Exploring Northwest US and Canada: Week 1, Day 6, Banff


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North America » Canada » Alberta » Banff National Park
February 23rd 2018
Published: February 23rd 2018
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7/16 On our included Bus Tour of Banff our guide took us up Tunnel Mountain Drive through Banff National Park where we began to explore its many wonders. We saw the Banff version of hoodoos, formations of dissolving limestone formed 20,000 years ago, small (by comparison to those in Utah) but our view was of only three humps in the Bow River Valley. In the distance we saw the Sleeping Buffalo Mountain and the Banff Hot Springs Hotel as well as the well known Sulphur Mountain(Banff Gondola) but this part of the tour was less than exciting due to the lack of visible wildlife and cloudy views here.



The Bow River coursed through this valley where we stopped to pick Buffalo Berries or Soap Berries, a favorite of bears. Luckily no bears offered competition for tastings. The bears here are 80 per cent vegetarian and 20 per cent carnivore. We definitely preferred the vegetarian bears. Dandelion plants are a springtime antioxidant cleanser for a post hibernating bear (and humans too, just don’t pick them where there are bears!). Although there were no bears to be seen we spotted a small herd of elk grazing nearby and a solo white tail deer near the edge of the road. Our guide kindly stopped for some of us (me) to take pictures of these elegant animals.



I observed much evidence of the pine beetle damage that has begun to infest and devastate the Canadian pines here leaving them browned and dying. First Nations people historically conducted controlled burns to preserve the health of the forest and get rid of these damaging beetles. I don’t know how many controlled burns are allowed here now. To let nature take its course you need several days of minus 40 degrees (or natural burns for beetle eradication) or fire.



We stopped for a short while at the lovely Two Jack Lake for a little picnic prepared by our tour guide. Canoes lined the shore while people prepared to fish. I admired the robustness of the people in the park as I watched swimmers brave the icy blue-green glacial waters of the lake. Instead, I chose to sit in the bright red Adirondack chairs to munch on my snack and enjoy the mountain view as the clouds briefly exposed their majesty.



We were not so fortunate when we arrived at Minnewanka Lake (meaning “lake of the Water Spirit”). It is the largest lake in the Canadian Rockies. Sadly the vista was again hidden in the clouds that turned the waters dark instead of their much advertised turquoise green hue. Still, we were lucky to get some brilliant rays of sunlight streaming through the clouds to light up the mountain’s many shades of greens and yellows that contrasted against the stormy skies. The summer village called Minnewanka Landing built in 1912 is now under water after the lake was first dammed to improve the boggy shoreline. In 1930 the Canadian Government banned all forms of industrial development within Canada’s national parks.



The tour guide brought us to see the historic Banff Hot Springs Hotel where we walked the grounds but did not go inside. Our last destination on this tour was to Bow Falls, a major waterfall albeit wide and short, on the Bow River, within walking distance of the Banff Springs Hotel. We could just make out the grandeur of the distant mountains over the long view of the river from the base of the falls. With walking trails and picnic areas this is a nice spot to spend an hour or two, although, sadly, our guide did not allow time for us to explore the trails.



The tour ended in town where found the Coyote Southwestern Grill. Luckily we grabbed the last free table and had a delicious lunch. Our soup and very generous 1/2 sandwich consisted of a cup of flavorfully spicy corn chowder with a 1/2 veggie focaccia (me) and a 1/2 ham and cheddar focaccia (Dave). For only $12, the best (and most delicious) deal in Banff!



After Dave’s nap we took a bus to Sulphur Mountain for our much anticipated Banff Gondola ride to the top of the 7,486 foot mountain. We started at the base of the mountain where staff greets you and points you in the direction of the gondola loading station. While waiting, a park ranger gave me a bear footprint for a black bear and a grizzly bear to compare sizes. Although I don’t want to run into either bear in the woods, I mostly prefer not arguing with a huge grizzly!



Our much anticipated gondola ride was disappointing due to strong winds that were blowing the gondola throughout our journey, so strong that the gondola was stopped several times on the way down due to the strong winds. In addition, the BC fires again obscured most of the mountain views covering them with more smoke and clouds from the fires. The winds combined with the cold made our stay at the top less enjoyable than we anticipated. We were not willing to freeze or get blown about so we did not enjoy the UNESCO Sulphur Mountain Boardwalk to see the view points, instead deciding to stay only briefly on the outdoor platform and view what we could from inside. There is much to see inside including the Banff Interpretive Center (geared more towards children) and the 360 degree Rooftop Observation Deck. Reportedly there are six mountain ranges to view.



We took the Banff Roam Bus (free if you show your room card from Banff Caribou Lodge or $2 per ride) back to town to have dinner. A local recommended Tommy's Neighborhood Pub, apparently a local fave, where we had a steak sandwich with onion rings for $10.95. A good deal especially in Banff but you get what you pay for, the steak was a bit tough. Salad or soup was a side option but there were very small portions compared to the onion rings, which were good, and so we indulged in what was there.





After dinner I shopped in a few places to warm up and learned that tonight there was a strong possibility to see the Aurora Borealis between 2-4 am. I was so excited and set my alarm for 2am. As it turned out we were up most of the night anyway because even in the room the smoke from the BC fires stung our eyes and made us cough. Consequently there was no way to see the aurora borealis at night so my decision to get up to hike out of town in the smog and freezing cold to likely not even see the aurora was questionable at best, so alas, no sighting.


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