Day 15 – 3 Countries in a Day

Big Rock

Up early after spending the evening cowering in our hotel room watching a spectacular thunderstorm over the Rockies. Also cowering in fear of getting charged another £9 a pint for cider … still they were very good, the Canadians really seem to have gotten the hang of the frozen glass enhanced drink.

Today we are heading out for a boat trip on Waterton Lake, for more fantastic scenery, and hopefully before the next set of storms hits.

The boat trip has the added bonus of allowing us across the US border (another state – Montana:  tick). The border is marked by the (real) monuments below. Apparently if you line the two up, that gives the line of the 49th parallel. Little border nerd fact there. Also of course, it means that we have the opportunity to be in 3 countries today.

Also spotted a bald eagle on the lakeshore, so another tick on the Canadian fauna list. Still no moose though 🙁

Of course we are still several hundred miles from Calgary with a full itinerary to get in post-boat trip.

Next stop, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. This appears to be be simalar to Creswell crags in that the hunting method was to chase the beasts over the cliff edge and then wander down and finish off any that are still alive. I had assumed that hte Head-Smashed-In part of the name referred to the Buffalo, but apparently it comemorates a young,curious brave who wandered a little too close to watch the Buffalo fall. Fail.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
Does what it says on the tin

Moving on to our final stop of the day, the Big Rock glacial erratic. Also very much as advertised, a couple of huge rocks dropped here by glaciers rolling over the Alberta prarie. As if to demonstrate the prairie point, the field in front is riddled with prarie dogs. I hope they haven’t tunneled under the erratic, or they may be in for a nasty surprise!

Big Rock
It is indeed a big rock

IMG_4286

So what have we learned about Canada in the last two weeks?

  1. It’s a remarkably friendly country
  2. The legendary politeness is real
  3. The country is so stunning that Canadians must be ruined for travel elswhere when it comes to viewing scenery
  4. Four seasons in a day is definitely a thing
  5. June is not summer in Canada

Finally, I think that this farmhouse spotted on the way back to Calgary just about sums it up…

IMG_4249

Day 14 – The Long Road Home

Definitely feeling the effects of the rafting yesterday, so probably just as well that we have a day of driving ather than walking today. No chance of seizing up while sitting in a car for 7 hours 🙂

We are taking a long leisurely loop back to Calgary via Waterton Lake, several hundred miles to the south. I’m not quite sure how I was persuaded to take this route back, other than that it is close to to the US border and Ethan’s border geekery has kicked in, but it is a nice drive, through some spectacular and varied terrain, and largely free of roadworks – an unexpected bonus afer the last few weeks.

Obviously we need to stop for sustenance en route and deafult to our go-to fast food of the holiday – A&W and their Beyond Meat burger, the new gold standard for veggie burgers. They have also made root beer acceptable by serving it in iced glasses, which definitely hits the spot when it is 30C oustside.

AandW

On the road, we pass Frank Slide. I had no idea what this was as we passed through an area with vast piles of rock either side of the, some of te boulders looking like several tons. Post journey research confirms that this was the site of Canada’s biggest  landslide, depositing 121 million tons of rock on the town of Frank in 1903. Ouch.

Approaching Waterton lake, we started to get some quite nasty weather developing. As we circled back towards the Rockies, we watched the lightning stikes with ncreasing trepidation and Ethan’s doom filled meteorlogical prognostications around funnel clouds and mesocyclonic clouds had me ready to turn around and drive like a lunatic away from a forming tornado.

Personally, I think that the weird conditions were caused by a UFO hiding in this cloud…

ufo

Having made it to Waterton, against all the odds, we had to deal with the weather conditions, bear warnings, closed roads and extreme apathy blockng our path to the 8 mile hike to the Montana border and back.

Ethan is not happy. We have an opportunity to reach the border by boat tomorrow, but I’m told that it doesn’t count if you don’t set foot on land. luckily we found this by the lake. I think it is just a replica of the genuine monument, but we are claiming it!

border

Oh yes, and that now makes 7 national parks.

 

Day 12 – Round & Round We Go

Up bright and early today for our intrepid ascent to the Plain of the Six Glaciers above Lake Louise. The idea is to get there in time to get a parking space rather than have to get the shuttle bus either side of an epic hike.

What were we thinking? Hold ups at 2 major road works put paid to that idea. In retrospect probably not the worst outcome. The weather forecasts and trail reviews were suggesting heavy snow (waste deep in some places) which would mean having to turn back. Avoiding a potential stroke from straining uphill at altitude is an added bonus.

Disappointing not to be able to get to see those views though. We are now used to adapting plans and decide to head toward Banff and walk up Tunnel Mountain instead. We will head there via the Bow Valley parkway and scout for wildlife.

Apparently Bow Valley is the gold standard for wildlife viewing. This will be out third pass and have only seen an elk so far. We are keen to spot a moose if possible to tick off in our I-Spy book of Canadian critters.

Sadly, no moose, but a couple of deer gave us attitude and we spotted a weird rodent which Google lens identifies as a Columbian ground squirrel.

Tunnel Mountain was a pleasant walk and probably more my speed. I can definitely feel the difference in altitude between some of the walks we have done. Some great views from the top too.

Back via the parkway again. Nada.

Getting back towards Golden we spotted a cluster of roadside tourists, the tell tale sign of something kicking off (although we have toyed with the idea of just pulling over and randomly pointing just to see how many people would follow us). In this case, the was a black bear inordinately fascinated with a train line. No idea what was there but hope it got around to moving before the next 5 mile long train came along. I don’t expect that those things can brake too quickly.

railbear1

So that brings out tally of bears in the wild to 10 by our reckoning. Not a bad haul, especially as non of them were waiting around corners for us while we were walking.

Anyway, walking done for now, tomorrow is white water rafting!

Day 11 – Radium Hot Springs and Crossing the Great Divide

A little tired this morning, as I was kept awake by some critter scratching away in the night. When I took a look, I’m fairly sure that I saw the tell tale stripey back if a chipmunk disappearing behind the dresser. Could have been worse, could have been a raccoon on the face. When I mentioned it to Ethan he suggested that it could be rabid. Always one to see the bright side!

Chipmunk
Cute enough outside, but not as a house guest

Anyway, today we are off to Radium Hot Springs via Kootenay National Park, the 6th National Park so far. En Route, we stop for a photo op at the continental divide (the point from which water will flow either to the Pacific or Atlantic). We have been near the divide a number of times before, but this is the only point which is signposted and delineated up to Ethan’s standards.

Continental Divide
This could go either way…

Interesting fact: Canada has the only triple continental divide in the world (Mount Snowdome next to the Athabasca glacier). This means that if you were to relieve yourself at the top of the mountain, it could flow into the Atlantic, Pacific or Arctic oceans. Way to make your mark on the planet!

Back on the highway and there is a designated no stopping zone. Apparently people have been stopping in the highway to view the heavy bear activity. This indeed seems to be the case as we passed a black bear and a family of grizzlies in quick succession. I slowed down to a crawl whilst staying within the letter of the law. Someone in front had been pulled over, ironically for pulling over, so I felt it was best to err on the side of caution.

Into Radium Hot Springs and time for a hike before a soak in the eponymous springs. We were a little nervous setting off given the proximity of bears, but we’re suitably maced up and soon got into it. Now I can’t claim to be an expert on distinguishing animal poo in the woods, but Ethan seems to have become quite conversant with fauna fecal matter and clearly identified some bear spore. Got to have a hobby I suppose.

Anyway, we made it to the springs unscathed, but managed to sight another two bears on the way home – from the car which is my preferred viewing mode – both within a m.ile or two of our accommodation. The first one was down a steep bank and so no photo without getting out of the car, something we were both somewhat disinclined to do.

The second was more amenable and walked into the road in front of us, before sprinting off. Ethan thought that was a wuss move, but won’t even go from the apartment to the car without mace, so I don’t think he can take the moral high ground here.

blackbear2

Training wheels off tomorrow. We are going to attempt a more dramatic walk. The weather forecast is good, but we have experienced the four seasons in a day too many times to count our chickens…

Days 9 & 10 – Towns, Canyons, Waterfalls & Lakes : the Whole Tourist Enchilada

Cramming it in for the last few days. Started on Saturday with another trip to Banff. Lovely place – very pretty, very touristy and not a little infuriating. Our itinerary for Banff was the Cave and Basin (original hot spring), souvenir shopping in town and possibly another attempt at Sulphur Mountain. Well the last of these was, of course, a non starter and the nearest we got to Sulphur Mountain was the sulphury reek at the Cave and Basin.

Parking it seems is not our forte. That said, the great wheel of driving karma did turn in our direction later in the day.

So, back to Banff, via quick views of the Banff Springs Hotel and Bow Falls. Time for souvenir shopping. I find it difficult to distinguish one shop selling tat from another selling the same, but Ethan needs to visit them all. I take to standing outside trying to get some photos. Pretty sure every shot anyone takes contains an image of some taking a shot of something else. Would make an interest network diagram thinks I. Such a geek.

Moving on from Banff, the plan had been to head back towards Kicking Horse and do a few walks there, but we are diveted by Johnstone Canyon. On a previous visit, this had been flagged as closed until te 15th June, but is now miraculously accessible – how can we resist? It is becoming apparent that the random closure of sites is common in Canada – whether due to conservation, avalanche risk or bear activity. You just have to roll with it.

Johnstone Canyon was well worth the visit, but very busy and I could feel Ethan’s anger level rising as he was jostled out of the way of decent views by parties of Chinese tourists. This is beoming a bit of a theme on the trip. I guess all that new found wealth has generated a travelling class.

Moving on from Johnstone, we are heading back towards Lake Louise. Getting late in the day, why not chance it? As I said, the parking gods have finally taken pity on us and we found our spot to go and view the famous Lake Louise.

Meh. All very scenic and turqoisey, but not overly inspiring. Maybe it was the lighting or the swarms of other tourists but, as we were shortly to discover, a few more miles up into the mountains lies Moraine Lake, which is far more spectacular, albeit a tad chilly…

 

Critters: a few spotted today although no more bears. We have discovered that the only we to summon critter into view, is to not have the camera handy and then to either make a sudden dive for it or grab a phone. This magnificent beast was just wanderng along the side of the road. It’s no moose, but good enough!

Elk
What the elk is that at the side of the road?

This less magnificent beast lead Ethan a merry chase, stopping frequently to pose and the move on on just at the wrong moment. How we laughed… at least until one of the locals suggested that you needed to keep an eye out as they like to run up your trouser leg. I think he was joking, but I have seen a lot of workmen with with their trousers taped shut…

Chipmunk
Don’t even think about it pal.

Phew, long day … and of course left us with the trips wo Wapta Falls and Hoodoo Creek to get in the next day.

This we duly did. Wapta falls was quite spectacular and you could get pretty close. Note to self, get fully waterproofed before approaching. Ah well, the shorts will try out soon enough. Not so sure about the camera!

From here onto Hoodoo Creek. A nice short walk we are led to believe. Short yes, easy no! It’s only a couple of miles, but all quite steeply uphill, the trail rising by about 1000 feet. I was fine of course, but had to keep waiting for Ethan to catch his breath 🙂

On the way back down, it seemed like a good idea to soak our feet in the creek. Very bracing but has definitely given me pause for thought about going rafting. Having felt how cold that was on my feet, I’m not sure i want to be dipping anything else in glacial waters.

Onwards.

Day 7 – Été? Non, c’est juin

We’re heading west today for a change. This presents us with an opportunity to maximize the use of our National Parks Discovery pass. Having ticked off, Banff, Jasper and Yoho national parks, we now head off through Glacier and Revelstoke Mountain national parks. Nothing like covering those extra hundreds of miles to make you feel like you are getting your money’s worth!

We are heading to Mount Revelstoke and the promise of being able to drive right to the top of the mountain. Before we get there we pass through yet more spectacular scenery and equally spectacular roadworks. I suspect that all the roads in Canada are resurfaced every year between April and June. Not surprising given the punishment that they must take from weather, avalanches and tyre chains. Amazing that they manage to do all of this without closing the Trans Canada Highway.

road

A brief stop to soak up some forest vibes in an old growth cedar forest. The trees here are mostly over 500 years old and it shows! The park services have kindly provided a board walk for those of us who like to enjoy nature without getting too close.

Onwards to Revelstoke and the great ascent. But of course that was never going to happen … the upper reaches are blocked by fresh snow. In June. Thwarted once again by Canada’s inability to get to grips with seasons.

Still, we can go part way up and get some decent views. There is also the opportunity for a brief, brisk hike up a trail to an old broken bridge. At this point we’ll take it.

Fun fact: Mount Revelstoke is not in the Rockies which means that we have completely traversed the Rockies from east to west. Tick that one off.

Take that Peak District.

Day 6 – Doing the Bear Minimum

First sighting of a black bear in the wild today. Well I say in the wild, it was on the road down from where we are staying, about a mile from our apartment. A mother and cub which I believe is the combo not to be messed with, so it focused our minds on getting tooled up. Typically, this was the first time that we didn’t have the camera in the car, so only managed a quick phone snap…

Seems like a good day for critter spotting as we bumped (almost literally) into these guys later in the day.

Longhorn Sheep
I wonder if I can butt him while he isn’t looking?

But today is about the ascent of Sulphur Mountain – our first decent walk.

Not so much.

After the 2 hour drive to Banff there wasn’t a single parking place to be had near the trail. Well, that’s not strictly true. There was one, but whilst I was being polite and letting the previous occupants manoeuvre out, some (lets say for the sake of argument) gentleman in a pick up shot round and stole it. I was dumbfounded. It seemed very un-Canadian. I imagine that they even have laws about this sort of thing. I looked around for a peace officer to whom I could report a serious breach of parking etiquette, but no luck. Move on Tony, move on…

After a brief pit stop to pick up supplies, we decide to abandon the Banff portion of the day. A Plan B is hatched and we are off to Takakkaw falls. We had planned to visit here anyway and it is on the way back to Kicking Horse.

Pipe dream. Road closed.

Plan C: Emerald Lake. We are nothing if not adaptable. Success! Parking and an opportunity, albeit on a lesser scale, for a walk. I think that the lake lives up to its name. Ethan feels that it should be called Emerald-From-Certain-Very_Specific-Angles Lake. Stickler.

As an added bonus, whilst walking arond the lake we found a trail leading to Takakkaw falls. As the road to the falls sometimes doen’s open until mid-June, this may be our best chance to get there. Its about a 20km round trip. Totally doable!

Consideration will duly be given.

Day 5 – Ice Ice Baby

I have clearly made a rookie error. Every time I wax lyrical about the views, they get eclipsed the next day. So it is again as we drive up the remarkably picturesque Icefields Parkway towards the Columbia Icefield.

We are trying to take some photos en route, but not sure they will turn out too well through the bug splattered windscreen. I have to say that I am taking a perverse pleasure in splattering bugs today after they had their way with me yesterday. I have so many bites that I am driving with a very sore balloon head. Little b**tards. I’m having to wear a hat so as not to freak out the locals.

Anyway, back to the drive. It is becoming apparent that, although distances aren’t huge, we may have overestimated our ability to cover ground. The going is often slow due to perpetual road repairs, convoys of RVs and a phenomenon that I have come to think of as slawping – the sudden slow down of the car in front as a spectacular vista hoves into view and the brakes are applied to allow for some gawping. Guilty.

We finally made it to our destination – the Athabasca glacier for a quick stroll. It’s a bit of a shock to the system going from temperatures in the mid 20s to freezing and snowing in the glacier, but totally worth it. Sad that it will not be here for more than another 80 or 90 years. Probably not helped by us tourists traipsing all over it and pumping out lots of hot air in the form of “ooo”s and “aah”s.

From the glacier we are taken to the Skywalk. It seems impossible to book the glacier walk without also booking this somewhat manufactured attraction. Ethan made the good points that

  1. Two attractions makes the price more palatable and
  2. Probably adds an extra incentive for people to take the 2 hour trek from Banff.

We scooted around as fast as possible, trying not to get into too many Chinese photo albums and went on our way.The journey back of course was a treasure trove of photo ops, including a chance to see the Rocky Mountaineer train working its way through the famous spiral tunnels. It’s all in the timing.

And talking of timing, it’s time to round of the day with a nice glass of Canadian ice wine.

Day 4 – The Restaurant at the Top of the World

A day of settling into the digs and exploring the local area. Think we picked the right week to come here. Seems to be the first week of the summer season and not too many people about, which suits us just fine.

Taking a look at the local Kicking Horse attractions today. First stop, Boo the grizzly. Kicking Horse has its own resident grizzly bear. Brought closer to humans by its mother (for protection from other bears apparently) and then orphaned, Boo now lives in a 20 acre habitat and deigns to occasionally come out and perform for folk. Sadly for us, Boo also brought his performing troupe of Mosquitos and the swarm wreaked havoc amongst the observers. I’m sure some of them were landing on my mosquito repellent devices, but I guess that these are made of sterner stuff than your average mozzie as they have to get through grizzly hide. They certainly took a liking to me. I’m half expecting to look like the elephant man tomorrow.

Boo
Boo!
The Scratch
That’s the stuff, just to the left a bit.

Now Boo’s enclosure is reached via a chair lift, so I was quite impressed that Ethan supressed his fear of heights to make the trip. Next up, a gondola trip 4000 feet up to the top of the mountain for lunch at the Eagle Eye restaurant. Ethan only needed one quick shot of liquid motivation, so he must have been pretty keen!

Well worth the trip, this must be the most impressive restaurant location that I have eaten in. Made yesterday’s views look like warm ups. Food wasn’t bad either! I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t asked where I would like to sit as I was all geared up to ask if they had any seats with a view.

Panorama
Round and round we go…

Saw this critter outside. Looked like a beaver from a distance, but we couldn’t quite figure out what it would be doing on top of a mountain. On closer inspection, I suspect it may be a marmot. Google lens had it as some sort of chipmunk, but what does Google lens know?

Marmot?
Love it or hate it… marmot.

We are not doing too well with our walking yet. I suspect that we are both hiding behind the fact that we haven’t sourced any bear spray yet and we are reliably informed that the black bears are coming. Actually, I think we have just discovered that relaxing on holiday is not a bad thing. We always intended to have an acclimatisation day, and there is plenty of time yet.

We retired to the hot tub to reassess our plans…

Relax...
You can’t rush a good plan

Day 2 – Dinosaurs, Hoodoos and Bandits in the Badlands

So. Having only just gotten to sleep (or so it seemed), I was rudely awakened by a blaring alert on my phone at 3am from the Canadian government (or at least the authorities in Alberta) were sending out an alert to everyone. I fully expected it to be a terrorist strike and had one leg in my trousers before I realised that it was a message to watch out for a particular car as several children had been abducted by an estranged mother several hundred miles away. Now this speaks well of an nation looking out for each other, but 3am? I mean come on Canada, have a little consideration! [Actually, I don’t think Canada could possibly be accused of lacking consideration, its probably the politest place I have ever been and I am definitely liking the chilled out vibe.]

Anyway, being up with the lark gave us the jump on the worm, or at least the greasy fry up equivalent and we set off in search of breakfast. Restored by the power of Denny’s bottomless supply of coffee, we set off in search of adventure.

Now whilst we were flying over Canada, it was apparent that vast swathes of the country (and I mean VAST) were filled with absolutely chuffin nothing. So what better way to experience the mind numbing tedium of so much prairie than to drive through it? So off we set into the dusty Alberta Badlands, for quite some considerable amount of this…

Badlands
Dusty Badlands

Before stumbling across this, which was completely invisible from the road:

Horseshoe Canyon
Where did that come from?

En route, we were subjected to a very polite mugging attempt. Pottering along on cruise control, we spooted some flashing lights and what looked like the scene of an accident up ahead. We duly obeyed the stop signs brandished by the uniformed figures who motioned us to the side of the road … only to find that there was no incident, they were just collecting money for charity. Enterprising I’m sure, but I think that there are other names for holding up traffic and demanding money. We politely declined, playing the no local currency card. They accpeted this amiably and politely motioned us back to the road. Politest highwaymen ever, because well, Canada.

Now it turns out that Alberta is the dinosaur capital of the world. It’s not clear why so many died in one place, but I suspect that they spent years trudging across the tundra and then just gave up in frustration when there was no end to the journey in sight. Whatever the cause it meant that they plenty left traces for us to see in the Royal Tyrell Museum, including the (we are told) world famous “Black Beauty”.

Black Beauty
Black Beauty, with new lightweight head

and one ancestor…

Ancestor
Family resemblance anyone?

Onwards through the heat and haze to see Hoodoos, before heading back to explore Calgary and the iconic tower.

Hoodoos
That hoodoo that you do so well
Calgary Tower
Where did the floor go?

Missed opportunities of the day:

  • Didn’t make it to the GopherHole Museum. Ethan was horrified that I even contemplated this. But a museum dedicated to dioramas made up from stuffed gophers? Why wouldn’t you? Well if it was a 100 mile diversion it turns out.
  • Also felt that Dinosaur Provincial Park was a little too far. It’s a world heritage site but of course the main draw is that it is actually shaped like a dinosaur. No, really.

dinopark

Best sighting of the day

Sign in a cesspit toilet at Horseshoe Bend. Oh that Canadian sense of humour. At least i think it was a joke, it is a very sporty country, so maybe extreme fishng is a thing?

Extreme Fishing
Rules is rules!

and of course the world’s biggest dinosaur.

worldsbiggestdinosaur

Phew, busy day. time for a drink.