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Okanagan to Vancouver

July 8, 2018 Sunday – Okanagan Falls to Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada

Victoria to Calgary road trip 2018
Okanagan Falls and Skaha Lake

Okanagan Falls and Skaha Lake

After another scrumptious breakfast at Peachcliff B&B, I fly my Mavic Pro drone above the B&B, taking high definition video and photos of Peachcliff, the Okanagan Valley, Skaha Lake, Okanagan Falls, and I also capture the cyclists riding in the Prospera Granfondo Axel Merckx event this morning, which my friend and his son are riding in.

I leave at 10:30AM after most of the serious riders are clear of the route, however it is slow going as I head north out of Okanagan Falls to the turnoff onto Highway 3A to head south to Keremeos. Once I’m on 3A it is an easy drive. I recharge my Tesla at the Keremeos Fast DC charger for about a half hour before continuing to Highway 3 through Princeton and Manning Park. I recharge at the Tesla Supercharger at Hope and indulge in another small Blizzard frozen dessert from Dairy Queen, which is right next door!

The drive from Hope to Burnaby on the Trans-Canada Highway is very stressful, since the traffic around Abbotsford and Langley in the Fraser Valley is congested and quite heavy despite it being a Sunday afternoon. Once I cross the Port Mann bridge into Coquitlam and Burnaby, traffic improves. I find my way through Burnaby to my Best Western Plus hotel on Kingsway and check in by 6PM. I’m very tired as I settle into my room, and then meet a friend for dinner at Minoa’s Greek Taverna (review) down Kingsway a few blocks. It’s great to reconnect with my friend again – we both attended BCIT together (Photgrammetry & Surveying) way back in the 1970s! The food and service at this Greek restaurant is excellent  as usual.

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Calgary to Revelstoke

July 5, 2018 Calgary, Alberta to Revelstoke, British Columbia, Canada

Victoria to Calgary road trip 2018

I take my time leaving Hotel Alma this morning. Traffic is light as I drive west from Calgary through the Foothills and the Kananaskis area to Canmore, where I stop to recharge my Tesla at the Supercharger. I grab a cappuccino from Beamers Coffee, which is about a 7-minute walk south of the Supercharger. Back at the Supercharger, while enjoying my coffee I take a photo of the old Moon over the south end of Mt. Rundle before resuming my drive.

A bird-of-prey flying in front of Castle Mountain

A bird-of-prey flying in front of Castle Mountain

The very popular Castle Junction rest stop offers the classic view of Castle Mountain, the Sawback Range and the Bow River. I use three different focal lengths of lenses with my dSLR to capture the scene (see banner image above for cropped fisheye view). I discover later that my telephoto shot of Castle Mountain also captured a raptor in flight near the mountain – bonus! I pull into the rest stop at Eldon in Banff National Park for a rest and to have some lunch. Before resuming my drive, I take a panoramic photo of Castle Mountain from this viewpoint – there is spectacular scenery everywhere you look in the Canadian Rockies!

My Tesla Model S charging at the Golden Supercharger

My Tesla Model S charging at the Golden Supercharger

I recharge at the Golden Supercharger for a half hour before driving Rogers Pass to Revelstoke. Tackling the highway construction westbound doesn’t seem as bad as the eastbound experience. This is the second-longest driving segment for my road trip, so I’m tired by the time I arrive in Revelstoke later in the afternoon.

Pan seared pacific halibut atop a warmed salad at the Village Idiot Bistro

Pan seared pacific halibut at the Village Idiot Bistro

I’m staying at the Swiss Chalet Motel in Revelstoke on the main drag: Victoria Ave. The Village Idiot Bistro is recommended by the desk clerk, so I go there for dinner. It’s a very casual place with a patio going full bore since it is about 27°C downtown. I sit inside out of the sun and have a High Country Kolsch draught (Mt. Begbie Brewery). It is kind of sweet, but it’s a good summer beer that goes well with my grilled halibut entree.The halibut is excellent, served with grilled tomatoes, green beans, onions, and goat cheese – a very heart-healthy choice.

I have a Standard Queen Room in the motel, which is small, but nicely updated with a Queen bed, fast Internet, full bathroom, and air-conditioning. Each unit has a parking spot right outside the door, and the office doubles as the breakfast room. The motel is centrally located – it’s an easy five minute walk to the railway museum, and a 15-minute walk to the shops downtown. There is free parking downtown if you drive.

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Looking for Mars in the Rockies

July 3, 2018 Tuesday – Martian Analogues in the Canadian Rockies, Alberta, Canada

Victoria to Calgary road trip 2018

After having an early breakfast in my hotel room for the second day in a row, our tour bus leaves early bound for the Canadian Rockies. This all-day tour is hosted by three geologists (and RASC members) who share their knowledge about the landforms found in the Canadian Rockies, and how this geomorphology can be used as an analogue to the surface conditions found on Mars. We are all given handouts authored by our hosts, with scientific  references, diagrams, and notes. We also have Dr. Tania Harrison along on this tour, our banquet speaker who talked about finding water on Mars.

After making a quick shopping stop in Cochrane, we drive through Canmore and through the Canadian Rockies north to Banff. Along the way, our guides point out alluvial fans, erosion, rocky glaciers snow fields, and other analogues of features found on Mars. There is snow falling as we drive over the Glacier Parkway summit. We have a rest stop at Saskatchewan Crossing on our way to the Columbia Icefield, part of the Athabaska Glacier. I visited here in 1968 and remember the tongue of the glacier being much closer to the road. There are markers showing how the glacier has retreated over the years, as we walk up to the tongue of the glacier.

We return to our hotel quite late, so I drive a few who were also on the tour and myself to Nick’s Steakhouse and Pizza, where we have a nice dinner and excellent service.

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Golden to Calgary

June 28, 2018 – Golden, BC to Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Victoria to Calgary road trip 2018

After eating the very modest continental breakfast the motel offers, I drive across the street to charge at the Tesla Supercharger in Golden. I pickup an acceptable cappuccino from the nearby MacDonald’s drive-thru before starting my journey. This is one of the shorter road trip segments today, which I planned to allow me to enjoy the scenery along the way through Yoho and Banff National Parks and the Kananaskis area on my way to Calgary. The Canadian Rocky Mountains are awe-inspiring on this beautiful sunny day as I take my time along the route.

Flying drones in national parks is prohibited in Canada, so I wait until I’m out of Banff National Park near Canmore before launching my drone, and capturing some beautiful panoramic photos and video of Mount Rundle and the Bow River. I stop to recharge my Model S at the Canmore Supercharger, and have a quick bowl of soup at Craig’s Waystation restaurant before continuing down the valley and emerging from the Foothills and onto the flat prairie farmlands east of Calgary.

Bow River Valley from JoeTourist on Vimeo.

I am staying at the Hotel Alma on the campus of the University of Calgary, which is easy to access from the Trans-Canada Highway. As I park in front of the hotel, I meet several astronomy buddies even before I check-in. The hotel arranges for me to charge my vehicle at the Level-2 chargers available on the campus in Lot 22, which I take advantage of a couple of times during my week-long stay.

JoeTourist: Rural southern Alberta &emdash; First Nations dancing at the opening of the General AssemblyThe RASC General Assembly registration desk is setup in the hotel lobby, so after I get settled in my room, I go downstairs to pick up my delegate’s package. I connect with a few people I know in the lobby while we wait for buses to take us to the Members’ Welcome BBQ dinner and First Nations performances at the Rothney Observatory, in the country south of Calgary. We also get to tour the observatories operating from this site.

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Merritt to Golden

June 27, 2018 – Merritt to Golden, British Columbia, Canada

Victoria to Calgary road trip 2018

I’m up just after 7AM, get cleaned up and go downstairs for breakfast. Afterwards, I try to fly my drone from the parking lot, but the whole of Merritt is a no-fly-zone since the airport is nearby. I spend about a half hour across the highway at the Tesla Superchargers at the Best Western Plus hotel before starting my drive north on Highway 5. This is my longest road trip day, driving a total of 446 kms over 6 hours elapsed time.

First stop is Kamloops Visitor Centre, where I charge the car at one of the four Tesla Superchargers. This takes about 20 minutes, so I have time to get a cappuccino at a Blenz in the Aberdeen Mall across the street, I leave Kamloops eastbound on the Trans-Canada Highway 1, heading to Salmon Arm, where I have a quick lunch at a Tim Hortons before proceeding to the Revelstoke Supercharger. I get my fastest charge rate so far at that location, but have time to walk to a Starbucks for a cappuccino.

First of 5 snow sheds eastbound through Rogers Pass

First of 5 snow sheds eastbound through Rogers Pass

After leaving Revelstoke, I drive over the Rogers Pass to Golden, where I am staying overnight. Highway 1 through Rogers Pass is dotted with construction zones where they are repaving. I wait about 20 minutes at one location. The snow shed lighting is also being worked on, so it is slow going. Despite all the construction and delays, Rogers Pass is always spectacular, and today is a lovely sunny day, so the mountains and valleys live up to all my expectations.

After driving all day, I am exhausted by the time I get to Golden. Since it is 6PM, I go to a nearby Boston Pizza and have a beer and some lasagna for dinner, and then check into my motel. I am staying at the Ponderosa Motor Inn, which is a very modest motel. It is clean, but they obviously cater to work crews and truck drivers, since it is located on a highway access road, instead of being downtown. I wouldn’t stay here again, but there’s really nothing wrong with the room: it’s clean, quiet, and everything works.

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Flights from Singapore to Victoria

March 17, 2016 – Thu – Singapore to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

2016 – SE Asia and Total Solar Eclipse cruise

I’m up at 3AM this morning and leave the Volendam for the last time to take the prearranged 4AM shuttle to the airport. The bus takes Holland America’s passengers to Terminal 1 at Changi Airport, where I check in with Cathay Pacific for my 8:05AM flight to Hong Kong and onward to Vancouver. I will get to live today almost twice over, since we cross the International Date Line mid-flight as we fly eastward across the Pacific Ocean.

After clearing customs and immigration, I find my gate and hit Starbucks for a cappuccino. I have several hours to kill, but Changi airport has free wifi, so the time goes by. By 6AM the airport comes alive with more people, so people watching keeps me entertained. The 3.5 hour Cathay Pacific flight from Singapore to Hong Kong goes well. They serve us breakfast, which I certainly appreciate!

When departing the aircraft in Hong Kong airport, I remember it is important to stay in the “Transfer” stream when you already have a boarding pass issued for the next flight segment. You still have to go through security, but then you can go directly to the Departures level and roam around. Otherwise you will find yourself on the Arrivals level, and have to take a lot more time to find your way back to the Departure level.

Cathay Pacific doesn’t load the flight to Vancouver by row. Everyone simply lines up at the gate and we are let on the aircraft after our boarding pass is scanned and our passport is verified.

Pre-dawn light over the wing south of the Aleutian Islands

Pre-dawn light over the wing south of the Aleutian Islands

This flight is excruciatingly long, however service by the cabin crew is very good. The first time I check my watch is an hour or so after they serve us dinner at the beginning of the flight. At that point we are five hours into the flight. Not even being half way is pretty depressing! The next time I check the time, we are about five hours out of Vancouver…still a very long time to sit. By then I’ve listened to all the music I can handle; I’ve read all the magazines on my iPad I can stand; so I haul down my MacBook Air from the overhead bin and write my journal and process photos for awhile. It would be great if I could sleep aboard aircraft, but that doesn’t happen no matter how tired I am. The sunrise is beautiful as we fly south of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

Looking North across the city of Vancouver to the North Shore mountains on final approach to Vancouver airport

Looking North across the city of Vancouver to the North Shore mountains on final approach to Vancouver airport

Our approach to Vancouver is over Northern Vancouver Island and the coast range of mountains of British Columbia. The pilot refers to it as “the Whistler approach” to Vancouver airport, taking us over the famed ski resort. We fly east of the city and then turn west on final approach over Surrey, Richmond, and New Westminster, giving us great views of the city against the North Shore mountains. I think we land on Vancouver runway 26R. I take some nice photos of the scenery out the window.

This time I’m prepared for the long stretches of walking required in Vancouver airport to get from the arrival gate to the Immigration kiosks, and then onward to the baggage carousels, and finally a long way to the end of the departure concourse to check in at the Westjet kiosks. I don’t have a through ticket, so can’t use Westjet’s transfer check-in (much closer to the carousels). After clearing security again, I find the domestic departure area and the gates for the local Westjet flights. It is only a 20 minute flight to Victoria, and I am soon home…greeted at the door by Rolly and Tanner, our Jack Russell Terriers, and the rest of the family. It’s time to go to bed for a well-deserved sleep after enduring some 27 hours elapsed time from when I left my cabin aboard the Volendam in Singapore earlier today.

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Jebel Shams to Muscat

February 21, 2015 – Saturday – Jebel Shams to Muscat

JoeTourist: Jebel Akhdar &emdash; Beehive tombs on the ridgeline

Beehive tombs on the ridgeline at Al Ayn

After driving down the steep roads from Jebel Shams, we visit the beehive tombs at Al Ayn.These tombs are about 5,000 years old, although not much is known about them. This means the necropolises were built in the same era as the Egyptian pyramids. The tombs are fascinating and quite photogenic, however as we descend from the ridge to return to our 4x4s, the wind picks up and a sand storm blasts everyone as we hurry to get back inside our vehicles.

Next stop is Jabrin Castle, which was built by the Yaruba dynasty Imam Bil’arab bin Sultan, who ruled from 1679 to 1692. This is without a doubt the most impressive castle or fortification we have visited in Oman. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is beautifully restored, and is surrounded by groves of palm trees in a lush valley. The castle has impressive wooden painted ceilings in some rooms.

After driving back along the highway to Muscat, we say goodbye to our driver Ali, who drops us off at our hotel, the City Seasons Hotel. He has been an excellent driver; taking us over sand dunes at Sharqiya Sands, along back roads to Bedouin camps, and zooming up and down expressways and mountain roads. It has been a wonderful driving adventure in our 4x4s over the last five days. Tomorrow, we drive from Muscat back to Dubai (in a bus) for our final day in Arabia before returning home.

Our travels in Oman

Our travels in Oman

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Jebel Shams

February 20, 2015 – Friday – Nizwa to Jebel Shams

After lunch in the Al Hamra oasis, we make a brief stop to see the abandoned Persian village of Ghul before climbing 2,000 metres up into the mountains. Our destination is Jebel Shams (Mountain of the Sun),  Oman’s highest mountain at 3,028 metres (just over 10,000 feet). We stay at the Jebel Shams Resort, which is at the end of a long, winding and steep road. The resort is situated a few hundred metres from Wadi Ghul, the Grand Canyon of Arabia.

I walk over from the resort to the rim of the canyon before dinner, and find a spectacular sight that is much deeper than the Grand Canyon in Arizona. I peer over the edge of Wadi Ghul to a small abandoned village barely visible almost 1,000 metres below! The wind is terribly strong, but at least it is blowing up the canyon and over the rim, so it isn’t a safety hazard. I find taking photos of the canyon in the late afternoon very challenging, and resort to bracketed photos and HDR settings.

Jebel Shams Resort has pretty basic accommodation compared to the luxury we have had so far on the tour. I keep the electric heater going in my room, since at this elevation, it gets very cold at night. The Internet connection is down, so I use my time this evening to catch up on my journal and tag my photos with locations and titles.

February 21, 2015 – Jebel Shams to Muscat

I get up before dawn this morning and take some photos of the mountains bathed in the pre-dawn light. The pre-dawn view of the mountains, the Earth’s shadow and the Belt of Venus is spectacular! After an early breakfast, we drive (as a group) the short distance from the resort to see and photograph Wadi Ghul after sunrise, and then drive down the mountain and onto the wadi and other sights before returning to Muscat and civilization.

Map of our 4x4 drives in Oman,

Map of our 4×4 drives in Oman,

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Nizwa

February 20, 2015 – Friday – Nizwa to Jebel Shams

It is another full day today, beginning with a visit to yet another souq: the Nizwa Souq. This souq is perhaps the most interesting of them all, since it is huge, and offers an amazing variety: cattle and goat market, butchered meat, fruit and vegetables, silver jewelry (especially silver khanjars – traditional daggers of Oman) and crafts. The Halwa shop (Omani sweets) is undoubtedly the busiest place in the whole souq. However, there are no camels at this livestock sale. In addition to the large number of locals, there are lots of tourists at the souq…and everyone arrives early!

I have lots of time to people watch, and yet I see only one woman the whole time I’m there. Omani men (and their sons) are doing the shopping, at least at the souq. Nizwa’s fort is on the edge of the souq. It was built in the 17th century, and dominates the city with a 40 metre (125 foot) high huge round tower. I walk the back streets to see where the residents live. It is considerably quieter away from the souq, and the city appears to be very well developed, and offers its residents a good quality of life.

After leaving the souq, we visit the oasis village of Al Hamra, at the foot of the Hajar Mountains. This village is one of the oldest in Oman, and has a well-preserved row of two- and three-story mud-brick houses built in the old Yemeni style. We visit a traditional Omani house (Beit al-Safa) and have lunch in the oasis.

After leaving the oasis, we climb 2,000 metres up the tallest mountain in Oman, Jebel Shams. We are staying at Jebel Shams Resort, situated across the road from Wadi Ghul, the Grand Canyon of Arabia.

Map of our 4x4 drives in Oman,

Map of our 4×4 drives in Oman,

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Jebel Akhdar

February 19, 2015 – Sharqiya Sands to Nizwa

We depart early this morning for Sinaw, whose Thursday souq attracts many Bedu from Sharqiya Sands. This is a good place to interact with Omani women whose Bedouin lifestyle affords them a more visible social role. They wear brightly coloured costumes with peaked masks and an abeyya of gauze. I find some shade while we are at the souq in Sinaw and spend my time taking people photos using my long telephoto zoom, since the people here are camera-shy.

After leaving the souq, we climb some roads near Birkat Al Mouz which are controlled by the army for some reason. The road is extremely steep and also has sharp curves, so our 4x4s get a good workout today on Oman’s spectacular mountain highways! Two of our 4×4 vehicles have broken down so far, but the local tour company is replacing them with no delays. We drive through the lower plateau of Jebel Akhdar, where most of the market-gardening happens in terraced plots in small villages clinging to the steep hillsides. We have a wonderful buffet lunch at the very remote Jabal Akdhar Hotel., which is 2,000 metres above sea level.

Our final destination today is Nizwa, a large city which lies on a plain surrounded by a palm oasis and some of Oman’s highest mountains.

Map of our 4x4 drives in Oman,

Map of our 4×4 drives in Oman,