Saturday, September 5, 2015

Niagara Falls and the Final Journey Home

We started this National Park Tour adventure on May 16th and returned on August 30th. Can you believe 3 1/2 months have gone by and we are already back home? We've traveled 16,000 miles (!), visited 13 scenic locations and stayed at 21 different campgrounds. Although we're happy to be back in the familiar surroundings of our spacious home, we adapted to the trailer so well that our home seems strange. This trip was technically an extended vacation and plein air painting trip, but in reality, it became our lifestyle. Living in our humble little trailer reminded us that we can be incredibly happy with so much less. 
We left the magical mountains of Banff on August 15, expecting a scenic drive to entertain us as we headed east across the southern edge of Canada. It didn't quite happen that way. An hour outside of Banff and poof - the mountains were completely gone! Shortly thereafter, we found ourselves traveling through barren flat-lands that were, well, really flat and boring. Even though we stopped for a few days at two different places along Lake Superior, our excitement just wasn't the same.  Maybe we had been on the road too long or were spoiled by the breath-taking beauty that surrounded us for months. We coined some new phrases to describe our mental let-down: "flatlands depression", "missing mountain malasia", "lack-a-vista claustrophobia", and the all encompassing "lower altitude sickness".  

Doug continued to paint as we traveled, and he even found time to fish when we stayed at the Lake of the Woods in Kenora, Ontario. Nearby was Rushing River Provincial Park where Doug got to paint one of his favorite types of scenes - river rapids.   

We also stayed a few days in Wawa, Ontario. Sue was excited, thinking it was the birthplace of the famous Wawa chain and she loves Wawa coffee. Well, the town was very small and located in the middle of literally nowhere. Curiously, there was no reference to the store chain at all, yet there were carvings and statues of Canadian Geese everywhere, just like the Wawa stores.  

While there was little population in the Wawa area, there was Lake Superior Provincial Park and the Sand River. It was a place of rapids, brook trout and falls carved in granite by glaciers. Everywhere we looked there were glacier traces carved in the rock. One could only imagine the thousands of feet of ice grinding slowly on a long march to what is now the US. Quite beautiful. 

By the time we arrived at our last stop, Niagara Falls on the United States side, we were more than ready to return to our native country with all of its familiar conveniences. Doug's sister Deb had called, saying it took them 1 1/2 hours to clear customs and all of their perishable food items were confiscated. Taking heed, we gave away our food and headed for the border. As we pulled up, a rather surly looking guard greeted us and asked gruffly, "Where are you coming from?" When we told him Banff, his face lit up and he and Doug proceeded to have a nice chat about the beauty of the place and how the officer plans to go there someday. He then did a brief check of our passports and waved us on our way without even checking our food. The whole encounter took less than five minutes! 

Sue's daughter Kelly joined us for two days at Niagara Falls and painted with Doug. She now has the plein air bug too! 

When we arrived home on August 30, we were joined by Doug's children and Verna for a meal at the American Diner, a place where often eat. His son, Brian teased us, saying they had gone out of business without our visits. Of course, the diner was just fine without us, although we were missed and greeted warmly by the staff. What a wonderful way to celebrate the end of a fantastic trip.

While on the road, Doug entered a number of art shows and received an award from the Pastel Society of the West Coast for "Trinity Flow"

Also, a painting from the trip, "Anastazi Witness", was accepted into the Pastel Society of America's Annual Show in New York and is on display there for two weeks in September. 

It's hard for us to remember the details of all the magical and wonderful places we visited these past few months. We became completely immersed in the moment, taking in each scene with its sounds, air, altitude, colors and temperature. The photos, although beautiful, do not come close to the actual experience of being there.  Both of us hope that each of you can do something like this in your own way. It truly is a great way to celebrate life on this planet. 

"So, what's next?", you might say.  We're glad you asked!  Plans for our next adventure with Conestoga Lite are already in the works. Leaving sometime in March, we'll be traveling through the southern states to Palm Springs and Monterey, CA. 
We hope that you have enjoyed our adventures as much as we have enjoyed sharing them. Happy trails to all! 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Blog # 10 - Banff National Park and More Glaciers!

Just when we thought we had seen all the unique and majestic scenery there was to see, we traveled from Waterton Lakes to Banff in Alberta, Canada. Along the way, we had a spectacular drive through the Canadian Rockies and saw some of the most unusually shaped mountains and valleys we have ever seen. Doug was mesmerized the whole way and kept saying: "Aw man, there's goes a painting... there goes a painting...". He felt a lot better once we arrived and realized that the place we were visiting was as beautiful as the drive. 

The town of Banff is nestled in one of the valleys surrounded by the Rockies and our campground sits on a mountain plateau above town. A solo road, the Icefield Parkway, connects Banff National Park with Jasper National Park and the two cover the spine of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Millions of years ago, these lands were a warm, shallow sea that was uplifted by plate tectonics when continents collided. Glaciers that formed during the Ice Age eroded these mountains as they melted and contributed to creating the jagged and dramatic peaks. Many of these glaciers are still active today. 

We took a day trip up the Icefield Parkway to the Columbia Ice Fields and it was like stepping back in time.  Sue took photos while Doug painted the Athabasca glacier. As recently as the 1850's, this glacier covered the area where the road and parking lot are today. It is receding at a rate of 16 ft. per year and has receded .93 miles and lost over half of its volume in the last 125 years. 

Sprinkled among the mountains are streams and lakes created and fed by the melting glaciers. The minerals in the water have caused brilliant variations in color, from milky mint green to turquoise and dark blue. We visited two of the most prominent lakes: Lake Louise and Lake Moraine. Doug enjoyed painting this colorful landscape.

Another wonderful day trip was to Johnston Canyon. Over the course of 8,000 years, the slightly acidic water carved a beautiful slot canyon into the limestone rocks. Doug painted two waterfalls in that canyon.

Everywhere Doug looked, there was a painting and he savored them all. 

Doug's sister Deb and husband Mike have been traveling with us since Yellowstone. One day, Deb drove into Banff to shop and, since Doug was out painting, Sue got the brilliant idea to hike down from the campground to town, figuring she could get a ride back with Deb. One thing not taken into account was no cell phone service. After several call attempts, Sue realized she had no choice but to hike back up the mountain. It was then that all her previous hiking on this trip paid off. Although it was challenging, it wasn't nearly as difficult as it would have been at the beginning of the trip. Once she got to the top, she felt like Cheryl Strayed must have felt when she reached the end of the Pacific Crest Trail in "The Wild". 

In addition to the beautiful scenery, we found a great restaurant in Banff called Wild Bill's. Not only did they have a live band, but awesome chili and fabulous buffalo burgers. Needless to say, we had a great time with Deb and Mike, visiting, painting, hiking, photographing and eating!

After over a month of traveling with Deb and Mike, the time has come to part ways, as they head West toward Vancouver and we reluctantly turn Conestoga Lite toward the East to start our journey home. We'll be coming back along the southern edge of Canada and staying a few days at Lake of the Woods in Kenora and then at Wawa, near the Canadian side of Lake Superior. Our final destination will be Niagara Falls in New York. It's hard to leave the mountains, valleys and open space of the West behind, but we are looking forward to being home with family. If only we could get everyone to move West ......... 

Thursday, August 6, 2015


If you are receiving this blog for the first time, or missed previous ones, you can scroll all the way to the bottom to see all blogs from the beginning. 

After being on the road for 2 1/2 months, we looked forward to meeting up with relatives at Glacier National Park for a family reunion. For close to 60 years, this has been a tradition for Doug's mother's side of the family. Every three years, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins all gather at a scenic spot somewhere in the United States for a week of bonding, fun and relaxation. Previous family reunion locations include Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, The Grand Tetons In Wyoming, Arcadia National Park in Maine and Cour D'Alene in Idaho. As a result of passing years, Jeannie, Doug's Mom's sister, is the only family member left from her generation. She is quite healthy and spry at age 87 and we were glad she was able to join us.  

The family rented condos at Bay Point Lake in Whitefish, Montana, so we had the best of both worlds. The trailer was set up in a nearby campground, but we decided to take a break and stay in the condo with Doug's daughter and son, Betsy and Ben. It felt really strange to have so much living space and a dry bathroom! A high point of the week was having Doug's granddaughters, Ava and Ellie, stay overnight in the trailer. Betsy joined too and we all ate s'mores and had a great time feeding the mini horses, lamas and mules that were in the campground's petting zoo.

As it's name implies, Glacier National Park is a land shaped by the activity of glaciers. The mountains were thrust up from ancient sea beds and glaciers formed long, u-shaped valleys filled with lakes and rivers. There are a number of active glaciers in the park at high altitude and many beautiful and challenging hiking trails. The sons from three Tweddale families went on an overnight hike to a glacier field. Here's what they saw:

A special treat for Doug during the week was discovering that his cousin Janet dabbled in pastel and was eager to try painting plein air. With extra equipment in tow, they headed for the mountains on two separate days and painted river rapids and mountain scenes. Janet now has the plein air bug!

One of the features of Glacier National Park is Going- to-the-Sun-Road. This 50 mile road was built in 1932 with great effort. Park officials initially planned a design that was a switch-back road up a mountain face. They decided it would ruin the natural look of the landscape and opted to build a beautiful, yet more expensive road. It goes up the mountain gradually with only one switchback, so it blends in with the surroundings. 

Unfortunately, this road was closed near the top due to a 3,900 acre forest fire that started on July 22, right before we arrived. A Park Ranger told Doug it was started by a car overturning and catching fire. As of this writing (August 6) the fire was still burning and only about 67% contained. 

We were sorry not to be able travel the full length of the road to see the glaciers, but luckily, our next destination was Waterton Lakes National Park, which is on the Canadian side of Glacier National Park. On the way, were were able to look back to see the burning fire: 

At Waterton Lakes, our campground was right in the park and there were mountain vistas all around us. Doug was thrilled to be able to wake up and paint right away without having to drive for miles to find the right spot. The painting below is Mt. Vimy and he painted it right outside our camper in his "spare time", over the course of three days. 

One of the main attractions of the park, Cameron Falls, was right at the end of our road. 

Doug captured it's spectacular beauty in a painting. To Sue's dismay, a nice couple came by and explained that their family has owned a cabin near the waterfall for 40 years. They fell in love with the painting and offered to buy it. They made an offer Doug could not refuse, and so went yet another potential gem for Sue to hang on the dining room wall. She did manage to get a picture to remember it by:  

On August 2, we celebrated Sue's birthday with Doug's sister Deb and her husband Mike at the Prince of Wales Hotel. This hotel was built in 1927 by the American Great Northern Railway to lure American tourists north of the border during Prohibition. Situated on a high plateau among the mountains, it offered a spectacular view in addition to the beauty of the hotel itself. What a wonderful way to celebrate the day!

We have been amazed by the beautiful country we have seen, both in our destinations and in our travels. Clean flowing rivers, majestic mountains and mile after mile of productive ranches and farms. This country is truly beautiful from sea to shining sea! It needs to be seen to be believed. Everywhere Doug looks, there's a painting. So many, that it would take a hundred lifetimes to begin to scratch the surface.

Not only has the land been beautiful, but the people have been gracious and appreciative of Doug's work. He often has a crowd of people watching as he interprets and paints the surrounding landscape.

Our next adventure will take us to Fairmont Hot Springs in Alberta, Canada for three days of luxurious relaxation and rejuvenation. From there we go on to Banff, which is said to be a unique paradise on the scale of Yellowstone.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

2015 National Park Tour Blog #8 - Yellowstone, Crater Lake and The Grand Tetons

Sad to leave the Redwoods, but promising to come back, we pointed Conestoga Lite towards Yellowstone National Park. On the way, we made a quick stop at Crater Lake. Surrounded by state and national forests in south central Oregon, Crater Lake is a caldera that formed when a major volcanic eruption occurred on the top of Mount Mazama. At 1,943 ft, it is the deepest lake in the United States and the ninth deepest in the world. Because there is no sediment brought in by rivers, the water is very clear. Snow melt and rain provide a continuous fill. The Crater Lake area receives about 533 inches of snow every year - that's about 44 ft of snow! 

The water in Crater Lake considered to be among the top clearest in the world. To determine this, a black and white measure disk is lowered into the water until a person can no longer see it. The world record measurement at Crater Lake is 152 ft. This depth of clarity reacts with light, turning the water a deep indigo blue color that is unique and breath-taking. Unfortunately, Doug did not have enough time to capture this beauty in a painting, so we put it our list to return to Crater Lake some day. 

Driving from Crater Lake to Yellowstone, we drove over countless miles of open space consisting of rolling hills and desolate plains. There was no population of any kind for the vast majority of our trip. We were glad we filled our gas tank before we left because it took about 4 hours to reach a gas station with nothing else around. We were amazed that mile after mile of vast solitude still exists in this day and age.

After a long drive, we arrived at West Yellowstone in the rain where Doug's sister Deb and her husband Mike joined us again, this time with their own trailer instead of a boat. The nighttime temperature there was about 45 degrees and daytime between 65 and 75 degrees. We relished in the cool air as we watched the rest of the country, and particularly the east coast, heat up for the height of the summer. 

There's two phrases that describe our Yellowstone experience: un-freakin' believable and "buffalo traffic jam". Yellowstone is our nation's first national park. It covers 3,468 miles miles and a 34 by 45 mile area within the park is actually the caldera of an ancient super volcano that is still smoldering, but not presently active. Everywhere you go in the park, there are geysers, hot springs and fumaroles (steam vents) spewing sulfur-filled mineral water and steam. The whole area of the caldera contains patches of thermally heated ground. All of this makes for a very rare and unique terrain. In the caldera zone, there are geysers spewing water and steam, with Old Faithful being the most famous. There are also pools of heated water among brightly colored sediment caused by the various minerals and algae. Some examples are pictured below:

Surrounding the caldera area of Yellowstone, there is a phenomenal landscape including mountains, multiple rivers, beautiful canyons and over 300 waterfalls. These are interlaced with gorgeous expanses of open green and gold meadow lands. This brings us to the topic of "buffalo traffic jams"

Yellowstone is a sanctuary for multiple rare and endangered species like grizzly bears, wolves and bison. Other species include elk, moose, black bear and bald eagle. These animals wander freely throughout the park and are not intimidated by humans. Buffalo in particular, can be seen walking close to or even in the middle of the road. When this occurs, traveling cars slow down or stop to take pictures, causing a buffalo traffic jam. Sometimes they walk right down the middle of the road and we, as visitors, respectfully give them the right of way. This, of course, also causes a traffic jam. The buffalo prod along with proud indifference to cars, which makes us wonder if they just might be doing it on purpose as a payback for our intrusion into their lifestyle. No one seems to mind. What would normally cause road rage anywhere else is considered an awesome shared experience in Yellowstone.

The buffalo are amazing creatures. They have massive shoulders and heads for pushing aside snow to feed on grass in the winter. When you are near them, you can hear a low guttural growling sound and they are quite intimidating. We came across a heard of buffalo at Hayden Meadow. They were feeding three feet from our truck and although we were inside a metal box, we were still wary. We heard that some lady got out of her car to take a selfie too near a buffalo. She was thrown in the air and almost trampled, lucky to escape with minor injuries.

All of the wild animals roam freely out in the open at Yellowstone. The people next to us in the RV park said they witnessed a grizzly bear kill an elk and then leave. A second grizzly came by and buried the carcass, only to have the original grizzly come back and dig it back up. Travelling through the park is truly like being in an episode of "Wild Kingdom". When out of the car hiking and painting, we carried bear spray, as rangers recommended.  

With two weeks to explore Yellowstone, we decided to take a worthwhile side trip to see the Grand Tetons. The Tetons are near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, an attractive location for celebrities and royalty.  This mountain range is the newest formed in the Continental United States. They were named by French explorers who thought the mountains rising out of the plains looked like womens' breasts (Teton means breast in French). The earth is like a hinge underneath the Tetons, pushing them up as craggy, rugged rocks of granite. Doug did a painting of Mt. Moran - named after his idol, Thomas Moran. He thinks there ought to be an Albert Handell mountain too!


Needless to say, Doug was quite prolific in his painting during our Yellowstone stay. One scene he had to paint was Yellowstone's Grand Canyon, in the footsteps of Thomas Moran. For all of you Plein Air aficionados, there is no actual scene to match Thomas Moran's painting "The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone". He apparently created that painting as a composite of his many works. Doug's paintings show the upper and lower falls. 

Doug also painted thermal springs and river rapid scenes. When you look at Doug's paintings of the thermal springs, you'll notice the bright yellows, oranges and reds. This vibrancy, usually not found in nature, was a common theme of these fiery cauldrons.

One day, we were only able to get seven miles into the park due to a buffalo traffic jam. At first, we were a bit frustrated and anxious to get to the "gorgeous views" ahead. After an hour of creeping along, we noticed that the Gibbon River was running along our right side the whole time, so we pulled into a small picnic area. When Doug got out of the car, he immediately saw this beautiful scene of weather bleached logs lodged in the river and rushed to get his gear.  What a metaphor for life! Sometimes we get so focused on the promise of what lies ahead that we miss life's beauty surrounding us all the time. For another two hours, we watched the weary buffalo traffic jam drivers creep along, as Doug painted and Sue enjoyed the peaceful scene around us. Here's the painting:

On our last night at Yellowstone, we had a brief thunderstorm and were blessed by a beautiful rainbow. As we looked across the street, we saw it fall behind the huge Grizzly Bear statue pictured above. What a great way to end our trip!

Our next stop is Glacier National Park for a week-long family reunion with relatives from Doug's family, including children, grandchildren, siblings, cousins and their families one remaining aunt from his mother's generation.