Who pooped in the van?
Never ever is that a question you want to have to ask.
Valley of the Gods was beckoning. The red desert. The open sky. A call I cannot resist.
I made plans. Rearranged them. Then altered them once more. There is always a detour somewhere, so I knew these plans were in no way solidified.
I used to get thrown off by changes and alterations, but at some point, after finding myself exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed for the umpteenth time, I learned to let it go. Embrace it. Run with it. Use it as a launching point for the next moment of adventure. I was, after all, out and about with my hounds, which is ultimately my end goal in every situation.
Thus I found myself on the road a day ahead of schedule, making my way north to VOTG
After six hours and one million dog hairs floating around my car, we arrived. Seventeen miles of dusty red dirt. Camping pull-offs every half-mile or so. The valley was our oyster.
The red dirt greeted us with a dusty coating. The sun welcomed our faces with warm, outstretched rays. The hounds immediately took to sniffing out the best spots...to pee. Everyone has their own priorities, I guess.
Our home base was tucked away down a side road -- a dirt road off another dirt road. There wasn’t much traffic on the main road, but this gave us an extra layer of privacy and seclusion. Keeps the hounds at a medium level of overexcitement.
Herc likes to gets huffy and puffy when other folks pass by: Hey! Hey you! Who are you?! What are you doing so close my mom? Why are you somewhere close enough that I can see you?! Move along! Scram! Skedaddle! Aroooo!
Cool Whip, on the other hand, just wants to know if they brought snacks to share: Hellooo! I see you are a human. Humans have snacks. What snacks do you have to share with me?! Hey, you get back here and give me your snacks!!
I set up camp facing my favorite group of monuments. A perfect view from the tent and the big rock I intended to use as the kitchen area. With evening fast approaching, we spent the last bits of daylight exploring our road and the local ravine.
The subtle hustle and bustle of the valley dropped to almost imperceptible hum. The breeze slowed. No other vehicles passed by. Essentially all I could hear when listening hard with the blood rushing through my ears. I imagined everyone else in the area was in a similar situation: silently staring up into the sparkling night sky. Heaven.
As dawn began sprawling across the land, the hounds started rustling about in the mess of blankets and sleeping pads. The usual start to our morning routines. I layered on everything I can find and we bustled out into the brisk morning air. Our breath puffs floated around us. Herc snorted about, checking for any traces of midnight visitors. Cool Whip sought out the closest bathroom bush, knowing that breakfast preparations start as soon as all potty pit-stops are complete.
Coffee is delicious. Coffee in the outdoors is a little extra delicious. Coffee in the outdoors on a crisp morning is the most delicious. The coffee that morning did not disappoint. In a classic Kris-type move, I had stopped at REI less than 24 hours before departure to gather the remaining “necessities.” This particular cache contained a new drip filter for my morning brew. Easy, lightweight, and small -- win!
Filled with adventure fuel, we set out to explore. We roamed and rambled. Stopping anywhere that called to us.
And that became our routine: Adventure and explore, soak it all in, refuel, adventure and explore more.
Hiking a trail with a specific route and checkpoints to reach has its appeal for sure. There is a definite point of completion and success. But there is something equally enticing about having the freedom to roam. Success is obtained by simply being there.
Final day in Banff.
I’d finally fallen back to sleep after the bear scare with thoughts of leaving town early to catch a hotel for my final night. But waking up that morning, in the light of day, suddenly I didn’t want to leave quite so soon.
Since Peyto was one of my top interests going into this trip, I figured I’d take the lesser known hike to the lakeshore. Great idea, until we hit construction and accidentally drove right by the trail head.
Well…might as well keep heading north and see what we can see. Like all the way up into Jasper type north! We just barely tiptoed into Jasper with our most northern stop being Athabasca, Toe of the Glacier. It was a short hike up to the ice, and of course CW complained the entire way. She made is extremely apparent during this trip that uphill is 100% not her thing.
Driving from the glacier back toward camp we stopped at what seemed to be every roadside pullout and viewpoint. Why? Because why not?!
It wound up being one of my favorite days. There would be no cars when we parked, so we’d wander down the side of the roadside up to the edge of the river flowing by and just hang out until people started appearing. Then we’d hop back in the car and continue to the next spot. A relatively lazy day of soaking up the sunshine and hanging out. <3
Enjoy these sunset views of Mt Rundle from Vermillion Lake #2 while I share one of my favorite stories from our Banff adventure.
FFWD to 3:50AM that night: Us three amigos are deep in slumber in our tent.
3:51AM: <insert very loud adult man scream/> AHHH! AAAAHHHH!!
<insert man still screaming/> AAAAHHHHHH!!!
Cowabunga dude! Wide awake! Bear in camp!
High alert mode activated: Herc's ears are up and he's sending out aggressive woof signals (deep growl, with a low woof under his breath).
Man stops screaming finally.
CW lifts her head, looking mildly annoyed: What? Is something going on?
Herc belts out his most fierce killer howl!
Yeah, that's right, my thug dogs haven't made a peep the whole week even while the yippy dogs barked all day...until the time comes to protect, then bam! Bring it on bear!
I mean, we're gonna stay 'hiding' in our tent, but if that ferocious furball comes to see us, we're ready.
I know, I know... The princess may not have been quick to rise but I know she'd have teamed up with Herc for a bear beat down. She's my #1 draft pick for bear wrestle-mania.
By the time I woke up and we finished our AM rituals, we didn’t reach Moraine Lake until 10am. Parking lot was already packed! They’re not joking around when they say stuff gets busy at 10am. This must mean Lake Louise is a mad house! <scratches LL off the list>
Started our hike along the lakeshore and arrived at the start of the Larch Valley trail where there this is a lovely sign noting that group travel (4 or more people) is strongly recommended (due to bears). No matter which way I count our group, it was still just two dogs and one skittish girl. Not quite enough to make hiking Larch Valley a wise decision.
So we simply took our time hiking along the lakeshore and enjoyed the gorgeous views.
With Larch Valley and Lake Louise off the list for today, we suddenly had an open afternoon.
Boom (Lake)! (below)
It was a wide trail, a little muddy from the rain in spots, but spacious width made it easy to avoid most of the mess. Downside? What I had thought was the round trip mileage for the hike turned out to be the one-way mileage. Whoops!
About halfway down the trail we came upon a lovely group of older ladies. They loved the dogs!! We stopped and chatted for a bit. They mentioned I was about halfway. The next hiker we came upon was an older gentleman with fishing gear. He agreed with me in that it was a longer hike than he’d expected but that if he could make then so could we.
In reality, it wasn’t that this hike was incredibly long, it was just the misconception of the distance in my brain and that Cool Whip was pulling out her princess act again.
Mud? Are you kidding me? Princesses don’t hike through mud. Rocks? Are you kidding me? Princesses don’t hike over rocks. <insert snooty chin lift and scowling puppy dog eyes>
Of course, the end was worth it. Spectacular view! Boom Lake was beautiful. And it felt like we were so out in the middle of nowhere that it made it even more wonderful. No resorts hidden in the woods, no other trails in sight or any other trace of humans. Just the rugged terrain, two dogs, and a girl. And the rain. Because of course it started raining as soon as we reached the openness. ;) As the rain got heavier I decided it might be a good idea to return to the woods and head home.
In our last 20 minutes of the hike we received our most massive downpour. Not even the trees could stop it. The dogs got nervous and antsy so I pulled out their raincoats. As this was their first experience with them on in the rain I wasn’t sure if it would help or hinder our progress. Luckily they seemed to enjoy the protection and we moved swiftly onward. Exhausted and drenched, we retreated to camp for a much earned lazy evening in the tent.
Continuing on after the doodle dog fiasco, we headed for the Bow Summit Lookout trail.
Except I wouldn’t really call it a trail, considering the small path I’d just come from. This one was more like a road. And you’ll see it in the top corner of a picture or two, it looks like an old farm road!
But we’ll take it, without complaints. Welcome it, in fact.
The trail starts to climb upward, as the term Summit in the name would imply. I’m looking forward to getting my heart pumping from something other than a crazy deranged mountain-goat-dog. Cool Whip, however, is having none of this.
Work hard?! ‘Scuse me?! Um, no mom. Princesses do not work hard.
This uphill nonsense was definitely not her jam. She stopped walking. Yup, the standard unmovable Cool Whip stance: legs stiff, chin jutted out, eyes daring me to try to move her.
Woman! I swear…! I had to coax her, plead with her, offer her snacks…
It took us much longer than it should have, but we made it up. We ran into a few other hikers along the way and traded stories – where we were from, what else was in our plans, etc. One group even recognized us from the day before. Mostly because CW and Herc were the first “real” dogs they’d seen so far, meaning all other dogs were of the dainty fluffy ankle-biter sort. My chest puffed up a little and I gave the hounds a proud mama look.
Day 2: Peyto Lake, one of my most anticipated pit stops of the adventure.
The moment we arrived at the parking lot, the clouds magically starting to produce a sprinkle of rain – very funny Mother Nature!
The main trail was paved, a loop to the main viewpoint and up through the woods a bit. Fairly busy, but while most people seemed to ignore the pups yesterday, today everyone wanted to pet them. We hung out at a bench, letting people enjoy a moment with the hounds and listening to their stories about current and past pets. Dogs have the amazing ability to create an instant bond between two strangers.
Eventually we broke away to actually take in the view of Peyto.
That blue! That view! Wow! Random !! exclamation points !! just to drive home the Wow!!!
I had to see more! We ventured along the loop in search of a side trail to reach another outlook I'd spotted on the map. I saw quite a few small foot paths (animal trails?) but they seemed a bit too wild for me to want to adventure down quite yet (smh @ me).
In my defense, we’d wandered quite a ways down the trail by now and there was no one else around. Chipmunks would dart out without a sound and the dogs would suddenly lunge this way or that! It was a bit startling amongst the otherwise peaceful atmosphere and my nerves were getting a little twitchy as I worried that one of those scurrying chipmunks could eventually be a bear. Yup, small city girl wandering through the big woods. ;)
Finally we came across a side path marked with a sign…oookayyy, we’ll try it.
Bear bells activated - safety first!
100% worth challenging my skittishness! The lookout was RAD! As the only hikers out there, it made it almost surreal. Gigantic mountains, beautiful green pines, epic blue water…no words or photos are adequate. I climbed up onto a big pile of rocks at the edge of the cliff to take it all in.
And then the hellions tried to pull me off the cliff.
There goes the moment.
A chipmunk zipped through the rocks and the hounds tied to catch up. Not today demons, not today. I hauled them back toward the trail hoping the little critter stayed wisely hidden in whichever hole it just disappeared into.
A little extra jittery from the close call with the cliff’s edge, we wandered back into the woods. Oye. The trail narrows and we have to walk single file: Hercules, me, Cool Whip. What a nifty little trio we are, I think, as I also am thankful I'm sandwiched in the middle.
Suddenly there is a thundering stampede sound of something running up behind us!
Holy F*ck I'm Going To Die Being Eaten By A Charging Mama Grizzly!
I whip around and see a white blur barreling toward us -- Holy F*ck I'm Going To Die Being Attacked By A Deranged Mountain Goat!
The beast screeched to a halt.
It was a friggin’ doodle dog of some sort.
Sweet baby Jesus.
Relief floods through my body.
Then it growled at my dogs! WTH?! Buzz off deranged fluffy mountain goat dog!
Finally the owner (still far enough behind the dog that we can’t see him/her) whistles for the pup; it stares at us a moment longer then wanders back up the trail.
One of several good reasons to keep your dog leashed – so you don’t accidentally terrify a newb solo girl hiker! :P
That whole interaction probably happened in about 5 seconds. It easily took a good 10 minutes before my heart slowed down. All I could really do was giggle at myself every time the sound of my own scream echoed in my head. Sheesh. I’d read in multiple places to remain calm and quiet if you come upon a bear…whelp, we now know I won’t be able to do that! Good luck puppers! ;)
Mom, we got this tent life down. Seriously. We have our own camp beds, lots of blankets, AND your fuzzy feet to sleep on – what could be better than this?!
WAY better situation going into this campground than the prior night! No rainstorm, plenty of daylight left, and our site even had a nice grassy area off to the side. Felt pretty luxurious. Add in that the dogs behaved like angels and I started feeling quite confident the week ahead.
I had all these grand ideas about waking up early each morning to either catch the sunrise or at least be up early enough to leisurely enjoy a cup of coffee and oatmeal cooked over my little butane stove. I naturally wake up at 5am at home, so this shouldn't be a problem, right?
Wrong. While I thought I might sleep in until 6am, or maybe even 7am at the absolute latest if the dogs let me, in reality it was really more like 8am or even 9am one day! Gasp!!
The tent was so cozy that we just enjoyed the slow mornings. The puppies were so content being snuggled in their blankets that I couldn't bring myself to wake them right away. And even then, some morning Cool Whip was like a classic teenage girl: No mom, just 10 more minutes. Just rub my belly a little longer.
The evenings were a little different story. Winding down from a day of hiking and lounging before we went to enjoy sunset, a last bout of antics often surfaced. Herc would go snorting and sniffing about to find out how many chipmunks had strolled through camp while we were away, while Cool Whip sprawled out to soak up the last bits of warm sunshine... Of course it's all fun and games until your brother sits on your snout. ;)
Embarking on what I considered to be our first real day of adventure, we aimed for Emerald Lake. The journey there was, of course, spectacular. No amount of rain or stormy weather could diminish the beauty of this wilderness.
I pulled into the Emerald Lake parking area and started to cross every finger and toe. It looked busy – definitely hoping that what I’d read about the touristy areas was true: 20 feet away from the main viewpoint you’ll encounter hardly anyone. I saw the trail head, then off to the left was a bridge leading to several very nice lodge buildings. Fancy. Canada, you are one legit classy broad.
But first things first, I had to pee. I spotted an outhouse by the trail head. Jackpot.
Let it be noted that not only do Canadian's have very pretty lodges, but their outhouses also are really freaking nice! There may not have been running water or plumbing of any sort, but each one I stopped at was clean and equipped with plenty of TP and hand sanitizer. Small but significant comforts.
I assessed the trail map by the bathrooms and walked back to collect the pups. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the start of our first routine: park car – walk to the bathroom at the trail head – assess maps – return to collect the dogs – hike!
Let’s rock and roll.
We shimmied past the crowd of people that had collected by the maps, chatted with a park ranger for a moment, and continued down the path. The first thing I noticed was the silence. Or rather, the lack of human noises. It was like everyone had disappeared. Bliss.
The trail was wide enough for the pups to walk along my sides most of the time. Starting out, the trail was mostly dry with just a few puddles and muddy sections along the way. The trees blocked most of the rain, not that I minded it too much – nothing could distract me from the scenery!
Aptly named, Emerald Lake was a vision of color! Standing there looking directly at it, it was still hard to accept the colors as real. I just stopped and stared many times along the way.
We came across a few other hikers here an there. Many seemed to turn around once they reached the end of the lake opposite the parking lot and trail head. At first I wondered if I’d missed something. Then decided it didn’t matter because I now hardly saw anyone. That wasn’t a bonus just for the peace, but also because now the trail was getting quite muddy and I was becoming quite a mess!
The dogs were barreling through not just some but ALL of the mud puddles. Cool Whip now had brown legs and if my pants hadn’t been a dark color already they’d have been brown as well from all the dirt and water the hellions splashed up. Perrrrfect. My car is about to get really dirty!
Thankfully we made it back to the car just in time for it to stop raining. :P
Seriously thought, it was a nice chance to brush off some of the mud, give the hooligans a snack, and make out next plan of attack: setting up our home for the next few days! Tunnel Mountain Campground, here we come!
Is there anything I wish I would have done differently?
Are there things I’ll do differently next time?
Wait, there’s a next time?!
Double wait -- what happened the first time?!
We had an adventure in Canada!
Next time I plan to:
• Plan more backup routes
• Only bring one book for leisure
• Set up my international phone plan BEFORE I enter Canada
• Practice setting up my tent in the rain
So I’m guessing you can now guess some of the things that went not quite as planned. Thankfully none of them caused massive issues, which simply made them opportunities for learning and growth. And I’m not trying to be overly optimistic here – I’ll be sure to tell you when I had moments of panic and thought about packing up to home!
Now let's rewind a bit...
The planning for this trip started in 2015. And back then I had no idea I was planning to go to Canada to camp in the woods. I usually spend a week back home in Minnesota every summer and at least a few days during Christmas. In 2015 I skipped my summer trip to instead visit other cities and states and I skipped the Christmas visit to avoid the classic Minnesota winter weather of snow, ice, and cold. Now I HAD to visit in 2016.
If you give a mouse a cookie…
So what do I do with the dogs when I head to Minnesota?
But driving that same old route taking I-40 across New Mexico and up I-35 to home is boring.
Well, now I’m going to be driving for a week straight, may as well stay in one spot for a bit to explore.
Suddenly I was taking two days to drive up to Canada, spending five days exploring and camping in Banff National Park, driving across Canada for a day to camp at Riding Mountain National Park, driving down to MN to spend five days at home, then taking three days to drive back to Arizona so I could fit in a pit stop to see my best friend run a half ironman. NBD. :D