Lane's USA 2009
Waterton Lake, Alberta, Canada
After we got back to the Prince of Wales hotel from Red Rock
Canyon (see Update 17), we bought tickets for the 7-9 pm cruise down
the length of Waterton Lake and back, aboard the historic 78 foot
wooden tour yacht "International" (because the southern end of the Lake
is in the US).
The boat has an interesting story. Recalling that Waterton (Canadian)
National Park is a cooperative venture with the US Glacier National
Park, the US wanted to build a tour boat to take people down the lake.
But they insisted it had to be a US-flagged vessel, which meant it had
to be built in the US. But it also had to be built on Waterton Lake
because there is no way to transport such a vessel to the lake from
elsewhere, nor any way to launch it once you got it there. But there
were (and still are) no roads to anywhere on the US end of the lake,
nor any boatbuilding facility there. So the US decided to BUILD a
boatbuilding and marine railway launching facility down at the southern
(US) end, and to transport all the materials and tools necessary to do
so and build the boat too. In 1927. Here's the result:
This facility also serves as winter storage for the boat, which is
about 8 months of the year. The International is a 78 foot boat with no
place to go but back and forth 20 miles, four times a day, two hours
And by the way, because it's US-flagged it must have a US captain. The
current captain has been running this route for 20 years now. That's
9760 trips, by my math. And he says he's not bored.
So we departed.
You can see from the above picture that this lake sits in a classic
U-shaped glacial valley. What is not so clear (but will be in a moment)
is that all the side valleys were also glacier-carved, and those
glaciers flowed into the main Waterton glacier. But since the side
glaciers were smaller and lighter, the valleys they carved were not as
deep, and now that all the glaciers are gone these side valleys "hang"
above Waterton Lake. Like this:
Here's another interesting feature. If you look about halfway down this
mountain's face, you'll see a darker horizontal band with narrow
light-colored rock layers above and below it.
Behind this mountain (barely visible above) is another mountain of a
The source of this stripe, which occurs throughout Glacier and Waterton
Parks at the same altitude, was igneous intrusion into a fracture plane
in the original sedimentary rock. Said in English, that means the rock,
which started out as layers of sediment in a large sea, had a
horizontal crack or flaw into which magma (lava) flowed from below, and
it forced the crack open and filled
it up with what is now solid igneous rock. Since the magma was hot at the time, it
heated and "metamorphosed" the limestone on either side (top and
bottom), creating those light stripes.
We finally got to the south end of the lake . . .
. . . and a couple hundred yards away (behind the boat in the
above picture) there's a building with a US flag. Here's a close-up:
That, my friends, is an official, bonafide Homeland Security US Border
Station that can only be reached by boat or on foot. You'd best be
carrying your passport if you show up there!
In an earlier update I mentioned that Canada clearcuts its borders with
a 60 foot swath and marks them. Here's the US-Canada border where it
comes down to the lake on the west side. That obelisk is the marker.
Naturally there's a corresponding clearcut and marker (the latter
barely visible here) on the east shoreline.
We got back to the dock at Waterton at 9 pm, just as the sun was
setting. By the way, that Canadian flag you see is the "courtesy flag".
All foreign ships in a country other than their own carry one, and it
is always smaller and higher than the ship's "ensign" (flag of origin).
The ensign (US flag in this case) is much larger and at the stern.
Waterton Lake to Calgary, Alberta, Canada,
In the morning Lynn insisted that I get a photo of our funky
free-standing shower. This old design operates on the assumption that
you're young, vigorous, and aren't going to slip and fall, because if
you do there's nothing to grab that'll hold you up. Other than that it
was a pretty good shower!
We also took one last photo out the window of our Prince of Wales Hotel
room at sunrise before we left.
North of Waterton the Rocky Mountains slant off to the north-northeast
while the road to Calgary slants slowly downhill east of the Rockies
and the landscape trends from foothills to agricultural plain. These
next two photos, taken within twenty miles of Waterton, show an almost
fairytale hilly ranching landscape backed by the
mountains. This is where the Marlboro Man comes from.
North of here the land began to look a lot like I-5 between Grapevine
and Livermore, CA, so I saw no need for photos. Calgary itself is a
sprawling city amid vast expanses of ranch and farm land, with
mountains to the west, very much like Denver, CO.
Calgary to Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada,
The weather was getting dicey and rain was predicted, so we
suited up and got an early start hoping to beat the worst of it. As it
happened we had clouds the whole way and began to get some rain on our
way up the hill to Lake Louise, but the thunder, lightning, and
torrential downpour held off until about five seconds after we had
parked at Deer Lodge at about 11 am. We grabbed our stuff and bolted
for the door. On our way up there we had taken a side trip up to the
Mt.Norquay Ski Area near Banff and got these photos from an overlook
above the valley where Banff sits. That's Canada Hwy 1 down there, our
route. Looking south here.
Lake Louise and the Icefields Parkway,
Alberta, Canada, 160 miles
This is what Lake
Louise looked like later that afternoon, during a brief break in the
rain. Actually, it didn't even look this good. Actually, it was so blah
that I didn't even take a photo. This one's off Google Earth
While I'm at it, I might as well show you what the Lake looks like as
the weather improves. Here are three more shots from Google Earth.
By the way, the crest of that cirque is at 11,340 feet, whereas the
lake is at 5794 feet. You're looking up 5500 feet. The end of the lake
is 1.1 mile away while the cirque wall is 4.5 miles away. Here's what
it looks like from space -- Lake Louise to the left, cirque wall at
right. The lake, which is the pale powdery blue color it is because of
all the glacial silt in the water, is fed by no fewer than eight
On the shore at the foot of the lake is Chateau Lake Louise, currently
owned by Fairmont hotels. As best I can describe it, it is as if the
Las Vegas Bellagio Resort Casino had been relocated to a lake in the
This little "chateau' costs $500 and up per night, lake view rooms
higher. This made little sense to us, and after visiting and having
drinks and hors d'ouevres in it we still felt the same way. We much
preferred Deer Lodge, which was a whole five minute walk from the
shoreline in front of the Chateau. Here's an overview.
The yellow box is the Chateau, the blue box is Deer Lodge (founded, by
the way, by a woman who thought there ought to be a less expensive
place for Lake Louise visitors to stay), and the green box is public
parking for folks who've chosen to stay in the even less expensive
lodgings three miles down the hill in Lake Louise Village, just off the
Canada Highway 1. There were many hundreds such people, most of them
European or Asian.
Deer Lodge was simply perfect, having the rustic elegance of a hunting
lodge coupled with excellent food and first class service. (Sadly,
however, they hadn't the faintest clue how to make a decent Long Island
Iced Tea.) Here Lynn is warming up by the fire in the lounge adjacent
to the lobby. Having arrive five hours before we could check in, we
spent the afternoon here on our first day, with good coffee, wifi, and
a buffalo head. Sweet.
This is what the view up toward Lake Louise from Deer Lodge looked like
in the morning -- after it rained all afternoon and night.
We decided we would brave the
and rain and drive up the Icefields Parkway as far as the Athabasca
Glacier, halfway to Jasper. Boy were we glad we did! This road was
simply spectacular, the most beautiful road I've driven short of the
Denali Highway in Alaska. The trip was 80 miles each way, and the photo
ops never stopped. Some of these photos, I don't even know where
they are. I simply lost track. I'm just gonna paste them in and see if
I can label them afterwards.
The road a few miles north of Lake Louise Village on Alberta Highway
93. This road goes 150 miles from Lake Louise to Jasper traveling along
a high, narrow, rolling valley that runs right up the crest, with
mountains on both sides and lakes and rivers in the valley itself.
By the way, a geographical note: While we all know that in the US the
Rocky Mountains are the Continental Divide separating rivers that run
west to the Pacific or east/south to the Gulf of Mexico. (East of the
Appalachians the rivers flow east to the Atlantic.) What is less well
known is that there is another divide that runs along the US-Canada
border, and north of it (and east of the Rockies) rivers flow north
& east to Hudson Bay. (West of the Rockies all rivers flow to the
Pacific.) So ever since we left Glacier National Park and entered
Waterton Park, the water flows north.
Crowfoot Glacier -- for obvious reasons.
Bow Lake and Bow Glacier, sourced by the Wapta Icefield.
I should say a word about "icefields" and "glaciers": An icefield is a
huge area of very thick ice (300 - 1000 feet in this area) that sits on
a flattish area on top of a mountain range but doesn't move. Well, more
accurately, it accumulates ice at such a rate, year upon year, that it
gets too thick to keep acting like a solid and begins to act like a
giant glob of Silly Putty (a very slow liquid) and sort of "subsides",
flowing in all directions. When its edges reach the edge of the
mountains, either huge pieces of it break off and fall over the edge,
or, if there's a valley available, the ice flows down the valley as a
So icefields are the source of glaciers. In the picture above, that
high glacier is just a tiny piece of a huge icefield behind that lip --
the Wapta Icefield.
Lynn models her rain suit -- inexpensive waterproof pants that are
large enough to go over "everything" (long underwear, jeans, and thick
leather chaps), and my red Goretex mountaineering parka that, likewise,
is so big it fits over three layers of Lynn's warm undergarments plus
her motorcycle jacket liner (also waterproof), and her armored
motorcycle jacket -- and it has a hood she puts inside her helmet. She
also has a four-layer polypro "neck gaiter"or "snood" for added warmth
and wind protection. She's holding my "light" rain gloves, which can go
over her motorcycle gloves if things get really bad. (I have a heavier
Looking back SSW down the canyon we've ascended from Lake Louise
Bow Summit above Peyto Lake (out of view to the right).
Peyto Lake in patchy sun. This is a glacial lake. It really is that
I dunno. Somewhere just south of the Saskatchewan River crossing.
Patchy sun on mountains above a grass-filled lake (the work of
beavers). But look carefully, dead center in the photo, at the spire
sticking up from a mountain several miles behind the one in the foreground.
Anyone wanna go try and climb that? Sorry I couldn't get more photos of
it -- the clouds shifted so fast that, even though I saw it from
several other spots along the road, I could never get a lens on it
before it vanished.
Near the Saskatchewan River. This many-threaded river is really
starting to look like Alaska.
Mistaya Canyon, I think.
The Athabasca Glacier, coming down from the Columbia Icefield, which is
that broken mess spilling over the lip. The Columbia Icefield is twenty
miles across and spawns 40 or 50 glaciers and uncounted icefalls.
Speaking of icefalls, that is
an icefall -- where the icefield encounters an edge and simply breaks
off going over it.
Two hiking parties on Athabasca Glacier. There are also huge
six-wheeled monster snow buses that take less ambulatory people up a
groomed road on the ice. This glacier moves several centimeters per
year, which is fairly fast. Even so, it's melting back much faster than
that. In the last 5 years it's lost a kilometer of length and half its
Heading south again, spotty sun lights up the road and river.
Bow Lake again, I think. Two views, south and north.
We got back to Deer Lodge in time for hot showers after a cold day,
cocktails and hors d'ouevres in the bar, and a wonderful dinner in the Deer Lodge dining room.
Lake Louise to Sagle, ID, 290 miles
We decided we'd try to
make Sagle in one day, hoping the weather didn't stop us. We knew the
worst weather would be up in the mountains, in the first half of the
day, and that Sagle was supposed to be partly cloudy and warmer. So we
left early and encountered no discomforts more serious than a few
hunger pangs and coffee cravings when we found ourselves in a 70 mile
stretch of mountain road devoid of services. But we made it just
Sagle, ID, to Missoula, MT, 195 miles
Lynn returned to El
Segundo yesterday. Last night as Warren and Jean and I tried to sleep
we had thunder and lightning and pounding downpours for several hours,
and a power outage for a couple hours as well. This morning the sky was
briefly dry but started raining again before I could get moving, so I
packed in rain, had some coffee, and set out with some trepidation.
Suffice it to say it was a long cold wet day on a very slippery twisty
mountain road (ID/MT Hwy 200). Survival. Not fun. I didn't quite have
enough warm clothing on, so about 50 miles along I pulled into a gas
station, grabbed all my long underwear plus my waterproof socks (my
feet had been swimming in my shoes), went into the men's room to change
from the skin out, and upgraded to my heaviest, driest gloves. With
this plus coffee and some carbs I made it through. It's 9 pm and I've
been at this update since 4:00. The next three days I'll be meandering
slowly towards Bozeman via back roads and several crossings of the
Continental Divide. Tomorrow: Salmon, ID. Wednesday: Butte, MT.
Thursday: Bozeman, MT via Helena and US highways 12 and 89. A total of
688 miles to get to where I could have gotten in 400 miles on I-90. But
I don't have to be there until Thursday, and there's a lot to see that
I haven't seen. Then I see Lynn and Tania for another Darnton wedding,
and Tania and I will head slowly home together on the bike.