The travel to Kamloops from Vancouver signalled the start of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, which will stay with me today through to Banff. The mountain range spans the two provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. The range has tall mountains such as Mt Robson, Mt Columbia and Snow Dome. However, these are all below 4000 meters. The Canadian Rockies comprise mostly layered sedimentary rock such as shale and limestone. Many river systems originate from these mountains such as Bow, Fraser, Athabasca, Columbia and North Saskatchewan. The Canadian Rocky mountains are also home to five National Parks, four of which are ‘neighbours’, namely, Banff, Jasper, Yoho and Kooteney. The fifth is the Waterton Park. And all of them are part of the UN World Heritage Site. On my drive from Kamloops to Banff and during the stay there I will be passing through all except the last named. The development of the Canadian Pacific Railway was the main source of connect between the western and eastern parts through four major passes that were cut through treacherous terrain. But, today, the road system is absolutely gorgeous to drive on.
After a Continental breakfast of cereal and waffles with maple syrup I left the Inn by 7.45 am. Traffic was not heavy on the TCH 1E and I took it at leisure. Having figured out last night how to use cruise control on the Impala I kept adjusting the speeds as indicated so prominently on the roads at it took a lot of work out of the driving. I could concentrate on keeping the car with the lane and under control. Cruise control also helped at a couple of places where traffic police were enforcing speed control. At many places on the highway construction work was underway with numerous warnings prior to the place where the work was going on. I presumed that these were annual works necessitated by the harsh winter.
It became very cold when I passed through the Rogers Pass, which is over 4400 feet. Both the Canadian Pacific Railway and the TCH use the pass to take a shortcut across the “Big Bend” of the Columbia River. The Pass was discovered by Bowman Rogers in 1887 when he was a surveyor with the CP railway. On the way to Banff I passed the boundary of the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. The latter is known as “Wild Rose Country”. In 2014 citizens voted to keep that out of the licence plates of vehicles registered in the province.
Lake Louise is a short detour from the TCH 1E and just about 60 km short of the town of Banff but is within the Banff National Park. The lake is famous for its turquoise blue waters with the Victoria glacier and tall stately mountains in the background. The colour of the water comes from rock flour which is carried into the lake by the glacier melt. The royal Fairmont Chateau is the property of the CP railway and adds to the considerable charm of the lake. Boating and hiking are popular attractions here. The lake drains into the Bow River over three km. During my visit this day the lake was completely frozen over with dangers of thin ice. Despite this the place was swarming with tourist and many went more than knee deep in the thin ice. The bright Sun reflecting off the white crystal snow hurt the eyes. After a few minutes walking around gingerly on the snow I returned to the comfort of the warm car and took the rest of the journey to Banff.
The YWCA Banff Hotel is almost bang in the middle of Downtown and within the confines of the large National Park. As I turned into the avenue where the Hotel is situated I was captivated by the imposing office building of the National Park Authority, known as Parks Canada. Built entirely of sandstone (locally called Rundle Rock as it was hewn out of Mt Rundle) the building is a head turner. It was bright and sunny when I checked into the YWCA, but in a short while it started raining and it had me disappointed. I wanted to walk around the town that looked almost like a movie set. After keeping the bags in the room I decided to wear a windcheater and brave the weather. Then I learnt why it is oft said that ‘fortune favours the bold’. In a very short time the weather cleared up and I had a lovely walk in the small town.
Mt Rundle and Mt Cascade dominate the landscape of the resort town with a population of 9000. The Bow River cuts the town in two but lends immense charm to the town. Banff Avenue is the main thoroughfare with boutique shops, bakeries, eateries, chateaux style hotels and souvenir shops. There are a couple of Museums in the near vicinity such as the Whyte Museum, Cave and Basin Natural History Museum and the Banff Park Museum. With the mountains, rivers, rolling meadows the neat and clean picture perfect town of Banff is a feast for the eyes, a relief for the lungs and a treat for the legs. I would love to retire to this part of the world if my pockets ever permit.
It was still sunny at 8 pm when I returned from the stroll of the town. I decided on a short drive through the upper reaches of the town as I caught a glimpse of a superb chateaux style hotel in the distance. That turned out to be the Fairmont Springs Hotel, iconic to the town and earlier known as Banff Springs Hotel. I was astonished to know that the property had been constructed by the CP railway as early as 1888. The massiveness and its opulence had me staring at it for more time than the parking lot would permit. The pioneering effort of the CP railway and how it spawned future growth and development can be assessed a bit from this historic effort.
Before turning in for the day I took the time to make a booking for a tour of the Icefields Parkway. Whoever I mentioned the Canada trip to recommended Icefields Parkway as a must do item. I weighed the options of a self-driven trip and a conducted tour. I plumped for the latter in due course because of the amount of information that one could get on a conducted, as I had experienced on the trip to Milford Sounds in New Zealand. After a couple of phone calls I booked through sundog.com. The fee was quite steep at C$ 260 but promised a 11 hour feast with an alpine lunch. The company promised pick up from the hotel before 8 am the next day.