Our 35th Road Scholar trip was simply splendid! It would be impossible to not be impressed by the scenery. The advantage to a group tour is that all the arrangements are made in advance -- lodging, meals, lectures. We left the driving to the bus driver so we just sat back and enjoyed the sights. Road Scholar programs are comprehensive. (We had one free afternoon and one dinner on our own, both in Banff. Everything else was included.)
You can read the official program details here. You have probably seen the Ken Burns National Parks series, so you know some of the background about the places we saw. We stayed in six hotels so we got used to unpacking and packing.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park. Geologist/tour guide Keith Watts (Earth Tours) provided interpretation for our tour of the park. In the afternoon we visited the National Museum of Wildlife Art which is a big place tucked into a hillside outside Jackson Hole.
Elk antler arches at the four corners of the Jackson Hole town square. They were a Rotary Club project in 1953 and have been rebuilt since. (Elk provide a renewable resource.)
Using a 2x4 to demonstrate geologic history.
The Moulton barn on Mormon Row. The barn is a well-known landmark. It's been photographed and painted many times.
Yellowstone National Park
The first national park (1872).
2.2 million acres, 2% developed.
4 million visitors in 2015. Up 6.5% so far in 2016.
We saw bison and elk, but no bears or moose.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
We had a step-on guide (park employee) for a daylong tour of the park highlights.
Lots of bubbling and boiling -- beautiful colors!
I saw Old Faithful erupt twice -- once from the porch of the Old Faithful Cafeteria and then from the back while we had a hike on the other side.
Look at all the people who lined up to see Old Faithful!
(We stayed at Canyon Village in a brand-new lodge.)
Mammoth Hot Springs was my favorite at Yellowstone. The boiling water leaches through limestone to create travertine marble.
The gate is at the north entrance to the park. We were exiting.
We spent Saturday night in Helena, Montana. That evening we had an introduction to Montana history. Sunday: on to Glacier! We enjoyed a box lunch on the grounds of the Glacier Park Lodge. There was a wedding on the lawn (unplanned entertainment for us).
We stayed at the Many Glacier Hotel. It was built in 1915 and designed to look like an Alpine chalet. Our room was on the other side (facing east). We had a balcony and found out that it was right under the eaves where bats roost -- four dead bats and a lot of bat poop! (Just before sunrise one morning I opened the curtains and saw the bats returning from their nocturnal hunting.)
We took a boat ride on Swiftcurrent Lake (seen in the hotel photo) and Lake Josephine. This required a walk between one lake and the other -- "just a quarter-mile," said the 25-year-old guy on the boat. Well, that quarter-mile was hard going for Stevens and another woman in the group who both have peripheral neuropathy. We appreciated the help of our fellow RS who lent their arms to help them get back.
This photo was taken facing west at sunrise, capturing the reflection of the mountains on the lake. It looks like a fake backdrop, doesn't it?!
We rode the Red Jammers along Going-to-the-Sun Road to the top of Logan Pass. The Jammers are 1930's buses that were retrofitted in 2001. They have the original bodies on modern chassis with flex-fuel engines. We saw four bighorn sheep far up on the mountain. (They appeared as four white dots in the photo that I took.)
Saint Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island
Crossing the Canadian border was easy. We had filled out customs declarations ahead of time and our passport numbers were all on a list. We stopped at Waterton Lakes National Park and the historic Prince of Wales Hotel. (It was named for him in hopes that he would stay there. When he eventually visited he stayed in a private home.)
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is a Unesco World Heritage Site. (In French: "Le Precipice a Bisons Head-Smashed-In.") Each year the Blackfeet rounded up buffalo and drove them over the edge of the cliff. They then butchered the buffalo to provide food and hides for the coming year. There are other buffalo jumps across the plains, but this one has the best archaeological record.
The village of Banff is enclosed by Banff National Park. The town is a lot like Jackson Hole (restaurants, galleries, winter sports, summer sports, tourists). Our hotel was right downtown. It was great to stay in one place for three nights! We began with a tour of the Whyte Museum founded by painters Peter and Catharine Whyte. The "Gateway to the Rockies" permanent exhibit provides an excellent history of the town, sports, and tourism.
This is the Whytes' house on the museum grounds.
Walking on a glacier was not on my bucket list, but now I've done it! We went to the Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park.
It's quite a tourist enterprise, with a large visitor center (and lodging). Actual time on the glacier is about 15 minutes. It's cold!
Glacial ice is a beautiful blue under the surface.
We stopped at Lake Louise in Jasper to see the historic hotel.
The lake is turquoise-blue because of "glacial flour," which is limestone suspended in the water.
Peyto Lake (pronounced p-toe) is another example of glacial flour. It really was this color.
We left Banff and headed to Calgary. We spent the day at Heritage Park. It is the largest living history museum in Canada and includes First Nations to the 1950's. There's a sod house, an "old west" town, and a carnival midway. A steam railroad train runs around the permeter of the park. It was a great way to wind down the trip.
Our final dinner, on Friday, was a banquet. Several people had collaborated on a ballad to commemorate our experience (sung to "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean). There were hugs and promises to stay in touch.
The trip home was blissfully uneventful. We landed on time at O'Hare, the limo came promptly, and we walked in our front door at 6 p.m.
It was grand!