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The Majesty of the Canadian Rockies

Monday, July 11th, 2011

I came to the Canadian Rockies with high expectations.  For over 30 years, I have wanted to travel here…ever since I saw my first brochure of the area, filled with photos of majestic snow-capped mountains towering over lakes with the bluest water you can imagine.  The Canadian Rockies as a destination was at the top of my “bucket list”.   Those who had traveled with me on Amazing Journeys always asked, “if you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?”  My answer, for the past 30 years has been,  “the Canadian Rockies”.

This past week, 40 travelers and I ventured into Alberta, Canada, the Wild West.  We arrived in Calgary and headed north to Banff.  Our castle- like hotel was situated right in Banff National Park, on a hilltop overlooking a river and a waterfall, and sat below high granite mountains.  We were nestled in between natures beautiful landscape – just as those travel brochures had portrayed it, all those years ago.  We explored the area from horseback below and from a gondola high above.  It was beautiful from every angle.

We left Banff and headed west to the Columbia Icefiends Parkway where we discovered a glacier that we could walk on!  Our “glacier busses” put us right on top of an actual glacier, where we could walk around, and drink glacier water from a river that ran through the face of the glacier.  It was amazing!

We arrived in Jasper National Park and stayed at the historical Jasper Park Lodge.  It felt just like summer camp.  Our “cabins” were scattered all around a lake.  The lake was crystal clear, and some of us walked around the 2.5 mile circumference.  Standing at the pier, you could see all the way down to the bottom.  It was like glass, with a reflection of the mountains every where you looked.  Geese and ducks enjoyed the calm surroundings, as did we!  Some hiked, some went on a float trip down the river and some enjoyed a peaceful cruise to Spirit Island on Maligne Lake.  In the evening, we enjoyed a wildlife specialist who taught us about bears, moose and elk and brought us antlers to hold and replicas of actual bear feet that were so huge, we decided that we never want to be up close and personal with a grizzly!

Driving back across the Columbia Icefields Parkway, we stopped first at a lake with green water, then one with turquoise water.  Amazing and unbelievable.  I had always thought that the photos in the brochure must have been touched up and that they were a little over zealous in their coloration process.  These lakes are real and have so much color you can hardly imagine!

We arrived at Lake Louise and were overwhelmed at the Chateau Lake Louise Hotel which was constructed at the turn of the last century and is so palatial!  We dined at the Fairview Restaurant, where Prince William and Kate dined together just one night before.  The scene over the lake from the restaurant was magical.  We were looking out over a glacier, right in front of us.  Most of us took a two mile hike around the lake and were closer to the face of the glacier.  It was a scene out of a fairy tale and took our collective breath away.

Our last stop on the tour was Calgary, and we were treated to the famous Calgary Stampede, a once-a-year event where Calgary becomes a town filled with cowboys, rodeo and country music.  Upon our arrival at the Stampede Grounds, we were each given a cowboy hat and went to the rodeo!  Bucking broncos, bull riding, rope tying…we all got a good cowboy education.  We rode amusement rides, listened to music at the Nashville North Tent, and visited an Indian Village.  We saw baby pigs, giant Clydesdale horses and learned about agriculture.   That night we switched gears and went to Temple Tikva where we enjoyed Shabbat services with the local community.  It was a real treat to be invited to this warm and welcoming synagogue.  The next day we went back to the Stampede grounds where we saw Chuckwagon Races and the grand finale, the famous Grandstand Show.  This was one of the best shows anywhere, ever!  A combination of Circ du Soliel, the Muppets and Hollywood, combined with a horse or two, a marching band and a comedian.  And fireworks!

But the best show of all was the beauty of nature.  After waiting 30 years to see the wonders of the Canadian Rockies, high expectations and all, I was not disappointed.

(Folk)lores and lures of Alaska

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

 

As a professional tour leader for 18 years, the experiences and memories I’ve garnered while traveling the world is a book with so many different chapters than I would have ever imagined when I first entered the work force in my given profession as a teacher.  As I sit here at my desk feeling a little melancholy having just returned home from my favorite of all destinations, I am also feeling somewhat reflective.  I love travel. I love travel to all places around the globe and literally yearn for the next adventurous pursuit.  But, no place on earth effects me as does that place from where I just returned…and the place that is causing my current feelings of reflection; Alaska. 

If you know me, you know I love Alaska.  If you’ve traveled with Amazing Journeys to Alaska, you probably share my love and attachment to that great land.  Alaska comes with many lores and lures.  The lores speak of the old Gold Rush, the handing over of land from Russia in 1867 for a mere $7million, the symbolism of the land, the call of the wild, and unique verbiage like “permafrost”, “Iditarod“, “pipeline”, “Aurora Borealis” and “Permanent Fund” (a dividend paid to each resident annually).  The lures include unending adventure, the vast uncharted and ever-changing landscape, the tallest mountain in North America, mesmerizing wildlife, the midnight sun, monstrous glaciers, a culture that stands apart from the lower 48, and a lifestyle that befits Alaska’s wilderness more than it does the few-and-far-between urban acreage. 

As testimony to Alaska’s unique and special meaning, here are a few interesting tidbits:

  • Alaska contains 17 of the 20 highest peaks in the US
  • Mt. McKinley (known simply as “Denali” to the local folk) is actually the tallest mountain in the world.  Not the “highest”–that’s Everest which reaches higher into the sky because its base is at a higher elevation.  But, from base to summit, McKinley is actually a “taller” mountain
  • Juneau, the capital, has no road access to the rest of the state.
  • More than 1/2 of the world’s glaciers are found in Alaska
  • Alaska is as big as England, France, Italy and Spain combined.  You could also fit 22 of the smaller US states within Alaska. Alaska is actually about 1/2 the size of the entire rest of the continental US.
  • In the dead of winter in Fairbanks, you could walk outside with a cup of steaming coffee…toss it in the air, and it will float away as ice crystals.
  • Parking meters have electrical outlets incorporated into each pole. Cars have electrical cords and 3-pronged plugs connected to their engine block so that they can “plug” their car in outdoors during the winter and keep the engine from freezing over.
  • More people than I’m comfortable with will ask what rate the of exchange is with the US dollar to Alaskan currency.

There is so much to share about Alaska, but the true meaning of this great land is to experience it yourself.  Imagine for a moment holding an iceberg that was part of a glacier for over 1000 years, or watching a mama bear and her 2 cubs munching on berries, or watching an iceberg that’s as tall as a skyscraper come crashing down to earth…..or meeting Mary Shields, the first woman ever to have completed the 1000 mile Iditarod sled dog race, and her dogs. 

Alaska is a wondrous place.  Take it from someone who’s been to 7 continents, its the greatest show on earth.  If you’ve never been, make plans to do so.  Its a place that will give you perspective, enjoyment and meaning.  If you have been to Alaska, go again!  Having been there 11 times now, I can honestly say that it only gets better.  Going once is just ‘the tip of the iceberg’ (pun intended!), but going again will strengthen your bond, open your mind and show you things still that you never thought imaginable.  I have feelings each and every summer when I go…and I yearn for them the minute I get home, each and every time.