Banff National Park

Once we left Las Vegas in our quest to meet up with Fred and Becky in Banff, Alberta, Canada, there has been one adventure after another. Long days of being on the road made for an especially sweet reunion because Fred was able to secure a campsite for us in the Tunnel Mountain Campground. This is an incredibly popular area for camping, and we were very fortunate to have a place to rest and recover from after the arduous task of several days of travel.

And spending just one night in our campground, restless, hyperactive Michael decided that we needed to drive in to see Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. It has been many years since I have been here, and Becky has never been, so we all piled into the Tracker, aka rattletrap, but only after driving into town to purchase a new battery; the 1991 Geo Tracker wouldn’t start this morning, but that is another story for another time. Once that was taken care of, and because I won’t bore you with the details, off we headed along the Canadian I Highway and the 45-minute drive to take in the sites.

We knew we were in trouble when we passed the overflow parking lot for Lake Louise filled up to capacity. With spirits high and a real sense of adventure just percolating below the surface, we found ourselves ground to a frustrating halt with all the other fools who didn’t think the warning signs applied to them either. After a long wait and a very slow crawl, we were escorted right back out to the road because all of the parking lots, surprise, were also filled to capacity. With mounting frustration, we drove back down the mountain and around to the Morain Lake entranceway just as they were putting roadblocks up. Michael braked hard and I rolled down the window and we all flashed a pleasing smile as I begged to be allowed in. Fortunately, the attendant took pity on our souls and moved the barrier aside, closing it back up again quickly after we raced through. We were the last car to be allowed in and zipped back up the road without anyone in the rearview mirror. With renewed hope and new vim and vigor, we gleefully sped along to the lake with raindrops pinging down on the windshield of the car. The rain just couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be hail, sleet or snow and acted very strangely, to say the least.

At the top of the road and just as we were going to park the car, the Tracker sputtered and stalled and Michael had to roll it back as he popped the clutch to get it started. Talk about stress, he did manage to park the car though with a sigh of relief after several nerve-wracking attempts! We thought that it would be the end of our troubles and jumped out of the car with a newfound urgency and gleefully raced over to the lake with dark clouds building and a spattering of sunshine dazzling the mountainsides and lighting up the glaciers that somehow held on to impossibly steep and jagged cliffs.

Moraine Lake is a glacier-fed body of turquoise blue water that allows people to canoe, kayak, and row boat over on the calm and glassy surface. There were so many people around though, that it was difficult to take any decent photos without having strangers photo bomb your images. We somehow managed anyway and Becky got a decent photo of me and Michael, and I got one of them. I decided not to wear my neck brace today because I am totally sick of it and it has been 7.5 weeks. I hate selfie sticks by the way and refuse to use one! We had fun anyway and would have stayed much longer except that storm clouds formed once again and it started to rain, ever harder this time. Everyone raced for cover as we ran to the car and piled in again only to find out that the car still had difficulty starting. Long story short, we barely made it back to the campground, and only to Fred and Becky’s doorstep, before the car died for good. Michael probably flooded it this time and we are going to give the vapors a chance to evaporate before trying again later.*

It is a lovely evening out and I can hear squirrels chattering and scolding one another as I write. Fred and Becky are going for a walk and Michael is asleep on the couch. Tomorrow more rain is expected and the temperature is going to drop. Today was in the low 70’s and quite comfortable in spite of the rain. Needless to say, Banff is spectacular in spite of the crowds, and there really isn’t any place like it in the world. We hope to stay here for several more days and then we will pack up and head on to Jasper.

* Michael had to take the Tracker into Mountain Men Mechanics in Banff to try and diagnose and fix what ails it.

Lost Wages

The running joke about visiting Las Vegas is that it is called, “Lost Wages” because gamblers lose their life savings and wages to the casinos. In my case, if and when we do hit the gambling casinos, I would rather spend the money on chocolate.

We made it to The Oasis RV Resort, Saturday, late afternoon, after an uneventful drive of about 4.5 hours. A heat spell hung over the city the first couple of days and 109 degrees made the side of the RV that was facing the sun, super hot to the touch and I had to hang a quilt over the window to keep it cool enough inside. The air conditioner was working overtime, trying to keep the cabin comfortable. Fortunately, yesterday and today are cooler.

I have been going over to the pool where pine and palm trees are planted, and birds are resting in the shade of their branches during the heat of the day. I discovered an Inca Dove, American Robin, Great-tailed Grackles, and of course, Rock Doves which are commonly known as pigeons. They are all urban dwellers and somewhat accustomed to human contact, but aiming a camera lens at them, always seems to spook even the bravest bird to want to take flight. I have to talk and coo quietly to them and try to reassure the birds, that I am not a predator.

Callie is back to being walked on the leash and does quite well until she sees a pigeon. Then she squats down like a sphinx and stares at the potential meal with her tail swishing back and forth. The birds aren’t used to seeing cats on leashes and come over and just out of reach of her to get a closer look. This drives her absolutely crazy. A soft chatter emits from her chest and she can barely contain her excitement at the possibility of tasting pigeon. I have to shoo them away before disaster strikes.

Tomorrow we are getting up extra early and will be pulling out to make it to Twin Falls, Idaho Wednesday evening. Our friends, Fred and Becky will meet us in Jasper on Friday or Saturday, so we have some long days of travel ahead of us. Callie doesn’t mind at all, and is thrilled to be back on the dash watching the road whiz by for miles and miles. Canada, here we come.

Hit the Road Jack

We are preparing for the journey north to Banff and Jasper and are really excited to be hitting the road With Callie again. I haven’t been able to travel much due to surgery on my spine for cervical stenosis. I have 2 more weeks with the brace on and then I should be able to resume most of my forms of exercise. I have had to lay off with biking and it has been too warm for much walking. I thought I would have to give up photography too, but compromised with a handheld lens and not using my 600mm lens and tripod.

Callie goes into the vet today for a rabies shot and checkup so that I can have her paperwork in order. Crossing into Canada, they may or may not ask for it, but I want peace of mind and she is now running around free at the RV Park and there are other cats that she comes into contact with. She has been doing pretty good with her asthma but her ears are still very itchy. It is due to allergies and the best I can do is to put steroid drops in daily and limit her outside activities. I can relate, sometimes I sneeze 20 times and I itch too:-)

The vet in Morro Bay thinks she might have a food allergy to chicken, and several days ago I bought Natural Balance Limited Ingredients that is chicken free. She has been wolfing it down ever since and wouldn’t you know it, this morning she got me up at 4:45 with a tummy ache and was barfing. I have to scramble up and over my husband and shimmy down a ladder in the loft to get to her. She was considerate enough to throw up on the linoleum and not the sofa and rugs.

I have been taking photographs of the wildlife right here in the RV Park so that I don’t have to get in the car. It is really quite amazing how much there is all around you if you take the time to listen and observe. Can you imagine the subject matter I am going to come across in the Pacific Northwest?

Right in your own Backyard

We are preparing for a trip to Banff and Jasper in Alberta, Canada, in the next couple of weeks, just as soon as I get the OK to head north after my cervical stenosis surgery. I am hoping that the neck brace can come off in two and a half weeks. The concern is whether the two level fusion took and is healing correctly. It really hasn’t been that big of a deal and I am so appreciative that it hasn’t slowed me down with my photography. As long as I only use the 70-200mm lens with a teleconverter, all is well.

I am also testing out the use of uploading my blog post via laptop. I have been using my iPhone believe it or not and thought since I have the use of the internet now thanks to a next-door neighbor across the street, I would like to see what it is actually like to type on a keyboard and sit at a table. What a difference it is making as far as visualizing what the text looks like, and it is certainly more comfortable on the eyes.

Every morning now I am getting up and walking through the neighborhood in search of birds to photograph for 500px. I am thrilled to say that I am finding more birds than I thought were possible without even getting in the car. My favorite is an Allen’s Hummingbird that only breeds along a narrow strip of coastline in California and Southern Oregon. It has beautiful golden feathers with rust and green and looks very similar to the Rufous Hummingbird. I spotted a Cooper’s Hawk the other day on a power line, and Say’s and Black Phoebes are also numerous. Northern Mockingbirds serenade me with their stolen repertoire and Monarch Butterflies settle down silently on brightly colored flowers that grow in well-tended gardens. It is with great pleasure that I can actually find wonderful subject matter to photograph right here in my own backyard.

Callie will have to be current on all of her vaccinations and I am taking her into the vet at the end of next week. It is necessary for her to have a Health Certificate in order to cross international borders and we will need passports too. I just about have everything in order and am really looking forward to this trip. Our friends, Becky and Fred will be caravaning with us and it will be Becky’s first time RVing for an extended time. We hope to be gone for about a month. Camping can be so much fun, but it is also a lot of work. I can’t believe it has been over 3.5 years since we flew to Huntsville, Alabama to pick up Pipsqueak, our 24 ft Class C Icon. It has given us loads of fun and excitement and an escape route out of the desert during the hot summer months.


Lake Cuyamaca

The temperature is really heating up in Anza- Borrego Desert State Park, so we decided to get away for the day and meet our RV travel partners, Fred, and Becky up at Lake Cuyamaca. It is less than an hour drive to the lake from our home, and the 110-acre reservoir provides natural air conditioning to the surrounding shoreline and kept the temperature at a comfortable 85 degrees. We sat around the table at the only restaurant that overlooks the water, and this eatery is famous for its chicken pot pies and fresh, fruit pies. You can be seated outdoors on a wooden balcony and hummingbird feeders hang from the eaves and Brewer’s Blackbirds wait patiently for you to finish eating before descending, somewhat mannerly, onto the leftover French fries when you get up to leave.

I pigged out on both the chicken pot pie and the Mountain Berry pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and topped with whip cream that was then generously sprinkled with cinnamon on it for dessert. Fred and Becky had the veggie burgers with coleslaw and fries, and that too was fresh and delicious. All of the meals were served in a timely manner and were very delicious. Our waitress was good-natured and accommodating, and even filled up the hummingbird feeders so that I could take photos with my camera. I highly recommend going there because it is also a fabulous place in which to camp overnight in an RV. I have written about Lake Cuyamaca in past posts, so I won’t get into a lot of detail, but just wanted to once again reiterate what a nice place it is to visit and camp at.

The lake provides food and shelter for a variety of wildlife. Canadian Geese and Brewer’s Blackbirds, Acorn Woodpeckers, Red-winged blackbirds, and Great Blue and White herons can be seen fishing along the shore. There is also an elusive pair of Bald Eagles that nest there every year in the fall way up high in the branches of magnificent evergreens on the island. If you are so inclined, easy hiking and biking trails are also available and you can’t go wrong if you are looking for a great way to spend time outdoors and escape the summer heat. One can also rent a boat and go fishing or just enjoy bobbing on the surface of the water and checking out the wildlife.

On the way back home, just as we were heading down the hill at San Filipe Wash in Anza- Borrego, a handsome bighorn sheep ram, dashed across the street in front of the car and up and over the rocks. Michael slammed on the brakes so that I could take one photo of him before he disappeared. I was still in the passenger seat with my seat belt on and used Michael’s shoulder for a tripod. I was very lucky he stopped for just a brief moment in time to look around. What a magnificent beast. He was probably searching for water and looked very healthy.

We came back home to Callie sound asleep on her chair and it appeared that she didn’t miss us one bit. We are heading back to the beach tomorrow and had a very relaxing time in the desert.

Summertime in the Desert

Michael, Callie, and I decided to head to the desert for a few days in order to have a little more room in which to live and move around in. The RV, a 24ft Class C, does feel a little small after a while and our desert house in Borrego Springs, even if it is 110 degrees outside, is still a fun escape.

Callie is able to race up and down the stairs and can follow her passion for bat patrol and taking early morning walks with her leash and the vest that has cute little fish patterns on it and a bright blue bow-tie. I don’t walk her as much at the beach because she can roam free in a safe environment with no fear of dogs or coyotes. But in the desert, Callie can’t run loose because of all the predators searching for something to eat and has had to learn to walk alongside me like a dog.

This morning I walked across the street with the 200-500mm lens, camera and tripod in hand and took some photos of flowers, bees, butterflies, and an Anna’s Hummingbird. Yesterday, I saw a roadrunner, white pigeon, White Egret, and a Night Heron. It never ceases to amaze me that wildlife still abounds in the summertime heat. I guess for most of them, the desert is home and they make the best of it in spite of the soaring temperatures. At least they have free access to water because of the ponds at the Ram’s Hill Golf Course.

We have been swimming every day, as it is an approved form of exercise after my cervical surgery. The collar needs to be worn for 5 more weeks. I can hardly stand it in this heat, but I am being a good patient and want to get well. There is a certain percentage of failure with a 2 level fusion, which is what I had done 3 weeks ago, so I had better follow the doctor’s orders. I can still go out and shoot photographs though, and that is all I need to stay sane. That and to be able to write, read, and to walk Callie.

Break Time

I have been pretty obsessed with photography since my cervical stenosis surgery because I thought I would be down for at least a month. It turns out, I have had a remarkable recovery and can handle going out in the field with a hand-held 200mm lens and a teleconverter attached to it. The teleconverter doubles my reach, so I have up to 400mm which is pretty good for holding a camera without the aid of a tripod.

While staying at the beach, I discovered a Say’s Phoebe, a Black Phoebe, and an Allen Hummingbird; the common House Finch was in abundance too. I have never heard of an Allen’s Hummer before and found out that they only live in a very small patch of coastal area in California. The male, Allen Hummingbird has a beautiful chestnut brown tummy with iridescent green back feathers. This little guy was so wary of me though, that I could barely get a shot in of him before he would fly away and hide. The Say’s Phoebe was much braver and allowed me to get quite close as it perched on top of an old TV antenna.

Because of all this passion toward photography and long hours of working and editing on the laptop, Callie decided to put an end to it by resting on the keyboard of my computer. She looked right at me and dared me to move her. I gave her a pat and reassured her that I would take a break but only after I took her portrait with the iPhone. She was compliant enough and appreciated that I was going to give her more attention.

Balboa Park and San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park are a must-visit if you ever happen to be in San Diego. I am not really fond of the idea of animals behind bars, but in these two cases, the animals are given as much room as possible and much is done to educate the public to wildlife and plant conservation. The Wild Animal Park is a 100% Non-Profit and all proceeds go right back into the park.

During the summer months, it can get quite warm, but the zoo’s botanical gardens and rainforests are cool, damp, and dark. At the Wild Animal Park, misters are cooling you down from overhead. The exotic grounds at both parks have really matured in the 30 years that I have been visiting them and it almost feels like you are truly in a rain forest when strolling along fern canyon. Every time I go, I find new and exciting exhibits and the use of free-flying bird aviaries makes for wonderful photographic opportunities.

I am healing well from cervical surgery but won’t be able to travel or bike again for at least another month or so. We are making the most of it by visiting places locally that we usually ignore when we are on the road. A movie we went to go see yesterday, an independent film called: The Farewell, is a touching tribute to the differences in handling a terminal illness diagnosis from the east and the west. In China, for instance, the family shoulders the responsibility of someone having only a few months to live by carrying the burden of sorrow themselves and not telling the one who is sick that they are going to die soon. The movie manages to portray a touching tribute to death while laughing out loud at the absurdity of it all. The main character, Billi, a young woman of about 30, flies from New York to China to say goodbye to her beloved grandmother, and the conflicts that arise in her by not being able to say goodbye that leaves her confused and bruised. A fake wedding is planned as a ruse so that the matriarch is left in the dark about her prognosis when the entire family visits to pay their respect. All the players that participate in this lie are touched upon in very sympathetic ways that make the characters very real and so believable. I highly recommend it.

We also drove to Balboa Park and explored the rose gardens across the street from the zoo. We usually park in the parking lot, but this time we left the car on the street and strolled around the gardens enjoying the well-tended flower beds. June Bugs flitted about above us and ground squirrels dashed along the rows of sweet scented flowers, getting up enough nerve to eat the blossoms whenever the crowds dissipated. They are so cute to watch until you try and grow plants of your own, then they become the pests and vermin any gardener will tell you they are. Michael and Lara were kind enough to carry my camera around with the super heavy tripod and would hand them to me when I wanted to take photos. Talk about being supportive. They have both been great. Lara thought she was going to have to spoon-feed me…. so at least she didn’t have to do that.

Lara, my daughter, can stay until Monday morning before she has to fly back to Vegas and we are going to try and have as much fun as we can until then. Today, for instance, she and her dad went to the aerospace museum to check out airplanes, something that I wasn’t interested in doing with my neck brace on. It isn’t comfortable standing around with this thing wrapped tightly around my neck. I have discovered Benedryl Gel though for the rash that developed right after the surgery and it has improved my quality of life a lot. There is nothing much worse than intense itching in my humble opinion. I should almost be half way through this ordeal though. At least I hope.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

I am famous for handling big-ticket items in my life; it is the small stuff that trips me up though. I managed to get through the ordeal of surgery for cervical stenosis just fine, actually very well if I may say so myself, only to be brought to my irritable knees with an allergic reaction to the damn collar. I have a rash around my neck and it is very uncomfortable, and I have at least three more weeks of being confined before I can even consider tossing it. So whine I shall do every once in a while.

On a lighter note, we had an incredible downpour last night and the air has been scrubbed clean and it feels like Maui outside. We didn’t have any of the vents closed last night though, including the windows, and so when Lara got up in the middle of the night, there was rainwater all over the seat cushions, floor, and her laptop. Fortunately, everything will dry out, well sort of, and the morning has dawned with a heavy cloud layer and all the flower beds were saturated.

Callie is having a blast with Lara back in the picture and is enjoying herself immensely. She is a very happy cat and loves RV life. Callie can roam around free in the park, unlike the desert, and has made all kinds of friends- NOT! She is so territorial and protective that she won’t allow herself to socialize with any of her very friendly neighbors. Bodie, a beautiful ginger Tom who hasn’t even reached the mature age of 1, has kind of a crush on her, but she will have nothing to do with him. Another gray tabby whose name I don’t know would also like to get to know her better. Nope, she lets out a squeal if he so much as looks at her. Lara believes that she is just being protective because who would want to share what a good thing she has going on? Callie was a stray when we adopted her and was traumatized in her early days. Living on the streets did not suit her well!

Since Lara arrived on Monday from Las Vegas, we have gone to the zoo, eaten at Conway’s Korean food and gone to Hooked on Sushi twice. We went to go see Toy Story 4 and may look up another movie for today. I have had really good energy and the pain hasn’t been unbearable until today. I hate rashes. They make me feel sick. It is so hot and humid out, that outdoor exercise feels overwhelming, so maybe another movie is our best option. BTW- Toy Story 4 is hilarious and I highly recommend it.

Morro Bay

Morro Bay is probably without a doubt my favorite place to visit. I love that there is still ample wildlife and the RV Park is ideally situated for walking or biking down to the marina. The foghorn is a delight to hear and the sounds of harbor seals barking and seagulls arguing makes me smile. Today I photographed Sea Otters and Snowy Egrets and had a blast. Michael cleaned up the Tracker and the outside of our RV and I cleaned the inside yesterday. We had a BBQ last night and Michael grilled fresh halibut. Callie is getting in a couple of walks a day and there is plenty of sunshine and fresh salty air to go around. We will be leaving for Encinitas on Tuesday.