Saturday, Oct 22

Vancouver's weather was circling the bowl when we left YVR—temperature about 8C and the rain was looking as though it might be a permanent feature for six months. So it was pleasant to descend into Calgary an hour later under sunny skies. The temperature was down to 1C which isn't close to the -20C where Albertans start adding "...but it's a dry-cold"!

At the car rental, we somehow charmed ourselves into an upgrade to a Chrysler 300 but, unaccustomed to such elegance, it took us about quarter of an hour fiddling with the gadgetry to figure out how to open the trunk and turn the engine on. (Further experimentation was required to operate windshield wipers, lights, and the music player, but this could at least be done while we were actually driving).


Google and half the maps we looked at gave us instructions to head south from the airport on the Deerfoot Trail freeway and then turn west onto Highway 1, going through town. But anyone who has taken "Highway" 1 through Calgary knows that the so-called highway turns into a city street with all the traffic lights and jams of a regular city street, so we chanced heading north and then taking the Stoney Trail Highway westbound. Good move (for anyone planning the same trip). We hooked up with Highway 1—now a true highway again—on the other side of Calgary 20 minutes later, saving ourselves a good half hour of unpleasant city driving.

Approaching the Rockies

It's a great ride from Calgary to Banff. Calgary is pretty well on the prairie flat of central North America, with the white peaks of the Rockies forming a sawtooth western horizon. As you drive towards them the peaks become bigger and more jagged, the countryside a little lumpier. We could also see that the weather in the mountains was a less friendly, with squalls visible here and there.  [The picture on the left is not ours but it is an exact replica of what we saw coming in, with the brown of Fall countryside on either side and iffy weather ahead].

We were suddenly in the mountains. The highway follows a valley bottom, with plenty of room either side filled with swamp and small ponds. In the aeons before humans, elk and caribou migrated through here at this time of year, and grizzlies, deer, moose and black bear were common. Consequently the construction of the highway in this region led to untold carnage until finally the highways were almost entirely fenced off. But underpasses and strange bridges were constructed to allow the under/over peaceful passage of animals. Sightings must be routine at times judging by the number of warning signs we saw, but we saw no sign of actual wildlife as we approached Banff. This was ironic as, throughout our few days away we were getting news from our neighbours back in Vancouver of black bears rambling around our neighbourhood looking for food!

Lake Louise in summer
(borrowed picture)

With time to spare before check-in we decided to head on (another 60km) to Lake Louise for lunch. Neither of us had been here for twenty years or more so we were amazed to see all the changes. The main attraction is the actual lake and the Chateau, about 2-3 kilometers from the Highway. However, what we remembered as a small village with a restaurant and a store next to the highway exit ...and is now a major mall. And the Chateau itself now has an add-on building as big as the old Chateau.

Snow flurries were eddying about the parking lot as we arrived but the lot was still almost full (there are overflow parking lots for the summer crowd).

Lake Louise (and us)
in winter

The photos here show Lake Louise as it can be in August (borrowed picture) and as it was in October. Neither picture really does credit to the unbelievable color of the water in the right light. We had a quick look around the Chateau, decided against the wallet-emptying prices for a meal and returned to the mall by the highway for a quick lunch. And this picture of a Magpie outside the restaurant. These birds are the crows of this part of the world. They are thankfully more colourful and somehow able to survive temperatures down to 30 below.

Magpie from the restaurant

Banff from Lake Louise is less than an hour's drive so we're back in Banff by late afternoon. There's a steady but light flurry of snow coming down and it is getting cold. It's generally colder here to begin with because Calgary is about 3500 feet above sea level and Banff is another 1,000 feet above that. But there's also now a lot of snow on the peaks above and the cold air from up there descends to the valley here, adding to the chill factor. We eventually manage to find the Banff Centre where Lyn's conference is being held (and where we're staying); it's situated up on the side of Tunnel Mountain, with great views of town and the mountains behind. On our way back from a so-so-but-expensive dinner in Banff, we spotted what was likely a weasel scuttling across the road towards the river; it was the first sign of wildlife we had seen.

Sunday, Oct 23

Downtown Banff
with Norquay behind

For the next few days, Lyn of course was conferencing until late in the afternoon so I had a good part of the day to do some exploring. We woke on the first day to bright sunshine, but it must have been below zero when we got outside on our way to breakfast; there had been a light snow overnight, making a skating rink out of the roads and pavement. After breakfast, I headed out from the campus down in the direction of town (a slithery business on the icy roads). It only took 20 minutes walk to get from the Banff Center right into the centre of town. Banff is not much more than a village situated in the Bow River valley between the impressive backdrops of 6,000 foot jagged snowcapped peaks.  The town itself is picturesque enough but a closer look revealed mostly tourist shops and over-priced restaurants. I had a $13 sandwich for lunch then walked out along the Bow River to the Falls. On my way back up tothe Banff Center, walking on a main road into the sun so I had to shield my eyes, I became aware of a tour bus slowing up beside me, and then the reason for this: a large doe dining on someone's front lawn about 10 feet away on my right. It looked up from its meal only long enough to reassure itself that it was just another tour bus and lone tourist, then went back to lunch while I and

Doe dining

the tourists snapped pictures; over the next few days, the deer-lawn thing became such a common sight that we became as disinterested in them as they were in us. We found an 'English Pub' in the middle of town that evening that was showing the final of the World Rugby Cup so we watched the game over cod and chips and retired for the night.

Monday, Oct 24

The next day opened with the same sunny skies, fortunately no more snow on the ground,

Fenland Trail

but a drop in temperature to about -2C or so. The Fenland trail, looked interesting so I drove out to the other side of town out by the highway and pulled into an almost empty parking lot. Hmm. After seeing warnings that hikers should hike in groups of four to minimize the disturbance of grizzly bear sows feeding with their cubs, it is a little unnerving to head off along a deserted trail into a woodland of small trees by yourself with that thought in mind. No problem as it turned out. I soon ran into another couple and then a diminutive Japanese lady out for a jog. All the trails are well marked and picturesque enough in their own righteven without the added glamour of the mountain backdrop.

Tuesday, Oct 25

Lyn got away from her conference around 3pm so we decided to head up to have a look at the Sulphur Mountain Hot Springs; driving back down the mountain, right in the middle of our lane of a four lane road, there was a huge Elk (pictured) with an impressive rack of

Elk!

antlers licking the salt off the road. We didn't see much more wildlife (other than the deer) on this trip that sighting was impressive enough. [*Oddly enough, during this trip I was getting steady reports from our neighbourhood of bear sightings on our street]. By now there was a fairly insistent fall of snow and since there hadn't been much sign of snowploughs (municipal budget for snow clearing probably doesn't kick in until November so early snowfalls result in chaos), we headed home. 

A dip in Sulphur Mountain Hot Springs

A dip in the Hot Springs before we left next day (the temperature of the water is 39C; the air temperature was -2C!). Headed back to Calgary for an

Walking the Bow River

overnight before our flight the next day.

Wednesday, Oct 26

Town of Banff from Mt. Norquay

Woke next morning to temperatures of -5C which, with a chilly wind whistling through the wind-tunnel of downtown Calgary, is a bit sharp for those of us used to warmer climes. We looked on the internet for a breakfast place close-by (wanting to avoid the often dreadful and expensive breakfasts at hotels) but couldn't find much beyond a snack place run by a young Chinese couple. Passable but not great so we headed out to the airport as soon as we checked out.

Took off from the brown, sunny surrounds of Alberta and landed an hour later in the brilliant green...rain-soaked landscape of Vancouver airport. Wow! Good to be home...but arrived at the house and found that those damn bears had trashed my new $100 bird feeder!