Desk-bound Nature Lover

My Blog: Occasional postings about the joys of birding, hiking, camping, and sightseeing.

My life: I spend most of my days in offices, looking at a computer screen, and waiting for those few weekends when I can get out and enjoy some remnant of our precious natural heritage. But, boy, do I live on those weekends!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Vacation in British Columbia

We just returned early Sunday morning from our summer vacation in British Columbia. We spent three nights in Whistler and six nights in Victoria. Here is a brief rundown of the things we did.

Whistler (Thursday to Sunday, 8/3 to 8/6)
On Thursday we flew from Chicago to Vancouver, and then drove up to Whistler. It was a beautiful drive. The mountains around Whistler are just gorgeous.

Whistler is a ski resort town up in the mountains a couple of hours drive north of Vancouver. It sits next to Garibaldi Provincial Park, which you can walk into from the top of the ski lifts, and which contains some of the most rugged and beautiful alpine scenery I have every seen. Whistler itself is the domain of skiers in the fall, winter, and spring, and of mountain bikers in the summer. The downtown area of Whistler has the look of an enormous shopping mall surrounded by hotels. It is a little too commercial for my taste. (My brother, who had been there last year, warned me that it would be this way.) I suppose it is what Yosemite Village or Banff would have if there weren’t the US Park Service or Parks Canada to reign in the commercialism. Still, it is not as bad as it could be. On a crassness scale of 1 to 10 (with Las Vegas as a 10) the commercialism of Whistler is only about a 5.

We did several touristy things there. We rode the gondola and the ski lift to the top of the mountain. The kids rode a cart pulled by sled dogs. The sled dogs with mixed breeds, rather than true huskies, and looked too small for sled pulling, but what they lacked in size they made up for in enthusiasm. We did a “tree trek”, walking on platforms and suspension bridges build high up in the tree tops, and my son and I did “zip trekking”. This something which seems a lot scarier when you watch it than when you do it. You strap on a big harness, which is hung from a cable, and then you ride on the cable from one platform to another. It’s a unique experience, but it really feels about as safe as standing on the sidewalk. I discovered that it is more fun if you look down just as you step off the platform.

In addition, we did some hiking in the mountains and I found a group of people to go birding with on Saturday morning for a couple of hours.

Victoria (Sunday to Friday, 8/6 to 8/11)
It takes most of the day to get from Whistler to Victoria. You have to drive down out of the mountains to the coastal town of Tsewwannen, take a ferry over to Swartz Bay of Vancouver Island, and then drive into Victoria. It took us all the longer because some of the streets in Victoria were blocked off for a holiday celebration (B.C. Day) resulting in traffic chaos. By the time we got checked into our hotel most of the touristy places in town were closed, so we did some of the few which remained open: Miniature World, the Bug Zoo, and Chinatown. Of these, the most interesting was the Bug Zoo. This was a small place, with just two rooms full of insects and spiders in glass cage, but the critters were interesting and the docents were very knowledgeable and enthusiastic.

The next day (Monday) we drove over to the Pacific Rim National Park. Of all the places we saw on the trip, this is the place that I would most like to go back to. It is a beautiful park, with long beaches, rugged coast, and ancient forests. We saw several Bald Eagles there. We also were amused by watching a Glaucous-winged Gull trying to eat two sea stars, the second one bigger then his head! Unfortunately, it was quite a drive from where we were staying, so we actually spent more time getting there and getting back then we were able to spend there.

Tuesday, we spent the morning and early afternoon seeing the Royal BC Museum. This was a nice museum. There were some temporary exhibits which were worthless, but the permanent exhibits of the natural and human history of British Columbia were excellent. We particularly enjoyed the exhibits on the various Native American cultures of British Columbia. (Lots of totem poles.) In the late afternoon we saw a restored Victorian era mansion called Craigdarrock Castle, which was similar to one we had seen in Toronto last year, though less fancy.

Wednesday we saw the famous Butchart Gardens in Brentwood Bay, about half an hour drive from Victoria. The whole idea Butchart Gardens is to make the prettiest garden possible, and they have succeeded.

In the afternoon we drove to the town of Sidney and visited the Marine Ecology Center. This was a very modest attraction, set in a houseboat in a marina, but it was a lot of fun. There were rows of tables set up with trays of ocean critters which you could look at through microscopes. We all had fun there, but I think my son enjoyed it most.

On Thursday, we took a tour of the Parliament Building, which was just a short walk from our hotel. Then we went to a fancy afternoon tea in our hotel, with the little English tea sandwiches and sweets. Later in the afternoon we took a short drive to Goldstream Provincial Park. This park is notable for its huge, centuries old Red Cedars and Douglas Firs. It also turned out to be one of the best places in the world for watching American Dippers. We watched three of these little birds as they hunted caddisfly larvae. They would dive into a stream and came up with what looked like a little twig, which was actually a tube built by the caddisfly. Then they would beat the tube against a rock until it opened, and then eat the little green grub inside.

Friday was our last day in Victoria, and we spent the morning on a whale watching cruise. We got to see Killer Whales hunting salmon. The whale watch was fun, but I couldn’t help but wonder what the whales thought of it. There were more whale watching boats out there than whales. Did the whales feel at all harassed by all these watchers? In the afternoon we took a hike in East Sooke Regional Park, about an hours drive from Victoria, out to a beautiful viewpoint on the rocky coast.

Vancouver (Saturday, 8/12)
On Saturday, we left Victoria and took the ferry back to the mainland. We made one stop on the mainland, before heading to the airport. This was the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver. This place was in some ways more like an amusement park than a national park, but it was enjoyable. The were plenty of 300 year old trees and the view from the bridge was marvelous.


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