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Travel Tales from Downunder - Beautiful sights and abundance of wild life

The sights over Seattle were beautiful with islands and lakes everywhere. The city itself was not spectacular, I thought. However, we would love to re-visit Seattle one day to find out more. When the plane approached San Jose, the view from the plane's window seat was awesome as we had to fly over San Francisco Bay to get there. The lush green terrain with low mountains is very different from the Australian mainland as the wetlands and lagoons are joined by bridges. There was quite a fair bit of human activities judging from above the ground although it seemed not to be overdeveloped, thanks to the environmentalists. It was amazingly beautiful and fertile with rivers and lakes intertwined the landscape and low hills were green with vegetation.

This impression was largely confirmed from the ground. I saw the plains worked by machines to its best efficiency, irrigation systems and even aerial spraying using small planes. Agri-business is big in America and I guess Southern California has provided us with good examples. Land-holding are in smaller blocks as I can see mostly Mexicans working on the land. Apart from almonds and walnuts trees that I saw, there must be hundreds of acres reserved for wine-making and other crops. And you should see the soil they use to grow grapes. Australian farmers would use a poorer soil for grapes but good soil are so plentiful in California that the Americans could be forgiven for using good soil for its cultivation. Gary later told me that there is pollution problem in Fresno as it rests on a valley and the methane from the cattle actually posts a problem to people's health. Such is the richness of California farmers. Gary told me that the Government turns a blind eye to illegal Mexicans working in farms because the landowners need farm-workers.

The Yosemite trip was a great introduction to mountains, waterfalls and giant trees. Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon had helped us understand what Canyons are all about. It was wonderful to have that sequence, so our understanding of the landscape was more complete. There were plenty of wild life, notably squirrels, mule, deers and birds in Yosemite, Zion National Park and the Bryce Canyon. I took some shots of a few prairie dogs which stood still for the photo opportunity. The guide also told us that there were sightings of mountain lions recently and there were rattle snakes about. We didn't have time to walk the trails of course, but the thought of sighting these wild life was scary enough to put Magdalen off the idea. In short, the Grand Canyon was so huge and immense that we humans couldn't help but feel insignificant.                 

   

    

The Canadian Rockies summarised everything we saw a fortnight ago in Yosemite and Bryce Canyon with a fair bit of "icing on the top". Thanks to road-driving through Jasper and Banff which definitely offered the reputation of being the most beautiful scenery of the world, we actually could get right down to the bottom of the mountain or canyon to touch the icy-cold water in the rivers and the lakes! We did that twice, one in Jasper National Park called Maligne Canyon and the popular Johnson Canyon in Banff. The waterfalls were everywhere and they looked spectacular. Missing Niagara Falls in Toronto was more than compensated by these beautiful falls that we saw.

   

Being in mid-May, most of the lakes in Banff and Jasper were frozen so we couldn't see the emerald-coloured water in the lakes although the rivers were running the same coloured water. We went to Lake Louise 3 times on different days as well as different parts of the day. It was awesomely beautiful regardless of the position of the sun! While in Lake Louise and elsewhere, I envied the young people with climbing gear and ropes but think I'm too old for that kind of adventures. My excuse was that Magdalen would never let me try it.

  

When I dropped the car back to Calgary I had driven 1899 km up and down the Icefield Parkway and Trans-Canadian Highway. This distance mainly covered Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks and we saw literally over a hundred ice-capped mountains and dozens of lakes and waterfalls. Magdalen questioned the wisdom of taking too many photos although she thought each shot was worth a thousand words. Her idea was to put each beautiful sights in her memory bank. Good luck to her. If I could put every sight into my brain, it would have no more space for anything else.

Alaska was great. The climate was very pleasant with sunshine throughout our journey and the weather was much milder than we thought. We were never cold even when we were close to the Sawyer Glacier where bits of iceberg were broken off the edge of the main glacier. The wind was quite cold so we had to go back from the deck into the ship regularly. I took a lot of shots of glaciers in different parts of the Rockies and Alaska so much so that I ran out of space in my 160 GB of hard disk and had to put on a SD card with additional 32 GB when I got back to Vancouver.
In Juneau, the capital of Alaska, we went out for a 3-hour whale-watching trip and saw more than a dozen humpback whales. I was pretty sure that I saw some Orca whales, too. There were sea lions swimming not far away from the humpbacks. When our ship was cruising on our way back to British Columbia near Victoria, I saw herds of Orca whales frolicking about only about half a couple of hundred feet alongside the cruise ship. I have to search my Handycam to confirm the sightings. In Victoria harbour we saw people feeding 4 or 5 sea otters with fish alongside the Fisherman's Wharf. In the Canadian Rockies, we saw black bears feeding on the side of the road although we were not quite sure that the same bear had crossed the road just to play tricks on us on our return journey! There were warning signs of caribou crossing the road everywhere although we didn't see any real caribous. However we saw a couple of bighorn sheep and deer and we stopped and took photos of them. I also got a good shot of a bald head eagle while we went for whale watching. There was also an abundance of bird life in Ketchikan. I'm sure that if we spent more time spotting wild life we would be surprisingly rewarded.

Epilogue

The April-May trip was an eye-opener. It was inspirational for someone from Downunder who used to look at the world from the bottom of a well as the Chinese saying goes. I've learnt to appreciate Nature much more than ever. Needless to say three weeks are not enough to see everything at leisure. Yosemite, Zion, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon, the Canadian Rockies and the Inside Passage of Alaska have to be seen to be appreciated. There is no doubt that I will return to see them again. When I told Tommy Lam and his wife Winnie, Gregory Yu Tat and his wife Melanie as well as Lawrence Chan that I will re-visit them in 5 years' time, I know that I will keep this promise.        – By Philip Lee

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