Monday, September 30, 2019

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

Friday, September 27, 2019

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

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

TRANSIT REPORT: Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Calgary is the 3rd largest city in Canada. It has a well-defined city core, which helps in transit planning.

The transit system here is made up of three components. The C-Train is the system's light rail service. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) serves future, planned light rail line routes, and local bus service makes up the rest.

The C-Train has two lines but acts like four lines converging on downtown...the Red and the Blue.

The Red Line reaches Tuscany in the northwest portion of the city, transits through downtown, then continues on to Somerset in the southeast section of the city. 

The Blue Line covers the other two points on the compass, coming from Saddletowne in the northeast to 69th Street in the southwest after going through downtown.

Each car on the C-Train has a dedicated door for wheelchairs/walkers/scooters. There is no designated spots on platforms where these doors line up with so you need to watch the train as it arrives to determine a) which door has the wheelchair symbol on it and b) where you need to go.

The accessible doors have a well-marked button that you press, which deploys a ramp so you can wheel in from the platform onto the train.

Both trains travel down 7th Avenue in downtown Calgary where they share eight stations from City Hall in the east to 8th Street in the west.

There are five BRT routes. BRT serves the airport but C-Train doesn't. Line 300 is the airport line, 301 comes in from North Pointe, 302 Comes from Cranston Avenue south of the city, 305 goes from Olympic Park in the west to Ellison Lake in the east, 306 travels from Westbrook Centre, just west of downtown, to Heritage Station south of town. All BRT lines, with the exception of 306, converge on the downtown corridor.

160 local bus lines reach the rest of the city.

All the buses are wheelchair accessible.

Local fare (in CDN) is $3.25.The airport line (300) is $10.00, which is basically a day pass since it is the same price and allows you access to all transit in Calgary. As stated, a day pass is $10.  The downtown zone on the C-Train between City Hall and Downtown West/Kerby is free.

Find more information here: Calgary Transit

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, September 23, 2019

Adventures in the Far North...of California: Redding, Part 2

Catch up on Part 1 on this trip here.

"It's 700 feet down to the water. It goes down a lot deeper than that but I can't tell you that."

"There's a lot more security than you can see. Believe me, it's very secure but you can't know how."

"I can't shake your hand because that would leave me vulnerable to be taken down."

Watch the Video!

So goes the conversation, not that I asked any of those questions, to the body-armored clad and well armed guard on top of Shasta Dam. 

"Don't worry, I won't try to shake your hand...I'll just give you a wave."

"I can't shake hands."

So I've heard...

"I do like showing off the dam to people like you, though. It was built during World War II. These things over hear pump cold water up the dam to the spillways to help the fish downstream.  You should take a look at the exhibits in the visitor's center."

It's a bit of a strange conversation with the guard manning the top rim of the dam but he's nice and means well. We continue along to reach the other side.

Above us, we hear the shrieks of a few osprey. Several nesting pairs live around the dam and they like to fish near the structure.  Eagles command the rest of the lake, so they stay out of the bigger birds way.

The weather's warm but nice. A stiff breeze blows off our hats now and again and the views of the source of the massive Sacramento River are stunning.

Back in Redding, after a swim in the hotel pool, we head over to the local minor league field behind the library to take in a game.

The Redding Colt 45s are hosting the Redding Tigers at the field they both call home. The teams are part of the Far West League, a summer league formed to give serious college players a place to ply their trade during the summer.

Still waiting to hone their skills to the point where a major league team might draft them, the FWL serves as an independent minor league slotted between college play and the regular minor leagues.

For five dollars, we get great front row seats about 10 feet from home plate.

We soon discover that this little stadium behind the library serves one of the top three hot dogs we've every had at a ball game, along with a decent little selection of craft beer to wash it down.

It's a very fun time and a good game.  It's close for the first six or seven innings but the 45's pull away in the end to crush the Tigers 15 to 4.

With that, we retire back to our hotel to relax and get ready to head down highway 99 to our next destination.

Copyright 2016 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved
Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2016 - All Rights Reserved

Friday, September 20, 2019

Adventures in the Far North...of California: Redding, Part 1

We haven't even left the state but, with a stop in San Jose to evaluate a new travel wheelchair, it's taken us 2 days and 560 miles to get to our latest destination, Redding, California just an hour south of the Oregon border.

Our hotel for this trip is Oxford Suites. We've had wonderful stays at this small, west coast chain of hotels at their Pismo Beach and Chico locations.  This one is not quite on par with those two.

Watch the Video!

After a breakfast at the crowded hotel dining room, we head down the road a bit to Turtle Bay Exploration Park. We find that Turtle Bay is just a small part of a bigger park that is anchored by a pretty stunning pedestrian bridge across the Sacramento River.

That would be the Sundial Bridge (note, you do not have to pay admission to Turtle Bay to access the bridge), a functional piece of art spanning the river with a glass deck, suspended by cables attached to a tall spire that is an actual sundial.

We take a slow stroll across the bridge, stopping to admire the view and to watch a few rafters drift underneath. There was a race here earlier for kayakers that started at the bridge and ended up in Chico, a hundred miles away. Our path is much shorter, maybe another hundred yards.

There's music at the other end of the bridge, sounds very live, but no band in sight. I guess they just have a great stereo system and speakers.

I show Tim the large arc of time points and tell him how the sundial works. It's configured to be correct on the day of the summer solstice.

We wander a little bit on some of the trails. We've been here before, years ago, when we came to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park but much of this area was undeveloped. There's a small bridge over a nearby creek, shaded by stands of oak and sycamore.

The main trail continues on to the banks of the river and doubles back under the bridge. An accessible platform there allows wheelchairs to go right to the edge of the water.

A band is playing under the bridge, taking advantage of the acoustics it offers. So that's where the music was coming from.

I ask a lady playing with them if it's okay if I take some video of them playing. She tells me it's okay and that they're having a 45 year reunion of a group that used to just get together here and play once a week.

She asks where we're from and I say Los Angeles. She used to live there and knows that's a very generic term so she asks specifically where. I tell her the San Gabriel Valley.

"Oh, really? I used to teach school in South El Monte," she tells me.

"I grew up in South El Monte," I respond.

"I taught at Dean Shively School."

"I went to Dean Shively School."

"Do you remember a Mrs. Salazar?"

"Yes, she was one of my teachers."

"I used to be Mrs. Salazar."

Fate had brought us back together 45 years later. Just a fluke turn and an interest in their music led to a reunion with my elementary school teacher.

We spent the next few minutes catching up with each other's lives. She divorced, moved to Redding, met and married her current husband, then moved up to the Seattle area.

Just by chance, she was here this weekend to have that reunion with her bandmates. It really is a small world sometimes.

After that impromptu reunion, we head back across the bridge to visit Turtle Bay. Part zoo, part museum, part educational center, part aquarium, part garden, this is Redding's biggest attraction right now.

Inside, we go through a faux cave meant to evoke Shasta Caverns to the north. This is the only wheelchair accessible way to 'visit' Shasta Caverns, by the way. At the other end of the cave is an aquarium meant to represent the Sacramento River with examples of the different species of fish and animals that call it home.

Trout, salmon, ducks, and even a less than eager beaver are in this display.

Outside, an elevated and accessible boardwalk takes us over to the zoo where we see an animal show.

We are warned strictly to take a seat and do not move during the entirety of the presentation because these are still wild animals and we do not want to spook or distract them.

The show goes on with a couple of trainers and a menagerie of critters such as foxes, porcupines, and skunks along with some hawks, a vulture, and a raven.

After a day of wandering around the river, we head over to downtown and have a nice lunch at Mary's Pizza Shack before ending up back at the hotel where while waiting an hour for the pool lift to be fixed, the quiet swimming area became a small pool populated by a large swarm of noisy kids.

Oh well, we'll just call it a day at that point and pick up where we left off tomorrow.

Copyright 2016 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved
Photos Copyright 2016 - Letty Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

CLASSIC TRIP - Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California 2000

Beware of falling into the earth!

The heat steams up from the bowels of the earth and the creeks boil. Mud pots erupt and you’re warned to stay on the trail or risk being swallowed by the earth. So lies the adventure in visiting this out of the way and pristine national park.

Mt. Lassen lies about an hour’s drive east of Redding, California. Any further north and we’d risk having to start another page on Oregon. A Redding Chamber of Commerce brochure optimistically says that the city is a 90 minute drive north of Sacramento. That would be if you drive like Jeff Gordon at Daytona. Realistically, it’s a good 2 ½ hour drive from the state capitol.

We stayed at the Amerihost Inn (now Baymont Inn) just south of Redding in the town of Anderson. They have a beautiful wheelchair accessible room with one only has one bed. After complaining to the front desk manager (we’d confirmed two beds when we reserved), they finally comped us to the adjoining room giving us two more beds and another bathroom (good thing it was vacant). The accessible room had a roll in shower and room to turn around in. The shower was on a hose but the spray was all over the place and it had no way to adjust it.

Amerihost likes to brag on its brochure that every Amerihost is “exactly the same”, so I guess if you need more than one bed, you may want to look elsewhere. The hotel also had a pool, spa, spacious handicapped parking, and continental breakfast. Price was around $75 per night.

After a good night’s rest, we head over to the north entrance to Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park. There is a 35 mile drive, north to south, through the heart of the park allowing you to make an all-day loop of it. The day we went there was a lot of construction taking place on highway 44 over from Redding. After about an hour’s worth of delays, we were glad we would not be taking this road back.

Before Mt. St. Helens blew its top in the 80's, this park was the closest you could actually come to seeing a volcano in action in the lower 48. Back in 1915, Mt. Lassen blew (with much less devastation than St. Helens). It was made a national park soon after due to the unique opportunity to study an actual living volcano.

Immediately after entering the park, we come to the visitor’s center. Inside, we see many photos of the eruption and watch a video about it. We learn that Mt. Lassen is actually a remnant of a much larger ancient volcano called Mt. Tehama and that most of the park is the crater of this old volcano.

What we’ve come to see are the ongoing volcanic features of the park which reside mainly in two areas. Bumpass Hell, a Yellowstone-like area of fumaroles, mud pots, and steam vents, and the Sulphur Works, a much smaller version of Bumpass Hell. Talking to the ranger at the visitor’s center puts the kabosh on that plan...the trail into Bumpass Hell (3 miles round trip) is not wheelchair accessible.

Disappointed at this, we nevertheless are determined to push on. The ranger gladly marks up a map of the park where all the accessible features are. It’s not a whole lot, but on the bright side, it can all easily be done in a day.

One of the beautiful alpine lakes in the park

The first stop on our accessible tour is the Devastated Area. Here is where lava, ash, and rocks rained down from the mountain and landslides scoured the earth bare of any trees. 80 years have shown that the forest can make a remarkable comeback but the area can still be seen in contrast to the undamaged areas adjacent to it.

An accessible, paved hiking trail about ½ mile long winding through various types of lava rocks and scenes of volcanic destruction. You also have a marvelous view of the old crater itself from here.

A field of Lassen wildflowers

On up to the next stop is a parking area at the highest point of the road. Along the way we are treated to colorful fields of wildflowers being watered from the icy cold melt water of the glaciers above. At this altitude, August is springtime.

We continue up to the summit parking area. From here the 10,457 foot peak is ribbed with year round glaciers and tantalizingly close. Alas, the ranger told us this trail is not accessible...although at least the first half mile in view of the parking lot doesn’t look like it would pose a major problem for chairs. We’ll leave it up to someone who is more adventurous to determine just how accessible it is.

Just down the road we come upon the Sulphur Works, a small geologic showplace. A large steam vent directly adjacent to the road is easy for wheelchairs to get a good look at. A bumpy boardwalk allows wheelers to go about 100 yards to see more steam vents, mudpots and a boiling creek. The view is great and ominous signs warn visitors to stay on the path or risk falling through the thin crust to a hot death!

The boardwalk allows you an up close look at the volcano's features

The boardwalk continues about another 200 yards but stairs block access to the rest of it. Most of the volcanic activity is concentrated in that first 100 yards, so you’re not missing much on the rest of the trail.

Not far beyond here the road leads out the south side of the park. All wheelchair accessible activities can be accomplished in half a day. In all, the park is very minimal in its accessibility and the largest, most scenic and spectacular parts of the park are off limits to wheelchairs at this time. On the plus side, you and your party don’t have to pay the entry fee by using the Golden Access pass.

The accessible trail crosses a beaver pond in Redding

Back in Redding, we visit Caldwell Park to the south where we find a amazingly accessible trail that winds for miles through cottonwoods, beaver ponds, and alongside the Sacramento River. This is a beautiful wheelchair hiking trail. (Park next to the picnic pavilion and look for the trail head to the east.

We had a lovely dinner on a deck overlooking the mighty Sacramento River at Amigos Mexican Restaurant which has great access to the best views of the river. Back at the Amerihost, we find an old cemetery out back behind the hotel where we have a game of who can find the oldest headstone. Tim wins with 1853.

Copyright 2000 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, September 2, 2019

Sun, Fun, Miami, and Mojitos - South Beach

The plan for the Florida Keys was one day in Key West, one day of snorkeling, one day to spend in Miami, and one free day.  The reality turned out to be the Key West day, the 'free day' was spent on a futile effort to see the Everglades when weather took away our day of snorkeling, and then a day going on a glass bottom boat tour.

Watch the Video!

Miami would have to be pushed back to the last day, where another potential problem reared it's head. Our flight home from Fort Lauderdale was to depart at 9:05am. Being 'special assistance' passengers mean we have to get there extra early...we shoot for two hours before leaving to make sure we have time to drop off the rental car, check in luggage, go through TSA, and find an airline representative to make sure they gate check Tim's chair and are aware of our needs. Yes, it is a bit easier when you're not in a wheelchair but such is life for us - we deal with it.
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That means getting to the airport at around 7:00am. Doing the math, with decent traffic, that means we need to leave our hotel in Key Largo at around 5:00am, which means we have to get up...damn, do we even get to go to bed?

Letty convinces me that this is not an ideal solution so we come up with a new plan of attack for our last day...move to Miami.

We really weren't in love with our hotel, the Hampton Inn and Suites, in Key Largo anyway. It did it's job but is really kind of a tired property in need of a rejuvenation in a quite stunning location. I went to the desk manager and cancelled our last night there.

Instead, I made reservations at the Homewood Suites near Fort Lauderdale airport for us to spend our last night there.  As a bonus, I was able to land the plushest suite (at least according to their website) for about $100 less than the rate we were paying in Key Largo.

Now, the plan is to leave Key Largo, head up to Miami, and spend a few hours there before checking in for the last night. I set the car's GPS for South Beach and off we go.

We make it over without too much drama.  The main, waterfront drag in South Beach is Ocean Drive and it's a bit crowded today. I make Letty and Tim a deal, if I can find a parking spot (which looks highly doubtful), we can stop and get out.  I go north to south on Ocean...nothing.  I go the other way and one spot opens up. I pull in and put in an hour's worth of change.

It's loud and a touch crowded as we navigate the sidewalk in front of all the art deco hotels, weaving in and out of crowded bars and tables before we find one with a lot of empty tables.

The staff at Mango's Tropical Cafe assures me they're open so we park to have a couple of mojitos for Tim and Letty while I get by with a Diet Coke.

The hostesses...and to the loud salsa music coming from inside the bar as we sip our drinks and people watch on the sidewalk of South Beach. Inside, there's a faux jungle and waterfall surrounding an island bar near a stage where full floor shows take place each night.

We're content with our drinks and wander around afterward, eventually crossing over to the beach.

Ripped bodies occupy the workout area while volleyballers spike on each other in their area.

Tim and I find a temporary mat that allows wheelchairs to roll over the berm to the main sandy part of the beach so we do and take a gander at the water and all the people laying about.

It's fun but about all there is to do at this time is to drink, walk around, take in the sights, and maybe lay out on the beach.  When our parking meter expires, we pile into the car and head over to Little Havana on Calle Ocho.

So here we are, after passing a massive traffic jam going the other way across the bay towards South Beach, in the heart of Little Havana.  Problem is, it's a Sunday and this very Catholic neighborhood is in church or otherwise at home...nothing is open and it is ghost town quiet.

I only see one man barbecuing dinner for his family in their driveway...and it was very tempting to just crash that party...but, otherwise, deathly still.

Except we found one bakery open so we grabbed a box of sweets for later while we head over to the last stop on Tim's list.

The Marlins were out of town this week, so we couldn't get inside to make it an official stadium visit, but we did drive over to Marlins Park so Tim could take a look at one of baseball's newest stadiums.

It was all blocked off but we managed to take a slow lap around before heading off to our hotel.

One last note about the hotel, the Homewood Suites at the airport was just as advertised...a very nice, plush hotel with a lot of room in the suite and big, comfy beds to rest up for our 9 hour flight home in the morning...and we only had to get up at six instead of God knows how early in Key Largo.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved