Vancouver’s Swinging Jewel

Vancouver is an expensive city, and any attraction that offers free transportation to its gates moves to the top of my must-see list.  Capilano Suspension Bridge Park was our first stop post cruise, and after dropping luggage at our post-cruise hotel, we were off for a day of exploring.  With a conveniently located shuttle stop at Library Square, only feet from our hotel door, we were whisked away for a 15 minute narrated tour on a comfy bus.

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Selfies outside the park

It was a foggy, rainy, overcast morning, but that didn’t dampen our spirits nor those of the employees at Capilano.  Everyone from the bus driver to the guy that served us our ice cream was so pleasant that we easily forget about the less-than-ideal weather conditions.  Thank goodness for my North Face rain jacket that I purchased pre-trip.  It was worth every penny!  However, even if I wasn’t prepared for the weather with my great jacket, the park hands out free yellow ponchos.  Yes, free!  Being from the land of Disney where they charge upwards of $10 for a rain poncho, it was quite refreshing to see the park take such good care of their guests.  The poncho really came in handy for us to keep our backpack covered and our camera equipment dry. IMG_4188 Upon entering the park, we were first presented with the history of the park in a well done display.  Artifacts, photographs, and and informational placards tell the story of the bridge that dates back to 1889 when its first visitors traversed from one side of the Capilano River to the other.  From there the path leads to the largest display of First Nations totems in British Columbia.  Each totem tells its own story and there are park guides on hand to help you interpret what they say.

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Part of the park’s storytelling display

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Dwarfed by totems

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First Nations artwork

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Do you want your picture in a totem pole? Why yes, I do!

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Such personality in the carving

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I love the bold colors and expressions on this totem.

Leaving the totems behind we decided to explore the newest feature of the park, the Cliffwalk.  Opened in 2011, the Cliffwalk offers explorers the opportunity to walk suspended 300 feet over the Capliano River.  Not for the faint of heart, the walkway is secured into the granite face of the canyon wall and hovers over the canyon floor beneath it.  So after descending a series of stairs, I was plopped on a 20 inch walkway keeping me from plummeting to the canyon floor below.  This was a single line endeavor as our party inched our way along the path.  Bring patience with you because on a busy day you will stop and wait while other families capture that perfect photograph, much like we did.

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Family time on the cliffwalk. Thank goodness for that free poncho!

The highlight of the Cliffwalk is the curve that made me feel as if I was floating over the forest.  To my right, the granite canyon.  To my left, the fog-filled air.  I had to keep reminding myself I wasn’t on a series of switchbacks climbing a canyon trail, but instead floating to side of it.  The eeriness of the fog and drops of plopping rain helped add to the surreal mood.  If I closed my eyes, I could actually imagine what it might be like to be an explorer making my way through the dense forest.

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The perilous cliffwalk shrouded in fog.

Before long, my feet were back on solid ground, but not for long.  The next stop would be park’s namesake.  The suspension bridge.

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Busy day on the bridge

I love a good suspension bridge!  The rocking and instability makes it feel like I’m on some kind of super easy version of Wipeout.  Thankfully there are no flying projectiles to dodge, just hoards of other visitors.

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My first crossing and core workout for the day.

450 feet across, the bridge can hold a 747 with 22 elephants stacked on top.  Knowing  that it would not snap and send us 230 feet to the river below helped ease any fears our group had of wading through the 150+ people making their way across on the bridge with us. While there are signs asking visitors not to intentionally swing the bridge, many of the kids and teens did just that which made the walking fun but the picture taking almost impossible.  Five minutes later we were pulling ourselves to the platform on the other side of the river. IMG_4281 On this side of the park, we headed for the Treetops Adventure.  I imagined being an Ewok moving from tree to tree.  After hanging in the air, it was time to explore the ground on the Nature’s Edge Boardwalk, but not before stopping to hear what the bird handlers had to say at Raptor’s Ridge.  A falcon and red-tailed hawk were on display for visitors to get an upclose view.  A Great Horned Owl rounded out the trio, but he was not on display when we walked by the handlers.

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A little soft serve ice cream before climbing in the trees…fuel up!

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My moment as an Ewok

Along the boardwalk, views of the river greeted us and and we viewed the suspension bridge from a lower perspective.  Closer to the river it was much easier to see just how high that suspension bridge really was.  We walked among 500-year-old trees and marveled at their majesty.  Their grandeur all the greater due to the foggy conditions. IMG_4275

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Ancient trees graced the paths we walked through.

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Beauty among the boardwalk

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I could be a Great Horned Owl!

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I think William Blake pretty much captures the idea of nature perfectly.

Sadly, it was time to exit our treetop experience and with it the park.  But before exiting we stopped by guest services to pick up our “I Made It” certificates verifying that we now inducted into the Capilano family.  We had thoroughly enjoyed every moment spent suspended over the cliffwalk, swinging on the suspension bridge, and moving among the trees like squirrels.  Vancouver truly has a jewel in Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, and I hope that it continues to shine for the next 125 years.

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A special thanks to Samantha from the park’s Media Relations who came in on her day off to give me a quick tour of the park.

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Beautiful Mountain, Rustic Inn

After seven hours on a Southwest flight, I peered out the plane window to be rewarded with my first glimpse of Mt. Rainier.  It was so clear that not only could we see Rainier, but we were also offered the rare sight of Mt. St. Helens’ and Mt. Baker’s snowcapped peaks.

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A bird’s eye view of Mt. Rainier courtesy of Southwest Airlines

Two and a half hours later we were offered an up close view that most visitors never see.

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My favorite adventurer

 

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Our first real glimpse of Mt. Rainier

We plopped ourselves in a rental car and were set to make the two hour drive to Mt. Rainier National Park.  Leaving the freeway, Google directed us to a winding two way mountain road.  As we climbed to higher elevations, we were offered peeks of Rainier which those that live around the area don’t see very often.  Seattleites can see Rainier on average of once per week, and sometimes even being in the National Park doesn’t even offer you a view of her 14 thousand plus feet.  We were extremely lucky to see Rainier with absolute clarity for three consecutive days.

A little over a third of the way up the side of Mt. Rainier sits Paradise Inn and is aptly named.  Here we rested our heads for the night.  With its 121 guest rooms, many of which do not have private restrooms, Paradise Inn is exactly what a mountain lodge should look like.  It is full of wooden beams, rustic furniture, and complete with a gigantic fireplace in the main room of the lodge where people gather to play checkers, build puzzles, read books, sip hot chocolate, or listen to informational Ranger talks.    Stepping into the lodge, I was transported back to 1916, the year of its inception.

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The rustic Paradise Inn at Mt. Rainier

 

Our room wasn’t a luxury accommodation, but it was full of charm.  It held a double bed, a sink, a few towels, a doorless closet, and a couple of straight-backed chairs.  We were to share bathrooms and showers with those on our floor.  There were no elevators which meant lugging our 50 pound bags up three flights of stairs.  (I did mention this place was rustic, right?)  Once we arrived in our rooms on the hottest day of the year, (89 degrees) we Floridians were a little concerned about the lack of air conditioning and the west facing window that was turning our room into a little oven.  However I threw up the window hoping to catch a breeze and prayed that the room would cool when the sun went down, and it did enough to offer a decent night’s sleep.

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Our cramped accommodations for the evening

We then went off to find some dinner in the Paradise Inn Dining Room.  The food is based off the farm to fork idea and the menu changes according to what the local farms have on hand.  Geoff and I opted to share the Yakima Spinach Salad with grilled chicken.  The spinach, apples, blue cheese, and candied walnuts were delicious, but the chicken was dry and not worth its extra charge.

After dinner it was off to the deck to watch the mountains turn pink as the sun set and moon rose over them.  It truly is hard to describe the beauty of the snow-capped mountains as they changed from white to pinks and oranges before vanishing into the dark sky.  Not long after the mountains disappeared, we headed to bed after a very long day of travel.

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Sunset on the deck

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Sunset at Paradise Inn

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The moon rises over the mountain

Have you been to a National Park lodge?  What were your impressions?

North to Alaska

The suitcases are unpacked and the washing machine is on its own marathon at the moment. Life is returning to normal after hours of flying, days of early rising, miles of walking, and thousands of calories consumed. In a word, our trip was amazing.

One year of reading, researching, and revising travel plans was played out over the last two weeks, and I have to say that all of that planning really did pay off. I spent countless hours reading books, blogs, message boards, and any other website a Google search provided about each and every place that we visited. We were able to see and experience so many different things that its hard to wrap my head around every detail right now.

As we headed North to Alaska, we began our journey in the Pacific Northwest including, Mt. Rainier, Seattle, Vancouver, and finally ending in Southeastern Alaska. The we in this adventure consisted of myself and my husband, my in-laws, and my parents. And over the course of the past two weeks I

  • learned what a Hoary Marmot is
  • dipped my toes in the Pacific Ocean
  • watched Humpback Whales
  • experienced the beauty of a glacier
  • savored the best crab legs ever
  • was within three inches of a bear
  • was swallowed by fog
  • walked among the treetops
  • biked Stanley Park

This is by far, the highlight list, and I as I go through each of the 3500+ pictures we took, I am reliving each of those moments. Moments I plan to share with you in more detail.

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John Hopkins’ Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park

 

A Slippery Pit Stop

I lived 20 years of my life in Indiana, and many winter afternoons were spent ice skating, sledding, building snow forts and snowmen, or just having a good ole snowball fights. Even though I am no stranger to the snow, I have never gone skiing or snow tubing. On a trip home this past December, I was determined to get my fill of all things winter. So after spending a lovely Christmas with my family in Northwest Indiana, my husband and I began the drive back down to sunny Florida, but not without a stop at Paoli Peaks in Paoil, Indiana.

Here we spent an unusually warm (45 degree) afternoon racing tubes down man-made snow slopes. Geoff and I opted for a three-hour pass, since we were planning to drive to Gaitlinburg, Tennessee that evening. Geoff donned snow pants, while I stuck with my jeans, and we picked up our tubes. From there we slipped and slided to the the first empty lane we saw–lane four. It seemed to be the bunny hill of the lanes and was empty–a nice way to break in our afternoon of snow tubing.

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Even though we could have slid down the lane in a chain, we opted to go individually for the first round. So I flopped on top of my tube, held on, and was flung down the hill. The wind whipped my face and blew my hat right off my head. As I neared the end of the run, there were rubber mats placed to slow down the tube. I bumped over four of them before coming to a stop with a huge smile on my face. I jumped up and waited for an employee to run and grab my hat from the lane before I dragged my tube to the conveyor that lifted me back to the top of the hill. Geoff was close behind me with the same silly grin on his face.

On our next run we decided to link tubes and go down lane three which was a step up from the “bunny slope” we had just gone down. So just like before, we flopped on the tubes holding on to each other’s handles and sped down the hill. This time we traveled considerably farther than alone. Instead of four rubber mats, we went past seven. Again we popped up, jumped on the conveyor and were dumped at the top of the hill.

This time we were opting for the long line. It was clearly the steepest slope and the fastest lane. I had gathered my confidence in those first two runs, and I was going to go down on my stomach this time. So with a flick of the employee’s foot, I was again racing down the slope, but this time I was also spinning. It was awesome!

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One of my many belly runs

We spent the next three hours hurtling ourselves down hills in different configurations–linked, unlinked, front, back, spinning. As the sun set and the temperatures dropped, the slushy snow became slick ice sending us and our tubes barreling toward the snow fence which we never thought we would reach when the sun was out. In fact, the snow was now so fast we even witnessed one person go right through the snow fence onto the skiing slope.

All too quickly our three hours were up. With pink cheeks we returned our gear, and we warmed up with some hot chocolate inside the warm shelter. After the feeling came back in our feet, we headed to the car for our drive to Gaitlinburg.

Paoli Peaks was not something we planned on doing this trip, but a well-placed billboard sparked my interest. Thanks to Google, we were able to divert our plans, and make our slippery pit stop. I am so glad we did. It was so much fun to play in the snow and feel like a ten-year-old again.

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A fun-filled day of snow tubing in Southern Indiana