Waterton Lakes NP

We’re enjoying this late evening sunset in Waterton Park, Alberta. Air temperature is 16, skies are cloudy and we have a 50-50 chance of showers tonight. Last night late the thunderstorm in Essex, MT, delivered frozen rain but, thankfully, no hail. Our low temperature last night was cooler than forecast, down to just above freezing.

This morning we were up early and pulled our RV from the campground without dumping or refilling any tanks. Although we stayed Friday through Tuesday in the meadow and had no connections, we used the comfort station for showers and toilets. So our tanks are still at least half, or good for several more days.

We also lacked electrical connections at Glacier Meadow Campground. The campground offered us upgrade to an electrical site when the hamfest ended, but we were coming along just fine without. We also, you may recall from an earlier blog, are doing without our solar panels. Or, at least, without any electricity from them.

The solar panels are still up there and our solar charge controller is somewhere between St. Louis, MO, and Kalispell, MT. More on the charge controller later — the story is developing. There’s now a bucket under the solar panel wire to catch all the electricity from puddling under the trailer, but we still cannot get it into the batteries without the controller.

How’d we make out without electricity from campsite or from solar panels for four days? Oh, and we also did NOT use our generator or anyone elses. We didn’t suffer. We used lighting for reading and tasks. We used the water pump and roof ventilation fans when we wanted. And the several other non-elective uses of battery power, like the refrigerator control system and interior light and the gas detector were “in use”.

We minimized our use of electrical power and were able to keep the batteries above 11.5 volts throughout our stay. The water pump runs far less if you use the comfort station’s showers. The exhaust fan runs very little if you aren’t using the shower. We think the batteries were happy to reconnect with the truck’s alternator for the two-hour drive today, they were pretty juiced up when we arrived in Waterton.

The drive Tuesday morning from East Glacier, MT, was short but spectacular, along Highways 49 and 89. The road was narrow and curvy but posed no challenges for our short truck-trailer combination. Nothing was else remarkable until our border crossing from USA into Canada.

We ALWAYS rehearse for these border crossings, especially into Canada. Where are you from, where are you headed, how long do you plan to stay in Canada, what’s the purpose of your visit, are you bringing any gifts you will leave, do you have more than $10,000 with you, do you have any guns or other weapons, do you have any alcohol?

We practice our answers. Stuttering or hesitating is NOT a convincing response to a query. Jim was a little tense on the way into this crossing, mostly because our last one (see this blog from Aug 5, 2009) was tougher than others. Here we go, we’re in the line-up at the border crossing, and the Canadian Border Guard opens the rear of the Mercedes ML350 in front of us. He’s opened the rear hatch and is going through a piece of their baggage.

We stay back aways, giving plenty of room. Don’t want to seem too anxious, you know? The Mercedes driver is cautiously watching by way of his rear view mirror, seemingly wondering which bag the Customs guy is into now. The Customs guy closes the bag, lowers and latches the Mercedes rear hatch. Everything apparently checked out, he’s finished with them.

It’s our turn, he signals us forward to his position 20 meters before the enclosed guard station. And then he tells us to advance to the guard station window, his colleague will check our credentials. We advance, slowly, to the window. Our trailer is rather wider than the truck so we pull a little away from the guard station before we angle the truck toward the window.

And we’re greeted with a nice smile and a g’day from the Border Guard sitting inside the station. She asks us the same questions. We’re staying less than a month, no, no tobacco. No weapons, no handguns, no. No tear gas, just appropriately labelled bear spray canisters. Gifts? Yes, we have small gifts for our granddaughter. No ma’am, none are valued at more than $60. Yes, we have wine and spirits. She asks, “Is it only for personal consumption?” Yes, ma’am. “Alright.”

She hands us our passports back and we’re in. Never mind the detailed list of how much (or how little) alcohol we have on board. Never mind the potential issues of meat, fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, eggs. Never mind taking a look into the bed of the truck, or into the Airstream trailer. And the difference between last year’s entry and this year’s? Debbie was driving last year, the port of entry was Pembina, ND, and the Border Guard was an officious male. Which of those three differences was most important? We don’t know, but this was a much nicer welcome for a pair of highly law-abiding visitors.

We don’t generally make reservations for parks we visit. The notable exception is for long weekends like Canada Day or Labour Day. And we have had no issues finding available sites heretofore. Until this week at Waterton Lake National Park. Every site is full and we are able to secure only a one-night site. This is a surprise, and could cut our visit short. Will we be able to get our boat cruise, hike, and high tea still?

The helpful staff offer us reasonable hope for another night if we check tomorrow morning at 0800 for cancellations. Jim joins the queue the next morning, and at his turn at the window learns it will instead be 1100 to determine status for the next night. The helpful young lady offers to watch for us and flag a space for us if it comes available.
Jim rechecks at 1100 and we get two nights in another elec site, closer to the Lake and with an unobstructed view.

We moved and set up in our new site and had time to sit outside enjoying the warm sunlight before tea time. We dressed up in our Sunday clothes for High Tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel. We were fortunate to have a table near the grand windows overlooking the Lake.

Our service was very pleasant with six cups of tea and a “tier”, the latter filled with short breads, tarts, fruit, and sandwiches. Great view up the length of Waterton, Waterton Lake, and the mountains around.

The next day we paid for a 45 minute cruise aboard the M/V International, an 83 year-old cruise vessel, from Waterton to Goat Haunt, Montana. We were going to hike five or six miles to view Kootenai Lakes, a highly recommended day hike.

We passed through U.S. Customs at the Goat Haunt Ranger Station and enjoyed a brief and pleasant conversation with the Border Patrol officers.

Little more than a mile into the hike we were desperately trying to beat the mosquitoes away. We applied a liberal coating of bug repellent and still the bugs were landing and nibbling wherever they wanted. Enough of this!

We returned to the Ranger Station and large covered picnic area to reconsider our options. Rain started in so we unpacked our lunch and conversed with one of the Border Patrol officers. She was on her lunch break too and expressed a lot of interest in our full-timing experiences.

Several people had recommended the hiking trail from Goat Haunt back to Waterton Lake Townsite. We started on this trail as soon as the rain stopped. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes still were interested in us. We donned our goretex pants and our lightweight windbreakers to cover as much skin as we could.

We had, at the start of this homeward trek, already completed almost three miles hiking. And the trail back to our campsite was nine more miles. A challenge for a couple of occasional hikers, for sure. But we’d heard it was mostly flat and along the lake. How difficult can this be?

The nine miles encompassed five fifty to one hundred-foot climbs, so the hike might be classified as moderate difficulty instead of easy. We tried to pretend each uphill was to be the last one. Or this hill would end just around the very next bend (and it usually did NOT).

Four hours later and in a steady rain, we stumbled into our campground wet and tired. All the wet gear, shoes and clothes landed in our shower, we stretched our achy muscles, and enjoyed a pot of tea before showers.

We need the exercise but will benefit from doing it more often, not more strenuously. A regular exercise program is one of the little challenges of full-time traveling. We’re getting it figured out and need to apply ourselves better.

This visit to Waterton has been everything we hoped and expected. Reservations for the campsite would have been helpful but we were fortunate to land a spot all three nights we wanted. The weather was almost ideal for the activities we planned. Tea at Prince of Wales Hotel was the high point of this visit, but everything was enjoyable.

See You Down The Road!

Jim and Debbie
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