LITTLE BLUFF JOURNAL - SEPTEMBER 2019 (previous months)
Little Bluff Remote Journal September 18 - sunset yesterday evening was a DELIGHT! We are headed to Vitoria today, our last ni Canada...
Journal updated September 13th
09/01/19 This month begins with the end of last. My lovely bride and I made a run over to the Buffalo River Art Gallery in the sleepy little hamlet of Gilbert yesterday (the only town on the Buffalo River). Pam has three of her pastels in a special show they are doing as part of a calendar contest. This cute little gallery is actually much larger than it appears from the outside (renovated home), with room and room and a long hallway filled with lots and lots of mostly local art. Anyway, they also have custom CUPCAKES that were just a delight! (well, I only had one, but it didn't last long) So nice to see the infusion of such a wonderful business as this. They are open Friday - Sunday and always welcome drop-in visits!
On the way back we stopped at Big Springs BBQ on Hwy. 65. Being engulfed in a new 12-hour audio book (and kinda anti-social anyway, plus I'm not able to sit in a normal chair for long), we got our order to go. Oh my gosh, what was on my bun was just TERRIFIC! We'll be stopping there again.
OK, so back to September. There was some nice color in the east at first light, but there was a LOT going on in the west - a big BLACK sky full of weather was bearing down on us, and soon low clouds at the leading edge of the storm spilled into and raced to fill the canyons below us. I made a quick jog up to the gallery to unplug our computers when the rain hit. Wilson and I walked quickly back down the hill in the pouring rain - neither of us had brought a jacket, although I did wrap up in a black table cloth - it didn't keep me dry at all, but it did filter the sting of the cold raindrops a bit, for a minute or two.
Today is a normal work day for us, with a client meeting at the gallery at 1pm and a lot of other chores needing to be done. I also have a lot of yard work to do today, and so far it looks to be a nice cool day for that - YIPPIE! September is an "edge" month where the summer season begins to blend into fall, and is always so interesting. One part of September I don't care too much for is that it's also the biggest spider months of all - not only are there a LOT more of them, they seem to be GIANT spiders everywhere! Mostly those are harmless and beneficial wolf spiders and orb weavers, but still...I prefer snakes......
09/04/19 I was up and out with the pups early hiking along the lakeshore and the fairytale forest of cottonwoods once again. This time the entire eastern horizon - and also since there was no wind, the reflection on the surface of the lake - was an incredible scene of brilliant reds and oranges and pinks of dawn. We paused to look over the life-size replica of a keel boat like the one the L&C expedition used (they had camped in the area in August, 1804). My bride joined us and it was a delightful start to day two of our road trip.
The rest of the day was not so fun. I struggled for hours and hours and hours with strong winds and intense heat - two handed, white knuckle kind of driving that we get a lot since our camper van is so tall - more like trying to drive a big sail the wrong direction, haha. But I must say each time we stopped to get the pups out for a walk, the 95-degree blast furnace actually was not too bad. In fact I never even broke a sweat, and I usually start to sweat above 72 degrees! Must have been the humidity, or lack thereof.
I reduced our speed to 60-65mph due to the dangerous side winds, and so it turned out to be a very long day. When we first put this road trip on our radar many months ago, the one certainty was that we would spend the night at Devil's Tower (I'd not been there since 1980, and Pam never had been). So the "going north" part of this road trip would revolve around Devil's Tower. But by the time we crossed into Wyoming it was almost sunset, and so while we did get to see Devil's Tower, it was only a sideways glance out of the window as we sped by on I80, 20 miles away.
We finally stopped for the night a couple hours after sunset at a hilltop rest area overlooking Sheridan, WY, where the pups promptly set foot in grass that was filled with those horrible thorny burs. I had to make a mayday text to Pam (who was working in the van trying to catch up with some work chores on the computer). HELP! She came running in stocking feet and saved the day. Day two was not much fun. But we did get to see Devil's Tower...
09/0519 We were headed to Cut Bank, Montana today, up near the Canadian Border, where we would meet up with our friends, Ray and Susan, for the rest of the trip. It turned out to be another very long driving day (much cooler thank goodness), but we did get to see a lot of the fall harvest going on in northern Montana - seemed like there was a million acres under plow yielding wheat, alpha, and straw, and no telling what else - there was a LOT of it! The pups had a tough day finding much friendly land to hike on - and even the one actual trail we stopped and hiked on - the Zimmerman Trail - had so many signs warning of rattlesnakes and thieves that we didn't stay too long. There were also dozens and dozens of other pups running wild all over the place.
When we finally pulled into the campground I think everyone was shocked - it was a dump. One problem with traveling to new places and booking campsites online is that you never really know what you're going to get (one reason why we almost never do it this way). None of us would ever had stayed at this place by choice, but it was what it was and we parked and made the best of it. Note here - it was the highest-rated campground in the area, and I know why. While the "campground" itself was terrible, the bathrooms, showers, and laundry were probably the best we'd ever seen! And far and away most of those online ratings are based mostly on the condition of the bathrooms, really. And since we were not there to vacation - only to park for the night - it all was fine, especially since the bathrooms and showers were so nice!
09/06/19 Day four of our trip turned into another very long drive, and we arrived at our campsite late in the day. The Canadian border crossing was easy and the guy so nice, and while the countryside continued with another million acres of beautiful fall harvest going on, the highway soon was blocked - CLOSED - 20-mile gravel. It was actually a gravel highway, so the actual road was fine, but so was the dust - very FINE dust. And within minutes the inside of our camper van filled with dust - it works its way up from being kicked up by our tires through tiny entrances in the van chassis. Ugg.
Since none of the maps we found of one critical section of our route ahead could agree, we were uncertain if we would encounter more of the same as we got into the really great scenic stuff ahead (whenever we would stop and ask about possible road conditions, we couldn't find anyone who spoke English - mostly heavy Chinese or "I just got here and don't know anything."). Pam finally did find a good-old-boy and he gave her the straight pop. Turns out the last 50 miles of our long drive for the day were some of the most scenic of my entire life. I first visited the Canadian Rockies in the spring of 1980 both going to and coming back from a month-long trip to Alaska. I returned in 1995 for a week. And even though our trip into them today was not the best weather-wise, to me they are still the most amazing stretch of the North American continent. WOW. It was pretty tough to drive with so much beauty all around.
We are camped tonight in a large campground at the base of Mt. Kidd in the heart of the Canadian Rockies and it is all jaw-dropping. We plan to be in the general area for the next week, although we'll be moving around to three more campgrounds during our stay (they don't let you "boondock" around here - camp without being in a campground - so the ladies had book all the campsites months ago while there were still sites available - mostly all booked up now so that was a good thing they did!).
The biggest issue with me right now if the fact that since we were not allowed to bring our own bear spray into the country, and we've not seen anyplace yet to buy replacements, I've been "scared stiff" into thinking I'll be eaten the moment I leave the camper van, twice if I had the dogs with me. Three times if I want to hike at the edges of daylight when the light and colors are just so gosh darn spectacular. Even in this campground there are big signs saying we WILL have a bear encounter here. I should know better - we have about a dozen bears that live around and frequent our property in Arkansas, but the guys up here can indeed simply pick you up and bite the top of your head off just for fun, so the situation is much more serious. But my solo hiking mileage will be much reduced - I'm a geezer and much easier for one to snatch up...
FYI, we will continue to process and ship book orders within two business days while we're off on this trip - Pam is doing all of the paperwork here, and sending it along via email to her dad back home who will pack everything up and get ready for shipping. I always leave plenty of pre-autographed guidebooks and picture books for both individual and wholesale orders so all of that should continue uninterrupted. The only two items not available at the moment are custom-made prints (since I always make all of my own prints), and personalized copies of any books - those will have to wait until we get back later this month). I've tried to get Pam's dad to fake my signature (just kidding). Otherwise, all of our products are ready to ship (except for the 2020 Engagement Calendar which will be available in October).
09/07/19 We left the campsite at dawn and drove over to Wedge Pond, a small body of water that reflects giant stone mountains. The busy highway runs right above this pond, but it's hidden in the trees and drivers can't see the pond from the road. Even though there were lots of cars wizzing by, there were only a handful of folks at the pond, sometimes we had the entire place to ourselves. We spent an hour or so there, hiked the trail around it, then sat in the parking lot facing the giant mountains and had tasty smoothies for breakfast. Amazing how fast and how much the color and amount of the light changed in the first 30 minutes.
Our traveling companions had a pair of big problems come up last night and had to make a mad dash to the big town of Calgary early this morning. They have a camper van a lot like ours, and it developed some serous issues with the emissions system requiring immediate service. They were able to get the van looked at this afternoon, but nothing could be done with it until Monday, and in the meantime they could not drive it - so their house on wheels got locked up for the weekend, and they had to rent a car, book a hotel room, and figure out what to do with the puppy dog, Riley, who also was crippled.
Riley is a very tall La bra Doodle and tore up something in his leg and is unable to walk, so part of their day was trying to get him into see a vet. Turned out he did something bad to his knee and won't be able to hike or even walk for a while, with no meaningful activity for at least two weeks! Poor Riley - he is such an active dog!
After breakfast we spent some time hiking in the area where my bride had spent a week last October at a Plein Air Fall Color "camp" with about 80 other outdoor painters. It was some spectacular country! Then we hiked a bit more in the area before heading north into Banff National Park where we'll be spending the next several days. (Ray and Susan remained in Calgary for the night).
We are camped tonight in one of the "Tunnel Village" campgrounds high on a hill above the little town of Banff. There is a trail literally 20 feet from our campsite that runs on down through a magical forest and on into downtown Banff (about a mile away). There are more than 300 campsites here, and we're in the part of all small and mid-size RVs (no big rigs, no tents). Ours is one of the smallest, but we like it.
09/08/19 One of the main targets for us was to get my lovely bride to Moraine Lake, which is kinda the little sister of the larger and more famous Lake Louise (probably most of you have been there if you've been in this area at all). Knowing the parking lot at Moraine Lake is small, we headed out and arrived at the turnoff to the lake well before sunrise, but to our shock and surprise, the 14 kilo road to the lake was CLOSED! What? Actually they were just closing the road as we were driving up - the parking was already full 14 kilos away at the lake! (One of the staff told us we would need to arrive at the parking lot at 5am to be assured a spot.)
The only thing left for us to do was to continue on up the road to Lake Louise, where we'd both been before. There were a lot of folks there, but since it was just sunrise and cloudy to boot, the crowds were not nearly as large as we thought, and the parking lots still had room! Though I much prefer Moraine Lake to Lake Louise, we decided to enjoy the moment and mingle on in with the crowd. We eventually took the trail along the lake that neither of us had been on, and it was very nice - turned into a four-mile hike (roundtrip) from the parking lot to the far end of the lake where the glacier water enters the lake.
There were far fewer folks on the trail than back at the main viewing point, and so we mostly had the trail to ourselves as we hiked along. It was especially nice to find some fall color in bushes growing in the glacial flow and right up against the base of a towering bluff.
These beauties were growing along a short stretch of boardwalk that spanned the pool, and I found the spot quite beautiful. Funny, but I bet nearly all of the many thousands of folks visiting the lake today never paid much attention to this spot, while I found it the highlight of our day - and not even for just the colorful bushes, but also for the design of the boardwalk. It was built just inches above the surface of the water, with no side rails or bumper. This spot had a kinda Zen feel about it, and was obvious someone else paid a lot of attention to the design and construction detail. Thanks!
When we got back to our camper van I counted more than 25 tickets on the windshields of other vehicles in the parking lot. You gotta pay to be in Banff Park (anywhere), and while our pass cost $136 and covers us for all three of the national parks we'll be visiting this week, I bet those tickets will be more than that for all those folks who either drove around the pay stations, or forgot to display their pass.
For folks in Arkansas who are concerned about how popular some of our scenic attractions are (like Hawksbill Crag or Lost Valley), here's a note from today. As we were approaching the turnoff on a side highway that led to a scenic area I'd never heard of and is not one of the major ones in the Canadian Rockies, I counted more than 100 cars parked along the highway - both before and after the turnoff - plus a line each direction waiting to turn off - and all not even to the parking lot for the traihead yet! Simple fact is that the population of the world continues to increase at a rapid rate, and more and more folks are heading to the great outdoors (which is a good thing), and the places we have everywhere will continue to get more crowded. Go early (although sometimes even that doesn't work!).
We spent the rest of our day back at camp, and our friends were able to get to Banff as well and visit the lakes and are staying in a hotel in downtown Banff until their RV is back up again. Our morning temps are in the 40's, and will be dropping into the 30's as the weeks goes on. High tomorrow will be in the 60's. I hiked more than 12 miles today, although my bride fed me a couple of "butter tarts" fresh from the bakery in Lake Louise, so I probably only broke even on calories...
This is what Moraine Lke looked like when I was here 24 years ago...
This is part of the suspended walkway along Johnston Canyon trail in the Canadian Rockies that we hiked yesterday. (above) It was a PERFECT hiking day for me, but normally not for typical foks - yet even though it was cold and raining (high temp was 45 degrees F), we passed more than 1,000 hikers during the four-mile roundtrip hike. Later in the day my bride got to create a beautiful "plein air" pastel along the Bow River near Banff. (below)
09/12/19 It's 37 degrees F in Jasper this morning, and feels GREAT! We're camping along the Athabasca River just outside of Jasper, Alberta in the northern Canadian Rockies. The pic below (top) is of Peyto Lake (it really IS that color) along the Icefield Parkway taken during our drive up from Banff yesterday; and the lower photo is of our little Mia about to attack a raft of 24 folks floating by on the river just behind our campsite. HAPPY THURSDAY!
09/13/19 Today was a good day - Wilson survived, TWICE! We made the journey yesterday from the northern part of the Canadian Rockies in Jasper (the town and also the national park - some of the most beautiful sights on the planet), up and over the Continental Divide and down into the town of Golden in British Columbia. Our campsite is actually in town, but on the edge of it, and also right at the edge of the Kicking Horse River, which drains many glaciers in Yoho National Park (which we drove through but did not stop in). This campground is backed up against a mountain with a beautiful, lush and very STEEP hillside - and trails everywhere. Our camper van is backed up against one of those trails, which runs alongside the river, and oh my goodness it is just all so wonderful. On the opposite back of the river is the railroad tracks where the Trans-Canada Railroad runs, but also many freight trains. I never thought I would utter these words, but sitting right there on a bench next to the river watching these trains go by is mesmerizing, and delightful! I normally don't like trains near campsites due to the LOUD whistle - but there are no road crossings in this area, so no whistles - and they are going very slow so they just sort of amble along, clickity-clack.
Anyway, the pups and I were up and out on the trail early and did a couple of miles through the lush forest and were back at camp just after sunrise. Mia was in the front seat, Wilson was tethered to a handle on the side of the RV via a 12' strap/leash. We ALWAYS attach our pups either to us or to the RV and never let them run loose. All of a sudden Wilson jumped up with a growl and snarl and lunged towards the river with a force that shook the RV when he got to the end of the tether. I looked up and saw that he was almost nose-to-nose with a big momma black BEAR, and THREE cubs! The bears had been hiking down the trail and for some reason turned and headed down into our campsite directly at Wilson - they were not charging, that was just the direction they wanted to go and Wilson happened to be sitting there.
I leaped out of the RV and grabbed the strap and pulled him back as quickly as I could, using the full weight of my body as I fell back into the van and somehow I got him inside and the door closed. It all happened just that fast - a second or two. While the bear was not charging Wilson, no doubt if Wilson had broken loose from the tether - or had not been tethered at all the way a lot of other dogs are, momma bear would have probably simply reached out and swiped him and he'd be dead (to protect her cubs).
The four bears continued on through the campground and on up into the woods and out of sight. WHEW!!!
This evening as I was walking the pups along that same trail next to the river at dusk, and as I was so proud of our pups since they'd been calmly hiking on heal together at my feet, a dog came out of nowhere and attacked them. Both our dogs turned towards the dog to defend themselves, and for a few moments I had three dogs at my feet all snarling and biting. I was powerless to do anything, and was pulled down the hill a little ways off the trail. The owner of the other dog came running out and was able to grab his dog and get everyone apart, helped out with my momentum as I pulled back on the leashes and fell to the ground on the trail. I know there are many dogs that are so well trained they will heal and stay put no matter what, but many dogs if unleashed can get into trouble - it is their nature - and the simple fact is the law says they must be leashed, so gosh darn it, LEASH YOUR DOGS ALWAYS whenever you are anyplace other than your own yard.
Quick update on our friends Ray and Susan - they rejoined us yesterday after their RV spent almost a week in the repair shop in Calgary and them in hotel/condo with a rental car. Their pup sustained a serious injury last week and 3k of vet bills later he is doing better and able to walk a little bit (he's a large Golden Doodle). Tomorrow we all will continue to head west towards Vancouver Island, through the middle of Glacier National Park (they have one in British Columbia too!), stopping for the night in the Casche Creek area.
Oh yes, we DID finally get to Moraine Lake, and I think I got a picture even better than the one I shot in 1995, but I won't know until we get back home. It was a great visit. In fact the Canadian Rockies have been wonderful, but that is exactly what we expected...
09/14/19 CLOUDLAND JOURNAL HISTORY was made today when we got to meet the very FIRST Journal reader, who happens to be from Canada! JEANNETTE HEINZELMANN from British Columbia began reading this Journal back in 1998 soon after I started post in online, and we have been corresponding ever since. (there is a quote from her on the back dust jacket cover of the Cloudland Journal ~ Book One) She's my Canadian sweetheart! She is a great cook too, and during our all-too-brief visit today she served us fresh homemade pear pie and ice cream. I'm not sure how she's been able to keep reading my often-unreadable posts for more than 21 years, but we're glad she did and it was an honor and a treat to finally meet her. THANKS JEANNETTE for allowing us to be a part of your life - you are one in a zillion!
09/17/19 We are camped about a hundred yards from the ocean at Bella Pacifica Campground in Tofina, British Columbia, on Vancouver Island. Here's my lovely bride on the beach early this morning (top), and the starfish that bit me! (just kidding - I scraped my knuckles on a rough rock that this little guy was hiding under when I pulled the iphone back out quickly to avoid a wave, wihch didn't work).Raining and a pleasant 56 this morning - I LOVE this weather!
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