Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

MONTANA CANADA TRIP - Day 15. Prince George -> Hope, British Columbia

We got a very early start for one of our longer drives, Prince George south to Hope, almost 400 miles. We met Fraser River again at Quesenel, then got to walk over it on this old railroad bridge.
At this point I was in vaguely familiar territory, as I had once driven a loop from Vancouver north along the Fraser River and down to Hope, but many of the details are a blur. Quesenal I remember because of the name.

After Quesenal the landscape changed gradually through Williams Lake, 100 Mile House (note the name that survived after the Canadians switched from miles to kilometers), Cache Creek and Lytton. The railroad and the highway followed the Fraser River, I'm sure an ancient transportation byway. We traveled through forest, farm, high prairie, and tribal lands always following the river.
It was a long drive, and we arrived in the gorgeous mountain town of Hope, a small town at the confluence of the Fraser and Coquihalla Rivers. Our accommodations were heavenly. The B&B consisted of two guest rooms in a private home at the edge of town, a few steps from the woodland and at the foot of Mount Hope. It was a warm night and the sun set late. We sat on the porch enjoying the dusk settle over the forests and the mountains.

Tomorrow would be a layover day in Hope, and I knew this would be a highlight of our trip. We slept soundly that night.

Accommodations: Misty Mountain B&B *****
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Monday, June 29, 2009

MONTANA CANADA TRIP - Day. 14. Prince George

Today was another layover day, and since Prince George is ... well ... Prince George, I spent the day resting, reading, doing the laundry and generally catching up instead of sight seeing. Prince George is an ordinary looking town as you can see in this photo ...
and as I learned along the way, a town where you have to scratch the surface in order to reap the riches. As we went through the day we had some extraordinary conversations with locals, especially young people. For example, one of the students we met at the visitors' center marine ecology student conducting a survey of people's attitudes on tourism to Antarctica. She hopes to visit Antarctica soon. Another highlight was a trip to the University of Northern British Columbia, situated on a hill overlooking the city.

In the late afternoon we went for a drive northwest up Hwy 16 to Vanderhoof. It's a quiet farming village that Jonathan fell in love with and decided, "Next time, we're staying here."
Here is a photo of the area:

We returned to Prince George for an outstanding Mediterranean dinner at the local hot spot.

Accommodations: Best Western Prince George ***

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

MONTANA CANADA TRIP - Day 13. Jasper National Park to Prince George, British Columbia

Ever heard of Prince George? I sure hadn’t until we planned this trip, and that's one of the reasons I wanted to check it out. Turns out it is a university city of approximately 70,000 in the geographic center of British Columbia. In fact, Google was in Prince George a few days before we were, with trucks and video cameras to capture street views for Google maps.

But I digress. Our projected drive for the day was 250 miles so we looked for advice about what to see and do along the way. Fortunately, I met Lorraine, the Jasper Lodge travel agent, who has a house in Prince George and makes the drive often. She gave us good advice and we turned a four hour drive into an eight hour touring excursion with no trouble at all.

The scenery northwest of Jasper was quite lovely, alternating mountain ranges and wide open meadow land. We reached the Continental Divide right at the Alberta/British Columbia border and at the edge of Mt. Robson Park. Here is Jonathan at the Divide:

Right here at the Continental Divide is Portal Lake, and small but charming lake that was exceedingly photogenic!

We stopped at Mount Robson Park Visitor Center, for a break, a chance savor the awesome view of the mountain and walk through the meadow.

Further on, we stopped at the Ancient Forest, a blip on the road which Lorraine told us not to miss. This are is an isolated rain forest ecosystem; surrounded by mountain, desert, and prairie; that is one of the amazing quirks of nature, the exception that proves the rule. The area is known for its "ancient" red cedar trees. We stopped for a walk. We did indeed get rained on, and though we enjoyed the cedar trees, they didn't have quite the impact on us, since as Californians we are so familiar with the sequoia sempervirens in our area.

We arrived in Prince George at the end of the day, tired and hungry, to a horrendous B&B situation, which I won't go into here. After some serious discussion over a mediocre meal and a stiff drink, we decided to pay the cancellation fee and remove ourselves from the B&B. An awkward moment, for sure, but we hightailed it over to the local Best Western, and I've never been so comfortable in a Best Western as we were those two days in Prince George.

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Accommodations: Best Western Prince George ***


Saturday, June 27, 2009

MONTANA CANADA TRIP - Day.12. Jasper National Park

This is our lazy layover day. We’ve traveled about 1800 miles so far. All smooth and fairly comfortable, but in truth, it feels good to stay over in one place, anywhere.

We decided to splurge and stay once in one of the old Victorian hotels built in the 19th century along the railroads. The (very smart and crafty) railroad magnates built these hotels to give wealthy tourists a reason to take the train. There are such hotels in Glacier National Park in the United States, and both Banff and Jasper National Parks in Canada. The most grand (and famous) of all is the one at Banff – the Banff Springs Hotel now owned by Fairmont -- where we had tea a few days ago.

We stayed in the Jasper version, the Jasper Park Lodge, a scaled down version of the Banff Hotel. The Lodge is located on the site of one of the two settlements which make up Jasper. This site was called Tent City in the early 1900s. The railroad turned it into a resort about 1915 and it grew and changed over the years. Now it is owned by the Fairmont chain, and they have put their brand on it. It consists of about 500 units scattered around the grounds, as well as a golf course and Lake Beauvert, as well as an elegant (and overpriced) lodge with restaurants, spa, shops and all kinds of other luxuries. Unfortunately, for all this luxury, there are no espresso drinks and no wireless internet, two criteria I most wanted.

But that is not a complaint. This is a fine place to lay over, and we can walk, read, sleep and do nothing – all in luxury and in the midst of incredible scenery.

We drove into the town of Jasper, which is a small town within the national park, a smaller and less expensive and less pretentious town than Banff. We walked around, stocked up at the grocery store, and had a decent mealin an Italian restaurant. All in all our time in Jasper was relaxing, down to earth, and fairly low key, the Fairmont Jackson Lodge notwithstanding.

Here is a view from our walk around Lake Beauvert:

And here is a view of the town of Jasper:

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Friday, June 26, 2009

MONTANA CANADA TRIP. Day 11. Banff to Jasper

Today was an amazing day of mountains, glaciers, rivers and waterfalls, and changing weather. We left Banff early for our drive to Jasper National Park by way of Lake Louise. We drove up Hwy 93, nicknamed Icefields Parkway, for reasons we would soon learn. The highway was built in the late 1930s by a Canadian version of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The guide books tout this as the most scenic highway in the world, and I would surely rate it in my top 10. And I've seen a lot of scenic highways in my life.

Our first destination was Lake Louise, my request because friends told me it is less “done-up” than Banff and would be more to my liking. Indeed, it was. The lake (named after one of Queen Victoria’s daughters) is a turquoise gem set within the high mountains. The gray-turquoise color is caused by silt that slides into it with each year’s snowmelt. It turns deeper blue as the summer progresses and the silt settles. We walked to the end of the lake and back, sorry we couldn’t spend more time there. Here is a good view:

Back on Icefield Parkway, we had plenty of opportunity to view glaciers, or what is left of them. There are seven large glaciers and twenty-five smaller ones along the Icefields Parkway. We were reminded once again that we are witnessing an endangered geological phenomenon. It was most clear when we stopped at the Athabasca Glacier. In the mid 1800s this glacier extended across what is now the highway and covered the parking lot. Look at it now and draw your own conclusions.

I'm sorry that the subject of climate change is so fraught with political overtones. The changes are real, and measurable, and easily observed in northern latitudes.

As if we didn’t get enough great scenery, we took two short detours to see the Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls. Both are canyons where the Sunwapta and Athabasca rivers respectively change course suddenly from a shallow river bed to steep, narrow canyons with tremendous force. Here is a photo of Athabasca Falls.

We arrived at Fairmont Park Lodge Jasper, our splurge hotel, for a late supper overlooking the lake. It was still light outside when I turned out the light at 11 p.m. Here is our view from the dining patio.

ACCOMMODATIONS: Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge ***

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Thursday, June 25, 2009


This was our layover day in Banff. My expectations of Banff were high -- based on photos I had seen of an elegant hotel nestled in the Canadian Rockies, so I wasn't prepared for a touristy town that could have been Venice Beach or Santa Cruz. The lousy weather, including freezing rain, didn't help

The day started off poorly, but got better with each new experience. We took a walk in the rain and unexpectedly came upon the famous Banff Hotel (now owned by Fairmont Hotels) looking just like it did in the photos. Here's my photo:

Of course we decided to go back for a very late lunch, and lingered.And because it doesn't get dark till after 10 p.m. we had time to ride the gondola up Sulpher Mountain to watch the sunset. This is the mountain where a Banff resident (I think his name was Mr. Samson), installed weather observation equipment and traveled up the mountain on foot or donkey over 1000 times in all seasons and weather. As we braved the biting cold and wind in the middle of June, we gain great respect for Mr. Samson and all the other early adventurers in the Canadian Rockies. Here is a view of Banff from the summit:And here we are looking out over the summit:Though the day started out bad, it ended wonderfully. As you can see the sky turned blue just in time for sunset.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

MONTANA CANADA TRIP. DAY 9. Glacier National Park -> Banff National Park, Alberta

We got a very early start out of St. Mary and headed to Many Glacier, on the west side of the park. I'm not sure where the strange name came from. This is a part of Glacier National Park off the beaten track, so much so that the local animals think the road belongs to them:

Many Glaciers is not to be missed. The main area consists of a fancy mountain lodged situated next to a small lake, all of which is surrounded by glaciated mountains. Here are photos of the lake and of the lodge:

Many Glacier was one of my favorite destinations on this trip, and it certainly helped that this was one of our few clear, crisp, sunny days. Weather aside, this spot is hidden away from the crowds of the main park (all 500,000 of them), with as much physical beauty, and an atmosphere of easy informality.

We pulled ourselves away from this shangri-la and headed for the Canadian border -- our destination for the evening was Banff. I wanted to go through Calgary because I wanted to experience an interior Canadian city, but it turned out to be a mistake because we got lost in the city during rush hour and we wasted a couple of hours maneuvering through one way streets, traffic lights, and misplaced road signs. Despite our troubles, Calgary is an interesting city. It is a big city of more than a million residents, half of which have arrived in the past 30 years. This is all because of the Canadian oil boom. We recognized all the signs of a boom area (as we know from the Bay Area) in the miles of suburbia and exurbia, the prices of real estate, the clogged traffic arteries, and ugly thrown together buildings. But the city must still have some of its cowboy spirit because it hosts the Calgary Stampede, which they claim is the biggest rodeo in the world. We didn't stick around for it -- in fact we avoided it, but it sounds like the whole goes rodeo crazy for the whole month of July.

But we made it through the traffic and arrived in Banff late in the day, but in time for dinner at the Balkan Restaurant, one of the best meals in Canada.

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Accommodations: Blue Mountain Lodge, Banff **

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

MONTANA CANADA TRIP - Day 8. Glacier National Park

Today is our day at Glacier National Park, but first I needed some espresso, and it's a good thing because we learned a lot at the visitor's center. For one thing we learned that Logan Pass, AKA Going to the Sun Road, across the park is not completely open, so we must go around. Second, we heard the from the ranger the first of a repeating litany about the reality of global warming. This ranger had been taking groups up the mountain for thirty-five years, each year the glacier was diminishing before his eyes, but never did he notice or admit to himself anything unusual until it became a global conversation a few years ago. Now the whole thing depresses him, but this crusty old guy is glad to have witnessed the park in an earlier era.

Then we headed into the park and up Logan Pass, which was closed at the summit, but we got out and looked around. F-r-e-e-z-i-n-g. The mountains were unbelievably majestic, even on a stormy day. Here are some photos:

We came down and stopped for a late lunch at the McDonald Lodge, one of the grand old hotels of another era. It was fun to enjoy the lobby and restaurant on a “poor man’s holiday.” After lunch we circumnavigated the park on Highway 2, which we very interesting. The weather was cold and cloudy but the light made for some interesting photos.

We pushed forward with Two Medicine Lake our next destination. By this time the sky was clear and the sun was low, making for the exquisite light you see in this photo:

Then onward to St. Mary, on the east side of the park, just in time to see this sunset:

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ACCOMMODATIONS: Johnsons at St. Mary, St. Mary, Montana **

Monday, June 22, 2009

MONTANA CANADA TRIP - DAY 7. Missoula -> Glacier National Park

We got a very late start out of Missoula, but that's ok. Today is a short driving day. Jonathan had a dental emergency, so we detoured to the dentist who diagnosed an infection in his wisdom tooth, recommended extracting two teeth, but told him he could wait till he gets home if he takes antibiotics. Fortunately, Jon decided to wait.

Back on the road we headed north up Hwy 93 along the Salmon River for Glacier National Park. The weather was mediocre but the scenery was Montana at its best. Here are some photos:

If Idaho is the state of Big Rivers, then Montana is the state of Big Sky. True to its motto, The Big Sky Country, we saw more big sky and more variety within the sky than I could imagine. The weather changed by the minute (something a photographer would notice), as clouds moved in, out and around the sun. The color of the sky and the quality of the light on earth reminded me of a carousel moving in several directions at once, all part of a grand plan, but random to a person on the ground.

We arrived before dark at our motel at the west entrance to the Park. The weather was cold and wet and our little cabin didn't quite meet my expectations of a warm room with windows at the edge of the most beautiful scenery in the world. However the next morning we met the owners and got the backstory, and it all made sense. The motel was purchased a few years ago by a couple about my age from the San Francisco Bay Area. They bought it as a fixer-upper retirement project, and a good way to keep coming back to Glacier. They spend a few weeks a year in Glacier doing maintenance and remodeling and other administrative duties, and just happened to be around when we were having breakfast. Here is a photo of the breakfast area:

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Accommodations: Vista Motel, West Glacier, MT. ***

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Another family day. With all of the formal events over and many of the guests gone, this was my chance to sit down and really catch up with my cousins, and for Jonathan to get acquainted. My Austin cousins are my only cousins, so I hold my relationship with them dearly.

When Jonathan and I arrived, Alice's life collection of family photos were spread out so her children could select and keep. Most were taken by Alice's husband Chic, my blood uncle. I hadn't realized what a gifted photographer he was until I saw them all laid out on the floor -- mostly portraits and nature photos in black and white. Many of the photos evoked memories for some of us, and other revealed surprises. We were all struck by Alice's physical beauty as a young woman, and how Chic captured her essence on film. Obviously, Chic loved photographing Alice, and she made a wonderful model. We wondered if there were other photos that didn't survive that might of revealed a different side of their relationship. ...

What a drag that I have no digital copies to share on this blog!!

A full day of visiting and enjoying each others company, the conversation often returned to Alice and Chic and family in general. Underlying our conversation was the unspoken certainty that we would never meet again in this setting. After a long walk in the woods, Jonathan and I took our leave. But the day will be with me forever.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Today is the day that we gather to honor the life of my late aunt, Alice Howe Austin. Her four children - Mike, Brian, Ellen, and Dennis planned an outdoor celebration according to Alice's wishes --"something low-key, maybe outdoors, maybe a picnic." Everyone associates Alice with the lovely homestead in Missoula, the apple trees, the expansive lawn, the flower garden and the hummingbirds. The weather, the flowers, and even the hummingbird cooperated to make this an event just what Alice would order. Maybe she did! This photo shows the lovely setting:

It is wonderful to see my cousins Brian, Dennis, Louie, Ellen (X2), and Bill; to reconnect with Mike, Torgun and Annie after so many years; and to meet Alice's brother, nieces and Missoula friends. All are living rich, interesting, and diverse lives, testimony to the breadth of Alice's network.

The main event of the day was an "Alice story sharing." Alice's friends and relatives told funny or poignant incidents about Alice as a big sister, a mother, and a community activist. Each story boiled down to another example of Alice's strong will, persistence, strength of character, and passion for social justice. Brother Artie talked about Alice's role as the eldest child with four younger brothers and how she got the nickname "Old Girl." Brian retold a story about their lives in Rochester, NY, and how Alice's passion for social justice played out within her marriage. Grandson Bill told a funny story about how Alice's determination to stay fit until the very end made her a terror in the shopping mall where she "did laps" with her walker. Her friends talked about Alice's activity fighting for civil rights and the environment which lasted her entire life. We all left the event with a wonderful sense of a life fulfilled.

Here is a photo of the relatives:

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Friday, June 19, 2009

MONTANA CANADA TRIP - Day 4. Stanley, ID -> Missoula, MT

Stanley was just too wonderful to leave, so we dallied. We had breakfast on Salmon River frontage right outside our cabin, with the Sawtooth Mountains to our right and an open pasture in front of us across the river. After chatting with our cabin neighbors, some bikers from Alberta, and our proprietors, we headed for a short hike at Red Fish Lake. Unfortunately the trail took us deep into the forest and robbed us of a last few minutes of viewing the Sawtooth Mountains, but at least we got some exercise.

Here's our breakfast view:

Idaho is a state of rivers -- big ones and little ones, raging ones and quiet ones, level ones like the Salmon in front of our cabin, and nearly vertical one which make waterfalls over the Sawtooth mountains. Rivers are the arteries of the state that connect one mountain valley to another, each starting as a lonely spring high in the mountains and converge to a torrent in a lower elevation. Since we traveled in June after most of the snowmelt, the river system was working overtime, and we got the best and the wildest of the Idaho waters.

We discovered some hot springs along the Salmon River near Challis. Now just a marker on the road, the springs were once a resort for weary travelers, built by Idaho's Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. We stopped long enough to dip our toes in the hot springs (scalding!) and which flowed into the Salmon River (freezing). There is only one spot on the river where the hot and cold water mixes at a comfortable. He
re is Jonathan testing the waters for the special spot.

We drove straight for the rest of the day and arrived in Missoula around 8 p.m., with almost two hours of daylight left (Northern lights!!). I found voice mail on my phone from my cousin Ellen, telling me about general plans for the week-end. It was wonderful to hear her voice, and to bring my attention to the reason I'm here in the first place. I'm looking forward very much to visiting my cousins tomorrow, to honoring my aunt Alice, and to meeting the people important in her life. Tomorrow will be a big day.

Addendum: 10/10/2009. Here is an article by Jan Morris, by favorite travel writer from Wales. She is so much more eloquent. Oh, how I wish I could write like this. Here is the link.

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Accommodations: Val-U Inn, Missoula, ****


Thursday, June 18, 2009

MONTANA CANADA TRIP - Day 3. McDermitt, NV - Stanley, ID

Now we're getting into unfamiliar territory for me. I've never been to Idaho or to eastern Oregon, so I have the benefit of low expectations, and was I ever pleasantly surprised!

We hightailed it out of McDermitt shortly after dawn and drove to the nearest destination on the map, Jordan Valley, Oregon, right on the Oregon/Idaho border. If I could choose I couldn't have asked for a better antidote to McDermitt. We were greeted at the edge of town by a sign, "Espresso" and a coffee house. We stayed here several hours, soaking up the sun, the ambience, the caffeine and the stories of the locals. It turns out that this stone house is the oldest building in town, built by one of the early Jordan Valley settlers. The building was sold out of the family and subsequently repurchased by the sons or grandsons who acquired city tastes and brought them to Jordan Valley. One of the cousins told us this story.

The next stretch -- from Jordan Valley to Boise -- completely dispelled my conception of Idaho as dark and forested or full of potatoes. Instead we came upon big sky and wide open spaces. Driving up Hwy 95 we first encountered high desert, then prairie and grazing land, and finally farms as we approached Boise.

We arrived in Boise around lunch time, and since it is the state capital we headed for the center of town for a place to eat. Downtown Boise is tastefully upscale with a mall, restored historic district, reminders of Boise's Basque community, and fancy restaurants with patio service. We just happened to choose the Bardenay Restaurant, which doubles as a micro-distillery! Who would have believed they would be distilling and bottling whiskey and rum in the middle of Boise! We didn't sample but we sure enjoyed watching the process.

After lunch we drove north on Hwy 21 to Stanley, in the Sawtooth mountains. Of all the scenic roads, this struck me the deepest, perhaps because it was the first. We drove up, up past the fancy part of Boise into the hills, then into mountains, crossing river after swollen river, working our way toward the Sawtooth mountains.

Our destination for the day was Stanley, ID, just over the hill from the more famous Sun Valley. I've never been to Sun Valley, but I know this little town on the Salmon River is much more my style. Our cabin was just a few feet from the river, so we heard it all night and ate breakfast beside it the next morning. Here is a photo of the Sawtooth mountains at sunset.

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Accommodations: Salmon River Cabins & Motel

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

MONTANA CANADA TRIP - Day 2. Lee Vining, CA - McDermitt, NV

We started the day with organic espresso sitting in the sun on a deck overlooking Mono Lake. The bright sun warmed us up after a rather cold night in the cabin.

Then we followed the recommendation of a Lee Vining locals and toured the June Lake Loop, a short distance off Hwy 395 south of Lee Vining. June Lake is a hidden community of old timers and vacationers, which has been around since the 1930s. One of California's best kept secrets. The mountains, the three lakes, the big sky and the wild flowers made it a great morning. Here is a photo:

After the June Lake Loop and a late breakfast we set out for our destination, McDermitt, on the Oregon/Nevada border. It was a long afternoon through the high desert. Less monotonous than I expected, but still monotonous. A thunderstorm was threatening all afternoon, and finally hit us -- short but intense -- shortly outside of Winnemucca.

McDermitt, is a godforsaken excuse for a town on the Nevada/Oregon border. I'm sure the only reason for its existence is so that Oregonians can gamble without traveling too far. The 2000 census recorded 269 residents. I bet the population is half that now. McDermitt was somewhat redeemed by a good restaurant within the casino, run by a number of very smart and competent Native American women. Here is a photo:

But I'll be glad to get an early start tomorrow. Destination: Boise for breakfast.

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Accommodations: Diamond A Motel, McDermitt.

MONTANA CANADA TRIP - Day 1. Oakland -> Lee Vining

Oakland - Yosemite - Lee Vining

We got an early start from Oakland and drove straight east – through exurbia, over the Altamont Pass, through the Central Valley and finally into the Sierra Foothills in time for a late breakfast at Big Oak Flat, near the west entrance to Yosemite. Weather was cool and cloudy, threatening t-storms which never materialized, but I’m really glad I brought warm clothes.

Though our planned route through Yosemite was straight over Tioga Pass, at the last minute we decided to drive through the Valley floor, and I’m so glad we did. Words ... and even photos are inadequate to share the majesty of the scenery, but I try. Here is one of the valley floor.

Our valley floor detour got us to the High Country late in the day when the light is delicious, though the weather was cold and rainy. (At 9000 feet, what can you expect?) The sun was low enough to peek through and to get so great photos.

Jonathan booked us a cabin in the little town of Lee Vining, right on Mono Lake. Lee Vining is a charming town -- at least in the summer -- and we've stayed there before. Here are some fun photos from this little town in the high Sierra.

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Accommodations: Lake View Lodge, Lee Vining ***


Monday, June 15, 2009

MONTANA CANADA TRIP - The day before

It really is hard to think about anything except your vacation the day before, especially if your vacation consists of visiting three U.S. and two Canadian national parks, 3700 miles on the road in a Prius with the guy you love, and the underlying inescapable wunderlust. All of this underscored by an escape from a routine of computers, traffic jams, neighborhood burglaries, airport security delays, bad news on the radio, and generally, the 21st century.

So tomorrow morning early -- Jonathan promised by 7 a.m. -- we'll grab our morning drinks at Peets, and head east towards Yosemite. We should hit the high country by mid afternoon when the clouds form from the East, then over to Lee Vining and Mono Lake for dinner at sunset. Am I dreaming, or what?

Actually the seed for this journey was planted several years ago when Jonathan read an article about Canada's Okanagan Valley, the northern most region for growing wine grapes. He got a hankering to check it out, but turning the idea into a destination never worked out till we got an invitation to a family gathering to honor the life of my late aunt Alice Howe Austin, and in Missoula, Montana next week.

My Aunt Alice was my favorite, though I mostly knew her from heresay. Beautiful, smart, energetic, and well connected, she and her family seemed to cast a shadow on our conventional, boring WASP family. She was my aunt by marriage, and survived her husband/my blood uncle by thirteen years, enough for some of us to wonder if she were immortal.

Alice was mortal like the rest of us, and passed quietly this spring at age 91. Next week-end her family will gather at her home property in Missoula to honor her life and to reacquaint. I'm looking forward to reconnecting to my four cousins whom I barely know (for our family was not into family togetherness), and to meeting Alice's siblings and their offspring.

Having lost both my parents and witnessed the phenomenon in other families, I am acutely aware of the shift when the last parent passes on, and the younger generation becomes the older. The oldest children bear the burden of legacy because they've been around the longest, younger siblings find their place in a new org chart. Some families let out a lifetime of pentup anger and never speak again, others find they have nothing in common and drift apart, and others find strength in commonalities and strengthen extended family ties for themselves and their children.

It's an inevitable chapter of life -- becoming the next "oldest generation" and I lift my glass to my cousins, and for organizing this opportunity for us all to meet in Missoula.