We tried something a little different for this trip. We decided to fly out to the west coast, then rent a car and do our road trip rather than drive from home. It allowed us to keep the trip under two weeks (since Lee prefers not to stay away for any longer than that at a time), while still covering a lot of ground.
We began by exploring Seattle, WA, primary gateway to this area. With the few hours of daylight we had left after our flight, we drove to the Pioneer Historic Area, actually a somewhat seedy place centered on Pioneer Square. The next morning we began our sightseeing in earnest at Seattle Center, basically a park loaded with attractions, some of which originated during the 1962 World’s Fair. The most significant of these is the Space Needle (Photo #1), a 605-foot tower which provides incredible views of the city skyline as well as Puget Sound and beyond. We enjoyed watching as two tethered "aliens" frolicked outside the glass-enclosed observation deck. The kids were fascinated.
We took the monorail to the Westlake Mall, then walked to Pike Place Market, Lee’s favorite spot in Seattle. We browsed the incredible variety of stalls, watched as the fish market employees tossed the fish around as if they were footballs, and even had lunch in the "Athenian", a restaurant attached to the market, featured in the movie Sleepless in Seattle, which has great views of the waterfront area.
After strolling the waterfront area, we decided to do something entirely different. We headed south of the city to Emerald Downs to watch the thoroughbred races. The setting of the track was magnificent, with beautiful Mt Rainier in the background.
The next morning we headed out early for our Olympic Peninsula excursion. Olympic National Park is certainly one of the true gems of the National Park Service. It has perhaps the most varied type of terrain and ecology of all America’s national parks. We strolled along Ruby Beach (Photo #3), a wonderfully wild and turbulent sandy beach, with huge driftwood logs and offshore sea stacks. Not a place for swimming, but certainly meant for contemplation and appreciation of the power and wonder of the sea. Not far away was an entrance into the Hoh Rain Forest, an interesting and unusual ecosystem which features moss-covered trees and abundant rainfall. We walked the eerie and primeval Hall of Mosses Trail (Photo #2) and the Spruce Nature Trail — both very quiet and spiritual places.
Our last stop in the park was at Hurricane Ridge, high up in the Olympic Mountain Range, where we walked several trails which featured alpine flowers (we were above the treeline) and enjoyed the magnificent views. We returned to Seattle via ferry, another great way to see the city skyline.
Leaving Seattle, we traveled north and then east into Canada, stopping for the night in Revelstoke, British Columbia (Photo #4), an adorable little town with a Western flavor located at the base Mount Revelstoke National Park.
Continuing eastward, we reached Yoho National Park, one of a quartet of contiguous parks which showcase the Canadian Rockies astride the border between British Columbia and Alberta. We detoured off the highway on Yoho Valley Road to access Takkakaw Falls (Photo #14), one of Canada’s largest.
We continued east into Alberta and reached Lake Louise (Photo #5), surely one of the most beautiful settings in the world. The lake is surrounded by tall, snow-covered mountains and glaciers, whose silt deposits color the water a striking grayish green. At one end of the lake is Chateau Lake Louise, a vintage, old, Canadian Railroad hotel which provides paths along the lake embellished with flowers. Moraine Lake (Photo #6), only a few miles from Lake Louise, is even more gorgeous with its setting in the Valley of the Ten Peaks. We walked along the lake, taking pictures and soaking up the scenery.
To get to our hotel in Banff, we decided to take the scenic drive along Bow Valley Parkway, instead of the highway, and were rewarded with more incredible vistas and some exciting wildlife (elk and moose). Banff is another Western-style town, loaded with charm and ambience, surrounded by tall mountains. We loved just strolling the streets.
Our next adventure began early in the morning. We traveled west then north to the Icefields Parkway, without doubt one of the world’s most beautiful scenic drives. Imagine mile after mile of spectacular mountains, lakes, and glaciers. We stopped at many of the overlooks and were mesmerized by the scenes. Our excursion, however, became truly memorable when we pulled in at Icefield Centre, and boarded a Snocoach (Photo #7) for a drive and walk on a glacier, Athabasca Glacier, a spur of the Columbia Icefield. What a fantastic experience!
We continued north on the parkway to Jasper, another quaint mountain village, then reversed our trip back to Banff. Our last day in Banff was more low-key. We walked to the Banff Springs Hotel, another of Canada’s famous old lodgings, then strolled the Cascade Gardens, and witnessed a demonstration of Indian Tribal Dancing. Next we visited the springs which introduced Banff to the world, at the Cave and Basin Historic Site. We had dinner at two fantastic restaurants while in Banff, Coyote’s Grill and Ticino, a Swiss-Italian restaurant.
We said goodbye to Banff and southeast, by Calgary, then on to Waterton Lake National Park, which together with Glacier National Park in the US make up an International Peace Park (a great example of countries working together to protect and preserve important environments). We stopped at the distinctive Prince of Wales Inn (Photo #8), set on beautiful Waterton Lake, lying in a valley between mountains.
Then it was onward into the US to Glacier National Park, where we drove the glorious Going-to-the-Sun Road (Photo #9) which bisects the park and provides access to many of its attractions. At Logan Pass we saw a small herd of Rocky Mountain Goats and the Visitor Center there provided us with information about things to do the next day.
We spent that next day entirely in the park, walking trails, stopping at overlooks, and picnicking on a lake. Glacier is a gem of a park, even though scientists are concerned that the glaciers are receding.
Traveling west, we crossed the state of Idaho and ended the day in Yakima, WA. Yakima is just outside the eastern border of Mount Rainier National Park (Photo #10), our goal for the next day. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. The next morning brought thick fog, and although we traveled many miles through the park, we were unable to even catch a glimpse of Mt Rainier — thankfully we saw it when we were in Seattle.
We exited the park at its southern edge and continued south to Mount St Helens (Photo #11), which proved to be much more interesting than we originally thought. We were, first of all, amazed at the devastation still visible from its 1980 eruption. Trees were flattened for miles around the access road, and the entire area was covered with volcanic dust. Also amazing was the new growth we saw which exemplifies the resilience of nature. The volcano itself rises dramatically from the surrounding forest and we could see the scar left by the explosion which blew off its top. We arrived in Portland, OR in the early evening.
The morning we drove along the scenic Columbia River Gorge, stopping at Multnomah Falls (Photo #2), Oregon’s highest, where we walked the cute, but steep trail to a bridge which traverses the gorge and provides a close-up view of the falls. In the afternoon, we explored downtown Portland. We enjoyed browsing the Saturday Market and people-watching — Portland seems to be a Mecca for "hippies", throwbacks to the 1960’s.
We strolled uptown into the Nob Hill section and then beyond, into Washington Park (Photo #13), Portland’s crowning glory. This is the home of the International Rose Test Garden, an incredible collection of hundreds of varieties of roses, all this on a hill overlooking the city with Mount Hood beyond — a stunning setting. Above the Rose Garden is a beautiful, tranquil Japanese Garden, an idyllic spot which evokes a feeling of harmony with the environment.
We left Portland and traveled along the coastal highway, stopping at Newport, Cape Perpetua, and also the Darlingtonia Wayside, a trail which leads to a grove of pitcher plants, notable because they are among only a few types of carnivorous plants — fascinating. We spent the night in Eugene, enjoying a wonderful dinner at Willie’s on 7th.
The next day we headed inland to Crater Lake National Park, our final major destination on the trip. Crater Lake may be the "most beautiful lake in world", with its incredible deep blue color and its setting in the caldera of an ancient volcano. We took Rim Drive around the crater, stopping numerous times for pictures and walks. We loved Wizard Island (Photo #15), a cone-shaped peak within the crater. Returning to Portland for our last night on the road, we prepared for our next day’s flight home.