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
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
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
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)
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
with Norquay behind
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
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,
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
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
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!