I realize the following report is extremely lengthy and that most will only view the pictures, but I also realize there will be a fair number of you who are looking for a virtual adventure, and even others of you who will gather some ideas for your future trip to some of these places. So, this is multi-faceted in that it also serves as a guide, of sorts, because where else are you going to find as many pictures of this area in one place?! Make no mistake, though, I am doing this for myself, too. I spent a great deal of time on this report so that I can relive my most incredible trip to date in complete detail at any time. With that in mind, I’ve included tidbits such as what I ate and when I called home, and the like, as this just helps to bridge any gaps in my memory and assists in remembering specific moments or days as a whole.
Immediately before the trip, I purchased a small, lightweight Sony digital voice recorder to record my journal information so that I could write this report, and this is the first of its kind that I've put up on this site. Also, the general format for this report and the initial idea to make this a day-by-day account was largely inspired by Stephen Balbach, another 4Runner owner who took a 5-week trip across the US in 2003. You may read about his adventure here. The day-by-day format also allows the most pictures to be displayed in the most intuitive way. So, pull up a chair, heat up a bag of popcorn (or five!), or even dinner, and come with me as I depart Denver and go on the journey of my life.
my sincere and heartfelt thanks
To my sister, Michelle, and family, thank you very much for the huge box of granola bars and for loaning me the big plastic bin. As you can see here, the bin sat right next to me the whole way in place of the front passenger seat. I packed a lot of stuff inside of it and my stove was even a perfect fit on top, and the whole thing always doubled up as a table on which held maps and atlases. These two items may seem small to you, but I can assure you I put those granola bars to good use and that bin was absolutely perfect. I have to keep looking for one for myself! Thank you for your prayers as well.
I'd like to thank Darwin Wiggett, a full-time photographer who resides in Calgary, and who gave me some very detailed insight in late 2004 when I made up my mind I was going to do this trip and when I first started to plan it. In the summer of 2004, he released his book, How to Photograph the Canadian Rockies, which is unquestionably the number one source for anyone looking to photograph in this region. It is extremely detailed, and even if you aren't a photographer, you will at least want to visit the places he lists. In fact, it was on an inquiry of mine on the Nature Photographers Network where this was one of the first places he announced the upcoming release of this book. It also covers photo tips and which months offer what in the Canadian Rockies along with the best times to visit all locations listed within.
To my newfound friend, K.C. O'Connor, in Lander, Wyoming, whom I had previously conversed with a number of times on a couple of internet message boards. K.C., you really got my trip off to a great start on day one and two. I can't thank you enough for showing me around the great Wind Rivers, along with the cool Wyoming hat (and yes, I've proudly worn it!) and fun reading material (Wyoming tourism and 4WD related). I look forward to future outings with you.
Also, thank you to my fellow coworkers and managers for allowing me to take this time off. Well, not that my coworkers had much say in the deal! Ha! Quite surprisingly, they were kind enough to save my desk for me, though my last day at work before departing, my photo buddy, Jody Grigg, had put a couple of signs at my desk, one of them which read: “Coming soon: office space for rent!” At any rate, it isn't common when one gets to take this much time off work for vacation.
One of the main reasons I didn't go earlier in June or July, though this probably would've been my initial preference, was due to the fact that I was just beginning to use the 4x5 large format camera system. I had been going back and forth for a number of months trying to decide if this format was going to be for me, and I knew that if I was going to do it, it had better be before this trip. Well, I eventually accrued all of my new camera equipment and figured I'd need as much time as possible to learn and feel comfortable using it. This turned out to be a non-issue as my first and subsequent trips with it went extremely smooth. So, I opted for a mid-August departure, which would also allow me to be back in Colorado for its incredible fall colors. I ended up taking another week off only a week after I got back from this trip!
Overall, I did very little planning for this trip. Other than noting down a few places I wanted to see, the trip was fully open with the ability to freelance and explore at leisure. During the trip, I only planned for the next day, and not much further. I guess six weeks allows one to not stick to a definite itinerary, though I usually wing most of my trips anyway, which is just the way I like it.
For those of you who are using this report as a resource to plan your trip, Edmonton-based photographer, Paul Skoczylas, has put up a 15-page visitor's guide to the Canadian Rockies parks that I also recommend checking out.
Marmot kicking back at Peyto Lake, Banff National Park
After departing from home, my first destination would be Lander, Wyoming. There, I would meet up with K.C. O’Connor for the first two days. The weather seemed rather abnormally chilly for this time of year, but it would be what I would experience for most of the rest of the trip. K.C. would be the only person I would meet up with on this trip. After that, it would be just me and the mountains.
I spent a night in southern Montana before heading up to Glacier where I would spend four days. I headed into Canada from the east side of Glacier at the Port of Chief Mountain where I would be questioned and checked more thoroughly than the rest of the traffic passing through, which was an interesting experience. I drove into Waterton and spent two days in the area, after which I headed up to Crowsnest Pass and through Kananaskis Country and continued into Banff National Park. I traveled this region, along with Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Mt. Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks, for the next four full weeks.
The weather in the Canadian Rockies saw a lot of overcast skies and morning fog that would hang around until late morning. I had a number of rain showers and a few snow showers. This weather definitely got old and depressing. I longed for a number of those 300 days of sunshine Colorado receives annually that I’m used to. I certainly wasn’t expecting this going in, and was counting on more blue sky, but since returning, I understand this is fairly typical for the area. If I knew this going in, I probably would’ve been more mentally prepared to face this, but as it was, this did affect my outlook on things. I took far less pictures than I was counting on and hoping for. And while I shouldn’t judge trips on that fact alone, it certainly came into play. Being that picture taking is always the main intent for any of my trips, in combination with the fact that I didn’t want to feel like I was throwing away vacation days that weren’t all that productive.
As I exited Canada into Idaho, I had clear blue sky overhead. The five days I spent roaming around there, which included Hells Canyon, the Owyhee Mountains, Sawtooth and Lost River Ranges, also saw a lot of sun. And yes, I even passed through Sun Valley. After the first day or two in Idaho, I thought the Canadian Rockies could sure learn something from this place! I would exit Idaho on Highway 26 and into Wyoming where I would spend one last night in the Snowy Mountains below Snowy Range Pass outside of Laramie, and just a few hours from home.
All in all, even though the weather in Canada was a major disappointment on the trip, it was nevertheless the best trip I have taken to date and I still enjoyed it immensely. The Canadian Rockies are a mountain paradise for any mountain lover such as I am. I was blown away, and I’m grateful that I got to spend as much time as I did there so that I could really get to know the place and learn a vast number of peaks by name. I am currently planning a return trip in 2007, though it will probably be closer to four weeks in length. If anyone wants to meet up for taking a picture or two, just say the word!
You might be wondering if I got to see or photograph the beautiful northern lights. Well sadly, this is the only image I came away with.
One of the things I wasn’t sure I wanted to disclose, or perhaps more accurately, that some of my family members possibly wouldn’t want me to disclose is the fact that I only took one shower on this trip! Yep, you read that right. Shower day came on day 14, which means it was 31 more days until I would get clean again when I returned home. Hey, I could easily do the mountain man thing! Wet Ones can be a very good thing, though! Some of you with more curious minds might be wondering if I looked like a full-fledged Grizzly Adams. Well, I did shave a few times, so I didn’t get totally out of hand. I do have a self-portrait I took near the end of the trip, but I’ll link to it instead of having the picture displayed on this page, so you’ll have to make a conscious decision to look at it. I will warn you that this is graphic in nature and may not be appropriate for younger audiences: Self-portrait.
I had budgeted about $420 for camping accommodations, which works out to be $10 a night, but I ended up spending a grand total of $37 CAD, which was paid over three nights. How did I manage this? Well, I have a strong dislike for paying for any camping as this allows for funds to be saved or spent elsewhere. Additionally, this means I’m not out there with other noisy people in campgrounds. Quiet is where I like it! I always camp for free in Colorado, and the majority of the time I have no idea where I’ll be staying that night, or if there will be a spot to stay at, but somehow I always find a place. Heading away from familiar territory, I figured camping on the cheap was going to be quite the formidable challenge. I didn’t receive any feedback on the various message boards about the possibility of camping for free (possibly for good reason—read below), so I had to find out on my own if this was going to work, which would be determined by the possibility of campground hosts checking for payments or patrolling the grounds at night (they didn’t). I mainly camped in national forest land in the US; and in the Canadian National Parks I stayed at trailheads and in the campgrounds. In the campgrounds, though, I ended up not paying after the second night. Not because I’m out to work the system over or because I have a complete lack of regard for the fees and management in place, rather because I usually arrive after 9:00 at night and am out before 6:00 in the morning and feel I’m not really using the place. I do realize this can be a hot topic and that this might make a number of you upset with me, which is fine and to be expected. If you’re one of those, chances are you’ll stop reading now. Perhaps going forward, I’ll receive some feedback and will change my stance on this, which I am open to. However, there have been two times where I have pulled into two Colorado campgrounds late and have spoken to camp hosts who had waived the fee as they apparently had the same feeling as I do. Whether or not they were the norm, I don’t know, but I mention this anyway. I do list the specific locations where I stayed each night on the following pages, indicating the free areas and the otherwise fee areas.
The next biggest expense was filling my cooler up with ice, which lasts about five days. So, somewhere between $20 and $30, I suspect. I stopped three times at stores to pick up a pack of lunch meat, bread and that type of stuff, which totaled less than $30. I didn't even stop at a Tim Hortons or for any other fast food, if you can believe that! So as you can see, this turned out to be a very cost-efficient trip for me except for the inordinate fuel costs.
Daily Travel Log
1: Home to Lander, WY