the busiest weekends of the year, as we visited over Canada Day. And it had rained the day before. So the fish had many reasons to stay far away from our hooks.

The scenery surrounding Lake Minnewanka made up for the lack of fish. It is among the most well-known fishing spots in Canada, so there was a decent amount of lake traffic, but our guide was able to find some secluded spots to fish. Mr. Handsome says it was by far the most beautiful place he has ever fished.

Lake Minnewanka is a glacial lake that is 142 meters/466 feet deep, so the water is cold. If we were to fall in, the guide advised us to keep our mouths closed to prevent us from swallowing the frigid water and going into shock. Now that's a comforting thought.

After our fishing excursion, we drove 25 minutes southwest to Sunshine Village, a ski resort that doubles as a summer tourist attraction. I made some delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and we headed to the gondola. The ride was about 20 minutes long, and although our gondola could have fit eight people, we had it all to ourselves.

I grew up downhill skiing, so I felt right at home on the mountain. Sunshine brands themselves as a family-friendly ski resort, although they have two runs (Wild West and Delirium Dive) that are among the most extreme ski hills in the world.

At a 55-degree gradient, Delirium Dive is only open to guests with an avalanche pack, a beacon, and a shovel. I've done my fair share of black diamond hills, but I can say with certainty that I would never venture down Delirium Dive.

The gondola starts at an elevation of 1,660 meters/5,440 feet and lets off at 2,164 meters/7,100 feet. After hopping off the gondola, we walked over to the Standish Chairlift, which shuttled us up to an even higher elevation (2,400 meters/7,875 feet). At that point, we were on the Continental Divide.

From the top of the Continental Divide (also known as the Great Divide) rain or melting snow either flows west toward the Pacific Ocean or east toward the Atlantic Ocean.

The view was other-worldly. It truly felt like we had stepped into a fairy tale.

The mountains seemed to go on forever in every direction. We were shocked that there were only a small number of tourists on top of Sunshine. Folks just don't know what they're missing!

Here's a video we made from the lookout point:

After taking in the spectacular views, we hiked down to the lake and back to the base of the chairlift. The longer trails were closed due to grizzly bear threat and snow, so we only walked 3 km/2 miles through Sunshine Meadows. Seeing patches of snow next to beautiful summer wildflowers was a strange juxtaposition.

We finished off our jam-packed day with a visit to iconic Johnston Falls, located halfway between Lake Louise and Banff along Bow Valley Parkway. Even at 6pm, the path to the falls was packed, but it was still unique to walk along the inside of a canyon with a rushing river below.

After we reached the first waterfall, the number of people dropped by quite a bit.

We stood in line to walk through a small cave to the base of the falls (had to keep our cameras away from the spray) and then kept trucking along.

The hike was only 3 km/2 miles total, but the elevation increased steadily the entire way there.

The second waterfall was definitely more beautiful than the first. We could have continued another 3km to the Ink Pots (seven bubbling mineral springs), but we opted to call it a day. We rewarded ourselves with ham and cheese sandwiches from Safeway.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Fiesta-Themed Gender Reveal Party

We have had a busy several days! Mr. Handsome's two youngest sisters, Mae and Lena, came to visit us in Nashville last week, and his parents joined us for the weekend. It was great to spend time together, and we were also able to go canoeing and swimming.

Today's post is one that has been in my drafts for a few weeks. A friend of ours is due with her second child in October, and in mid-June, she and her husband threw a fiesta-themed gender reveal party. I thought you all would enjoy seeing pictures.

It's a boy!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Canadian Rockies Day 2

Last week, I posted photos and stories from day one of our Canadian Rocky Mountain adventure. On the second day, we woke up early and drove out to Yoho National Park, located on the edge of Banff National Park.

Our first stop was the Lower Spiral Tunnel Viewpoint, located in an area along the Trans-Canada Highway known as Kicking Horse Pass. Dr. James Hector, the surgeon who accompanied the expedition credited with discovering the pass, was kicked by a horse while the party was exploring the area, thus the name.

So what are the Spiral Tunnels? Well in 1884, the Canadian Pacific Railway built the segment of track known as the Big Hill. They were in a hurry to complete their route and crowd out competition from northwest U.S. railways, so they created a section with a 4.5% grade, which was very dangerous and resulted in frequent crashes. And during the construction of the track, an average of one crew member died each week. Imagine how secluded it would have felt working in the Rockies 130 years ago!

In 1909, engineers replaced the treacherous section with a new track that included two spiral tunnels to help trains keep their speed in check. 

This is a terrible picture, but the orange circles show each opening of the lower spiral tunnel. When a train comes through, you can see the front of the train come out the exit while the back of the train is still going through the entrance.

After our stop at the tunnel, we drove up the winding Yoho Valley Road (closed October through June for use as a cross-country ski route) to Takakkaw Falls.

We walked up a short path to the base of the falls, taking pictures along the way. I attempted to be artistic and snap a photo of Mr. Handsome taking a photo.

The waterfall is 300 meters (nearly 1,000 feet) at its highest point.

As we approached the falls, the air became noticeably colder, and we began to feel the spray.

We ate a fancy picnic lunch (peanut butter and jelly, anyone?) in the parking lot and then decided to be wild and crazy and embark on a long hike along the iconic Iceline Trail. We grabbed water bottles, snacks, raincoats, and sweatshirts and headed out.

Mr. Handsome carried bear spray from our bed and breakfast hosts on his belt. The park rangers have had a lot of trouble with bears this year, and a man was attached--but thankfully escaped--by a grizzly while were were there.

The bear spray was nearly expired, so we tested it before starting the hike. Boy was it a powerful spray! I sprayed it into the woods and walked away, but my nose still burned a bit. Mr. Handsome, on the other hand, didn't smell a thing.

The first hour of the trek was steep switchbacks up the side of the mountain. When we finally reached the treeline, we were relieved. Time for a photo with our $7 Amazon Selfie Stick!

Every direction provided breathtaking views. There were even some wildflowers growing along the trail.

The next hour was switchbacks along a rocky path. We had to hop over some mountain streams that crossed the trail. The temperature, which had started out at 80F, began to drop to the high 60s, and we started seeing patches of snow.

By that time, we had climbed higher than the Takakkaw waterfall, located across the valley. You can see it in this picture.

We were glad to have our raincoats when it started drizzling!

By the third hour, we were trudging through waist-deep snow. If we walked carefully, we could stay on top of it, but every once in a while, our feet sunk into deep holes, often with rocky streams below. The rain picked up a bit, and the temperature was around 55F, but we were still sweating, as we continued walking up a steep incline.

This picture is taken from the trail summit. By that point, we had gained 710 meters (2,330 feet). It sure felt good to look out over that huge expanse of snow and know that we had made it across. It may look like a small area, but to put it into perspective, the two little dots in the orange circle are people.

Mr. Handsome was brave enough to walk out to the peak. He successfully coaxed me out there, but I was too scared to pull out my phone and take a picture.

The scenery was just incredible, unlike anything that either of us had ever seen. We could have stayed up there for hours.

The trip back was even more treacherous, as we had to walk down the steep, snowy mountain. By that time, our shoes were soaked. The wind picked up, and it started pouring. We pressed on. As we reached the top of the treeline, we noticed that the ground was covered in hail. A hailstorm had gone through while we were at the summit! We were grateful to have missed it.

The 8-mile hike took us 5.5 hours. We wanted to go further (the entire loop is 21.1km/13.1miles) but the snow was too deep.

Here are couple videos that we filmed on day two: