Sunday, June 20, 2010

Final Thoughts

We had a great time! As a wrap-up, I have some lists to share. We have some favorite goofy moments, too, which are caught on camera . . .

Mike and Si thought it was funny that I wanted to show off my library tshirts at all of our cool destinations.

Us in the Canadian Badlands.

Random tidbits:
  • We saw license plates from every US state except Hawaii and Delaware. Hawaii is understandable, but where are all the travelers from Delaware???
  • We saw license plates from 8 Canadian provinces, Mexico and one that said "Intl Consul".
  • We only listened to 4 1/2 books on CD. One was very long: Neil Gaiman's American Gods. The others were all fairly short mysteries: Burgler in the Library, Burglar on the Prowl, Champagne for One and Black Mountain.
  • We seemed to spend just as much or more time talking to each other in the car than we did listening to books. I was surprised by that, but it was wonderful!
  • Our vow to stay away from national chain restaurants as much as possible resulted in spending more money on food that we'd have liked. Local eateries are much more expensive than fast food!
  • We saw 29 cool mammals in the wild, including a wolf, grizzly bears, a black bear and 3 different kinds of ground squirrels!
  • We saw 169 bird species which included 40 new life birds for Mike - wow!
Hotel Lineup (in chronological order, rated * - *****):
  • Super 8 a little N. or Madison, Wisconsin - *** : clean and comfy, but nothing spectacular
  • Motel 6, Bismarck, ND - * : it was very small and crowded, barely clean, threadbare towels
  • Parke Lodge, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan - *** 1/2 : seemed clean, but it was like the place had been abandoned in the 80's and just recently purchased and repainted. Threadbare towels again, but the cute ground squirrels and the beautiful sunset made up some ground here.
  • Travelodge, Drumheller, Alberta - **** 1/2: very large room, very clean, lush towels, very kind people running the place. Would have gotten 5 *'s if there had been a pool!
  • Driftwood, Banff, Alberta - ***1/2: very very comfortable beds, charming, almost rustic lodge-type feel to the place. Could use some work on the lobby of the building, but the reception at the Ptarmigan where you check in was beautiful. Great service here, but lousy parking area.
  • Bear Mountain Hotel, Waterton, Alberta - ****1/2: this high rating even comes w/o them having cable tv! The beds were comfy, we had 2 smallish rooms so we were able to have some privacy, the bathroom was lovely, if small, and the people running the place were really sweet! They have a picnic area set up in their parking lot with a gas grill and picnic table, and they graciously allowed us to use it even after we'd checked out. This place reminded us a lot of the cabin by Lake Erie we've visted (wood panel walls, etc), except built for the mountains instead.
  • Dancing Bears Inn, East Glacier Park, Montana - ****: kind people, decent room, wood paneling again, and a cat that helps to welcome you! This was the first "breakfast included" place we saw that had some kind of protein option, but as it was only microwavable frozen things it doesn't get the 5th *. Nice folks and great town. The water wasn't potable when we were there - hope it improves for them soon!
  • Rodeway, Sundance, Wyoming - *: this is the little hotel woman who tried. Seems like one person was running the whole operation (of course, it was Sunday night and apparently nothing happens on Sunday nights). The room was freezing cold and never really warmed up to our needs. The pool was an outside walk away, but pleasant and clean enough. The breakfast was 3 kinds of cold cereals and some apples. Totally LAME!
  • Super 8, Rapid City, South Dakota - ***: this was simply an ok place. The room was clean and adequate. The breakfast area was all tall tables with barstool-type chairs (I felt really bad for the man who came in a wheelchair), but at least there were a few selections, albeit all cold.
  • Super 8, Sioux Falls, South Dakota - ***: this was a great breakfast, but it felt like the whole place was a little grungy. Like maybe last week it was full of smokers and never really cleaned well or something?
  • Scott and Tony's, Oak Park, Illinois - *******: Charming home, comfortable hospitality, excellent company, entertaining conversations, delicious food, even lights-out adventure!
Top Meals We Enjoyed (random order):
  • Last Chance Saloon, outside Drumheller, Alberta - we loved the atmosphere, the history of the place (old mining ghost town trying to spark a renaissance or something), and the guys loved their grill-your-own steaks!
  • Grand Hotel in Big Timber, Montana, near the Natural Bridge State Park - we were extraordinarily surprised to find this gem of a gourmet place in what seemed to us to be the middle of nowhere! Buffalo steaks, Elk relleno, molten chocolate cake - all delicious!
  • Delaney's Family Restaurant in Oglesby, Illinois - delicious food, homey diner atmosphere, prices weren't astronomical
AC/DC Ground sloth in Drumheller - too funny!
  • Kroll's in Bismarck, North Dakota - We'd planned to have breakfasts and lunches out of our cooler as much as possible, but we couldn't resist the command on the sign "sit down and eat"! We had to, and we were glad we did! Delicious German-centric yummies!
  • Luna's in East Glacier Park, Montana - this made the list primarily because of the amazing red potato chips! Deep fried and flavorful!
  • Gepetto's Pizza, which Tony ordered when the electricity was out Friday. Wow - I think their Chicken Artichoke pizza may be the best pizza I've ever had in my life! My mouth is still watering thinking about it!
Man feeding birds on the mountain top in Banff.

Best People Encounters:
  • Edwin Smalllegs - Blackfeet Indian volunteer at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. He was friendly, interesting, and talked with us about his heritage as well as his anticipation of watching the NHL finals that night on his large-screen tv. He is a memorable fellow.
  • People Mike and Si ran into at Many Glaciers. Mike and Si set up the telescope and were also sharing binoculars with a family (to see the Mountain Goats) and an English man (to see the Grizzlies), and all were thrilled.
Spoon shop in East Glacier, Montana.
  • We pulled off the road often to take pictures, as you can imagine, and one time, on a very curvy mountain road, a man and woman in a pickup came up beside us and stopped to make sure we were ok - isn't that nice?
  • The staff as so many of the places we visted, but especially Luna's restaurant.
  • The top of the gondola ride at Banff, there was a Slavic man who was feeding birds from his hand. He was so joyful and excited about it!
  • There was a group of young German women who were also at the top of that gondola ride, and were taking pictures. They wanted pictures taken when they were jumping so that it looked like they were in mid-air over the vast expanse of nothingness off the mountain. Mike helped them and was even able to get one of all three of them leaping into the air.
In case you were wondering, these statues are not anatomically correct.
  • Waitress in Ptarmigan restaurant in Waterton. It was fun talking to her and hearing about how she will get bored in England and get a work visa to visit and work in another place for a while. We also laughed with her about how boring Saskatchewan is.
  • Swiss guy at the hoodoos near Drumheller and the fun he had posing for pictures Mike took of him with his camera.
  • Family we met in Moose Jaw who were driving across the continent from New Brunswick to Vancouver to see their children and grandchildren.
Trying to catch that buffalo.
  • Yarn shop owners, both in Canmore and in Forest Park. Wonderful women and such fun to talk to! Oh, actually, the woman I spoke with in Forest Park wasn't the owner. I think her name was Kelly, and she was a true kindred spirit!
  • Scott - my bestest friend.
  • Tony - my best friend's partner, and I'm glad they have one another. Both great guys.
  • Ken - nice to see friends, isn't it? It was good to talk to him again, as I haven't seen him online in a long time (my fault, not his).
Surprises along the way:
  • free hamburgers were being served up at the tourism information center as we entered Alberta - very nice, eh?
  • finding affordable lodging with loads of character in the Rockies - we expected these places to have higher prices!
  • seeing a wolf in the wild (Mike and Si saw it - I was too far away)
  • Gepetto's pizza - yummers!
  • seeing snow storms up in the mountains in the middle of June
  • a roadside rest in Wisconsin that had a scenic overlook (along a short trail) that turned out to be really beautiful
  • the Royal Tyrell not disappointing us, even after all the expectation over years
  • Museum of the Rockies being so much fun (and it was an afterthought stop, too!)
  • finding everything closed on Sunday nights - guess we've gotten both spoiled and jaded in the city
  • the Subway in Sundance, WY having a giftshop like it was a Cracker Barrel or something
  • seeing people smoke inside restaurants (again, we've gotten spoiled)
  • casinos at every gas station (ick)
  • poor signage in Canada - how do they expect people to find stuff?
  • recognizing the scenery and holes on the Banff golf course from having played the course on Grandpa Jim's computer game (it was beautiful and funny)
  • finding that we'd often enjoy talking to one another more than listening to books
  • higher speed limits! (75 MPH, 110 KPH!)

So that was our vacation! Thanks for reading along! We'd love to hear your comments, too!