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Month: December 2016

Banff Vacation Day 7

Banff Vacation Day 7


Our goal on day seven was to head northwest into Glacier National Park, but we never quite made it.

Our drive to the first destination, Wapta Falls, took us on increasingly more snowbound roads until we arrived at the trailhead only to find it blanketed with snow too high to walk through. We reluctantly started to turn around. And got stuck.

In a replay of our Iceland adventure, we scooped out the snow with our hands and feet and worked ourselves back onto the abandoned snow road.

We stopped on the road to take pictures of a decommissioned snowblower resting at the edge of the forest and again at the one lane bridge over the Kicking Horse River.

Undaunted we decided to at least drive on the Icefields Parkway again, but we’d soon be daunted anyway.  The storm the night before necessitated emergency artillery-generated man-made avalanches. The highway was closed and all cars were forced to wait in line while they blew away snow off the mountains.

Before we got moving again we learned from other drivers that there were at least six avalanche sites to get through on the parkway. We gave up and searched for something more local on the way back to Banff. We were glad we did. Or rather I’m glad Sam did.

Sam navigated us to Yoho National Park to visit Natural Bridge. Most of the year the site is a picturesque waterfall flowing between two natural rock pillars that lean together (i.e. the “natural bridge”). However, when we got there, conditions were so cold we received a special treat. We were able to go down to the creek and walk under the bridge, literally inside the cave where water normally flows.

That water had mostly turned to flows of cascading blue ice, but a hole in the floor where the water still hadn’t froze provided a window into the rapid gush that went on under our feet and in front of our faces. If anyone fell into that hole they’d be pulled under miles of ice, dead before anyone could help them. Our steps inside the cave were very slow and deliberate to avoid this catastrophe. Even the bare rock walls were slippery smooth, carved into a polished houndstooth pattern by several millenia (or more?) of rushing water in the summers. Patches of tough green moss clung to the outer rims of the hollowed out rock walls. Above that the walls slowly turned from rock-gray to crystal white as frost formed and gave way to ice at the ceiling.

We stayed there till nearly nightfall, knowing the uniqueness of our happenstance discovery. Other visitors noted that they had never been able to walk under the waterfall before and would only do so after our convincing. 

Our day didn’t end there, though. When the last visitors before dark declared they were off to Emerald Lake next we decided to follow them. This wasn’t completely irrational as I’d noticed on a park sign earlier that the lake was nine kilometers away.

However, we soon discovered our new friends only intended to go back to the Emerald Lake Lodge (the main hotel, not on the lake). We drove on and discovered the real Emerald Lake Lodge situated on an island in Emerald Lake surrounded by pine trees and mountains. Sam said it looked like something out of a Christmas fairytale.

Banff Vacation Day 6

Banff Vacation Day 6

Our drinking habits caught up with us on the sixth day. We decided to nurse our headaches by staying in town (and indoors). An ancillary driver of this decision was a snowstorm descending on Banff that would have made any hiking or sight seeing difficult.


After a short visit to Cave and Basin we walked along the main avenue and did our souvenir shopping.

We later visited surprise corner for (supposedly) the best view of the Fairmont. We warmed up again with spicy Thai soup and retreated to the hotel hot tub.

Banff Vacation Day 5

Banff Vacation Day 5


On day 5 we drove east toward Calgary for the first time, seeing the mountains we’d missed in the dark on our way in. Past Canmore the mountains start to slope down into hills, but just on this last spate of the Rockies the Canadians long ago decided to start carving away at the rock. The result is an unpicturesque processing plant with a man-made lake on one side and the machinery terraced side of Grotto Mountain on the other. Our first stop of the day was behind the processing plant.

Our first stop was deceiving, but I kept my faith in the photos I’d seen online. We parked at Grotto Mountain Pond and walked behind the gravel plant on a particularly unimpressive trail (a quarter of the way in the trial crosses an employee parking lot … woohoo, adventure!).

However, after about half an hour the trail twists north into a tiny canyon with such severely sloping sides that often the only way to proceed is to walk on the creek itself. A feat easier in the winter since the creek freezes into a crystal blue flow but still plenty slippery without the most vicious looking crampons (which we did not bring). Now we’re at woohoo adventure!

Slowly hiking up the frozen creek eventually put us at a frozen pool were two high cliff waterfalls join and form the creek.

Both had ice climbers showing off.

Both had kids sliding down the ice flows. One eventually had my camera tumbling down its flow as well. Sony builds resilient camera bodies, I can vouch for that now. Watching (and oh, god, hearing) my four figure camera bouncing downhill end over end on the ice was a nightmare, but after carefully retrieving it (I had no interest in bouncing myself) it sprang back to life (even in sub-zero temps where anything plastic would have split apart and shattered like glass on that ice) and kept on trucking with only a few abrasions. 

After returning to the car we still had about three hours of daylight left so I tasked Sam with finding something else for us to see around Canmore. Like my camera, she did not disappoint when things got tough.

She directed us to Grassi Lakes, a long and unassuming hike ascending through the woods. Keep in mind we did not know the information you do now if you clicked on the link, we only knew it was a hiking trail listed near Canmore on Google maps. At the end of the trail, hikers are rewarded with two lakes, one feeding the other, sitting in a high mountain crevasse looking out on the valley.

In the summer the area is clearly a climbers paradise, with the holiest rock slabs I’ve ever seen, all of them with a backdrop of the Canadian Rockies, but none of them as technically challenging as an ascent in Yosemite.

We warmed up with a trip to the local Thai restaurant in Banff. 

Banff Vacation Day 4

Banff Vacation Day 4

Today Sam joined me for the sunrise.


Yesterday I mentioned briefly how the food in Banff is underwhelming. This morning we ate breakfast at Coyotes Southwestern Grill. Sam liked the Huevos Rancheros, but I found a big blue wet string in my pancake butter (after already putting a knife to it). The waitress explained that they keep the butter next to the wash rags. Uh-huh. Excellent. That was the last straw. Or string, as it were. We mostly stayed out of the restaurants after that. Most of our eating from then on came from the local IGA.

We snacked on the Icefields Parkway to Peyto Lake, arriving late enough in the afternoon to avoid most other human beings but still enjoy the easy loop by the famous lookout made more difficult by thickening snowfall. Most of the trail had been compacted by snowshoeing and cross-country skiers (a few of which narrowly missed us as they barrelled through the narrow white tunnels between pines), but every now and then we’d hit a soft patch and slip into snow up to our knees. At one point Sam gave up trying to fight it and did a backflip into a snow bank.

Back at the hotel – you guessed it: more beer, cream and vodka, and sleeping in.

Banff Vacation Day 3

Banff Vacation Day 3


Sleeping early with vodka dreams woke me up earlier than normal. I snuck out to catch the sunrise on the lake with fresh batteries. I wasn’t the only amateur with a DSLR out there on the ice trying to catch the fleeting vermillion hue the lake is named for.

When the sun came up proper and my fingers could no longer feel the shutter button I ran back to the Chevy and picked up Sam to find breakfast in town.

In the late morning, we walked on frozen Lake Louise.

With the wind washing down through the water-filled valley the temperature seemed even colder than the mountain top a day earlier. We hustled off the lake to the ice bar but were rebuffed from purchasing any hot drinks: hotel guests only. Outsiders can find service inside.

Inside? You mean where it’s not twenty below zero? If you insist…

However, when we saw $19+ for per shot we promptly excused ourselves and stopped in at the gas station convenience store instead.

We munched on junk food, specifically, one style of candied popcorn called “Tentations,” which I thought at first was a misprint. Then I remembered the prevalence of French in the region. It turns out this delicious popcorn is sold (by Target, among others) in the states as “Indulgences” with completely different packaging.

Full of popcorn we started up the nearby 1.5 mile hike to upper Johnston Canyon Falls.

In the winter the falls and most of the canyon creek is frozen over, but the same steel walkways hanging over the water in the summer provide footing in the winter too (although a bit slippery in spots).

The upper falls (visible via the rails from top and bottom) had an ice climbing crew making an ascent.

While taking photos at the bottom my battery died. I thought it was a close call, as I had some great angles of the climbing. Real National Geographic quality stuff. (I can say that because there’s no way to prove it wasn’t…as you’ll find out later)

By the time we finished the hike the sun was nearly gone so we went back to town for dinner at Banff’s version of afloat sushi. But make no mistake: this was not Afloat Sushi. Just as many eateries in Banff are not really up to world class standards. But when you’re the only sushi restaurant open in town you’re also the best. (Technically there is a second sushi restaurant in Banff, but we didn’t get around to trying it) This is why I didn’t provide more detail on our breakfasts or dinners earlier, unlike past vacation blogs.

Back at the Juniper while looking at my shots of Johnston Canyon I noticed 200+ showed an error message (“unable to display”). Taking the new card (purchased for this trip) out I noticed a tiny piece of plastic fall out. Turns out a sticker on the card had come loose and wedged itself between the card and the camera contacts. At least that was my working theory why the whole afternoon would now only exist in completely unreliable human memory.

Luckily we’d stopped at a liquor store after dinner so I could cry my tears into a (surprisingly good!) Grizzly Paw Powder Hound Blonde Ale. From there I moved on to the Canadian version of a White Russian (so a White Canadian, I guess?): (mom, you would love this so much) 75% Cabot Trail Maple Cream liqueur , 25% Banff Ice vodka, and a healthy handful of hotel ice.

And I was not alone. This previously dry couple is starting to partake of stronger libations when no one (we know) is looking.

Banff Vacation Day 2

Banff Vacation Day 2

Canada 2016

On our first full day in Banff, also Christmas Day, we had breakfast in the tiny town at the only open cafe.

Since the weather forecast made it seem like few days would be as clear and sunny as this one we took the gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain.

(A video of the ride up for our friend who is afraid of heights)

Outside the restaurant and gift shop at the top there is a short path to climb to the peak, but in -20 weather this is no easy feat. Our first experience with this kind of cold showed us the quick damage those temperatures can do: taking a glove off to take a facebook photo results in numb fingers. And that’s in direct sunlight.

After dinner in town, we drove to Lake Minnewanka via Tunnel Mountain. We never made it to the lake before sunset though because we stopped on the scenic drive to let a herd of grazing Elk cross the road.

After seeing the Elk the lake was a bit of a disappointment, nothing really to see in the winter. On our way back to town we parked and walked around the grounds at the Fairmont Hotel.

Since the sky was still perfectly clear we headed to Vermillion Lakes for shooting stars. Stepping out into the brittle cold and hearing the ice crack underfoot was unnerving, but to looking up and seeing the band of the milky way’s core was a rare treat not available in most places of the world anymore (and even on the Darkness Map Vermillion Lakes is still yellow). However, we learned the second lesson of the day about cold temperatures when our camera batteries died within minutes of unsheltered (sitting on a tripod) exposure to the wind gusting across the frozen lake.

There would be no more cloudless nights for the entire trio.

To soothe our frustration (okay, mine) we headed to the Juniper’s bar once again for shots of Banff Ice.

Banff Vacation Day 1

Banff Vacation Day 1

On the first day of our winter holiday holiday we flew to Calgary. It’s always strange visiting the cold again. In a few more years I’ll have spent half my life in California, and I still think I’ve got some of that midwestern ice in my blood. Then I visit a place with ice and I turn into a shivering mess.

We broke through the clouds after dark in Alberta, approaching a landscape that looked built into another layer of white fluffy cloud. A blanket of white with a cluster of orange stars loomed, more snow falling. I wondered if this was the right idea. Could I relax driving around on ice? Maybe it wasn’t about relaxing, maybe this trip was about the kind of adventure you don’t find in Hawaii (and definitely don’t find at the office from 7 to 5).

After leaving the airport in a Chevy Trax we discovered that just finding a place to eat dinner was going to be an adventure. Almost everything was closed. Eventually, a flashing “open” light in a fast-pizza shop beckoned us.

We ordered a supreme (they called it something else) and fried shrimp at Pizza 73. Surprisingly good. Lucky Canadians.

With full bellies, we drove through the dark flat land east of the Canadian Rockies until vague outlines of mountains tried to reflect starlight in the distance.

A half hour later we’d drive up to the lip of Mount Norquay inside Banff National Park and check into the cozy Juniper Hotel overlooking the city.
To get even cozier we headed to the bar for drinks and desert, discovering how smooth vodka brewed from glacier water can be.

Faith in facts

Faith in facts

Saturday night I read David Masciotra’s column. It summed up my thoughts on the election-or rather the reaction to it-better than anything I’d read in the month since. There are more than a few salient points David makes that have been completely ignored. We (the so-called “liberal elites” on the coasts who shop at Whole Foods) may have bubbles, but they’re smaller, and acknowledging the conservative bubble should be different than validating it.

Distilling the article ( you should read it anyway, it’s good) would echo my own thoughts like so:

I voted to keep paying more taxes so rural America could have subsidized (and hopefully, eventually universal) healthcare. Instead, rural America voted to go without healthcare so I could have a tax cut. Thank you?

I voted for student loan relief (again, paid for by my taxes) so those folks put out of work when the coal mine closes could go back to school. Rural America voted to give me a tax cut and keep a job that literally kills them. Thank you?

I voted for the candidate that didn’t vow to dismantle the EPA, an organization created by a republican after a river in my home state caught on fire with pollution. My home state said, “nah, pollution is fine with us, better that you have a tax cut!” Thank you?

I voted for a candidate who did not promise to close the borders to immigrants, and in fact vowed to keep spending my taxes on their benefits. I live where these immigrants go, both legal and illegal. I compete for work with the skilled ones. Yet…rural Americans voted to keep the next Einstein out because his name frightens them. Thank you?

But if I really believe those things were what this election was about then that’s just more proof I’m in a liberal bubble. The real reason rural Americans figuratively shoot themselves in the foot is so they still have the right to do so literally. And if I ever mention that happens way more often than defense against a marauding horde of door-to-door murderers….I’m told facts don’t matter because there’s a video on facebook of someone shooting at three burglars.

And THAT, finally, is the bubble that I (and nearly everyone in CA I know) was in until November 8th. We thought facts still mattered (to people other than us, I mean). We were caught in the bubble of faith in American pragmatism. Instead of cackling to each other about how horrible Trump’s tweets are, maybe we should have investigated why they didn’t matter to rural America. It wasn’t because they thought he was “telling it like it is”…it was because he recognized rural Americans abandoned facts a long time ago. A one-sided conversation for 20 years from a network that calls itself “fair and balanced” will do that. This is the network that had Donald Trump guest star on every “news opinion” program during his push to see Obama’s birth certificate, a ridiculous attention grab that no network would have bothered with thirty years ago. Trump saw Fox’s commitment to what Colbert called Truthiness, and more importantly their viewers’ gullibility, and knew he could take it to the next level. Goodbye flexible facts, hello no facts at all.

There is no spin zone if your stories aren’t connected to reality. So calling your show the “no spin zone” is actually accurate. Asking “why doesn’t Obama show us that birth certificate (and stop beating his wife, while we’re at it!)?” leaves the viewer with the impression there was some reason that this question needed to be asked of the president for the first time in over two hundred years. Fox would set up the canvas and Breitbart, Glenn Beck (who owns Theblaze), and Alex Jones would gladly paint the picture and sell you some Gold!

Yes, gold, that investment that never drops in value. Perhaps we should call the conservative bubble the Golden Bubble, since that’s where the cash to keep the fake news outlets running seems to come from. (Worth noting that now Alex Jones seems to have moved on to join the long line of traditional QVC scammers to sell magnesium powder as a cleansing cure-all.) More to the point Golden Bubble is close enough to “golden shower” which is a more apt metaphor for this type of commerce.


But liberals have their own bubble, too. Not one of gold, but of hope. Yes, that word that brought us out in droves in 2008.  And by 2016 we were convinced that hope was the new normal. The world was turning our way (gay rights, black president, and next a woman president) and hope turned to law. It was a certainty now, so Nate Silver (and so many CNN commentators lauding the ‘blue wall’ of women and minority voters) said.

And so, like any other casual investor, we bought into that gold of hope and quickly went on with our lives believing in the background it would keep enriching us. News of supreme court victories for Obamacare and gay marriage only affirmed this belief. But we weren’t the only investors. And every good investor knows never to invest in one stock only, they’re far too volatile.

This cartoon from Stefan sums it up very well.

Our bubble was in not recognizing conservatives would never admit they had their own. Even in the face of “I like war heroes that don’t get captured,” or “grab them by the pussy, you can do anything,” or any of the hundreds of reprehensible things said. As you can plainly see (thanks to the visual provided by Ben Garrison on behalf of Stefan) bragging about trying to cheat on your wife, walking into women’s dressing rooms of a beauty pageant you own, multiple bankruptcy filings, and bragging about sexual assault is not evidence to assume anything about the man. Nor is there any reason to believe it means anything, or a logical step to assume this is a glimpse into what kind of a man he is. Never mind that Stefan is a hard-line libertarian, which is basically an anarchist, so take his motivations for supporting a dangerous man with a grain of salt. It probably isn’t for the community’s ultimate benefit, he doesn’t believe in community, after all.

No, Trump’s words only mattered to those they hurt, the rest could normalize them as simply being “misinterpreted” or just ignoring them altogether.

The organization that published that video is more important than the content. I’ll explain later.

To conservatives, he really didn’t say those things Tim Kaine and Anderson Cooper claimed he did. Following Pence’s lead, to conservatives Trump’s words could take on whatever meaning suited them. Because facts don’t matter anymore.

The biggest indicator of this was not the votes for Trump, but the lack of votes for Clinton. Millions stayed home because we thought polls were essentially facts. Trump had no path to 270, remember? Unless what you say doesn’t matter. Especially when on the phone with a pollster. And so the lesson they taught the liberal elites was not that rural whites are losing culture, or tired of BLM, or sick of transgender bathrooms, or Caitlyn Jenner, or whatever…it was that facts are no longer something half of America cares about. Facts are something that happens at liberal colleges. The same liberal scientists telling Obama to shut down the local coal plant because of global warming, even though Ohioans had to shovel snow yesterday. The same scientists calling small towns in Pennsylvania asking who they planned to vote for. Calling so many times a day in the final months that folks stopped answering the phone. The ones that did said they’d vote for Hillary and then smiled in grim satisfaction after hanging up. They’d send a message to those liberal elites on November 8th, and defeating the “statistical certainty” of a Hillary win at the same time would be the icing on the cake. They’d look forward to Trump being the next Truman. Even though the god we-of-the-godless-coasts worshiped assured us this couldn’t happen.

But even after the much-ballyhooed implosion of “facts” the liberals still didn’t get it. Even after Zuck first scoffed at fake news having an impact and then vowed to prevent it (great timing, Zuck!) after the president weighed in.

But the answer is not to supply facebook with curated stories in the NYT and CNN about how alt-right fakery was believed by Trump voters. Trump voters don’t read the NYT, and they’ll block any facebook group that shares it. Remember how I said that Pence debate video’s curator was more important than the content? How many conservatives do you think will click on a video in their feed from Huffington Post?

Maybe I should remind you what conservatives think of Ariana Huffington.

But don’t abandon all hope yet. There is one way to reach conservatives. On their own terms. If George Soros is rich enough to pay protesters (or so the conservative fake stories made a fact for Trump voters) surely he can buy a majority share in Fox News.

The conservative bubble was created to make money. The last conservative VP gave his own company billions of dollars in no-bid contracts. What do you think Trump will do with that power? Reporting on it after the fact on DailyKos won’t stop it from happening again.

The true liberal elites need to embrace this concept and stop trying to compete. Conservatives don’t like competition, they like deregulated markets that lead to monopolies. So play dirty Cuban, Soros, Gates, Bloomberg, …BUY the conservative media.

Don’t roll your eyes… conservatives think nothing of using money to get what they want. It’s how Trump has run his business for decades and is perfectly encapsulated by the fact that just days after his election he paid $25 million to settle a lawsuit from his Trump “University” customers.  A bit of poetry comes to mind that any angry teenager from the 90s will remember:

If consequences dictate our course of action, it doesn’t matter what’s right.
It’s only wrong if you get caught.
If consequences dictate my course of action I should play GOD and shoot pay you myself.

(Yeah, a Tool reference, I went there. Deal with it. The pseudo- thinking man’s lyrics sadly look wiser than anything on television news now)

It’s why Trump isn’t really draining the swamp, and isn’t going to do many things he promised. And liberals are still stupid enough to think pointing this out will show Trump voters their mistake. It shows liberals still haven’t learned what “facts don’t matter” really means. Trump lying is not a problem to his base. He can say “I never said I’d do those things”….and then, magically, he didn’t. The evidence will cease to exist because it only exists on Anderson Cooper, or Rachel Maddow, or Huffington Post (see?). Which doesn’t exist at all to Trump voters.

This belies the scariest part that liberals haven’t realized yet: not just their news, but liberals themselves don’t exist to Trump voters. The real ones. Liberals who can read scientific papers and know global warming is a thing or that people die when they don’t have health insurance or that tax cuts for the wealthy won’t benefit lower income Americans or that hardly any immigrants (whether legal, illegal, Muslim, or Christian) ever do any harm to the country but provide a net benefit. To Trump voters the only liberal that exists is one that’s going to take their guns (and jobs, and freedom, and whatever we feel like-we’re godless atheists with no morals after all).

Yes, get “the facts.” Eight years later my dad still has his entire gun collection and NRA life membership intact.

The failure to comprehend that conservative bubble couldn’t be breached was our own. Two circles in a Venn diagram that couldn’t touch. I have a feeling my father shakes his head thinking about my liberal nature like I do about creationists insisting the Earth is 6,000 years old. And now the media would like me to capitulate, to admit (to lie) to my dad and apologize for not understanding his plight. Never mind there was no apology the other direction after eight years of a rising economy, job growth, no “death panels,” gun rights remaining intact, and gay marriage not destroying “real” marriage. Which hardly sounds like plight, by the way. How did conservative lives actually get worse under Obama? They didn’t, but after reminders of how Obamacare took their jobs and providing birth control would anger god they sure felt worse. In a bubble where feelings become facts, that means they really were worse off.

Are you starting to see how this works now?

To be fair SOME liberals saw our misalignment with the nature of the conservative bubble. There were half tongue-in-cheek articles telling liberals to move back to Ohio and inside that conservative bubble. But we like having good jobs and friends who know more about Corey Doctorow than Jimmie Johnson. And besides, trying to convince your dad that the vitriol belching from his television for hours a day is ruining his ability to discern fact from fiction is a losing battle. After all, he’s the one that taught you right from wrong in the first place, right? Try moving to Columbus and talking about how great the University of Michigan football team is if you want to have a hard life. At least once in a while they’ll win and your peers will have to concede. In politics, for conservatives, there is no concession. “The economy would have been even better under Romney,” they like to say to each other now.

To move back to the small towns would go against human nature. Many tens of thousands of years ago we learned to cluster for social benefits. No matter how much conservatives (and libertarian/anarchists) want to ignore it we’re a socialist species.

So use that information. Buy Fox News (the national information network for conservatives). You don’t have to go live on the farm, you just have reach into that bubble with sources they already invited.

There is now a faint glimmer of hope this may happen naturally anyway. Murdoch is eyeing retirement and his heirs reportedly are much less conservative. A new president who did not cow-tow to the network might be the undoing of the network’s traditional format. If Trump does not let Murdoch’s proxies in the room to fashion and distribute talking points (like they did with Bush) they may abandon him in the hopes of finding a politician who will. The part Trump doesn’t realize is that his voters’ trust was formed with Fox long before him. They have a long lead on Trump and a bigger megaphone.

And all Trump’s tricks that Scott Adams pointed out a year ago are now proven effective and easy to achieve. Remember this?

Trump was the first to do the silly dance of no facts at all (while the liberals and most conservatives at first laughed) and pander to a gullible base primed by conservative media. He won’t be the last. And we’re not laughing anymore, but we are misinterpreting the data.

Encouraging college kids to skip classes and march in the street won’t reach in that bubble….getting your story about Trump administration atrocities (which would, by no coincidence, insult rural values) on Fox News would. It only takes money.

Liberals need to stop putting their money where their mouths are and start putting it where the conservative ears are.