I spent my holiday season in the Canadian Rockies this year, and brought an Outdoor Ukulele Soprano Green with our Rye Rabbit Fluorocarbon strings. I also packed one spare set of strings since I would be out in the extreme cold.
I flew on Christmas day from Bend, Oregon to Calgary, Alberta, then drove to Innisfail, Alberta. We arrived mid-celebration, just in time to enjoyed a night of spiked hot cocoa, gifts, and karaoke.
We then spent a few days at the Salt Farm, where the temperatures were -4°F (-20°C). Despite the extreme conditions, we went sledding, cross country skiing, and played Catan (a popular board game) while warming up in front of a stone fireplace.
We then drove back to Calgary, and visited the Calgary ZooLights. Honestly, I was not prepared for negative temperatures. It was -13°F (-25°C) that night, and taking off my gloves to alternate camera lenses was brutal. Amazingly, the soprano ukulele stayed in tune the entire night.
Three days later, we traveled to Banff. I was overwhelmed by the Cascade Mountains. Colin booked the highest elevation hotel in Banff, the Inns of Banff, which gave us a panoramic view of the sculpted mountains (he knows how much I appreciate a golden sunrise!).
We woke early the next morning so we could enjoy a Tim Horton’s breakfast before driving to Johnston Canyon. I was equipped with a ski mask, two pairs of gloves, 3 cameras, and a tripod. We embarked on a frigid two mile hike in -22°F (-30°C) temperatures. We walked parallel to the canyon on icy catwalks bolted to the side of the cliff. They slowly rise in elevation, passing waterfalls encased in ice, with water still flowing deep beneath. The first, and perhaps most memorable spot, is at the lower falls, where the catwalk guides you across the canyon, and over a chilly blue plunge pool that precedes the largest wall of ice we came across. We crouched through a small natural tunnel and carefully made our way to the rocky outcrop that put us face to face with the falls. A torrent of water streamed behind the ice and landed in a small pool of water that was too turbulent to freeze.
The one thing I didn't prepare for, was my camera batteries freezing and the lenses icing over. After reaching the upper falls, we scrambled down the bank of the canyon, and found ourselves standing on the crest of a 20 foot frozen waterfall, with massive cliffs flanking us on either side. With temperatures so low, frostbite is a serious concern. By the time I was standing in frame to record a simple strumming video, my hands were already losing feeling and turning bright pink. See video clip here!
We ended the day by continuing up the highway for another 20 minutes toward iconic Lake Louise, where people were speckled across the entire frozen lake, skating and playing hockey. When we arrived, the sun had just set behind the towering mountains surrounding the lake, and the temperatures quickly plunged to -35°F (-37°C). I took a few quick photos before my camera batteries froze, then sprinted back to the car. I look forward to returning to Lake Louise next summer so I can take one of the canoes out for a paddle.
Remember how I said I brought a spare set of fluorocarbon strings? For the entire time we were in Banff, I either left my ukulele in the car at night or outside on the balcony, where the high temperatures were -22°F (-30°C). I only had to slightly tune the ukulele twice for 10 days and NEVER USED MY EXTRA SET OF STRINGS! I love the sound of my Rye Rabbit Fluorocarbon Strings, and having them hold up so well and stay in tune was a bonus.
For my last day in Canada, I spent the day cross country skiing in Kananaskis Country. We did a 5 mile loop that brought us up a long hill, and gave a beautiful view of the Kananaskis range of mountains. We warmed up afterwards in the lodge with some Bruschetta and hot tea.
I said a sad goodbye to the mountains after 10 beautiful days in Alberta, and headed home to Bend, Oregon. I love Canada, and I can't wait to plan my next trip in the True North. Perhaps I will see the northern lights next time!
A big thanks to Danner Boots for keeping our feet warm and Havstad Hat Company for our custom 100% beaver hats.
Follow our next adventures on Instagram! @outdoorukulele
Photo credits to @graceseelye and @colinsalty
Yosemite is one of my favorite US National Parks to visit. Coming from Central Oregon, it's easy to think the scenery can’t much better. We have mountains…but these are MOUNTAINS!
Within the first 30 minutes of walking through the park, you pass through a valley. Around one corner, you'll see a tall waterfall through granite boulders. Before reaching a long rock textured tunnel, you catch your first glimpse of Yosemite Valley. You see Bridalveil Falls and Half Dome in the distance.
We spent a few hours in the visitor center learning about the native animals and how the the valley was carved out. They teach you about the glacier episodes and how the granite monuments were formed. Most of the pictures in the museum were actually hand painted! (This isn’t something they mentioned, but it is always great to see special works of art.) Near the exit, you can go outside and view authentic teepees, a ceremonial hut, and sweat lodge. They still use these structures for ceremonial purposes.
After wandering through the visitor center, we backtracked to Bridalveil falls. It's a 5 minute walk up a paved road to the base of the falls. It's 620 feet tall! This is open to the public all year round, and is so spectacular to see up close.
On the road out of the park, you go past El Capitan again. On the opposite side, you'll see another large rock. Though it might not seem like the most interesting field in the world to get out of your car for, the field was covered in millions of lady bugs! We went out to play our ukuleles, enjoy the hot sun beating down, and look at El Capitan. We wondered where all the lady bugs came from. If you catch this area before sunset, you'll see a large shadow cast along the field (see photos).
Yosemite is certainly a place you must see! The entire trip was planned on a whim, because my friend Addison had not been there. We left a week later. My most important advice would be to PLAN AHEAD. We went in the off season, but every camp was entirely full!
I would like to thank Cascadia Vehicle Tents for supplying us with such a compact and comfortable car tent. We wouldn’t have made it through the weekend well-rested and toasty warm without your amazing tent!
Bring a bike if you can. Parking will be difficult, but all scenic locations are close enough to bike to. There are sidewalks lining the entire park and are tricycle friendly!
Book your camping site early. Though this is the off season and most camps have closed down, many Californians will still be making the trek to Yosemite. We ended up camping in Napa Valley because all sites were filled before noon.
Dress in layers. We're from high desert mountains, so we're prepared for the cold and ice. In the sun it was quite hot, but the valley casts down such drastic shadows during the day, so it can get quite chilly.
Bring binoculars! A nice man saw us looking at El Capitan and handed us binocular. There were at least 20 climbers that we couldn’t see with our bare eyes!
Bring your camera!
We had the honor of taking to The Quiet American at this years Uke University. I've been playing their front porch, folk music in the office from the moment I stumbled upon them on twitter.
Nicole and Aaron Kiem make up this country roots duet. Using various string instruments, they keep backwoods sound alive and kicking with a modern spark. Their dynamic sound will have you hootin' and hollerin' or squezing your honey. The harmonies this duo can perform is enough to bring a tear to a music lovers eye.
They tour around the world including Europe, Canada, and the grand ol' USA. They've been traveling to Bend twice a year to teach the Uke University and The Bend Ukulele Club.
With a background in music education and vast experience, The Quiet American gives back to the musical community. They create and write songbooks, that are crafted by hand, that work in motion with their instructional videos. You can find them on their youtube channel and website.
But their talents don't stop at music making and teaching. Nicole hand made hoops and hair clips, many of which are influenced by their music. The clips take two hours to make and are hand embroidered. She has an Etsy shop called Marmalade Creations. Go get your mind blown.
Aaron builds wood ukuleles for Mya-Moe. The stunning instruments are custom built here in the Pacific Northwest. Many of their instruments are constructed from wood harvested a few hours from their workshop.
It was at this point of the interview that Henry, their 15mount old, picked up the Outdoor Tenor Ukulele and began matching pitch. I wanted to put that bundle of smiles in my pocket and take him home with me.
The Quiet American is adding fuel to the revival of folk music and american craftsmanship. Our many thanks to Nicole, Aaron, and Henry for taking the time to talk with us.
Ben Honham with the Tenor
Outdoor Ukulele attended the fourth annual Uke University at the Cascade Academy. The three day festival in Tumalo, Oregon revolves around teaching, learning, and community. This year the weather was a beautiful 75 degrees during the day and 45 degrees at night, perfect for music and socializing.
Badley Made Ukes - Made in Bend, Oregon by Jack Badley
Uke University offered classes for beginners to experts ranging from singing, picking, strumming, and percussive elements. Music flooded from different classrooms and rippled through the hallways all weekend. Events included an open mic, jam sessions, and performances. The evening concerts had different genres including folk, island, and swing.
Instructor - Ben Bonham
Instructor Craig Chee
Ronnie Ontiveros slapping the bass.
Musicians traveled from all over North America to be a part of the festival. Lori Sanders came from North Carolina to bring ukulele knowledge back to the Cherokee Reservation. Ukulele player Emily Hill, and her mother Becky Hill, traveled from Portland to take part of the beginner classes. Laurie Duke and Nita Venter journeyed all the way from Vancouver, Canada to experience their first Uke University. When I asked each of them if the trip was worth it, there were smiles all around.
Our WordSmith loading up the two Tenors we donated for raffle.
Congratulations to one of our two raffle winners of the new Outdoor Tenor Ukulele!