Monday, October 30, 2017

A Mountain Cruise High in the Canadian Rockies: Maligne Lake

Catch up below:

Part One
Part Two

The smell of sizzling bacon permeates our little cabin in the woods. Since we have a kitchen, I decided to save a little money by cooking our breakfast each day. Last night, I went into town to buy enough food for our stay and now I'm cooking the first meal in the cabin.

Watch the Video!

It gives it a homey, campout kind of feeling.

The range hood doesn't clear the smoke quite fast enough for the smoke detector, however, so we open the windows and turn on the ceiling fan to help clear it out. This has the side effect of pulling that very crisp, early morning, Canadian mountain air in.

We counter that by turning on the gas fireplace next to the dining table. It's a very good breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and some locally baked, whole-grain toast.

Well fed and ready for the day, we head out for today's adventure. About an hour's drive from the cabin, we cross back into Jasper National Park where a snowstorm last week leaves it presence with a covering of snow on the ground as we climb higher in elevation.

It's a long enough drive that Tim falls asleep in his seat but in good time, we're pulling into the lot for the Lake Maligne Boat Cruise. An email exchange before we left home told us that if we called the morning of our tour, they'd have an accessible boat ready for us. I called this morning and was told "that's not accessible." When I brought up the email exchange, I was put on hold while the operator checked. "You're right, they'll have an accessible boat for the 1:15pm tour."

It's a bit of a walk from the parking lot since the normal trail to the ticket hut is covered with snow so Tim and I have to backtrack to the road and go around that way. We check in and head to the dock.

A lady named Sarah meets us there. She'll be the tour guide on the boat.  She leads us onto the dock, to the back of the boat, where the entrance is. There's about a 12 inch step into the boat.

"Do you want us to back up so you can bring out the ramp?" I ask.

"We don't have a ramp," she responds.

"How are we supposed to get on board?"

She calls up for help and the boat's driver, Scott, shows up. He helps me steady Tim while I pop a foot-high wheelie to get him over the lip. On the boat's fantail, I see the next challenge...a skinny door with a 4 inch lip.

I ask them, "do you expect him to sit outside, here on the back of the boat?" The sheepish looks on their faces tell me that they did. That just won't do in this near-freezing temperature on a speeding boat.

We're very lucky that Tim's travel wheelchair was just skinny enough to fit through the door. A little manhandling over the lip, then the aisle to the front of the boat was plenty wide enough and there is ample space up front.

It does concern me that they told me ahead of time that it was wheelchair accessible. If we'd had Tim's regular power chair, we would have never have made it on board.  You definitely need a light, fairly narrow chair, a lot of gumption, and patience if you're a wheelchair user who wants to take this tour.

Well, we have the necessities so Tim's ensconced in his position near the bow. Scott backs the boat out and Sarah begins her spiel. The journey is underway.

Maligne Lake sits in a glacial valley between two sets of mountains, the Maligne mountains on the east side and the Queen Elizabeth range on the west. The surface of the lake is over a mile high and recent storms have left their mark with the snow. It's cold outside but warm inside the cabin of the boat.

The guide passed around rock samples from the surrounding mountain ranges. Fossils are apparent in the rock from the Queen Elizabeth side.

After we clear the bay where the docks are located, it's full speed ahead. The boat is surprisingly fast. It slows when kayakers or canoers are about but continues it's pace when another tour boat passes the other way. This makes for a little thrill as the craft bashes through the wake of the other boat.

Along the way, Sarah points out a couple of huge glaciers high up in the surrounding peaks, one of which she says we can only see 5% of. It's amazing how big they are and the power they have within. This lake and the entire valley were carved out by glaciers.

About a half hour in, we get to the tour's destination, Spirit Island, several miles south of our departure point. It's actually pretty tiny, maybe fifty feet long, and is not an island. At least not today, when the water level rises in the spring, the small isthmus is covered, cutting off the small land mass from the shore.

We're given about a half hour to explore the area but are told to stay off Spirit Island. This is holy ground for the First Nations people of the area (what we in the U.S. would call Native Americans) and a spear stuck into the ground is evidence of a recent ceremony from these native Canadians.

Unfortunately, this part of the tour is not accessible in the least so Tim has to wait on the boat. I stay with him while Letty goes out to take pictures. Tim and I use the time to strike up a conversation with the driver and guide...Scott and Sarah...and find Scott is getting ready to make a 5-week trip to our neck of the woods. This allows for Tim and I to be a guide to one of our guides and let him know what he should not miss on his visit to California.

Ten minutes before we leave, the boat's horn is sounded to alert passengers to head back and get on board. The trip back is pretty much without narration. Passengers and crew mingle. We can go outside for fresh air, take pictures, and socialize.

Back at the dock, we work our way out and back to the car. On the way down the valley, we make a stop at Medicine Lake.

This lake is famous for it's disappearing act that happens each year.  The bottom of the lake is riddled with limestone sinkholes.

While the spring thaw fills it to overflowing, in the fall the Maligne River does not fill it fast enough. The lake drains to a mudflat, with the river flowing down the middle.  Today, it looks about ten feet below it's peak showing that the draining is well underway.

Next spring it will fill again.

We stop off in the town of Jasper for dinner at the Jasper Brewing Company before heading back to the cabin to relax for the night.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Friday, October 27, 2017

Taking the Scenic Route: Calgary to Jasper in a Day

See Part One here.

If we were to go non stop, the drive from the Calgary Airport Homewood Suites to our destination in Jasper National Park would take about three hours. We’re going to take it a bit slower than that, though, as we see some sights along the way.

Watch the Video!

When planning this trip, it was to be between Banff and Jasper National Parks. What swung the balance to Jasper was the best accessible accomodations I could find were in Jasper. Although I would have loved to stay at the Fairmont Chateau on the shore of Lake Louise but, even though I’m sure they have accessible rooms, the price of around a thousand dollars a night (and up) was a big budget buster...even if it was Canadian dollars.

Still, I have always wanted to see the Lake Louise area ever since an aborted ski trip over thirty years ago. Finally, I have my chance.  Today we’ll stop and the plan is to splurge on a lakeside lunch at the Fairmont.

A few miles before the exit to Lake Louise, we start to spot sattelite parking lots where overflow visitors would park and take shuttle buses up to the lake. Uh oh...I don’t have time for this.

The crowds are thickening and parking attendants are pressed into directing traffic into and around the town. Signs on the way up to the lake warn of no parking available and to turn around now to go to the sattelite lots.

I decide to keep driving up...if no parking is available, we’ll press on to Jasper.

We arrive at the hotel, one lot on the right is designated as a handicapped lot. An attendant is waving everybody past. I point to our placard, hanging from the rear view mirror, and she waves me in. The closest parking spot to the lake and the hotel is a handicapped spot and it is empty.

Someone was smiling on me that day.

A small bridge over the creek that drains the lake led us to the path to the shore. The water is world-famous for it’s turquoise blue water backing up into the glacial canyon. Ancient glaciers still perch on the cliffs, dangling precariously over the other side of the lake. Snow covers the mountainsides during this last week of September.

It’s a beautiful sight, which is why thousands of tourists are lined around the eastern shoreline with their selfie sticks, squeezed between the lake and the massive hotel.

Walking around, we take a few pictures ourselves and explore some of the scenery before heading into the hotel.

There are a handful of restaurants open. We head to the Lobby Lounge, which commands the best views of the lake and the glaciers. Hotel guests get priority over day visitors but we get lucky again and a table is found for us right away.

Tim goes with a burger but has poutine on the side instead of basic fries. Letty has a vegetarian pasta dish with spinach and asparagus. I have a bowl of French onion soup.

It’s all very delicious, a bit more than I’d pay below, but it’s a splurge and the view is to die for.

Letty spends a little time in the gift shops (a spool of yarn for $150???) and Tim and I check out the historical photographs off of the main lobby.

It’s back on the road where we drive past a glass floored bridge that you can pay serious bucks to walk on then we arrive at the Columbia Icefield.

This spot is where several glaciers come together and the meltwater forms the headwaters of the Athabasca River, which eventually empties into the Arctic Ocean.

The Athabasca Glacier is across the highway from the visitor’s parking lot. You can hike up to, and climb on, the glacier. You can also take a bus...several which are wheelchair take a ride on the glacier and spend some time walking on it.

Tim is not interested so, after taking some picture, we continue on.

We’re making some progress as we leave Banff and enter Jasper park. I should mention that all the national parks in Canada are admission-free this year as they celebrate 150 years of being independent. I cruise through the closed entrance booths.

Before long, I’m being stopped in the middle of the road by a flagwoman. She knocks on my window as I stop.

“It’ll be about 20 minutes before I can let you pass.”

I turn off the car, get out, and she shows me the men dangling from ropes high on a sheer cliff a little down the road. They’re blasting and after the dynamiting, those guys hit it with shovels and rakes to sweep the debris down to a waiting dump truck. They do this to lessen the probability of a landslide in the winter.

Quite a backup has built up behind me by the time she gives me the greenlight to continue on.

No more stops for us and soon we exit the park next to a couple of more empty entrance booths. Just a mile or so beyond, we turn into our home for the next few days...Becker’s Chalets...a cabin village along the shore of the Athabasca River.

It takes me a lap of the grounds before I realize that the office is in the restaurant that I passed at the entrance.

I go in, register, and am handed an old-fashioned  plastic tagged room key.

There are two accessible cabins here with roll in showers. One, closer to the river and the resort’s playground. Our is the second, located in a secluded corner next to the woods.

It’s a large, very large, one room cabin with a queen bed, a twin bed, and a queen sofabed. The roll in shower has a large fold down bench, and there’s plenty of room to manuever.

A full kitchen and dining room is included, as is a fireplace, so I head into the nearby town of Jasper to get some groceries to make breakfast after settling in.

Our rental car has a GPS so I follow it into town.  The road is closed so I follow a detour.  This leads me to a dead end and I double back.

Before I get to the highway, however, I see these four beauties on the road.

After that, I get this jealous boyfriend walking by my driver’s side window.

Evening entertainment over, I finally find my way into town to get supplies and meet back up with Letty and Tim in the cabin. We’ll relax a bit over some wine by the river before bedding down in our very comfortable and cozy beds.

We’ll see you in the morning.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick

Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Los Angeles' Best Eats: Eastside Edition, Part 5

See the ever-growing list of our best Eastside Eats here!

Who doesn't want a big, meaty sandwich for lunch? On L.A.'s eastside, we have some very list worthy sandwiches, starting with a tasty, messy pastrami.

Not far from downtown, the first city you run into headed east is Alhambra. Back in 1951, Johnny Brown started an open-air lunch counter at the corner of Garfield and Valley Boulevard. It became very popular, especially for the massive pastrami dip sandwiches served there.

It's still there, under a different set of owners today, and still serving those delicious pastrami sandwiches.  It grew over the years to a chain of eleven locations from Simi Valley to Murrietta...all across the outer regions of the local area.

The Hat is as legendary locally as In 'n Out. Locals rave about the pastrami here, as they should. This is not the finely crafted, Jewish deli pastrami that you'll find at find establishments like Langer's, here in L.A., but the swimming in juice, piled dangerously high, gut bustingly delicious, fatty, thin sliced pastrami that you wish every burger bar could make.

Sadly, very few can compete with The Hat's version. Order at the right end of the counter then move to the left when the order taker attaches it to a clothes pin and slides it over to the assemblers. Watch as they grab an amazing amount of meat into their tongs and plop it on the bottom part of the bun. Watch again as they do it a second're thinking "really? They expect to get that much meat on that thing?" Then the top half of the bun is dipped in the juice before being placed atop the meat (which has been dosed with pickles and mustard in the meantime). Somehow, the meat is squeezed in place long enough so that it can be wrapped in deli paper before being served.

Taking it to your table, you unwrap the sandwich. Be careful because now a good portion of that pastrami will start spilling out. You grabbed one of those plastic forks at the counter to be able to eat all those scraps, right? Stretch your jaw muscles out and take a bite. Oh, how that peppery, juicy, pastrami taste just envelops your taste buds.  You tell yourself you're just going to eat half the sandwich now and save the rest for later but then your stomach overrules you and you end up gobbling the whole thing since it's just that good.

Oh, how you'll waddle out of there. Especially after having a small order of fries, too, which will feed a nuclear family and still have some left over.

Besides pastrami, they have good burgers, an assortment of other sandwiches and chili to go on anything. Take a small bag of pickled peppers and help yourself to one of the great condiment bars in the fast food kingdom.

Whatever you do, you'll not leave The Hat hungry.

While The Hat makes a legendary pastrami, another San Gabriel locale makes one just as good and even a few cents cheaper. We have a couple of very good Italian delis in the 'other' valley but Capri Deli is the one who makes a pastrami to rival The Hat (picture at top).

You'll have to go to Covina, on industrial San Bernardino Road between Grand and Barranca Avenues to find this one because Capri is just one location, not a chain like The Hat.

Again, you'll be amazed at the piles of pastrami piled on the dipped bread (they dip the cheese here, too, if you add it to the sandwich). You'll also be amazed at the amount of napkins you go through trying to keep the fatty juice from escaping onto your clothes.

To me, it's almost a carbon copy of The Hat's pastrami. It is very delicious plus you can get a wide selection of wine, beer, and hard-to-find sodas to go with it.

No fries here but you can add chips, salad, or any of the deli side orders that are sitting in the deli case.  They also serve great pizza here, several pasta dishes, an outstanding salad with chicken, and antipasto.  The menu may be a bit to decipher as you stand in line. A main board is behind the counter but on another wall is the pasta menu, which is not the same wall as the pizza menu plus you might find a couple of signs advertising other entrees behind the stack of soda cups.

It's a good thing the long lines will give you time to find them all. You can also browse the small shop for Italian treats, groceries, and the separate cold deli to get cold cuts, cheeses, and arrange for catering jobs.

Not far from Capri Deli is a tiny little street called Shoppers Lane. It's a throwback to a time when you'd go to Main Street, find an appliance repair shop, a shoe store, a couple of bars, and any number of specialty shops that you just don't see anymore.

While there are some great little restaurants the classic Georgia's Bun 'n Burger diner and Fonda don Chon...there is another great Italian deli on the other end, Old World Deli.

Like Capri Deli, it's got a separate cold deli and small Italian grocery store. It also has a vast selection of sandwiches, pizzas, pastas, and some of the best Broasted Chicken you'll find in the area.

While the location is sparkling, clean, and almost brand new,  Old World Deli is a long-time anchor in the area. The original location was a couple of blocks away at the Eastland Mall, next to the San Bernardino Freeway. When the mall was modernized, the landlords didn't think a non-chain, family run deli fit into their vision and evicted  Old World Deli.

The owners decided they didn't want to be at the whims of a landlord purchased the building they now reside it, and opened up a very spiffy new location.

We like the sandwiches, pizza, and chicken, but what makes this location stand out is their extensive salad bar. On Tuesdays, we can get two slices of thick, Sicilian pizza and an unlimited plate for the salad bar (or, like I do, get the half sandwich and unlimited salad bar). Starting off with the usual iceberg lettuce mix, then there's a spring salad mix, or spinach.  Half a dozen dressings are on standby (I usually just go with their 'house' dressing which is a garlicky ranch), toppings range from bacon, ham, cheese, sprouts, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, sunflower mind's memory is running out but there's a ton of options here.

Of course, there are croutons, eggs, garbanzos, and beets to continue on. Oh my, there's just so much stuff.

I'll go back again for the fruit selection with always has tasty, fresh strawberries and they know how to get some very tasty honeydew, which is rare around here. Cantaloupe, orange slices, watermelon, grapes, and pineapple all find a way onto my plate. It's all so delicious.

My wife chooses the pizza and, since we're talking about pastrami, I go with half a pastrami sandwich. The pastrami here is the kind that has a more greasy taste to it, like the orange-sauced pastrami that used to call me to the long lost and lamented Kosher Burrito in downtown Los Angeles.

A slice of melted provolone and mustard on top make for a very tasty counterpart to all that healthy and salad that makes up the rest of the meal.

Along with the Covina location on Shoppers Lane, there's another Old World Deli on Mountain Avenue in Upland in the Inland Empire a few miles east.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Smooth Start to a Rocky Vacation: The Canadian Rockies of Alberta

Tim's a bit nervous. To be fair, he always gets a bit on edge before a trip. Especially if it involves flying on a plane.  This has been a recent development and has flared up the most when we have a lot of connections with long flights and hit it's peak with the 27 hour, three leg trip we took to Berlin a year ago.

Ever since, it's been a struggle when flying. Once we leave, he's fine, but a couple of days before, no one's life is good.

He's been trying and gradually getting better about it. One of the things that made us choose this destination was that it was a short 3-hour nonstop flight from LAX to Calgary. Baby steps back to his old self.  The frustration for him was that we had to leave from one of the worst airports in the world but, luckily, it turned out to go pretty smoothly and Terminal 2 had recently been upgraded. Really upgraded. In fact, it's been a long time since I can say this, but it was actually pretty pleasant going through Los Angeles' main airport this time.

We whiled away our one hour waiting time having a delicious (!) breakfast at Slapfish.

Westjet treated us very well, we had good seats, easy boarding, and an actually delightful flight up to Alberta. Navigating customs and passport control was a breeze.  If I could complain about anything, maybe the very long walks through the sparkling clean Calgary airport concourses to the rental car centre would be about it.

Enterprise was very quick and helpful getting us into our Ford Escape and it was a five minute drive to our first night hotel.

We'd be spending the night at the Homewood Suites near the airport, then driving up to Jasper National Park in the morning.

Homewood had our room waiting, just as ordered. A Tim Horton's across the street provided a nice dinner of paninis and Boston cream donuts.

We had a peaceful night's sleep and a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon in the morning.

Now, we load up the car and we head out. We're planning on a long, slow day's drive...taking in a few sights along the a cabin we have reserved in Jasper.

We'll cover that on our next post.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Los Angeles, California: The Gold Line Pub Crawl, Version 2.0

Yes, we already did a pub crawl along the Gold Line, the east side light rail line in Los Angeles. That was just a small trial run for the real thing, an all-day, complete end-to-end, deep exploration of the line. With an added visitor, my bother in law, and no driving to be had, we're not holding back.

Watch the Video!

The Gold Line runs 31 miles from the edge of Monterey Park in the south to Azusa in the northeast end of the San Gabriel Valley and makes a loop through downtown L.A. and Pasadena along the way.

We start off at Atlantic Station, the south end of the line in East Los Angeles and make our way a couple of stops to the Indiana Station.  This is a nutrition and fortification stop to prepare for the rest of the day-long journey.

Breakfast is red pork tamales and chicharonnes at Lilliana Tamales before getting back on the train.

Little Tokyo/Arts District Station is next where we take the short walk over to Traction Avenue.  Two breweries are here and two breweries are closed today.  We thought they might be open on their earlier weekend hours since it was a holiday (Memorial Day) but, no.

Lucky for us, Fritzi...which shares the building with the Arts District open and pours brews from the back of the building.

To go with our backyard dog and pastries, it's a Nitro Red Ale, their Belgian style wit, and a pilsner.  They were good, not the greatest beers we've tasted but decent, and the hot dog messy.

Back on the train it's a two-station jaunt to Chinatown. The newly built Blossom Plaza apartments have finally opened up the sidewalk adjacent to the station so it's much easier walk over to Gin Ling Way, the heart of the area.

Unfortunately, we couldn't find any bars open so we hit up Phoenix Bakery for some treats and jumped back on the train.

It doesn't take long until we're at the Del Mar station in Pasadena. This is the historic train station for the city and the old Santa Fe station now houses a fancy restaurant. Next to the southbound platform itself is a branch of Escondido's Stone Brewery, famous for its Arrogant Bastard ale.

We set up a row of tasters and dig in. We find a couple that aren't bad but most are a little too hoppy for our taste.

Tim suggests we check out of Stone and atone for our sins at the church across the street. At least you'd be forgiven for thinking it was one. It's Congregation Ale House, the Catholic mass themed drinking hall in the former Crown City Brewery space at Del Mar and Raymond Avenue.

Letty has a nifty blackberry sour ale while I have a St. Bernardus 12...a very tasty and strong Belgian quadruple ale.  Tim's done with beer and switches to soda while we all soak it up with a pretzel and beer cheese (pic at top).

So far, we've made four stops on this voyage across eastern L.A. county...breakfast in East L.A.; the Arts District and Little Tokyo; Chinatown; and's time for the last leg of our journey.

The Gold Line ends across the street from the campuses of Citrus College (a public community college) and it's next door neighbor, Azusa Pacific University (a private Christian university).

Just to say we've been from end-to-end on the 31 mile line, we go to that eastern terminus before heading back one station to the downtown Azusa station.  It's here in this unlikely area that has one of the most lively station-adjacent areas for fun on the entire route.

It's just a little over a block south of the station to our next stop, Max's Mexican Cuisine, where we'll fill up our bellies on that great Mexican food and have some margaritas (you might remember Max's from our 'Southern California's Best Margaritas' video).

Since we've been drinking all day, I opt for the drinking man's Mexican friend, a nice steaming bowl of menudo.

This goes perfectly with a Cadillac margarita.

After our time with Max and his minions...with a hearty "See you tomorrow, WHY NOT?" as we's golden hour out on Azusa Avenue.

Halfway to the station, we spot a Mexican Dive bar...Maria's...and it's happy hour. I glance at my brother-in-law, we shrug our shoulders, and head inside while Letty and Tim roll their eyes and try to figure out how they got in this mess.

It's one more Pacifico for the road (or rails, in our case) before we stumble back up to the station and head back to our home station and walk or wobble back to our house.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved