camping

Searching for Grizzlies with Huckleberry Wheat!

We were on the tail end of two great days in Glacier National Park and we still hadn't seen a grizzly bear. We didn't exactly want to come face to face with a 500lb claw ball but we still wanted to see one nevertheless. Our best shot was to go out at dusk in the car and scour the wilderness. In order to do so it was essential to have both the binoculars and a beer with a picture of a bear on it.

We headed into the local store not only in pursuit of a beer but a beer with 'a picture of a bear on it' - not easy to do in most large retail establishments! However, this was bear country so I was hopeful. I looked at the selection of singles in the cooler. There were four beers and surprisingly one of them pictured a bear! I picked up the chilled bottle and read 'Huckleberry Wheat.' I wasn't impressed. I generally don't like wheat beer or fruit beer so a combination of the two seemed like a bad idea but a bear's favorite fruit are huckleberries so I took it to the counter!

The kit for finding bears! 

The kit for finding bears! 

I chilled my Huckleberry Wheat and headed for a ranger event in which we had the privilege of attending a talk called 'Native America Speaks' - an hour of singing and information from a very inspirational character called Jack Gladstone about his life and the history of the Blackfeet Tribe. He sang a song with his guitar about 'a bear that stole the chinook.' Yet more bear related material leading us to believe that this was our night.

The scene was set. It was dusk. We had our huckleberry wheat beer from the Great Northern Brewing Company, we had been singing songs about bears who stole the wind and we had our binoculars. In order to find a bear I had to feel like a bear. We drank the Huckleberry Wheat and shivered, not because it was cold but because the taste wasn't to our liking and we began to search the mountains from the road for signs of bears.

We looked for some time and we still couldn't find one. To be precise we couldn't find anything, not even a chipmunk. I couldn't understand it, it was dusk, I was feeling native and I had my 'bear goggles' on! Rather sullenly Haley began the drive back to the campsite and I was left contemplating why fruit beers always leave a weird taste in your mouth when all of a sudden a bear ran across the road in front of our car! It was brown and it was fairly big! Could it have been a grizzly?! Or was it a lighter colored black bear? It all happened so quickly. He lumbered across the road 50 yards before our eyes and disappeared into the bushes! We were both super excited! Perhaps the bear was feeling sorry for us because we didn't enjoy the beer and he had heard of our search. Maybe he had decided to give us a quick glimpse to make us feel better! What a sight to see! The beer was ok but the bear was great!

Beer-o-meter rating: 5/10

Bear-o-meter rating: 10/10

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Banff - Cliffs, Colorful Lakes and Cheeky Wolves!

The lady in the AAA shop back in Boston told us that we should definitely go to Banff. She said that it was one of the best places she had ever visited and that we simply had to go. She was no stranger to travel herself having meandered through nearly all the states in the USA and the more she spoke to us the more we felt as though we needed to make a detour to visit this haven! Her enthusiasm was infectious: she told us of incredible mountain vistas, ample opportunities to hike the hundreds of miles of trails within the region and of the abundant wildlife that called the National Park home. By the end of our fifteen minute conversation we had already decided that Banff sounded like a place we had to visit. And so we added it to our route.

To put things into perspective, Banff is a the name of a town within Banff National Park which is itself part of a huge network of five National Parks. When looking at an ariel view of the map it appears as a huge splodge of green straddling British Columbia and Alberta. The area features glaciers found amongst the rugged crevices of the northern Rocky Mountains and when they melt they provide streams and waterfalls which turn into amazingly azure glacial lakes. Wildlife in Banff is diverse and truly wild. Grizzly bears, black bears, cougars, wolves, coyotes, marmots and eagles can all be found here as well as numerous other small animals.

Having set off from Glacier National Park at 7am we were within the park boundary by 12pm. We set up our backpacking tent which takes a whole five minutes to assemble and headed to the town of Banff to explore. Put plainly, the town of Banff is brilliant. First and foremost it is a year round tourist town as it caters for a huge influx of summer visitors/hikers as well as the winter skiers. Everything in the town has been planned to perfection. The buildings are immaculate and built from local wood and it's incredibly clean. The main street has a bustling vibrancy to it that is amplified by the huge variety of accents and languages you can hear. People fly from all over the world to visit this place and it was not difficult to see why. Not only can you wander around this pretty place adorned with hanging baskets and pubs but you can look to the sky and see massive bare rock mountains towering over the town that light up in the sun like a shining shiny thing!

After completing our laundry (not particularly enthralling but not too many opportunities when camping!) and making a trip to the liquor store to check for local beverages (found a great one from Grizzly Paw Brewing!) we headed back to the campsite to cook and to finally get a shower after days of primitive camping!

The next day was one of the best days on our trip so far. We had planned a 9 mile hike from Lake Louise which is one of the most famous glacial lakes in the region. We arrived early before the crowds, packed the bear spray and approached the lake. The color of the lake left us pondering whether it could be such a natural phenomenon. It's bright blue, cloudy but electrifying. The only way I can describe it is as toothpaste blue, whatever that means. Whilst still gazing at the lake we began our climb to Lake Agnes, yet another glacial lake via Mirror Lake. The fresh air of the pine trees that encompass the whole area filled our lungs and the more we climbed the more we wanted to stop and take photos of the incredibleness!

Passing the two lakes (Mirror Lake being exactly like a mirror, so reflective that it could be the very one Narcissus became obsessed with!) we headed for the two peaks of Little Beehive and Big Beehive. One relatively strenuous climb later which involved stopping to watch a marmot going about his daily routine we reached the top. We dropped our packs and took in the panorama that opened up before us. At 7,400ft we were high enough to see everything we wanted to see! We peered over the edge of the cliff, Big Beehive was not named lightly - the drop was sheer on every side with the rock mottled and uneven like the sides of a beehive.

As we made our way back down to Lake Louise, clapping loudly every so often so as not to have a surprise interaction with a bear we marveled at the vast array of wildflowers on either side of the trail. With the sun beaming down on us we were ready for a cheeky beverage and we hastily made our way back to the campsite to see out the remainder of the day.

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But the fun didn't end there. Later on at dusk as we were sitting in our easy chairs Haley saw something creeping towards us. I turned my head to look and saw a wolf sneaking up on us from about 20 meters away! We both stood up quickly and the wolf made its exit (albeit after hesitating!) through the woods! A little scary but fantastic!

The lady in AAA shop was not wrong, Banff sure is a great place!

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Note - We only took pictures of our hike with the camera as I didn't take the IPad so we don't have them available to add to the post yet! And we only have one flip phone between us so that ain't gonna take no photos! 

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The Badlands - Not bad at all!

We arrived at Badlands National Park about 7am. We had intentionally timed our arrival so that we could have the park to ourselves for a few hours until the masses arrived. That gave us time to awe at the incredible mounds of fossilized soil and clay that stand at obtuse angles like huge termite towers, seemingly so brittle that they almost could crumble at the touch.

We meandered our way down the empty roads, stopping every so often to marvel at the eerie silence surrounding this alien landscape. We were on our way to Sage Creek Campground- it's right at the edge of The Badlands Wilderness on the west side of the park. It's a free campground with approximately 15 campsites down a dirt track, where Bison are said to roam, Bighorn Sheep like to graze and Prairie Dogs like to live! The dirt track passes some of the most incredible scenery in the park that all the folks who stay on the main road don't get to see. The road continues through Robert's Prairie Dog Town which is literally a huge field full of Prairie Dog burrows. The Prairie Dogs are hilarious to watch, shaking their tails and darting in and out of their underground homes when they sense danger! 

Arriving at the campsite we were not disappointed. We are privy to primitive camping. Primitive camping usually means that resources at sites are limited with the only buildings being composting toilets and if you are lucky, possibly a trash bin. There are no showers, no shops and no huge RV's and we consider this to be a blessing, especially when visiting a National Park. As a bonus, the sites are normally free!

Returning back to the main area of the park, the main stretches and viewpoints were beginning to get busy so we decided to take a walk and wander into the start of the backcountry. We prepared ourselves for rain and set off down the Castle Trail. Within minutes we were soaking wet and sliding around on the clay. The rain runs down the huge mounds of mud and creates a stream on the trail that looks like chocolate milkshake. We persevered and walked four miles, keeping our eyes opened for rattlesnakes and laughing every time one of us fell. By the time we got back to the car I could see people staring at us from the comfort of their cars. The thing is, they didn't have as much fun as we had.

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The Road to Ohio

There are long drives and then there are LONG drives. In England, my friends raise their eyebrows and make small exclamations of disbelief if I say I am driving anything greater than forty miles. Today we drove 670 miles.

Covering that sort of distance in a day requires some serious interstate driving and although I'm inclined to often try to avoid highways it was impossible to reach the border of Ohio without doing so. However, we were still determined to veer off the blandness and the repetitiveness of the speedy roads (not always bland, but still) and take smaller, less traveled routes. That is where you find variety. That is where you are able to get away from the rest stop monotony. That is where you find real America, right?!

Setting off from Boston at 4am with a 'go west' mentality we didn't branch off the interstate until we reached western Pennsylvania. Apart from looking at the scenery our main goal was to obtain fruit; Pretzels and Clif Bars can only give you so much satisfaction!

We drove through a few towns before my wife noticed the 'Red and White Store' (it was indeed red and white) with a big sign that said 'FRESH FRUIT.' We pulled up outside and opened the door with positive anticipation. I was immediately hit with the smell of stale cigarette smoke that had been lingering in the shop since 1962. Venturing inside I noticed the fresh fruit....It consisted of a box of sprouting onions and a few dried up tomatoes. Stepping down the aisle, the shelves were stocked with a selection of tin cans that donned faded labels with things like 'deviled ham' written on them. It was perfect. Terrible, but perfect.

The shopkeeper (which was probably where the years of stale smoke came from) tentatively asked us if we were looking for anything in particular. Having already passed the array of fresh produce I knew that my question was redundant but I asked it anyway. 'Any apples or bananas?' I said. The gentleman disclosed he had bananas! 'Bananas! Brilliant! Where?!' I exclaimed. He pointed to a high shelf with something perched on it that at one time probably resembled a bunch of bananas but had since been turned into a house by a family of fruit flies. Not having the heart to tell him I didn't want one my wife reached up and pulled a housed banana off the bunch hence creating a flurry of activity that has not been seen in the establishment for thirty years!

We paid the elderly gentleman 25 cents (half of the earnings of the shop for a week) and left the little Red and White Shop for greener pastures to a place called Winward Farm which also had a barely legible sign saying 'Fresh Fruit!' With renewed optimism we parked the car and approached the door...

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