We leave Dragoon Mountain Ranch just after 7AM with three of my friends in the Tesla Model 3, heading to Phoenix airport. We make a couple of quick stops along the way, arriving right on time at 10:30AM. I find the Terminal 4 doors where I return the Tesla to its owner. At this point, we split up to find our flights, with one friend going to Sedona for time with family.
I’m incredibly early for my 5:30PM flight to Calgary, so end up waiting around in the ticketing area, since I can’t even check my bag until two hours before the flight. After finally checking my bag with WestJet, I have a late lunch downstairs and then go upstairs through security and into the gate area. My flight is delayed from 5:25PM to 5:40PM, but the boarding goes quickly. We takeoff at 5:47PM, and the flight duration aboard our Boeing 737-700 is 2:43 instead of 3:06, so WestJet is obviously trying to make up some time.
Time is tight to clear Canadian Customs & Immigration and find my next gate in Calgary, but full credit to the WestJet staff in the airport, since they have expedited the way for those of us with tight connections. Our Boeing 737-600 takes off at 11:15PM and the flight duration will be 1:14 to Victoria. Once we are airborne, the flight attendant dedicated to our dozen-seat Plus Economy section serves us drinks and snacks more-or-less continuously. I have a gin and tonic, and snarf down as many snacks as I can before we start our descent!
After arriving just after midnight, I take a taxi from Victoria airport to home – a very long and stressful day, but a wonderful trip overall!
My flight from Toronto lands in Calgary a few minutes late at 1:00AM local time, but no biggie since my flight to Victoria doesn’t leave until 7:00AM. There are seemingly endless passageways to get from the gate to the terminal building, and there are no staff around to direct us. Once in the terminal, there are precious few signs to help us find our way. The airport is going through a major expansion, but they need to do better.
A YYC LINK electric tram pulls up and the driver offers to take me to the domestic terminal, which is where I need to be for my next flight. After being dropped off in Terminal A and before I find my gate, I spot an A&W which is open at this late hour, so I stop to have one of their new Beyond Meat Burgers, fries and a root beer. It has been 12 hours since I’ve eaten a real meal, so I find the veggie burger quite tasty!
I walk further down the virtually empty terminal and easily find my gate, where I flop down for a couple of hours’ sleep. Of course I’m exhausted, but by 5AM the Starbucks adjacent to the gate opens, so I have a Tall Cappuccino, which perks me up a bit. By 5:30AM passengers and staff start showing up at the gates, and some early flights are being announced.
The flight to Victoria leaves a few minutes ahead of time, with flight time estimated to be about an hour. I take some nice shots out the window of downtown Calgary and the Bow River at night. The onboard WestJet Connect Internet is working, so I can keep myself busy on this short flight home.
We start our descent into Victoria 125 miles out as the First Officer announces landing at 7:25AM local time in Victoria. We arrive at Victoria airport 17 minutes ahead of time in pouring rain and some gusty wind. I take a taxi home instead of the shuttle, since the weather is so bad.
Dec 19, 2018 – Flying from Barbados to Calgary, Canada
I’m looking at 24 hours of elapsed time between leaving Barbados and arriving home in Victoria, Canada. I have a midnight to 7AM layover in Calgary, so this whole flying home trip will be an endurance contest. I know I’ll settle down once I return the rental car and find my gate at the Barbados airport, but I’m experiencing pre-trip jitters this morning.
I have a shower mid-morning and a snack before loading my big bag in the trunk of the car. I check out at Noon, drive to the airport and have the car filled up at the Esso gas station before dropping it off in front of the terminal. The Stoute’s car jockey gives an enthusiastic wave to the woman behind the counter, so I’m free to go!
I’m first in line for the bag check at the WestJet counter – a nice young man tags my big bag through to Victoria and prints out my boarding passes for me. I have already checked in online and have the electronic boarding passes on my iPhone, but I’ve found the paper ones are still the best to use, and scan quicker at the gate. Before I enter the secure area, I have to exit Barbados by giving the immigration officer my Departure Card, which was issued previously when I entered Barbados after debarking the Royal Clipper in Bridgetown.
Barbados to Toronto – Although I’m over two hours early, it isn’t long before the WestJet Boeing 737-800 arrives at the gate and passengers from Toronto enter the terminal. Our aircraft boards passengers from the front and rear doors using stairways from the apron (see banner image above), since Grantley Adams International airport doesn’t have jetways. Just after takeoff, there is a gorgeous view of the old Moon in the blue sky during the day over the south coast of Barbados as we make the turn to the north.
I’m in seat 5A – the same seat I flew down in on all three flights to Jamaica, and ditto on my return flights home. Hey, I like a window seat just forward of the wing, I’m only a row away from the Premium cabin, and I get to use the forward washroom.
I splurge and purchase 24 hours of in-flight Internet service for $35 with WestJet Connect Internet, so I won’t be bored on these tedious flights home. I enjoy myself using the Internet while flying to Toronto. It certainly has some latency, but is usable for most of the flight. It does cut out once in awhile and then has to reacquire a signal.
Once we are levelled off, I order the Butter Chicken dinner, which is not too big, but very tasty, costing $9. The flight crew on this flight give everyone much better service than on my flight to Jamaica. There is a beautiful display of colours over the Atlantic to the east as we fly offshore from the Bahamas at sunset. We are flying at 36,000′ according to the flight map displayed on the WestJet app on my iPhone.
The aircraft makes a wide, sweeping approach over Toronto before landing, affording beautiful nighttime views of the city. However, after landing at Toronto’s Pearson airport, the marathon starts. I have only an hour to go through Canadian immigration and customs, retrieve my checked bag, find the WestJet transfer desk to put my checked bag back in the system, go through security again, and find my gate. Finding the single elevator that takes us to Departures is a challenge, however I arrive at my gate five minutes before boarding begins. I’m in a real state by the time I sit down for a few minutes to calm down before my group is called!
Toronto to Calgary – After all that stress, the flight is late leaving. Flight duration is estimated to be 3:35, and the flight level 36,000’. The Internet access isn’t working since we took off about a half hour ago, so I raise my concern with the head flight attendant. She promises to “check with the guys”, which I take to mean she will talk with the pilots about the problem. Nothing comes of it, and the Internet is not available for the whole flight. We fly for what seems endlessly across the frozen prairie, which is visible tonight due to the bright illumination from the Moon.
I take a taxi from home to the Victoria airport this afternoon, check my bag and clear security into the very quiet boarding gate area. I buy a turkey cheese sandwich from Spinnaker’s On the Fly bistro in the gate area; eat my dinner upstairs near my gate, and then go back to buy a cappuccino for dessert. This is the first time I’ve used the upstairs gates where the jetways for bigger aircraft are located.
Our Boeing 737-700 WestJet flight to Calgary boards and departs early. The captain comes to the front of the cabin to tell us the flight level will be 41,000’ and flight time 1:09. He warns us it is cold and snowing in Calgary “not like here!” He tells us three lightbulb jokes before returning to the cockpit – a first in all the time I’ve been flying!
Our flight arrives in snowy Calgary early, so we have to wait on the apron for a few minutes until the gate is ready for us. The pilot is outside the cockpit as we leave, so I compliment him on the good landing. He says “yeah, he did a good job”, which I interpret to mean the First Officer landed the aircraft. The gate for the red eye flight to Toronto is right across from our arrival gate, so that makes it easy!
This full Boeing 737-800 WestJet flight to Toronto is supposed to leave at 12:15AM but after waiting for delayed bags, we are de-iced for the second time before we finally take off at 12:50AM. Flight duration is estimated at 3:37 with a 6:15am arrival in Toronto.
Once we are above the snow clouds over Calgary, I spot Orion out my south-facing window, flying at 35,000’ altitude. I find this red-eye flight quite boring, but I manage to snooze a bit and listen to music on my iPhone. The flight map display on my iPhone only prolongs the agony:
2 hours left – over Saskatchewan
1:11 left – over Red Lake & Ear Falls, between Winnipeg and Lake Superior – 670mi/1,080kms to Toronto
0:35 left – over Sault Ste. Marie, 300mi/490km to Toronto
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.
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!
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.
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 which is excellent, and is 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.
This is the third day of tours after the RASC General Assembly, and this one is a bit more informal. Today we are being driven around in RASC members’ vehicles to two sites where significant events happened involving the First Nations of southern Alberta area. We take tobacco as a gift and to show respect, as we visit these sites today (with prior permission of the Alberta government).
Our first stop is to view Crowfoot’s last camp and burial site on Siksika Nation lands. Crowfoot was a Blackfoot Chief who negotiated Treaty 7 with representatives of the British Crown in 1877. Nearby Blackfoot Crossing Historic Park and Museum has lots of interesting artifacts in displays, a cafeteria (not open), informational videos in the theatre, and outside venues including the Chief Crowfoot Tipi Village down by the river.
Majorville Medicine Wheel
It takes us a couple of tries to find this sacred place on a hilltop surrounded by southern Alberta rangeland, but eventually we pick up the directional signs and make our way over remote range roads to the parking area. We learn that Medicine Wheels are places where First Nations gathered to perform fertility and hunting rituals, honour their dead leaders, and present offerings.
This medicine wheel was constructed about 4,500 years ago, starting with the main rock cairn atop the hill, with rocky spokes and other smaller cairns added later. Today, they are protected archaeological sites, with only a few visitors permitted each year. We were some of the lucky ones to see this medicine wheel. I was so happy to fly my Mavic Pro drone overhead to capture the site in high resolution video and photos from a unique perspective.
We make a quick stop in Vulcan so we can take some selfie photos in front of the Enterprise star ship the town has built to attract tourists. We make another quick stop in Mossleigh to see three grain elevators up close – two are relics and one is still functional. Our final stop is to have dinner at our guide’s home before returning to our hotel in Calgary – our last night before leaving tomorrow morning.
Back at Hotel Alma at the University of Calgary, I let the front desk know that I will be recharging my Tesla overnight in the lot across the campus. I want a full charge for my departure from Calgary tomorrow, enroute to Revelstoke.
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 along with excellent service.
After having an early breakfast in my hotel room, our tour bus leaves by 8AM. Our all-day tour hosts are both geologists (and RASC members), so they share lots of info about rocks, glaciation, the K/T Boundary, and how the dinosaurs died off so quickly 65 million years ago. We are all given handouts authored by our hosts, with scientific references, diagrams, and notes.
Our first stop is Dry Island Buffalo Jump Park, where we dig around a bit and see the K/T Boundary for ourselves. There are hoodoos, piles of lignite, and a beautiful valley with the Red River below. The park gets its name from a “dry island” formed by the ancient flow of the Red River, and later used by First Nations people as they drove buffalo over the cliff edge to their deaths, ensuring everyone survived the winter. This park is accessible during fair-weather and daytime only, but it is a fascinating area to explore!
Our next stop is the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller. I have visited this museum before, but it is one of those museums where you can go back again and again to see and learn about new things. Today is the Canada Day civic holiday, so it is crowded, but as a tour group we have priority admission arranged, so walk right in ahead of the lines. There are dinosaurs on display here that defy description, along with all the usual suspects like Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops, Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus, fish, turtles, shellfish, worms, you name it! All the fossils are from this area of Alberta, which is rich in fossilized remains from this epoch.
Our last stop is a complete change of pace: the Trekcetera Museum, also located in Drumheller. Their main claim to fame is the amazing collection of all things to do with Star Trek: phasers, hollow decks, original costumes, and other original memorabilia from the Trek movies and TV series. They also cover Men In Black, Superman, Titanic, Sherlock Holmes, and other entertainment classics. This little museum is well worth a stop if you are a Trekkie!
After a full day of touring, a few of us walk from the hotel to nearby Gus’s Cafe and Pizzeria for dinner. The food is good, but the service is surly, just like the online reviews indicated!
The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s General Assembly held at the University of Calgary is probably not too interesting for people who are not members of RASC. That said, I’m going to combine the three day conference into one report on this page, just to complete my road trip travelogue.
June 28, 2018 – Arrival at the University of Calgary and the Welcome BBQ
I arrive in Calgary in the late afternoon. The RASC General Assembly (GA) 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.
June 29, 2018 – First day of the General Assembly
The Calgary Stampede puts on a Stampede Breakfast for delegates this morning before the GA starts, serving pancakes, eggs, bacon and sausage in the end-field zone of the home stadium of the Calgary Stampeders Canadian football club.
Dr. Robert Thirsk, astronaut and Chancellor of the University of Calgary welcomes delegates to Calgary and the University. Today is his last day as Chancellor, and our event is his last function before leaving. He tells us that being in space showed him the interconnection of the natural world with humans. He illustrates the point with many spectacular photos taken from the International Space Station, and also speculates on the question –Will we be here into the future? (100 years probably, 1,000 years probably not), and also reviews the next steps humans will make in space. He offers the opinion that a Moon base will be part of this new wave of exploration.
In the afternoon, I take the Nocturnal Preserve Tour to the Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Area south of Calgary. This is a RASC-recognized nocturnal preserve, which supports the notion that pristine night skies are not only good for humans, but all creatures on this Earth. We all depend on darkness to restore our health while we sleep, which helps all lifeforms prosper, not just those that are active at night.
We walk part of their extensive property to appreciate the varied ecosystems found in what is now mainly the farmland of southern Alberta. Grass suitable for grazing cattle displaces the native grasses, which disrupts the ecology in the area, but remediation is possible.
After dinner, the Plaskett Medal Award Lecture is “Dicke’s Superrradiance in Astrophysics” by Dr. Fereshteh Rajabi, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo. Dr. Rajabi gets into quantum mechanics and masers, and how they cause celestial objects to emit previously-unexplained bursts of intense radiation. I’m always happy to see such smart people working to understand our universe better, despite me not always fully appreciating what they are describing!
June 30, 2018 – Second day of the General Assembly
The Annual General Meeting is held in the morning, and our President highlights the robotic telescope located in the mountains of California which RASC recently acquired, and is in the process of making available online to all members. Other presentations of note today include: RASC Calgary Centre’s 60th anniversary and history; Early Women Astronomers in RASC; Aurora image processing using Hugin software; Eclipsing Binaries; NOVA Junior Program (astronomy basics); Space for all Learners (bringing astronomy to undergraduates); Telescope in “Rainy” Victoria Celebrating 100 years of looking up (the historic Plaskett telescope located near Victoria); Public Outreach at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (the observatory was/is a tourism draw); Minor Planets (asteroids that might hit Earth, and landing missions on small rocks in space); Once Upon an Eclipse (upcoming eclipses); First Race for the moon 1609-51 (first observations of the Moon);
After a buffet dinner with my fellow astronomers as part of the conference, I attend the public lecture: “The Golden Age of Solar System Exploration” given by Emily Lakdawalla, The Planetary Society. Emily reviews many of the more exciting recent missions to explore our solar system: Hayabusa2, New Horizons, and Cassini, to name a few. She also highlights how amateur astronomers are using data from these missions, and how they are contributing to the resulting scientific discoveries. Emily takes lots of questions from the audience.
July 1, 2018 – Final day of the General Assembly
There are more presentations this morning, concentrated on the history of RASC and astronomy: RASC in Travelling Mode (historic solar eclipse expeditions); Styles of Observing in the RASC Since 1868 (taken from the RASC archives, including telescope-making); RASC and the Space age (amateurs as both participants and spectators); The Cultural/Social Anthropology within RASC (who makes up the ranks of RASC members?); Female Participation in the RASC (RASC leads as an inclusive society in Canada).
The speaker at our banquet is Dr. Tanya Harrison “The Past and Present of Water on Mars”. She brings the missions on Mars to life, including the Curiosity Rover, which she was involved with. She also describes what “water on Mars” really means. There were lots of questions…a fascinating talk!
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.
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.
The 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.