USA: Eastern Oregon

View Tom Dempsey’s photos of Eastern Oregon, including:

  1. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
  2. Enterprise & Imnaha: Hells Canyon Recreation Area, Wallowa Mountains
  3. Wallowa Mountains: Eagle Cap Wilderness backpacking
  4. Troy: Wenaha River Trail, Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF
  5. Pendleton: Ninemile Ridge Trail, Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF

1. John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

From a visit on March 15-16, 2014, we show photos of Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, including Painted Hills Unit and Sheep Rock Unit (Blue Basin Overlook Trail):

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2. Enterprise & Imnaha: Hells Canyon Recreation Area, Wallowa Mountains

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Much of this area is within the extensive Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

3. Wallowa Mountains: Eagle Cap Wilderness backpacking

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For more details, read my separate article about backpacking Eagle Cap Wilderness.

4. Troy: Wenaha River Trail, Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF

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Wenaha River Trail starts from the Wenaha River’s confluence with the Grande Ronde River in the Blue Mountains of northeast Oregon.

5. Pendleton: Ninemile Ridge Trail, Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF

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Oregon favorite statewide images (consolidated from many trips)

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Index of my Oregon articles:

Recommended Oregon guidebooks from

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2014 spring training hikes in Washington & Eastern Oregon

Where can Seattle hikers go in the spring when high Cascades trails are covered in snow? Motivated to train for summer trekking in Peru, we enjoyed the following series of early season hikes in Washington and Oregon, traveling 1-4 days at a time out of Seattle between April 14-Jun 13, 2014:

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As driving trips out of Seattle, these spring hikes (photos above and links below) gave lots of variety, including wonderful wildflowers and snow-free footing with altitude acclimatization as high as 7140 feet in Washington’s Kettle Range:

  • Oregon (camping in RV parks in our VW Eurovan Camper)
    • John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (click to article or see photo show below): March 15-16 was an excellent time for us to visit, with pleasant temperatures; snow-free most of the year.
    • Troy: Blue Mountains, Umatilla NF, Grande Ronde River:
      • Wenaha River Trail (8.2 miles/600 ft gain): on May 19, this pleasant trail was dry and snow-free.
      • We enjoyed being the sole campers next to the Grande Ronde River in quiet Shilo Troy RV Resort (hot showers; electric hookup).
    • Enterprise: Wallowa Mountains
      • Imnaha River Trail (9.3 miles/800 ft gain), Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest: May 20 was perhaps a week too late to avoid an overgrowth of poison ivy and blackberry thorns across the trail – next time, early to mid-May should be best. Bring a machete. For sure, avoid midsummer heat on this trail which is hikeable from late March through November.
      • In Enterprise, Log House RV Park had friendly staff and good views of the Wallowa Mountains and Eagle Cap Wilderness.
    • Pendleton:
      • Ninemile Ridge Trail (5.3 miles/1250 ft gain, plus more if you want): May 21 had excellent Lupinus luteolus (Pale Yellow or Butter Lupine) flowers; usually best from mid- to late-May.
  • Washington
    • Blewett Pass (camping for 2 nights):
      • Iron Creek to Teanaway Ridge Trail (7.2 miles/1850 ft): May 28 had excellent footing, with some easily crossed snow patches at the top. Camp in nice quiet Forest Service pullouts along the gravel access road.
      • Ingalls Creek Trail (11.2 miles): Excellent on May 29; best mid-May to early-June for wildflowers and rushing high-volume water; hikeable May to October. Camp conveniently in Blu-Shastin RV Park near Leavenworth.
      • Table Mountain Trail #1209, near Blewett Pass, Wenatchee National Forest (5 miles/800 ft): on May 30, one snow blockage in the access road forced us to walk a mile to the trailhead, discovering beautiful rafts of Glacier Lilies, Grasswidow, and Columbian lewisia flowers under the burnt forest!
    • Mt Si Trail, North Bend (9 miles/3170 ft): snow-free most of the year, except summit Haystack area.
    • West Tiger Mountain, Issaquah: snow-free most of the year.
    • Cougar Mountain, Issaquah: snow-free most of the year.
    • Wallace Lake, Gold Bar (loop 8.5 miles/1500 ft): snow-free most of the year.
    • Kettle Range, Colville National Forest, near Republic, for the highest snow-free, early-season hikes in Washington, above 7000 feet elevation:
      • Copper Butte Trail (9.2 mi/2150 ft, reaching 7140 feet elevation): snow-free footing on June 12.
      • Wapaloosie Mountain Trail (6.2 mi/1850 ft, reaching 7018 feet elevation): snow-free footing on June 13.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

From a late-Winter visit on March 15-16, 2014, we show photos of Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, including Painted Hills Unit and Sheep Rock Unit (Blue Basin Overlook Trail):

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Index of my Oregon articles:

– Tom and Carol Dempsey
Seattle, Washington
Apr 14-Jun 13, 2014

CANADA: Vancouver, BC

The City of Vancouver in British Columbia makes a pleasant winter getaway from Seattle (or vice versa). Allow extra traffic time for the slow border crossing between Canada and USA. [Read more about expedited entry / US Immigration.] A trip to Vancouver can be efficiently combined with a visit to Whistler Village for summer hiking or winter skiing. Below are my favorite Vancouver photos from February 13-17, 2014:

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Downtown Vancouver, Coal Harbour

Staying in a downtown condo or hotel makes for convenient walking exploration of Vancouver Convention Centre, Vancouver Harbour, Stanley Park, and Vancouver Aquarium. AirBnB [your signup supports my work] helped us locate private condo lodging along Coal Harbor.

Stanley Park and Vancouver Aquarium

Stanley Park is a great place for walking, skating, or bicycling. Vancouver Aquarium is excellent, including live shows of Pacific white-sided dolphins and beluga whales.

Bloedel Conservatory, Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver

Bloedel Conservatory (4600 Cambie St.) is a domed lush paradise where you can experience the colors and scents of the tropics year-round, within Queen Elizabeth Park, atop the City of Vancouver’s highest point. From Little Mountain (501 feet), see panoramic views over the city crowned by the mountains of the North Shore. A former rock quarry has been converted into beautiful Queen Elizabeth Park with flower gardens, public art, grassy knolls. In Bloedel Conservatory, more than 200 free-flying exotic birds, 500 exotic plants and flowers thrive within a temperature-controlled environment. A donation from Prentice Bloedel built the domed structure, which was dedicated in 1969 “to a better appreciation and understanding of the world of plants,” and is jointly operated by Vancouver Park Board and VanDusen Botanical Garden Association.

Vanier Park: MacMillan Space Centre

Fans of astronomy will enjoy H.R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vanier Park, at 1100 Chestnut St, Vancouver, BC. It was founded 1968 and named for a British Columbia industrialist and philanthropist. See worthwhile science exhibits and shows in the GroundStation Canada Theatre, Cosmic Courtyard, and cool Planetarium Star Theatre. The building was designed in the 1960s by architect Gerald Hamilton to house what was then called The Centennial Museum. The Space Centre shares the building with the Museum of Vancouver. Outside, the Crab fountain sculpture was made in 1968 by George Norris. In First Nation legend, the crab is the guardian of the harbour and was also the zodiac sign at the time of the Canadian Centennial in 1967.

Lynn Canyon, North Vancouver

Admire waterfalls in Lynn Canyon from the Suspension Bridge continue on a pleasant walking loop of several kilometers through wild rainforest. Lynn Canyon is a municipal park established in 1912 at 3663 Park Road, in North Vancouver, British Columbia, V7J 3G3, Canada. Phone 604-990-3755.

Below is a more extensive set of Vancouver photos from February 13-17, 2014:

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2014 spring road trip to Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, California

From March 15 to April 9, 2014, my wife Carol and I drove our VW Eurovan Camper from Seattle to Texas (6000-mile loop), gathering images in great parks in Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Texas and California.

Favorites (from March 15 to April 9, 2014 road trip)

Click here for a more extensive gallery of All Photos from our March 15 to April 9, 2014 road trip in my Portfolio (where you can Add images to your Cart for purchase).

The following related articles consolidate our multiple trips by state:

My photo galleries consolidate multiple trips into labeled geographic areas.

USA: Oregon: John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

From a trip on March 15-16, 2014, we show photos of Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, including Painted Hills Unit and Sheep Rock Unit (Blue Basin Overlook Trail):

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Photo favorites of 2014 spring trip from Seattle to Texas via Oregon

The above John Day Fossil Beds images are from our 6000-mile trip from March 15 to April 9, 2014, where my wife Carol and I drove our VW Eurovan Camper from Seattle to Texas and back, visiting some great parks in Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Texas and California. That trip produced these favorite photos:

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Oregon favorite images (consolidated from many trips)

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Recommended Oregon guidebooks from

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USA: Texas

In spring 2014, Carol and I visited a variety of sights in Texas, USA, and captured the following photo galleries:

  1. USA: Texas favorites
  2. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
  3. Caverns of Sonora
  4. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
  5. Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site
  6. San Antonio: the Alamo
  7. more photos

These Texas photos date from March 27-31 and April 2-3, 2014.

See also:

1. USA: Texas favorites

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2. Guadalupe Mountains National Park

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3. Caverns of Sonora

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4. Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

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5. Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site

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6. San Antonio: the Alamo

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7. more photos of Texas

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Recommended Texas guidebooks from

Search at this link for latest Texas travel books at (look for updates every 1-3 years).

USA: New Mexico

In March 2014, Carol and I visited photogenic sights in New Mexico to capture the following evocative image galleries:

  1. New Mexico favorite images
  2. Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  3. Chaco Culture National Historical Park
  4. Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, fascinating eroded badlands
  5. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
  6. Petroglyph National Monument near Albuquerque
  7. VLA: Very Large Array radio telescope
  8. White Sands National Monument

…on our 2014 spring road trip to Oregon, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, California: March 15-April 9, 2014. My Southwest USA states articles include: Arizona, ColoradoNevada, Utah plus Texas.

1. New Mexico favorite images

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2. Carlsbad Caverns National Park

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Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the wonderful Carlsbad Caverns National Park can be found in the Guadalupe Mountains and Chihuahuan Desert of southeast New Mexico. Hike in on your own via the natural entrance or take an elevator from the visitor center. Geology: 4 to 6 million years ago, an acid bath in the water table slowly dissolved the underground rooms of Carlsbad Caverns, which then drained along with the uplift of the Guadalupe Mountains. The Guadalupe Mountains are the uplifted part of the ancient Capitan Reef which thrived along the edge of an inland sea more than 250 million years ago during Permian time. Carlsbad Caverns National Park protects part of the Capitan Reef, one of the best-preserved, exposed Permian-age fossil reefs in the world. The park’s magnificent speleothems (cave formations) are due to rain and snowmelt soaking through soil and limestone rock, dripping into a cave, evaporating and depositing dissolved minerals. Drip-by-drip, over the past million years or so, Carlsbad Cavern has slowly been decorating itself. The slowest drips tend to stay on the ceiling (as stalactites, soda straws, draperies, ribbons or curtains). The faster drips are more likely to decorate the floor (with stalagmites, totem poles, flowstone, rim stone dams, lily pads, shelves, and cave pools). Today, due to the dry desert climate, few speleothems inside any Guadalupe Mountains caves are wet enough to actively grow. Most speleothems inside Carlsbad Cavern would have been much more active during the last ice age-up to around 10,000 years ago, but are now mostly inactive.

3. Chaco Culture National Historical Park

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Chaco Culture NHP hosts the densest and most exceptional concentration of pueblos in the American Southwest and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located in remote northwestern New Mexico, between Albuquerque and Farmington, USA. From 850 AD to 1250 AD, Chaco Canyon advanced then declined as a major center of culture for the Ancient Pueblo Peoples. Chacoans quarried sandstone blocks and hauled timber from great distances, assembling fifteen major complexes that remained the largest buildings in North America until the 1800s. Climate change may have led to its abandonment, beginning with a 50-year drought starting in 1130.

4. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

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See fantastic hoodoos and a great slot canyon in Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, in New Mexico, USA. Hike the easy Cave Loop Trail plus Slot Canyon Trail side trip (3 miles round trip), 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe, on the Pajarito Plateau. Distinctive cone-shaped caprocks protect soft pumice and tuff beneath. Geologically, the Tent Rocks are made of Peralta Tuff, formed from volcanic ash, pumice, and pyroclastic debris deposited over 1000 feet thick from the Jemez Volcanic Field, 7 million years ago. Kasha-Katuwe means “white cliffs” in the Pueblo language Keresan.

5. Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness

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Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness is south of Farmington, in San Juan County, New Mexico, USA. This fantasy world of strange rock formations is made of interbedded sandstone, shale, mudstone, coal, and silt. These rock layers have weathered into eerie hoodoos (pinnacles, spires, and cap rocks). This was once a riverine delta west of an ancient sea, the Western Interior Seaway, which covered much of New Mexico 70 million years ago. Swamps built up organic material which became beds of lignite. Water disappeared and left behind a 1400-foot (430 m) layer of jumbled sandstone, mudstone, shale, and coal. The ancient sedimentary deposits were uplifted with the rest of the Colorado Plateau, starting about 25 million years ago. Waters of the last ice age eroded the hoodoos now visible. The high desert widerness of Bisti is managed by the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

6. Petroglyph National Monument

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Ancestral Puebloan people chipped various figures into the desert varnish (oxidized surface) of 200,000-year-old volcanic basalt rock, here in Boca Negra Canyon, in Petroglyph National Monument, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA. Archeologists estimate the 23,000 petroglyphs in the monument were created between 1000 BC and AD 1700.

7. VLA: Very Large Array radio telescope

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The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) is one of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories, active 24 hours per day. Visit the VLA on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, between the towns of Magdalena and Datil, in New Mexico, USA. US Route 60 passes through the scientific complex, which welcomes visitors. The VLA is a set of 27 movable radio antennas on tracks in a Y-shape. Each antenna is 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter. The data from the antennas is combined electronically to give the resolution of an antenna 36km (22 miles) across, with the sensitivity of a dish 130 meters (422 feet) in diameter. After being built 1973-1980, the VLA’s electronics and software were significantly upgraded from 2001-2012 by at least an order of magnitude in both sensitivity and radio-frequency coverage. The VLA is a component of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). Astronomers using the VLA have made key observations of black holes and protoplanetary disks around young stars, discovered magnetic filaments and traced complex gas motions at the Milky Way’s center, probed the Universe’s cosmological parameters, and provided new knowledge about interstellar radio emission. The VLA was prominently featured in the 1997 film “Contact,” a classic science fiction drama film adapted from the Carl Sagan novel, with Jodie Foster portraying the film’s protagonist, Dr. Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway, a SETI scientist who finds strong evidence of extraterrestrial life.

8. White Sands National Monument

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White Sands National Monument preserves one of the world’s great natural wonders – the glistening white sands of New Mexico. Here in the northern Chihuahuan Desert rises the largest gypsum dune field in the world. Visit the park 16 miles southwest of Alamogordo, in New Mexico, USA. White Sands National Monument preserves 40% of the gpysum dune field, the remainder of which is on White Sands Missile Range and military land closed to the public. Geology: The park’s gypsum was originally deposited at the bottom of a shallow sea that covered this area 250 million years ago. Eventually turned into stone, these gypsum-bearing marine deposits were uplifted into a giant dome 70 million years ago when the Rocky Mountains were formed. Beginning 10 million years ago, the center of this dome began to collapse and create the Tularosa Basin. The remaining sides of the original dome now form the San Andres and Sacramento mountain ranges that ring the basin. The common mineral gypsum is rarely found in the form of sand because rain dissolves it in runoff which usually drains to the sea; but mountains enclose the Tularosa Basin and trap surface runoff. The pure gypsum (hydrous calcium sulfate) comes from ephemeral Lake Lucero (a playa), which is the remnant of ice-age Lake Otero (now mostly an alkali flat) in the western side of the park. Evaporating water (up to 80 inches per year) leaves behind selenite crystals which reach lengths of up to three feet (1 m)! Weathering breaks the selenite crystals into sand-size gypsum grains that are carried away by prevailing winds from the southwest, forming white dunes. Several types of small animals have evolved white coloration that camouflages them in the dazzling white desert; and various plants have specially adapted to shifting sands. Based on an application by two US Senators from New Mexico, UNESCO honored the monument on the Tentative List of World Heritage Sites in 2008.

Southwest USA favorites from Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada

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Separate state articles cover travel tips & photos for southwest USA and Texas:

Recommended New Mexico guidebooks from

Search at this link for latest New Mexico travel books at (look for updates every 1-3 years).

2004: 2012: 2012: 2010:

CANADA: Coast Range: Whistler Resort, Garibaldi, Joffre Lakes

Coast Range: Whistler Resort, Garibaldi & Joffre Lakes Provincial Parks

The Resort Municipality of Whistler is not only one of the most scenic ski areas in North America, but also hosts great summer hiking and mountain biking. Whistler has become a thriving center for year-round outdoor sports in the Coast Range of British Columbia, Canada. Hiking at Whistler is well worth the 10 hours round trip drive from Seattle, if you stay for a minimum of 3 nights — but allow extra traffic time for the slow border crossing between Canada and USA. (Read more about expedited entry / US Immigration.) Stay in a condominium or campground and hike the scenic trails featured below. The official visitors’ web site helpfully books lodging and provides hiking, mountain biking, and skiing maps. Nearby Garibaldi Lake is one of my favorite wilderness trips (day hike or backpack).

Photo gallery of Whistler Resort, Garibaldi Provincial Park, and Joffre Lakes Provincial Park

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The Peak 2 Peak Gondola connects Whistler Village Gondola with Solar Coaster Express on Blackcomb Mountain for sightseeing or skiing variety. Buy a season pass if using lifts more than 2 days. Built in 2008, Peak 2 Peak Gondola holds world records for the longest free span between ropeway towers (3.03 kilometers or 1.88 miles) and highest point above the ground (436 meters or 1430 feet).

I recommend the following hikes near Whistler:

  • On Whistler Mountain, hike the High Note Trail to views of turquoise Cheakamus Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park and onward to Harmony Lake, back to Whistler Village Gondola at Roundhouse Lodge (6 miles or 10k, with 2200 feet descent and 1000 feet ascent). Start the walk with a ride to the top of Whistler Peak Express Chairlift, which is a short walk downhill from Roundhouse Lodge.
  • Hike the Overlord Trail on Blackcomb Mountain (2440 meters) for flowers and good views in the Spearhead Range across Fitzsimmons Valley. Starting from the top of Solar Coaster Express Chairlift on Blackcomb Mountain, walk round trip for 1 to 6 miles (2k to 10k), with up to 1700 feet of ascent, ending with a chairlift back down to Whistler Village.
  • Driving 25k south of Whistler, backpack 1 or 2 nights to turquoise Garibaldi Lake, hiking to Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk. Garibaldi Provincial Park is east of the Sea to Sky Highway (Route 99) between Squamish and Whistler in the Coast Range. A hiking loop to Garibaldi Lake via Taylor Meadows Campground is 11 miles (18k) round trip, with 3010 ft (850m) gain. Panorama Ridge is 6 miles (10k) RT with 2066 ft (630m) gain from either Taylor Meadows or Garibaldi Lake Campground (or 17 miles RT with 5100 ft gain from Rubble Creek parking lot).
  • Drive an hour on the main highway northeast from Whistler to Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, BC. A rough, rocky, steep hike of 10 kilometers round trip ascends (400 meters up) by a rushing stream to three beautiful turquoise lakes. The Lower, Middle, and Upper Joffre Lakes are colored by glacial silt which reflects green and blue sunlight. The road onwards to Lilloet is very scenic.
Global warming/climate change:

As of 2005, Overlord Glacier had retreated 880 meters from its terminus of year 1929. From the early 1700s to 2005, half (51%) of the glacial ice cover of Garibaldi Provincial Park melted away (Koch et al. 2008, The record of 1900s glacial fluctuations in Garibaldi Park is similar to that in southern Europe, South America, and New Zealand, suggesting a common, global climatic cause. Read more about global warming/climate change.

See related articles

Recommended Canada and Montana guidebooks from

Search for latest “Canada Rockies travel books” at Search for latest “Montana travel books” at

2003: 2011: 2010: 2010:

2012: 2011: 2011: 2010:

USA: LOUISIANA: Origins of Zydeco and Cajun Music

Origins of Zydeco and Cajun music

by Tom Dempsey, Seattle, Washington


My love for zydeco dancing inspired researching the history of zydeco music. I learned that over several generations, Acadians became “Cajuns” and the word “Creole” changed meaning several times. In rural isolation, the music of Creole and Cajun people evolved roughly in parallel until about the 1940s. After the end of World War II, rural Creole musicians of Southwest Louisiana adapted urban blues and jazz to their La La house party music and gave birth to what we now call zydeco. The roots of zydeco grow deep in the history of the various groups who have intermixed in Southwest Louisiana . . .

Acadian settlers were expelled.

Back in the early 1600s, French settlers immigrated to Acadia (present-day Nova Scotia, Canada), bringing with them old folk songs of medieval France. In 1755, they were expelled by the British. The Acadian settlers scattered across the world, and many regrouped in Southern Louisiana. Their brutal exile and frontier experience brought themes of death, loneliness, and ill-fated love to their music.

The Spanish governors of early Louisiana offered the Acadians choice land in the prairies of Southwest Louisiana, where most began raising cattle and subsistence crops. As the population of wealthier English-speakers grew, many Acadians retreated into the swamp and marsh areas of the Mississippi River Delta to eke out a living by fishing, logging cypress, and harvesting Spanish Moss (for use in bedding and insulation).

Spanish Moss

  • Spanish Moss is not really a moss, but a member of the pineapple family (bromeliads).
  • The Spanish called it “Frenchman’s wig,” while the French termed it “Spanish beard.”
  • Spanish moss is not a parasite, but lives off of air and water.

“Creole” changes definition.

In the early Louisiana settlements, the term “Creole” referred to people of French or Spanish parentage who were born in Louisiana. As the slave trade grew in the late 1700s, the word “Creole” referred to slaves born in the colonies (esclavos Criollos, in Spanish), versus those brought from Africa (esclavos Africanos). “Creole” also meant “homegrown, not imported.”

Many non-enslaved Creoles, light-skinned blacks, or mulattos formed an aristocratic society in New Orleans during the time of slavery. However, it was the isolated Creoles of the rural prairies of Southwest Louisiana who would later invent zydeco music in the 1940s.

Today, the nouns “Creole” and “Cajun” have the following common interpretations in Louisiana:

  • “Creole” usually refers to “a French-speaking black of Southwest Louisiana.” However, some whites also call themselves Creole. For example, some white Cajuns may call themselves “Creole” when speaking French, and may call themselves “a French person” when speaking English. Furthermore, “Creole” has different meanings outside of Louisiana.
  • “Cajun” commonly refers to “a usually French-speaking white who traces heritage back to Acadia and France.” However, some people having Afro-Caribbean heritage also call themselves Cajun.

Different people may have strong feelings around their chosen usage of the words “Creole” or “Cajun.” Intermixed heritage blurs any attempt at defining labels such as Creole, Cajun, black, or white. When you meet someone from South Louisiana, etiquette suggests that you find out what they call themselves before you call them Creole, Cajun, or any other label. For the sake of consistency, I use the most common meanings in the remainder of this article.

Gumbo, Gombo.

  • In West Africa, gombo refers to okra (the sticky green pod of the okra plant).
  • In Louisiana, gombo can refer to the okra-thickened soup or stew called gumbo, as well as to the name of the regional Creole spoken dialect, Gombo (or Gumbo).
  • French-speaking people of South Louisiana use the word gumbo to refer to okra when speaking French, but the soup called gumbo in English does not necessarily contain okra.

Acadian becomes “Cajun.”

Isolation, close family ties, and strong Catholic faith knit the Acadians into a tight cultural group whose style mixed with their close neighbors: Native Americans, Afro-Caribbean refugees from the West Indies, non-enslaved blacks, and various European immigrant groups. Isolated families had only themselves for entertainment, so most learned how to play musical instruments. Many Acadians made their own fiddles. The mostly-illiterate Acadians didn’t write down their French language, which necessitated passing on stories and legends through songs. The name “Acadian” slowly evolved into “Cajun.”

As the people of rural South Louisiana mixed, the “Cajun” musical style was shaped in important ways by Creoles, Native Americans, and others. In the late 1800s, German settlers introduced affordable accordions which were adopted by both Cajun and Creole musicians. Cajun and Creole musical styles at this time grew in parallel: mostly two-steps and waltzes meant for dancing, played by accordion and fiddle.

Internal and external influences on Creole and Cajun music.

Many black field workers prayed and gave thanks by singing, clapping their hands, and stomping their feet in a syncopated style called juré, which is an important root of zydeco music. By 1900, the juré songs merged with Creole and Cajun influences into a musical tradition called La La. Rural Creoles held musical house parties known as La La’s in prairie towns such as Opelousas, Eunice, and Mamou.

A Contemporary Anecdote

  • In 1995, I met a a Cajun craftsman, Johnny, at Acadian Village in Lafayette, Louisiana, USA.
  • As a child, Johnny was not allowed to speak French in school. He couldn’t even leave class for the bathroom unless he asked in English.
  • Over the course of his lifetime, public attitudes reversed towards speakers of Louisiana French. Ironically, his son could not graduate from high school without completing the four-year French requirement!


In 1928, phonograph companies began to record Cajun and Creole music to sell more record players. These early recordings melded French contredanses and Anglo-American jigs and reels with the syncopated rhythms and vocal improvisation of black Louisiana slaves and the wails of local Native Americans. “Ah-yeeeee! … Et toi!”

The inflow of oil workers and their love for country and western music began Americanizing Cajuns and Creoles. From about 1935 to 1950, Cajuns and Creoles replaced the accordion with fiddle and steel guitar, and added bass guitar and drums. After World War II, a yearning for “old time” music brought the accordion back to Southwest Louisiana, about the same time that rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll caught fire nationwide. Creole and Cajun musicians also influenced each other, for example Creole musicians Amade Ardoin and Canray Fontenot made essential contributions to Cajun music.

Cajun revival.

CODOFIL, the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, was founded in 1968 by the Louisiana state legislature. CODOFIL is empowered to “do any and all things necessary to accomplish the development, utilization, and preservation of the French language as found in Louisiana for the cultural, economic and touristic benefit of the state.”

In 1974, Lafayette began a Cajun music festival which expanded into the present-day Festivals Acadiens held every September.

The beginning of Zydeco.

In the late 1940s, Louisiana’s Creole musicians became inspired by the rhythm and blues and jazz played on radio and juke boxes, so they eliminated the fiddle and brought out the rubboard. From then on, the music of Creoles diverged from Cajun music. Rural Creoles combined La La with the blues and jazz of urban blacks to create the rollicking and syncopated sounds of zydeco.

History of the Rubboard 

  • The vest frottoir, or rubboard, helps drive and define the music of traditional rural zydeco bands in Southwest Louisiana.
  • Precursors to the rubboard evolved in Africa and the Caribbean in the form of a scraped animal jaw, a notched stick, and later, a washboard.
  • In the pre-zydeco 1930s, sheet metal was introduced to Louisiana for roofing and barn siding.
  • The first rubboard was created for Clifton Chenier’s brother, Cleveland, in the 1940s.


In 1954, Boozoo Chavis recorded the first modern zydeco song, “Paper in My Shoe,” a regional hit. Unfortunately, a royalty dispute provoked Chavis to leave the music industry.

After Chavis left, Clifton Chenier popularized songs such as “Les Haricots Sont Pas Salés” (“The snap beans aren’t salty”). This title was a common expression describing times hard enough to provide no salted meat to spice the beans. The French words for “the snap beans,” les haricots (pronounced “lay zarico”), became “le zydeco,” which named this new musical genre. Clifton Chenier reigned as the “King of Zydeco” with a career lasting 30 years, featuring a Grammy earned in 1984. By the time of his death in 1987, Chenier had brought zydeco to international attention.

Boozoo Chavis returned in the mid-1980s with a series of hits which helped ignite a zydeco revival that continues today. After the mid-1980s, both zydeco and Cajun music and dance burst into worldwide popularity.

Comparing contemporary Zydeco and Cajun music and dance.

The rubboard player often drives the energy of zydeco music by emphasizing strong, syncopated rhythms. Zydeco usually has no fiddle, and the music resonates with sounds from jazz, rhythm and blues, and more recently, hip hop. Cajun music, which usually has no rubboard, sounds closer to country music, often melodic and sweet. Cajun musicians tend to play two-steps and waltzes in alternation, whereas zydeco musicians play mostly two-steps, and few waltzes.

The distinctions between zydeco and Cajun music affect the dancing styles. Cajun jitterbug, with its many turns and unique broken-leg step, is smoother and more precise; but zydeco dancing is more soulful, as expressed through greater hip action. Small, crowded dance halls have kept zydeco dancers in place on the dance floor, rather than circling the room like Cajun dancers. Dancing in a tight space to the pulsing and syncopated zydeco beat promotes a bouncy, vertical style with few turns. In contrast, dancing around the room to melodic Cajun music encourages smooth, horizontal movements with more turns.

Dancing into the future.

When I danced in Richard’s Club near Lawtell, Louisiana in 1995, I noticed that older dancers danced zydeco more subtly. Younger folks danced zydeco more conspicuously, sometimes adding moves such as hip hop in the apart position, sometimes dropping their single held hand. One young couple gyrated with a flamboyant African style in the apart position. The hip hop variations spun off from the “New Zydeco” style, where they stepped on every beat and embellished with small kicks.

From Creole family dance halls in Southwest Louisiana, a two-step and a waltz evolved into the many styles of zydeco dancing found today across America. Traditional zydeco dancing is done subtly, smoothly and upright by couples in a closed position. But the “Boozoo Evolution” of the 1980s (named for Boozoo Chavis), made the dance bouncier, often open, bent-kneed, and lower to the ground. In the 1990s, the “Beau Jocque Revolution” added the flamboyant flavor of hip-hop. Zydeco dancing appears to be evolving from a couples dance towards individual free-style.

Just as the dancing styles change over time, zydeco (and Cajun) music continues to evolve as musicians tour the world and absorb new influences. This vibrant music will assuredly thrive as we dance in the new millennium.

— by Tom Dempsey, May 1996 — with books and link references updated on April 2012, below:

Recommended Cajun and Zydeco books and music:

Search for the latest “Louisiana travel books” on

2003: 1999: 1999:

Other research used to write this article:
  • Rounder Records (buy on (info on flyer for the 1995 “Red Hot Louisiana Music Tour”).
  • Tabasco home page:
  • Cajun Music and Zydeco, photographs by Philip Gould with an introduction by Barry Ancelet (Louisiana State University Press, 1992). Dance-hall sights. The sounds can be savored in a Rounder compact disc with the same title.
  • “What Is A Creole: One Creole’s Perspective” by Herman Fuselier, Creole journalist from Opelousas, LA, 1995.
  • What Is Zydeco?” by Herman Fuselier, 1995.
  • “What Is A Cajun: One Cajun’s Perspective” by Shane K. Bernard, a Cajun historian of Cajun culture and regional music, 1995.
  • The Times-Picayune newspaper, September 9, 1995: “Steppin’ Out” by Katheryn Krotzer-Laborde. The author quotes zydeco dance teacher Diana Polizo-Schlesinger comparing zydeco and Cajun music and dance.
  • Prairie Acadian Cultural Center, 250 W. Park Avenue, Eunice, LA 70535. Telephone (318) 457-8499.
  • Charles Cravins, from Zydeco Extravaganza.
  • “Music: Hot Off the Bayou”, by Michael Walsh with reporting by David E. Thigpen, Time Magazine, May 8, 1995.

USA: Idaho

In Idaho, hike the Sawtooth Mountains, explore gold mining history in Custer and “Land of the Yankee Fork” State Park, and admire rainbows glowing in the mist of Mesa Falls.

Idaho favorite photos:

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Sawtooth National Recreation Area

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The Sawtooth Range (part of the Rocky Mountains) are comprised of the pink granite of the 50 million year old Sawtooth batholith. Drive, day hike, and backpack to impressive peaks and pretty wilderness lakes. Park your car/RV at one of the campgrounds, and at sunrise, see peaks of Sawtooth Wilderness reflect in Little Redfish Lake or Pettit Lake.

Sawtooth Wilderness

Sawtooth Wilderness, managed by the US Forest Service within Sawtooth National Recreation Area, has some of the best air quality in the lower 48 states (says the US EPA).

Backpack or day hike to scenic El Capitan, Alice Lake, and Twin Lakes. The pyramidal peak of El Capitan (9846 feet or 3001 elevation) reflects in the outlet stream of Alice Lake (Pettit Lake Creek) in Sawtooth Wilderness.

Backpack or day hike 11.8 miles round trip to Baron Lakes viewpoint: From Redfish Lake Lodge ( take the earliest boat in the morning to Redfish Lake Inlet Transfer Camp, riding about 10 minutes. Hike 3.2 miles then turn right at the fork and begin climbing. At 4.2 miles see Alpine Lake, then switchback past three smaller lakes. At 5.9 miles, see the breathtaking view of Baron Lakes (Upper, Baron, and Little) and jagged points along the ridge of Warbonnet Peak (10,210 feet elevation). Optionally descend past the Upper Lake to reach the shore of Baron Lake at 7.9 miles one way.

Idaho history, ghost towns, Custer, Yankee Fork

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“Land of the Yankee Fork” State Park and Salmon-Challis National Forest Historic Area

Yankee Fork Gold Dredge operated from 1940-1952 near near Custer Historic Site, Idaho. This floating gold dredge chewed a wide swath of stream gravel leaving rocky dredge tailings along 5.5 miles of the Yankee Fork, a tributary of the Salmon River, near Stanley, Idaho. It recovered an estimated $1,037,322 in gold and silver at a cost of $1,076,100.

Explore the former gold mining town of Custer which dates from 1879-1910. Custer Historic Site now preserves this ghost town near Stanley. The city of Custer was named after General George Armstrong Custer, who was killed in battle in 1876. Custer is now part of the “Land of the Yankee Fork” State Park and Challis National Forest Historic Area. The past comes alive when you see old relics such as an ore stamping mill, old wooden rocking chair, plunge bath tub, gears of a hand cranked clothes washer, a foot cranked Singer sewing machine, lanterns, a wooden wagon (pictured in show).

The Sunbeam Dam, on the Salmon River, Idaho, was built in 1910 to make electricity for the Sunbeam Mine, which was abandoned in 1911 after bankruptcy. The dam and cliff were breached in 1934 to allow salmon and steelhead to migrate to their spawning beds.

Mesa Falls, North Fork of Snake River, in Caribou-Targhee National Forest

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Upper Mesa Falls plunges 114 feet over a 300 foot wide cliff face along Henrys Fork (also known as North Fork, a tributary of the Snake River) in Caribou-Targhee National Forest in southeastern Idaho. Turn off Highway 47 on the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway about 15 miles north of the city of Ashton. On sunny days from about 9 am until 1 pm, the mist from powerful Upper Mesa Falls creates a beautiful rainbow. The falls flow over Mesa Falls Tuff, which formed 1.3 million years ago. A cycle of rhyolitic volcanism from the Henrys Fork caldera depositing a thick layer of rock and ash which compressed and hardened over time. Between 200,000 and 600,000 years ago, the river eroded a wide canyon which was subsequently partly filled with basalt lava flows. The Henrys Fork of the Snake River carved a channel through the basalt to create today’s inner canyon.

See a more distant view of Lower Mesa Falls (65-foot plunge) along Henrys Fork from a roadside viewpoint, separate from the Upper Falls viewing area.

Recommended books for Idaho

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2011: 2010: 2007: 2008:
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CANADA: Bowron Lake Provincial Park story

“Pardon Me, I’ll Run to my Ambulance Now…”

A true story from Bowron Lake Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada. September 18-28, 1993.

Adventure travel sometimes takes an unexpected turn. While backpacking in Canada, I heard tales of a wonderful 73-mile canoe trip where you paddle a rectangular circuit of wilderness lakes and portage by rolling your canoe on wheels. Rugged mountains soar a vertical mile above you, mysterious mists hug the waters, and ravaging bears take your gear unless it is hung in caches reached by ladder. After dreaming about the trip for two years, I borrowed a canoe and joined some friends at Bowron Lake Provincial Park, near Quesnel, British Columbia. Little did I know that we would encounter an animal more fearsome than any bear. On the first day of the trip we witnessed a marriage proposal, a case of hypothermia, and a trip member running to catch his own ambulance!

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An Unexpected Phone Call

I planned to spend seven days canoeing the Bowron circuit with Mark and Kim, a married couple whom I knew through work. Kim’s friend Laura from the East Coast decided to join us. We chose to go in late September, when the summer crowds diminish and the leaves of the aspen trees glow gold.

A week before the trip, my phone rang. On the line was Dale, a stranger to me, calling from Oregon. (I’ve changed the name of Dale for this story, but all other details are true.) Laura was going to visit Dale for three days on her way to meet us in British Columbia. With enthusiasm, he asked if he could join our canoe trip, which would be a great break from his stressful high-tech job.

I chatted in a friendly manner, then questioned Dale closely about his outdoor experience. The Bowron canoe circuit requires paddling and camping in remote wilderness areas, a few days away from help. Dale said he was an experienced river rafter, triathlon athlete, and mountaineer. He had led climbs of several high mountains. Although he sounded a little manic and excitable, I felt that he might add positive energy to our group.

When he asked if Laura was my “blind date,” I said no, and he seemed relieved. Laura had never been his girlfriend, but he seemed interested in renewing a friendship with her. We spoke at length. Because I had initiated the trip, I had some power over who would go. Finally, I agreed that he could join us on our dream trip.

“This Guy Is Crazy!”

Mark, Kim, and I drove two cars from Seattle to the airport in Quesnel, British Columbia, which was just an hour’s drive from Bowron Lake. Dale and Laura arrived by plane. As she entered the baggage claim area, Laura was a little tired but in good spirits. Laura went in the car with Mark and Kim. Dale rode in my car. His eyes showed exhaustion, yet he pushed himself to stay awake. Last week on the phone he had spoken energetically, but now his voice was flat and devoid of emotion. I felt tense in this presence.

“Do you own a car?” I asked.

“No, but there’s a car in my driveway at home,” he said in an odd monotone, with a straight face. In the same mechanical monotone he asked, “Are you going to plant seeds?”

His question seemed out-of-context, and I was speechless. After a moment of thinking, I replied, “Oh, do you mean like when you toss an apple core into the wilderness, and it turns into an apple tree?”

Yes, that was what he meant. Something disturbs me about his flat, robot-like voice, I thought.

Despite his apparent exhaustion, Dale spoke with logic and intelligence. With more energy, he asked me if I wanted to climb a high mountain with him at some point during the trip. I said yes. He described his leadership experience, then questioned my abilities as trip leader. I said that I led informally by consensus and honored the opinions of those with the most experience.

“Would you be willing to risk your life to save someone else’s life?” Dale pressed.

I replied, “In an actual emergency, I probably would react by instinct without thinking. I would only risk my life if I had a reasonable chance of bringing myself back alive.”

My headlights pierced the pitch black night. I followed Mark and Kim’s red taillights as we drove the winding gravel road to Bowron Lake. Suddenly, the road forked ambiguously. Mark and Kim stopped their car and stepped out with Laura. Dale and I joined them.

“This guy is crazy!” I blurted, half-jokingly, towards Dale. Dale’s robot-like behavior was giving me the creeps. Dale didn’t react. To break the ice, we joked about being lost in the wilderness with Dale as an ax murderer. Dale cracked a small smile. Only Laura knew Dale, but she offered no unusual insights about the past three days she had spent with him in Oregon. Until this week, she hadn’t seen Dale in four years.

We chose the correct road and drove to our lakefront lodge to get some sleep. All five of us shared one cabin.

Wow, I thought, Dale has seriously disassociated himself from his feelings. I did not trust his ability to cooperate with the group. I lost several hours of sleep worrying about how I would handle seven days in the wilderness with Dale. Finally, I decided that stress and lack of sleep explained Dale’s unusual behavior. He would probably awake with the normal personality that I knew from our telephone conversation.

A Marriage Proposal

As I undressed to take my shower in the morning, I heard a knock at the bathroom door. I wrapped a towel around my waist and opened the door. Dale addressed me on his knees.

“May I please have Laura’s hand in marriage?” Dale asked seriously.

I laughed and said, “Sure, but you’ll need to ask Laura.”

Maybe Dale normally spoke in this style of deadpan humor. Only Laura knew Dale’s personality. I trusted her to tell us if Dale was unfit for canoeing 70 miles in the wilderness.

Mark told me later that Dale had rustled loudly through several packs in the wee hours of the morning as others slept. Dale had apparently eaten an apple and then planted its seeds outdoors in the frosty ground. Mark found this behavior rather strange, because apple seeds would never germinate in this cold climate. I agreed. But then I silently forgave Dale, because for him, planting seeds in the wilderness might be symbolic, like placing flowers on a grave.

Rays of sun pierced the morning fog and illuminated the golden aspen trees, which reflected in the expanse of beautiful Bowron Lake.

As we ordered breakfast at the lodge, Dale asked the waitress, “Do you need any help in the kitchen?” The waitress looked at him quizzically. She silently shook her head and returned to the kitchen.

With mingled fear and excitement, our group discussed the coming trip. When Dale asked if anyone knew water life-saving skills, I said yes. I said that if anyone fell into the water of these lakes, within five minutes they would lose most of their strength. This happened to me in a limb-numbing practice swim from a raft in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. The Glen Canyon Dam releases the Colorado River into the Grand Canyon at 46 degrees Fahrenheit, which is very cold. The lakes of Bowron Lake Provincial Park are even colder. Not surprisingly, hypothermia poses the greatest danger on the Bowron circuit. We agreed to keep within voice distance at all times during the trip.

We repacked gear for the canoe trip. “Is that your pack?” I asked Dale, pointing to his pack. “That’s not my pack. That’s a pack” he corrected.

This smart-aleck behavior could get out of hand, I thought. I felt oddly fearful.

“Your Friend Is Naked”

The lodge’s van carried our boats and gear to the trail head. Sun filtered through the aspen trees and warmed the air pleasantly.

We strapped our canoes onto rented carts for wheeling a mile to the first lake of the Bowron circuit. However, Dale seemed confused. He kept trying to wheel his single-man canoe to the lake visible below instead of up the trail. We had to redirect him twice. Once he found the right trail, Dale ran far ahead, contrary to our agreement to stay within shouting distance.

We arrived at the crystal-clear, inviting lake outlet, which twisted through a reedy marsh surrounded by pine trees. The sun forced steam from the still surface of the outlet channel. But we saw no trace of Dale or his canoe. I confided to Mark, “This is really getting out of hand.” Despite the beautiful surroundings, my mood soured from distrust of Dale’s behavior.

A canoe approached around a small bend. A concerned woman in the canoe said, “Just around the corner, your friend is naked and neck-deep in water. His wet clothes are in the boat. He says he’s meditating, but he acts a little strangely. What should we do?”.

“We’ll be right there,” said Mark, as we hastened to detach the wheeled carts from our canoes.

A few minutes later, the woman returned by canoe and said, “Your friend has stopped shivering and no longer replies. We’re getting very concerned for him.” By then, Mark and Kim were paddling madly around the corner.

By this time, Dale may have been in the icy cold water for 25 minutes. As Mark and Kim approached him, Dale instinctively reached out of the water and grabbed their canoe, almost capsizing them. His bluish body clung to their canoe as they paddled to shore. They helped the tall, now-shivering Dale to shore, and Kim wrapped him with a silver space blanket. Laura (clothed) joined Dale in a sleeping bag to help warm him. I heated some hot water on a stove to help revive him.

Mark and I privately shared anger at Dale’s irresponsible behavior. Kim ran back to the ranger station and ordered an ambulance, as suggested by Mark.

Reborn in Wilderness Waters

After an hour, we were able to revive Dale from the depths of hypothermia. He finally stopped shivering. Eventually he crawled out of the sleeping bag shared with Laura. “Here, Dale, put on another coat,” said Kim.

He shook his head, then said in a childlike voice, “I don’t need clothing. All I need is a compass and a wife.” Dale’s simplicity struck a chord in me: I was also single, and looking for a sense of direction as symbolized by the compass. From the book Fire in the Belly by Sam Keen, I remembered two fundamental questions that a man must ask himself: first, where am I going, and second, who will go with me? Dale lifted and fondled the compass that hung from a string around his neck, and said softly, “A man drowned here today. I’m reborn.”

“No, Dale, no one drowned here today,” I said. Although still suffering from hypothermia and shock, he had now returned to his robot-like personality. He followed our instructions and allowed us to paddle him back to the start.

We felt fortunate that Dale had not chosen to pull this stunt in the middle of the trip, days away from help. As a confident swimmer and triathlete, perhaps he didn’t really believe my saying that in these lakes, hypothermia can hit you after only five minutes of immersion.

Dale’s eyes darted furtively. Suddenly he sprinted down the trail. I shouted, “Wait Dale, we’ll first need your life jacket back.” My voice stopped him in his tracks, and he obediently returned the life jacket. To prevent him from retreating further into himself, I engaged him to help put his one-man canoe on wheels for return to the lodge.

Dale jogged with Laura a mile to the waiting ambulance. How strange, I thought, here is a man running to catch his own ambulance! Later we learned that Dale spent three days in the hospital under observation. His parents flew across the continent especially to care for him. After his recovery, he thanked us for saving his life. He left thank-you letters on our cars parked at Bowron Lake and phoned us after the trip. In his letter, he confessed difficulty in pulling himself out of the cold water and thick mud. “I’m surprised how fast hypothermia sets in and how much shock it put me in after my body was warmed back up,” he said. “I am very disappointed that I shook you guys up and hope you will forgive my foolishness.”

Power Rangers

Laura’s return flight restricted us to finish the Bowron circuit by a certain date. Unfortunately, Dale’s flirtation with hypothermia cost us a day. Our group, minus Dale, athletically paddled the loop for six days, instead of the seven days originally planned. For greater enjoyment, I recommend taking eight or more days. Luckily, a tailwind pushed us most of the trip.

Canoeing the Bowron loop turned out to be safer than I had expected. We shared our wilderness experience with about six other canoes per day. Rangers in powerboats patrolled each lake about once a day. A ranger had taken less than half a day to travel 30 miles around the lake system on foot and by powerboat to help us with Dale. However, by then we had already sent Dale away in the ambulance. I thanked the ranger for his valiant efforts. “I’ve seen a number of disassociated people like Dale come to this park in the past,” he said.

Walking on Water

We paddled fifteen long miles across “L”-shaped Isaac Lake. I paddled the “J”-stroke thousands of times to propel the canoe straight. Once or twice a day we reshuffled gear and mounted the canoes onto handy bicycle-wheeled carts for overland portaging. We wheeled the canoes for only 5 miles of the 73-mile circuit. As darkness fell each evening, we had just enough time to set up tents and cook a tasty dinner before admiring the starry sky. As a nightly ritual, we climbed high ladders to pile our food in bear-proof caches provided in the designated campgrounds.

We shot the whitewater chute of Isaac River, and successfully negotiated the snags of Cariboo River. Fresh snow dusted the Needle Point Ridge a mile above Lanezi Lake. A small glacier clung to a mountain in the distance. In the middle of shallow Sandy Lake, we appeared to walk on water as we pulled our canoes to deeper channels. On the West side of the 70-mile loop, Spectacle Lakes reflected spectacular rows of golden aspen trees. Gradually the mountains receded into the distance, the warm sun shone, and lakes became calm as mirrors. A few days after our harrowing start, I began to relax. On the last day, in the final stretch back to the lodge, rain fell gently as we paddled across Bowron Lake.

For campfire entertainment during the trip, I enjoyed quoting from Dale: “Are you going to plant seeds? . . . A man drowned here today. . . . I’m reborn. . . . All I need is a compass and a wife.” I must credit Dale for enlivening my vacation memories. Perhaps he got all that he wanted out of his trip: a compass strung around his neck for a sense of direction, and a warm woman in his sleeping bag to help revive him. Along with Dale, I felt reborn in the wonderful wilderness waters of Bowron Lake Provincial Park.

Copyright 1993 by Tom Dempsey.

See also my related articles (with multiple trips consolidated):

Recommended Canada and Montana guidebooks from

Search for latest “Canada Rockies travel books” at

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2003: 2011: 2010: 2010:

2012: 2011: 2011: 2010:

CANADA: Bicycle Jasper to Banff on Icefields Parkway

In one of our most memorable trips, we bicycled from Jasper to Banff in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, camping with support vehicles (September 9-14, 2003). Complete planning details are shared below.

See Mount Athabasca (left, 3491 meters or 11,453 feet) from Icefields Parkway near Sunwapta Pass in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. This is part of the big Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site declared by UNESCO in 1984. (© Tom Dempsey /

Our four riders ages 45 to 66 were supported by Mom and Dad (in their 70s) driving two Volkswagon Eurovan Campers as sag wagons. Spreading the 187-mile bike tour over 5 days plus a rest day let us appreciate the great scenery with moderate effort. Our first day of biking finished in style with a relaxing soak in Miette Hot Springs, a favorite swimming pool with mountain views. In comparison, Banff Hot Springs has a great view but is more crowded and disappointingly lukewarm.

Self-organizing the bicycle tour saved money and allowed flexibility to ride on rain-free days. Rainy forecast for the first 2 days in Banff motivated a rainy car shuttle drive north to sunnier Jasper. We rode bikes two days, rested on a rainy day, then rode three more days, averaging 38 miles per riding day. Rain showers dampened half of one riding day.

Total elevation gain over 5 days from Jasper to Banff was 6800 feet, with 5600 feet downhill. The order of two trip legs were switched, bypassing snow falling at Sunwapta Pass (Leg 3) in favor of no precipitation at Bow Pass (Leg 4). This leg swap let us ride glorious Sunwapta Pass (Leg 3) on a beautiful sunny day speeding 2200 feet downhill over 43 miles (plus 1300 feet up). Good training made the hardest day (Leg 2) seem normal, climbing 2400 feet over 35 miles.

Columbia Icefield Visitor Center, Jasper National Park, Alberta, CANADA.

Dress warmly in moisture-wicking layers with waterproof breathable rain jacket. Use rain-proof booties, or cheap plastic bags between socks and shoes, in case of wind chill or rainy days. Cell phones may have no coverage in the middle 100 miles of the ride. Use walkie-talkies (with at least 5+ mile range) for communication between spread-out cyclists and support vehicles. The radios improved morale and prevented logistics problems, such as when a car key was misplaced, then replaced, with the help of radio communication.

Photo gallery of Jasper, Banff, Yoho, and Kootenay National Parks, in the Canadian Rocky Mountains

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Planning details for bicycling from Jasper to Banff

We bicycled 187 miles from Jasper to Banff, from campsite to campsite, September 9-14, 2003.

Five bicycling days/legs from Jasper to Banff (north to south)

  • Leg 1: 32 miles (1300 feet up, 300 down)
    • From: Whistlers Campground (hot showers, Dump Station, open through 10/13/03, 3500 feet elev) (2 miles from town of Jasper).
    • To: Honeymoon Lake Campground (no showers; open until 10/13/03; 4300 feet elev).
  • Leg 2: 35 miles (2400 feet up, 200 down) Sunwapta Pass (6676 ft elev)
    • To: Columbia Icefield Campground (or adjacent Wilcox Creek Campground, DS, no showers; open through 9/22/03; 6600 feet elevation).
    • We added a rest/rain day after the first two days of riding.
  • Leg 3: 43 miles (1600 feet up, 2200 feet down)
    • To: Waterfowl Lakes Campground (no showers, open through 9/28/03). My favorite day, a speedy descent on a sunny day through gorgeous river and mountain scenery.
  • Leg 4: 39 miles (1100 feet up, 2000 feet down)
    • Bow Pass, 6785 feet, is the highest elevation on the Icefields Parkway. The steepest ascent on Bow Pass climbs 800 feet in 3.5 miles, not too bad. A side trip to Peyto Lake viewpoint is highly recommended.
    • To: Lake Louise Campground (5100 ft, hot showers, DS) Carol’s favorite day, a moderate climb followed by a fun, long 2000-foot descent to Lake Louise.
  • Leg 5: 38 miles (400 feet up, 900 feet down)
    • To: Banff: Tunnel Mountain Village I Campground (4700 feet elev, open year around)
    • We completed our bicycle ride just in time (September 14, 2003), because snow fell that night and days after!

Bicyclists commonly ride the Icefields Parkway in either direction. The southward road climbs 6800 feet total, with 5600 feet downhill. Although the net uphill is 1200 feet, you avoid climbing the long, narrow-shouldered, steep hill northwards up to Sunwapta Pass.

If you reverse the above five-day route, pedaling from Banff to Jasper makes nice moderate rides between the same campgrounds and climbs less, with only 5600 feet total gain and 6800 feet total down. Optionally shorten the trip to four days by combining Legs 1 and 2 into one day of 67 miles climbing 500 feet and descending an exhilarating 3700 feet.


Break up the long drive from Seattle to the Canadian Rockies with an overnight stay near Salmon Arm or Revelstoke, BC:

  • Campground with hot tub and pool, 1-877-836-3988, Sicamous, BC is 400 miles from Seattle.

Campsites are mostly first come first served in Banff and Jasper National Parks. Checkout time is 11:00am. Check latest info at:

Reservations are accepted for the following campgrounds at, or phone 1-877-737-3783:

  • Jasper NP: Whistlers, Wapiti, and Pocahontas (near Miette Hot Springs)
  • Banff NP: Lake Louise Tent Campground and separate Trailer Campground, and Banff Tunnel Mountain #1 and #2.
  • Robson Meadows Campground, Mt Robson Provincial Park

Each morning, our support vehicles drove ahead to secure our next campsite without reservations and had no problem getting a site between 9:00am and noon in September 2003.

Hot Showers

  • Banff NP: Banff Tunnel Mountain Village (plus Banff Upper Hot Springs nearby), Two Jack Lakeside, Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise.
  • Jasper NP: The Whistlers Campground (closes mid October), Wapiti Campground (closes in early September), and Miette Hot Springs (day use).
  • The campgrounds from Waterfowl Lakes through Honeymoon Lake have no hot showers. Alternatives: sponge baths, or drive to showers or hot springs.

RV Dump Stations (DS): In Banff NP: Tunnel Mountain, Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, & Waterfowl Lakes campgrounds. In Jasper NP: Wilcox Creek, Whistlers, Wapiti Campground.

Food: buy groceries in Banff, Castle Junction, Lake Louise (more expensive), Saskatchewan Crossing (small grocery & restaurant), or Jasper. Our bikers carried their snacks, water and lunch each day. Restaurants are available at Vermilion Crossing and Sunwapta Falls.

A glacier bus dwarfs a bicyle at Columbia Icefield Visitor Center in Jasper National Park, CANADA.

Easy hikes and good side trips to supplement a bicycle trip:

  • Jasper National Park:
    • Miette Hot Springs: Soak in the hottest springs in the Rockies, a clean swimming pool with a good view of Ashlar Ridge. Drive 1 hour from Jasper. 8:30 am – 10:30 pm summer hours.
    • The Whistlers Tramway whisks you up to high views of the Victoria Cross and Colin Ranges rising across the broad Athabaska River Valley.
    • Lower Maligne Canyon: Walk above a scenic slot canyon and gorge.
    • Mount Edith Cavell: Hike 2-5 miles to see spectacular Angel Glacier and Cavell Pond.
    • Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls: Easy stroll.
    • Columbia Icefield Visitors Centre: SnoCoach ride ~$30 on Columbia Icefield.
      • Wilcox Pass: 5 miles round trip, 1082 feet gain (7,790 feet max elevation). Start at Wilcox Creek Campround, 1.2 miles east of Icefield Centre.
      • Parker’s Ridge (7200ft elev; marked trailhead in Banff NP, 5 miles south of Icefield Centre): Walk 3 miles round trip, 910 ft gain, great view of Saskatchewan Glacier.
      • Nigel Pass hike.
  • Banff National Park:
    • Lake Louise area
      • Join the crowds at Fairmont Chateau admiring Lake Louise, Mount Victoria, and Mount Temple.
      • Moraine Lake is a hilly side trip on a narrow road with high traffic. Park early to avoid crowds and filled lot. Cross the outlet stream and ascend the little hill trail for a stunning view across the turquoise lake reflecting the Valley of the Ten Peaks.
    • Johnston Canyon: Start early in the morning (or off season) to get ahead of busloads of hikers on this deservedly popular trail. Easily walk 1 to 7 miles, 300-800 feet gain, through an attractive gorge with waterfalls. Only walk further to the Ink Pots if you want more exercise.
    • Herbert Lake and Bow Lake reflect peaks spectacularly on a windless day.
    • Peyto Lake overlook: Walk a short distance to see a spectacular turquoise lake and Bow Pass.

Read the longer article: CANADA: Canadian Rockies & Columbia Mountains parks, which covers hiking in more detail.

See also CANADA: Coast Range: Whistler Resort, Garibaldi & Joffre Lakes Provincial Parks

A bicyclist zooms down Icefields Parkway south of Sunwapta Pass in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

Recommended Jasper/Banff books and maps

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