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SUMMER ADVENTURES: Alaska, Canada, and Home Again

Posted Aug 23 2008 3:00pm
We took the float plane back to King Salmon and then flew to Yakutat, our last stop in Alaska before crossing into Canada.





Dean (top) and Ron pumping self-serve jet fuel in Yakutat.

"Food, Shelter, Booze" at the Yakutat Airport



We passed up the fine dining offered at the airport in favor of sack lunches from the Lodge—sandwiches, chips, and oranges. Dean and I supplemented the ham and cheese from our sandwiches with the last Choco perfection bar and a few nuts retrieved from the bear safe when we left Brooks Camp.

Next stop: Calgary, Canada

Calgary is cowboy country. Wide open spaces, big skies, and cattle ranches. (Do Canadian cowpokes say, “Head’em up, move’em oot?”)

A nice gentleman, who is on the waiting list for an Eclipse jet of his own, found out from the Eclipse Website that the plane was scheduled to be in Calgary. In a display of Canadian hospitality, he offered to make car and hotel arrangements for us. He met us at the airport and looked longingly at the plane before taking us all out to a steakhouse for dinner. The next day we headed out by rental car to Banff and Lake Louise.

We stopped to have tea on the patio at the Banff Springs hotel. Styled after a Scottish baronial castle, it was built by railroad tycoon, William Cornelius van Horn. (First he built the trans-Canadian railroad and then he built somewhere for it to go.) Our destination, the Chateau Lake Louise, was another in the chain of vacation resorts intended to entice Eastern travelers to use the new railroads. The Chateau rivaled the hotel in Banff for opulence and surpassed it in the natural beauty of its site on a lake fed by Victoria glacier. The blue-green lake, punctuated by red canoes, was much too cold for swimming, although we watched as a hardy group of teenagers in bikinis plunged in and came out shivering on the other side. (They were speaking German, but I'm guessing this was some kind of initiation or dare.)



View of Lake Louise from our window



Chateau Lake Louise

The Chateau at Lake Louise contains several restaurants (I counted 6) offering cuisine that is billed as “local, fresh, and innovative.” Even the lavish breakfast buffet, included in the price of the room, reflected that philosophy. I won’t go into detail about the menus here, but I made copious notes to serve as inspiration when I get back in my own kitchen.

It would have been glorious just to take in the scenery and enjoy the food at the hotel, but the area also offers a wealth of attractions. We chose a drive through the Canadian Rockies to the Athabasca glacier and the Colombia Ice fields. This massive accumulation of ice and snow is a triple continental divide; its meltwater eventually drains into three different oceans, the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic.

We encountered fierce hailstorms on the way back to Calgary. Had we gotten there 15 minutes sooner, we could have taken off on schedule, but the delay made it impossible to arrive within our customs window in Everett, so we stayed an extra night in Calgary and changed our itinerary to return to the Renton airport where a customs agent was available on Saturday. We took in a movie and went out to dinner at another steak house. (It happened to be the opening day for Dark Knight . We walked right in to a half-empty theater for the matinee; by the time we came out, the line went around the block.) The next morning it was poached eggs again at the Denny’s attached to the hotel and then a spectacular flight home. Dean and I said our goodbyes to our gracious hosts and set out on another long taxi ride to retrieve our car from the airport in Everett.



Closing Thoughts:

We observed from the air as we flew over Alaska that the forests were half green, half brown. Spruce bark beetles have devastated the trees in Alaska, and as we later found out, also in parts of Canada. Global warming was most often cited as the culprit. (The beetles are native, not invasive.)



We’ve all heard the alarming statistics; the glaciers are retreating, the pack ice is breaking up, the polar bears are drowning. But it is not just the wildlife that is threatened. Life for the residents of Alaska is also changing. Everything is already expensive since most goods must be imported by air or by sea and that requires gasoline. In some areas, the price of energy is up to 10 times as much as in the lower 48. The population is shrinking as many people find that they can no longer afford electricity or heat and are forced to leave. A recent news story quoted Jacob Adams from Barrow: “We could be going back to dog teams if we can’t afford the cost of gas for subsistence hunting.”

Cruise ships, tour boats, campgrounds, and any venue that depends on the tourist trade requires a lot of energy. If the price of oil stays high, most of them won’t be able to stay in business, making a trip like ours difficult, if not impossible, in the future. I count myself lucky to have been able to see this last frontier before it is too late.



I’m going to wrap up this series about my fabulous summer adventures, but reserve the option to pick it up again later. My notes about our dining experiences are full of ideas (such as a decadent chocolate fondue) that are sure to find their way into future posts.

© 2008, Judy Barnes Baker

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