A gravel road, a lake, and mountains August 9, 2014

Published: August 12th 2014
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Looking at the map, I realized that the shortest route (not necessarily the fastest, I admit) was to leave Banff, turn due south out of Canmore, and go down a maintained gravel road along Spray Lake on the Smith Dorrien Trail. Since I was traveling with people with a high tolerance to insanity, we notified people to let the Mounties if we did not show up as planned, and headed down the road. I had never ridden on 60 km of gravel road. Although dusty, it was actually pretty tolerable in terms of maintenance. The road leaves Canmore and ascends several hundred feet, affording a wonderful view back over the town outskirts with the mountains in the background. From there, it is relatively level for the duration of its dusty length. It gives great vistas of mountains on both sides, with a beautiful blue lake between us and the mountains to our west. It is reputed to be a prime area for wildlife, but we really did not see any except a couple of mule deer., not exactly the rarest of sights in these environs.

Once we were back on paved road, we continued to wind among mountains then eventually came out onto the prairie with large ranches and plentiful cattle in what appeared to be succulent pastures. These were dotted here and there with the familiar (to Oklahomans, at least) pumpjacks. Along the way we came upon an accident scene where a motorcyclist had hit two deer at the same time. The deer and the cycle did not fare well, but the emergency people told us the rider was just cut up and bruised. We also had a brief detour around a washed out bridge showing the extraordinary power of the spring torrents.

Eventually we turned back east to Waterton. Here, sedimentary rocks formed in an ancient sea were pushed up in about four great upthrust periods where the Pacific Plate rode over the Continental Plate, with the result that in an inversion of the ordinary expectation the oldest rocks are on top of the younger ones, with the oldest rocks being abut 1.6 billion years old. As a result of the method of formation, the mountains rise up abruptly from the prairie, rather than through a series of foothills. As we approached the Prince of Wales Hotel, directly across the road and within about 200 yards of the hotel, we watched a black bear feeding on berries directly above us.

The Prince of Wales Hotel is old (1926-7), somewhat rickety, and not much upgraded since its building, but it is hard to beat the location. It sits on a bluff looking directly south down the length of Lower Waterton Lake stretching some nine miles away between towering mountains on each side, all the way to Goat Haunt Montana.

Tomorrow: blood, sweat, and tears (okay, really just sweat and sore muscles)

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