Seattle, Washington

We are on our homeward journey now from Vancouver to Los Angeles to catch our flight back to Australia. Arriving by train we had a much more pleasant experience than flying or even driving (no queues at the border). Feeling refreshed we were ready to hit up the Pike Place Market, home of the first Starbucks and the famous fish market where workers make a spectacle of the orders by throwing fish up to 5m to be caught and packaged for shipping.

In a nearby side street is the Market Theatre Bubblegum Wall, a sickly-sweet smelling alleyway where the wall is covered in pre-chewed gum. In some places its 5 to 10 cm thick. I keep a wary eye out so I don't trip and end up a permanent part of the attraction.

The Market Theatre Gum Wall. Yummo!

The market is bustling and full of character. Downstairs we met the second hand book seller who passes the time singing grandiose operas in his, rather good, bellowing voice. Nearby, Shan passes her time, and a quarter, peering into the Giant Show Museum. At least that only cost a quarter. Before leaving we went past the giant piggy bank and deposited a bunch of our change. Shan made someones day by giving him the rest when he asked for some change.

Food at the market was amazing. Seafood bisque, Ukrainian pastries, not to mention the countless little samples and tid-bits we found during our meandering. We returned to our 'US' rationing of buying one meal to share before migrating to the next taste sensation. We noticed a relative lull outside the worlds first Starbucks and decided to follow the crowd and grab a photo of our own. I still prefer the ones with gigabit wifi.

There is a monorail that provides easy travel from the market area out to the space needle. We hopped on and had a look around. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has its central administration nearby and the ground floor had an exhibit area that goes into detail explaining the different projects the charity is involved in. It was very well done, interesting exhibits that explain the projects while keeping you engaged, utilising technology in a way that harks back to their Microsoft heritage. That said, I left somewhat disappointed. Nearing the end of our travels I am looking toward my future. How can I go back to normal being normal? Do I want that? What will I do with my life? I had hoped I might find an answer here, the foundation is doing great work around the world but I didn't walk out with plans to head to a far flung part of the world to solve its problems. I will continue to look for inspiration.

Canada

I should start out by acknowledging I do a grave injustice to Canada by pooling our experience here into a single post. Canada is a land full of friendly people and natural beauty however we were here primarily to visit my brother who is currently working in Alberta. For this reason I did not get out for as many photos or hikes as usual. Absolutely nothing to do with the hungry bears.

Our course took us north from Yellowstone past Glacier National Park (sorry we didn't visit you Glacier, we had to leave ourselves a reason to come back to the US!) across the US-Canadian border and on to Calgary, Alberta. Here we couch surfed and caught up with family. In nearby Edmonton we visited the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village where there was a folk dancing festival with both local and international traditional dancers. There is a large Ukrainian heritage population in the surrounding area who started emigrating in the late 19th Century. 

Could *you* ballista a pop-tart into a giant toaster? It was harder than it looked.

We were also in Calgary during the Lilac Festival, an interesting event that has nothing to do with lilacs but takes up an entire street in the CBD with an array of stores and entertainment. It's in late May, just as the winter freeze has thawed out and tries to encourage people back into the sunshine. I was put in charge of a ballista and tasked with launching pop tarts at a toaster over at the Beakerhead stall.

North of Calgary we visited the West Edmonton Mall. This is an absolutely huge shopping centre with a full size replica of the Santa Maria, a large water park with wave pool and several water slides, an amusement park with a couple rollercoasters and other show rides. All this on top of over 800 stores and 100 food court cafes and restaurants. I was cut loose while Shannan and Mum went off shopping, each to return to the rendezvous point clutching armfuls of bags and sporting a limp. I tripped and fell in the Apple store and walked out with a brand new iPad mini, outspending them both in about 30 minutes. For the record, the low sales tax in Alberta (5%) makes it a good place to shop if you are in Canada. The shopping centre itself seemed a bit tired in parts. Some of it was under renovation while we were there and I hope a number of other areas are scheduled in the near future.

'Snow problem

Next we visited the Banff and Jasper National Parks. They were still defrosting while we were there, with the lakes partially frozen. Shannan and I threw pebbles onto one of the lakes that was slushy with ice. It sounded like breaking glass as the stone tinkered along the ice before sinking.

The lookout for Morraine Lake was still snowed in but we could walk the final distance on foot. This seemed easy enough until we realised that we could break the crust and fall in up to our waists. After much effort we were eventually rewarded with an overview of the frozen lake, cracks starting to form on its surface. Shannan was rewarded with a sore foot from losing her boot to one too many sinkholes.

Continuing across the country we stopped a few days at Shuswap Lake for a barbie in our lakefront cabin, cashing in on my brothers strategically placed Canadian connections.

Arriving in Vancouver we stayed in an apartment on Granville Island, it really is about who you know. Granville Island is an exciting place with cafes, art shops and a market that sold such varied food Shan and I felt a strong pang of envy for the regular visitors. I saw Wasabi root in its natural form for the first time and Shan spotted a range of thai ingredients that we've never seen in Perth which lend to authentic thai tastes. With no time to get down to making a nice green chicken curry we had to let that opportunity go. We got to (re)visit our adopted Canadian family who we'd first met in Cuba and have a yummy dinner and camp out by the backyard fire.

And just like that it was time to say goodbye to Canada and family as we boarded a train to the US. We have a flight to catch, even if we don't want to leave.

Train from Vancouver to Seattle, a pleasant way to cross the border.

Yellowstone National Park

Shan and I were both very excited to finally make it to Yellowstone. We had tried to visit it at the start of our trip, in fact it had determined the time we departed as we wanted to get here before the snow closed the roads. It was not to be and we tearfully continued on our journey after posing for a photo at the gates. Fate (and my parents) had now intervened so we could make a second pass.

Yellowstone is the region that inspired the concept of the National Park. The landscape so impressed the early Europeans who witnessed its sights they invented this new concept of protecting its natural beauty for future generations to enjoy. In 1872 Yellowstone National Park was legislated into existence.

Not everyone was happy with the concept of conservation. Animal poachers, souvenir hunters and developers threatened the park. The United States Cavalry was brought in to enforce the rules of law establishing Fort Yellowstone, a settlement that remains an administrative hub today. The Park Rangers were handed control of the park in 1918 and assumed the protective duties. It felt strange seeing Rangers armed with pistols and was interesting to learn the history of rougher times that accounts for this. Also, there are bears.

A mother Grizzly bear with her three cubs.

We saw many bears in Yellowstone. Spring is the time of year the mothers bring their cubs down from the hills to forage in the grasslands recently revealed by the retreating snow. The cubs are incredibly cute however there is always an air of caution as this is the time the mother bears are not only most protective and territorial but are especially hungry after hibernating all winter and giving birth.

Baby Bison were also out on display, looking slightly ungainly with their spindly legs and slightly too large head. Their lovely caramel coloured coats contrasted with the darker brown fur of the adults. Jackson, our bison stuffed toy, was gleefully thrust out the window by Shan in an attempt to lure the more inquisitive bison to investigate. Early one morning we entered a valley engulfed in thick mist, out of the mist a bison emerged, plodding along the highway. We pulled over to let him pass

People traversing the boardwalk that minimises damage to the geyser pools of the Grand Prismatic Spring.

Apart from the diverse wildlife Yellowstone offers an amazing array of volcanic features. The park itself is a super volcano, the last cataclysmic eruption occurring 640,000 years ago. It's not expected to erupt anytime soon but I couldn't help but think about it as I watched the geysers erupt and the ground bubble as it released sulphurous gas into the air.

The Grand Prismatic Spring

We stayed in West Yellowstone, a town that exists solely to service the 3 million visitors who enter the park each year. The season was just starting to ramp up, a few restaurants were still closed from winter time. I imagine the town must be pretty quiet in the colder months even though the park remains open to snow trekkers.

While driving we came across a lone Grizzly, already spotted by a bank of wildlife photographers with lenses that gave me lens envy. One brave guy ventured to the other side of the road. Even while shooting he looks braced to run. I can't blame him, this is a field where the person with the biggest zoom has the least chance of being eaten. Shannan's vantage point trades proximity for people closer to the bear than she is. A safe choice, looks like that investment in a pair of binoculars is paying off.

Grand Teton National Park

We failed to make it inside Grand Teton National Park on our first attempt, see Failing at National Parks. This time the government was functioning and the snow had (mostly) melted so we were in high spirits.

This fence runs next to an old, two room log cabin. The early settlers encountered some very trying situations but they did get rewarded with morning views like these.

The Grand Tetons are unusual in that they have no foothills to take away from their immense rise from the ground. With the winter snows melted away the bison are enjoying the easy grazing of the lowlands however we didn't see many other animals. It can still snow at this time of year and the food is not particularly plentiful yet.

We are now travelling with my parents who are on their way to visit my brother in Canada. Our accommodation is somewhat more sophisticated than the old 'tent on the mud' setup we had grown accustomed to. As a testament to our well honed travelling skills we didn't have too much trouble adapting.

Shannan has collected a friend for Smokey, Jackson the bison. It comes complete with sounds to attract the real thing to our car.

Yosemite revisited

Returning to California was supposed to be the beginning of the end of our journey. From Cayman we were booked to return to San Jose, catch up one last time with our friend and collect the suitcases we left in her keeping before flying back to Australia.

We were not done with travelling yet and the opportunity presented itself for us to extend for about a month, starting with a sneaky trip to revisit Yosemite National Park. As we arrive the park is just emerging from the winter snows and spring is in the air. The birds are chirping and the tourists are visiting.

I had plenty of time to pause for reflection while waiting, perched on a rock, for a particularly enthusiastic couple to get all the angles they needed for their new book.

We had planned to camp overnight in the valley. On arrival in the early afternoon we discovered the rest of California had decided it was a perfect weekend to do the same. We added our name to the (long) list on standby for a campsite with strict instructions to return at 3pm to see if we would have a place.

This gave us time to find a lovely spot away from the bustling crowd for a picnic. As an aside, it strikes me as odd how, across the US, picnic spots are put in the least scenic areas of carparks. It certainly makes it easier to carry your food to the table but misses the point as far as I'm concerned. 

Returning to see if we could stay the night we filed in with a crowd of other hopefuls. Names are called out for the reserve campsites. We are still a long way down the list when the last name is called. Even though we lucked out I am struck again how motivated and helpful the park rangers are. We have been to a fair number of National Parks in the US by now and we are yet to come across a Ranger who won't go out of their way to be helpful and seems to genuinely enjoy their job.

Making the most of the rest of the day we circle the valley before heading up higher to areas that were closed off due to snow on our previous visit. We made it to Glacier Point just as the light faded and had a glimpse of the spectacular waterfalls and the valley below. It was just enough to make sure I want to come back again. Maybe with some hikes next time...

You can see the post and photos of our original visit here: Yosemite National Park

p.s. We had said our teary goodbyes the night before with much 'you must visit us in Australia' and 'oh you're welcome back anytime's. Well we cashed in on the 'anytime' offer the following night after we were unable to find a campsite in Yosemite. So be warned if you invite us back after we've come to visit!