We were up bright and early and on our way to the
airport to catch a flight for Calgary. The weather was again spectacular,
so we had a great view of the mountains all the way. Calgary was,
by contrast, flat and still brown from the winter. A bright red
Ford Explorer was waiting for us at the Alamo desk, and we set
out immediately for the enticing white peaks in the distance.
Not wanting to miss any of the local
scenery or an ice cream shop in Cochrane called McKay's that came highly recommended, we skipped the
main highway and took the auxiliary road through the farmlands
into Banff. McKay's was all it was cracked up to bedelicious!
They had every flavor you could imagine, and then some. Have
you ever tried tiramasu ice cream?
first of many critters to greet us on our sojourn through the
Rockies were the bighorn sheep, who were liberally scattered
along roadsides wherever we went. They didn't seem especially
bothered or impressed with our arrival, so we headed straight
for the Banff Springs Hotel (pictured above).
Warning: Canadian Pacific Hotels can
be habit-forming. The Empress in Victoria was the first we visited
several years ago. Sticker shock overcame our urge to actually
spend the night, however. On our trip to Quebec last year, we
did decide to stay one night in the Frontenac. After that magnificent
could hardly pass up the opportunity to spend another night
as royalty in the Banff Springs Hotel and Spa. And we couldn't
very well stay at a spa without doing the spa thing. If you've
never pampered yourself with a massage and a few hours in the
hot pools, then you haven't yet lived. It is heavenly, and a
great way to relax into your vacation.
Real estate is location, location, location.
Those early CP folks sure knew how to pick their spots. The
Banff Springs sits nestled in the pines on the side of a mountain
that overlooks the Bow River and a panoramic vista of the nearby
snow-covered peaks. To the right is a view from one of the parapets.
Energized from our stint at the spa,
we checked out of the hotel and went to explore the park.We
decided to tackle Tunnel Mountain, which featured a 2.2 kilometer
hiking trail to the top. The trail started out deceptively easy,
but by the time we reached the top, we were huffing and puffing
a bit, not only from the rather steep incline, but from having
to climb over and around rocks. The view was worth the exertion,
however. On one side, we looked down over the Banff Townsite
& the hotel, and on the other, we saw a spectacular vista
of the Bow Valley. On the way up, we kept company for a time
with a young lady of British origin who had just finished up
a seven-month work arrangement with one of the local tourist
establishments. She was getting ready to spend some of her earnings
on a well-deserved two-month vacation around Canada and the
U.S. before heading back home to the U.K. We saw quite a few
of these young adventurers during our stay in the Rockies. They
go out there, work for nearly nothing, live within very basic
means, and have fun hiking, skiing, climbing, etc. They seemed
very happy and stress-free (and untarnished by corporate influence!).
The color of the water in the Canadian
Rockies is absolutely amazing. You may think I doctored these
photos up to look more brilliantly colored, but I swear that
what you see
is what you get. The minerals in the rocks of are a certain
type that cause the silt, ground up and carried by the glaciers
and deposited at the bottom of lakes and streams, to appear
emerald green to turquoise blue when viewed from above. The
farther north you go, the more brilliant the color. According
to one young tram operator we talked to in Jasper Park, the
early spring is when you see the most brilliant colorswhen
the spring thaw occurs, the rivers become torrential and churned
up, at which point the color becomes brown, and stays that way
well into the summer months.
For the next five days, we based ourselves
in a cabin in Castle Mountain Junction, in the heart of Banff
Park. (THE actual Castle Moutain is pictured to the right.)
There aren't too many folks travelling around these mountains
in April, and so, aside from a few other hardy souls, we pretty
much had the place to ourselves. This was a really neat placewhat
you think of when you envision "cabin in the woods,"
complete with wood stove.
As you can see from the snow on the ground,
it was still somewhat nippy out...well....not really, but we
thought a cabin with a wood stove would be fun and romantic.
A roaring fire in a cabin is fun and romantic. A roaring
fire in a small cabin gets downright toasty, and along about
midnight each night, we had melted down to little pools. At
which point, we opened the windows to cool off. And just when
we had finally drifted off to sleep, the train tracks, located
about 100 yards from the cabin, would produce a train, complete
with three or four toots of the whistle. And then we'd drift
off to sleep again, and along would come the train again, with
its whistleevery two hours or so, all through the night. And
by around 3 a.m, the fire had died down for long enough so that
we were freezing and it was time to get up and close the windows.
We did this for five nights. Well, heyyou don't get to
stay in a romantic cabin in the woods with its own train very
often! If you like cabins with wood stoves and don't mind the
midnight meltdowns, the 3 a.m. icicles, and the trains, Castle
Mountain Village is for you. Crazy as it might seem, we'd do
Sometimes your imagination prepares you
for something other than reality. This was certainly the case
with Lake Louise. Lake Louise is billed as one of the premier
locations for beauty in the Canadian Rockies, with the Chateau
Lake Louise (supposedly another CP castle) looking out over
an emerald green lake. Well, the first disappointment was the
lakespecifically its size. When I think of "lake,"
I think "big."We
discovered that many of the lakes in the Rockies are little
more than large ponds (by my upstate NY standards at least),
but we really did expect that Lake Louise would be more spectacular
than it turned out to be. To be fair, it was cloudy the day
we visited, and there were a couple of feet of snow on the ground,
but we found a pond even smaller than some of those we had already
seen. The ice was starting to melt a bit, but we didn't see
emeralds, sapphires, or any other gem-like colors sparkling
from the depths. The lake was small and grayand no, the
above photo is not a black and white. The Chateau, while nice,
seemed like a poor country cousin after the impressive Banff
Springs. Perhaps we should try another visit in the summer months
to find out what we were obviously missing.
We had one totally rainy day during our
two week tripa day so irretrievably rainy that we had
to find "sort of" indoor things to do. That was the
day we spent doing our laundry, exploring the shops in the Banff
Townsite (which was a good half hour drive from Castle Mountain), and visiting Cave
& Basin, which was where the Banff resort got its start.
The original hole in the ground where a couple of guys stumbled
on the hot springs is still therejust as smelly as it
was in the late 1800s when they found it. The smell of sulphur
is so overwhelming that it's a wonder anyone could stand to
immerse themselves in the water for any length of time. The
old pool (pictured) isn't in use anymore except by some snails
who hang about the place. The highly sulphurous warm water apparently
does wonders for the area vegetation, which becomes lusher and
greener as the amount of sulphur (and its odor) increases.