a peek inside the fishbowl

08 Sep, 2018

Weekend reading: September 8 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

On the nightstand: The Drowning (Patrik Hedstrom and Erica Falck, Book 6)

In the previous post in this series, I wrote about our climb up Sulphur Mountain and the gondola ride down, which was very cool even though the views were obscured by wildfire smoke from B.C.

Every day of our holiday was jam-packed. At one point the kids asked me if/when we were ever going to relax. I may have cackled in response. Rest? RELAX! Haha! We rest when we sleep, kids! There was so much to see and do here that we couldn’t waste a moment.

From Banff we moved to new accommodations at Lake Louise. We stayed at Lake Louise Inn, which we kind of regret because there are quite possibly nicer accommodations in this area. Our room had a kitchenette and a back door to a “yard,” which was fine, but it was dated and old and the pillows were something awful. The girls thought the 1970s stove was hilarious and retro, but I thought it was ugly and annoying that one of the burners didn’t work.

Our first full day at Lake Louise was dedicated to a trail ride on horseback. Mark and I did this on our honeymoon 20 years ago and we enjoyed it so much that we knew we had to do it again with the kids.

We have five or six photos from that ride back in 1998 (remember, this was pre-digital!). Here are two of them:

Me: twenty years ago at Lake Louise.

Mark, twenty years ago at Lake Louise

And here we are today…

Me and Pepsi at the Plain of Six Glaciers

Mark and his horse
I am getting ahead of myself a bit.

This day’s adventure started very early and we set our alarms so we could be at the Brewster Adventures tables for 8:30 a.m. We worried about parking – the lot is extremely limited at Lake Louise and fills up quickly – but as it turned out there was plenty of parking at the “regular” lot when we arrived.

The light, because of the wild fires and resulting smoky haze, was a little eerie and at first we weren’t able to get a sense of whether the smoke was going to impact our ride and our views at all. This is what it looked like when we arrived that morning:

A pink morning at Lake Louise

We checked in, signed our lives away on the waivers, and waited for a couple latecomers to join our party, which gave us just enough time to quietly observe the horses. They appeared to be a trusty bunch.

Brewster stable corrals at Lake Louise

Making friends

Just after 9 a.m., after a brief orientation, we were saddled up and on our way. Our group was small: the guide, the four of us, and a younger couple who ended up at the back of our pack so it was almost as if they weren’t even there.

The destination was the tea house at the top of the Plain of Six Glaciers; a four-hour ride that includes a break at the top.

I cannot describe how stunning the views are along the way. The stables are very close to the Fairmont Lake Louise. The trail – which is “horse-only” in parts – starts off in the woods and skirts the lake for the first little while. This part is woody and cool with occasional glimpses of beautiful blue Lake Louise.

A glimpse of Lake Louise from the trail

Soon enough the water turns into an alien landscape of silty shallow water. This is the far end of the lake and that’s the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in the background:

View of Fairmont Lake Louise, across the lake

The trail continues with views of cliffs, rockfall, and goes through near desert-like conditions. Of course, the mountains look down upon you the entire way while the six glaciers slowly come into view.

Everything around us was so huge: the trees, the sky, the mountains, the piles of rocks… dragged by glaciers and possibly an avalanche. It is stunning. It is immense. The photos don’t do it justice. This place easily fills your eyeballs and your heart:

Horse ride at Lake Louise

Trail ride at the Plain of Six Glaciers

Horseback ride, Plain of Six Glaciers

Horseback ride, Plain of Six Glaciers

Trail ride, Lake Louise

We arrived at the tea house and found it busy with hikers.

The teahouse, Plain of Six Glaciers

I was surprised to learn that teahouse supplies are airlifted by helicopter and staff walk up for 5-day on/2-day off shifts. I was very much looking forward to taking in the views with a cup of tea and a scone but it was sadly not to be. We only had about 20 minutes at the top, which was not nearly long enough to order and eat (maybe visit the outhouse if needed), especially given the crowds. We really only had a brief look around before we had to go. This is my only complaint about our tour. I really wanted to linger but we had to rush back to where our horses and guide were waiting.

Here’s a peek at the view up there:

View near the teahouse, Plain of Six Glaciers

We took the same route down. Once again we were treated to stunning vistas. Seeing them from the other side this way was nice; not redundant as one may think. (You can see a bit of the hiking path on the left on the photo below.)

Trail ride back to Lake Louise

My horse was named Pepsi and he wasn’t as obedient as the others. Pepsi had a mind of his own and took every opportunity to veer off the path to snatch a mouthful of juicy grass or plants. We were told at the outset not to let them do this. Apparently, they get enough to eat and need to keep to their routines. The way I see it, Pepsi was either extra hungry, very single-minded, or just couldn’t resist mountain-grown greens. What’s more, Pepsi had a sixth sense for the very moment I reached for my camera because that was always the exact moment he chose to lunge for the grass. This was cute at first, but by the end of our ride I barely had enough strength to pull the reigns and get him back in line.

Have you ever ridden a horse for four hours? Expert riders undoubtedly build muscle mass over time but for beginners, it’s a different story. When we took this trip twenty years ago I remember how much my butt and legs hurt when we dismounted at the end of the ride. I had hoped that the passage of time between then and now meant that I’d developed enough backside padding and muscle for the ride to be a bit more comfortable. I was dead wrong. I was in agony at the end… and I am not using that word lightly. In fact, the last 20 minutes were pure torture and I was very close to getting off the horse and walking the rest of the way back to the stable. Everything south of my hips was screaming in pain. I tried everything imaginable and nothing helped: sitting upright, sitting heavily, loosening my muscles, tightening my muscles, leaning back. I’m sure the guy riding behind me wondered if I was sitting on a barbed wire.

At one point Pepsi had taken a bit too much time grazing when he realized he was falling too far behind so he set off at a trot to catch up with the others. Haha! Cute, right? Every bump sent shooting pains up my legs.

Finally, FINALLY, the end drew near and it was my turn to dismount. Pepsi made his way to a wooden platform so I could get off. Our guide was there to help and I told her that I was really worried that my legs were going to give out from under me. Thankfully, amazingly, I was able to swing my jelly leg over, plant it on the platform, and remain upright as I hobbled away. My backside has never hurt so much. In fact, the next morning I had bruises on parts of my body that never see the sunshine. It took DAYS to fully recover and sit down without grimacing.

Thankfully the rest of my family was in better shape than I was, although everyone had a varying degree of aches. I was sore, that’s for sure, in body and spirit. We walked (well, I staggered) to the viewing platform at Lake Louise for a brief rest before departing.

This shot doesn’t show the other 250 people who were behind me as I took it. :)

Lake Louise

After a brief rest, we gathered our strength and went back to our hotel. Mark made lunch while I cracked open a cider and convalesced on the back patio with a new friend.

I'm not sharing my cider!

It was the best day, and the worst day so far. The good news is that we finally had time to relax! Unfortunately, it was because it hurt too much to move.

01 Sep, 2018

Weekend reading: September 1 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

In the last chapter of our journey I wrote about our visit to Drumheller. I’ve been looking over our photos and they are simply not good enough. Honestly, the Badlands are so big and beautiful that no photo can do it proper justice.

Anyhoo… From our accommodations in Calgary we moved on to Banff. Banff is an interesting locale. It’s stuffed full of people and very touristy. It’s WILDERNESS without the WILD, if you know what I mean.

Banff is busy

Banff is in close proximity to lots of great outdoor spaces but there’s also a very busy Starbucks and all kinds of upscale shops.

I don’t remember Banff being this busy 20 years ago, but it might be my imagination. I DO remember the amount of elk that wandered around town. As we approached we regaled the girls with stories of animals stopping traffic and walking through public parks and backyards. THEY ARE AS PLENTIFUL AS SQUIRRELS, we said. Well, we saw neither hide nor hair of these majestic creatures. It wasn’t until afterwards that Mark did a bit of research to find out there was a major Elk Removal Program in the town of Banff the year after we visited. Oh well. There was still plenty of wilderness to go around. Well, the wilderness we could SEE anyway. Wildfires burning in BC were completely obscuring our views at times. (You’ll see what I mean later.)

Banff is a cute town to visit, but if I had to choose, I’d say that the highlight of Banff was Sulphur Mountain.

There is a gondola you can ride up to the top but we opted to hike up and then ride down. It’s cheaper than a return ticket and you get the full experience.

The trail is not particularly steep, in fact, it’s marked as “moderate.” I debated whether we were capable of doing it and then I read a review in which a family hiked up this trail with three kids. If kids could do it, we could do it!

The trail is really just a series of switchbacks which aren’t too difficult but the constant incline can feel grueling at times, especially near the end.

Hiking up Sulphur Mountain, Banff

Hiking up Sulphur Mountain, Banff

I thought I was in decent shape but it was death by a thousand steps!

The views were … different. When the views opened up from between the trees to the valley beyond we knew there was supposed to be something to see out there, but everything far away was hidden by smoke. The sun bathed everything we saw in a strange light. We saw ghosts of mountains, but no mountains:

Smokey views from the trail up Sulphur Mountain

According to my MapMyRun app, the trail to the top of Sulphur Mountain is 5.54 km long, and it took us 1hr, 23 minutes of active walking time. (There was a lot of active resting time during this process, believe me.)

I stopped to take this photo because I was trying to focus on something other than how much my legs were burrrrrrrning. (You can see that the trail goes underneath the gondola.)

Almost at the top!

It goes without saying that was definitely an Immense Feeling of Triumph when we arrived at the top. By that time, every step was a chore and I was DONE. Finished. Kaput. But there was more to see so there was no time to stop.

There is an impressive observation complex at the top complete with washrooms, lots of seating, restaurant(s), info boards and lookouts. That’s it, in the background:

Observation area at the top of Sulphur Mountain

… but there was essentially no view:

Our "view" at the top of Sulphur Mountain (!)

View from the top of Sulphur Mountain

I shouldn’t say there was NO view. There was a bit of a view. Here’s the view from the observation decks towards an old observatory:

At the top of Sulphur Mountain, Banff

In 1903, a meteorological observatory building was built here and you can still walk around the building and peer through a window to see its rustic interior. In 1956-1957, the Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station was built to study cosmic rays as part of the “International Geophysical Year”. It is now a National Historic Site of Canada and a plaque marks its location. (Info via this site.) It’s worth seeing up close.

This was the view from there…

Top of Sulphur Mountain

"I think those are mountains!"

Pretty wild eh?

We rested, ate lunch, poked around a bit, and then bought our tickets for the ride down. The descent took about eight minutes and didn’t hurt nearly as much as the hike up. ;)

View from the Sulphur Mountain Gondola

I’m glad we hiked up and rode down. Our journey, and our arrival at the end, was that much sweeter when we knew we had to work hard at it, know what I mean?

I should mention that I snagged a coffee from the world’s highest Starbucks, just so I could say that I did:

Fueled up at the highest Starbucks in Canada

And as if that wasn’t enough walking (!) we also hit up the Cave & Basin historic site (totally worth a visit) and walked along the Bow River to see the falls. That night we walked (!) to Park Distillery and Restaurant for an amazing dinner and then soaked our weary bodies in an amazing hot tub at the Delta Hotels Banff Royal Canadian Lodge, where we were staying. It was an utterly blissful way to end the day.

Imagine that you’re a kid and there’s a truck ahead of you that’s carrying a load of candy. You follow it because every once in awhile a piece of candy falls out on to the road. You pick it up – because, hey, IT’S CANDY. You follow diligently, watching the entire time. The longer you follow it, the more candy starts to fall out. At first it’s just a little bit of candy, a nugget here or there, but the trickle becomes a stream and then the stream becomes a river and then BAM. The river is an ocean of candy as far as your hungry eyes can see.

This is exactly how I felt during our drive from Calgary to Drumheller. The scenery just outside Calgary is nothing to write home about. It’s fairly empty and industrial with a surprising lack of vegetation and only the odd nugget of interest. As you drive through acres of emptiness you soon realize it’s turned into a whole new landscape: acres of farmland occupied by cattle, wheat, and other crops. If you’re not hypnotized by the endless straight line of pavement ahead of you or staring off into seemingly infinite fields of gold, you find yourself counting remote farm houses, silos, and oil wells. These are pretty much the only things other than you underneath a big gorgeous sky that keeps going and going.

Maybe you pull over to snap a photo, knowing deep in your heart that there really isn’t any point because you know it will never do it justice:

Fields, approaching Drumheller AB

After about an hour the landscape starts to roll a bit and those golden wheat fields quietly take a back seat. You almost don’t even notice that it’s happening. Then BAM. The curtains part and the Badlands appear. (To briefly revisit my previous metaphor, the dump truck suddenly skids to a halt, tips sideways, and candy GOES EVERYWHERE.)

What can I say about the Badlands that hasn’t been said before? If you are Canadian and have never seen the Badlands you MUST see it for yourself some day. They are a sight to behold. Warning: you may never be the same afterward.

Family visit to the Alberta Badlands

We started our day in the Alberta Badlands south of the town of Drumheller at Hoodoo Trail. We parked, we ogled, we clambered up the stairs and trails to take in some views of these ancient rock formations.

Hoodoo trail, the Alberta Badlands

We went further up…

Hoodoo trail, the Alberta Badlands

And further…

Hoodoo Trail, south of Drumheller

Until we got to a part that can be called “the top” that gave us some expansive views of the whole area.

Alberta Badlands view

There’s a person in that photo, in case you weren’t sure of the scale we’re talking about here:

Alberta Badlands view

Here’s the view looking down towards the parking lot. (More tiny people!)

View of the Hoodoo Trail parking lot

And here’s another perspective, just to give you an idea:

View at the top of Hoodoo Trail

It was exciting and exhausting to climb to the top, but we did it and lived to tell the tale although we were quite scruffy and dusty by the end. It is a tough scramble, and it should only be undertaken by someone in decent shape wearing proper shoes because it’s steep and the surface dirt and rock is loose in parts. (While climbing up I happened upon one young man who looked frozen in place. I asked him if he was ok and in response, he said: “I regret everything.”)

We had lunch in Drumheller (sadly, many restaurants are closed Mondays for some reason so we ended up at a chain restaurant) and then went to the Royal Tyrell Museum, starting with a self-guided interpretive trail of the Badlands that begins next to the museum entrance. (DO IT. It’s not too strenuous and it’s quite interesting.)

Badlands Interprative Trail, Royal Tyrell Museum

We were glad to eventually escape inside the museum as we were getting a little hot. Yay for AC! The exhibits are great, whether you’re a serious dino-lover or just have a passing interest. We all enjoyed ourselves and Mark bought a t-shirt.

That’s not all we did. We really crammed it in. On this particular day we also saw:

The Star Mine suspension bridge
The World’s Largest Dinosaur
The World’s Smallest Church
Horse Thief Canyon
… and the Horseshoe Canyon

Horseshoe Canyon was very different from when Mark and I first visited 20 years ago during our honeymoon. Back then it was essentially a parking lot and a stand selling fossils. (There MAY have been an outhouse.) Today, there’s a little shop, a fancy covered picnic area, and wooden rails and fencing that effectively block access to the canyon itself. I wanted to go down into the canyon but it wasn’t going to be easy. We spied a group of people who’d walked down via an access road but you had to walk out on to the highway and down a long road and from where we were standing it looked quite far. (Also, we’d been walking all day and were exhausted.)

Fortunately, I spied another way down while standing on the other side of the lookout near the picnic area. There’s a helicopter parked in a field, and a trail nearby led down into the depths of the canyon. It’s not a very difficult descent in running shoes, although we still had to watch our step.

Covered picnic area at Horseshoe Canyon, Alberta

It was gorgeous down there amid the wild sage and the juniper bushes.

Trail down into Horseshoe Canyon, Alberta

It’s the kind of landscape that knocks your socks off. It’s just so darn beautiful.

Everyone went their own way. I followed some well-worn paths towards the squeak of ground squirrels and sought the best views along the way. The youngest checked out a cave. Mark and the eldest examined the rock fall and explored a crack in the earth that had been carved out by water a millennia ago.

We were the only ones there; it was blissfully peaceful and quiet.

Horseshoe Canyon, Alberta

Mark, Horseshoe Canyon

Exploring Horseshoe Canyon, Alberta

View of the Horseshoe Canyon Lookout from the canyon

We saw many beautiful sights that day, but this place was tops for me.


Have a great summer at Saunders Farm!

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark. We have two daughters: Emma (19) and Sarah (17). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

If you'd like to contact me, please use this form. If you're so inclined, you can read more about me here. Thank you for visiting!


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