Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pacific Northwest and Canadian Rockies

Notes on my trip, with links to photos:

- The Central Cascades. Cascades are awesome, enough said. Thanks to Matt and Lauren for the lodging and green eggs and ham; next time I hope I can impose for longer. Next time I go through Portland I'll have to time it for when the B-K Double can fit me in to his busy social schedule.

- Kurt Cobain originally got depressed under this bridge. There were all kinds of attempts at cleverness in the inevitable grafitti underneath, and for once I actually wanted to add something: "Kurt had textbook depression and he would have been just as great and productive an artist if he'd gotten therapy and/or meds, plus he'd still be alive." Med school has (thankfully) succeeded in eroding what patience I had for romantics who insist that madness and art must coincide. The farthest away grafitti-signature I saw was from Belarus.

- Olympic Peninsula and National Park: beach, Hoh Rainforest (tee hee) and Sol Duc trail. Maybe the only place in the Lower 48 where beach camping doesn't keep you from getting harassed by bears.

Some observations on Olympic NP:

a) Much like 134 F doesn't really feel that much hotter than 114 F, and the flora isn't markedly different to an amateur naturalist, 143" of rain a year in the West-facing Olympics doesn't seem to produce a markedly different biota than 43" in Seattle. Green to be sure, but greener?

b) The potential for fourth-grade humor in placenames on this peninsula is unparalleled. As if the Hoh Rainforest weren't enough, there's Humptulips, Sequim (which has a major throughway called Kitchen-Dicks road), and the town of Sappho is only a few miles from Beaver. Really. Combine this with other nearby toponyms which seem to have resulted from a linguist's experiment in creating dirty-sounding nonsense words: Chuckanut, Nooksack, Skookumchuck, and Dosewallips. Come on now. (And this is from someone who took the GRE because I was thinking of going back to school for linguistics.)

c) The last day I was there all I wanted was some salmon. Not unreasonable in coastal Washington State I think! In Neah Bay on the Makah reservation, there was a cool inter-tribal canoe race going on, but their famous salmon place was closed. In fact EVERY salmon place was closed, until I got to Port Angeles. So I had regular packaged salmon.

- Vancouver, as always, was fun. Even if you have to stay with M'alice. You know, my nemesis. The Vancouver Hash is a great bunch and as always set a fun trail that ended on Rec Beach, the scars from which are only now healing. The only bump was the unexpected grilling I got by the Canadian border guard, who seemed to deliberately be imitating Christopher Walken. I also got to ride in Steve's restored early 60s jeep, which is only about half as old as its owner. ZING!

- It rained hard when I drove up to Jasper from Vancouver, which was fine. The rest of the time I was in the Pac NW the sky had been crystal blue and had it not rained at least once while I was up there I would've sued somebody. I drove through Kamloops on the way, a BC interior town that resembles the northern U.S. Great Basin in its aridity; i.e., not what I was in BC for. BC is known for its wine but that's more in Kelowna and Penticton - Kamloops is a working town. So when I asked for local wine in Kamloops, they looked at me like I was nuts (which I may well be but not for that reason.) I ended up with a Jackson Triggs shiraz, which has a rubber cork. It served, perhaps only because my campaign to destroy my taste in wine has succeeded (elaborated here).

- I liked Jasper National Park better than Banff, I think mainly because it's higher up and further north, so the trails are above tree-line more often. Consequently the glaciers and glacier-views are more extensive. Being above tree-line is also nice in grizzly country, because you can't sneak up on each other then. I was quite nervous about this actually; I don't use bear bells, but I do sing a lot on trail, especially where there's no sign of other hikers, and there IS sign of bear, i.e. scat and tracks, which I did see. Note the classic overthrust formations you see all over Jasper. I think these were the best pictures I took during the trip. But look at Jasper; how could they not be?

Please note that iPhone cameras have bad fisheye, so all this stuff in these landscape shots is actually much more looming and imposing than it seems, and also that digital cameras in general don't capture profound color quite as well, so the glacier-milk blue-green of the lakes and rivers was much more stunning than what you're seeing here. That might be my favorite color now.

I should add that my opinion of Banff National Park was not helped by the miserable Parks Canada employees I had the misfortune of meeting in a bar in Lake Louise Village. (Dear Parks Canada: you run a great park system up there, and I certainly don't expect your employees to always be "on", but I also don't expect them to, on their off hours, try to trick tourists into fights or make hiking/kayaking suggestions that may lead to injury or death. It wasn't just one person either, it was a whole bunch of tag-team passive-aggressive as**oles. Apparently two of them had just been fired that day; that's a start.) Fortunately I met an cool guy from Boulder (hi Chris) and had easily the most interesting conversation of the trip.

- I went to see the Burgess Shale but a) it's expensive ($55 Canadian) and an all-day affair, because it's protected and a guide is mandatory. This would've been nice to know when I was planning my itinerary, so I added it to the relevant Wikipedia and Wikitravel articles. So, I just went to the visitor center in Fields, which is a pretty town all in its own, about 30 minutes from Lake Louise.

One thing that's cool: when the Canucks were building the rail line over the Rockies between BC and Alberta, owing to the severity of the relief, they had to do some pretty interesting engineering. The Horseshoe Curve in Altoona, Pennsylvania is interesting, but the Spiral Tunnel just uphill from the Burgess Shale is a marvel.

- I have no pictures, but Calgary is a much cooler town that I expected it to be. The dining scene in particular is nice. Although a friend recently did me the favor of finally introducing me to North Park, I think Calgary might actually have San Diego beat in terms of a large but walkable dinner and entertainment district. A nice index of a dining scene is how many non-gimmicky fusion restaurants a place has per capita, in which category Calgary kicks ass (for dinner I had an excellent BBQ pork sandwich at a Thai sandwich and satay shop). It also has an excellent metal scene.

- Not all border crossings are open 24 hours, especially not from remote Alberta into remote Montana/Blackfoot Nation land. Chief Mountain (another classic overthrust) is in the background there:

- I can't believe I actually had to debate whether to go back to Glacier National Park. Whatever that trail is called that starts above Going to the Sun Road, it's every bit as surreal as you think it would be. If you haven't been to Glacier, go. If you don't want to go, that's okay. It just means you are a bad person. Oddly, at the summit overlooking the glacier there were dragonflies swarming. I've seen a similar effect with an apparent mass-migration of butterflies over the upper slopes of Mt. Lassen in the past, but not dragonflies.

- I took pictures of the landscape as I drove south on I-15 just to document the change in vegetation and land forms. The last pines I saw immediately on the side of 15 were just north of Butte.

- In Butte, Montana, the Berkeley Pit is adjacent to a still-operating pit, and the company that owns it tries to charge $2 to see it. If you're content with seeing just the size of it and don't want to see the water, you can climb up to the fence for free. (They've actually pushed dirt up around the edge so you can
only see the water if you pay. But if you climb up, you might find a dollar blowing around like I did and come out a buck richer. Net $3! Woo-hoo!)

- The Uintas are nice, and I was amazed at how many lakes are right near the crest in Wasatch National Forest. Easily the greenest place I've ever seen in Utah. I was probably happy because I'd just hit Arctic Circle right before and got me some fry sauce. It was also fun overhearing families on the lakes listening to the BYU or Wyoming games.

- When you're in South Utah, don't skip Cedar Breaks National Monument. It's north of Zion (you can actually see south into the top of the canyon). It's not quite Roadrunner country like Zion or Bryce or Capitol Reef, but it's nice and green and purty at the top (10,000'+) with some nice red outcrops dropping off to the south.

Although class has started again, I feel great! I was actually tired of traveling (the best attitude to have at the end of a trip); plus, time at altitude does a body good,as I could tell in my runs since I came home. Now that I'm back I don't mind running in Miriam Bear where there are no grizzlies.

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