Published: August 18th 2012August 18th 2012
We crossed into Canada, through southern Alberta to Calgary. We visited the Calgary Zoo and drove out to the amazing dinosaur fossil site at Drumheller. Then off we went to Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper, which we had declared were the prime goals of this whole trip. A few days of enjoying those parks, and now we are spending a couple of days in Revelstoke BC, "catching our breath."
(This might not have been the most exciting birthday of John's life.) There was quite a backup at the border headed into the U.S., but we were the only vehicle and breezed right through into Alberta. The landscape changed substantially from the mostly barren Blackfoot Indian Reservation below the border. It suddenly started looking prosperous; though flat, it was covered with "amber waves of grain." We camped for the night in Okotoks, a suburb south of Calgary which has grown immensely in the last decade and now has Walmart, Home Depot, and dense bunches of townhouses and large homes. We did manage to get outside at 3 A.M. the next morning to try to spot meteor showers. Although the sky was clear and very starry, we only spotted a few streaks. As we headed back inside the RV, we startled a deer who was wandering within a few feet of us.
The next morning, we drove to a campground east of Calgary and stayed there a couple of nights. It was called Mountain View, a puzzling name since the mountains were far to the west and not easily visible. We drove to the Calgary Zoo, which was understandably busy on a sunny Saturday in mid-August when a featured program was a "Teddy Bear's Picnic." The little kids were so cute, clutching their teddy bears! The zoo is on flat land, which is quite different from the hilly National Zoo we so often visit in DC! We saw a bunch of wolves, less a pair which had recently been sent to the National Zoo. We saw two whooping cranes - there are only two pairs in captivity in North America. After the zoo, we had intended to go into the city of Calgary and wander around, but we were bushed and just drove in and around and out. It is indeed a Big City, one of the biggest we have seen on this trip, with tall shiny buildings and plenty of traffic.
Most of the newer housing developments are what I call "cuppa sugar" houses - so close together that to borrow a cup of sugar you only need to reach a cup out one kitchen window and someone next door will reach out their kitchen window to provide it. They are big homes, but they seem to have hardly any lawns. Then at the edge of the developments there will be miles of flat prairie land until the next cluster.
There was a heavy storm during the night, including hail, but the day broke bright and sunny and we detected no hail dents in our vehicles. On Monday, we drove east for a couple of hours to the Royal Tyrrell Museum at Drumheller, a don't-miss locale. The terrain en route was so flat that John was getting drowsy driving; a cup of coffee revived him. We saw a few drilling rigs, but mostly grain fields. Then as we approached Drumheller, the terrain turned into "badlands", rolling hills that didn't look at all fertile. The Museum, which Queen Elizabeth designated as Royal during a 1990 visit, contains an awesome collection of dinosaur fossils. Many of the models are "casts" but many parts are the original fossils, and they are so labeled. Next to each model is a story of where and by whom the fossils were found, what they represent. Some of the cases have a "removed for study" sign, because the entire area is a very dynamic research center. The museum is designed so that you weave from one room to another, and it seems like a neverending series of "Wow's!" I did so wish that I could have visited that museum years ago with grandson Kai, when he was in his dinosaur-obsession stage, because he would surely have understood a lot more than I did!
I was fascinated by the photographing tourists. I observed many who took photos of every single display, without reading any of the accompanying text. I can only wonder how they will make sense of all those hundreds of photos later...
John always prefers taking a different route back from somewhere, so our route back from Drumheller was a bit different. The "badlands" extended further, well into "Wheatland County" - is that a conundrum? We saw grain fields and silos as well as many more drilling rigs. Much of the soil was quite black, and I do wonder why.
The next day, we headed straight through Calgary on the Trans-Canada Highway, a much easier drive than we anticipated. And on to Banff. The signs were unclear to the Tunnel Mountain campground but we finally made a u-turn and found it. They never actually got around to building a tunnel through Tunnel Mountain, by the way. Our parking spot was unusual - parallel to the curb rather than to another RV. We had a grand view of the surrounding mountains. We headed into the town of Banff, which is full of shops and restaurants and tourists. We found gorgeous, peaceful gardens at one end of town surrounding the adminstration building, and enjoyed looking slightly down over the busy town. Back to stroll through town a bit more, we stopped at an Irish pub and enjoyed a couple of tasty cold Irish brews.
The next day was predicted to be rainy, which was a kind of relief since it would mean that we could catch up on internet, laundry, etc., and we had had nothing but lovely sunny warm days for as long as we could remember (that is not a complaint!!!) But it dawned bright and sunny and John said let's go drive the Icefield Parkway partway to Jasper and see the glaciers, in case the weather turns bad for the next couple of days. So we leaped in the car and drove the hour north to the town of Lake Louise. As we drove, the sky ahead became more and more cloudy and I finally detected a dim rainbow. So, with encouragement from the lady at the Tourist Info center, we decided to delay the Parkway drive. Instead, we drove to see Lake Louise and the Fairmont hotel which reigns over it. The setting is lovely, and it is easy to see why it is one of the most photographed sites in the world. We hiked along the lake for a few miles round trip, then went into the hotel. It is truly elegant. We had coffees and one of the most amazing chocolate croissants ever, just oozing chocolate and more chocolate.
Lake Louise is an emerald-turquoise green, and the color is caused by "rock flour," formed by the rocks grinding over each other. We had seen some of that color in the Bow River which flows near the highway, and later saw it in other lakes and rivers in the area, so Lake Louise is not unique. But it is lovely, even on a slightly overcast day.
There are two highways from Banff to Lake Louise, one brand new and splendid - and in construction for plenty of its length, and the other, 1A, the "old" two-lane highway, much slower and less travelled and more prone to wildlife sightings. (Fences all along the newer highways serve to save most of the wildlife from unfortunate encounters with vehicles) We stopped to photo an elk, who absolutely seemed to be posing for all of us. We drove 1A to Johnston Canyon and hiked up to its lower falls. It started to sprinkle when we arrived - no big deal, since the rain often sprinkled. But this time, it did not stop, and we hiked back in the rain. We passed a flock of bighorn ewes and lambs huddled beneath one of the wildlife overpasses en route back to town. The rain persisted all evening. We stopped in Banff at a McDonald's and were able to get a couple of hours of internet time.
On Wednesday morning, we drove the RV up to the Lake Louise campground and registered for two nights (you can get in if you arrive mid-morning when other RV's are leaving). We drove to Emerald Lake, which is lesser known (and less jam-packed!) than Lake Louise but nearly as lovely. It has a nice lodge as well. Back in town, we paid $5 at the post office for 24 hours of internet, and I plopped at a picnic table near the post office to catch up a bit. John drove to Moraine Lake, not far out of town, which also has a nice lodge as well as some good rocks to climb on. One of my "neighbors" at the picnic table is a campground host along the Icefields Parkway, who has to come "to town" to use cell phone and internet. I asked when his job would be done, and he said this Sunday! It made me feel a lot better that we had left back in June to get to these parks before the snow flies! Another "neighbor" was a young Parisian who is traveling around Canada photographing (and sleeping in his car). Charming chap.
Next day, we were up fairly early to go on the Icefields Parkway. Before the trip, we had intended to go all the way to Jasper, which we had heard is less touristy than Banff or Lake Louise. But that would have meant many more miles on the RV, and we were not at all starved for another lovely village. Just driving the Corolla about halfway to Jasper on the Parkway is a lovely drive past immense snowcapped mountains. After a couple of hours we arrived at the Athabasca Glacier. We walked up to the guard-rope at a safe distance from the edge of the glacier. People were going past the guard-rope, some escorted safely by tour guides but others on their own. (No way would I venture out there - one of Susie's high school classmates was lost in a crevasse when he was out west somewhere at an outdoor adventure training camp, and crevasses will surely always terrify me.) Along the trail to the glacier, there are small signs indicating where the glacier extended to in 1910, 1920, 1930, etc. It has receded a lot and people should be concerned about the worldwide supply of water because of these receding glaciers. We appreciated the museum across the road from the glacier and its photographs and text.
En route back to Lake Louise, we stopped for an hour or so and set up our beach chairs in the sunshine next to the rushing emerald river and just appreciated the beauty. Too much beauty to absorb easily, but we can hope that the mental pictures will endure.
We still have many more places to visit on this trip, so onward we ventured. Heading west out of Lake Louise, we soon crossed the continental divide and were in British Columbia. BC has vowed to make the highway from Kamloops to the Alberta border four-lane, and there is a vast amount of construction ongoing. The last few miles before Golden left me a sobbing, shaking mass of jelly. And if we had been eastbound on that stretch, on the mountain edges, it would have been geometrically harder on me. We stopped at a tourist info center in Golden and the man there was absolutely compassionate; he said that is the worst stretch of road in all of Canada, and that he has driven RV's across it for people. I can't even imagine how fearless all those construction workers along that stretch manage to work there. Anyway, the kind man directed us to a coffee shop in Golden and an hour+ there helped my nerves, along with the chamomile tea. And the zucchini/chocolate chip muffin. (Usually John and I split our treats, but this time I refused to.) And the shop had a wonderful collection of used books; I found five from my list!!!!
I didn't know a thing about Revelstoke, but we made a reservation at a campground and arrived in mid-afternoon. The manager told us her sons, skiers, had discovered this town just a few years ago and bought several businesses here and brought her out to manage the campground. It is a very up-and-coming ski area. The Revelstoke Mountain Resort has the highest vertical ski-lift in North America; did John say it was 5820 feet? We had a beer and burger at the sons' restaurant back in town, on a still sunny patio, along with a variety of other folks, including a large group that had to be "ski bums." Every night in the town square from 6:30 to 9:30, they have musical performances. We enjoyed that night's for awhile, but the performers jumped around on stage (literally) so much that we shortly left.
We'll stay here for a couple more days, "catching our breath," and then we will have to decide which of several appealing routes to choose to travel to Vancouver. For now, we'll inhale and exhale, do laundry, buy groceries.