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Here’s a great little trip you can take, especially to see the fall foliage in the Ozark Mountains, but also good in late spring or during the summer.  The Ozark Mountains in Arkansas beckon you.  I wrote once about Mountain View, a mountain music and crafts center mecca but this area is also great to visit.

Let me tell you a little about the Hot Springs area.  Everyone knows Bill Clinton was born in Hope but about 70 miles north nestled in the mountains is Hot Springs.  He moved there as a young man and I remember hearing stories of how his mother loved playing the ponies at the Hot Springs horse track.

But there are a lot of other things to do in this area known for its thermal springs and bath houses. The water that flows from the underground springs are believed to have healing abilities and were first discovered hundreds of years ago by Native Americans.

While here you may want to consider a sunset dinner cruise aboard the Belle of Hot Springs riverboat.   A visit through Hot Springs National Park is also a must. Then onto the opulently restored Fordyce Bathhouse on Bathhouse Row is a site to behold.  (this is also where the National Park has their Visitor Center).  Finally check out the Gangster Museum where you are transported back to the 20s, 30s and 40s when gambling and bootlegging coexisted with the warm mineral waters of this awesome little valley town.

Nestled in the foothills of the Ozarks, the quaint town of Van Buren offers a chance to step back in time by strolling through the beautifully restored Victorian Main Street.  Then you can climb aboard the Arkansas-Missouri Scenic Railroad. The turn of the century passenger cars with their elegant mahogany interior which was the norm in the golden age of rail travel, is fun to ride.

Since you are a hop skip and a jump away from Branson why not continue on to this music mecca.

An evening aboard the showboat Branson Belle with dinner and entertainment is a great end to a wonderful day.  This was the best tasting food I have ever had on a riverboat and the entertainment was good, too. Since you are in Branson, what else can you do?  Take in a show, of course.  There are morning shows, afternoon shows and evening shows.  Some of the shows you can take in are The Osmonds, The Million Dollar Quartet, Down Home Country, The Brett Family Show, the Clay Cooper Country Music Express, The Haygoods Show, and #1 Hits of the 60s and the 50s.

And if you enjoy these shows come back anytime in November and December to see their special Christmas shows.

So much to see and do in magical Arkansas.

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I have been doing tours in Colorado for years but for some reason have never been to Rocky Mountain National Park.  The park is only a 2 hour drive from Denver but it is to the north and we don’t usually go that direction.   However we have recently changed one of our tours to include this park and I was really excited to get a chance to visit.
A popular summer resort and the headquarters for Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park lies along the Big Thompson River. The town has a population of just over 6,000 and it’s elevation is 7,522 feet.
There is early evidence of Native Americans living in the area for hundreds of years. In the 1850s, the Arapaho spent summers camped around Mary’s Lake, where their rock fireplaces, tipi sites, and dance rings are still visible. They also built eagle traps atop Long’s Peak to get the war feathers coveted by all tribes.  They battled with the Apaches in the 1850s, and also fought with the Utes who came to the area to hunt bighorn sheep.
Whites probably came into the Estes Park valley before the 1850s as trappers, but did not stay long. The town is named after Missouri native Joel Estes, who founded the community in 1859. Estes moved his family there in 1863.
Griff Evans and his family came to Estes Park in 1867 to act as caretakers for the former Estes ranch. Recognizing the potential for tourism, he began building cabins to accommodate travelers. Soon it was known as the first dude ranch, with guides for hunting, fishing, and mountaineering.
In 1884, Enos Mills (1870-1922) left Kansas with his family and came to Estes Park, where his relative Rev. Elkanah Lamb lived. That move proved significant for the area because Mills became a naturalist and conservationist who devoted his life after 1909 to preserving nearly a thousand square miles of Colorado as Rocky Mountain National Park.
Mills was a sickly boy and he believed he gained strength form the pure mountain air.  He opened an inn and led many hikers through his beloved mountain range.  Between logging and a chance encounter with John Muir (the “Father of the National Parks”) after Muir died in 1914, Mills began lobbying Congress to save the land as a National Park. He succeeded and the park was dedicated in 1915.
Today, Estes Park’s outskirts include The Stanley Hotel, built in 1909. An example of Edwardian opulence, the building had Stephen King as a guest, inspiring him to change the locale for his novel The Shining from an amusement park to the Stanley’s fictional stand-in, the Overlook Hotel.
The town was also the site of the organization of the Credit Union National Association, an important milestone in the history of American credit unions.
Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved highway in the United States, runs from Estes Park westward through Rocky Mountain National Park, reaching Grand Lake over the continental divide.  It is a forty-eight mile road and you reach the summit where the Alpine Visitor Center is located at 12,183 feet.  Wow…talk about cold and windy but breathtaking.
The park is one of the most visited and with it’s location so close to Denver one can understand why.  There are 56 mountains over 14,000 feet in Colorado and as you travel through the park you can see Long’s Peak to the south; the northernmost “fourteener” as those mountains are called, at 14,259 feet.
One third of the park is above timberline and that makes sense with over seventy 12,000+ foot high peaks in the area.  As you drive the Trail Ridge Road the first stop is Horseshoe Park, full of wildlife, especially elk.  And the Bighorn Sheep feed regularly at Sheep Lake.
There are many places you can stop to hike or camp but just driving the road can also be exciting.  Once you get past timberline you can see the importance of this park in protecting the fragile alpine tundra, where trees can not grow due to such very harsh conditions.  Over three hundred very hardy alpine plants make up this area.  Twenty fiver percent of these plants can also be found in the arctic.  This is also a wildlife sanctuary for the many Bighorn sheep who are a symbol of the park.
After you reach the summit, the road descends to Grand Lake and the Colorado River.  The river starts in the park and if you travel on I-70 you can follow it to Grand Junction where it turns south to the Grand Canyon and beyond.
If you are interested in reading more about Colorado be sure and check my two part articles called “Colorado by Trains.”  Colorado is truly an exciting state to visit.  Although it is not known as “The Mountain State”–that title belongs to West Virginia–it is truly a wondrous mountain state.

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Last summer I did a tour of the Pacific coast from California to Tillamook, Oregon.  We stopped at two lighthouses but if you are traveling by auto it would be fun to see all nine of the surviving lighthouse stations since they have been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Seven of the lighthouses are available to visit during the summer months, many manned by volunteers.  Over two and one half million people stop each year at these extraordinary links to the past.
All of the structures have been unoccupied since modern technology took over in the 1960s which allowed for installing automated beacons.  The lighthouses are built on prominent headlands near major rivers where commercial fishing and shipping is prominent.
I will tell you a little about each one so if you cannot see them all, you can at least pick and choose which ones sound the most interesting.

Staring from just north of the California border the first one is Cape Blanco.

This lighthouse stands 256 feet above the ocean and is located nine miles north of Port Orford off of Highway 101.  It is the oldest standing lighthouse on the Oregon Coast.  It was commissioned in 1870 because of the gold discoveries and lumbering going on in the area.
Two miles north of Bandon in Bullards Beach State Park is the Coquilee River Lighthouse.  It was commissioned in 1896 to guide mariners across a dangerous bar.  It was decommissioned in 1939 but restored as an interpretive center in 1979.
Cape Arago Lighthouse is twelve miles south of Coos Bay and North Bend.  It stands 100 feet above the ocean on an inlet.  It is the newest of the lighthouses, illuminated in 1934 but is not opened to the public.  However if you visit, there is a very unique foghorn you might hear.
Next up is the Umpqua River Lighthouse located three miles south of Reedsport  above the entrance to Winchester Bay.  This is the second lighthouse on this spot.  The first one fell into the river four years after it was built in 1861.  This one sits sixty five feet above the ocean overlooking sand dunes.  It took 240,000 bricks to construct the lighthouse tower and if you mention this you will get a discount on the tour cost.
Heceta Head Lighthouse located twelve miles north of Florence has a sixty five foot tower that sits 205 feet above the ocean.  It was first illuminated in 1894 but today the beacon can be seen for twenty one miles, making it the brightest light on the Oregon Coast.  The lightkeepers house built in 1893 now operates as a bed and breakfast.

This lighthouse has been undergoing renovation since 2012 and is closed to the public but just below it is a wonderful beach with parking.  This is where I stop on the motor coach so everyone gets a chance to wade in the Pacific Ocean if so desired. Also it is very near the Sea Lion caves.  There is a charge to see the caves but it is a pretty awesome sight and worth the visit.
You can find two more lighthouses near the Newport area.  One is the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse and the other is the Yaquina Head Lighthouse.  The one on the bay is the second oldest lighthouse in the state.  It has a ninety three foot tower and stands 162 feet above sea level.  There are a lot of seabird nesting sites around this lighthouse and I also like to stop here when I can.
As you continue driving the Cape Meares Lighthouse is ten miles west of Tillamook and US Highway 101.  It stands 217 feet above sea level. This structure was first illuminated in 1890 and automated in 1963.  There is a trail that leads from the parking lot to the lighthouse and there are viewpoints people like to stand on to see sea lions or also for whale watching.
Finally the last one is the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse just south of Seaside.  It stands 133 feet above sea level on a rock islet.  Because it is exposed to fierce storm waves it was given the name “Terrible Tilly.”  There is no public access and was placed here just south of the Columbia River.  However it is visible in a nearby state park.
Even if you don’t get to one of the lighthouses, which would be a shame, just driving the Oregon Coast is an awesome experience.  At any turn in the road you can see waves pounding the shore or the giant monolith rocks that stand like sentinels in the water close to the shore.  It is a truly amazing sight to behold. To me this should be another great area to add to your bucket list.

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While traveling the Pacific Coast last summer we went inland to Portland, Oregon and then up I-5 towards Seattle.  On our journey we stopped in the Mount St. Helens area.
Mount St. Helens, 8364 feet high, is in the Cascade Mountain Range in southern Washington.  There are several volcanoes in this range with four alone in Washington State.
Up by the Canadian border, north of Seattle, is Mount Baker,  Next comes Mt. Rainier, a majestic mountain over 14,400 feet high.    Mt. Rainier is full of glaciers and if it blows, the catastrophe, because of the ice particles and amount of people living in the area, will be much worse than the Mt. St. Helens’ eruption.   Behind Rainier is Mt Adams.
When you fly into Seattle you can see all these volcanoes from the air.  And even if there is cloud cover the cones are always sticking out which is a rather surreal sight.
It is hard to believe that it has been over thirty-five years since the eruption.  It was May, 1980 when the mountain blew its top 1,313 feet off and much of the bulging north face.  In March, 2 months earlier, the mountain showed signs of waking up after a 123 year old sleep.  However many people did not believe something that catastrophic would develop.
But when it did, the mountain shot a plume of smoke and ash 80,000 feet into the air and caused a mile wide avalanche that raised Spirit Lake over 200 feet.  Although there was devastating destruction, scientists learned a lot, and that event even caused them to rethink how the Grand Canyon might have been formed.
In 1982 President Ronald Reagan named the region a National Monument.  The area is managed by the U.S. Forest Service with the roads only opened from the end of May until the end of September.
Five miles after you exit the interstate, you will come upon the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lake.  It opened in 1987, and is maintained by the Washington State Park System unlike the rest of the area.
The exhibits there include the area’s culture and history, as well as the natural history and geology of the volcano, and its eruption.  The Center had a gift shop, naturally.  But there is also a theater with an excellent overview film of the eruption and the way the region looked afterwards.
In the three years after the centered opened over one and a half million people stopped there on their way up the mountain.  Obviously it is a very popular place.
After stopping at the Visitor Center you begin the over fifty mile drive to The Johnston Ridge Observatory which is at the end of the road up the mountain. The exhibits there focus on the geologic history of the volcano, eyewitness accounts of the explosion, and the science of monitoring volcanic activity.
As you continue up the mountain you can stop at the Hoffstadt Bluffs Visitor Center, the Forest Learning Center, and various pull-offs where you get different views of the volcano.  There is another road that goes south and east around the volcano that you can take from Portland but there is no way to get to the Johnson Ridge Observatory since Spirit Lake is in the way.
But it is definitely worth the drive to Johnson Ridge.  There are ranger-led programs available every hour, as well as, a half-mile trail with views of the lava dome, crater, pumice plain, and landslide deposit.
There is also a totally awesome movie.  It tells the story of the eruption on a big screen with curtains on each side.  When the movie is over the screen is raised up and the curtains opened to big picture windows.  And right in your line of sight is the volcano.  You won’t soon forget the surprised reaction you feel, nor the gasps you can hear around the room as the volcano is revealed in front of everyone.
So if you find yourself in the Pacific Northwest in the summertime a trip to this volcano should definitely be on your bucket list.

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I recently did a tour up the coast of the Pacific Northwest and there is so much beauty in that area it inspired to write about a few of the wonderful sites I saw.  First up is the giant Redwoods of California.

Along the coast of Northern California is Redwood National Park as well as several Redwood State Parks.  Starting north of San Francisco as you go over the Golden Gate Bridge you will be astounded by Muir Woods.  As you walk through the grove of Redwoods over one hundred feet tall, you can’t help but marvel at the old growth forest

If you have been to Yosemite National Park, which I have written about in a previous article, the trees living there are the giant sequoias.  They are slightly shorter but more massive than the trees in Muir Woods and along the coast.

The trees in Muir Woods and as you travel up the California Coast are called Coast Redwoods.  These trees grow in the moist climate of this area with winter rains and summer fog.  They keep so much water in their trunks that even a fire won’t burn them down.

About 120 miles south of Crescent City, which is close to the Oregon border, is where all the Redwood Parks begin.  Coming from San Francisco the first park you enter is the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, the largest remaining old growth forest in the world.  This park has a road that parallels Highway 101 for 32 miles and is called “The Avenue of the Giants.”

If you have all day you can make many stops but if your time is limited I would recommend two stops.  A third stop you might want to consider is where you drive through a giant redwood tree.  I have never been able to do that because I always go through the area on a motor coach and it can’t fit through the tree.

A very important stop in this area is the Humboldt Interpretive and Welcome Center where Charles Kellogg’s “Travel Log” is on display.  Kellogg was a vaudeville performer who imitated bird songs.  He later campaigned for the protection of the California redwood forests.

Kellogg constructed a mobile home, called the “Travel Log”, out of a redwood tree, and drove it around the country to raise awareness of the plight of the California forests. Its maximum speed was 18 mph.  Looking at it you can just picture the man driving around in his log.

There is also a lot of other information about the redwoods at this visitor center and a short but very nice trail you can walk through just across the street.

I also like to make a stop at “The immortal Tree.”  It is so massive and has been hit with lightening and floods but just keeps on growing.  There is also a nice gift shop there where you can actually purchase Redwood products.  There are several other stops you may enjoy but with our limited time, these are the two stops I make.

Coast Redwoods are the tallest known tree species in the world.  They can average from 150-250 feet tall and some are even over 350 feet tall.  They can have diameters of 12-20 feet.  Sometimes it’s fun to take a picture of several people around one of these massive trees.  I not only do this to show the height but especially to see how many people it takes to form a ring around the tree.

These trees can live several hundred years with some even living over 2,000 years.  The bark can be over one foot thick and has resin making for a strong resistance to disease and fire.  However the shallow root system grows latterly rather than down so they are susceptible to high winds and flooding.

Lightening can cause the trees to hollow out and I stood in one once that was totally hollow but standing over 100 feet tall.  It was a very unique experience.

Redwood has a rich red bark and is easy to work with and resistant to rot.  With the lumber industry so important in this area it is amazing there are so many groves left today.  Thank goodness the state of California preserved these giant wonders by creating so many state parks.

So if you are ever out in San Francisco or anywhere in northern California take a detour up the coast to see these giant wonders. It will definitely be worth your while.

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With Fall just around the corner here is a great place to visit during that time of the year.
I was once playing a trivia game and the question was, “What state is called The Mountain State?”  Naturally I started thinking Wyoming or Colorado, but I was wrong.  The correct answer which shocked me was…West Virginia.
The state is nestled in the Appalachian Mountains which are the oldest mountain chain in North America.  Because of that you don’t see a lot of tall mountains.  The average is probably 3,000-5,000 feet with a few over 6,000.
But what makes West Virginia “The Mountain State”?   They say they have more mountains in their state than any other state east of the Mississippi.  This state has had its share of troubles from Civil War battles, mountain feuds, and coal mining labor disputes.
But today its scenic beauty, especially in the fall, has made it a haven for skiers, white-water rafters, hikers and anyone who loves the outdoors.  There are covered bridges, caves, and an extensive railway system that was once used for transporting lumber and now carries passengers who want to enjoy the state’s scenic wonders.
And that is the reason I am writing this article.  I wrote a previous piece on West Virginia Autumn Foliage and that is truly a wonderful time to visit the state.  But our new tour, with Mayflower Tours, runs both in the summer and fall.
The tour is called “West Virginia Mountain Rails and Trails” and you are treated to four different train rides in the state on this seven day adventure.  You fly into Pittsburgh which is another Eastern city that has made a turn around and is quite beautiful.
From there you transfer to your hotel in Morgantown.  We ride a prototype people mover around Don Knott’s hometown and see all the sights where he grew up.
Later that day we have dinner aboard the Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad.   This excursion follows the South Branch of the Potomac River through a scenic valley and steep mountains filled with evergreens.  You may even spot a bald eagle along this journey.
The next day is on to the Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area and later we board the Cass Scenic Railroad for a journey up the mountain to Whittaker Station and a logging camp.  Old steam Shay or Heisler locomotives, that once hauled the logging trains, will take us on this adventure.
The Greenbriar with the Bunker is one of my favorite places to visit.  This stop awaits us the next day.  I wrote about this place extensively in my other West Virginia article if you would like to read more about this stop.
We continue on to the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine where we travel underground in authentic mining cars.  The New River Gorge, one of America’s newest National Parks, is our next stop.  We even ride a covered jetboat on the river.
Finally our last day is full of adventure.  First up we ride the steam-powered Durbin Rocket along the Greenbriar River.  A Climax 1910 steam locomotive takes us on a 10 & ½ mile 2 hour journey with both scenic mountain, as well as river views.
Next up have a hobo lunch while we climb Cheat Mountain aboard the Salamander and finish the day with dinner at the Railyard Restaurant and ending with an evening of live entertainment at the American Mountain Theater.  At the theater we are treated to a mixture of country, gospel, bluegrass, pop, and patriotic music.
There is definitely a lot of adventure on this tour as well as scenic beauty that will take your breath away.  Whether you take an escorted tour or make up your own with Fall nearly here you may want to definitely consider visiting the “The Mountain State.”

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In Part 1 I talked about a recent tour to the province of Alberta in Canada with the highlight being the 103rd Calgary Stampede which takes place every year in July.  Dubbed “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” it is similar to our state
fairs.  It also includes a world famous rodeo where the toughest Wild West cowboys and cowgirls show off their skills.
When we arrived in Banff we were early enough to take the Gondola Ride to the
peak of Sulphur Mt.  When you reach the top you have panoramic views of the village and valley below.  We also made a stop at Bow Falls.
Bow Falls is a wide river waterfall situated in the backside of Banff.  We strolled along a walkway to see this waterfall which gave us views from above the falls as well as the rapids and cascades further upstream. Whenever we looked downstream from the falls we would see the river twisting its way before tall mountains including the oddly sloped Mt Rundle. If you remember the movie “The River of No Return” with Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum this is where the movie was filmed.
We spent two nights in Banff with an excursion the next day along the Icefields Parkway, North America’s most scenic highway. Each year millions of visitors come to Banff to marvel at the emerald waters of Lake Louise and drive beneath the towering jagged peaks lining the Icefields Parkway.  There are hundreds of breathtaking sights including a series of emerald-green alpine lakes fed by nearby glaciers. Pictures do not do justice to the awesome colors of these lakes.
Our first stop was the Columbia Icefield for a ride out onto the Athabasca Glacier in a specialized Snocoach.  The Athabasca Glacier is part of the Columbia Icefields, located at the Continental Divide.
The first time I visited the Icefield and living in a Northern state, driving and walking on infinite layers of ice did not seem like it would be that big of
a deal to me.  However as they began explaining about the definition of a glacier it became interesting.
To be considered a true glacier the ice has to be at least 25 acres wide and 100 feet deep.  And it has to move.  In this area we could see areas where the ice was over 400-500 feet thick.  When you realize what you are driving on, it makes the experience much more fascinating.   Some of the ice we travelled over was created by snow over 400 years old.
Being on the glacier, I felt like we were on the surface of the moon. The crevices and craters revealed beautiful streaks of electric blue.  When we got out I
filled my water bottle with water from the gurgling stream.  It was very crisp and refreshing and they claim very pure.
As we walked around, we had to watch out for the crevices and fissures.  You
definitely wouldn’t want to fall in.  The ice on the glacier is said to be as deep as the Eiffel Tower is high.  The first time I stood on the white-blue ancient ice of the Athabasca Glacier fulfilled a lifelong dream I never knew I had.
If you have a bucket list, you definitely want to put this experience on it. A word of warning:  I was here about five years previously and it is scary how much the ice has shrunk.  This is something you may want to see sooner rather than later.
Our next stop and another highlight was a visit to beautiful Lake Louise and its famous Chateau. The setting is one of the most picturesque in the Rockies with the hotel set against the backdrop of the deep emerald waters of the lake.  Staying here can be extremely costly but visiting and having “high tea” is a wonderful experience.
Chateau Lake Louise is a Fairmont Hotel on the eastern shore of Lake Louise.  The original Chateau was built in stages at the end of the 19th and the beginning
of the 20th century by the Canadian Pacific Railway.  It is a “kin” to its predecessor, the Banff Springs Hotel.
Just as Hill and the Great Northern Railway built the hotels and chalets in Glacier National Park to lure Easterners out to visit the park, the Canadian Pacific did the same thing in their Park.  If you see pictures of Chateau Lake Louise you will understand how stunning the place looks.
Lake Louise was named Lake of the Little Fishes by the First Nations and is a glacial lake.  It is located about three miles west of the Hamlet of Lake Louise and the Trans-Canada Highway 1.  The lake is named after Princess Louise
Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria.
As you look at the lake you can see the surrounding mountains reflected on the emerald green waters of this glacial fed lake.  It is truly a sight to behold.
I am not going to talk about Jasper in this article although that is another famous town in the area.  This tour I was on did not go there so I will
save that for a future article but that town is even more remote and animal sightings are common rather than rare.
We had free time the next morning in Banff before boarding our motorcoach for the one and half hour trip out of the Rockies and back to the Plains where Calgary is located.
We were headed to the Stampede.  From the chuck wagon races and bull riding to the music and the midway, the Stampede is an annual Calgary event not to be
missed. With over one million visitors per year, you can expect crowds at this
ten-day event.
The event is so popular that the city nicknamed itself “Stampede City” and, affectionately, “Cowtown”.   There’s a tournament-style rodeo with professional athletes; horse racing with a $1.15 million dollar prize; famous pop, country, and rock musicians; water shows; fireworks and rodeo games for all.
After checking into our hotel we headed to the GMC Rangeland Derby and  Grandstand Show. The Derby is the world’s premier chuckwagon racing event complete with 36 drivers, 288 horses and their teams of outriders vying for the over one million dollars in prize money. This is the Stampede’s most renowned event!
The Grandstand show at the end of the evening features the Volte. This stunning program includes a rock opera musical score and gravity defying sights as well as fireworks and performing black stallions.
Organized by thousands of volunteers and supported by civic leaders, the Calgary Stampede has grown into one of the world’s richest rodeos and one of Canada’s largest festivals.  It is a significant tourist attraction for the city. The rodeo and chuckwagon racing events are televised across Canada and you can even find American film stars sitting in the bleachers.
The next day we were free all day to explore the rodeo on our own.  We saw displays, attractions, and events including the Art and Lifestyle Showcase, nonstop entertainment on the Windsor of the West Stage, and many creative arts and crafts.  We also visited the Co-Op Kitchen Theater where some of the world’s top entertainers performed.
Finally our last day in Calgary arrived with the morning free to continue our exploration around the Stampede.  That afternoon we concluded our Stampede visit by experiencing the thrill of one of the world’s all-time greatest rodeos. The six major events we saw were Bareback and Bull Riding, Barrel Racing, Saddle Bronc, Steer Wrestling and Tie-Down Roping.  These events are the backbone of the Stampede Rodeo.
All too soon our time in the area was over.  That evening we boarded our motorcoach for the trip back to Lethridge and the next day we were once again on the Empire Builder headed back to Chicago.  The Canadian Rockies and Calgary Stampede…what an awesome adventure!

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