Archive for the '4. Calgary to Minneapolis' Category

Days 30 and 31 – Allan’s Business Visits in Interesting Places

Thursday September 4 (Muriel)

Last night’s introduction to Calgary was unimpressive:  flat terrain after the glories of the Canadian Rockies and driving through only semi-seedy areas.

However, today I got some idea of why Allan, who has been here before, thinks this is an exciting and well functioning city.  We had picked a visit to the Calgary Tower as our one must-do here.  The desk clerk suggested that we take the train rather than driving.  It was a brilliant suggestion allowing us to better see a lot of the city with less stress.  We walked a couple of blocks to the Banff Trail train station and caught a train.  As it approached Calgary’s huge centre (see, I’m learning Canadian), it converted from light rail to trolley.  We disembarked at Centre Street and walked to the tower, where we paid and took an elevator up 525 feet to the circular indoor viewing deck.


The sky was blue with scattered clouds, and we could see at least 100 miles in all directions.  We looked down at the Bow River which we had followed from the Icefields in Banff NP.  To the west were the gorgeous snow and glacier topped Rocky Mountains, and much lower rolling foothills.  The terrain was flat to the distant horizon in all other directions.  The city skyline was hardly flat.  In the huge urban center, the buildings ranged from rather tall to tall to stratospheric.  We saw many, many of what Allan identified as the City Bird of Calgary, the Construction Crane.  According to an article I read in this morning’s Globe and Mail, Calgary is growing fast and attracting many immigrants.  The average family income of immigrants living in Calgary is around $133K per year!

Back at street level we walked the length of the Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall, past the performing arts center and its park, many restaurants, the Hudson Bay Department Store, and a small farmer’s market, passing three small cowboy bands.  We walked under a few enclosed pedestrian walkways 15 feet above street level that enable Calgarians to walk from building to building without having to brave the severe winter weather here. The mix of fellow pedestrians was quite diverse racially and well dressed, with a few probably homeless people mixed in.  We eventually selected Divino Wine and Cheese Bistro where we lunched on cheeses with bread and wonderful green bean tempura with a glass of red wine.  (Note:  our favorite cheese was Brittania 5 year Cheddar (Ontario, Canada).)


Walking back to the train station, we encountered a First Nation man who muttered drunkenly but pleasantly at us.  Passing him, we had to dodge another First Nation man who was weaving unsteadily from one side of the sidewalk to the next.  For the entire train ride back to our stop, we listened to another who was a few seats behind us loudly announce over and over “I need you to help me.”  When he apparently got no help, his language became repetitively abusive.  Apparently there are many lost souls in Calgary like elsewhere.

Soon after we returned to our hotel, Dan Van Leeuwen, a business friend of Allan’s picked him up to look at a potential project, while I relaxed.  He returned two hours later.  Allan’s friend took us and his partner and partner’s wife to dinner across from Divino’s to the Tribune.  It turned out Divino’s is the friend’s favorite restaurant, so we went to his next favorite instead.  We had an excellent dinner with interesting conversation in a beautiful restored stone building dating back to the late 19th century.

Friday September 5 (Muriel)

We got up early, had breakfast, packed and headed to Flathead, Montana from Calgary where Allan had an afternoon business appointment.  Not so fast….  The main drag we needed to take to the freeway was closed to 2 of its 3 lanes for construction.  Briefly it was closed to 1 lane.  This was rush hour.  It took almost an hour to go 2 or 3 miles.  However, once we passed the construction work, we quickly got to the freeway and drove through Calgary.  It’s a very big city.

We took a series of minor highways south once we left Calgary, so as to enter Montana west of Glacier National Park.  At first the terrain was almost flat, with the Rockies in the distance to the west.  We drove through grasslands, hayfields, and prosperous looking farms with a few horses and cattle in the fields.  Then the terrain became hillier, there were areas of sagebrush, and we were driving toward Rockies to the South.  Eventually we drove through relatively low mountains on a very scenic highway.

Around midday we crossed the border into Montana.  Immediately the landscape was less forested, the roads were less well maintained, the buildings more forlorn, and we had the option of visiting about half a dozen casinos.  After an hour the landscape became more forested, the road better and the buildings were more prosperous.  We headed for the community and recreational area of Flathead Lake.  There Allan spent the rest of the afternoon in a meeting while I sipped coffee at a restaurant and read the news on the Kindle.  We had an early dinner and headed to the nearby town of Kalispell for the night.  We are looking forward to spending the next four nights in nearby Glacier National Park.


Days 32- 35 Glacier National Park

Saturday September 6 (Muriel)

After leaving our hotel in Kalispell, we drove to the local Costco to fill a prescription.  We had decided that switching our prescriptions to Costco would allow us to refill prescriptions while on the road.  After we leave Montana it will be quite some time until we are in a state that has a Costco.  While the pharmacy staff did their thing, we found hiking sox to replenish our dwindling supply.  Afterwards we found a Walgreen’s where we acquired necessities like smallish tubes of toothpaste.

Shopping was accomplished, we headed north to West Glacier Park.  We discovered our hotel for the night is in East Glacier, but took a pleasant nature walk in West Glacier before crossing the park.  We walked along a river, where we saw and learned about beaver lodges.  We also learned about the impacts of fire in this climate and observed the ongoing recovery from a 1929 burn and another from about 4 years ago.

While we paused at a bend in the river, one of the participants asked me, “What is that bird?”  It took me a while to identify the two small birds that were using a snag in the middle of the river as a base for resting and flycatching.  They had backward pointing crests, reddish heads, and bills too narrow for Cardinals.  Once I got a decent look through my binoculars at them flying, I recognized the yellow terminal edge of a Waxwing.  But the birds weren’t yellowish like Cedar Waxwings.  Borrowing Allan’s Sibley’s guide, I finally figured out that we were watching a pair of Bohemian Waxwings, a life bird for us.  It was quite a magical scene:  a pair of a species of life bird posing and flycatching straight ahead of us, while a Great Blue Heron and a deer stood in the water to the right.


After the nature walk, we set out for East Glacier through the park, despite knowing that it would take at least 3 hours, opting for the longer, scenic route.  We headed up the Going to the Sun Highway, pausing along the scenic shores of Lake MacDonald to admire the view.  Soon we were heading up the portion of this famous road that was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and dedicated in 1933.  The road became very narrow and twisty, the scenery increasingly dramatic as we headed up to Logan Pass and the Continental Divide.  The sky became cloudier.  Small droplets of water began to dot the windshield.  The elevation peaked at 6,646 feet.  The roadway narrowed to one lane, for a while, going through a tunnel with window-like openings along the drop-off side of the road.  A traffic signal controlled this one-lane stretch that seemed to be about a mile long.  We passed a second traffic signal for a short stretch where one of the lanes had collapsed and was being rebuilt.  We were glad we were traveling this road on the weekend, as repairs being made to the highway were apparently causing greater delays during the week.  As we descended the west side of Going to the Sun Highway, the rain intensified slightly.


We were to discover that Going to the Sun Highway is the only road that goes a long distance through Glacier Park.  Otherwise one drives Montana roads on the outside of the park, entering on relatively short spur roads.  We left Glacier NP and headed south along a Montana Highway to East Glacier.  The route involved a few stops for cattle and horses that were grazing along the sides of the roadway, when they decided to cross the road.  The rain, became heavy by the time we reached Glacier Park Lodge.

Our room was on the third floor of this 1913 lodge, essentially in the attic.  The ceiling was sloped at the sides of the room, and the tops of the windows were at chest height.  In addition to the king size bed we expected, there were two single beds.  We didn’t need room to sleep four people, but that wasn’t a problem.  However, there were sprinkler pipes dropped about a foot from the ceilings, including the sloped parts of the ceiling.  We couldn’t use the big bed for fear the person on the side with the sprinkler pipes would smack themselves on the pipes when half asleep.  We decided we were grateful to be warm and dry, had dinner in the lodge restaurant, and went to sleep in the extra beds in our strange room.

Sunday September 7 (Muriel)

After each clunking our heads (Allan’s on a sprinkler pipe, mine on the bathroom ceiling), we drove north and re-entered Glacier NP at Two Medicine Lake.  There we took a short walk to Running Eagle Falls.  At this time of the year, this waterfall emerges dramatically from the wall of a cave.  The rocks in the creek below the waterfall were of many colors, especially green and red.  We saw many different kinds of berry-bearing shrubs.  We found a large, papery white nest of the Bald-faced Hornet near the path.  Allan managed to photograph one of the hornets going into the nest.


We headed back to East Glacier and asked the lodge staff if they had a smaller but more comfortable room available.  They did and did not understand why they had given us the large awkward room, since there were only two of us.  They said they would move us to a normal room on the first floor as soon as it was cleaned.  So we packed and drove a few blocks to Brownie’s, the local Bakery-Deli-Hostel with WiFi.  We bought huckleberry coffee which we sipped on the establishment’s porch while catching up with email on our laptops, a sleeping dog next to my chair.

The sky was darkening and I was tired, so we headed for our room and relaxed.  The sky brightened and we took a stroll around the hotel grounds and into town.  Then we went back to the hotel for a drink and dinner, during which it rained again, but not as severely as the previous evening.  Now that we were more comfortable at the hotel, we were able to enjoy this old wooden hotel.  An unusual feature of its structure was columns made of huge tree trunks with their bark still on them.  The column capitals were huge pieces of tree.  The columns and capitals were proportioned like classic ones.   The columns on the exterior were varnished with a shiny protective coating.  The interior columns were more natural in color and finish.  The hotel was built by the Great Northern Railroad around 1913, and apparently much of it was the original building.

There were sprinkler pipes suspended from all the ceilings, no problem when the ceilings were reasonably high.  We were to discover that all of the old wood hotels in the area had modern sprinklers and their pipes suspended from the ceilings, apparently required by modern fire safety requirements.

Monday September 8 (Muriel)

After checking out, we headed north to the tiny community of St. Mary, where we stopped by the more rustic St. Mary Lodge and discussed our arrangements there for the next two nights and activities in the area.


Then we headed part way up the Going to the Sun Highway, where we parked at the trailhead for two waterfalls.  We walked through forest and clearing, where we saw a pair of Gray Jays and a Red-naped Sapsucker.  St. Mary Waterfall was lovely, and we continued on to the bottom of Virginia Waterfall, about a mile and a half from the trailhead.  We decided to skip climb above the bottom of Virginia Waterfall and headed back.  After passing St. Mary Waterfall, walking became fairly easy.  I stopped to let a couple heading toward the waterfalls pass us.


Allan looked up to see why I had stopped, tripped on a rock and fell with a thud.  Fortunately his only significant injuries were a couple of nasty cuts on the palm of his left hand from some rocks on the fairly soft soil.  We poured water from our drinking bottle on his hand and stuck bandages on the cuts and continued back to our car.  We got back to the lodge and checked in and headed to our tiny but comfortable room in a rustic wooden building across the Going to the Sun Highway.  Allan cleaned the cuts on his hand the best he could tolerate, before we crossed to the main lodge for dinner.

Tuesday September 9 (Muriel)

We drove north a short distance to the Many Glaciers park entrance.  We took a boat tour of two lakes from the boat ramp of Many Glaciers Lodge, like East Glacier Lodge, a very old wooden hotel built in the early 20th century by the Great Northern Railroad.  After crossing Swiftcurrent Lake, we disembarked and walked 0.2 miles to Josephine Lake, where we boarded a second boat.  After circling Josephine Lake, we disembarked, walked back to Swiftcurrent Lake where a boat returned us to our starting point.  The scenery was lovely, but we struck out almost entirely on wildlife.  The only birds were a crow and a trio of Common Mergansers resting on a sandy bank.  The only mammals were a pair of mountain goats on a mountain peak at least 2,000 feet above us.

We had lunch at a lounge of the hotel and took a ranger-led nature walk from the nearby Swift Current Motor Lodge.  We learned about the wildlife and plants, especially the many kinds of berries we saw, walked to a small lake and a lovely small waterfall.  Once we were back in the parking lot, some tourists called out to our ranger guide about a grizzly bear high on the mountain above the lodge.  Allan got his spotting scope from our car and let people look at the grizzly through it while the ranger went to get her scope.  I would have preferred a somewhat closer look at a bear, but greatly prefer too distant to too close a look!  Having set up his scope for the bear, Allan then pointed it at a mountain goat on the opposite mountain.

We returned to St. Mary Lodge.  Toward the end of our dinner there, we joined quite a few other diners on the restaurant deck, as a mama black bear and her cub had been seen ambling toward the lodge along the river that flows alongside.  Apparently the bears decided not to visit our stretch of the river, so we returned inside to finish our meal.

Glacier Park is lovely, although its glaciers are shrinking and many have disappeared.  Predictions are that all its glaciers will be reclassified to mere ice sheets between 2020 and 2030.  The topography is dramatic, the forests are lush, and the colors in the rocky mountainsides are lovely.  Most of the rocks are mudstone, with the majority being a pinkish maroon (the oxidized form) and many others being green (un-oxidized).  There’s a layer of black volcanic rock in many of the peaks, and other areas of golden tones.  There are many, many rivers and lakes.

Days 36 and 37 – In Transit Montana to South Dakota


Wednesday September 10 (Muriel)

We set out in light rain from St. Mary Lodge, heading south through increasing rain to East Glacier.  After breakfast at the Whistle Stop Restaurant there, we headed east along US Highway 2, a good two land road.  We drove east and southeast.  At first the drive took us through rolling prairie.  Soon the terrain became more rugged, and we headed toward low but jagged peaks.  A sign said we were entering the Big Belt Mountains.  We stopped at a view point where we climbed stairs where we could look down at the Missouri River winding below contorted green rocks.


Back on the road we crossed the Missouri many times.  Eventually we crossed the Yellowstone River a few times before getting to Billings, where we stopped for the night.  Much of the drive was in light to moderate rain.

Thursday September 11 (Muriel)

The rain ended by the time we were up and about in the morning.  We headed south and east again, leaving Montana and driving through the northeast corner of Wyoming.  There was scattered light rain throughout the drive.  We stopped for lunch in Buffalo, Wyoming, where we couldn’t resist having buffalo burgers (more correctly, bison burgers) for lunch.


On we drove into South Dakota, where we stopped in Rapid City.  This was to be our base for four nights.  We caught up on laundry and had a nice, late dinner at an Italian restaurant in downtown Rapid City.

DAYS 38-40 – Hills, Badlands and Birthday in South Dakota with Photos Added

Friday, September 12 (Muriel)

Today was to be my rather unusual 70th birthday.  Setting out late in the morning, we drove through light rain to the Black Hills National Forest.  We drove the Iron Mountain Road, through the Pigtail Bridges’ upwards spiraling roadways and through narrow tunnels.  We had distant views of Mt. Rushmore and learned about Peter Norbek, South Dakota’s farsighted governor and senator from the Teddy Roosevelt era who pushed for preserving this and other outstanding natural areas in the American west.

We drove through Custer State Park and its nature loop to the south of the park, where we saw buffalo, white-tailed deer, prong-horns, big-horned sheep and prairie dogs.  We heard the whistles of the prairie dogs better than our views of them.  Probably they were spooked by the horses that had apparently been used for rounding up the buffalo into a huge nearby field.  The reluctant horses were being led into trailers next to us, and the prairie dogs were scurrying for safety.  It was starting to rain hard and we scurried for our car.



We got back to town in time to visit the new Rapid City Cabela’s store.  In honor of my big day, I got a pair of hiking shoes (the old ones were coming apart), trail pants, and a vest.  Then back to our hotel to clean up and go out for a fancy dinner at Enigma Restaurant downtown.

Saturday, September 13 (Muriel)

We got up early and took a Gray Line Tour of the Black Hills.  This was partly duplicative of the preceding day, but it lived up to our expectations of being very informative, with an excellent driver/guide, as well as being a day off from driving.  Fortunately the weather was clear and pleasant, although the afternoon became increasingly windy and cloudy.  The tour began with a well done guided visit to Big Thunder Gold Mine.  The guide was a retired history teacher who probably didn’t have many bored students back in his classroom days.

Next we visited Mt. Rushmore, where Allan and I took the trail up to closer views of the huge monument.  Back on the bus, we stopped for a buffet lunch and then went to the Crazy Horse Memorial.  We learned much about the motivations for the on-going building of this immense monument to the Native Americans and how it is being realized.  The memorial will dwarf Mt. Rushmore if the amazing project is ever completed.  I finally bought Allan a three-month tardy anniversary gift, a Lakota belt buckle, in the gift shop.


After we were dropped off at our hotel, we headed back to Cabela’s, this time to buy a belt for Allan’s new belt buckle.  The sky had turned an ominous charcoal color and fierce winds picked up, hurling tiny raindrops at us.  We had the worst meal I can remember eating at a Chinese restaurant and returned to our hotel, the weather continuing to threaten awful events.  We were grateful the day’s outing had been in pleasant weather and that the nasty weather never became worse.

Sunday September 14 (Muriel)

The nasty weather disappeared during the night.  We drove south to Badlands National Park in pleasant weather.  On the way we stopped in the small town of Wall and visited the famous (notorious?) Wall Drugstore.  Wall Drugstore fills an entire town block with stuff to sell to tourists.  There is a small drugstore, an infinite number of knickknacks, “Western ‘art,'” T-shirts, minerals and fossils, food, replicas of Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse Monument, and on and on.  Think Madonna Inn moved to South Dakota and turned into a tourist stuff store.

Badlands National Park was delightful.  We drove through terrain that alternated between rolling grasslands (prairies) and fantastic eroded shapes in shades of gray, pink, maroon and pale gold.  There were excellent signs at overlooks that explained the geology.  One overlook offered a short pathway that was a display of fossilized mammal skulls from the Oligocene and drawings of the creatures they once belonged to.

Eventually we got to a nature center where we learned that we had been driving along the edge of an upper prairie separated from a lower prairie by a 60 mile wall of exposed sedimentary rock.  That is the wall that the town of Wall and its drugstore are named for.  Between the nature center and signs at overlooks, we learned a lot about the geology of these Badlands.  Some of the displays were reminiscent of the La Brea Tar Pits and prehistoric mammals that got trapped in soft sediment (rather than tar) at drinking holes and then attracted predators and scavengers who got trapped in turn.  These fossils are older than the ice age fossils found in the Tar Pits, Most found in the Badlands are 30 to 35 million years old.

We returned to Rapid City in time to go out for a very pleasant dinner in still pleasant weather.

Days 41 and 42 – Rapid City to Minneapolis – Hitting the Halfway Mark

September 15, 2008  (Muriel)

We spent most of the day driving east from Rapid City, SD to Sioux Falls, the largest city in South Dakota.  Rapid City has a population of around 60 thousand but serves a large trade area and has lots of shopping malls.  In the downtown area are statues of all the US presidents plus other notables like Ben Franklin.

Sioux Falls is more than twice as large, with a population of 124 thousand.  We stayed in a hotel near downtown.  To get to our dinner restaurant, we walked over the Big Sioux River and into a downtown area that included many modern financial and business buildings, as well as some restored early buildings.  We enjoyed strolling along the Sculpturewalk on Phillips Street.  Every intersection had at least two sculptures at opposite corners, and there were many additional sculptures along many of the blocks.

It is interesting and perhaps a damaging commentary on West Coast metropolitan living that in these two South Dakota cities we found a bigger and more visible commitment to quality street sculpture than in any big West Coast city.

The drive between the two cities was uneventful and somewhat boring.  Lots and lots of prairie, with cattle, hay, corn as we approached Sioux Falls, and little else.  We crossed the Missouri River, which by the time it crosses I-90 is impressively wide.  The only item of note is the reason for one of the several areas where traffic in both directions shared one side of the 4-lane the interstate.  Each direction got only one lane, but there was so little traffic that there was little slowing.  The two lanes each way are separated by a very broad median.  One side of the highway was closed while hay was harvested from the median and rolled into bales.  It seemed very quaint and very agricultural to us California freeway warriors!  Such light traffic is hard for us to believe.

By happy coincidence we ate in Sioux Falls for the second evening in a row at Minervas, the pre-eminent—and very high quality-restaurant chain of the Dakotas.  Great food, wonderful décor and service that would do well in any city.

An item I meant to include in the description of yesterday’s tour of the Badlands.  At our last stop, we got fairly good looks at a mystery bird.  We had seen a couple of Mountain Bluebirds earlier that day.  The mystery bird was about the same size.  Our impression was that it was a thrush.  It was pale overall, with a slightly yellowish cast to the upperparts.  It had a distinct thin black line through the eye that was bordered above and below in white.  The breast was whitish and the belly had a distinct reddish wash.  It had the general size and posture of a thrush and long legs.  It stayed close to the ground, not that there were any trees or bushes around.  We could not find any matches in our field guides.  Any ideas?

September 16, 2008 (Muriel)After checking out, we drove a couple of miles to Falls Park to see the Sioux Falls along the Big Sioux River.  It was a sunny, balmy morning.  We drove through extensive grassy parkland with trees, robins, a statue of a Canada Goose, and lots of live Canada Geese.

Once we parked and started to stroll toward the falls, we were stopped by a gentleman.  “I need your assistance.  I’m a retired judge and need two witnesses to the marriage I am about to perform.”  We agreed to witness the marriage and introduced ourselves to the pleasant, elderly bride and groom and strolled with them and the judge to a spot where the falls were behind the pair.  Allan took snapshots (film!) with the bride’s camera.  It was a short and moving ceremony.  We signed as witnesses and strolled on closer to the falls.

As we headed back to our car after properly photographing the falls, we found a mystery woodpecker.  Field guide study informed us we had seen an immature Red-headed Woodpecker, a species we had not seen for years and had never seen in immature plumage.  Several Blue Jays appeared, gathering acorns from the oak tree where the woodpecker had been feeding on something from leaf clusters.

The drive to Minneapolis was uneventful, with the countryside becoming somewhat hillier, more verdant with trees and shrubs, less grass, more corn, and lots of grain elevators and other big industrial-looking agricultural buildings.

Some idea of how exciting this trip is shown by the fact that the  highlight of the trip was a lunch break in Mankato Minnesota where we patronized a sports bar restaurant specializing in Buffalo Wings.  The Buffalo Wings were delicious even if the place was not exactly our natural milieu

Early rush hour traffic getting into Minneapolis was pretty bad, but not as bad as in L.A.  After cleaning up, we were taken to dinner by the mother of one of Allan’s business associates.  We strolled along the main mall a bit after dinner and got a brief automobile tour of places near downtown that we might visit during the rest of our stay here.  Our hostess explained that not only is the traffic here slowed currently by lots of construction as we had noted, but a new bridge to replace the one over the Mississippi River is due to open Thursday.

Allan reminds me that today is the half-way point in our trip with 42 days done and 42 to go. He has promised to post some thoughts on the whole pattern of our trip soon.