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Trip to Montana
(for an Ott family reunion and to visit Glacier Park)
and to Calgary Canada

Tuesday July 15, through Wednesday July 23, 2014

A separate travelogue is available of our 2012 Trip to Montana and Glacier Park


American Airlines does not fly into Montana. Not anywhere in Montana. So we had two choices - fly Delta (which was 5 hours late the last time we flew with them to Montana, and not the airline where we are trying to accumulate status), or fly someplace else with American Airlines, and drive to Montana. We chose to fly to Calgary, rent a car, and drive to Montana. Then, after the Reunion, spend a few days in the Calgary area.

Getting There - July 15

Our neighbor took us to the airport for an 8:10 am flight to Dallas, connecting to a flight to Calgary at 10:55 arriving at 1:40 Mountain time (almost 4 hours flight, masked by the time zone change). No problem picking up the Avis car, and starting the drive. Our plan was to drive south on the west side of Glacier Park (going through the 24 hour border crossing in British Columbia, in case we were delayed) then for variety returning on the east side of Glacier Park (that border crossing closed in the middle of the night).

Travel Tips

Tip 1: If a road is shown on some maps and not others of a similar scale, be suspicious. To get to the west side of the mountain range for our trip into Montana, we needed to cross some foothills before taking the road to the main mountain pass. We missed the first hop across the foothills, so no big deal (we thought), taking the next east-west road 10 miles farther south for the 20 mile jog across the foothills. It was on some but not all the maps. About 5 miles into the 20 mile westerly jog the road turned to gravel, and stayed that way for the rest of the 20 miles. Maybe that was why it was only on some maps. And this little hop over the foothills climbed to 5,500 feet altitude. The main pass was only about 4,000 feet altitude.

Tip 2: Can you spend 4-5 days in Canada without any Canadian money? We did. We have a chip and pin credit card (the norm in Canada) with no foreign transaction fees, which we used for everything without problem. We didn't try, but it might also have been possible with the normal US magnetic stripe card. Many places explicitly offered to take US Dollars, but we didn't try that.

Tip 3: Badrock B&B was great, described later

Tip 4: Why you should wear heavy shoes on even a simple hiking trail.

Tip 5: Canadian sales tax rates.

Tuesday July 15

The drive through the southern Alberta and British Columbia mountains was pretty (ignoring the dirt road over the 5,500 high foothills mentioned above).

Beautiful, that is, until we went by the town of Frank. In the middle of the night on April 29th, 1903, a 3,280 foot wide, 1,400 foot high and 500 foot deep slab of rock separated from Turtle Mountain and crashed down onto the town in the greatest landslide in North American history. Merely 70 of the 600 people living in the town were killed. I had to borrow this picture from the internet, from the top of Turtle Mountain (that slid into the valley). The upper road in the picture is Canadian Highway 3, that we were using, then the rebuilt train tracks, and the original road from Frank (on the lower left, at the edge of the rock slide) to Bellevue (on the upper right). Trains on that track are almost hidden by the rocks along the track. Makes you respect the "beware of falling rocks" signs along the highway.

We continued along Highway 3, into British Columbia, until we saw a little truck along the side of the road, and had to stop.

The town of Sparwood, BC, claims to have the largest truck in the world. The Terex Titan built by General Motors of Canada in 1974 was the largest in the world for at least 25 years, and was used as the coal mining evolved from underground mines to open pits. That is Jenny standing by the driver's ladder.

The tires are over 12 feet high - I am only slightly more than 6 feet high. The 16 cylinder engine generates over 3,300 horsepower, and like a diesel locomotive, drives four electric motors for the rear wheels. Empty, the truck weighs almost 260 tons, and carries a payload of 350 tons. It had a 1,560 gallon fuel tank, since it burns 5 gallons per mile. The record as the largest dump truck now often goes to the slightly smaller Caterpillar 797, with a larger 400 ton capacity and a 3,500 hp engine.

While we are dealing with large things, they also had a chain saw on display. That is Jenny behind the saw, reading the specs. It was used in underground coal mines.

Travel Tips

If you are heading to the Kalispell, Columbia Falls, or Whitefish area, consider the BadRock B&B. The Host Mark Jackson and his wife have been doing this for a couple decades, and have perfected guest services. Beyond their beautiful facility, things like laundry are not coin operated machines, but regular washers and dryers with soap provided. He will loan you a can of bear spray (mace for bears) that is not likely to be needed but can cost $20 to $70 to buy. The Guest Apartment even had a big bag of coffee in the freezer, for guest use. See his unbelieveable list of Amenities, offered to guests at no charge.

Wednesday July 16

The first event was to explore Whitefish Mountain Resort - a winter ski slope with numerous summer activities. They have bargain lift tickets for seniors. They have even bigger bargains on tickets for super seniors. I am proud to be a super senior. Okay, over 70 to qualify.

From the top of the mountain were hiking trails, mountain bike paths (not us), and other activities.

Even though it was mid-July there were still isolated pockets of snow on the trail.

And even more snow where it had drifted on the steeper sides of the hills.

Coming down the mountain (on the ski lift) you can see some of the bike trails as well as one of the artificial lakes to accumulate water for making snow in the winter.

Ott family reunion

These are the 7 kids of Janet and Dean Ott of LaCrescent Minnesota and some of their offspring (kids and grandkids). If you are interested in their antics during the reunion, click here. If you are just interested in the travelogue and scenery, you are relatively safe to continue... without so many family pictures.

Thursday July 17

Most of the group went on an all-day drive/walk to the "Going to the Sun" Road through Glacier Park. You can check the 2012 Travelogue that has more pictures of the scenery along that road through the park. Others took a more leisurely afternoon walk along "Trail of the Cedars" at Avalanche lake in Glacier Park.

Some places the stream was narrow and wild, and other places the stream was wider and slower, tempting for play.

The Trail of the Cedars is very nice, and is sure easy. Much of it is boardwalk, with other sections of paved asphalt. Don't let the handicap accessibility put you off of this great walking path. It includes the most-eastern of the Western hemlocks and red cedars, some over 500 years old, and 4-7 feet in diameter.

At one point the boardwalk led past a tree that had tipped over. When we saw this tree a few years ago there was still some dirt around the roots - now it is more like abstract art.

Friday July 18

Yesterday was a walk, not a hike. Today was classified as an easy hike by friends, but rated moderate (5.96 on some mystery scale) by the forest service. Starting at almost the same place as yesterday, but taking the trail to Avalanche Lake, we will climb 730 feet in 4.5 miles round trip. "You can make it to the lake in an hour" was only true for the teenagers who jogged to the lake.

Note the trees broken off about 10-15 feet up. That was probably the snow depth here when an avalanche knocked the tops off.

The beginning of the walk was along Avalanche Creek, as here, but we lost sight of the creek after about a mile, but could hear it all the way to Avalanche Lake.

The trail seems innocuous - easy and well defined. Some parts were narrower, and some had occasional stones and tree roots, but no big deal. Until the trip down. I was wearing walking shoes (gym shoes), not hiking boots. I stubbed my toe on a stone or root. It hurt, but in a minute I could continue. Fifteen minutes later I stubbed the same toe again. Now it really hurt, but in 5-10 minutes I could continue. The next day half of the nail was purple, with the end and bottom equally purple. At the end of the week the entire nail and toe were purple. And Jenny noticed some purple on my arch where I had apparently stepped on something pointy. LESSON: Always wear heavy shoes (or hiking boots) for even an easy hike.

Hard to imagine views like this without a walk to see them.

Towards the beginning of the walk, when we were close to Avalanche Creek, the creek became narrow and fast - a pretty gorge.

As we got deeper into the forest, away from the creek, we could see the natural growth and death of trees - as the trees died and fell, many were trapped on the hills

Many of the trees do end up in the creek

Some of the trees had become very large - this was probably 5 feet or more in diameter, and probably 100 feet tall, before it died and became a hollow stump for tourists to peek out of.

Along one part of the trail there were a number of trees broken off about 30 feet above the ground. Probably the snow depth when an avalanche came down the hill and sheared these trees off. Notice Jenny on the trail in the shadows.

A little further along we suspected we were getting near the lake... or on the way up, at least hoped that we would finally get to a lake.

At last. There really is a lake! And on the right side, just beyond the picture, is a small beach with benches so hikers can rest and perhaps do some wading.

There were many sunken logs in the lake. The green-turquoise color of the lake is due to the fine ground rocks from the glacier - rock-flour sediment - ground so fine that it remains suspended in the water, reflecting the unique colors.

The outlet of the lake becomes fairly small, Avalanche Stream, even though the lake is fed by glaciers and several smaller streams.

Be sure to appreciate the beach on the left of the picture, with the resting hikers.

Sunday July 20 - back to Calgary

Travel Tip

Sales Tax: Calgary is in the Province of Alberta, adjacent to the Province of British Columbia. If you are traveling in both, note that the sales tax in Alberta is 5% but the sales tax in British Columbia is 12%. You choose where you want to stock up on whatever.

Throughout Canada there were huge brilliant yellow fields (unfortunately this was taken through a tinted car window, late in the day, so is less than brilliant). Finally we learned that it is Rapeseed.

This is an isolated rapeseed plant. Okay what is it? Native rapeseed was used as a lubricating oil in steam engines, but had a high percentage of erucic acid (yes I had to look that up) which is harmful to the heart muscle, and contributes to a bad taste. But selective propagation has reduced the percent of erucic acid from 54% to under 2%, and the oil is now called Canola Oil (Canadian Oil). Further, the leftovers after squeezing out the Canola oil is a high protein cattle feed - nothing goes to waste. No wonder it is such a dominant crop in Canada (and Europe).

The mountains in Alberta were not that different from their American bretheren south of the border. Duh.

Head Smashed In

This is a location, near Ft. Macleod, Alberta, where there is/was a buffalo jump. Okay what is a Buffalo Jump? Before the natives had guns and horses, one of the ways they hunted buffalo was to drive a herd off a cliff. Buffalo don't just wander off cliffs, so it was a very complex process, requiring lots of people and preparation. And at Head Smashed In, the "Jump" (cliff) has been in use for 5,500 years. This caused it to be designated a Unesco World Heritage Site, just like the pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge in England.

The cliff doesn't look that high today, but it is about 11 meters - 36 feet. The area over the cliff was excavated by archaeologists, who expected to find a few feet of bones, but they kept digging through 12 meters - 39 feet of bones. Thus the earliest users of the cliff had a 75 foot drop.

From the top, the crest practically disappears, so it is plausible that the buffalo (with good hearing but poor eye sight) leading the heard at full gallop might not be aware of the problem in time to stop.

Inside the visitor center they have three buffalo at the top of the exhibit cliff (presumably ready to run off the cliff at full gallop).

And from below you can see the same buffalo ready to plummet to their death.

At the foot of the visitor center cliff they have a small exhibit of what the archaeologists worked with as they dug the base of the cliff.

The layers they found as they excavated the base of the cliff were interesting but even more so is the discovery that it the site was unused from 4,200 to 3,200 years ago, then went back into the same type use. Your browser or other viewer may allow you to look at a larger picture of the analysis.

Where did the name "Head Smashed In" come from? It was not a buffalo head. A young native wanted to stand against the cliff and watch the buffalo come over like a waterfall. The herd was larger than usual, so it filled the area next to the cliff. The young native's head was smashed in, giving the place a name in native lore. Teenagers never change, the world over.

Monday July 21 - Calgary

Travel Tip

Glenbow Museum: Somebody suggested that if we could only do one thing in Calgary, we ought to take a look at the Glenbow museum in downtown Calgary (next to the Marriott hotel and the Calgary Tower). Okay, Senior admission isn't bad, so lets give it a try. It was so engrossing that they had to throw us out as they closed. An extraordinary glass collection on the top floor. Classical art on another. Native American culture on another...oops, the Canadian prefer to call them First Nations or Aboriginal, but there was an extensive display on another floor. A display of the "mavericks" who shaped the province of Alberta. A large display of Asian Art. Pictures of the Northwest. And more.

Parking cost more than the museum. In almost no time you reached the $25 "all day" rate, but that expires at 6 pm. We walked around town and ate in Chinatown, so got hit with a $6 additional "all evening" charge, for a total parking fee of $31. Only after we paid and were leaving did we see a sign that the lost ticket charge was only $23!

On the fourth floor of the Glenbow (start at the top and work down) was a blown glass exhibit. The "Bee Kingdom" is a residential cooperative, formed in 2007, of three glass artists who collaborate on their creations like bees in a hive. Jenny particularly liked the ocean wave in this glass "nature" display.

I especially liked this delicate multicolor piece

Perhaps their trademark design are bold multicolor pieces with drops of glass reminiscent of drops of honey from a beehive.

Okay, one more display from their exhibit.

Some of the other exhibits were "no photograph" or were interesting presentations and photographs. Photos of photos are not good, and photos of Tepees are boring, so we saw and enjoyed a LOT during the day, but don't have many pictures to show.

Not far from the museum was an office of the Historical "Hudson's Bay Company." Now that they are not hiring explorers and trading furs, the building is a department store.

This street was closed to cars, and highly decorated. We finally learned that the funny white things over the street are lit at night with green lights, which makes them look like abstract trees. We didn't wait for the lights, since dark comes very late this far north in the summer.

On the fourth floor of a downtown shopping mall was an indoor garden - a park of amazing proportions. More than a block wide and several blocks long. The yellowish lights appear to be for the plants - they are growing, not dying.

Back on street level there were other kinds of art, such as these larger than life statues of businessmen in an intense discussion.

Or these "things" of giant hardware and plumbing fixtures.

Not sure what this represents, but it was large and attractive, and was on our route to Chinatown for dinner.

Tuesday July 22 - Banff and Jasper National Parks

The road to Banff - about 90 minutes west of Calgary - was much like the roads to the mountains we had been using in Montana. Pretty, but more of the same.

About an hour from Calgary we stopped at the cute little town of Canmore. Nice town, which also filled our need for public restrooms.

Along the TransCanada highway, which goes through the park (no park fee unless you leave the main highway) were animal overpasses. About 10 of them. Notice how wide they are (the length of the road under them). Some had rather large trees along the edges, to encourage wildlife to cross the road on the overpass (maybe the animals are afraid of heights).

The angle of the layers of rock in this mountain caught our attention

Especially the almost-circle pattern in the side of the mountain

Along the road we saw a bear (who wouldn't face us and pose), crawling through the brush foraging. How do you know there is a bear alongside the road? Numerous cars parked on both shoulders, and people running across the road with cameras.

A little farther along we saw two big horn sheep. Yes there are two, standing close to each other. Sheep do not have 8 legs and four horns. Again, they wouldn't follow our directions on posing.

Mountain waterfalls are always attractive

As we got into Banff park, or the contiguous Jasper park, the road changed direction and elevation a lot.

At times being close to a lake or river

We decided to go as far as the "Icefields" about half way up Jasper park. Someone we met and chatted with said there was not much unique north of there - just more of the same beautiful scenery.

From the visitor center you could overlook the glacier, or go inside and spend hours waiting in line for tickets to the bus or snowmobile that would get you close to or on the glacier.

Obviously this snowmobile was modified for display - the front skis were replaced by wheels to operate on the visitor center.

This panoramic view from the visitor center gives a great impression, but you will probably have to scroll your browser to the right to see it all.

This chipmunk near the visitor came out and posed every time somebody walked by with a camera. Why couldn't we get the bears or sheep to pose as well?

Some of the evergreen trees seemed to be dark at the top - from the distance almost like they were burned. At the visitor center we saw how dense the pine cones were, but only at the top of the trees

We drove through an area that had a recent forest fire - on the way North there were smoke warning signs, and they were still pumping water from the river to fight hot spots. On the way back we took pictures, but the fire seemed to be out.

It was interesting how the fire had come up to the edge, but left some trees un-burned.

On the way back we got the signal for bears - cars stopped on both sides of the road.

But this stop was especially interesting because the bear had a cub. And when a tour bus didn't have a convenient place to park beside the road, it just stopped in the middle, completely blocking the highway, so its passengers could stream out with cameras.

Back in Banff we stopped for a beer in a brew pub with a balcony, and then went to a nearby restaurant for a nice dinner.

On the road from Banff to Calgary, we saw a bear crossing the highway (of course the camera wasn't available in time). It stopped by the edge of the road, looked both ways, and when it was clear, crossed to the center median. It then waited in the center until the traffic was clear the other way before scooting across the other lane, and back into the woods.

Wednesday July 23 - Return home

US Customs and immigration was done in Calgary, so our arrival in Dallas was efficient, even though our plane parked at the international terminal and had a hike to our gate for the flight to Austin. Our requested upgrade did come through on the Calgary-DFW flight, so we had a very nice dinner.

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