Friday, June 5, 2009

16-09 Banff, Lake Louis and Yoho Alberta Canada


Banff Alberta Canada
Lake Louis
Yoho Provincial Park

As I started to report in last weeks Blog, Banff is one awesome place. Banff and Jasper combined make for 220 miles of parkway. And I’ve only seen 20 miles of it so far. They have
to be the crowning jewels of the Canadian Park system. I’m staying in Banff and then heading onto Lake Louis to visit with a friend, Laurel for
a couple of days and then onto Jasper. She’s a fellow snowbird from Desert Trails AZ and works up here in another park called Yoho during the summer as a Park Ranger.

I’ve driven around and gotten my bearings in this Alpine wonderland. Driving over to Lake Minnewanka.
One can take a boat tour on the lake, but for me, just walking along the shore line is more than enough. The views are spectacular in every direction. I took the loop tour and came across a group of Big Horned Sheep grazing along the road and one, just laying on a rocky overhang, looking soooo bored with us tourists. Four or five deer were foraging around Lake Minnewanka and had the same reaction. Appears much of the wildlife has gotten used to the tourists.

I love being back in forested country. The huge Douglas Fir, Spruce and lodge pole pines really make for some dramatic scenes. Marching up the sides of the Rocky Mountains in such thick profusion, I can hardly distinguish one from the next.

Oh and I decided to go over to the
famous Fairmont Banff Springs grand hotel. You’ll recognize it when you check out all the pictures I’ll be posting on the Picasa site. It’s be
en the site of a number of World
conferences and is just the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever seen. I ate out on the patio of their pub which sits below the hotel, near the river, waterfalls, golf course (Ray and Ruth would love it hear). The eighteenth hole starts out on one side of the river and traverses to the other side. It’s been super sunny and warm the last couple of days and each scene seems to be cropped in brilliant Technicolor. My photo’s won’t do justice to the scenery, but I‘ll try my best to capture some of it for you.

By the way, I’m able to get an occasional free wi-fi connection at the hostel next door. Have you ever stayed at a hostel…. What a great idea for saving money. However, most hotels and caf├ęs charge between $7c and $13c for internet access. Hard to pay when your used to free. Of course I will use my Verizon air-card, but sparingly, as
there is a per minute charge when out of the States. I was listening to five young souls discuss getting an apartment and working here. Making plans on the fly, maybe a one
bedroom, no lets get a two bedroom for five people. One volunteered to
sleep on the couch, is already used to it.

So far I found the prices to be what I expected and not that terrible. Meals range in the $10c to $15c (lunch) range and diesel fuel is between 74 cents and 79 cents a liter. Cheaper than the 98-99 cents a liter for regular gas. Campsites are averaging around the $28c to $34c range in the parks. All doable prices at this point. Of course it’s wise to watch your pennies when on the road as spending can get out of hand very quickly.

The following day I took a drive up to the Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain. Sat in a gondola car with a couple visiting the area after working in Thailand for the past couple of years. Every language imaginable was spoken while hiking along the summit of Sulphur Mountain. French, Japanese, Polish, you name it. It does seem odd to hear French being spoken flawlessly by someone with a Japanese background. Oh and listening to the radio stations, the local DJ’s especially on the CBC stations, are very self deprecating, saying things like, we aren’t the best but we try hard, and we don’t always get it right so call us if you know the whole story, etc. Kind of refreshing to hear real banter and not perfectly canned material. But then hearing rap music in French is quite unsettling or enjoying a Canadian composed classical piece about the cowboy lifestyle, the last movement of the piece was called the Hoedown. And a whole mix of original, folk, country and proudly featuring Canadian artists.

Sorry, I kind of got off the subject didn’t I? Well after viewing the weather station and cosmic ray station (no longer there) on top of the mountain, I headed back down the mountain. I had the gondola to myself on the way down and it really began to sway back and forth with the heavy afternoon winds picking up. It was a steep swinging ride, down, down, down, looking out the window seeing those tall narrow Douglas Fir and lodge pole pines swaying in the heavy breeze, not to be forgotten anytime soon.

For lunch may I recommend Tommy’s Pub. It’s on the main street one flight down. I had the best Bison burger ever and the Canadian draft beer was pretty darn good too. They also have Elk and Salmon burgers. Nice crowd, where the locals go.

A special note about the people who work and live in this area…. They are so very kind and friendly. The workers all have smiles on their faces and are more than helpful. I don’t think
I’ve ever been to a tourist area where the working folks are as happy as the visitors. To the
point that a couple of the waitresses were actually bubbly with joy. I think it really is the
magical specialness of the place that does it.

It must be terribly hard for so many of the tourists who come in for only a day or two and then have to go back home to work and their normal ordinary lives. The campground I’m in, I see them coming in in their Class C campers (many are rented). They tour, bed down for a night and are gone the next. A few pictures to remember a place that is so special. Maybe one posted on their cubical to remember that there are places out there that are beyond the normal and ordinary work a day world and life.

Places like this, where you don’t even have to drive. Many walk from the campground or their homes into town, or walk across the street and meet up with a trail that goes off into the woods and surrounding mountains. Or they ride their bikes along the trails into Banff or down
to the river or lake nearby to fish. Such a simple life. Clean fresh mountain air.

I know I’m rambling again but this is the kind of place that frees the mind to wander, to
ponder to think about what is really important in life or not. To explore or just sit and contemplate life itself. To look out at the mountains and be awed. To turn around and see
another scene that captures the imagination and lifts the spirit to new highs. That’s what I’m experiencing while here in Banff. Experiencing the moment. Glad your along for the ride.

My last day in Banff and I had to tour a bit more and then head off to the hot springs. What a perfect way to end my stay in Banff and I might add, the best deal in town. Only $7.50c. The water is a perfect 39 Centigrade which I believe is 110 F. Another gorgeous sunny, breezy day. I met a Czechoslovakian woman who had immigrated to Canada with her husband back in 1968 when the Czech republic was invaded by Russia. They’ve lived here ever since. She told me her and her husband had come to this area to hike and ski before they decided to move
after the Russians invaded their country. She does miss home and was back there a couple of
years ago before her husband passed away. Now she enjoys the hot springs each week. The life guard told me that during the winter months, people of course continue to use the hot
springs, but their hair quickly freezes in the cold air, so the patrons usually spike their hair up or give themselves instant frozen Mohawks. She said it’s quite a site.

Got back to the camper and met my next door neighbors who are originally from England and Holland. They moved to Canada on business and plan on staying. They can apply for citizenship after three years and plan to do so. The gal who is English said it’s very hard for them to even visit the U.S. Our Visa program is so tight. Maybe once they are Canadian citizens it will be easier.

I of course treated myself to lunch in town. Discovered one of the indoor malls, a three story
affair with Louis Vuitton , the Gap and some other high end stores. On the lower lever I discovered a food court with some great small fast food shops with great food and even better prices. I had a large veggie Pizza slice, Caesar salad and drink for $7.50c.

Lake Louis. I drove north along hwy 1 through the heart of Banff National Park, past the great Rocky Mountains, each unique in it’s shape and height. Vast stands of spruce and Douglas Fir. The highway following
the same path as the Bow River . The deeper I go into this country, the
more rugged it becomes. The four
lane parkway narrows down to two lanes, though they are in the process of expanding it to four lanes further north.

I reach the Lake Louis sortie and head towards the campground which is very close to the Canadian Transcontinental railroad. I’m given the very last campsite at the end of the park. It’s surrounded by those tall Douglas Firs and the ground is covered in a mat of moss and spongy low vegetation. Primitive in it’s beauty.

I read the pamphlet they handed me at the entrance gate. All the tent sites are surrounded by a high electrified fence to keep the grizzly bears out. This is wild animal country and they try very hard to keep the bears away from humans while keeping the animals safe to roam. The Rv section in not protected. It’s assumed we know how to keep any items that would attract a bear well secured and out of harms way… and we should be safe inside our campers.

As soon as I set up camp, I drove over to Lake Louis. Much of it is still
covered in a thin layer of ice, which some of the staff were trying to
break up by paddling their canoes across the edges of the remaining ice…. Lots of laughter and encouragement as they repeatedly rammed the ice. Trying to hurry spring and summer along. The water is an unimaginable emerald color, created by the sand particles coming off of the mountains with the snow melt. Nice easy hike along one side of the lake. Lots of Chinese and other foreign speaking tourists, all eager to have their pictures taken against this stunning backdrop of huge mountains and glaciers that rise up from the edges of the lake.

I had planned on eating at the grand hotel that faces this awesome scenery, but the lunch buffet was $35c and the other restaurant had some pretty high prices too. Of course they did have a harpist playing in the grand salon overlooking the lake. Making for a really elegant setting.

Instead I had lunch in the small hamlet of Lake Louis and headed out to Johnson’s Canyon. Took the scenic Bow Valley Parkway which is the original road through this part of Banff. It’s a much more winding road closed in by the tall tightly packed Douglas Firs and spruce. The speed limit is 60 km or about 45 mph. At the Canyon, I took the lower water falls trail which is a series of cat walks that hang over the edge of the fast moving river leading to the falls. The cat walk being the best part of the journey.

I’ve noticed that a number of places in Banff have Tea Houses, many that were built over 100 years ago. Wonder what the history is behind that tradition way out here. I’m imagining that the first visitors would have their guides take them on long grueling hikes, rock climbing horse back riding and afterwards would get back to the tea house in the later afternoon for tea and crumpets. Hmmm. Found out from Laurel that many were built in conjunction with the railroad, giving the gentry a place to relax and have their cup of tea, out here in the wilderness.

I met up with my friend Laurel on Tuesday and we proceeded to go into Yoho National Park (A Cree expression of awe and wonder). Yoho is where Laurel is a seasonal worker and she provided me with a wonderful tour of the places that were accessible. Many like the Takakkaw Falls and Burgess Shale site where they have found fossils over 500 million years old were not open due to snow.

The short drive from Lake Louis brought us over the boarder into British Columbia where right on schedule, Laurel had said to look along the railroad tracks to see it any bears were there. Sure enough a black bear was on the tracks. They are often found along the tracks as freight trains often drop grain along the tracks. It’s supposed to be vacuumed up, but isn’t always done in a timely fashion. Creating a free meal for the bears.

But what we did view, such as the natural Bridge along Kicking Horse River, the Spiral Tunnels and Emerald Lake were more than enough for one day. We took a few hikes, one to Laurels private beach along the Kicking Horse River. About the only place in Yoho that has real beach sand. The day turned out to be another sunny warm day, so unusual for June, which is usually their rainy season. Now two trekkers came by with their GPS in hand and asked us if this was the nude beach? We both
looked up and said, if you want it to be it is. Now Laurel denies that it is a nude beach, but I have to wonder, when no ones around does she
fancy a frolic in the buff? Hmmmm.

Emerald Lake where we were able to see some of the 28 mountain peaks in Yoho.

We had lunch at their restaurant and of course sat outside, overlooking Emerald lake on both sides of the patio with it’s bright yellow umbrellas and clear blue sky above. Laurel treated me to lunch showing off the wonderful Rocky Mountain Hospitality. Our waitress had recently moved from Toronto and she admitted she’s a real city girl trying to adjust to the country. Went into a small town nearby to purchase an I-Pod and found one in of all places a Furniture store/Electronics store. She was blown away to find an I-Pod in a furniture store. Still trying to adjust to the rural life.

To work off lunch, we took the 5.2 Km (2 hr) hike around the lake. Besides those awesome views of the glacier covered mountains, we also saw wildflowers like the Venus Slipper (also called Calypso) orchids and a the Glacier Lily along the trail. They come up right after the snow melts. I think I got a couple good shots, so check out the Picasa site where I’ll post them as soon as I get a good Internet connection. The Emerald color of the lakes is awesome and seeing a few canoeists on the lake added to the picturesek quality of the scene. At the far end of the lake we sat on some log benches looking out over the lake, small streams running down from the mountains creating a flat wetland section. A most peaceful setting to see the grand mountains, lake and the small details of water running crystal clear through this low marsh area. Having the time to appreciate every blade of grass and sandy bottom of the streams with the occasional rocks causing the water to bubble and surge around them.

Back at camp, one of the Wardens told me that they had sighted 3 grizzly bears in the camping area today and to be careful. One has a tracking device on it, but the others don’t. I had noticed they patrol the area quite a bit. He also mentioned that they are considering putting the electric fence around the RV section of the campground. Oh and he said he saw a grizzly that had pretty much been cornered, run right through a portion of an electrified fence that was used to direct the bears away from the camp area. The small town of Lake Louis is in a bear warning area because of all the sightings. So far, this is the only National Park to have the electrified fencing.

I’ll end this report even though it’s only mid week and begin my next report Tomorrow.


John K said...

Hi Doug,

Great that you had such positive impressions of BNP.

Just a couple of small corrections, but significant for the locals. There are no 'Rangers' in the Canadian National Park system. There are Park Wardens. At the moment there are two female Wardens posted in Lake Louise and they are Tanya and Sarah. Perhaps your firend Laurel works at the Visitor Information Center?

Oh, the Railroad past there is 'Canadian Pacific Railroad'. You may have been thinking of the Highway, which is the 'Trans Canada Highway'.

The Tak Falls road has now opened and the campground there as well.

Roving Reporter - Doug P said...

thanks for the comment. Always appreciate corrections as I do try to be as accurate as I can be.

My friend Laurel works in the National Park of Yoho, not Lake Louis.

John said...

If Laurel is a biker, then she is a lucky soul. They have just completed paving that road, so when they close it at the end of this month, it will present great biking until the snow flies (usually late Oct for that area). I know I will be there every chance I get, so maybe I will meet her. It's interesting, for some reason they did not repave the switchback section. I suspect it's an engineering challenge they couldn't afford to fund, but there's sure a lot ot potholes left from falling rocks coming off the cliffs above them. I think someday someone is going to get 'beaned' by a rock on those switchbacks, and I hop it is not me or my family on our bikes.