Traveling Through the Canadian Rockies – Part II of II
This is a non-gambling trip report begun last week. Bonnie and I spent a week traveling in Western Canada. We decided that we’re both getting older, maybe we won’t be able to travel in five years, so let’s go out and have some fun. This is the first trip under that program. We had a Panama Canal trip scheduled, but that was cancelled due to the pandemic. We’ll probably do that one next.
We spent 36 hours in Jasper, which is in the Jasper National Park. The only excursion scheduled by our travel agent was a 2-hour motorcycle sidecar trip. This was definitely NOT on my bucket list of things I wanted to do, but it turned out to be one of the best parts of the trip. Our driver/guide was driving a Harley-Davidson with an attached sidecar. Bonnie and I took turns sitting in the sidecar and sitting behind the driver.
In late May, there was still quite a bit of snow on the peaks. Our guide predicted that by mid-to-late July, all of the snow will be melted. The mountains in the western United States are in a lengthy drought, but the same is not true of the Canadian Rockies. We saw quite a variety of wildlife, including a dozen or so female elk within 20 feet of our bike, two bighorn sheep rams 10 feet away, a mule deer about the same distance, and a black bear maybe 50 feet away. We saw two black bear 3-year-olds in a tree maybe 100 yards away, several bald eagles, and two adult geese leading four less-than-a-week-old goslings across the road. In addition to the wildlife, our driver pointed out areas that had burned recently, some glistening snow that he felt was ripe for an avalanche, and various local landmarks.
We learned what a “bear jam” was. When passengers in one car see a bear, they pull over for a closer look. Other cars pull over to look as well. On the road we were on, there must have been 20 vehicles parked by the side and in the middle of the road by the time we got there. We could have squeezed through on the bike, if we wanted, but our driver found a spot close to the bear and we gandered for five minutes, until the bear moseyed away. In the national park where the animals are protected, they aren’t very frightened by humans. I told the driver that it was quite a coincidence that we learned about a bear jam on the same day I had strawberry jam for breakfast. He didn’t think that was nearly as clever and funny as I did.
We had time to do more in Jasper, but the two solid days on a sightseeing train had left us in sensory overload, so we just walked around the town, read, and relaxed.
On Friday, we took an all-day motorcoach trip from Jasper to Lake Louise. The highway we took is supposed to be one of the top ten scenic highways in the world — but when we went, it was overcast and drizzly. We saw a lot of the bottoms of snow-covered peaks, but really didn’t get good viewing.
We spent three hours at the Colombia Icefield. This included a walk on the Athabasca Glacier. After lots of preparatory instruction, we got out of the specialized bus (called an Ice Explorer) and found it about 40 degrees with the wind at 25 miles per hour. Our driver was in shirt sleeves and explained that it was really quite a bit milder than it had been earlier in the day. Bonnie and I looked at each other and, after three minutes, simultaneously came to the conclusion of “we’ve done enough to say we did it” and got back on the bus.
An hour later we went out onto the skywalk, which was a glass-floored path extending out over a glacier canyon 900 feet below. Bonnie and I found the skywalk to be no big deal, but a significant number of tourists were too frightened to go on it. If you had any fear of heights, this part of the excursion would bring that out big time. While it was still less than 50 degrees, the wind had stopped, and we were in the elements less than a half hour. Quite brisk!
Our hotel in Banff, with the unusual name of Elk+Avenue, was in the heart of downtown and within easy walking distance of shops, restaurants, bars, and whatever. Some of the streets were closed off to vehicles and there was pedestrian traffic until the bars closed at 2 a.m., or so we’re told. We learned about a few places where they had dancing, starting at 9 or 10, and enjoyed our evening there. The biggest dance floor was at Melissa’s, which was frequented by a good-sized crowd of 18 to 30-year-olds. Bonnie and I, both in our seventies and looking it, were quite a hit. We knew how to dance and were enjoying our hobby with each other even though we were as old as dirt, compared to the others. More than 10 of them came up and told us what an inspiration we were. They wanted to be like us when they grew old. (My unspoken thought was, “Be careful what you wish for. It was definitely NOT a smooth ride getting here.”) After dancing eight or so songs, we walked back to our room.
The next day, we took an hour-long boat cruise on Lake Minnewanka, which is in the Banff National Park. In our opinion, it was a yawn. We rode around in a boat, saw some mountains and trees (of which we’d seen lots recently), and learned a small bit about the history of the area. There was also a gondola in the area. Travel agencies usually pick either the gondola or the boat ride for their customers. The gondola MUST have been more interesting.
We needed a Covid antigen test to get back into the United States. We expected to pass it, and we did, but you’re never certain until it’s over. Four or five of the people who were on the train with us a week ago picked up Covid somewhere and had to delay their trip home. It could have happened to us!
Are we glad we went on this trip? Yes, and we recommend it to others. Would we do it again? No way. We only have time for a few more vacation trips, and we’ll spend most of the rest of them doing something we’ve never done before. Still, we got to see a part of Canada we’d never seen before, and it was indeed beautiful.