Here in Canada, they take their wildlife seriously. That doesn’t mean that Friday and Saturday nights in the bars are sacrosanct (but don’t look for a Budweiser where Labatts is sold, eh?). What I meant was that wild animals are protected here. For example, this is a wildlife crossing, primarily for migrating elk, moose and mule deer, as well as black and grizzly bears. It crosses above busy Canada Route 1, the Trans-Canada Highway, reducing the impact of car/truck/bus/motorcycle collisions with 1,200 lb critters.
A few kilometers before arriving in Banff (why did the Canadians adopt the ridiculous metric system, anyway? Did they totally forget their English roots?), you pass this viewpoint above Second Vermillion Lake (there are three Vermillion Lakes, one more beautiful than the next)… I don’t think that there are many highways in the world with more striking views than this.
This sign is just beyond the exit ramp for the town of Banff. Makes you wonder if you’ll see a big grizzly at McDonalds, chowing down on a Big Mac. “Hey, he can have my seat!”
The town of Banff is actually pretty small, occupying a beautiful location along the Bow River, another blue-green glacial river that makes you want to set up a tent alongside it and spend your life musing about your place in the Universe or unrequited loves… or maybe becoming a professional hiker or ski bum. Banff is actually a very international town. Most of the service staff here are young people from places as diverse as Australia, Croatia, Poland, Ukraine, Germany, Switzerland, and Estonia. For example, we were driving back from a hike when the skies were turning dark and ominous with an approaching thunderstorm. On a lonely stretch of highway, we passed a young woman running. We slowed to her pace, and Suzanne opened her window and said, “I’m not sure you noticed the thunderstorm about to catch up to you. Would you like a ride? It’s a long way to wherever it is your going.” The young woman said, “Thanks, but I’m fine.” We proceeded on a few miles to our coach, and just as we arrived, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees and the wind and rain began in earnest, and you could hear thunder in the distance. Obviously thinking about our daughter Susan, Suzanne looked at me with a very concerned look and asked, “Should I go back and ask her again?” “Yes, of course, go ahead”, I replied. She drove back in a downpour and again asked the girl if she wouldn’t like a ride back home, which now she gratefully accepted. She was from Estonia, and who knows? Maybe Suzanne saved someone else’s daughter that day.
While walking in Banff with Rudy and Gretchen, Suzanne caught this magpie hiding in some shrubs in downtown Banff. Normally I would give you the Latin name for this beautiful bird, as well as some interesting facts about its feeding and mating habits. (The latter facts seem to be more popular, for some reason.) Anyway, because we are “Internet-challenged” here in the middle of the Canadian Rockies – we have to drive to McDonald’s to use their Wi-Fi, and there are no electrical outlets, so battery power is an issue – I regret that I cannot tell you whether the magpie is a quiet prude or a raucous sexpot. I shudder to think what some readers’ imaginations are doing right now.
Just around the corner from the magpie was this street corner sign. My first thought was of a wildlife bar out in the woods, sort of like in the original Star Wars movie, where a caribou and a muskrat are sitting down for a friendly cocktail… since they are both herbivores, might they be drinking “Muskegaritas”? (My Lovely Bride really groaned over that one…)
On Monday morning, Hiker Chick decided that her hubby needed a challenge… so she picked an intermediate hike with only 330 m elevation gain (let’s see, 330 x 3.3 = 1089 feet) over 5.4 km (3.4 miles) = about a 6% grade. On highways, that’s when the signs say “trucks shift to lower gears”). (Hello! Has she forgotten that I’m on Social Security?) I wouldn’t say no to her for anything (well, let me think about that for a minute…), so I agreed, and off we went on one of the most popular hikes in Banff… for young people… like TEENAGERS! Here is Your Fearless Correspondent trudging up a very rooty, slippery slope. You will note the red canister on his right hip… that’s the industrial sized pepper spray. The joke here is that grizzly bear scat (poop) is usually sprinkled liberally with pepper. (I don’t think that’s a very funny joke at all.)
The hike started up a very crowded paved trail to two waterfalls, Johnston Canyon Lower and Upper Falls. It is a small river which over the past 8,000 years has cut down through a hundred feet of limestone. I was initially disappointed by the pavement and the number of other tourists, but once past the upper falls, the trail turned to good old dirt, and the travelers diminished to a relative handful. (And they were mostly in their 20s and 30s!) These photos of the river and falls give you a sense of the beauty of the canyon, but it would be even nicer at dawn or dusk with no one else around. (Let’s see, it’s an hour drive, so (a) get up at 0425 to make it by dawn, or (b) sleep in until 0700 and have coffee and breakfast with Suzanne, Rudy and Gretchen… Duh, that’s a no brainer.)
But really, the hike was worth the trip… here was the view from the ¾ point, about a mile past the waterfall. My Lovely Bride is obviously ecstatic about the scenery!
The trail name was “The Inkpots”. What was that about? Well, the end of the trail was this beautiful area of springs which literally bubbled out of the ground in a beautiful meadow. The “ink pot” appellation refers to the air bubbles which created inky circles in muddy water in five pools varying in size from 25 to 80 feet in diameter.
So here we are, at the end of a long day of touring and hiking, in beautiful Banff, one of the most beautiful places we have ever visited, and it’s time for a glass of wine and a nice dinner of roast lamb chops, sautéed stoplight peppers, buttered rice, and a very tasty Sonoma Valley Leese-Fitch Cabernet Sauvignon. Bon appétit!