Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Ultimate (Online) Christmas Gift Guide for Travellers

It is November 22nd, and my Christmas tree is up. Students at my school have been requesting a ridiculous Jingle Bells remix song on repeat. My kids have already had one visit with Santa Claus, for goodness sake. Yes, it is safe to say that the holidays are officially here.

With that comes one of the season's most challenging aspects, for me at least: choosing the perfect Christmas gift. (Or whatever denomination you celebrate - we do Christmas in our house.)

My husband is admittedly better at finding 'perfect' gifts for people than I am. However, I usually have a pretty good handle on knowing what I want, personally. As a traveller, there's always at least one or two items that support my wanderlust addiction.

If you have a traveller in the family, or are one yourself, here is a list of items that might help you to find that 'perfect' holiday present this Christmas season. I tried to list every travel item I've ever asked for, wished for, or even daydreamed about to try and make your gift-giving a little easier.

To help clarify some of my suggestions, I have included handy-dandy Amazon affiliate links with pictures right here on the post. That way, you don't have go around Googling these ideas to see what I am talking about. I also am the type of person who does most of my shopping online because I hate the malls at Christmastime, and I know there are others out there like me. Of course, you can go to the mall and enjoy the crush of a million frantic shoppers if that floats your boat - Christmas spirit and all - but I personally prefer the calm of online shopping with a glass of vino to see me through. To each their own!

Happy shopping, and even happier holidays!

Category 1: Technology

iPhone tripod - I purchased this tripod for myself recently. I couldn't wait for Christmas to try it out. It is a 'kinda-sorta' tripod in that it stands an iPhone up in a tripod fashion, but it does so much more than that. This little gadget has bendy tripod legs, which can wrap around tree branches, posts, door handles, or whatever you can find to use as a convenient stand. I attached mine to the vacuum cleaner handle in my first test run and videotaped myself chasing the kids around the house with the vacuum. Good times!

Drone - I have been begging my husband for a drone for Christmas. I chose this model because of the price range and the great reviews on the company's customer service, particularly for replacing lost or broken drones due to newbie misuse. This model is on the cheaper end of the price spectrum, so the battery life is only around 8-10 minutes and the picture quality isn't movie-production-quality, but for me to learn on it seems like a perfect fit. (Of course, if you already know how to drive a drone and are looking for better picture quality, feel free to go ahead and spend thousands on your drone. I will work my way there eventually! Maybe...)

Extra phone battery charger - I was thinking of asking for this specifically for use on the Inca Trail, if and whenever I get there. Embarking on a walking / climbing hike for three days in the rainforest with no amenities around would mean, for me, running out of charge on my iPhone within the first day. This would be the solution to ensure my iPhone, which typically doubles as my camera, would stay available for taking some pretty spectacular photos of Machu Picchu!

External memory drive for iPhone - This is the coolest little piece of technology, and one I know I would use again and again. As I make a concerted effort to grow my blog and my YouTube channel, I find I am taking a LOT more photos and videos of my adventures. And as most people have experienced, image and video files in particular take up a lot of space on a phone. This device solves that problem by plugging into the phone charger slot and adding an extra 16 GB of memory for all of those files. And the price and size are perfect for a stocking stuffer!

Side Note: I realize this list is aimed primarily at iPhones, but that's because that's the format I use and these are all gifts I hope wind up under my Christmas tree. However, there are all similar devices available for Samsung and other brands. Feel free to click the link provided here but then branch off from there to search for the brand that suits your needs.

Bluetooth shutter control for iPhone - If you don't buy the tripod set-up that comes with the Bluetooth remote shutter control, this little toy can be a great stocking stuffer. The one I chose to show you is compatible with almost every type of phone, so yay for the non-iPhone users!

Selfie sticks - I have a selfie stick. It has no remote shutter control, so either I have to have Go-Go-Gadget extendible arms in order to click the photo button, or I have to start a video, set up the shot, have everyone pose, and then take a screenshot from the video in order to get a photograph of the group. It is a process. I like this featured selfie stick because all you must do is mount your phone and click the button at the end of the stick that remotely activates your camera shutter. So much easier!

GoPro camera - A few years ago, I left so many hints to my husband about the virtues of owning a GoPro camera, I annoyed him enough to get me one. And I LOVE it! I don't use it as much as I probably should after the level of obnoxious I reached just to receive it, but I promise you I do love my GoPro. If you have a traveller in the family who does not have one of these, then this should be pretty high up on your list of options.

GoPro accessories - And what is a GoPro without the fun accessories? I don't have that reachy stick that allows you to take 360 degree selfie shots, or a helmet with a mount. I should probably have some of these toys in order to be a proper travel blogger, right? Right? The Amazon affiliate link below features the GoPro Hero5 plus most of the popular accessories.

Clip-on iPhone lenses - These are too cool! These clip-on lenses change your regular ol' iPhone camera into something more like a fancy DSLR. This featured package includes a wide-angle lens, a fish-eye lens, and a macro camera lens. I don't even know how to work a DSLR, and I know I can't afford one of those cameras, so these lenses are definitely on my wish list.

Category 2: Packing

Carry-on luggage - Luggage can be a pretty personal thing, somehow, so buying others luggage might be tricky. Cute carry-on luggage is a little safer, as carry-ons can be swapped from one trip to the other, and they aren't as crazy expensive as buying someone an entire set of matching luggage. If you know the intended's personal style, a great piece of carry-on luggage could be a real hit on Christmas morning! I am loving this Rockland set, particularly the pink, black and white chevron bag. (Not the one pictured here; you'll have to see all the styles Rockland offers on Amazon to find the one I'm talking about.)

Funky luggage tags - Although I'm loving the chevron carry-on mentioned above, in reality all of my luggage is basic black, with no striking features to make the bags stand out. Therefore, I really could use a set of fun, bright, and durable luggage tags to help me locate my precious stuff on the luggage carousel. These tags are perfect! They say things like, "Don't Touch!", "Put Back - It's Mine!" and "Not Your Bag!" Clever and cheeky, just like me...

Luggage Scale - There are the hanging type scales (I have one of those already) and there are digital scales to choose from. I like the accuracy of the digital scale a little more than the hanging scale, because even a couple of pounds off on your baggage and you could be paying big moolah to the airline. These are great to tuck into your luggage and take with you on your trip, so you can make sure you didn't buy too many souvenirs for the flight home!

Passport / boarding pass case - I love the sleek look of this case, and how many little pockets it has. I never know what to do with my boarding pass once I've actually boarded the plane. Do I keep it just in case? Do I rip it up to hide my personal information? Do I eat it? Normally I just jam it in my purse, but I like how you can tuck it away into this little case and then shred the passes once you are done your trip.

Packing Cubes - As someone who craves organization, these packing cubes are great. I like the idea that your stuff gets packed away compactly, neatly, and in groups. Not only that, you can pull each cube out of your bag separately and take what you need without having to rifle through the entire suitcase (hence packing in 'themes', so you can find what you need all that much easier). This UBAG set is a great deal as you get two more cubes than most sets.

Thin Profile Money Belt - After having a member of my travel party get mugged on the Metro in Paris, I am always a little wary of ensuring my valuables are safe while traveling. This slim fitting money belt, worn close the skin under your shirt, is a great way to store money and other important items without anyone knowing you even have them on your person.

Category 3: Memories

Online scrapbooking gift card - I use online scrapbooking programs to make all of my travel photo books. I like this style of 'scrapbooking' as the final end product is sleek, high quality, and does not take up much room on my shelf. I also like that all of my travel books are the exact same size and shape, so they make my bookshelf look super pretty. There are TONS of online digital photo book programs out there, so take your pick and send your loved one a gift certificate to help them preserve their travel memories!

Digital photo frame - Maybe your traveller isn't into scrapbooking, but still wants to show off all of the fabulous photography taken while abroad. Digital photo frames are a fun way to do so - we have one in our living room on repeat and my kids love it when the photos of me swimming with dolphins pop up. I like the ones with wood finishes, because they blend right in with other traditional photo frames and don't stick out.

Scratch off world map - I have seen these all over Facebook, and thought they were pretty cool. I am not sure I agree with scratching off an entire country, saying you have seen it, when all you probably really saw was one region of that nation. I have been to Mexico a couple of times, but I wouldn't say I've seen the 'whole country'. However, the idea behind this gift is neat, and it looks beautiful up on the wall.

Fancy travel journal - Some people like to blog, but other travellers like to journal. I love the look of this 'ancient leather tome' travel journal: it looks like you've been out wandering the world with Indiana Jones. P.S. - the travel journals on Amazon are waaaaay cheaper than the ones I was checking out the other day at Chapters. Just sayin'...

Category 4: Experiences

Weekend getaways - I often give this a gift to my husband, usually for his birthday and not so much at Christmas. However, weekend getaways are great gifts for travellers who don't have an immediate trip coming up. My hubby and I often go to the mountains here in Alberta - we have a ton of amazing things to see and do just a few hours drive away. Check out what there is to explore around your area, and make a weekend of it!

Flight tickets - Of course, if you are flush with cash and feeling generous, giving the gift of an actual trip would probably be every travellers' perfect gift. I seriously doubt that I'll be finding any airline tickets under my tree this season, but a gal can dream, can't she?

Passes to an attraction - Maybe it isn't a weekend getaway or a Bora Bora vacation, but passes to a fun and exciting adventure could be just as fun. (Maybe not 'just as fun' as Bora Bora, unless the pass is for snorkelling lessons IN Bora Bora.. but I digress.) Maybe you have an amusement park nearby that your travelling friend has wanted to try, or maybe some sort of lessons they've always meant to take but never have (skydiving, scuba diving, some other type of diving?). Be creative and remember that presents don't always have to be physical items you hold in your hands.

Outdoor gear - Aaaand back to material items, on the heels of my 'presents are ethereal' speech. If you have an active traveller, you can always give them the gift of adventure in the form of outdoor gear that will help them achieve new experiences. One year my hubby got cross country skis, and really got into the sport. I have asked for snowshoes for several years in a row, and probably will again, and probably the year after that too. Find out what interests your traveller, and go from there.

Category 5: Gadgets

Universal Adaptor - There have been a few trips where I forgot about power conversions in foreign countries. This has led to the purchase of a couple of different power converters, both quite expensive and both shoddily made. (That's what you get for a souvenir stand power converter.) I like this little pack, because it basically has everything you need for a trip to anywhere, and the reviews and price are great.

Ostrich pillow - I have a cheap travel pillow that I bought out of desperation at an airport one time. It is pretty much flat by this point, and I'd be better serviced by rolling up my hoodie and using it as a pillow. I don't know if a truly comfortable travel pillow actually exists. Sleeping on an airplane is nearly impossible for me. But I am super duper DUPER curious to see if this hilarious thing works. It is called the Ostrich. You'll see why as soon as you see it. Too funny - but also intriguing...

Guidebooks for future destinations - Finally, if you have a traveller that is planning an excursion somewhere in this big, wide world, ensuring they are knowledgable, safe, and prepared is a great way to show them you love them. I love Lonely Planet's guidebooks, as focus a lot on safety and customs as well as sightseeing, which is extremely helpful in not only planning your itinerary but in preparing how you will conduct yourself while traveling.

So there you have it. My Christmas list... er, I mean, the Ultimate (Online) Christmas Gift Guide for Travellers. I hope you found some inspiration for your holiday gift giving this season, or something to add to your list for yourself. If you know of someone looking to shop for a travel-obsessed individual, feel free to send them this list so it can be of some service.

Did I miss anything? What's on your list?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Six Creative Ways to Save Money for Travel

Since I have quit my full-time job to become a stay-at-home to my two babies, leaving my husband to pay the bills on his own (well, almost - I still do substitute teach now and then, but my income is nowhere near where it used to be), our travel adventures have definitely decreased due to financial constraints. Not to mention the logistics of trying to travel with a two-year-old and a three-year-old.

That doesn't mean my travel dreams are any less lofty, and my travel bucket list seems to be growing longer rather than diminishing, so what's a girl to do?

I have been scrimping and saving, hoarding my change and errant dollar bills like a miser, trying to raise funds for my next trip to... well, anywhere. In my National Geographic 'dream book', I have about 10 well-planned and detailed travel itineraries to various places on the globe that I'd love to go visit. It is just a matter of the money.

What have I been doing to save? I'd love to share my ideas with you. None of these ideas require you to sign up for an online company, sell pyramid-scheme style merchandise to your friends, or waste your time on a second job that in reality pays next to nothing for your efforts. Also, none of these ideas rake in TONS of cash, otherwise I'd be writing from Bali instead of my living room. But every bit helps, does it not?

1. Facebook Buy and Sell Pages

This has been my biggest travel money maker over the past few months. I might even have a slight addiction. I am part of about 50 buy and sell pages, where I sell used baby and kids' clothes, used toys, used ladies' articles of clothing, household objects I no longer need and basically anything I want to declutter out of my house. I had so much stuff, I even made my own 'buy and sell' page so people could shop for themselves!

Selling used kids clothes can add up if you have what other people are looking for!

It is a simple concept: take a photo of your item, place a price on it as well as any other additional information like clothing size and brand, and post it to the buy and sell page. Let others know where to pick up, or if you are willing to deliver, and cross your fingers that someone is looking for exactly what you are offering.

Sometimes I also scan the buy and sell pages to see what people are searching for. Often potential buyers will post an "ISO" (in search of) request, and I try to be one of the first people to message them and say, "I have what you need!"

These pages are a great way to make a little extra cash, as well as clean and declutter your home. And the bonus is, if the item you have for sale is not interesting anyone, you won't feel bad about eventually donating it because that's where it was headed anyways.

2. Sell Produce I Grow

I have a well-established apple tree in my yard that I take very good care of. In return, this one tree pumps out apples like crazy! I could not possibly eat them all myself. In the past, I was walking around the neighbourhood with bags of apples, trying to hand them out to anyone who'd begrudgingly take one. Then someone complained to me, "I'd love to take some apples, but I just don't have time to peel and chop them all."

I didn't blame them. The apples are larger versions of crab apples, only sweeter and about the size of a child's fist. They can be time-consuming to chop. And there I found value: I didn't mind peeling and chopping the apples for others, but I wasn't going to do it for free.

My apples were a hit in my little town! I will do this again next year.

So I spent about two weeks peeling my crab apples with my trusty Starfrit, then chopped them all into apple-crisp-ready size chunks. I bagged them and froze them to preserve their freshness and sold them for $10 a bag. Due to the amount of apples my tree pumped out, I had a TON of bags to sell. Those that didn't sell, I used for myself to make apple pie filling and apple crisp. Win-win for me!

3. Bottle Drive

I am not encouraging you to go door-to-door in a massive bottle drive, begging strangers for their empties. But I do gather all of our bottles and cans regularly and take them to the depot myself, then stash the cash before I have a chance to spend it. Even when we go out for an event, if I find myself with an empty bottle I'll take it home with me instead of tossing it in the garbage. Hey, I paid for that deposit!

Reduce, reuse, and more lucratively - recycle!

Some of my neighbours know that I have a slight obsession with collecting bottles for my travel fund, so every now and then, when they are feeling lazy and don't want to go to the depot themselves they'll toss a bag of cans my way. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

While scrimping and saving bottle money might seem degrading or desperate to some, I am always pleasantly surprised at how quickly you can save a decent amount of coinage out of waste. And if anyone wants to donate to me, I am more than willing to set my dignity aside and accept the help.

4. Family and Friends GoFundMe Page

This may be a controversial method for many people. On the suggestion of some people who I chat with on Twitter, I set up a GoFundMe travel page. This was NOT an attempt to wrangle money from strangers to set myself up for a holiday. I made the page for family and friends as an option for gift-giving at holidays and birthdays. I have relations that live far away, and when asked, "What do you want for Christmas?" I will add contributing to the fund as one of their options. So far only two people have donated to it, and I am ecstatic and grateful that they did but don't really believe I can fund an entire trip based on donations. Nor would I want to.

And I do feel a little ridiculous even including this as a 'saving for your trip' method. GoFundMe is typically used as a crowd-sourcing tool for more noble endeavours, like helping those dealing with grief, loss and disease. I get that completely. That's why I don't do things like add a link to my GoFundMe page at the end of every email or post flyers around town. I just let my friends and family know that it exists in case they want to use it as a method of gift-giving in the future.

This is a POSSIBLE way to save - but don't go pestering strangers.

Also, GoFundMe takes a percentage of everything your fund earns. If it is easier for your loved ones to just mail you the traditional 'cheque inside the Christmas card', then by all means do that instead and save that 'finder's fee' that GoFundMe charges.

5. Get Crafty

I am no Martha Stewart, but I do like getting creative now and then. And when I do get creative, I try to do projects that give me a little return on my time and supplies.

One of the diaper cakes I have for sale - crafting with purpose!

I make diaper cakes. Then I sell them. They do not fly off the shelf like hot cakes, but I manage to sell maybe one a month. This does not make me a ton of money (I make less than $10 off each cake when supplies are accounted for), but at least my crafty hobby pays for itself, plus a teensy bit more. And that teensy bit more goes into my travel fund. Like I said, every bit helps.

6. AdSense for Google

This is my most recent adventure into travel saving. Until a couple of months ago, I refused to monetize this blog at all, and made it a point of pride that I didn't have ads, use sponsored links, or sell guest post spots.

But it is hard to maintain a travel blog when you can't afford to travel, so I sucked it up and entered the slightly confusing world of blog monetization. As you can probably see, I do have ads on the side bar of my blog, and under each post. (Feel free to click on them if you see an ad that interests you - make my travel dreams come true!)

Growing my blog will help me to save for future travels.

I also monetized my YouTube channel, mainly because every other travel video I have seen on YouTube has ads, and people still happily watch them. Can't hurt, thought I. So you can freely watch my videos on repeat, knowing that you are doing your daily good deed by helping me save up for a much-awaited bucket list adventure! Look at you and all your kindness!

Click here to subscribe to my YouTube channel!

This is a really slow and agonizing way to make your money, so unless your blog and YouTube channel are hoppin', don't rely on this method as your sole way to save for travel. It has been months, and I am not even remotely close to hitting the first payment threshold. But it is passive income and I like the idea that my TRAVEL videos will help me meet my future TRAVEL goals. Full circle and whatnot.

So those are currently my six methods of craftily saving for travel. As I said, I do substitute teach but that money is kind of already called for: most of what I make subbing goes back into childcare, and what is left goes into the household bills and groceries. What I make from the above strategies is piddly on its own, so I don't feel bad saving this money for myself. It isn't adding up FAST, but it is adding up, and that's what counts.

What are some ways you save for travel? I'd love to try out some of your ideas!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Things to See and Do in Invermere, British Columbia

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will have learned that I have spent a week of every summer for the last ten years visiting the Invermere area of British Columbia. My husband's family (well, a portion of it - he has a big family) opts to get together and rent a house, and then we spend our week lounging on the beach, eating way too much food, and trying out as many activities as we can. I have several posts on this region, but even with all of those posts, I still haven't written about everything we've done (and not yet done). So I'd like to take this time to kind of 'wrap up' my thoughts about the Invermere area, and share with you all of the lovely things to see and do. Enjoy!

Hiking / Exploring

Juniper Trail - This is a trail located right next to Highway 93, and takes visitors straight down into a gully where you can find great views of the canyon walls surrounding the rushing waters of Sinclair Creek. This trail meanders just beyond where the falls come down from Sinclair Canyon, which I have already written about. The trail is moderately difficult just due to the incline, but my two-year-old and three-year-old kids handled it just fine so most hikers will not have a problem.

Strolling along Juniper Trail, down to the creek at the bottom.

At the bottom of Juniper Trail, you can continue hiking on into the woods and connect to other trails, or you can enjoy the small area at the bottom. A wooden bridge takes you across Sinclair Creek and several lookout points give you views of the small falls and the pretty waters. We just hiked to the bottom, played Pooh Sticks on the bridge, took some photos of the creek, and headed back up again. At the top, we almost bumped into a mountain sheep grazing near the hood of our vehicle, and had to patiently wait for him to move on before entering the car. The kids loved that!

We have hiked this trail a few times, both with and without children. If you don't go exploring at the bottom of the gully down some of the alternate paths, then this is a quick hike of about 30 minutes or so, and is very peaceful and enjoyable.

Columbia Valley Road Side Stop - This is just a regular ol' pull out from the main road between Radium and Invermere, but the view is fantastic! We like to stop at least once every holiday to get out of the car, walk around, take some photos of the view, and enjoy the majesty that is the Columbia River Valley.

The Columbia Valley road side stop offers an amazing view.

Olive Lake - I have wanted to explore the area around Olive Lake for years now, and this year we actively decided to stop and hike its perimeter. Of course, as luck would have it, it was closed due to recent bear activity. So we only had the chance to stop near the rest area, walk down to the lake edge on one side, take a couple pictures of its brilliant green colour, and then had to leave again. Maybe next year I can have an actual full post just on Olive Lake, because I suspect it will be worth it.

The waters of Olive Lake are an amazing green color, hence the name!

Red Earth Creek Trail - We have only ventured on this trail for a short distance, back when my son was just a baby and my daughter, well, she was just a baby too, really. I had to turn back after about ten minutes on the trail to feed my son, so we haven't given this trail its proper dues. However, what we did see was pretty awesome, with tall trees towering on either side of a hillside pathway. We will be going back to hike this one when the kids are older!

The lush pathway that is Red Earth Creek trail.

There are many other hikes around the area that I haven't covered here, and obviously we haven't tried them all yet. Maybe next year, with the kids old enough to do a bit more independently, we can review some of them for you!


Boat and Seadoo Rentals - There are a few places in Invermere to rent motorboats and seadoos. Out of the ten years we have been visiting Invermere, we have only rented seadoos once. After that year, it became law to have a boating license. One member of our party received his boating license, but has forgotten it at home basically ever since then. We had a blast that ONE year we rented the seadoos, however. My goal this year is to get my boating license (which you can study for and take the test all online through a government website) and hopefully next summer we can rent either a motorboat or seadoos or maybe even - gasp - both!! The kids would probably love to jaunt around Lake Windermere in a racing boat!

Renting seadoos was a really fun way to spend the afternoon!

Water Sports - Of course, with Invermere being a lake-side town, there are tons of water sports to be had. In the past, we've done kayaking and paddle boarding. We haven't gone out in a canoe at all, although that is an option as well. Since we aren't boat renters (yet!), we haven't had the chance to really do any water skiing, tubing, or kneeboarding, but those are all on the books for the future. Once again, you can rent any of these things at the multiple marinas and rental shops in town. So if you are feeling very Olympic today (that's a 90s movie reference, because I am getting old), there are tons of chances for you and yours to get out and get active.

Kayaking in the wetlands, surrounded by mountains. Amazing!
My favourite photo of our paddle boarding adventure, in which my sister-in-law is in mid-fall!

Hang Gliding - This was something I wanted to try last summer. I even had the establishment all picked out and I had contacted them for pricing and availability. And then we chickened out. So maybe next summer I will have a fantastic and exciting blog post about this activity. Maybe...

White Water Rafting - You can go white water rafting with a couple of companies in the local area. We have gone twice: once though a company in Radium, and once through a company in Golden (which is admittedly a bit of a drive from Invermere). Both companies were great, we had a fantastic time, and I would definitely go white water rafting again in a heartbeat. Much, much recommended!

The rush of white water rafting is exhilarating!


Kinsman Beach - Our favorite place to relax in Invermere is at the Kinsmen Beach. In fact, when we are on our family B.C. holiday, the beach is basically a daily occurrence. There is a floating dock, paddle board and kayak rental shop, canteen, splash park, and of course, a beach. Our kids love swimming (this year my daughter embraced her life-jacket whole-heartedly and swam all the way out to the floating dock where she went down the slide into the lake), and playing in the sand pit is always a hit.

Grandma shows my son the view of the mountains from Kinsmen Beach.

The only negative aspect of this beach is that the ONLY sand is found on the sand pit, which I suspect is dump trucked in weekly. The rest of the beach is painful rocks and pebbles, so we often wear water shoes when we visit. But overall, the experience is very positive and relaxing.

There is another beach in town, called the James Chabot beach. It has more sand and is better 'beach-wise' but we prefer the Kinsman Beach with its multiple amenities, convenient location, and relaxing atmosphere. It is up to you to decide which you like more!

Commercial Hot Springs - One cannot come to the Invermere area and not visit the famous Radium Hot Springs. Fairmont Hot Springs is also within driving distance, but personally I think Radium is of better quality. The water is hotter, the surroundings more picturesque so you feel like you are right in the actual mountains, and it just feels like a 'hot spring'. I find Fairmont feels more like a regular pool, and isn't as warm or relaxing. But that's just my personal opinion.

My little family enjoying Radium Hot Springs.

Natural Hot Springs - My current favourite 'natural' hot spring in the Invermere area is Lussier Hot Springs, located in Whiteswan Provincial Park. I won't go on and on about it, as I already have a blog post dedicated to that site (see the list below), but I will tell you this place is amazing. Fairmont USED to have a natural hot spring, but it has been destroyed since I first visited it. So Lussier is also your only choice in the area for a natural hot spring.

Lussier Hot Springs are incredibly beautiful!

Gerry's Gelato - And of course, what is a holiday without ice cream? Hands down, the best ice cream in Invermere is Gerry's Gelato. I won't even go into more detail. Just go there and eat it and you'll see what I mean. And no, Gerry has not sponsored this post! (No one ever sponsors my posts. I am the brokest travel blogger you will ever meet.)

Arrowhead Brewery - With the craft beer movement going strong across Canada, you can expect to find one or two breweries in almost every city. Invermere is no exception, with Arrowhead Brewery being the local specialty. The adults in our little group like to stop there at least once during our yearly stay in Invermere to grab a sampler platter and enjoy the eclectic atmosphere of the place.

Arrowhead Brewery in Invermere, B.C. offers a wide variety of beers.

Past Posts on the Invermere region

Since we have been visiting this area for a decade now, naturally I have written a few posts about things to see and do surrounding Invermere. If you are visiting, and looking to fill your days, try out some of these posts for inspiration!

Go White Water Rafting in the Rocky Mountains
Soak in a True Natural Hot Spring in the Canadian Rockies
Update: Fairmont Natural Hot Springs 2014
B.C.'s Lussier Hot Springs
How I Learned to Stand-Up Paddleboard in the Canadian Rockies
Sinclair Canyon: Gateway to Beauty
Return Holidays: Why You Can't Discount a Repeat Trip
Kayaking in the Rocky Mountains of Canada
Explore the 'Home of 1000 Faces' in Radium B.C.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Drive the Dinosaur Trail in Drumheller, Alberta (Part Two)

Sometimes when you are obsessed with world travel and thoughts of adventure abroad, it is easy to forget about the cool and unique places your own local area can offer. I am definitely guilty of this behaviour, but have been attempting to be more 'locally aware' through my Backyard Bucket List travel series.

I grew up in the area around Drumheller, Alberta, and my family still resides there. This means I get to go home every now and then and appreciate the landscape in a more mature way. As a kid, Drumheller meant singing lessons and grocery shopping trips, but not much more. Yes, I had partaken in all of the dinosaur hype: visiting the museum, hugging reptiles at Reptile World (now closed), and hiking the hills. But I took most of it for granted then.

Drumheller's entrance sign featuring a dinosaur
My journey through Drumheller has just begun!

When I started writing my Backyard Bucket List series, I revisited some of these sights with a new appreciation. A few weeks ago, I took advantage of some of the last days of summer to drive the "Dinosaur Trail" once more, to give my readers a feel for the loop and what to expect.

World's Largest Dinosaur

There are many ways to travel the Dinosaur Trail, and no way is 'correct' or 'incorrect'. So for the sake of clarity, we will begin THIS version of the loop at a very distinct tourist landmark. That way you can be sure of the directions that follow in this post. We will begin at the World's Largest Dinosaur, a massive female Tyrannosaurus Rex that towers over the town and features a spectacular view. I won't write about this much, as the dinosaur has already earned its very own post on this blog. Take some time to climb up her stairs and enjoy the view from her mouth. Don't forget to take goofy pictures pretending to be toe jam in her massive feet! There is a fee to climb, so you are required to pay at the gift shop before hitting the stairs.

World's largest dinosaur in Drumheller, Alberta
Drumheller's "World's Largest Dinosaur" is a female T-Rex. 

Once you are done with the World's Largest Dinosaur, take 1st Ave West (also called Riverside Drive) into the heart of downtown Drumheller. Continue on that route until you hit South Dinosaur Trail, also known as Highway 575.

The first part of the South Dinosaur Trail isn't much to write home about. Along this stretch, drivers get an up-close-and-personal view of the industrial side of Drumheller. It isn't really pretty, but it fades quickly into the rearview mirror as you head out of town towards the former hamlet of Nacmine, which is now officially part of Drumheller itself. During my visit this summer, I had originally typed in my destination of 'Orkney Lookout' into Google Maps, but somehow ended up at a dead end somewhere in Nacmine, which was a tad bit frustrating. So heed my advice! Drive on past Nacmine, admiring it from the road. You can visit if you want, but it won't get you to our first stop on the trail.

Orkney Lookout

The trail continues on a scenic, if not serpentine, twisting road until you begin to ascend the hills and find yourself headed to the flat fields that surround the Drumheller Valley. At one point, Highway 575 turns left, but you will keep going straight on Highway 837. Before you really get into the fields, you must take a right-hand turn down a gravel road - there is a sign announcing that you have arrived at the turnoff for Orkney Lookout so keep an eye out for that. At the end of the gravel road, you'll find a wide parking lot overlooking the spectacular valley view. A few steps past the parking lot, and you are officially at Orkney Lookout. This is a free attraction so be sure to go enjoy it.

Orkney Lookout in Drumheller Alberta
The beautiful Orkney Lookout showcases the Red Deer River perfectly.

The view from Orkney Lookout is amazing. You can see for miles down a wide stretch of the Drumheller Valley. The glittering blue of the Red Deer River, combined with the multiple colours of the layered coulees makes for a picturesque view. There are benches where you can sit and enjoy the sight, and I spotted a few people laying out picnic lunches.

Blog author in front of Orkney Lookout in Drumheller Alberta
My Orkney Lookout selfie!

Beyond enjoying the sweeping panorama and eating some grub, there isn't too much more to do at Orkney Lookout. There were a couple of little dirt trails headed off to either side of the parking lot, but I didn't head down either. Orkney Lookout is mainly located above a cliff (no fences, so be careful and don't let your kids run amuck!) so I can't imagine there are any extensive hikes to be had. I enjoyed the view and some fresh air, then returned to my car to locate the next stop on my little tour.

Bleriot Ferry

Drive back down the gravel access road that leads to Orkney Lookout and turn right, back onto Highway 837. You will be driving northwest for anyone who has a navigational compass in their vehicle dashboard. When you reach Highway 838 East (otherwise known as the NORTH Dinosaur Trail) turn right. This road will quickly take you to the Bleriot Ferry. As always, keep an eye out for signage to make sure you are on the right track.

Bleriot Ferry in Drumheller Alberta
The Bleriot Ferry surrounded by the beautiful layered hills of the Drumheller Valley.

The ferry is quite old, although of course has been updated and upgraded with new technology over the years. It was originally built in 1913, and links the North Dinosaur Trail by providing access across the Red Deer River. I was going to say 'quick access', but then I would be lying.

As I said, I grew up in the Drumheller Valley area, and in all of those years I had never experienced the Bleriot Ferry. So I was quite excited to try it. I waited my turn patiently while another vehicle made its way across the river towards me. Only one vehicle can go at a time on this particular ferry. When the ferry landed and the ramp lowered, the car exited and I was waved aboard. The ferry ride is free, which is always nice. Just make sure to check your dates if you are visiting, because the ferry is only open from late April until November.

Bleriot Ferry's pulley mechanism
The massive pulley system that powers the Bleriot Ferry.

However, there really isn't much to it. The ferry moves excruciatingly slowly. The gentleman running the ferry was a man of few words, and mostly just sat in his chair beside the controls and stared out at the world, lost in his own thoughts. All I heard was the hum of the ferry motor and birds chirping. I tried talking to the operator, but our conversation was stilted and awkward so I just gave up. After what seemed like forever, we landed on the other side of the river and I was given the signal to rev up my engine and disembark. Which I did gladly.

My disappointed face after crossing the Bleriot Ferry. 

On the other side, I watched the process repeat as the next car in line found its place on the ferry deck. Some kids hopped out of the car and began to wander around the ferry deck. I hoped they'd have more fun than I had. It wasn't a negative experience by any means... it was just not that exciting and I think I had built it up in my head too much. Oh well. At least I can say I have ridden the Bleriot Ferry!

Horse Thief Canyon

Next up on the loop is the majestic Horse Thief Canyon. I have written about this place previously, in my first Dinosaur Trail post. So I won't spend too much time now writing about it - you'd be better served by hopping over to that post with this link.

Panoramic view of Horse Thief Canyon in Drumheller
Horse Thief Canyon is pretty amazing. 

What I will say is that you'd better have a lot of space on your camera for photos, because Horse Thief Canyon does not disappoint! I want to come back and visit on a day when I have my children with me and lots of time to explore, because there are tons of hiking trails all throughout the canyon.

A selfie with the hills of Horse Thief Canyon behind me.

To access the canyon from Bleriot Ferry, you have to stick to Highway 838 (North Dinosaur Trail) but this can be a little confusing because it makes a couple of 90 degree turns. There is signage to help guide you, but just in case, I've included a little map here for you. Once again, the canyon is free to access and enjoy, as you will notice most things are on the Dinosaur Trail.

A little driving direction assistance for you, courtesy of Google Maps.

The Little Church

Once you have finished hiking around Horse Thief Canyon and filling up your camera roll, get back into your trusty vehicle and continue onwards down North Dinosaur Trail. You will drive for about 8 minutes until you see a teeny tiny little white church on the left-hand side of the road. As its size suggests, this is the aptly named Little Church.

Drumheller's Little Church as seen from the road
The cutest little church you ever did see.

It was first built in 1968, and was legitimately used as a place of worship. It needed repairs in the 1990s, and was reconstructed by inmates from the nearby Drumheller Institution. Today it is mainly a fun and quaint tourist attraction, although you can also get married there. Just don't invite more than 6 guests, because that's all the church seats.

When I went this summer, there were tons of tourists milling about and waiting their turn to go inside the church. It wasn't the best way to experience the attraction. However, I have written about the church previously and had much more opportunity to explore it then as I had visited in April, when no one else was about. As is the norm with the Dinosaur Trail attractions, the Little Church is free to visit.

Royal Tyrell Museum

Next up on the Dinosaur Trail is the world-famous Royal Tyrell Museum. I actually plan to do a post specifically on the museum at a future date, so stay tuned for that post! However, while a lot of people come from around the globe to visit the Tyrell Museum, many of them miss out on the great hike that is available on the museum grounds outside. I decided to do that hike during my summertime visit this year, and skipped the museum - I will go back in the fall or winter when it makes more sense to spend my day indoors rather than outside hiking in the snow.

The Royal Tyrell Museum panoramic view
An overview of the world famous Royal Tyrell Museum.

Badlands Interpretive Trail

The Badlands Interpretive Trail is part of the Royal Tyrell Museum's offerings, but unlike the museum itself, the trail is free to experience. I squeezed my vehicle into the busy parking lot and joined the throngs of visitors who were walking towards the museum's entrance. When we reached the front doors, everyone turned left and headed inside, while I was the sole person to head straight. I crossed a road and began strolling down a dusty path towards a large sign exclaiming that I had begun the Badlands Interpretive Trail.

Royal Tyrell Museum's Badlands Interpretive Trail sign
Welcome to the Badlands Interpretive Trail!

Signage indicated that the 1.4 kilometre loop could take up to an hour to hike if one was so inclined, and begged participants to bring water, a hat, appropriate footwear, sunscreen, bug spray, and other survival gear. I shrugged my shoulders, thinking to myself, "I've done this trail before. No big deal." I was wearing jeans, a black shirt, a duster jacket, and sandals. I had no water, no sunscreen, no other amenities. But I had confidence, and that counts for something.

While the trail is by no means difficult, I do not actually recommend you hike it mid-day in the hot sun while wearing jeans, a black shirt, and sandals. I was roasting and sweaty and disgusting, and I nearly slipped in the pebbly clay that the path was comprised of a couple of times, narrowly escaping death. Okay, maybe it wasn't that dramatic, but I was hot and sweaty and I did slip a lot. Wear good shoes, people.

A pathway in the Royal Tyrell Museum's Badlands Interpretive Trail
Follow the black tar road... to learn all about dinosaurs and rocks!

The Badlands Interpretive Trail was a lot different than I remembered it from my youth. I believe it has been redone since I last visited. I have memories of bone beds, and interactive things to do along the way. There was none of that in 2017. But the trail is full of informative signs, pretty sights, giant rocks, and lots of cacti. It just seemed to be less exciting than I remember it from earlier days. Maybe I am simply mis-remembering the trail.

Erratic rock on the Badlands Interpretive Trail in Drumheller Alberta
Some spots on the Badlands Interpretive Trails were stunningly beautiful.

When I finished the hike, I ducked into the museum to use the facilities and enjoy the heavenly air-conditioning. Feeling refreshed, I headed back to my car to find the next stop in the Dinosaur Trail loop.

Star Mine Suspension Bridge (Rosedale Suspension Bridge)

In order to reach the next section of the Dinosaur Trail, you have to drive all the way through Drumheller and continue exploring on the other side. It is about a 15-20 minute drive depending on the traffic in town. Follow Highway 56 out of town, then turn into the small community of Rosedale. There is signage indicating how to reach the bridge. Officially, the suspension bridge is called the Star Mine Suspension Bridge, but locally everyone just calls it the Rosedale Suspension Bridge. Potato, potahto.

The Rosedale Suspension Bridge in Drumheller Alberta
The Star Mine Suspension Bridge as seen from the far side.

I have written about this bridge in a prior post as well, so I am not going to blather away about it here. It is well worth a visit, not just for the bridge experience, but also to wander around the area and enjoy the beauty. Once again, there is no fee associated with the suspension bridge.

The property on the far side of the bridge is privately owned, so you technically aren't supposed to be wandering around and hiking on the land, but lots of people do and no one ever seems to get reprimanded for it. I took my kids with me on this part of my journey (they'd been staying with Grandma, so we all decided to go to the bridge together) and as we hiked we found a bull snake and other exciting things, like a big hole in the ground. The hole was probably the highlight of the day for my kids.

Who doesn't love a giant, mysterious hole in the ground?

The Hoodoos

The next stop on the Dinosaur Trail is a geologically important one - the hoodoos. These are unique rock formations created over time through wind and water erosion, and are quite impressive to view. I have, once again, written about the hoodoos in a prior post, so I won't go into too much detail here.

A giant hoodoo near Drumheller Alberta
Please keep the hoodoos standing - stay on the paths!

On this visit, however, I noticed something a little disheartening. There are way less hoodoos at the Drumheller hoodoo site now than when I wrote about it last. People have been vandalizing them, both intentionally and also unintentionally. What do I mean, unintentionally? I mean that despite the lovely parks people erecting staircases, pathways, railings, signs, and every other deterrent they could think of to discourage people from walking and crawling all over the hoodoo site, people still continue to climb wherever they please. This constant traffic has been the downfall of not only the larger more established hoodoos, but also interferes with the creation of new ones.

Aw! Holding hands outside the hoodoos.

I was quite disgusted to see people just literally EVERYWHERE on the hoodoo site. Everywhere, except maybe, the pathways they were supposed to stay on. We didn't stay long this time around, because it made my heart hurt to see people so willfully damaging the hoodoos that I find so precious.  We had to leave before I started yelling at strangers. Please, if you are reading this and plan on visiting the hoodoos, do NOT walk on them. Stay on the paths. Protect their beauty.

The Atlas Coal Mine and Last Chance Saloon

There are two more stops on the Dinosaur Trail to make it complete: the Atlas Coal Mine and the Last Chance Saloon. However, driving the whole trail, stopping at each sight, and enjoying the attractions for what they are makes for a very long day! I would suggest you try to fit the entire Dinosaur Trail into a weekend adventure rather than a day trip.

Due to the nature of the Dinosaur Trail, and the fact that I was trying to make it a quick trip, we didn't get to finish off the last two sights. I am hoping to go back soon and complete my Drumheller blog series with a post about the coal mine and the saloon. Stay tuned for that future post as well!

There is so much to see and do in the Drumheller area. I can't believe I didn't appreciate it more growing up. I am thankful that I have multiple chances to go back now as an adult and enjoy the region to its fullest. I suggest you come on down and do the same!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Torrington Gopher Hole Museum in Alberta, Canada

What does a small village with little tourism prospects do to generate revenue from passers-by? Some places might erect statues of unusual items, like a giant sausage (Mundare, Alberta), or a massive replica Easter egg (Vegreville, Alberta). Others may hold strange and random festivals, like Spock Days, where everyone dresses up in a Star Trek costume and greets one another with "V" shaped hand signals (Vulcan, Alberta).

The powers that be in the small village of Torrington, Alberta, located somewhere between Calgary and Edmonton in the middle of wide open prairie, decided to open the Torrington Gopher Hole Museum. Instead of meat statues or futuristic costumes, Torrington has gophers stuffed, styled, and striking a pose.

Admiring the beauty of the Alberta prairies before going into the village of Torrington.

I had been hearing about the museum for years (I won't say how many, we don't need to focus on how old I am getting), but I had never been to see it, despite passing through Torrington hundreds of times while driving home to see my folks on their farm. This year, I decided, I would make sure to stop as I drove through and check out the museum itself. So that's what I found myself doing last week.

This Grandma Gopher is playing some serious cards.

I will share the embarrassing part first. I got lost. In Torrington. In a village with approximately 200 residents, and maybe three main streets, and I turned into the wrong street right off the bat. Then I made another wrong turn, and then one more.  Just when I was about to stop a local and risk being laughed at by asking how to get to the museum, I drove through one more intersection and found the museum. At least getting lost in Torrington is a quick affair. 

To be fair, I did not see any signs posted (probably because most normal people can find the museum in a more straight-forward way than me), and the museum itself is very small - smaller than most homes in a trailer park. So it doesn't stick out, if you know what I mean. It is a cute little white building, with an unassuming sign on the front wall and a tidy wooden ramp leading up to the side door. The most conspicuous element of the exterior is the wooden gopher cut-out where visitors can pose as a gopher for photographs.

Posing as either a gopher or a farmer - you can't really tell.

I parked on the side street just as another family pulled up (they probably hadn't gotten lost - I was too self-conscious to ask). We took turns taking pictures of one another with the gopher cut-out, then entered the museum. 

Admission to the museum is $2.00 per person unless you are under 14, and then the cost is a whopping $0.50 per child. (How does this place stay open? They could easily charge a little more, in my opinion.) If you are visiting solo like I was, or as a pair, try to bring change with you as it probably isn't even feasible for the museum to run your admission through a debit/credit machine. 

The front room of the museum is a little eccentric. The walls are covered in newspaper articles about the museum, artist biographies (specifically the people who painted the diorama boxes), and print-outs of cheery jokes and funny poems. On the gift shelves are, of course, T-shirts proclaiming one has visited the Gopher Hole Museum and Torrington village mugs. However, also for sale in the gift shop are hand-knitted baby booties and hats, hand-knitted doll dresses, hand-knitted wash clothes and hand-knitted pot holders. There's a lot of knitting there. Just something I noticed.

The quirky gift shop at the Torrington Gopher Hole Museum.

Once I finished perusing the gift shop shelves, I made my way into the only other room in the building: the main gallery, which was the same size as the first room. Instead of knitting however, the walls were covered with wooden diorama boxes, arranged asymmetrically in a pattern that Klimt would have admired. The diorama boxes were gently illuminated, while the rest of the room remained somewhat dim. In this way, you could clearly see inside the dioramas without being bothered by glare from overhead lights. 

Each diorama presented a scene from Torrington life throughout time. Some scenarios were from the distant past, some from the more recent past, and a couple, such as the 'Happy 150th Birthday Canada' diorama, were set in today's time period. Each were extremely detailed, fully decorated, and of course, featured dead gophers as the main players.

The one-room museum is filled with these glowing diorama boxes. 

Even if you haven't heard of the Torrington Gopher Hole Museum, you might have guessed that it would be filled with gophers. Not live ones running around, nibbling at your shoes. These gophers have been snared, taxidermied (stuffed), and artfully clothed and staged. (I checked. 'Taxidermied' isn't a real word. You have to say 'stuffed' or 'stuffed by a taxidermist' even though they have clearly been 'taxidermied'. So I am making it a word now.)

Before anyone gets upset that poor, innocent gophers have been murdered for our viewing pleasure, please remember that this museum is located in the middle of central Alberta, where farmers and ranchers make their living. Gophers are not adorable gifts from God around this area: they destroy fields, eat crops, dig holes in the land which causes cattle and horses to trip and get broken legs or ankles, and are basically destructive and costly pests. They are habitually poisoned or shot to keep their population in check. And if you've even driven down a highway in central Alberta, you will see your fair share of gopher roadkill along the shoulders, if you don't happen to accidentally contribute to that situation yourself.

There has actually been some controversy surrounding this museum, but I liked it.

And I like gophers. I think they are cute. I cried ugly tears one day when I ran one over by mistake. When I was thirteen I went with a farming friend to help her poison gophers, and I STILL have bad dreams about the results. But I completely understand the situation. If people didn't hunt gophers or cull them or whatever you want to call it, they would overrun the area in a few short years. So this is just a part of life. Not a lovely one. But a part. So please keep this information in mind when reading about what the gopher museum entails. The museum is a little tongue-in-cheek, but it is somewhat fitting for the central Alberta area.

Anyway... If you do think gophers are cute, and don't mind that they have been taxidermied, then you would probably really enjoy the museum's dioramas. They are funny, creative, and have obviously been put together with a lot of care and love. There are nearly 100 stuffed gophers in the museum, all arranged in different poses and situations. All of the clothes the gophers wear are hand-stitched by various Torrington local ladies. The background imagery was painted by a local woman, Shelly Haase, who has since moved away. The taxidermists both resided at least a one-hour drive away. The museum has definitely been a community effort.

Some illegal shenanigans at the Torrington Gopher Hole Museum.

Originally, the museum was supposed to be a place where visitors could go to see live gophers and learn about their habits, patterns, hibernation, and much more. But this idea was scrapped when the logistics of it were examined - building at least a four meter deep pit, encased in concrete and wire to contain the creatures was just the beginning. Not to mention how to control breeding, disease, and other issues. Someone suggested just stuffing the gophers, and the idea took off from there.

Dead gophers in love. It is so... romantic? 

Technically, the stars of the show aren't actually 'gophers', but Richardson's ground squirrels. Around here, everyone just calls them gophers. But whatever you call them, they do make for some interesting sight-seeing! 

I spent about 40 minutes in the actual museum portion of the building, reading the little jokes and quips in each diorama. (The beautician telling her client, "I am a beautician, not a magician!" made me chuckle.) I signed the guestbook, and photographed most of the dioramas - taking pictures is totally cool, I was assured by the curator Dianne Kurta.

This diorama made me crack up. Cheeky gopher!

Once I had taken in all of the scenes, there wasn't much else to do at the museum. I hung around the gift shop, asking Dianne a bunch of questions about taxidermy, how the gophers were collected (snaring, not poisoning or shooting because that damages the bodies), and other such nosy things. I was amused to discover that the museum's biggest nemesis was none other than Paul McCartney of Beatles fame. When the museum first opened, it seemed he had a real problem with it. I doubt Paul McCartney has ever driven down a rural Alberta road and seen flattened gophers dotting the pavement as far as the eye can see...

As controversial as this museum could be, I still enjoyed it. I found it cute in a quirky way, and I can appreciate that the simple building and its furry residents help to keep a very small Alberta village afloat. I will most likely return one day with my kids - they would probably get a kick out of it. I am sure I will get a few comments with differing views, but to each his own! If you are unsure of where you sit regarding the Torrington Gopher Hole Museum, check out my video below to help you decide!