We have been in Banff and Jasper Park for two weeks and have had no access to internet conntections. Since it takes so long to post pictures, I will probably put up a small section at a time. Today, 8/28, we are in Pincher Creek, a short distance from Waterford/Glacier park. Lots of adventures and untold beauty since my last post. Please stay tuned.
On Friday the 17th we arrived at the Banff gatehouse around noon. Immediately after passing the gate house, the views became spectacular as the road threaded through a narrow slot between two multi storied cliffs. From there on mountains soared on both sides as we drove through the Bow Valley that winds from British Columbia into Alberta Province.
The Canadian Rockies consist of three ranges, the Western the Main and the Front range. The Bow Valley and its river run between the Main and Front ranges. This is the path that takes in both Banff and Jasper National Parks. Toward the east of the road is the Front range, which is characterized by softer uplifted weathered peaks that are gray in color. Part of the Front range is called the sawbuck and it is evident why from the silhouette it makes on the skyline. On the west of the valley is the Main range that is millions of years older and appears to have horizontal blocky castle like layers in different shades of brown and red.
These mountains are more than breathtaking, partly because they are so close on both sides of the road.
Just as Rote 93 passes over the British Columbia Provincial line into Alberta and intersects with the Canada Highway 1, a huge monolith named Castle Rock looms over everything. This location is ½ way between the town of Banff and Lake Louise. We camped here at Castle Rock campground and were pleased we choose this spot. It was a small wooded campground away from the crowds that overrun Banff. For three days we commuted to take in the sights near Banff.
On our daily jaunt we traveled on the Bow River Throughway, which parallels Route l. This road is a less used route and is a wealth of information. The park service has frequent pull outs with exhibit signs all along the road. They explain about animal habitat, park fire policy, mountain geology, specific behaviors of species, and information on how the park is coping with its mandate to protect wildlife at the same time allow people access to this wilderness landscape.
The town of Banff itself is a beehive of people and cars coming and going. Parking is a real challenge as is locating services such as grocery stores or ATM machines, but the jaw dropping beauty of this location is undeniable. The soaring mountain peeks enclose this spot on east and west, like giant hands held up to protect a glittering jewel.
Near the town center there are two natural hot springs locations. One, the Upper Hot Springs, is open to the public with modern pool facilities and a bath house. The second, called “The Cave and Basin Natural Historic Site” is where Banff Park began.
The Cave and Basin spring was discovered in 1883 by three Canadian Pacific Railroad workers at the time the railroad was building a train line through this part of the Rockies. Sensing a cash cow, the three men tried to steak a claim around this spring and actually built a hotel at the opening. Their hotel consisted of a one room log building, constructed with local materials to try and bolster their claim. When the government heard about the dispute over ownership of the spring, they stepped in and created legislation making this area Canada’s first National Park. Over the years, the boundaries have changed and expanded to include most of this magnificent valley.
The hot springs of Banff are created by rain and snow from the top of the mountain, percolating through natural fissures in in the rock, down to the heat of the earth’s core. The water is super heated and rises through different vents before coming to the surface as hot springs on the side of the mountain.
Banff village encompasses the National Park Headquarters building which is surrounded by Cascade Rock Gardens, where 50,000 annuals are planted and tended each year. The garden is an elaborate series of terraces, interwoven with cascading pools of water, bridges, pavilions and gazebos. Unfortunately, the water system has been in disuse for the past four years due to piping damage and lack of repair funds. There are many other interesting attractions within the village. A great take was the Banff Park Museum and The Buffalo Nation Museum. However the crowds of people are off putting for me. The town is about the size of Bar Harbor village with about 50 times as many people on the streets. Many attractions have signs that say “Come before 10:00 and after 5:00 if you hope to find a parking space.
August 20 Lake Louise
Monday we left our Castle Rock campsite and headed to Lake Louise. This lake of startling bright turquoise water is surrounded by mountains that have been glacier carved into steep walls and jagged peaks. At the base of the lake is an enormous hotel, Lake Louise Chateau, with wide paved sidewalks along one entire side of the water. When you reach the end of the paved path, there is a trail that leads to the Plane of Six Glaciers. From here the trail begins a gentle but constant incline, passing sheer rock cliffs where we watched several climbers ascending and some descending. About 1/3 of the way toward the destination you could begin to see the glacial moraine. At first the trail runs parallel to one side of lateral moraine but as we climbed higher we were actually walking on and around this glacial rock pile. I think I was more impressed with the moraine than I was with the glaciers. Some of the rocks were the size of tractor tires and some as small as washed pea gravel. It was hard to judge the height of the long narrow piles but I would guess at least 100 feet. Since it was a rainy foggy day, the Victoria Glacier, that feeds the lake, peaked in and out of the mist as we climbed higher.
When we arrived at the plane of six glaciers it was clear how far the six, now separate, glaciers had receded. At one time they had all come together on the plane that was now just a rock pile. At the end of the trail was a tea house where we stopped to have coffee and apple pie. The tea house was build in 1927 by the Canadian Pacific Railroad to serve tourists with refreshments after they had climbed nearby peaks.
Our campsite here near Lake Louise village is completely surrounded by electric fence to keep the bears out. Quite a site. It has special pedestrian gates because you cannot even walk over the cattle grate, that too is electrified. The ranger said it is not perfect, but it does discourage them from making the campsite a habitual hangout.
August 21 Ice Fields
After a drive to Lake Moraine, which is a short distance from Lake Louise, we went north again to the Columbia Ice Fields. Driving through the same narrow Bow Valley there is so much beauty it would take most of a thesaurus to describe it.
At the Columbia Iced field Center we caught a bus tour up onto the Athabasca glacier, which originates from the Columbia Ice field. The Athabasca glacier is only one of 30 glaciers that are born from the Ice field which is 130 square miles of 1200 foot deep ice. This glacier has receded almost a mile in the past 150 years. In 1844, the final terminus was at the edge of where the Ice field center is now located.
The Brewster Company has actually made a road up onto the glacier about halfway to the first of 3 ice falls that appear on the glacier body. Before reaching the glacier, you are taken on a tour bus up to where the “snocoaches” descend the 300 foot high terminal moraine and move onto the ice itself. The snocoaches stop at an area that has been graded flat so the vehicles can park and turn around. From here we had 20 minutes to explore out on the slippery ice as far as we wanted to go. There were some small cravases and tiny pools on this flat section of the glacier body. Some people did venture up toward the falls but it was a mild incline and pretty slippery going even with hiking shoes on so we played it safe and did not stray too far.
The tour was pretty basic, geared for tourists who just wanted to say they had been on a glacier. Not a lot of geologic information, lots about the sno coaches. At the center we spent time at all the exhibits and called it a day. Our pictures, although they are many, cannot capture the magnificence to be seen here. You can stand in one spot and see 5 major glaciers and some small ones. Incredible.
On the way back down from Jasper, we stopped again and took the walking tour up to the toe of the glacier. All along the path there are signs with the year that the glacier toe was at that point. It appears to be eroding faster and faster. Constant signage here about falling into crevases. Hypothermia is the real killer. A 3 year old died here in