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It seems that few car rental agencies stock compact or even medium-sized cars. We booked a Corolla and got a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Granted, it was comfortable and was the perfect car to drive on a few of the secondary roads we encountered, but we prefer a smaller car for city driving.
We drove the more scenic Fraser Canyon road from Vancouver, stopping frequently to take photos. Who could resist? The farther north we got, the more majestic the views. We passed through a varied terrain of farm land, lower hills, desert plains intersected by rivers and into the mountains. We were lucky. We passed several hillsides covered in blackened center poles of trees and one hillside still smoking from recent forest fires.
We did make one mistake. We forgot that we were heading into a long weekend at the height of the tourist season. We thought we could just use the internet to book ahead but all the reasonably priced hotels were fully booked. It ended up to our advantage. Instead of staying in Jasper, we stayed just west of Jasper in the quiet, small town of Valemont, set within a circle of mountains.
We arrived in Jasper on Canada Day, July 1 and went directly to visit Joan Wilmshurst’s son, John. He and his wife Traudi and their three sons have been enjoying the outdoor life in Jasper, where both of them have been working with Parks Canada in Jasper. We wished them well in their new endeavours and joined the throngs heading for the main street of town. Everyone was dressed in red and many carried small Canada flags. Almost the whole town and most of the tourists were lining the streets to see the annual parade. It was lots of fun. There were clowns, floats from all the major businesses, trick motorcycles and, of course, horses.
We left town after the parade, making a short detour to Jasper Park Lodge. I had visited the lodge on one of my days off as a chambermaid in Banff, all those years ago. The resort is even more impressive than my memories, the large log building looking out over the sparkling waters of Lac Beauvert.
Our destination that night was the Black Cat Guest Ranch, another find when all the inns were full in Jasper. It was well worth the detour about an hour north of town. The ranch is just outside Jasper National Park with views of the craggy peaks of the first range of Rocky Mountains. Breakfast, was a help-yourself buffet, eaten at long, communal tables, which means we got to meet several of the other guests. We went to the ranch intending to hike and we did. We didn’t make it all the way to the top of the hill a short walk from the ranch, but we did get great views of the surrounding area.
Driving through the Rockies, you expect to see wild animals, preferably up close but safely. You know by the number of parked cars along the road that something of interest is there. We were told this was especially true on the road to Maligne Lake. Sure enough, we stopped where everyone else was stopped and got several photos of elk, moulting mountain goats wandering on the road, and a lone black bear peacefully munching grasses just off the road. I guess the animals are used to curious tourist since they just kept on doing what they were doing and ignored the many cameras flashing away.
We were lucky to visit Maligne Lake when we did, despite the number of tour buses in the area. It certainly is a well deserved tourist draw. The forest fire threat we had been hearing about came close to the area just a day or two later and tourists were turned back.
We had a few more stops to make that day on our way to Banff. We just had to stop at the Columbia Glacier to walk to the edge of the glacier. We didn’t take the bus tour over the glacier or join a guided walk on the ice. We were content to walk the long path to the start of the glacier. It was amazing how far the glacier has receded since I was first there in 1962. The path is sign-posted with markers illustrating where the beginning of the glacier was in previous years.
Lake Louise is another stop for every tourist bus. We had skied at Lake Louise in the winter but we had never been there when the lake was unfrozen. It was a picture postcard view with a backdrop of high peaks and glaciers behind a crystal clear lake.
We finally made it to Banff and found our simple but comfortable room in the YWCA Banff Hotel. The Y bought the former Banff Mineral Springs Hospital and renovated to provide affordable co-ed housing. It is still run by the Y but is now a value hotel for tourists such as us. It was walking distance to both the downtown area restaurants and stores and the Banff Springs Hotel.
Yes, changes have been made to the Banff Springs since I was a chambermaid for the summer. We had stayed at the hotel one March years ago during the ski season and another time attended our niece’s wedding at the Banff Springs, again during the ski season. This was the first return visit in the summer. I took a photo from the original entrance of the hotel that showed the dormer windows of the long room on the top floor that I shared with 15 other young chambermaids. It was a chain of bed-dresser-window down both sides of the room but boy, did we have a view to die for over the golf course towards Rundle Mountain. It is still a view to die for, all around that area.
You can’t be in Banff without taking advantage of the spectacular mountain views. We walked up to the base of the gondola on Sulphur Mountain and waited in line with the rest of the tourists for the ride to the top. It was worth the relatively short wait and the area was large enough that the crowds dissipated as we walked farther up the paths to a cabin on Sanson’s Peak to which Norman Sanson hiked up every week for 30 years to monitor weather.
I picked up a brochure recommending a circular drive from Canmore to Kananaskis. It was the perfect side trip from Banff to Calgary. It was titled a wildlife drive, but we didn’t see any wildlife. Instead, we learned the value of the big Jeep Grand Cherokee as we drove the quiet route for several hours over a mixture of paved and gravel roads. We passed by several lakes and streams, popular with fishermen, gazed at more mountain peaks and made it to the small village of Kananaskis without hitting bottom or getting stuck. There were many trail heads enticing to hikers like us but that will have to wait for another trip.
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