30 Alaska 2014
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Alaska
2014


• Trip Organized by Marla Archer
• Trip Recap Written by Rick Archer
Published June 2014

 Friday, June 13  Depart Vancouver, British Columbia
 Saturday, June 14  Inside Passage
 Sunday, June 15  Ketchikan, Alaska
 Monday, June 16  Icy Strait Point, Alaska
 Tuesday, June 17  Juneau, Alaska
 Wed., June 18  Skagway, Alaska
 Thursday, June 19  Hubbard Glacier
 Friday, June 20  Disembark Seward, Alaska

        Cruise Tour Extension

 Friday, June 20  Seward to Anchorage to Denali by bus
 Saturday, June 21  Denali National Park, Alaska
 Sunday, June 22  to Fairbanks, Alaska, by train
 Monday, June 23  return home from Fairbanks


Rick's Note:
  I heard this quote about Alaska from my tour guide:

After returning from his first visit to Alaska in 1899, geographer Henry Gannett cautioned his readers,

“If you are old, go to Alaska by all means, but if you are young, stay away....The scenery of Alaska is so much grander than anything else of the kind in the world...it is not well to dull one's capacity for such enjoyment by seeing the finest first.”

This trip was an important landmark of sorts - this was our 30th Cruise Trip. This is a true milestone. I applaud my gifted wife Marla for this marvelous accomplishment.

Oddly enough, this Alaska Trip was Marla's most difficult trip ever.  Something disconcerting is going on behind the scenes at Royal Caribbean.  Based on the extreme wait times to get a person on the phone (30 minutes to an hour at times), the company seems seriously understaffed.  Furthermore, there is something wrong with their "system".  Marla was forced to correct an entire boatload of mistakes on a daily basis.

However, it is doubtful our 58 guests had any idea how troublesome the walkup to this cruise was.  I give all the credit to Marla - she worked incredibly hard to make sure all the details were properly handled before anyone set foot on the ship. Once we were on board, the trip went very smoothly. Marla is quite the professional.

There were a ton of people on our cruise ship from Texas.  I can only guess that the excellent Texas economy played a role here. In addition, there seems to be a connection between Alaska and Texas that I can't quite put my finger on, but it feels like the people of both states are drawn to each other... big to big. 

I was surprised by just how friendly the people of Alaska were to the Texans.  I expected them to frown when I mentioned we were from Texas, but on the contrary, the people were very nice to us.  Yes, some of them told the obligatory "Texas" joke, but it was always with a smile. There was no sense of rivalry.

It wasn't always that way. As we all know, Texans are very proud of the state size and importance.  When Alaska became a state In 1959, this immediately dumped Texas into the second spot.  At the time, many Texans were deeply unhappy about their state's sudden decline in status.  I was 9 at the time and keenly remember all kinds of grumbling.  Since then I have always assumed that Texas and Alaska were unfriendly.

Until Alaska became a state, many Alaskans were bitter about how long it took a long time for Alaska to become a state. It had been over 90 years following "Seward's Folly" in 1867.

Because the media reported how unpopular this move was with the people of Texas, perhaps the Alaskans assumed that Texas opposed their admission and was blocking it. 

I was surprised to find that just the opposite was the truth.  Texas was the best friend Alaska ever had.

Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn (from Texas), Senator Lyndon Johnson (from Texas), and President Dwight Eisenhower (born in Texas) all pushed for Alaska statehood. 

Of course Alaska's cause was helped considerably by the discovery of oil in 1957.  One might say that valuable find greased the wheels of change considerably. 

Our Alaska trip was special in an unusual way. We were all looking for things you don't ordinarily see on ocean adventures. Everyone was engaged in a spirited search for whales, wolves, eagles, caribou, sheep, and bears.

This was not as easy as it sounds. For example, there were definitely whales out there in the water. Unfortunately, unlike Seaworld's Shamu, the Alaskan whales prefer to appear at random. Personally, after taking a look at all the leftovers from each meal, I think the ship should dump it all in the water and treat us to a whale of a show. But I suppose that is illegal.

Instead we are all forced to just sit there staring idly out on the water hoping and wishing. As for me, I didn't see a thing. However, I was in the minority. Most of our group (including Marla), did indeed have whale sightings. I think it takes a special talent of sorts; I don't think I am patient enough.

30 Cruise Trips is a lot of trips. Marla and I have been at this for so long that Marla is now starting to retrace some of her steps. For example, last year she brought us back to Hawaii for the second time.  Our previous trip had been Hawaii 2007. Like Hawaii 2013, Alaska 2014 was the same idea. We had previously been to Alaska 9 years earlier in 2005 (Alaska 2005).

For me, this second trip to Alaska was much different than our first trip. The main reason was "more time". Now that I am retired, this allowed us the flexibility to turn our one-week cruise into a two-week visit.

First we used several days at the front end of the trip to explore the beautiful Vancouver area.  I had absolutely no idea what a paradise Vancouver is.  It is so beautiful and so desirable to live there, but the cost of living is out of this world for most people.

Then after the cruise was over, we added a four day "Denali Extension" to our travels.  More so than any other place we visited, Denali Park indelibly imparted the impression just how ridiculously large Alaska is.  There were vistas so broad that they seemed endless. This became the highlight of my trip.

Besides the trip itself, two important events of our trip included our visit to Vancouver and our visit to Denali.  Be sure to read my story of our trip to Denali National Park.  

As for Vancouver, that story starts below. 

Rick Archer


COOLA AND GRINDER
 

Let's meet Coola (left) and Grinder (right).  They are orphan bears who were adopted by the Grouse Mountain Ski Resort.

If you see Grinder and Coola play fighting, you can bet Grinder started it.  Grinder was found in 2001 in Invermere, BC. He was wandering alone on a logging road, dehydrated, thin, weak and weighing only 10 lbs. His mother was never found so no one knows why he was in the wilderness alone.  Grinder is outgoing and high-spirited. Despite his smaller size, he has established himself as the dominant bear

In 2001, Coola was found orphaned on a highway near Bella Coola, BC. His mother had been killed by a truck.  Out of three cubs, Coola was the only one to survive. Coola is an easygoing bear who’s content to let Grinder take the lead.  Coola can usually be found submerged up to his neck in the large pond, carefully feeling around for his underwater 'bath toys' - a log, large bone and a favorite rock.

Both bears live together in a large, very comfortable enclosure at the resort.  Marla and I had a blast watching them play.

That is the magnificent "Alaska Range" in the background along with Toklat Valley.

Marla is my hero.  This was her 30th cruise trip and definitely one of her best.  However, it took a tremendous amount of effort behind the scenes on Marla's part to make sure this trip came out so well. 

What do you think about this picture?  I think this shot captures perfectly the incredible vastness of Denali National Park

Alaska became our 49th State in January 1959.  They had to change the flag again six months later when Hawaii became #50 in June.

The Alaskans definitely enjoy rubbing it in when it comes to Texas.  One joke is that Alaska is 3 times larger when the tide is out.  Another joke is they could cut Alaska in half and then Texas would become the third largest state. 

I didn't see any whales, but it wasn't for lack of trying.  Everyone else in our group was more successful.

The fabled "Alaska Range" gives the State of Alaska its name.  Although this range is  relatively narrow, it extends for 400 miles.
It features Mt. Denali (not pictured) as its centerpiece.  The Alaska Range is the highest in the world outside of Asia and the Andes.

   


Vancouver


Vancouver is Canada's most important city in the west.  Together with its sister city Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, Vancouver is Canada's link to Asia as well as to the western part of the United States.  Not surprisingly, Vancouver has a large Asian and Indian population.

Vancouver has an unbelievably safe harbor. Vancouver is protected from the Pacific Ocean by two straits plus the huge Vancouver Island.

Like its neighbors Seattle and Victoria, Vancouver is protected by the Juan de Fuca Strait, a large body of water about 95 miles long.  The international boundary between Canada and the United States runs down the center of this outlet to the Pacific Ocean.

The Strait of Georgia is shielded from the Pacific Ocean by Vancouver Island.  And then to top it off, Vancouver Harbor is nestled behind a cozy inlet.  The Burrard Inlet connects the harbor to the Strait of Georgia.  At its narrowest point, it is only 500 yards wide.  The important Lion's Gate Bridge cuts through Stanley Park to cross Burrard Inlet at this point and connect North Vancouver to South Vancouver.

South Vancouver is the downtown part of the city.

North Vancouver is where much of the industrial activity takes place.  This is where most of the cargo ships load and unload.  Higher up in the hills and mountains are the premium homes in the area. 

North Vancouver also serves as Vancouver's playground.  The ski resorts, the famous Capilano suspension bridge, and many parks and hiking trails can be found in the mountains to the north.

The harbor itself is breath-taking.  The beautiful mountains that serve as the backdrop to North Vancouver make a postcard pretty view from any spot in South Vancouver.

Marla decided to splurge and put us in the high-rent Pan Pacific Hotel.  Our room was without a doubt the most expensive room we have ever stayed in, but we both agreed it was worth the extra cost. 

Our room was located in a corner.  Thus we were able to look to the west and see the lovely Stanley Park or look to the north and see the incredible mountain vistas as well as the bay before us.  In addition, we both agreed we had the best bed we have ever slept in. 

A unique feature of our hotel was that our cruise ship docked right beside it.  How fun is that?  We simply called for a bellman and he delivered our bags right to the ship below.  Then later we walked straight from our hotel to the ship.  I complained that we should have had a slide. 

When one travels from the airport to downtown Vancouver, it feels like the downtown area is built atop an island.  Thanks to a split in the Fraser River, the taxi has to cross not just one, but two bridges.  Everywhere one looks, there is water.  This gives the impression that downtown Vancouver is on an island.  However a look at the map above reveals the ritzy part of South Vancouver is actually a peninsula.

Vancouver is the most densely populated city in Canada. Urban planning in Vancouver is characterized by high-rise residential and mixed-use development in urban centres, as an alternative to sprawl. New high-rises have a rule: they can't block the view. So each high-rise is slightly larger than the one in front and slightly shorter than the one in back which gives a "tiered-effect" to the structures.  If you can afford a penthouse, you are guaranteed a view of the lovely harbor.

Thanks to abundant rain, Vancouver has lush forests wherever one looks. The city itself is incredibly green and clean. Unfortunately, it takes a pretty penny to live in paradise. Vancouver has the 6th most 'overpriced' real estate in the world and is 2nd highest in North America after L.A.

On the other hand, Vancouver delivers. When you live here, you get what you pay for: Vancouver has been ranked as having the 4th highest quality of living of any city on Earth.  I believe it.  I have seen Paris and Barcelona. Vancouver can definitely hang with these favorites of mine.

You can use this map to orient yourself to the picture of Vancouver below. 

In the picture below, Grouse Mountain Ski Resort and Capilano Suspension Bridge are to the left of center in those distant mountains across the bay.  The ships enter Vancouver Harbor through a narrow 600 yard wide passage on the left.  That dark green area to the left is beautiful Stanley Park.

   


Stanley Park


George Vancouver, the British captain credited with first discovering the "Vancouver" area, sailed right past Stanley Park when he came into the area now known as Vancouver Harbor.  As the map shows, Stanley Park protects the entire harbor thanks to its unique location at the tip of the peninsula.

In fact, this area's value as a military base is one reason the area was not developed during the 1800s.  The military made sure this area belonged to them.  The area had some buildings to house the soldiers, some cannon stations overlooking the Pacific Ocean, plus a few cabins scattered about, but that was the extent of it. 

Since the first development tended to grow up around the shipping docks much further into the harbor, the Stanley Park area was too remote to expand into.  By the time the city had reached its borders, someone had the sense to suggest trying to preserve the area rather than knock down the forest.

At 1,000 acres, Stanley Park is very large, but not the largest urban park.  By comparison, London's Richmond Park is 2,360 acres, New York's Central Park is 883 acres and Memorial Park here in my hometown of Houston is 1,466 acres. 

As one would guess, the land was used by indigenous peoples for thousands of years before British Columbia was colonized by the British during the 1858 Fraser Canyon Gold Rush.

One of the nice features about Vancouver is the long history of friendship between the settlers and the native Indians of the area.  Canada has a highly respectful term for these people... they are the First Nation

Right from the start, the British found a way to live in harmony with the Squamish Indians.  They gave them muskets and taught them how to use the weapons.  By taking advantage of the incredible "Stanley Park" lookout point and by working hand in hand for defense, the Squamish and the British appear to have enjoyed an unbroken peaceful existence together.

Today Stanley Park gives tribute to the ongoing respect of the First Nation with an impressive array of totem poles. 

For many years after colonization, the future park with its abundant resources would also be home to settlers who used the area for logging.  Most of the park's trails were once logging trails created to haul the fallen trees into the city.

The land was later turned into Vancouver's first park when the city incorporated in 1886. It was named after Lord Stanley, a British politician who had been appointed governor general.  In case that name sounds familiar, Lord Stanley's name also graces the "Stanley Cup", the trophy given to the winner of the National Hockey League's yearly playoffs. 

Significant effort was put into constructing the near-century-old Vancouver Seawall, which can draw thousands of residents and visitors to the park every day.  The park also features forest trails, beaches, lakes, children's play areas, and the Vancouver Aquarium, among many other attractions. Additional attractions, such as the miniature train, were added in the post-war period.

The forest consists of primarily second and third growth and contains many tall Douglas fir, Western Red cedar, Western Hemlock, and Sitka Spruce trees. Since 1992, the tallest trees have been topped and pruned by park staff for safety reasons.  Powerful winds coming in off the Pacific Ocean frequently topple the tallest trees, so an even "skyline" is safer for all trees. 

On June 18th, 2014 Stanley Park was named the ‘top park in the entire world’ by Trip Advisor. 

One of the main features of Stanley Park is the beautiful Lion's Gate Bridge connecting North Vancouver to South Vancouver.

As one would expect, this vital artery led to the explosive growth of the western end of North Vancouver.  Considering the dramatic economic gains, one might be surprised that there was fierce resistance at first to building the bridge.

There were a number who argued against its construction, as many felt it would ruin Stanley Park.  Other fears would be that unforeseen problems might crop up to interfere with the busy seaport... e.g. ships hitting the bridge.  The completion of a second bridge would also take toll revenue away from the Second Narrows Bridge.

However, many others saw it as necessary in order to open up development on the North Shore and it was felt that these problems could be overcome. The decision was put to the electorate of Vancouver in 1927, but the first plebiscite was defeated and the idea was put to rest for a short while.

However, as time passed, the Great Depression came along.  Noting that the building of the bridge would be a useful way to cure massive unemployment, in December 1933, a second plebiscite was held and passed by a 2 to 1 margin.

As one can gather from the picture of the Celebrity cruise ship passing under Lion's Gate Bridge, the cruise industry plays a major part in the growth of Vancouver. 

One reason that Vancouver is absolutely ideal as a cruise port is the wealth of interesting places for cruise passengers to visit here in the city.  I would place "Stanley Park" as a major asset in this regard.  The distance from our Pan Pacific Hotel to the gateway to Stanley Park was one mile.  Very convenient!

If a visitor wants a beautiful place to walk to from their hotel, you cannot make it much easier than that.  If I am fortunate enough to visit here again - and I very much hope I do - I would suggest renting a bicycle.  The park is large and a bike would allow a visitor the chance to circle the entire area.

Sometimes the time zone changes work for you and sometimes not.

In this case, the time zones were our friend.  Thanks to the magic of taking a plane headed west, by scheduling a morning flight we were in our Vancouver hotel room by 1 pm.

This gave Marla and me time to have a very nice outdoor lunch at a dockside restaurant before our walk. We were halfway between our hotel and the entrance to Stanley Park. 

There was a real magic to the meal.  We were remarkably comfortable thanks to sunshine and a 70° temperature. 

We were entertained by the variety views to choose from.  The incredible scenery included the impressive array of the glass towers of Vancouver, the heavily forested mountains in the distance, and the lovely bay.

From where we sat, there were several marinas.  That gave me the chance to feel a strong pang of envy as I looked at some of the yachts in the protective cove next to us. 

Maybe in the next life...

As we ate, I noticed a veritable army of joggers, walkers, skaters and cyclists making their pilgrimage to this oasis at the edge of the urban jungle. 

What a treat it must be to have the incredible resource that is so easy for everyone to reach!

As Marla and I made our way to Stanley Park, our path took us across a bridge that separated the marinas from the Lost Lagoon.  Lost Lagoon turns out to be a man-made lake.

As one can see, the Lost Lagoon is home to a large colony of ducks.  There was a sign that said this area is now a bird sanctuary. 

The Lagoon is a traditional nesting ground to many species of birds, including non-native Mute Swan (whose wing tendons have been clipped to prevent escaping), Canadian geese, numerous species of ducks such as mallard ducks and Great Blue Herons. 

I would later see the swans as well.

I noticed several people with binoculars and impressive cameras lining the bridge.  I take it this area is quite popular with bird watchers.

The red Y denotes where we ate lunch. The pink Z shows where the bridge is.  As Marla and I made our way across the bridge, I noticed a golf course on the other side of the Lost Lagoon.  The yellow X shows where the golf course is located. 

I was impressed by the convenient location of the golf course.  Vancouver seems to go out of its way to make sure its playground has something for everyone.  We had quite a few golfers in our group, so I was curious to know if any of our friends were playing today. 

I didn't have a chance to check out the golf course, so I looked it up on the Internet.  I learned that this course is called the Stanley Park Pitch and Putt.   In other words, it is not a 'real golf course'.  On the other hand, I noticed quite a few enthusiastic endorsements.  Here is one:

This is one of my favorite activities in Vancouver.  The pitch and putt course has 18 holes ranging from 40 to 100 yards. The course definitely challenges your short game.

Every hole is a par 3 (they would be par 2 on a real golf course).  The variety of the holes coupled with the challenges of trees, hills, valleys, water traps, marshes and the occasional wasp nest in the summer makes it seem like a real golf course for a fraction of the price. 

Plus there is an occasional animal sighting to keep things interesting.  We saw the coyote twice and a raccoon walking across the fairway. They seem very comfortable around people. 

Best of all, Stanley park is a beautiful setting.  This little golf course is exquisitely lush with abundant vegetation.  Not only is the location scenic and beautiful to stroll around, it furnishes some great views of the mountains away in the distance.


From the picture, it looks like a giant "miniature golf course".  I don't play golf myself because I hear it is both addictive and frustrating.  My nerves might not be up to a new challenge.

I also understand that golf can be quite time-consuming. When would I find time to write all these stories if I played golf?  That said, the pictures of this course were very inviting. Perhaps even I could handle a course like this and get some confidence.

So now I turned my attention to the public park looming before us.   Surprise Surprise.... we were immediately greeted by a "Lord Stanley" statue welcoming us to the entrance to the park.

On every cruise trip, Marla and I attempt to take at least one very serious walk.  Our long walks have become a source of real pride. With that in mind, Stanley Park presented the perfect walking opportunity for Marla and me. 

The advantages are numerous.  Of course the exercise is good for our health.  That pretty much goes without saying.

But the fun part is to wander through a beautiful part of the city we are visiting and take in the sights at a leisurely pace.  Walking makes it much easier to take pictures and visualize how I might describe the places we visit.  Hop On-Hop Off buses are helpful as well, but the experience isn't quite the same.

   

There is a sentimental reason for our walks.  Marla and I have discovered we feel happier when we walk together.  We talk about everything under the sun.  I would say that long walks are the perfect setting for some of our best conversations. 

Our first-ever serious walk during a cruise trip took place in 2004 during Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  Marla booked a cruise to Mardi Gras because we could use the ship as a hotel, and then continue on to Cozumel.  For anyone who has ever experienced the insanity of Mardi Gras, I probably don't need to explain just how fascinating it is to wander through the crazy streets. 

It is serious fun to collect the beads thrown down from the balconies above.  And whenever I thought Marla wasn't looking, I made sure to appreciate the generous displays of women's breasts from the balconies.  I don't think I fooled her though.  I suppose Marla just looked the other way to keep from conking me over the head.

This picture is a real favorite of mine; it brings back a great memory.  As we passed a bar, we heard some great blues music being played inside.  That was all the invitation I needed.  I took Marla in my arms and we started dancing the Whip right there on the sidewalk.  To my surprise, a crowd gathered.  Soon we had a huge audience cheering for us complete with enthusiastic wolf whistles for Marla.

Marla is normally reserved by nature.  However, thanks to margaritas and a lot of encouragement from her admirers, Marla decided to put on a show. Marla turned her hips loose.  Oh boy!  Judging from the smiles, the guys definitely liked what they saw. Sometimes women can be sexy even with their clothes on.  Imagine that!


That day at Mardi Gras was a precursor to our Walking Tradition.

When our cruise guests learn about our fondness for long walks, they ask what our favorite walk is.  Marla and I agree our long walk in Rome during the Greece 2008 Cruise was our favorite walk ever.

A friend of ours named Cher Longoria told us that many of the sites in Rome are all within walking distance of each other.  Remembering how much we fun we had walking through Mardi Gras, that gave us the idea to spend the day walking through Rome.  And boy did we have some adventures! 

First of all, I got completely lost.  For reasons that are impossible to explain, I got completely turned around using this map.  When we started our day, I thought east was west.  My mistake nearly cost us a chance to visit the Borghese Museum.

Fortunately my Boy Scout training took over.  Recalling that the morning sun had to rise in the east, at the last moment I realized we were trying to catch a bus in the wrong direction. 

So the three of us - my daughter Sam, Marla and I - quickly crossed the street and caught the next bus in the correct direction.  Our visit to the Borghese was a cosmic joy.

Using the Borghese as our starting point, we headed south.  Fortunately now that I had the map figured out, it wasn't difficult at all to negotiate the maze of streets in Rome. 

In fact, it was a lot of fun looking for the next highlight spot on the map.  It was a sort of 'hide and go seek' adventure.  I had a great time predicting that just around the corner we would see the famous Trevi Fountain.  And then sure enough, there it was!  After nearly screwing up in the morning, it was a real relief to discover I could follow a map after all.

I was helped by the fact that the gigantic Roman Colosseum could be seen in the distance from practically any vantage point.  It is very difficult to get lost that way.

It turns out there are two huge tourists traps in Rome.  Believe it or not, I managed to fall into both traps on the same day.

If you are curious, you can read my original story of this day or the abbreviated story of the day... scroll to the bottom.

Fortunately, the tourist traps were just a silly side note to an otherwise absolutely perfect day.  There is no question that our fabulous walk through the historical part of Rome was the start of our Walking Tradition

Seeing all those famous locations close up was quite a thrill.

The distance from the Borghese Gallery at the top to
the Roman Colosseum was about five miles long.

Rick, Marla, and Sam at the Trevi Fountain in Rome
 

On a discouraging note, not all of our walks turn out perfectly. 

Assuming that all walks in Rome are wonderful, Marla and I tried another walk in Rome the following year (Barcelona 2009). 
Our goal was to walk from the train station to the Roman Forum.  It was about a three-mile walk on paper, but it became an ordeal.

Unfortunately, thanks to that same Evil Map from the year before, I nearly got the poor woman killed... and I am not kidding either. 

What happened was that the map suggested a shortcut through a beautiful city park.  When we got to the park, we encountered a massive wall.  That wall wasn't on the map!  Now what??

The park we wanted to cross was behind that wall on the left.  Our choices were to turn around or walk forward through the canyon-like freeway shown in the picture.  Boy did we have a fight.

Given our limited time, we would lose an hour by backtracking, so I insisted we go forward.  Marla said that was a freeway.  Was I out of my mind?  As we debated, cars went whizzing by at an incredible clip.  Marla finally gave in, but she was right that we were taking a huge risk. We feared for our lives the entire walk. 

Marla and I agree that our second walk in Rome was responsible for the worst argument we have ever had.  If you are curious, read the Evil Map of Rome.

Fortunately, the vast majority of our walks during the cruise trips turn out wonderfully... but not this one.  I find it odd that our favorite walk and our worst walk both took place in Rome.

That car was barreling down on us at 65 miles per hour!  
Our "nature walk" became a half mile ordeal of sheer terror.

 


Rick and Marla's Walk at St
anley Park

The bridge to Stanley Park

A look at the marinas and downtown Vancouver

Those sails were part of Canada Place, an area that included our hotel.  Canada Place is a building situated on the Burrard Inlet waterfront.  Canada Place is the home of the Vancouver Convention Centre, the Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel, and Vancouver's World Trade Centre.  The building's exterior is covered by fabric roofs resembling sails.  Canada Place is also the main cruise ship terminal for the region, where most of Vancouver's famous cruises to Alaska originate. 

I was unable to gather any significance to the Five Sails.  I think they were created as decoration for the 2010 Winter Olympics held in Vancouver. 

 

Another look at Lord Stanley's welcome statue

Cyclists, skaters, joggers, walkers... many people visit here daily.

I forget to mention lots of dogs visit here too.

Truth be told, we were both pretty tired from our long plane ride.

The trees were just lovely.  Considering this was summer, I was surprised to see such radically different colors being displayed.

The Vancouver Kiwanis Club maintains this very extensive rose garden.  I was very impressed with their job.

   

The initial part of the park was manicured with well-maintained paths

I wish I could get my ferns to look that good

I was very intrigued with the Stanley Inn.  I could have used some water or a cold drink for the trail ahead, but to no avail.

Unfortunately the place had been rented out for a wedding reception.  Try as I might, I couldn't find an unguarded door for a peek inside.

The trolley ride.  Too bad it was closed; I was tempted to ride it!

Another look at the Lost Lagoon during the Fall.

Marla found a large flock of ducks feeding on the lawn as we passed.

   
   
   

Here is the only wildlife we saw the entire day.

More wildlife

Cute snapshot of young love.

Cute snapshot of old love.

   
   

The first part of the day's trip consisted of a mile-long walk from the hotel along the water to the park's entrance.

The second part entailed walking through the groomed part of the park which included the Rose Garden and the Stanley Inn. 

Now we decided to head into a more rugged area.  When we reached Beaver Lake, this marked the end of our third stretch.

Sad to say, it turns out that Beaver Creek has big problems.

At this point, our walk has taken us to Beaver Lake.  Did we see any beavers?  Of course not.  But we did see a duck.  So what is that strange contraption?   This was my first hint that something weird was afoot.  The sign said:

"This beaver baffler is designed to mitigate the beaver's damming activities and allow for adequate water flow into Beaver Creek.

With beavers in the lake and salmon in the creek, we are working towards a strategy that allows coexistence with both species."

Beaver Lake is a restful space nestled among the trees. The lake is almost completely covered with water lilies and home to beavers, fish, and water birds.  Unfortunately, the lake is slowly shrinking in size.

From an area of 17 acres in 1938, the wetland stood just short of 10 acres in 1997.  The report cited a study done in 1984 “estimated that the lake would fill in by the year 2020”.

No, I didn't take that picture; no beaver shots for me.   Beaver Creek is one of Vancouver's few remaining free-flowing streams.  Beaver Creek connects Beaver Lake to the Pacific Ocean. It is one of two streams in Vancouver where salmon still return to spawn each year.

The beaver-salmon problem is simple to explain... if the beavers dam up the creek, then the salmon cannot return to spawn.

Caddyshack Revisited

Rick's Note:  Beaver Lake is dying and the beavers are getting the blame.

Caddyshack was a 70s movie about the crazy things that happen at a golf course.  Thanks to Rodney Dangerfield, I split a gut whenever I watch this classic.

In the movie, there is a wonderful sub-plot involving a gopher infestation and the insane lengths Bill Murray will go to annihilate the damn gopher that is causing all the problems.

So read this story and see if it doesn't remind you of how the gopher made Bill Murray's life miserable.


Stanley Park’s ecosystem is being transformed, one beaver at a time

You could forgive the beavers of Stanley Park for being confused.  If only, they must be wondering, those humans could make up their minds.

On Monday, the Vancouver Park Board will vote on whether to begin the process of restoring and enhancing the park's Beaver Lake.

The lake, you see, has become more of a bog these days.  The report says between 1936 and 1997, the lake's surface area has shrunk by 40 per cent.

This is blamed largely on human intervention:  The building of the Stanley Park causeway in 1938, for instance, cut the watershed in half.

As well, there was the planting of water lilies the same year.

As lovely as they are, those invasive lilies along with a generous sprinkling of yellow irises have starved the lake of oxygen, and have propelled it rather rapidly into the bog-like state you see today.

Right now the city pumps water into the lake to keep it from drying out completely in summer months.  But this is just a temporary solution.

In short, those plants need to go and the lake needs to be dredged. That's what park board staff have recommended and what the board will vote on Monday night.

Enter the confused beavers.

Posted prominently on the lake trail is an earnestly illustrated sign, informing visitors that the "bogging" of the lake is a natural process, though accelerated somewhat by the planting of those lilies and irises.

The sign declares definitively: "Forest Lakes have short life spans, and Beaver Lake is no exception."

It goes on to describe the process by which the forest will eventually reclaim the lake, turning it first to bog, and then consuming it completely. The accompanying diagrams underscore the inevitability of it all.

Unless something is done, the lake has 10 years, tops.

The sign is mounted on a beaver-proof metal pole. Fortunately it is placed low enough that a moderately industrious beaver could easily read it.  If they could read, they would be worried.

Since the beavers returned to the lake in 2008, they've been looking at this sign, which spells out in graphic detail not just how their world will end, but when. There is no suggestion in the text that this future can be rewritten.  When it comes time to dredge the lake, they are out of here.

The beavers have been busy digging up lilies from the floor of the lake and pulling down irises.

They have been busy gnawing down saplings and dragging them to the iron bars of the weir (dam) that maintains the level of the lake.  They have been packing the trunks and branches with mud, piling it as high and as densely as they can.

If someone would just leave it to beaver, he would do anything to prevent the water from trickling out.  He needs that lake!

This has not gone unnoticed by the park board.  They have mixed feelings.  While on the one hand they wish they could raise the water level, they definitely want the water to trickle out so the salmon can spawn.

"They're frantically digging up sedimentation and they're trying to block the drainage," park board commissioner Loretta Woodcock told me earlier this week. "I think they're trying to tell us something and this board is paying attention, and we'd like to ask the public if they agree with the resident beavers," she said. "I think if they could talk to us they would tell us they don't want the lake to disappear."

Actually, what Ms. Woodcock would like to say is that she wishes the beavers would disappear, but she can't say that.

If the beavers could talk, I'm thinking they might also say, "Hey, why do you keep tearing down our dams?  We're trying to do the same thing here. And while you're at it, could you please remove that wire mesh wrapped around the tree trunks that makes it impossible for us to chop down the trees?

"Oh, and by the way, can you get rid of that sign?  It is so depressing."

Ms. Woodcock says once the board's "extensive visioning process" is finished, the sign may no longer apply.

"If it turns out after the visioning process, the public say, 'Well we don't quite agree, we don't want to see Beaver Lake disappear; we value it too much - its aesthetic beauty and its biodiversity,' then we'll take that sign out and we'll put something else in," she said.

One wonders how the inevitability of nature, the irrefutable facts presented in the sign, could be a matter for public debate, or something to be decided on in a vote.

But such is the power of the Vancouver Park Board.

Somewhere in this there is an lesson. About the facts changing while the truth remains constant. Or about the facts being altered to reveal a more convenient truth.

Or about a lake being dredged not to improve biodiversity but to make it more appealing aesthetically, the kind of place that tourists might appreciate more than a bog.   (source)

(Excellent 2-minute video on the beaver problem)

Rick's Note: So after researching the issue, I think I understand the story.  Despite the fact that this pond is called 'Beaver Lake', there had been no beavers for 60 years.

Then one day a male beaver mysteriously showed up out of nowhere in 2008.   Then later another beaver... female... showed up.  Now there is a colony of beavers... which is amusing because the walkway along Beaver Lake is known as "Lover's Lane".  Definitely accurate. 

No one knows where the beaver came from, only that everything at Beaver Lake has changed ever since it arrived.

Speculation is that the beaver swam from the North Shore’s Capilano River watershed, braving the ocean-going freighters and strong tidal currents of First Narrows in Burrard Inlet.

When the beaver came ashore at Stanley Park, it likely shuffled up 300 yard long Beaver Creek, dragging its paddle-sized tail across the slippery cobbles, before reaching the water’s source — Beaver Lake.

Personally, I want to know why doesn't anyone suspect a human was responsible.  That seems like a very obvious possibility.

Well, as they say, it is all water under the Lion's Gate Bridge.  That was back in 2008 and now we have the lake’s first resident beaver in 60 years.

Ever since, the rodent has been locked in a war of wills with park officials.  At this point, every tree in the area has wire mesh around the bottom.  Why?  The park officials don't want the beaver killing their precious trees. 

Furthermore, every time the beavers build some sort of dam, a park official comes over and destroys it. 

Meanwhile, the salmon are having fits thanks to the beavers. 

Meanwhile, the lake is dying fast and the beavers aren't helping.  Everyone agrees these wetlands need to be preserved.  Wildlife surveys show that many winged species that depend on it, from ducks, geese, herons, and eagles to small birds like sparrows... after all, we all know that Beaver Lake is the ONLY lake in all of Canada where this activity can possibly take place.
 
The lake also hosts several types of aquatic fish and reptiles, including frogs, salamanders, turtles, and sticklebacks. Currently coho salmon are also present in the streams fed by the lake and more would come if the damn beavers would just stop damming up their spawning grounds.

In other words, these wetlands are important as a habitat for wildlife.  If the lake disappears, so will these animals. The very survival of all birds and fish in Canada seem to depend on this single spot.

And what is the best way to preserve the lake?  Get rid of the pretty lillies, get rid of the beavers, and dredge the bottom.  If they make the lake deeper, it will survive a bit longer.

The only problem is that except for the deer and bear hunters, the Vancouver people can't bear to hurt a single living thing.  They want to have their lake and keep their beavers too.

No one has the guts to shoot the beavers.  To do so would be to admit that no human is smart enough to beat the beavers at their own game.  So they invent 'beaver bafflers' and hold town meetings every two months to look for solutions.

Even Paradise has its problems. 
 

"Caution: Salmon at work.  This stream supports spawning and rearing salmon and trout.  Please protect this resource."

Here is a good look at the 300-yard Beaver Creek. 

I estimate a depth of one foot.

Sad to say, but little Beaver Creek is barely more than a trickle.

Ravine Trail follows Beaver Creek down to Burrard Inlet

The Beaver Baffler is designed to manage the beavers’ natural instinct to dam the water flowing from the lake into Beaver Creek.

Everyone knows that beavers like to build dams and the family in Beaver Lake is no exception. Damming expands the area of the lake they call home to create more habitat for their favorite foods: willow and alder trees. Damming also makes the water deeper, which can prevent the lake they live in from completely freezing in winter.

However, when the beavers in Stanley Park block the outflow from Beaver Lake, it stops vital water from flowing to Beaver Creek, which is a spawning stream for coho salmon and cutthroat trout - a ‘species of special concern’ in BC.  This is bad news.

The Beaver Baffler is cunningly designed to stop this from happening. The baffler is set up so the beaver can’t sense where the water outflow is, although they will be able to hear the flowing water. It’s this noise that stimulates the beavers to begin damming.

So the next time you visit the lake, look for a mud “wall” built up by the beavers against the wire fencing. They can no longer reach the lake outflow, and pipes beneath the water’s surface continue to direct water into Beaver Creek.


(Rick's Note:  Believe it or not, this Beaver Lake story is not my first story about a beaver dam.  I wrote an crazy story about an arrogant government agency brought to its knees by a clever Michigan man. You have to read it to believe it.)

The Infamous Beaver Dam Dispute

   

One last picture of Marla before we emerge from the forest.

Aha!  We have finished our 300 yard walk from Beaver Lake.

So what is going on with that bird?   He has just caught something.  Look for the little dark spot.

He brought some sort of shell from the water, but he can't eat it because no one will leave him alone.

Finally a moment of peace.  The bird has caught a clam or something in the water.  Now that the girl has passed, the bird resumed trying to penetrate the shell.  Pretty exciting, huh?

The bird has finally shattered the shell and is rewarded with a meal.  Meanwhile Marla tells me to wrap it up for crying out loud.  She just doesn't understand, does she?  This is a true Disney moment. 

After walking the seawall for awhile, we realize we don't have the stamina to walk to the far end of Stanley Park.  So here we decide to head back into the forest at Chickadee Trail.  Time to head for home

Those massive trees were five feet in diameter.  I am trying to look like Paul Bunyan in his prime, but it was serious work to get up there. 

   
   
   
   
   
   

I wandered around for a bit taking pictures.  Marla said if I wanted to take some pictures, then she was going to take a little rest.  When I returned, Marla was sound asleep.

We had a great day, but we were both seriously worn out.  Rather than end the day in dramatic triumph, we kind of dragged our way back to the hotel.  But you know what?  It was worth it. 

   
   
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