Tuesday, 24 October 2017

A Sunday Drive, A National Park, and A New App

Big Horn Sheep enjoying a sunny morning in Radium
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I love trying out new apps and finding one that can help enhance our road trips takes it to the top of my list. I recently tried one of the Explora apps from Parks Canada on our drive home from the Okanagan Valley. Simple to use and available for free on Google Play and the App Store, this handy app is like your own personal tour guide, providing information as you follow along with one of the national park scenic drives.


I actually fell upon this app while enjoying breakfast at the Best Western in Invermere, B.C. as I was looking for not-to-miss stops on our drive through Kootenay National Park. It was super easy to install and I was able to load it on my phone at the hotel so no data needed except for your GPS location (a good thing since cell coverage in the parks can be a spotty thing.)


Leaving our hotel, EJ opened the app, chose our route (Radium to Banff NP) and a friendly voice explained the tour would begin in 9 kilometres (the tour begins 5 minutes before you enter the park and then uses your location to trigger each of the segments.) He thought that was pretty cool and tried to keep track of the distance. True to its word, as soon as we arrived in Radium and approached the park’s visitor centre, we were treated to some tips for what to see on our stop there from the Visitor Centre Supervisor, Brenda Danyluk. This was also our first chance to push the dice button on the app and do the quiz. The answer can be found in the visitor centre display. It's worth the stop.


After a short, visit we were back on the road with the app providing us directions to the park entrance. This was handy since all of the road construction made finding our turn-off a bit tricky. Heading out of town we drove by the "Home of a 1000 Faces". Home to the Radium Woodcarver, Rolf Heer, this quirky art studio, complete with life-size carvings and a herd of pet goats (they live on the roof of his house) is a popular tourist spot for families. (The affordable admission is cash only.)

Entering the park we passed through the amazing Sinclair Canyon. According to our tour guide, Ross, it is the "dramatic door to Kootenay National Park." I would have to agree but, unfortunately, I was unable to snap a picture since the parking lot that Ross directed us to was closed and full of construction vehicles.

Next spot on the tour is Radium Hot Springs. Listed on the Canadian Register of Historic Places, these pools (Canada's largest hot springs pool) have been enjoyed by families for over 50 years. The hot pool is my personal favorite but the cool (swimming) pool is nice for little ones (they rent bathing suits in case you forget yours.) The water here is amazing, without the sulphur smell you often associate with hot springs. (Note: There is a lot of construction in the area so best to check the website to ensure you are not disappointed on the day of your visit.)


Hearing the putt-putt-sputter sound of a Model T Ford, EJ was interested to hear what the road had been like “back in the day.” Imagining how tough it would have been to travel great distances in those old jalopies was a great jumping off point for his latest adventure. As luck would have it, a truck hauling a vintage Ford truck passed us during this section of the drive.

Ross advised a stop at the next turn-out for amazing views and photo opportunities and we weren’t dissapointed. The Kootenay Valley Viewpoint is spectacular and an amazing spot for EJ to practice the photography skills he is learning in the Techie Homeschool Mom's Photography Club. This roadside turnout is a popular place so I can imagine it getting pretty full in the height of summer travel season.


EJ trying out his skills

We could see the damage from wildfires on the mountainsides through Lightning Alley as we listened to a firefighter recount his experiences. Hearing from someone who had been in the fires brought it all to life. EJ was fascinated to hear how quickly the devastating flames had spread and what the fire crews had done to try to control them.


A panoramic view of an area of regrowth following devastating wildfires
Although there is no tour stop for it, there is a great roadside pullout, complete with bathrooms and picnic tables, where the kids (and big people) can get out of the vehicle and stretch their legs. There is a model of a wildlife underpass where they can pretend to be an elk wondering through to find his dinner or drive over the top as a big rig. Either way, they can burn off some steam, have a snack and be ready for the rest of the drive.

Our final stop before leaving Kootenay NP and entering the equally beautiful Banff NP was at the Continental Divide (it's the highest spot on the route and straddles the border between British Columbia and Alberta.) Here, we are asked the question, "If a bear peed here, which way would it flow?" (Ok, so maybe I prefer to wonder which oceans the rivers run into or when it rains which way does the water run but you get the idea.) EJ loves to watch for the spot where the river seems to run in opposite directions at the same time (we've crossed the Continental Divide many, many times.)


The Continental Divide
Throughout our drive, various parks staff shared stories of wildlife interactions. These stories are great reminders to respect the park and its furry inhabitants (yes, this means not stopping to take selfies with a bear!) There are also quizzes and insider tips to go along with several of the suggested stops. These are easy to access through buttons along the bottom of the screen. I really liked this set-up since EJ could manage our tour from the back seat. He loved reading the tips and instructions to us.

Overall, I thought this app was a lot of fun and educational too. It's full of stories and information on the park, its wildlife and things to do here (I didn't include all the stops at trailheads here but there are a few.) I'm looking forward to checking out some of the others available from Parks Canada in the near future.