Heart of the Rockies

Trip Start Jul 08, 2008
Trip End Oct 31, 2010

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Flag of Canada  , Alberta,
Friday, August 29, 2008

Lots of people say they don't like Banff because it is too touristy. It is very touristy but sometimes that can be nice (similar to Queenstown in New Zealand) as it gives it a certain energy.

We need not have bothered with our freezing dip that afternoon on the way to Banff because our first stop was the Upper Banff Hot Springs. It was a fantastic spot, with views of the mountains from the outside pool and it started sleeting which made for a nice contrast of freezing and hot.

The next morning dawned clear, the first clear day we had had since hitting the mountains, so we decided to hike up Sulphur Mountain to get some views. Most people take the gondola up but the hike up is only about an hour an a half and not too steep. The views were great, with mountains all around. We joined the hordes walking up to the weather station. It was freezing up there and the wooden platforms and stairs were lethal with ice but the view was worth it.

Pine beetle has destroyed large tracts of mature forest in the area in recent years. Driving through the area you can see large patches of dead trees. It was interesting to read on the information signs that this has largely been caused by the fire monitoring programme. Wild forest fires were considered destructive and a lot of resource was put into monitoring and curbing them. Now people realise that without fire, huge avenues of mature pine trees develop, which allow the pine beetle to spread like crazy as mature trees are their favourite homes.  To stop this they now carry out controlled burns. For someone from New Zealand, where almost all our ecological/environmental problems are caused by introduced pests, it seems amazing to me that something that has always been in the area (pine beetle) has caused such havoc due to a change in environment management (over-management as it were). It just shows how tricky environmental management is and you can never fully predict the consequences of a change of practice.

That afternoon we relaxed down by gorgeous Lake Minnewanka (pronounced Miniwonka). Mark walked to Stewart Canyon with bright blue water flowing out of the river into the lake and I sat by the lake and was entertained by the chipmunks and small squirrels that came very close, even walked over me.

We stopped for an early evening picnic beside Two Jack Lake. Doing the loop from Banff to Lake Minnewanka and back by Two Jack Lake was supposed to be an almost guaranteed trip for seeing big horn sheep, but we didn't.

We then took the alternative road from Banff to Lake Louise which is also supposed to be a great wildlife viewing trip. Almost everyone on the road was clearly looking for wildlife, crawling along at 30kph and stopping the moment anyone else did in case they had seen something. All we saw were two groups of three white tail deer through sparse forest. The babies had white spots on their light tan coats and looked just like Bambi.

We continued along the road in the morning but only saw ravens. The sky was looking very grey as we got closer to Lake Louise. We turned up the road to visit Moraine lake and the trees were all coated with a fine layer of snow. They looked lovely. I wonder how long it will take before we are sick of the sight of snow covered trees...

Even while snowing, Moraine lake is a very pretty colour but we couldn't see the 10 peaks, which is the view they used to put on the Canadian $20 note.

In the afternoon we walked up to Lake Agnes from Lake Louise, that was also very pretty but not looking its best due to grey skies. The walk heads up through forest to mirror lake just below this weird round rock structure that they call little beehive (not that it is little but there is a bigger one we didn't see). Lake Agnes sits above a steep waterfall and there is a tea house there. The area is covered with inquisitive (and hungry!) squirrels but, as the signs instruct, we resisted the urge to feed them. The view from above turns Lake Louise even bluer than it seems at lake level.

Not resisting the urge was the fornicating couple we came across on our way towards the Plain of the Glaciers. They hadn't even got off the path, so we got an eyeful before they hastily began dressing again. It was pretty funny until you consider we might have been a family with young children and that wouldn't be fair on the children or the parents.

The next day we drove up the Icefields Parkway until the Highway 11 turnoff. We stopped to look at the impressive mountains and glaciers along the way. One glacier is called crow foot as it used to make the shape of a crow foot in-between humps in the mountain. What with glacial subsidence, it has lost a toe now.

Next stop was Peyto Lake that is known as the bluest lake in the region. It was pretty impressive, especially when we climbed up to get a better vantage point than the tourist lookout, but I'm not sure that it was bluer than Lake Louise when seen from above. Once again, we didn't see it with sun on it, so perhaps that would make a difference.

Our final stops were next to the Mistaya Lake and Canyon.

Our drive along towards Edmonton was surprisingly pretty. We had expected the pretty scenery to end once we crossed the national park boundary but it continued for some way. There were lots of nice mountains around pretty Abraham Lake.

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