Thursday, December 20, 2012

Don't wait to visit Glacier National Park

Mountains, lakes, wildlife, and shrinking glaciers make for an unforgettable visit

You don't have to go into the back country to see bears in
Glacier National Park.
Warning: Don’t get out of your car when bears are nearby. Yeah, right. I’m staying in the car when dozens of other people are scurrying along the roadside to get the best photos of the black bear nibbling berries in front of us?
Maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve done when traveling, but it was one of the most exciting. In fact, I had the opportunity several more times during our August trip to Glacier National Park in Montana. The count during our five-day visit: 10 black bears and one grizzly plus numerous elk, moose, fox, mountain goats, and various small ground creatures like squirrels, chipmunks, and marmots—all viewed up close and personal.

Wildlife viewing is a favorite pastime in Glacier National Park—a great reason to put this park on your travel “short list.” But there are also other reasons why you should plan a visit--now.
Only 26 of the 150 glaciers that existed in the park in the 1850s are still there today. And for most of those, visitors see just remnants of ice high in the mountains. It’s estimated that there won’t be any more active glaciers in the park by 2030.

Kayaks on Lake McDonald

Even without wildlife and glaciers, the mountains and lakes provide some of the most spectacular scenery in the United States. Whether you view it from hiking trails, boat rides, private or tour vehicle, or while sipping a glass of wine at one of the park’s original lodges, the vistas will become etched into your heart and mind. Every turn in the road, every direction you look, there’s another landscape you’ll want to remember forever.
Rocky Point hike overlooks Lake McDonald

Specials on lodging now
Early fall is a great time to visit Glacier National Park. Golf packages are available for guests staying at Grouse Mountain Lodge until September 22. From September 20 through May 15, 2016, book three consecutive nights at Grouse Mountain Lodge and the fourth night is free.

As summer ends, it’s prime time to enjoy a beautiful drive or take a breathtaking hike on one of the trails. Explore the changing landscapes and get your third night free when you stay at any of the park’s properties now.  Book online or call 406-892-2525 to reserve.

A large park

Glacier encompasses one million acres, so it’s really not practical to try seeing it all in one visit. We chose to stay in two distinctly different areas, although we drove through additional regions of the park. We entered the park at St. Mary’s and still had about 50 miles to drive to the southern forested region around Lake McDonald. The cottages were small and rustic, but the lake, the largest lake in the park at 10 miles long and 472 feet deep, was lovely and the setting serene.

View from Many Glacier Lodge
We also stayed at Many Glacier on the east border, which, along with Swiftcurrent, is known as an excellent wildlife corridor—a fact we found to be very true. In order to enter Glacier National Park at Many Glacier, we had to exit the boundary and re-enter at the MG ranger station. But that provided excitement in the form of an opportunity to watch a large grizzly bear graze his way through a stand of berry bushes very near the road.
Several hikes start near Logan Pass
Of course, we (my husband Larry, actually) drove on the amazing, curvy Going to the Sun Road (a highlight of our park touring) to Logan Pass Visitor Center as we made our way to Many Glacier. If you're not comfortable behind the wheel, take a guided tour--but don't miss this experience.

The hike to Hidden Lake near there is one of the most stunning paths anywhere.  Wildflowers brightened the trail even though patches of ice remained in late August. It’s a doable hike for most people, as are many of the trails in Glacier. Sections of the park are well-suited to backpackers and overnight campers, but staying in original park lodges and learning the  history of these accommodations adds to the Glacier park experience. Just be sure to book far in advance for a summer visit.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier




Thursday, December 13, 2012

Waterfalls inside a mountain? Yes, atTrummelbachfalle in Switzerland

Waterfalls in Switzerland don’t seem too unusual. It snows, and in the spring water cascades down the mountains making lovely scenery.

But when the waterfalls are inside a mountain the scene becomes even more spectacular.  That’s what we found at Trummelbachfalle where ten glacier waterfalls rumble, tumble, and spray over and through rock formations.  Located a few miles from Lauterbrunnen near the tiny village of Stechelberg, Trummelbachfalle was our first stop when heading to Interlaken from the Jungfrau region.
Accessible by tunnel lift, some of the waterfalls are illuminated, which highlights the immense flow—20,000 litres of water per second—as water pours from the glaciers on Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau Mountains. In addition, the water carries 20,200 tons of boulder detritus per year that finds its way into Switzerland’s many rivers and lakes.

Water flows in a twisty corkscrew pattern.
As we rode in the lift to see the waterfalls, faint rumblings gave clues about what was happening deep inside the mountain. An amazing engineering feat has created walkways for visitors to witness the only glacier waterfalls in Europe that are inside a mountain and still accessible. 
Some of the waterfalls are long, deep, and dark, casting cool spray on our faces as we walk by. Others closer to the outside world can be seen with natural light as they wear away rock walls. One of the most interesting was Corkscrew Falls, which twists and winds through a convoluted rock formation deep in the cavern. All give off resounding echoes as they crash with a powerful flow of water.
Powerful water splashes through the rocky mountain.
Allow at least an hour to see the falls. You go upstairs to view falls six through 10 and downstairs to see two through five. Number one starts inside the mountain but is visible outside pouring water into the river that disperses the glacial flow further downstream.

After exiting Trummelbachfalle, we stopped at the outdoor tent operated as a fundraiser by local groups to get a cold drink and snack. Fields across the street were filled with early spring flowers blooming in shades of yellow, white, and purple—and there was yet another waterfall to photograph.

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Visit the "Top of Europe" at Jungfraujoch, Switzerland

Train to Jungfraujoch, Top of Europe
We’re in Interlaken, Switzerland, about to embark on a day long excursion to Jungfraujoch, which at 11,300 feet altitude is called the “Top of Europe.” The weather prediction is for 90 percent chance of rain, although it’s bright and sunny early in the morning. Blue skies and fluffy white clouds seem to foretell a pleasant day, but we’ll soon know the difference altitude makes.

Larry and I walk five minutes from our hotel to the Interlaken Ost (East) train station and catch the train to Grindelwald. We change trains at Kleine Scheidegg to the cog railway that goes across Eiger Mountain; that part of the journey takes one and a half hours. Having been in Switzerland for several days already, we’ve become pretty good at navigating the widely-used train system.
We travel through a valley with beautiful green, rolling hills. Scattered houses on hillsides dot the landscape like Monopoly houses on a game board. Cattle and sheep graze in the fields. But by the time we reach the Keline Scheidegg rail station at an elevation of 6,700 feet, snow covers the mountains. It’s a surreal scene in shades of black and white: Pristine undisturbed snow glistens in bright sunshine.

One of the stops inside a mountain tunnel.
The cog railway travels at a steep incline along the side of Eiger Mountain, then heads across Eiger (with a view of the glacier), Monch, and Jungfrau Mountains. Although windows on the train will lower for taking photos, it’s quite chilly outside, so we wait for stops along the way. Two times during the 7.3 km tunnel passage the train pauses for about 10 minutes, so passengers can quickly get out and take pictures of the icy landscape through openings carved in the mountainous rock of the tunnel.
Ice surrounds Larry in this
Ice Palace display
After arriving at our destination, we miss getting a map of the place and wind up following a tour group until we find our bearings.

We walk carefully on slippery paths in the Ice Palace and marvel at the carvings of bears, penguins, deer, and other figures displayed in icy vignettes.  These ice sculptures are permanent displays, so the temperature is best tolerated with gloves and jackets.

Visitor building with cables all around.
Yes, it was very bleak and cold.
After a snack we take the elevator to the Sphinx, where an outdoor terrace provides exceptional views of surroundings mountains. Except today (early May) it is snowing—so thick and heavy the only vision we have is of pure white all around. We’re disappointed that the weather has become so cold and windy, but that’s the chance visitors take when planning this mountainous trip. Even the section called Ice Fun was closed—no skiing, sledding, or even snowballs to duck on this day.
Still, Jungfraujoch is such a unique experience through a snowy Alpine wonderland that I’d recommend it if you are in the region. After a few more photos, we board the train for the return trip. Traveling through dark tunnels makes my eyes heavy, but I snap out of it so as not to miss remaining views of the journey. We change trains twice and are relieved to get back to milder temperatures at Interlaken. 

A bowl of hot, cheesy lasagna is a welcome finish to the day’s adventure.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Eating your way through Door County, Wisconsin

Driving through coastal communities with names like Sister Bay, Egg Harbor, and Fish Creek was my first clue that Door County, Wisconsin would be a delightful destination with plenty of small-town friendliness and intriguing dining experiences. The Door does not disappoint.
Taste the cherry jam!
While visitors come for the peninsula’s 300 plus miles of shoreline, state parks, historic lighthouses, art galleries, wineries, theater, and shopping, Door County offers a variety of culinary options. For example:
  • Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery and Market—Everything’s coming up cherries here. Take a tour of the 50-year-old orchard and cider mill.  See how the fruit is picked and packaged, sample pies still hot from the oven, and then buy scrumptious cherry jam, dried cherries, or cherry wines to take home. Better yet, have a cherry picnic on premises.

Cream cheese filled cherry French toast
  • An authentic fish boil at the Old Post Office Restaurant in Ephraim is an experience unique to Door County. Whitefish freshly caught by local fishermen is cooked with onions and potatoes outside over a wood fire just as it was by the Scandinavian settlers.  A spectacular ending involves a “boil-over,” with flames shooting in the air to expel oils from the fish. The result is a delicious, mild-tasting main course, served with plenty of local sides and cherry cobbler for dessert.
  • White Gull Inn in Fish Creek is home to “America’s Best Breakfast” as voted by Good Morning America a few years ago.  Order the specialty, cream cheese-filled cherry French toast, for a sweet morning treat.  Beats pancakes any day. In winter, cozy up to the fireplace to start your day with a warm heart and full tummy--as visitors have done since 1896.
  • Wilson’s Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor in Ephraim features home-brewed draft root beer. A Door County landmark since 1906, Wilson’s specializes in ice cream treats like Cherry Berry Delight, Classic Turtle Sundae, thick floats and malts—and music from old-time jukeboxes. Sit outside under classic red and white striped awnings and bask in remembrances from years past—or just pretend you’re living in the good old days.
  • Sip Fred and Fuzzy’s famous cherry margarita while listening to live music at the Waterfront Bar and Grill in Sister Bay. It’s the perfect way to while away a summer evening.
  • Feel like splurging?  Head to Harbor Fish Market and Grill in Baileys Harbor for an evening of exceptional waterfront dining. Wander the garden area outside, or just enjoy the view from large windows indoors. Cherry martini, anyone?
  • Fine dining is also available.
    Relax by the bay with a cherry
  • Be sure to sample the whitefish chowder, a menu item at The Cookery Restaurant and Bar in Fish Creek since 1977. It’s a homey place, but the food is superb. Their bacon wrapped dates basted in maple syrup and Dijon are to-die-for.
  • Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Monday, December 3, 2012

Winter events at Wembley Area in London

Article and photos provided by Catherine Moraru.

Wembley Arena in London
Heading to London in December? If you’re in a party mood, check out Wembley Arena for an array of events to ensure that your Christmas season gets off to a show-stopping start. Wembley Arena is London’s most iconic concert and events venue with facilities for all kinds of performances, hotels, bars, and easy transportation to other parts of the city.
Whatever type of entertainment you are looking for during the season of fun and frolics, why not make the most of your time in the capital and stay at the Travelodge hotel near Wembley arena? Just a few steps away from your budget base you will be able to catch the tube into the centre and explore Christmas delights such as Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park and the Southbank Centre Christmas Market.

Events in December 2012
You Me At Six

After a phenomenal year for the five You Me At Six boys, they’re back at the Wembley Arena on 8 December to round up The Final Night Of Sin tour. Expect nothing but one of the best musical experiences, as Kerrang’s Best British Band performs hits such as No One Does It Better, Loverboy, Bite My Tounge, and more.
Disney On Ice Presents Passport to Adventure!

A variety of sporting events
are held in Wembley Stadium
Passport to Adventure is another date in the family adventure diary. Children will be mesmerised as their favourite Disney characters – including classics, princesses and Pixar creations – take to the rink to perform. Expect lots of cheery, upbeat action all set to a typical Disney soundtrack. Taking place in the Christmas holidays, from 28 December 2012 to 6 January 2012, this ice spectacular is the way to spend an afternoon, mid-festivities.
Other December dates for your diary: Bollywood Showcase 2012 (16 December), and Jeff Wayne's The War of The Worlds (6 December 2012)

Find events and book tickets directly online via the Wembley Arena website.Sometimes popular events sell out quickly. If you can’t find tickets for the event you were hoping to attend, check out for last minute purchases.
This article is sponsored by Travelodge and Thomas Cook tours.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Parque de las Leyendas, Lima's Zoo: the Coast, Jungles, and Mountains

Today's guest post and photos are from Andrew Kolasinski.

At Parque de las Leyendas (Park of Legends) in Lima you can visit all of Peru’s ecological zones and their wildlife in a single afternoon. It is Lima’s largest and most established zoo.

 Animals to see: The zoo is divided into three sections; three of them re-create Peru’s distinct environmental zones. There is a marine (Costa) park, a Jungle area, and uplands or Sierra zone, which includes the high Andes. In addition there is an International Zone with animals from around the world including hippopotami, tigers, and lions.

 The zoo has 73 species of mammals, 28 species of reptile, 20 species of fish as well as amphibians, arachnids, and a butterfly exhibit. Among the stars of the animal kingdom are: pumas, jaguars, crocodiles, spider monkeys, and sloths. You will rarely have such an opportunity to glimpse the Speckled Bear, giant Anaconda, or Black Jaguar. The zoo also features thousands of species of Peruvian plants.

 Of course, one animal you will see plenty of at Parque de las Layendas is human children. The zoo is a hit with family and school groups, and at times it is difficult to get a good vantage point to observe some of the more popular animals.

Inside the Amazonia section the temperature and humidity may seem uncomfortably realistic. Luckily there were no free flying mosquitoes and other jungle pests. Paths connecting the different zones pass though ancient adobe ruins. With the sun blazing down, the arid coastal desert is a great contrast to the Amazon’s shade and humidity, and the marine park’s cool tanks and pools.

The zoo is constantly making efforts to provide the animals with more natural elements in their surroundings, but regardless of esthetics, the animals are housed in sustaining environments. Although the Andean Condors hardly have room to spread their wings in their enclosure, these condors contribute to the zoo’s research and are part of a captive breeding program.

Learn culture and archaeology of Peru: The zoo is tucked among the remains of adobe pyramids and temples. It was a ceremonial center for the Lima Culture beginning in m the first century AD until the sixth century. Successive cultures including the Curacazgo, the Ychsma, the Wari, and the Incas all left their marks here. Some structures date back 2,000 years.

The ancient city sat on four kilometers surrounding the surviving archeological site. Maranga was the name of the community when the Spanish arrived. The Lima people and their culture were conquered by the Wari, and finally the Inca. Each successive culture modified the buildings to suit their own needs.

There are 53 temples and a small archeological museum with artifacts (including mummies) excavated from the area as well as interpretive displays and re-creations of the living ancient community. The remains of the city’s great defensive wall run through the zoo. In addition to Maranga Archeological displays, the Parque de la Layendas also has a small museum about Peru’s petroleum industry.

Parque de las Leyendas is in the San Miguel neighborhood, a twenty minute taxi ride from Plaza de Armas. The zoo is located at Avendida Las Leyendas 580 – 586, San Miguel, Lima. Open Monday to Sunday 9 a, to 6 pm, admission is $8.50 adults, $4.00 children

If you’re planning a trip to Lima, consider contacting Aracari Peru Travel, a leading travel agent in Peru and specialist in custom-designed, unique cultural and travel experiences.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Affordable Kauai

Waimea Canyon on Kauai, Hawaii
Known for its lush, green gardens and contrasting jagged mountain coastline, Kauai is often called the Island of Discovery. So it's a good thing that discovering nature on the Garden Isle can be free or almost so. Its beauty is available for everyone to enjoy--and visitors, whether first time or repeat--continue to discover fascinating and affordable ways to love and appreciate Kauai.
Here are some of the highlights that I’ve learned about from two visits to this beautiful island:

View on Kalulua Trail on Hawaii's North Shore
Marvel at the Grand Canyon of the PacificWaimea Canyon is a sightseer’s paradise—a mile wide, 10 miles long, and more than 3,500 feet deep. Of course, you can admire the brilliant colors from established walks and trails. Take a picnic lunch to enjoy at the uppermost point overlooking the valley in Koke’e State Park. Kalalau Lookout and other points provide stunning views of the once-cultivated valley that extends to the Pacific Ocean. More adventurous folks might choose to hike into the crater—letting the sumptuous plant life and multi-colored rock formation envelope you.
Hike in rainforests or lush valleys—Trails immerse visitors in Kauai’s verdant wilderness on comfortable walks or challenging treks. Serious hikers will want to tackle at least part of the 11-miles-long Kalalua Trail along the majestic Napali Coast (we’ve done a short portion of the trail two times). Because of frequent rainfalls, the often-narrow trail is damp and slippery, so good hiking shoes are a must. Views are simply spectacular, but hold on to your hat as the winds can be ferocious.
Kayakeers leave their watercraft when hiking to
Surprise Falls
Kayak on the Wailua River—The only navigable rivers in Hawaii are found on Kauai. Rent a kayak and paddle along Wailua River, beside lush, tropical foliage, to the famous amphitheater called Fern Grotto, and on to Surprise Falls. Once a sacred place reserved for kings and high chiefs of Hawaii, now you can have a wonderful, soothing adventure here, either on your own or with a guide. (A riverboat journeys up the river for non-kayakers).
OpaeKa'a Falls is a joy to behold
View spectacular waterfalls—In Lihu’e you can drive right up to 80-foot Wailue Falls, seen in the opening credits of the 1970s television show Fantasy Island. In scenic Wailua, Opaeka’a Falls on the island's east side is it's most accessible, a majestic sight as it cascades into a pool hidden beneath lush vegetation. A walkway allows you to see the waterfall from several angles,  a tempting scenario for the insatiable photographer in many of us.
Hit the beach—Kauai has more than 50 miles of gorgeous beaches.  Forty-three white sand beaches range from popular touristy Poipu to lesser-known swatches of sand. All invite visitors to lounge in the sun or snorkel for views of undersea coral and fish. If you prefer to escape the crowds, check out numerous secluded coves on the island.
Overlooking a beach on the North Shore
Shop for locally-made items--Visit artists’ galleries at tiny Hanapepe. The quaint old-fashioned town is filled with beautiful works of art including exquisite pieces of furniture, wood carvings, paintings, ceramics, and hand-crafted jewelry. Spend an hour or two browsing, and you’re sure to find the perfect gifts for folks back home—or something special for yourself.
For more information contact Kauai Visitors Bureau, 800-262-1400, or go to

Photos by Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Save on holiday cruises in the South Pacific with Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin Cruises, operator of the highest-rated and longest continually sailing luxury cruise ship in the South Pacific, the m/s Paul Gauguin, offers two 7-night Tahiti & the Society Islands voyages on 5+ star ship. It’s the perfect way to celebrate December holidays—even better now because both sailings feature savings of 50% off standard cruise fares plus included airfare from Los Angeles.

Celebrate onboard. On The Gauguin’s December 22, 2012, voyage, guests can enjoy a “White Christmas” on French Polynesia’s white-sand beaches. Or ring in the New Year on the South Seas in style during the December 29, 2012, sailing.

Both Tahiti & the Society Islands holiday voyages cruise roundtrip from Papeete, Tahiti, visiting Raiatea and Taha’a, and overnighting in Bora Bora and Moorea. A highlight of each voyage is a visit to Paul Gauguin Cruises’ private islet, Motu Mahana, off the coast of Taha’a, to enjoy an expansive barbecue with full-service bar, snorkeling, watersports, and activities such as learning the art of cracking a coconut.  Paul Gauguin Cruises also offers the opportunity to relax at its exclusive, private white-sand beach in Bora Bora, with bar service, volleyball, swimming, sunbathing, and snorkeling.  

Make it a family affair. Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment Youth Program is available on both sailings and introduces travelers ages 9 to 17 to the extraordinary natural wonders of French Polynesia.  The program provides hands-on, interactive experiences with marine and island ecosystems with participants exploring coral reefs, hiking rainforest trails, and visiting marae (ancient Polynesian temples) as well as learning how black pearls and vanilla are cultivated and how volcanic islands become coral atolls. The program is available for a fee of $299 per child, and parents have an option to join their children on eco-excursions and other activities aboard and ashore.

La Veranda
It doesn’t get better than this. The Paul Gauguin can accommodate 332 guests with a staff of 217. It is one of the top Exclusive Charter and Incentive Group venues in the industry and has completed more than 570 South Pacific cruises since its inaugural sail in 1998. The Gauguin has undergone more than $25 million in enhancements, with an additional $7 million completed in January 2012. The Gauguin received second place for small- ship cruise lines in Travel + Leisure’s “2012 World’s Best Awards” and was recognized as one of the “Top 20 Small Cruise Ships” by readers of Condé Nast Traveler in 2012.

Cruise fares for both holiday voyages start at $4,697 per person and include airfare from Los Angeles, while the third person in a stateroom sails free (airfare not included). For rates and reservations, contact a travel professional, call 800-848-6172, or visit

Information and photos courtesy of Vanessa Bloy, Director of Public Relations, Paul Gaugin Cruises



Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Unknown: Yoho National Park in the Canadian Rockies

Outstanding view heading into Yoho National Park in Canada
I had never heard of Yoho National Park until I started researching our trip to Canada. When I learned that Yoho is the Cree word for amazement, I knew we’d have to go there.

Located in British Columbia on the western slopes of the Rockies (Banff National Park, which borders Yoho to the east, is in the province of Alberta), Yoho is accessed by the Trans-Canada Highway. Created in 1886, it’s the smallest of the four contiguous national parks in the Canadian Rockies, but it can hold its own with breathtaking waterfalls, ice fields, lakes, and general ruggedness. For hearty outdoor enthusiasts, it offer fabulous hiking along the186-mile trail system.

One of the spiral tunnels that make rail travel safer and more accessible
Yoho is just 17 miles from Lake Louise, so we planned a day trip to hit the highlights that are accessible from the road. If you want to visit the area around Lake O’Hara, possibly hiking the shoreline or other lakes in the back country, you must take the shuttle bus on a road closed to the public. Visitors are limited in order to protect the natural resources, so reservations must be made months in advance. Since our time was limited, we opted to tour in our car and take shorter hikes to notable sights.
The first stop was at Spiral Tunnel Viewpoint and KickingHorse Pass National Historic Site. Spiral tunnels through the mountains were completed in 1909 and reduced the original railway grade of 4.5 percent (steepest of any railway in North America) to a safer 2.2 percent.

The Yoho River, fed by the Wapa Icefield to the north, flows through the narrow valley and converges with Kicking Horse River in a powerful splurge of waters coming from two separate cascades. Much of the park’s natural beauty has evolved from these rivers.

Takakkaw Falls is definitely magnificent.
When we turned off the Trans-Canada Highway onto Yoho Valley Road, the character of our sightseeing drive changed dramatically. This challenging road rises steeply from the valley with several tight switchbacks (no trailers allowed on the road).  It ends at Takakkaw Falls, the most impressive waterfall in the Canadian Rockies. Takakkaw, which means magnificent in Cree, roars 850 feet over a sheer rock wall at the upper edge of the Yoho Valley, creating a spray felt a hundred yards away. Walking to the base of the falls, the temperature dropped noticeably as we got closer, and the wind blew stronger. Multiple layers of water tumbled over rocks and cliffs , and folks who didn’t mind getting soaked could climb to a large rock outcropping for an excellent photo op.

Natural Bridge is an awesome sight
Yoho Valley Road took us back to the main highway and on towards Field, the only town with facilities and supplies in the park. Less than two miles west of Field we stopped for another intriguing sight—Natural Bridge. Here, Kicking Horse River has worn a narrow hole through limestone creating an arched bridge over rushing water. Eventually, the force will wear away the rock and create a waterfall. For now, it’s a worthy stop, just to admire the powerful water from the man-made overlook bridge. Still, we couldn’t resist walking –carefully—onto the rocky precipices for better photo opportunities of the mighty waterfall.

Emerald Lake is one of the prettiest in Canada.
After a brief stop at the Visitor Center in Field, we drove Emerald Lake Road to see stunning Emerald Lake while enjoying a late picnic lunch.  Surrounded by a spruce forest and tall mountain peaks, the lake was very crowded on Sunday—until a brief rain shower cleared out most visitors. Then it was truly peaceful and pretty, a wonderful place to walk along the shore admiring abundant flowers, mountain reflections, and sparkling water—attributes that make Yoho a popular park for those in the know.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, October 19, 2012

On the road from Lake Louise to Jasper with stop at Columbia Icefield


Just outside Lake Louise, we saw this stunning reflection on Herbert Lake.
The drive from Lake Louise to Jasper in Banff National Park is only 188 miles, but plan for it to take all day. The reason: There are 13 viewpoints (and even more unmarked pull-outs) with magnificent lake and mountain landscapes along the way. You’ll need to keep your camera handy because it’s very obvious why the Icefields Parkway, otherwise known as Hwy. 93, is considered one of the world’s great mountain drives.

Peyto Lake's unusual shape has landed it on many postcards.
We were just a few miles out of Lake Louise when perfect reflections on Herbert Lake caught our attention, causing us to turn around for picture-taking. Then we stopped to photograph Crowfoot Glacier, a spot with lovely wildflowers blooming and elk wandering around. Bow Glacier was visible when we stopped by Bow Lake.
Peyto Lake, a lovely postcard-perfect destination, is recognized by its finger-like extensions at one end. A 10-minute walk on a paved trail led to the overlook where beautiful turquoise water is a reminder of the receding glacier that feeds the lake.

Glaciers abound, so we took plenty of photos.
Uplifts on mountain peaks are readily visible in the delineated strata. Fir, spruce, pine, and willow trees grow thickly along the roadside. Anemones, Indian paintbrushes, asters, and lupines are among the flower varieties we often saw. The day was sunny which made for stunning reflections on Waterfowl Lake and of different glaciers high up in the mountains.
The Ice Explorer takes guests onto Athabasca Glacier at the Columbia Icefield.
We arrived at the Columbia Icefield Center about noon and enjoyed an outdoor picnic lunch before taking the Ice Explorer Tour out onto Athabasca Glacier. After taking a bus to the base of Mount Wilcox, we boarded an Ice Explorer, one of only 22 in the world, for the 90-minute tour. Ice Explorers provide the safest way to tour a glacier, since the ice surface can be uneven, broken, or thin in places resulting in a potentially dangerous adventure. The vehicle waddles down a 32 degree grade from a dirt path onto the ice. Each vehicle has 10 huge tires, replaced every four year and kept at 15 psi in order to traverse the bumpy surface.

Posing with the Canadian flag during our glacier adventure.
Out on the glacier, we had almost half an hour to explore on our own. Warned about slippery ice, crevices and thin spots, we stepped lightly (although I did see one lady break through ice up to her shin—wet and cold). I filled Larry’s water bottle with glacial flow and climbed to the top of an ice hill to pose for pictures. It was hard to imagine that we were standing on 3,000 feet of ice. As with all glaciers in the area, Athabasca has been retreating since the 1880s (when statistics were first recorded). It’s possible to explore the Icefield area on your own, either on foot or by driving certain roads, but the Ice Explorer provided an incredible and unique experience.
Back at the Icefield Center, we visited the Glacier Gallery on the lower floor, with displays that told about glacier formation and movement. A large fiberglass model showed the entire Columbia Icefield and helped us gain perspective for Athabasca Glacier, Wilcox Mountain, Wilcox Pass, and this entire frozen environment. Also at the Center are a restaurant, snack bar, and limited hotel rooms at Glacier View Inn. The best thing about these options is the stupendous view on clear day.

Athabasca Falls near Jasper
After basking in the breathtaking scenery, we headed on to Jasper, with the Icefields Parkway paralleling Athabasca River. Twenty miles south of Jasper we stopped at Athabasca Falls. Here turbulent water cuts through boulders creating new paths in a narrow gorge.  Rock walls of the canyon are multi-hued and layered like ridges of stacked cardboard. Walkways lead to multiple viewpoints above and below the falls, each spectacular sight enticing us to keep clicking our cameras. Ten hours after beginning this incredible journey we arrived in Jasper.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Read more travel stories at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Don't overlook Moraine Lake in Banff National Park

Understandably, Lake Louise in Canada’s Banff National Park gets a lot of the attention. It’s certainly worthy of the many photos taken and time spent strolling along its mile-long shoreline path--probably the busiest path in all of the Canadian Rockies.

 Clear turquoise water attracts visitors to Moraine Lake.
Even though you could spend hours soaking up the glorious mountain scenery and reflections at Lake Louise, don’t overlook Moraine Lake. Located eight miles from Lake Louise Drive, it’s too close to skip and too beautiful to leave off your vacation itinerary. There's also a lodge in case you decide you'd like to spend more time hiking and relaxing along Moraine's shores.

Canoeing on Moraine Lake's beautiful water with 10 mountains in the background
Set in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, Moraine Lake is surrounded by towering mountains, a source of inspiration ever since Walter Wilcox became the first white man to reach its shore in 1899.  The lake often remains frozen until June, but during our August visit it was spectacular. Moraine Lake was our chosen spot for a canoe adventure, a decision reinforced as we glided through clear turquoise water surrounded by stunning mountains. Paddling is easy to the end of the lake, where a small cascade spills into the main body of water.

Plan to take your time because you’ll want to stop and admire the mountains (all over 10,000 feet) and maybe even climb the rock pile that forms a barrier along the lake. Stepping carefully on floating logs, half submerged in the water, you’ll feel like a gymnast on a balance beam--until you reach the boulders. Then it’s a tough climb to the top--a challenge that goads on many visitors, children and adults alike. If you’re not careful, you might end up wet like the kids we saw fall off logs into the cold water. 

A trail follows the northern shore, and walking there is the easiest way to appreciate the beauty of this alpine lake. The flat trail weaves through shoreline trees and offers incredible views of the 10 peaks, including Tower of Babel, a mountain we especially enjoyed observing while canoeing on the lake. Scattered evergreen trees and an artist’s palate of colorful flowers--tall pink spikes, small white daisies, purple mountain asters, and more created an unforgettable lake and mountain scene.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier
Read more travel stories at Striped Pot and Austin Adventure Travel

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Canada's Lake Louise is the postcard perfect mountain scene

Heading to Lake Louise

Deb and Beverly hike on the Lower
Falls trail at Johnston Canyon in
Banff National Park in Canada.
Before leaving Banff, we took an hour to soothe tired muscles at Banff’s Upper Hot Springs—just as visitors have done for more than 125 years. Water flows out of the mountain at 116 degrees F, but it’s cooled to 104 F, a tolerable and very therapeutic temperature.  Lunch at a popular artisan bakery and deli fortified us for the drive to Lake Louise.
Instead of driving on the Trans-Canada Highway, we took the slower but more scenic Bow Valley Parkway. Known as a wildlife corridor, the road also features numerous picnic spots, viewpoints, and hiking trails. But traveling at mid-day was not the best time to see wildlife.

Along the way, we stopped at one of the most popular trails in Banff National Park, Johnston Canyon, which drops about 100 feet over a series of spectacular waterfalls.  Catwalks and viewing platforms allow a unique variety of vantage points for scoping out the canyons and falls. Instead of just walking along the top of the canyon, there’s a platform at the bottom of the Lower Falls trail that allows you to see the Upper Falls (another mile, if you choose to walk there).  We also stopped for incredible views of Castle Mountain and Tunnel Mountain and arrived at Lake Louise late afternoon. 
The Post Hotel

Immaculate grounds of the Post Hotel in Lake Louise
Our home for the next three nights was Post Hotel and Spa in the heart of Lake Louise Village, a tiny hamlet that has been developed to support visitors to the area. Built beside the picturesque Pipestone River in 1947, the Post Hotel was originally a ski lodge. But the influx of summer visitors necessitated renovations and additions. As a result of several upgrades and improvements, in 1990 the Post was accepted into the prestigious Relais & Chateau organization, a designation only achieved by the best quality independently owned hotels all over the world.
We loved the Post (so-named because it once housed the local post office), perched in the midst of so much natural beauty. Our comfortable suite featured plenty of space to spread out--a sitting area, separate bedroom, large bath with Jacuzzi tub and separate shower, and a balcony overlooking the immaculately manicured grounds. Chairs on the lawn called for quiet reading or relaxing. Conveniently located, Samson Mall--where a smattering of gift shops and delis, a market, liquor store, restaurant, and bakery lined up in the only shopping spot  in town--was just a quick walk over the bridge from the Post.

Lake Louise is breathtaking
Reflections during morning stillness create an indescribably
beautiful scene of lake, mountains, and glacier
Towards evening we drove about 10 minutes to Lake Louise for our first look at the quintessential Canadian mountain scene, familiar to any visitors searching postcard racks for the perfect "wish-you-were-here" picture to send friends and family. Known for sparkling blue water, Lake Louise is situated at the base of two mountains with Victoria Glacier smack-dab in the middle. The scene is even more amazing at sunrise, as we found out during our early-morning visit the next day.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier