Back in Banff

Trip Start Sep 10, 2009
Trip End Oct 22, 2009

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Flag of Canada  , Alberta,
Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Small hitch in the travel plans yesterday morning.  The Moose bus was supposed to pick me up from Jasper Train Station at 8.15am.  I got there at 7.55 and waited and waited and waited.  At 8.30 I tried to ring the Moose office in Vancouver, forgetting that they are an hour behind because Banff and Jasper are on Mountain time.  So I had to wait till 9.00am.  When I got hold of them they had put down the wrong pickup point.  The Moose girl said she would try to get hold of the driver and ring me back.  It was freezing cold so finally I went into the train station, hoping that I wouldn't miss the bus driver if he came back for me.  Eventually at 9.50am the driver came in (I never did get a phone call telling me what was happening) and off we went.

We had a couple of stops on the way to Banff but it was very cold so mostly they were toilet/coffee stops.  However, we did stop at some more beautiful blue-green lakes - Waterfowl Lake, Peyto Lake (which is shaped like a bear's head) and Moraine Lake.  Moraine Lake is actually quite close to Lake Louise but I couldn't go when I was staying at Lake Louise because of the weather and transport issues.  I went climbing about on the rock trail with all the kids to take photos and today my knees are reminding me loudly that I am not 20.

We also saw Mountain Goats which are beautiful fluffy white creatures.  I've included a picture but they were halfway up a mountain so it's not a very good one.

My hotel is gorgeous.  It doesn't have a lounge and kitchen area like the one in Whistler did but there are two huge beds so I can use a different one each night I'm here.  This seems to be quite common in Canadian hotel rooms, the room in Jasper also had two double beds.  Of course this is great if you are friends sharing a hotel room but I'm wondering - don't couples here like sharing a bed when they are on holidays?

This morning I went on a Discover Banff tour which was very interesting.  The driver told us a lot about the history of Banff National Park which was set up originally in 1885 by the Canadian government and Canadian Pacific Railways in order to develop the natural hot springs that had been found here as a tourist site.  Conservation of the natural environment and protection of the wildlife was not part of the philosophy until about the 1970s.  The original idea was to raise revenue to offset the cost to the government of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The original hot springs site is now an historic site; you are allowed to visit but not allowed to swim there anymore.  In fact, due to the discovery of a species of snail that lives in the hot springs and no where else in the world, you can't even put your hand in the water.  The snails are the things that look like seeds; they are about the size of seeds too.

Proper use of National Park land at one time even encompassed a coal mine which operated here from 1902 to 1922 - yep, in the middle of a National Park they had a coal mine complete with a town of 900 odd people and logging and hunting were also both allowed in the Park.  For several decades Parks employees also shot wolves and cougars on site out of a misguided belief that if they didn't the predators (bad animals) would kill off the deer, elk and moose (nice animals) which people came to see.  This also stopped around the 1970s but they are still struggling to control the resulting explosion in the Elk population which has thrown the natural system out of balance.

Banff was one of the earliest National Parks in the world (Australia has an older one but I'm not sure which one) so it was very interesting to hear all the history and realise how much the concept and purpose of National Parks has changed.

Have a close look at the picture of the Hoodoos in Bow Valley.  There are lots of legends about the Hoodoos but this is the one I like - there were these evil giants wandering around the countryside creating havoc so the great spirit (don't know which one, depends on who you talk to) changed them into rocks.  The reason I like this story is if you look at the picture the Hoodoos look as if they have faces.

This evening I went for another tour, a wildlife tour.  There's not much wildlife around in Banff at the moment - all the little animals and birds have gone south for the winter or found themselves a nice place to sleep.  There are a few around still - cougars, wolves, wolverines and lynxs don''t hibernate but there aren't many wolves or cougars and you don't very often see the others. 

Bears are up in the sub-Alpine region eating up big before having a nap.  Did you know that an adult male grizzly bear needs a layer of body fat about 8-10 inches thick and a female needs about 10-12 inches.  Grizzlies mate earlier in the year, about May I think, but the embryo doesn't implant unless the female has sufficient body fat to get her and the cubs she gives birth to through the winter.

Anyway we saw lots more elk and we saw a male Mule Deer which was cool because I'd only seen females.  The females look a lot like small donkeys - hence the name.

Banff is a beautiful place.  I'd like to come back here at a different time of the year, maybe Spring or very early Summer.  I don't think I'd like it so much at the height of summer when you would be elbowing people off the pavement just to have room to walk.  There are lots of lovely, easy walks around town but I didn't have time to do any only having one full day and wanting to fit in as much as possible.  You would really need three or four days.

On the other hand, I'm looking forward to having a few days in one place before embarking on the last part of my trip - Churchill and the polar bears.  Tomorrow will be a long driving day to get to Kelowna, then another fairly long day to Vancouver which hopefully will be a bit warmer.
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