Thursday, August 30, 2018

Our Canadian Honeymoon - August 2018

Canada: Climatically a little worse for wear.
[Note: Click the Pics to enlarge]
Climate disruption has come with a vengence to Canada. Cathie and I spent our two week honeymoon in four of Alberta's National Parks and one nearby provincial park.

We experienced the beauty of Canada and the impacts of dry forest conditions that spawned over 57 major fires in British Columbia.  B.C. is dealing with back-to-back record wildfire seasons with more than 945,000 hectares (~ 2.4 million acres) burned. In the U.S. 68 large wildland fires have burning more than 684,000 acres on National Forest System lands. As of August this year 4,256 wildland fires have burned 1,176,458 acres of NFS land.

The view from the Banff Gondola
ride top on a moderate smoke day.
We drove through some of the fire impacted area in Kootenay National Park that caused nearly all of the forest roads and sites to be closed.

Most of our time in Alberta there were serious health advisory warnings due to the smoke conditions. This contributed to less than spectacular photography of distant views, but the trip was still great with Cathie sharing the beauty of the Canadian Rockies in August.

Our start and end of the trip were in Calgary, Alberta. After two nights in Calgary we drove to Banff for four nights, then five in Jasper, a night in Lake Louise and the last night again in Calgary before flying home.

Historic Cosmic Ray Station
On top of Sulphur Mountain outside Banff is the historic Cosmic Ray Monitoring Station.

Banff is in the Bow River valley where the melt water flows from the Athabasca Glacier and others. The glacial dust suspended in the waters create varying shades of green and blue. Jasper has a couple of canoe and raft rental companies offering variable length floats down the river that leads to Hudson Bay.

Just outside the town is the Cave and Basin Site. Banff National Park is Canada's oldest national park and was established in 1885. The impetus for the park was the preservation of naturally flowing sulfuric hot springs that private entrepreneurs sought exclusive use.

Bow River Watershed
Bow River kayak rentals outside our motel room.

The Government of Canada saw Banff as the perfect location for creating a national park system.
The hot springs and 16 square kilometres surrounding the Cave and Basin site were deemed off-limits for sale or settlement. Soon the park boundaries were widened. A town, a bridge over the Bow River and a hotel were constructed so the public could access the Cave and Basin. Not too far from the cave is this hot spring with algae thriving in the very hot water. The hot springs cool as they drain into a local marsh with a boardwalked wildlife viewing area.

Cave and Basin Hot Pool inside the cave
Cave and Basin Wildlife Viewing Area

Cave and Basin Boardwalk

Cathie in her purple hiking uniform
Hiking trails abound in the vicinity. A hike up to the Hoodoos along the Bow River reveals the wildness of the park immediately outside the city of Banff.

Cathie loved it all, except for the smoke. After too few days in Banff we travelled north 120 km to Jasper National Park. One can drive to Jasper on either the Trans Canada Highway (a freeway) or the original route on the two-lane Bow Valley Parkway

After passing Lake Louise, the drive continues on the Icefields Parkway.

Along the Bow Valley Parkway is a monument commemorating the memories of the World War I Castle Internment Camp built in 1915 at the base of Castle Mountain. 

The camp held immigrant prisoners Ukrain, Austria, and Hungary. The Jasper Historical Society has a special exhibit regarding the experiences of the prisoners.
Internment Camp Roadside Monument

A Black Bear along the Icefields Parkway
Big Horn Sheep along Highway 16
Rocky Mountain Goats at the same location in the afternoon
While in Jasper we took a side trip east out of the park to the town of Hinton and visited a provincial park and visited a city park in Hinton containing a raised boardwalk through a huge beaver pond.

On the road to the beautiful Emerald Lake near Lake Louise is the so-called Natural Bridge created by the undercutting force of glacial waters of the Kicking Horse River. In the area can also be found the Spiral Train Tunnels, Wapta Falls, Takakkaw Falls and other points of interest.
Natural Bridge
Takakkaw Falls
We were able to see about a dozen glaciers within the four national parks we visited. Peyto Glacier, named for Bill Peyto, an early trail guide and trapper in the Banff area,  and the lake were most picturesque from on high. The much higher glacier along the continental divide created a delta prior to the emerald blue lake. These wonders are the source of the Mistaya River. Mistaya in the Cree language translates to grizzly bear.
Peyto Glacier
Peyto Glacier Delta

Peyto Lake
One of the most visited locations in Alberta is Maligne Lake. This fact stems from a famous photograph of Spirit Island used by the Canadian Pacific Railway at the turn of the century to promote recreational tourism in the region. Reachable best by chartered motorboat or canoe/kayak, the island still does not disappoint visitors.
Spirit Island on Maligne Lake
Maligne Lake Charter Cruise Boats.
Swiss mountaineers lived at Lake Louise where they originally led wealthy visitors to the nearby peaks and glaciers. Once the railway came near, tourism from the general population soared.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and memorial to mountain guides
Flowers abound the Lake Louise lakeshore
A Cow Moose at Moose Lake 1/2 mile from Lake Louise
One of the most interesting sites to me near Jasper was the Maligne Canyon. There are six pedestrian bridges across that are up to 50 meters deep in the very narrow canyon. They bridges provide great views of the force of nature cutting through the rock.

Maligne Canyon 1
Maligne Canyon 2
Maligne Canyon 3
Maligne Canyon 4 (Bridge #2)
Rated as one of the 25 best waterfalls in Canada is Athabasca Falls ("Athabasca translates from Cree to 'grass or reeds here and there'. "As the upper Athabasca River flows from the Columbia Icefield through the Jasper National Park in Alberta, it chips away at the rock, forming a canyon until it drops 80 feet over a thin layer of hard quartzite through soft limestone, carving first the short gorge and many potholes as well. What makes Athabasca Falls so picturesque is not the height but the force the huge volume of water creates as it drops into the gorge. The water formed many natural viewing platforms and trails that are still being chipped away, one millimeter every year. There are stairs that lead to the base of the falls that will allow you to closely view small plants, mosses, and lichens that managed to cling to the rock. You can cross the concrete bridge to the other side of the gorge. The falls are popular among white-water rafters, who start at the falls’ base and head all the way to Jasper."

Athabasca Falls 1
Athabasca Falls 2
Athabasca Falls 3
It is hard to pick out my favorite location from this trip to Alberta. That distinction probably falls upon the Athabasca Glacier that flows over Athabasca Falls. It the heads across the continent and empties into the Arctic Ocean. I've longed for decades to stand on or adjacent to such a glacier. This one is disappearing fast.

Athabasca Glacier Retreating Quickly
Cathie watching people far up on the Athabasca Glacier

There was far more beauty that we experienced on this trip besides these views. We leave those mental images to you to find on your own adventures in life. Get out there!


Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Hike to Aviation Tragedy on Mt. Humphreys

The San Francisco Peaks Near Flagstaff, Arizona

It was in the early hours of September 15th, 1944 when Second Lieutenant Warren E. Crowther was piloting his TB-24J aircraft (aka a B-24 bomber) with seven other personnel aboard: 4 student pilots, 2 engineers and a radio operator. The plane had taken off from Kirtland Field in New Mexico and headed out for a nighttime training flight scheduled to return later to Albuquerque. This was the plane’s and occupants’ last flight. All men aboard died when pilot error caused the plane to fly directly into the side of Arizona's highest peak, Mt. Humphreys.

B-24 Bomber
The remains of the B-24 airship have resided on the western side of the Mt. Humphreys for over seventy years. But the plane is not alone. Amazingly, a second plane crash occurred just a few days after this crash on Sept. 18, 1944. A B-17 Flying Fortress crashed on the opposite side of the mountain near Bear Jaw Canyon, killing four soldiers. Only a year earlier on March 5, 1943, another B-17 crashed into the northeast side of nearby Mt. Elden. An R4D-8 Gooneybird plane, crashed on Mt. Humphreys on Jan. 21, 1943. Finally, B-18 Bolo plane crashed in these volcanic mountains on Oct. 2, 1941. Truly, the 1940s were not good years for aviation in the San Francisco Peaks.

Mt. Elden
I have lived at the southern base of Mt. Elden all summer and will have spent over sixty working days this summer (nearly every weekend) hiking and driving around Mt. Humphreys and the other San Francisco peaks. Yet, in that time I haven't had the success in visiting the crash site. I finally succeeded on September 25th when I spent six hours hiking to the elusive B-24 crash site. I was its solitary visitor this day.

As a federally protected historical site, any unmanaged visitation to it the site can result in the loss of historical integrity. People have built badly designed social trails to the site, stolen historical artifacts, and otherwise altered the location and appearance of objects found there. I’m posting the GPS coordinates to the closest plane artifacts below with the sincere wish that visitors respect this historical military site and show some sensitivity to the fact that our military personnel lost their lives here during their service to country.

Hiking to the crash site is very dangerous. The one incomplete social trail to the site is steep, barely able to be followed, and very difficult to traverse. Only a few hard-to-locate rock cairns mark the route. Once one get to the GPS coordinate provided, more crash debris can probably be found easiest by just proceeding north, perpendicular the volcanic scree field fall line.

While the site is than a third of a mile from the main Humphreys Trail, it takes about an hour to safely get there.  It should not be attempted alone and it is inadvisable to ever take children to the location. One must pass over seemingly endless lava scree fields. It is just far too easy to trip, fall on sharp and tipsy volcanic boulders, drop into deep holes between rocks, and sprain or break ankles.
I fell several times.

Fuselage and Instrumentation Strewn Down the Lava Scree Field
From the Humphreys Peak trailhead the hike to the crash site is about 7.2 miles long, round trip, has a rated difficulty of 4.3 out of 5, and requires an ascent a of more than 2,100 feet to an elevation of over 11,000 feet.

Looking West, Tattered US Flag on Log Inserted Into Upside Down B-24 Landing Gear
The views from the site to the west are magnificent. Over 20 miles away can be seen Williams Peak. Kendrick Mountain is seen to the right, and numerous volcanic cinder cones and ancient volcanoes are viewable across the verdant valley. Off to the north nearly 100 miles away can be seen the north rim of the Grand Canyon. During the fall changing of the aspen leaves color, nature’s complexity, danger, and majesty are on full display.
Remains of Bomber Gun Turret

GPS Coordinates:

  • N 35° 20.455 W 111° 41.389
  • 12S E 437314 N 3911068

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Hopi Reservation Petroglyph Tour

At the end of August I accompanied the Interpretive Partnership volunteers from the Flagstaff, AZ area National Monuments on a day trip to the Hopi Reservation. At its center is Kykotsmovi Village (K-Town), home to the Hopi Cultural Center and the sovereign nation’s government complex.

We received an extensive tour of the Dawa Park site consisting of a cliff face more than a half-mile long filled with 15,000 images. You need a permit or guide to visit sites such as this. Dawa is believed to be the second-largest concentration of petroglyphs in the country. It may possibly contain 15,000 sandstone carvings. Sensory overload was the meme of the day.

The images provide a complex overview of the lives of ancestral Pueblo Indians who carved the petroglyphs as far back as 2,000 years ago. Not all the carvings are that well understood even by natives or academicians that study the images and their many possible interpretations. Readers might want to consult this interpretation of Hopi petroglyph writing/art.

Below are some of the photographs I took of the carvings. For a better sense of the topography and scope of the site, you should visit this virtual tour of the Dawa site.

Everywhere you walk in the site a fragments of ancient pottery from the time of habitation. Natives collect some of the shards and place them on display on one of the large display boulders. These cultural artifacts are not to ever be removed.


After the cliff tour we visited the Hopi cultural center, had an authentic Hopi family meal, and looked over the many exquisite Hopi crafts on sale, in particular the Kachina dolls

For more information about Hopi cultural center and government operations I suggest visiting the official website of Hopi Nation.