Wednesday, May 27, 2009

O’ Canada

The Canadian Rockies were spectacular...which is to say that we were blown away by their beauty. We started up on Wednesday and made it up as far as Sandpoint, ID. It was not far to the US/CA border and we were now somewhere which we had to use our passports! Although not far, it at least made us feel like we were journeying away for a much needed break.
We made a few stops on the way up to the 1st National Park along the way (there are 4 that are all contiguous with one another -- Kootenay, Banff, Jasper, and Yoho).

Here's our stop at Tom Horton's -- we always stop for a maple donut and coffee. Yummy!

Day 1 – Kootenay National Park

Our first glimpse of the beauty yet to come....


Our first stop was Kootenay National Park. Within a few minutes of entering the park, we got our first glimpse of wildlife. We saw mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk, marmosets, and lots and lots of deer.
Lake Olive at Kootenay.

We also stopped at the Paint Pots in Kootenay. Nature ochre color in the soil. Really cool colors -- I don't think the color really came through on the blog.

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We finally made our way to Banff later in the day. The weather was still pretty good and we decided to set off to find some dinner.

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We found a little cafe that had wild game. Aptly named “The Bison.” Quite yummy and we’d done a fair bit of walking that day are were very hungry.

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Day 2 – Banff National Park and the Surrounding Area

We got up bright and early and were excited to see the weather was holding out. It was sunny and very few clouds were hanging out in the sky. We headed up to Sulfur Mountain (big ski area in the winter) to ride up the gondola. For those of you who know me well, I don’t *like* heights. Even ES got a little “widgey” as we were riding up. Eight minutes can really seem like a long time. We had some great views from both the gondola and up top.

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mount sulphur view 1 photo 5

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After heading down the mountain, we drove over to hike part of the Bow River and see the Hoodoos. These are rock formations that look like long, fat columns jutting out of the rock. It’s a little tough to see in the photo (we are far away…), but they are located in the middle of the picture.

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We headed over for the Lake Minnewonka Loop, which included Lake Minnewonka, Two Jacks Lake, and Johnson Lake. The weather was holding and the sun really brought our the color of the lakes. Never had we seen anything quite like it.

Lake Minnewonka

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Two Jacks Lake

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Johnson Lake

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After a quick bite in town, we headed up the Bow Valley Parkway to Johnston Canyon, which has 2 very large water falls. We were only able to hike to the 1st one, but it was a pretty hike and the water fall was amazing. ES is standing next to the only “bear” we saw in the park. Others had told us they’d spotted bear the day before, but we didn’t encounter any on our trip.

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On our drive back to town, we encountered a Big Horn sheep in the road. This got to be very common, as were the really large tour buses. Thankfully, we were there when it was still relatively quiet in the season so not too crowded and we could always find a place to park.

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Our last stop of the day was Cave and Basin Park. This is the site where 3 Canadian Pacific RR workers stumbled upon a hot springs that eventually formed the basis for Canada’s first national park. The springs are no longer open for swimming, but neat to look around. The cave where the indoor spring was located had a pretty low ceiling….

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Indoor spring.

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Outdoor spring.

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Video of the spring.

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Day 3 – Moraine Lake and Yoho National Park

We decided to drive up to Moraine Lake (near Lake Louise) the next day. We took the Bow Valley Parkway instead of the Trans-Canada highway. It was a bit more scenic.

Bow Parkway photo 1

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Since everything in Banff was thawed, we were surprised to hear that Moraine Lake was still very much frozen and that the road to the lake had only opened that morning. Several people were putting on snow shoes and others were trudging through the snow (aka us) to snap a photo of the frozen over lake. This was the first time I needed to reach for the hiking pants, gloves, and hat. It had been quite toasty warm in Banff (a balmy 60+ degrees).

Moraine Lake

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We headed back into the car and drove over to Yoho National Park. It was quite a drive, but the scenery was amazing along the way. Several of the roads to the viewpoints were still closed, but we were able to stop in the little town of Fields for lunch at the general store (very yummy lunch!) and see Emerald Lake.

Emerald Lake

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We stopped at the Natural Bridge before heading back to Banff.

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We got back to the hotel and wandered down to the Bow River Falls, directly behind our hotel.

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We saw an advertisement on the information board at the Banff Tourist Info for a Banff Jazz Festival. Joshua Redman was headlining a group of musicians from the Banff Center. We were able to get last minute tickets and saw a concert on Saturday night. He was amazing.

Day 4 – Banff and Jasper National Parks (although barely into Jasper…)

We got up early Sunday morning and checked out of our hotel in Banff. We had a little hiccup Sunday morning (I’ll wait to blog on this later pending our outcome) but finally got on the road and headed up to the Columbia Icefields. Our first stop was Bow Summit/Peyto Lake north of Lake Louise. This was described in our guide books as a breath-taking lake with a short walk in from the parking lot. We’d been doing a lot of hiking and a short hike didn’t sound so bad…Little did I know. The person who write the guidebook failed to mention this was in the summer months. When there is snow (which we had….) the road is closed. You have to hike up and into the Lake viewpoint. We put on our heavy duty books, wished we’d had crampons, and headed out. The trail was steep and about thigh deep in snow with the exception of a hard packed trail that was about 12 inches wide. When you moved to let people pass, you’d occasionally sink into the snow if you didn’t find a hard packed site. The trail was pretty crowded so it took a bit to get up there. It was well worth it. Amazing views, but the lake was still frozen so it was hard to get a true sense of the color of the lake (which was supposed to be 2nd to none).

hike to peyto lake -- big hill photo 5

the view -- the reward photo 8

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We stopped at several more scenic view points along the way up to the Columbia Icefields in Jasper.

Random shots of places along the way.

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The Columbia Icefields. Note the really big glacier in the middle of the photo. We saw a lot of these on our drive up there.

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Day 5 – Lake Louise and Banff

We spent our final morning hiking around the Lake. The hotel had a resident dog “Sunny” who you could take out for a walk, but he was already “booked” for the day….It started out a little chilly, but with a brisk walk, we were soon warmed up in to no time. As we got farther from the hotel, the crowd thinned out more and more and it was a nice walk out about the Lake.

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We decided to head back to Banff for a little bit of browsing in the shops, as this was the only day where the weather really wasn’t all that great. We went to the three museums in town as well (not too big, but still really neat).

We also headed back to the Cave and Basin to walk about the marsh surrounding it. The warm water flowing out from the hot springs creates a unique ecosystem that is found no where else in the park. To top it off, someone released tropical fish into the marsh in the 60’s and several of the species have thrived. We weren’t there at the correct time of day to see the birds, but there is plenty of good birding if you get the right season/time of day.

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Day 6 – Home Sweet Home

We packed up the car and headed home for the long 10+ hour drive home…We loved our adventures in the Canadian Rockies and hope to return someday.