O Canada: a Letter of Gratitude

Dear Canada,

I know you’ve had it a bit rough this last week, re-discovering your own racism and all. Welcome to the club. Gotta tell you, though–I still need to thank you for the ten days I just spent with The Mate, introducing my parents to your Rocky splendor. You may not be perfect, Canada (big surprise), but you’re still pretty stellar in my book.

Thank you for your waterfalls.

Like this classic: Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park

Or this one, coming right out of a cliff face! (Jasper)

Another classic, joining the Maligne River in Jasper

Can you ever have too many waterfall pictures?

Thank you for your canyons.

Athabasca

Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park. (Even though it was so crowded there I stopped taking pictures.)

Even your dry canyons are awesome!

Thank you for waterfalls IN canyons!

Maligne Canyon. Got pretty crowded there too…but can you blame us?

Thank you for the colors of your lakes.

The famous Lake Louise. 

Lake Agnes in Banff.

The Inkpots, Banff.

Hard to tell where sky ends and water begins. (Jasper)

Can’t…stop..photographing…water!

Thank you for your glaciers, even though their shrinkage scares the shit out of us.

Athabasca Glacier, coming off the Columbia Icefield, is still making its own weather…

…but look how far the poor glacier has receded since we first visited in the early 80s!

Thank you for your wildlife, even when it’s right beside the damn road.

Jasper traffic jam.

Big guy. I was hoping to see him fight another big guy, but he was too busy guarding his harem.

Moose are my FAVORITES. We saw four along just this one stretch of Maligne Road.

My second bear on this trip had me wishing for a zoom lens for my phone. Gotta work on that.

After the disappointment of seeing NO bighorn sheep in any of the parks, we met a giant herd on the very edge of the city of Kamloops! This is only some of them.

Thank you for the reassurance that, even when all your pine-beetle-ravaged forests do eventually burn, which they must…

(Yeah, pretty horrible to see–trees weakened by drought)

…Nature WILL know what to do.

Thank you for your mountains, which are not like any other mountains I’ve known.

Maligne Range…rock from 600 million years ago, uplifted

But on second thought–thank you, too, Washington. Your mountains are no slouch either.

The Mate at Washington Pass Overlook

And for that matter…thanks for the reminder, Lopez Island, that I don’t NEED to go to Canada to worship beauty. (But thank the gods I can! And I wish some of it for everyone.)

Welcome home.

¡Pura Vida! This Mind-Broadening Brought to You By Costa Rica

Here’s what Son One says about Pura Vida, after 9 months in Costa Rica:

Pura vida. Literally: pure life. But don’t bother with a direct translation. In Costa Rica, it’s a greeting, a goodbye, a thank-you, a you’re welcome, a slogan, an exclamation, and an explanation. It’s a proud toast to your country’s victorious soccer team. It’s an energetic call as you land a dorado in the Carribean. It’s a gracious refusal of payment from a local farmer who gives the stranded backpacker a ride to town. And it’s the humble answer to any tourist’s question of “how can it be so pretty here?” “Pura vida.”

Nearly two weeks of livin’ la vida pura has given me plenty to think about. Actually, as you might guess, my experience was mostly visual, so I’ll share more pictures than words this time.

#1. I never really understood the term “biodiversity” until I realized that I almost never saw more than one of the same kind of tree, flower, or fungus in the same spot. Everything’s competing madly with everything else.

"Poor Man's Umbrella."

“Poor Man’s Umbrella.”

Passion Flower. Thought these only came in purple!

Passion Flower. Thought these only came in purple!

Biodiversity ain't always pretty. (Beach Nut)

Biodiversity ain’t always pretty. (Beach Nut)

Plants upon plants upon plants...See any two alike? Right.

Plants upon plants upon plants…See any two alike? Right.

Who cares what it's called? It's so PRETTY!

Who cares what it’s called? It’s so PRETTY!

#2. Costa Rica ought to be a Mecca for gluten-free folks. Rice and beans are eaten at LITERALLY every meal: gallo pinto for breakfast (rice & black beans stir-fried with onions and red bell peppers), beans or bean soup with rice for lunch, and for dinner–you guessed it. Nary a slice of bread, nor did I see any butter for that matter. As for dessert, who needs it when you have the best fruit on the planet? This might be the healthiest travel-eating I’ve ever done.

Note: I don’t generally take pictures of food. So you’ll just have to imagine.

#3. Sometimes other countries’ wild animals don’t quite match your expectations. We happened on some capuchin monkeys harassing an iguana. “Why are they doing that?” we asked our biologist son. His scientific answer: “Monkeys are little shits.”

People think these guys are cute, huh? Yikes.

People think these guys are cute, huh? Yikes.

OK, this olinga's cute. But it's also supposed to be nocturnal, and shy, and hard to spot. Someone should tell it.

OK, this olinga’s cute. But it’s also supposed to be nocturnal, and shy, and hard to spot. Someone should tell it.

And the elusive tapir? This one was LYING IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR PATH and could hardly be bothered to get up.

And the elusive tapir? This one was LYING IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR PATH and could hardly be bothered to get up.

#4. Idea for next blockbuster horror movie: “Strangler Fig.” Seriously, these things are terrifying! They strangle whole trees from the top down, until…shudder…they BECOME the tree.

Tree, or nightmare?

Tree, or nightmare?

This would be beautiful if it weren't so gruesome.

This would be beautiful if it weren’t so gruesome.

#5. Just because a country is “developed” doesn’t mean it matches up to our wealthy, take-everything-for-granted standards. Example: many places we stayed at could not handle toilet paper in their septic systems. And even when we were zipping along on an American-style freeway, we could see that one little dead-engine incident in the opposite lanes had created a miles-long backup, because there was no shoulder, nor any “Rapid Response” state trooper just minutes from the scene. Reminder: appreciate.

No, I did not take pictures of the plumbing or the highways either.

#6. I am far too poor a photographer to capture the color-diversity of Costa Rican birds. The rarest bird of all, the Resplendent Quetzal, I only got to peek at through a scope: look, it’s a Christmas bird! But here are some of my attempts:

J/K. We never saw a real toucan, but I loved the way the Ticos made 'em out of used tires.

J/K. We never saw a real toucan, but I loved the way the Ticos made ’em out of used tires.

This big, gorgeous hummingbird's called a Violet Sabrewing. I want that as my Roller Derby name.

This big, gorgeous hummingbird’s called a Violet Sabrewing. I want that as my Roller Derby name.

Even prettier than its picture in all that tourist schlock: Scarlet Macaw (hey, another great name!)

Even prettier than its picture in all that tourist schlock: Scarlet Macaw (hey, another great name!)

#7. When you’re with a competent guide, the scary creatures are just as exciting as the pretty ones…maybe more so.

Son One's finger--I'm surprised he didn't try to pat the tarantula.

Son One’s finger–I’m surprised he didn’t try to pat the tarantula.

The deadly fer-de-lance. No fingers near this guy.

The deadly fer-de-lance. No fingers near this guy.

Why we didn't swim in the Rio Sierpe.

Why we didn’t swim in the Rio Sierpe.

#8. Beauty is universal. Every Tico we met let us know that yes, they KNEW they were living in Paradise.

Pura Vida...

Pura Vida…

Thanks, Ticos. Thank you for taking so much better care of your incredible land than most countries do. You are providing a very much-needed example. And who needs to flush toilet paper anyway?

...y Pura Vida otra vez...

…y Pura Vida otra vez…

 

Road Trip V, Days 29-31, Dallas to Flagstaff: News Flash, Scenic Texas NOT An Oxymoron!

Texas, I owe you an apology. You know you’re my favorite love-to-hate state. You’ve heard me say that someone must have picked you up and shook you so that all your scenery ran down into one corner, down at Big Bend. Oh, you pretend you don’t give a gosh durn, Texas, but I know I’ve hurt your feelings.

No scenery in Texas? I stand corrected. The Mate and I have discovered Capstone Canyon. It’s a lil’ ol’ state park about 90 miles south of Amarillo. For hikers and bikers and campers like us, it’s a lil’ ol’ slice of joy.

Crumbly red rock striated like glittery bacon with stripes of quartz:

imagePeople-imitating red hoodoos like something you’d see in Arches National Park:

image

Slickrock a la 127 Hours:

image

Balancing white capstones fallen from the canyon rim like giant clamshells dropped by giant seagulls:

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And…bison?!

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Yes, bison. Wandering around free. Capstone is apparently home to the Official Texas State Bison Herd. (Note to other western states: do YOU have a bison herd? Why not? Talking to YOU, Colorado!)

Now add to these images a perfect blue sky, 75 degrees with a cooling breeze, the honey scent of blooming mesquite and the buzz of happy bees, and…scene. Bucolic western scene. Within a stone’s throw of Amarillo! Texas, please accept my apology.

How The Mate and I wished we had planned to camp in Capstone Canyon! But we had only paid a day fee, and changing our minds would have meant driving all the way back to the entrance. Plus we wanted to make some miles that night to get us closer to Grand Canyon. Plus there were, ahem…some basketball games we wanted to watch. But we will be back to spend a couple of nights, weather permitting, and I can’t wait.

Leaving the scenic area, Red Rover climbed up out of the rolling redness and suddenly–boom, there we were back on the North Texas plains, and let me tell you, they are PLAIN. As in plain ugly. But now The Mate and I know their pretty little secret: beneath that flat brownness lies a curvy red heart.

If only more Texans knew about it! No one we know has ever heard of Capstone, or its more famous cousin Palo Duro Canyon. On the other hand…maybe it’s better this way. Bison don’t really enjoy company.