Howard was the first snowboarder we ever got to know. The year was 2000 and a dedicated group of us were all skiing with the Black Diamond Club, a Sugarbush program for expert adult skiers – and one snowboarder. According to Howard, he switched to snowboarding so he could ride with his young sons. Still, he didn’t want to give up hanging with his friends in the BDC. Howard, with his characteristic big grin, had the best of both worlds! For so long a part of our tight-knit Sugarbush community, we love Howard!
Continuing to follow the Google-Maps-suggested route south towards Telluride brought us within 9 miles of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. We’ve got time – let’s check it out!
Although it had been a National Monument since 1933, the Black Canyon was designated a National Park in 1999, so it’s one of America’s newest National Parks. Though its walls are, indeed, darker in color than some (we’d just hiked in the pink-walled canyons of Colorado National Monument…), the name actually comes from the limited sunlight that reaches the canyon floor – in some places, only 33 minutes a day – leaving much of the canyon in the shadows most of the time. The park surrounds about 12 miles (25%) of the Gunnison River where it forms one of the longest, narrowest and deepest gorges in the world. The Gunnison has been at work for millions of years creating the steep, narrow, deep V-shaped canyons – the Black Canyon’s tallest cliff (near the Painted Wall) is 2,250 feet and the narrowest point (near Devils Lookout, and surprisingly close to the Painted Wall) is 40 feet.
As we might have anticipated, this National Park is a paradise for technical climbers and boaters; for hiking, not so much…
Colorado National Monument is one of the coolest places in Colorado we’d never heard of. It was late afternoon when our Google-Maps-suggested route took us close to this green splotch on the map. Oh, look, the Monument has a campground – so we set a course. Wow!
Since we were so close (only 4 days’ drive!), we decided to head to Colorado to visit another friend. We let Google Maps suggest a route. The shortest route would include a few familiar sights and a few surprises.
Back at the turn of the current century, 3 couples were trying to figure out how to move to Vermont and earn an income while living an outdoor oriented lifestyle – Dave and Sandra from eastern Massachusetts, Stan and Cyndee from the Berkshires in Massachusetts and Doug and me from Connecticut. We all met while skiing at Sugarbush and became fast friends – aka the 6-pack. We all achieved the goal and moved to the Mad River Valley between 2004 and 2006.
Fast forward 10 years and thoughts turned to retirement and coloring in the next chapter of our books. First Stan and Cyndee, then Dave and Sandra got hooked by the big mountain skiing at Big Sky, Montana and were gradually reeled in, ultimately moving to that delightful ski town. And Doug and I developed our current process for alternating Vermont skiing in the winter with these nomadic adventures in the summer. Sad to split the 6-pack? Yes. Fortunately, our respective retirement plans allow themselves to intersect from time to time. We’ve been out a couple of times in winter to ski, and twice now we’ve been able to stage our summer road trips to include a swing by this cool town, surrounded by mountains and National Parks – where our friends live.
A mere 14 months ago, we were rejoicing over our time in Glacier (US) National Park as we explored the west side of the park from the Apgar/Lake McDonald area. (One month ago we were in Glacier (Canada) National Park – different place…) As with most of the places we’ve been, we left Glacier (US) (and Glacier (Canada), too!) with lists of things to see and trails to hike on future visits. As we crossed into the US from Waterton NP at Chief Mountain Port of Entry, we were conveniently positioned to visit the east side of Glacier NP. For no specific reason other than we had to pick one area, we headed for the Many Glacier area.
The robot voice of GoogleMaps announced ‘Welcome to the United States of America.’ The customs agent at the border joked about our cross-border declaration of three T-shirts from Yellowknife, and waved us through. With that, our 4-month tour of Canada was at an end. With the border still in sight in the rearview mirrors, we felt the first twinges of nostalgia. We LOVED our time in Canada – all of it!
Waterton Lakes National Park is different from the other parks in the Canadian Rockies. It’s the smallest park in the Rockies, and the most diverse. Its motto is ‘where the mountains meet the prairies,’ a unique geology where the expected foothills just don’t exist. The park features the three Waterton Lakes – Lower, Middle and Upper – the latter being the deepest lake in the Canadian Rockies. Waterton is the only Canadian National Park to share a border with a US park – Glacier National Park. In 1932, the two parks were designated together to be the first International Peace Park, dedicated to peace and collaboration on preserving the unique ecosystem.
From our travels in the northwestern US last year, we were aware of the Kenow Fire that raged through Waterton National Park during September 2017, burning through nearly half of the park. The fire had played out and was considered ‘held’ exactly 1 year (to the day) before our arrival this fall. A year later, the entire west side of the park remains closed as crews continue to clear downed trees from roads and rebuild trails to restore safety for hikers and visitors. According to the park website, as we were preparing to leave Lake Louise, there was only one day hiking trail and one campground open.
We had decided to not visit Waterton on this trip, but due to some shifts in our timing and the weather, we changed our minds. So glad we did!
Within the Canadian Rockies, the Lake Louise area is well known for its spectacular alpine scenery and hikes; those trails were emphatically calling us. The Lake Louise area is also well known for its crowds, so with eyes wide open, expectations adjusted, and our secret magic tricks for avoiding crowds in hand, we set a course.
Banff National Park, established in 1885, is Canada’s oldest national park. Like the other parks in the area, the westward expansion of the Canadian Pacific Railway played a major role in Banff’s discovery and introduction to the world. The CPR built the historic Banff Springs Hotel (1888) and Chateau Lake Louise (1911) to entice wealthy patrons aboard their trains for vacations in the Rockies. Both of these luxury hotels (with many renovations), and the resort towns of Banff and Lake Louise that grew around them, continue to draw tourists from around the world in the 21st century.
Banff is not the largest park in the Canadian Rockies – that honor belongs to Jasper. However, it’s the most popular of the parks, and with good reason. Even more so than the other parks, the largest and most spectacular mountains are right there in your face, and for non-hikers there’s a range of other activities in the 2 towns. For us, the quantity and variety of day hikes we could choose from really made us smile – and the number of squeals per hike so far, in the southern part of the park nearest the town of Banff, forced us to extend our stay. So, here’s part 1…