How do you begin a Blog about a monumental, month long, 5,300 mile, fifteenth wedding anniversay trip? Do you begin with the grand scenic places we visited? The unique inns and lodges we called home along the way? Or, the intimacy of sharing new exciting experiences? I'll begin with a quick recap of this exciting odyssey and then share some of the details that made this fifteenth anniversary uniquely special.
As much as Jane and I travel, there are still places and adventures we muse about experiencing. One of those was to drive U.S. Highway 395 from its origins in San Diego to its terminus at the Canadian border (www.sdcounty.ca.gov/dpw/organization/old395.html). Well, we did that! Another was to stay at a high, remote alpine lodge in the Canadian Rockies. Well, we did that too! Although we had been to Lake Louise before, we had not hiked the longer alpine trails around the lake. Again, we did that! Finally, we finished our trip with a stay at "our place in Montana", Glacier Wilderness Resort for some needed rest and relaxation.
From San Diego to Hesperia, U.S. Highway 395 has been replaced by Interstate 15. Although there were several signs along I-15 referring to Old Highway 395, it was at Hesperia that we actually exited the Interstate to begin our Highway 395 sojourn. There was not much scenic beauty to rave about until we reached Lone Pine, six hours, or so, from home. From Lone Pine to Lee Vining, our first overnight, we paralleled the east side of California's majestic Sierra Nevada mountains. We had time for some unplanned sightseeing including Mammoth Mounain ski area, Mono Lake and its tufa outcroppings (www.monolake.org) , and the ghost town of Bodie (www.bodie.com). Leaving Lee Vining, we made a mental note that this area would make a great fall photography location.
Our next destination required a slight detour from Highway 395. At the recommendation of our friends Jon and Joy Eaton, we had placed Crater Lake National Park on our list of must stops. So, from Lee Vining we headed for Klamath Falls, Oregon. There, we happened upon a local newspaper that headlined a warning about a midge irruption. Neither Jane or I had ever heard of a midge, but we encountered them big time the next day on our way to Crater Lake. Swarms of small, mosquito like, insects irrupting from Upper Klamath Lake, formed massive dark clouds over the road (www.craterlakeinstitue.com). Needless to say, the 4Runner was covered with thousands of the little midges. This fatal attraction necessitated an emergency stop at a service station to clean the winshield.
Thanks to Jon and Joy for their recommendation. We enjoyed Crater Lake immensely and would recommend a stop there to anyone traveling in that direction. The crater, formed by the collapse of an old volcano caldera, was immense and the lake water a stunning deep blue. We had time to enjoy a short hike to Plaikni Falls and buffalo burgers in the lodge. From Crater Lake, we traveled to Bend, Oregon for our third overnight. From the lake, the terrain transitioned from mountainous, wooded forests to open plains of agricultural fields with their unique geometric patterns. We continued along the same landscape to Spokane and on to Golden, British Columbia, Canada, (www.tourismgoldern.com) by way of Coeur d' Alene, Idaho.
Heading north out of Coeur d' Alene, we traveled between the Purcell Mountains on the west and the Kootenay Range in the east. The route was sprinkled with quaint little communities, like Kimberly, Canal Flats, Invermere, and Edgewater, as well as a multitude of resorts, like Fairmount Hot Srings, Windermere, and Radium Hot Springs. Near Canal Flats, we drove along Columbia Lake, the headwaters of the mighty Columbia River. Our destination was Golden, confluence of the Kicking Horse and Columbia Rivers, and our point of departure for the Purcell Mountain Lodge (www.purcellmountainlodge.com). This remote, alpine lodge is accessable only by helicopter from Golden. We spent our fifth overnight at the Kicking Horse River Lodge, a very nice and comfortable accommodation (www.khrl.com), prior to our rendezvous with Alpine Helicopters for our ascent to the lodge (www.alpinehelicopter.com).
If ever I scored big on selecting an anniversary location, this was it. Starting with the thrill of the helicopter, with Jane in the "second", co-pilot seat, and ending with melancholy goodbyes and hugs, this was by far the best celebration we have experienced. To start, Purcell Lodge, a member of the Unique Inns group, was an exquisitely stunning accommodation. Immaculately maintained, spotlessly clean, comfortably furnished and appointed, the lodge provided a serene environment for our fifteenth fete. Upon landing, we were met by our guide, Kevin, and cheff, Stephane, and that is when the adventure began. The daily routine consisted of a hardy breakfast, packing a lunch, four to six hours of leasurely hiking, pre-dinner hors d'oeuvres, and a sumptuous evening meal. There was a bit of a ritual associated with the dinner call. Stephane would pick up his guitar, find a comfortable spot on the couch, and proceed to sing the menu to us. His performance was always a much enjoyed preamble to a delectable dining experience.
The daily hikes took us on various trails on the Bald Mountain meadows surrounding the lodge. Kevin lead the way, always offering several alternative routes and Jane always choosing the most strenuous. The views were extraordinary. Sunrise at Mount Sir Donald was especially memorable. Kevin and I would leave the comfort of the lodge before sunrise to arrive at the edge of the meadow and watch the pre-dawn sky over Sir Donald turn a rosy crimson and light up the glacier-covered mountain peak with alpenglow. At other times we hiked the alpine meadow, filled with autumn heather, dwarf willow, paintbrush, pearly everlasting, mountain groundsel and broad leaved arnica. During our stay, in early September, the western anenome flowers had turned to seed leaving showy "hippie stick" pods in vast numbers all along the trails. Wildlife is not abundant on the meadow. There is not sufficient feed to support the larger ungulates such as deer and elk. At the low end of the food chain are the Columbia ground squirrels. These rotund and nervous rodents provide an adequate food source for red-tailed hawks and the "resident" bear, Bella. Although sightings of Bella and her cubs are not infrequent, we did not see her during our stay.
All too soon our interlude at the comfortable Purcell Lodge came to an end. The helicopter flight back to Golden was bittersweet. We hated to leave the lodge, yet looked forward to rest of our journey. From Golden we drove the Trans-Canadian highway to Lake Louise for the next chapter of our anniversary trip. Along the way, we stopped for a picnic and hike around Emerald Lake with its aquamarine waters surrounded by glacier-capped mountains. We also took in Takakkaw Falls that plunge 1,250 feet from the Daly Glacier to the valley floor. The drive to Lake Louise followed the Kicking Horse River, flowing west to the Columbia River, and then over Kicking Horse Pass, crossing the continental divide, into the Bow Valley. Jane and I have been in these Canadian Rockies three times now and the intimate grandeur of their glacier-clad peaks and tranquility of their pine covered valleys continue to create a sense of awe and reverence in our spirits.
At Lake Louise Village we spent four nights at the Paradise Bungalows in a well appointed and cozy log cabin, along the main road to the lake (www.paradiselodge.com). The last time Jane and I journeyed to Lake Louise, the weather was nasty and we only stopped for a quick lunch and gas for the car. This time the weather was sublime, by Lake Louise standards. We enjoyed a very pleasant day photographing and hiking around Moraine Lake. This has to be, in my opinion, one of the most scenic lakes in the world with its dazzling blue water and glacier carved peaks erupting around its edge. Another very scenic hike we enjoyed was to the cascades and falls of Johnston Canyon. Parks Canada (www.pc.gc.ca/) has constructed a steel catwalk along this trail that is cantilevered from the shear rock walls of the canyon. At times we were actually walking above the roaring river. The most memorable hike, however, was to the Plain Of The Six Glaciers Teahouse. It was along this seven mile, roundtrip, trail that the fickle nature of high alpine weather became apparent. As we reached the end of this 1,230 foot elevation gain trail, grey clouds obscured the mountain peaks and a sprinkling of rain started to spit down on us. By the time the Teahouse was in sight there was a constant light rain and we decided not to dally but to retrace our steps down the trail. As we began the descent, rain turned to snow. Big, massive, watery flakes fluttered from the sky creating a fairyland effect that we ignored as we stoically trudged back to the trailhead. Our cosy cabin was a welcomed retreat as we warmed ourselves and dried boots and raingear in front of the pot-bellied stove.
From the homey warmth of the Paradise Bungalows cabin, we headed south to "our place in Montana". Our place in Montana is the Glacier Wilderness Resort timeshare cabin where we have the last two weesk in September (www.glacierwildernessresort.com). The bright yellow fall colors of cottonwoods and quaking aspen usually peak during our time there. The resort is adjacent to Glacier National Park and we spent some time hiking and photographing there. At Many Glaciers, we had the opportunity to watch a mother brown bear teach her cubs the art of berry picking. It was facinating to observe the cubs using their tongues to manipulate the berries into their mouths. We also endeavored a long hike to Iceberg Lake but only made it to Ptarmigan Falls, still a daunting effort considering the elevation gain. At the Many Glaciers Lodge we boarded a tour boat on Swiftcurrent Lake to shuttle us Lake Josephine and an easier hike to Grinnell Lake. While we were at the cabin there were a number of forest fires, some as far away as Idaho, that created a smokey haze over the mountains and deterred us from other hikes. Instead, we explored the Flathead Valley along the Mission Mountain Range, including the National Bison Range and Mission St. Ignatius.
Our cabin provided quiet solitude and relaxation that was much welcomed after our adventurous stays at Purcell Mountain Lodge, Lake Louise and Many Glaciers. So what did we do at our secluded retreat in Montana? Soaked luxuriously, with a glass of wine, in the hot water of the Jacuzzi on the front porch of the cabin and planned our next trips, of course. For example, as we drove from Lake Louise through Kananaskis Country, south of Canmore in Alberta, we found the Rockies there to be of exceptional beauty. So we spent time in the hot tub plottng when we might return there.
For more images from this amazing trip, see the Anniversary Trip gallery.