Banff in June

As near as I can figure, it has been 50 years since I last camped at Two Jack Lake in Banff National Park. I have been to Banff many times since, and even camped at a couple of different campgrounds when I did the Tour de Canada in 2013. But for the most part I have always “hotelled it” in Banff.

My most vivid recollection of my previous camping experience at Two Jack Lake, with a couple of High School buddies, was renting a row boat on Lake Minnewanka, just down the road. As I recall, we only rented it for an hour or two. While on the lake, and while we were at some distance from the dock, a storm blew up. I recall that it was severe enough that we weren’t sure if we would actually make it safely back to the dock. In any event, we did survive – or I wouldn’t be sharing my teenage angst with you now! But maybe I learned a little bit about perseverance and focusing on the task rather than panicking – important lessons for a 16-year-old.

So 50 years later I spent 3 nights camping at the Two Jack Lake Campground. That lent itself to 4 days of photography, but no boat rentals!

As seems to be my luck, the weather was not the most cooperative on this trip. However, I think this provided a bit of an opportunity for a step forward in my photographic journey. As a result of an online course I was working on (, rather than just write the time off, I really started looking at other opportunities the lack of “perfect” shooting conditions presented. I really think that my journey took a big step forward on this trip. Not everything worked out, but that’s OK. It was the process of seeing things differently that was important. And I think, to some extent, I continued this process on a photo workshop I did in July (more about that in the next post).

So here I will share some of the good. The bad and the ugly I will keep to myself and use as building blocks for the future!

The first afternoon I spent setting up camp and doing some exploring. I didn’t find much to photograph other than some sheep eating by the roadside (and I saw them a lot over 4 days!). For the most part they still seemed to be in the process of losing their winter coats.

The next morning I was up early to try for a sunrise shot. However, with heavy overcast and rain, that wasn’t going to happen. But while I was waiting for something to happen on my intended composition, I noticed some light starting to appear off to my left. Quickly, I picked up my camera and tripod and re-positioned myself a little distance away to get this shot.

Island in the Sun

I loved how the light seemed to be lighting up the little “tree island” in the lake. The light didn’t last long so I returned to my original location. I composed my shot and waited. When it became abundantly clear that a spectacular sunrise was not going to light up the mountains, I decided to play a bit with long exposures. With very little color in the scene, when I took my photos I was envisioning them in Black and White. I think I ended up with something kind of nice. While the rocks aren’t perfectly placed (and I was not about to wade out and try re-positioning the rocks and my back!), they do lead your eye into the scene. The 13-second exposure really flattens out the water and leads to some nice reflections.

Two Jack Lake

After breakfast it was off to do some more reconnoitering. I ended up at Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park in BC, west of Banff. When I first arrived it looked like the overcast conditions would be perfect for shooting the waterfall. Not only was it cloudy but the sun was not high enough to be shining directly on the falls. Direct sunlight is the enemy of shooting waterfalls. With the bright reflection off the water it basically “blows out” the falls relative to the surrounding environment. It is very difficult to get a nice shot of waterfalls in direct sunlight. “Crappy light” is so much better. Anyway, by the time I hiked the short distance into the falls the light was changing rapidly. I did manage to get a 5-shot vertical pano in before the sun became a blazing ball of fire directly overhead. It’s not the greatest shot but was the best I was going to get for several hours at any rate.

Takakkaw Falls

I went to bed early that night in anticipation of trying a sunrise shot at Moraine Lake the next morning. The forecast didn’t look promising but it would still be worth the hour’s drive in the morning to at least check out a site that I had never been to before. As it turned out, the rain and heavy overcast did not produce any decent images, but at least I now knew the “lay of the land”. I would try again the next morning.

On the way back from camp I started to think about how I could look at things differently. One of the take-aways from the course I was working on was that if there wasn’t a “big” landscape to shoot, start isolating and looking for little scenes. As I was driving past Two Jack Lake I noticed some interesting meadows in the mountains across the lake peeking through the cloud and fog. I pulled over and with my 400mm lens started trying out several compositions. I ended up with this shot which I quite like.

The next morning it was up again at 3:00 am for the hour-long drive to Moraine Lake. This time I was greeted with heavy fog and cloud. Still, I set up for a possible sunrise shot. As Blue Hour progressed, the fog started to lift revealing parts of the lake. This was my favourite of the fog shots.

Moraine Lake Fog

I continued to wait past sunrise. It was much too cloudy to get the sun lighting up the peaks across the lake. However, as the sun got higher it did burn off enough cloud to get this shot. Where I was positioned it is a very steep drop-off to the lake. If it was any steeper it would be considered a cliff. As it was, I thought the rocks beneath my feet provided a nice frame for the shot.

Moraine Lake

And with that it was time to return to camp, pack up and head for home. While maybe I didn’t get the “iconic” shot to hang on the wall, I feel that in some way I grew as a photographer on this trip. So in that respect it was a very successful outing. Sometimes waiting 50 years is worth it! Different times and different lessons but still an important experience.

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Springtime in Jasper

Towards the end of May I spent 3 nights camping in Jasper National Park. Naturally my prime reason for the visit was to do some photography.

The first morning I got a couple of different views of Geraldine Peak. The first is from Leach Lake at sunrise and I managed to include the moon. There was even a little layer of fog on the water although it is hard to discern in the photo. The second was from along the Whirlpool River a bit later in the morning.

While at Leach Lake that morning I got a shot of the sun just lighting up the tops of the mountains across the lake.

In early evening I hiked in to the 5th Lake in the Valley of the Five Lakes. I got a few shots before the mosquitoes and some rain moving in convinced me I wasn’t going to wait around for sunset.

The following day I caught some nice reflections in Annette Lake.

Over the several days I was there, I also caught a few wildlife shots.

A few weeks later, I was in Jasper again. This trip was primarily for the Jasper Fondo Weekend which is a cycling event. I opted for the 100 km ride. The first part of the ride was a bit of a struggle for me with a 14 km climb up Marmot Mountain. The rest of the ride was pretty nice though.

I stayed a couple of nights after the ride and did an evening and sunrise shoot at Horseshoe Lake, a new location for me.

There’s always something new to explore in Jasper National Park!

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Banff in April

At the end of April I spent a couple of nights in Banff, hoping to get some good opportunities for photography. Unfortunately it was snowing much of the time and the sky was mainly a dull gray – not great conditions for capturing landscapes. As I haven’t spent a lot of time in recent years exploring around Banff, it did at least give me the opportunity to scout out some locations for a return trip. And I did get a few photos.

I tried shooting at Vermilion Lakes several times and really only got one decent shot on one chilly morning. The temperature was below freezing when I got there about an hour before sunrise. As it turned out, sunrise wasn’t all that spectacular but I did get the shot below, which was about as good as it got. You can even see the thin layer of ice on the water around the grasses.

The second shot is of Castle Mountain. I kind of liked the patch of light on the grass.

The third and final shot is of Two Jack Lake. As you can see it was fairly heavy overcast with snow and ice still on the lake. There wasn’t a lot of color overall so it seemed like a good candidate for Black & White.

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Route 66 – California (Part 2)

Barstow marks the boundary between the “sparsely populated” and “heavily populated” sections of Route 66 in California. And it marks a visible shift from businesses that are just hanging on (or have long gone) to businesses that capitalize and thrive because of their association with Route 66. There are, no doubt, numerous reasons for this. I’m sure that, with a larger population base, many of these businesses would survive even without Route 66. However, I suspect that tying their business to Route 66 also attracts the tourist trade. And some of these businesses have been around since the heyday of The Mother Road.

A few blocks off of Route 66 in Barstow is the Barstow Harvey House. Built in 1911, it was originally a Harvey House Hotel and train station. It now houses various offices, train station, train museum, and a Route 66 museum. I toured the latter museum and it is well worth the visit.

Barstow Harvey House

As always, click on a photo in the galleries to open a larger version.

If you are looking for a vintage motel experience, the Route 66 Motel offers accommodation in renovated rooms that still retain the feel of a 50’s motel. My room was plain but very clean and comfortable.

A new restaurant is Roy’s Cafe – inspired by the original in Amboy. While the building is owned by the same fellow that owns Amboy, the cafe itself is operated independently. It’s an interesting mix of a burger joint and Mexican restaurant. It also serves breakfast. I tried it both for dinner and breakfast and would definitely go again if I am in Barstow in the future.

As you drive through Barstow, there is lots of evidence of its connection to Route 66 – from murals to old buildings and new businesses.

A little west of Barstow, near Oro Grande, is The Bottle Tree Ranch. It is a unique “forest” of old bottles. Entry is free however they do accept donations.

Another rather interesting place was just a bit further down the road from The Bottle Tree Ranch. While I was stopped and taking a few shots of the obviously closed Iron Hog Restaurant & Saloon, a fellow came out from inside and we started chatting. He said the place was being renovated after a fire and asked if I wanted a tour of the inside. I said “sure” and he showed me around. The actual bar was quite old and seemed like the perfect spot to belly up for a beer. The fire damage was most predominant in the kitchen area and this is where the renos were being concentrated. Their hope was to open at least part of the business as soon as they could. I haven’t been able to confirm online if they have in fact reopened yet, but maybe next time through I will stop by and check it out.

The claim to fame of the Iron Hog , other than its long history, is that parts of some movies had been shot there, including Easy Rider and Erin Brockovich.

In the town of Oro Grande itself are some interesting little antique and craft shops along with a pizza restaurant.

Perhaps one of the better known and oldest eating establishments along this section of Route 66 is Emma Jeans Holland Burger Cafe, just on the outskirts of Victorville. Originally called the Holland Burger Cafe, it has been serving meals since 1947. In 1979 Richard Gentry bought the cafe for his wife and renamed it after her. Richard and Emma Jean have since passed away but the cafe is still in the family, operated by their son and his wife. The food is reputed to be fantastic, however as it was too early for lunch I opted for one of their famous shakes.

The city of Victorville has a great Route 66 Museum. In the museum is the neon sign from another Route 66 motel, The Green Spot Motel. The motel itself, minus the green neon sign, is a few blocks from the museum.

From Victorville to San Bernardino parts of Route 66 get swallowed up by the I-5. A good guide book helps to navigate one’s way along the freeway and eventually back onto The Mother Road.

A few blocks off of Route 66 is the San Bernardino train station. The building’s architecture makes it a “must see” if you are in the area.

By now I needed a good night’s rest, so it was off to the Wigwam Motel to get a feel for Route 66 in its heyday. The San Bernardino location is one of the remaining three of the original seven motels. This one was built in 1949 and has been thoroughly restored since the current owners purchased it in 2003. The teepee-shaped rooms are definitely unique.

As you continue your way along Route 66 a good guide book is almost essential for directions. Along the way there are plenty of references to the historic highway.

There are a number of great dining spots along the way. At the Donut Man in Glendora, be prepared for long lines. Their Strawberry Donuts (a seasonal specialty) can only be described as a bit of heaven on earth! They are huge and one is a meal by itself! A great spot for breakfast is LeRoy’s in Monrovia. And if a donut and breakfast doesn’t fill you up, stop in at the Fair Oaks Pharmacy in South Pasadena for a burger or a sundae! The Pharmacy has been around since 1915. If only those walls could talk!

For a little detour off of Route 66, one can easily spend a few hours or all day at Huntington Gardens. It’s a perfect way to walk off breakfast at LeRoy’s before you go for a burger at Fair Oaks Pharmacy! The gardens are absolutely beautiful!

Route 66 has had three terminations over the years due to different alignments. The last termination was at Santa Monica Pier and this is what folks now generally consider the end of Route 66. As it was getting on in the afternoon when I left Fair Oaks Pharmacy, I opted to drive by the quickest route to the pier rather than trying to navigate, using my guidebooks, the streets of LA. One day perhaps I will return to seek out the first two endings for the historic highway.

As it was, it was a good thing that I left myself lots of time as, on the first pass, I missed the driveway to my hotel which was only a couple of blocks from the pier. With a lot of traffic in the area at that time of day, it literally took me about an hour to drive around the block. Believe me I didn’t miss the hotel entrance the second time! I didn’t have a lot of time after checking in to get settled in my room then get down to the beach for a sunset shot of the pier.

Sunset at Santa Monica Pier

The next morning I took some sunrise shots of Santa Monica Pier then spent a bit of time on the pier itself.

To finish off my journey, I spent about half an hour standing near the sign marking the end of Route 66. Just for fun, I took a photo of everyone taking group photos or selfies at the sign. It is quite amazing how many photos are taken in a relatively short time. To end off this post, here is a collage of some of the shots I took.

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Route 66 – California (Part 1)

I don’t know why I have this “thing” for Route 66. As a Canadian, my interest may seem a bit odd. After all, it is a US highway and a decommissioned one at that. And much of it doesn’t even exist anymore! But the more I have traveled along parts of it, I have discovered that people from all over the world seem to have some kind of attraction to “the Mother Road”. Maybe its just a bit of nostalgia that lives in all of us

I think I first became consciously aware that Route 66 was something real, and not just something of fiction, a number of years ago while sitting in a pub in St. Louis. Noticing the “Historic Route 66” signs around, I think it sunk in that there really was a Route 66 and it had passed through St. Louis. Several years later, I remember standing on the steps of the Chicago Art Institute, looking across Michigan Ave. at the corner of Adams Street and thinking “here is where Route 66 starts”!

What opened my eyes to the photographic possibilities of the highway was a one-day workshop I took in March of 2018 from Canadian photographer Sandi Wheaton who has her own connection to “Mainstreet of America”. Check out her story at On this particular workshop we shot scenes in Oatman, AZ, Needles and Amboy, CA. That planted the seed that maybe this could become a project to work on over time. I’m still not certain of the theme of my project but one thing that strikes me is how some places have thrived and others have died. Much of this may be related to various realignments of the highway over time, but other factors may include the ebb and rise in tourist interest in Route 66.

This past winter, I made several day trips and one 4-day trip to photograph scenes along Route 66 from Needles to its termination at the Santa Monica Pier. Perhaps in future years I will continue my journey eastward through other states. In this series of posts, however, I will chronicle my journey along Route 66 in California.

Needles, CA sits where Route 66 crosses the Colorado River from Arizona. There is plenty of evidence of the ties between the city and the highway including a mural that depicts a Route 66 sign, Snoopy, Charlie Brown and Spike (Snoopy’s older brother who allegedly lives in the desert near Needles). Charles Schulz spent part of his childhood in Needles.

As always, click on a photo in the galleries to open a larger version.

Leaving Needles, a short jaunt north on I95 will reconnect you with Route 66. Traveling west, you will soon come to the town of Goffs. There are many deserted buildings in the town, but there is also what looks like a very interesting museum in the old schoolhouse. Unfortunately it was closed the day I was there, but it is likely worth a return visit at some point. When I40 replaced much of Route 66 in California it spelled the demise of many small towns. Goffs is one of many such casualties.

A little further down the road, just before Route 66 crosses I40, is Fenner, which now isn’t much more than a gas station and convenience store.

Crossing I40 and continuing on a few miles brings you to Essex, and the end of the road for this segment of Route 66. Heavy rains several years ago washed out some bridges, closing a segment of the Mother Road.

To rejoin Route 66 it is necessary to return to I40 and travel west as far as Kelbaker Road. Travelling south on Kelbaker Road brings you back to Route 66. The highway to the left of the intersection is barricaded and indicates “road closed”. However, if you drive around the barricade you can backtrack on Route 66 as far as Chambless. Along the way is the Roadrunner’s Retreat Restaurant, long closed. There isn’t much in Chambless other than an old abandoned motel and what may have been a store. With I40 bypassing this whole area it is pretty easy to see why businesses have failed.

Resuming the trek westward soon brings you to Amboy, home of Roy’s Cafe, one of the better known and often photographed stops along Route 66. In 2005 the town was sold to the owner of the Juan Pollo restaurant chain who has put some money into renovating some of the buildings, including the cafe which is now more of a snack bar. Over time it will be interesting to see what further improvements are made.

As you continue west from Amboy you pass a black cinder cone, Amboy Crater, the remains of an extinct volcano.

A number of communities, such as Bagdad, that did exist at one time on the next section of road have completely disappeared. The next town that still exists is Ludlow.

As is normal for many of the towns along this part of Route 66, Ludlow has its share of old abandoned buildings, again a casualty of I40 which passes, within sight, just a short distance to the north.

Based on reviews I had read online, I stopped for breakfast at the Ludlow Cafe. With friendly service and good food, it was well worth the visit.

The next town on the trek west is Newberry Springs. The best know attraction in this community would, of course, be the Bagdad Cafe. The cafe became the set of a German-made movie by the same name, filmed in 1987. One well-known actor in the movie was Jack Palance. His character lived in an airstream trailer on the lot. The movie is about a German woman who gets stranded in the desert and walks into the cafe. Over time, while renting a room in the adjacent motel, she befriends the quirky characters associated with the cafe and motel. The movie is actually quite good and has almost a cult following – many Europeans visit the cafe every year because of the movie. The motel is gone (except for the sign) and the trailer is a shell but the coffee in the cafe was good.

A little further down the road, “downtown” Newberry Springs consists of a bar and a market.

The last town, before hitting Barstow, is Daggett. The town seemed to have a little more population than any community I had passed through since Needles. The little convenience store seemed to have a steady stream of customers. Across the street are two boarded up and fenced off buildings (an old general store and hotel) giving evidence, that this community like so many others along Route 66, is struggling to survive.

In Part Two I will continue my journey in Barstow. But I will leave you with this nod to by-gone days.

(L-R) The People’s General Store and Old Stone Hotel, Daggett

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Zion and Bryce

It’s a rainy day here so it seems like the perfect day to add another blog post.

The Spring trip with my camera club buddies was to Zion and Bryce National Parks. I had previously been to Zion but Bryce NP was a new location for me. As we would discover, although beautiful at any time of the year, early Spring is perhaps not the most pristine time to visit.

One of the attractive aspects of Zion is the contrast of green cottonwood leaves against the red rock cliffs. With the trees bare this attraction was missing. I’m sure a week or two later it would have been spectacular as the new leaves pop out with that gorgeous green you get in the early Spring. We also had to abandon plans to hike the Narrows as the water flow rate was too high for safety.

With respect to Bryce, a combination of the winter’s snow along with fresh snowfall while we were there meant that most of the park was closed to vehicle access. As well, the trails below the rim were closed which meant that any photography involved shooting down into the canyon. I suspect that there are better shots to be had if you could get down below the rim and shoot across at the formations rather than down on them from above.

Now don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the trip and it is always great to see locations at different times of the year and in different conditions. I just found that photography was a little more challenging, but certainly not impossible, at this particular time.

Our first shoot in Zion National Park was of The Watchman. The last time we were in Zion we did the iconic shot from the bridge (see ). This time we shot it from along the river which gave quite a different point of view.

The Watchman

Early morning can yield some beautiful views along the Virgin River such as this one taken near The Grotto.

Due to rockslides, much of the Emerald Pools trail is closed although you can get as far as the lower pool. Here I tried my hand at a vertical pano.

Waterfall, Lower Emerald Pool

Backlighting of trees, combined with being in a canyon, can lead to some interesting black and white photos.

Sometimes, when wandering about, you come across little gems, like this mini waterfall. It was probably not much more than a foot in height. In this case I found that in the color version, the “stuff” around the waterfall (rocks, branches, deadfall, etc.) was a distraction while the B&W version tends to draw your attention to the waterfall itself.

For our second evening shoot we returned to a spot we had visited before to catch Mt. Kinesava in the light of the setting sun. I also took a pano stretching from Mt. Kinesava around to Johnson Mountain.

Early the next morning we donned our headlamps and repeated the hike to Canyon Overlook. While the hike is only about 20 or 30 minutes, the narrow spots on the trail can be somewhat intimidating in the dark. It is much more fun hiking out in the daylight. At the overlook we had a chilly, blustery wait for sunrise. With not a cloud in the sky it was not the most spectacular sunrise, but we did get some nice lighting on the tops of the Temple of the Virgins.

The rest of the day was spent poking around various parts of the park looking for some interesting compositions.

In the scene on the left I played around for a while with reflections in the little stream but ended up liking this composition better. I loved the texture in the old tree and how it leads into the scene.

The pair of photos below shows two different views of a twisted old pine growing out of a huge rock dome. It’s astounding that the tree has managed to survive.

Sunset that evening was a bit of a bust as in late afternoon the sun disappeared behind a heavy bank of clouds. Still, I managed to get some interesting late afternoon light.

The next morning we set up behind the museum to shoot upwards at the mountains we had shot down at the day before.

Temple of the Virgins

Following breakfast it was off to Bryce National Park. As mentioned above, most of the park was covered in snow and not open to vehicles. While we were there we were treated to fresh snowfall. With the snow, the rock formations in Bryce Canyon took on the appearance of gingerbread layered with icing.

And of course, as often happens on our trips, “those umbrellas” made an appearance.

In the photo below, I loved the reflections off the pavement as the trail leads you into the distant mist caused by the falling snow.

In the next two photos I was captivated by the early morning sun highlighting the snow-covered ridges. In the first one, I particularly like the “spotlight” on the little grove of trees.

All too soon it was time to head back home. While perhaps all of our expectations weren’t met on this trip, we still saw some pretty spectacular scenery. And there is always next time! Besides which, the companionship of my fellow photographers was second to none!

Sunrise at Bryce Canyon
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Eye Opener

This past winter I had the opportunity to take a photo workshop, actually more of a photo tour, with Sandi Wheaton of the Salton Sea and area. I had met Sandi a year earlier when I took a Route 66 photo workshop from her.

Sandi is a Canadian photographer who has a passion for the Salton Sea and spends as much time as she can photographing it along with other areas in the Southern California desert.

Our day started in Bombay Beach. I had driven through Bombay Beach previously and it had left the impression of a rotting, abandoned town. While there were a few places inhabited, there were many abandoned, dilapidated homes that looked like the inhabitants had just walked away from them. Touring the town with Sandi really opened my eyes. The town is an incredible place with a lot of amazing art installations scattered throughout. It just shows that sometimes you just need someone to point out what is right in front of you.

Opera House

The Opera House occasionally hosts live performances. The unique design on the walls is actually made up of old flip flops.

Opera House walls

Perhaps appropriate to Bombay Beach is a Bomb Shelter.

And of course what would a town be without a drive-in theatre? I understand that occasionally they show movies, projected onto the side of the semi-trailer at the front.

Yes there is a beach, although it looks like a few boats have been left high and dry.

Bombay Beach is definitely a place you can return to again and again to explore. Every time you visit you will find something different – either because you missed it before or it is something new that has been added. I think the town will continue to grow and become known as a center for visual arts.

After a stop at the Ski Inn (a great stop for lunch or a brew by the way) we were off to Salvation Mountain. Constructed of adobe and straw, the mountain was created by Leonard Knight as a demonstration of his spirituality. It is covered by murals and biblical verses painted in mostly donated paint. My understanding is that for years the “price of admission” was cans of leftover paint. The Folk Art Society of America designated it a place worthy of preservation in 2000. Knight passed away in 2014. There is no admission charge but donations are accepted.

From Salvation Mountain we journeyed a short distance to East Jesus in Slab City. An old Marine base, Camp Dunlap, Slab City is a huge community of squatters who have set up camp on the concrete slabs left behind when the military buildings were removed. At first site, East Jesus seems to be a collection of junk and you wouldn’t be far off base. In reality, it is an amazing collection of Trash Art. It is truly an incredible place. The more you explore the more you discover. And the more you look at items the more you see as to what components it was created from. I don’t know how many times I stopped and just marveled at the genius and creativity that went in to a piece. While there is no admission charge, donations are gratefully accepted. And they will happily accept old junk that you want to donate – on a future visit you just might find it has been turned into a work of art.

One piece that I found quite interesting, at first glance, just looked like a giant billboard with lots of little sayings on it. Then I realized it was actually a pile of old TV’s and that most of the messages on the screens related in some way to the media or communication.

I enjoyed the three sites visited so far so much that a few weeks later I took my wife and two friends, who were visiting us, for a day of exploration. They thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Our final stop for the day was a sunset shoot on the Salton Sea. Despite the troubles faced by the sea, it is still a beautiful place to visit and explore. And if you are a photographer new to Southern California or just want to find some interesting and unique areas to photograph, I highly recommend one of Sandi’s workshops (see the link above).

Salton Sea Sunset
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Some Debts Can Never Be Repaid

Remembering the brave Canadians who gave their all 75 years ago at Juno Beach. We can never repay their sacrifice.

Remember D Day, June 6 1944.

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Joshua Tree Sunrises

Sometimes its fun to return to the same spot on different days to take essentially the same photo in different conditions. Last December I drove up to Joshua Tree National Park on four different mornings to take sunrise shots. On three of those occasions I shot from essentially the same spot.

Here are the three different photos showing quite different lighting on the different mornings.

For the last one, here is the look at the sky directly behind me that was lighting up the scene above.

On the final morning I shot from the Cholla Cactus Garden.

There is no arguing that the desert is beautiful in the morning and Joshua Tree National Park is a great place to experience it.

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Maligne Lake 2018

Once again it seems I am sharing a trip long after it occurred. Between taking photos, processing them, and life in general, blogging often seems to take a back seat until I finally decide to get caught up.

Last September I went on what has become a somewhat regular canoeing trip on Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park. I would call it an annual trip except that, while I have done the trip several times over the past few years, I haven’t quite made it every year. In fact, it was two years since I last did this trip. So, I don’t know, maybe I should call it a “sporadically non-annual trip”. But I digress.

The best way to experience Maligne Lake is by canoe or kayak. Actually it is really the only way to see the entire lake as there are no roads or hiking trails that take you around the lake.

The night before we started paddling, my friend James and I stayed in one of the Tentpiks at Whistlers Campground just outside of the Jasper town-site. A combination of a cabin and a tent, they are quite comfortable and certainly less expensive than a hotel in Jasper. And you don’t have to fold up your tent in the morning – you just shut the door and leave.

Early next morning we loaded up the canoe at the launch ramp at Maligne Lake and set off. It is always best to get on the lake as early in the morning as possible, before the wind starts to come up. As well, an early start gets you part way down the lake before the tour boats, taking tourists down the lake to Spirit Island, start running. This morning, the water was like a mirror and the silence was broken only by the sound of our paddles dipping in the water and the occasional call of a loon.

An early morning start

The lake is about 21 km long. Our normal routine is to paddle about halfway the first day, to Fisherman’s Bay. The second day we continue on to the far end and spend two nights at Coronet Creek Campground. Our return trip mirrors our first two days with an overnight stay at Fisherman’s Bay then a paddle out to Home Bay on the final day.

We were able to get a couple of kilometers in before the tour boats started to run. The operators are good about slowing down as they approach, to reduce their wake. Even so, as every boat passes you have to turn your canoe into the wake and wait for the waves to subside before turning back onto your course. With the boats passing about every 10 minutes it tends to slow your progress.

Loaded canoe at Four Mile Point
Love the texture

About halfway to Fisherman’s Bay we made our usual rest stop at Four Mile Point. This gives us a bit of a respite from the tour boats before we continue on to our final destination for the day. We arrived at Fisherman’s Bay in early afternoon. After setting up camp and having some lunch, James was off fishing. James loves to fish and I am quite happy to help him eat whatever he catches. This afternoon we had fresh Brook Trout for an appetizer before dinner.

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Later in the afternoon another friend, Garry, arrived in his big freighter canoe powered by an electric motor. Gas motors are not allowed on Maligne Lake other than for the tour boats and the Park Ranger’s boat. Garry is another avid fisherman so between the two of them we were seldom short of tasty appetizers on this trip.

The “exciting change” since our last visit was the replacement of the “throne room with a view” by a new high-tech composting outhouse, complete with a foot-operated conveyor belt. I will spare you the sordid details other than to say it was a pretty spiffy biffy!

“Old” on left, Spiffy Biffy on right

Early the next morning we were on the water again. The nice thing about the far end of the lake is that once you get past Spirit Island there are no more tour boats. The boats pull into Spirit Island (which is more of a peninsula except in Spring when snowmelt raises the lake level) so that tourists can get their photos before shuttling then back up the lake to Home Bay. As a result the second half of the lake is undisturbed by boat traffic and is absolutely stunning.

Coronet Creek campground, at the far end of Malign Lake, is a beautiful spot. And here again Parks Canada had a nice surprise waiting for us: new picnic tables and bear lockers had been installed since our last visit. For those not familiar with back country camping, bear lockers are not to keep bears in but rather to keep food away from bears. When camping in the back country you need to be very careful about storing food, or anything that smells like food (cooking pots, toothpaste, etc.) so as not to attract bears. Many sites now have steel bear lockers or bear poles for hanging your food bags from. In the absence of either you may have to rig up suspension from a tree (see my previous post).

New tables and Bear Lockers

We spent two nights at Coronet Creek which gave us a full day to explore the area. There is a nice trail up towards Coronet Glacier that starts in the campground which we have hiked in prior years. This time James and I headed across the bay and hiked along a creek up a valley. As there was no trail our hike often involved a bit of guess work as to how best to get where we wanted to go. It was all worth it though as there was some beautiful scenery along the way, including some little waterfalls.

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Our final two days, returning to civilization, were pretty uneventful. The last morning, as we left Fisherman’s Bay, was a little windy and rough for the first hour or so then the lake settled down again. All-in-all another great trip!

Two tour boats pass in the distance

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