Today was the kind of day that makes you realise that you've been given enough gifts to last a lifetime and that asking for anything more is just greed talking.
I had a lot of misgivings and preconceptions about Banff. I expected it to be kitschy, expensive, and over rated. By the time I got to the town limits, I was in an absolutely foul mood and wondered if there was any point my being there at all. To enter Banff National Park (in which Banff is located), you need to pay an access fee of 10$ for a day or 65$ for a year for an individual or 130$ for a family. I decided that the annual pass would make more sense since it's good at all national parks across Canada. I asked the attendant if I was going to need a second pass for my motorhome, even if I was towing my car behind it and only one vehicle would be on park roads at a time. She said yes. That was sort of the proverbial straw for me as to dealing with Parks Canada. In order to stay at their grossly overpriced campgrounds I had to pay an additional 130$ per year? I decided right then and there that I was taking the Crowsnest Pass on Thursday and not going through Banff again.
But I talked to someone else at the Banff Information Centre and what she had to say was much more logical, that I didn't need a second pass. I realised then that Parks Canada employees are like a lot civil servants I work with and unable to see their jobs as anything but black and white. So if I get questioned for having just one pass, I'll just tell them that the people at the Banff info centre said I didn't need a second one.
My mood greatly improved then and one of the most amazing days of my life began.
Let's start at the beginning.
I stopped for a bit of a break on my almost 1.5 hour drive to Banff at Lacs des arcs:
I've always wanted to say: "I'm Rae. From Canmore." Non Royal Canadian Air Farce fans can just scratch their heads at that one. *ggl*
Entrance to Banff National Park
Welcome to Banff!
A lovely, eye-catching, sculpture on Banff Avenue
So, Banff. A compact, aesthetically pleasing but not kitshy, friendly town. The first thing that I noticed were gas prices; they were the same as in Calgary! Then I noticed all the signs announcing RV parking for two hours on the street and 12 hours (but no overnight) in special lots reserved for RVs. Then I noticed that all parking in Banff is free! I wouldn't want to take Miranda in there at the height of the tourist season, but today I would have had no problem finding a place for her and she would have been secure all day, without my having to beg for a place to park her while I explored. I therefore award Banff the distinction of being the first truly RV friendly place I've been to so far. I've never felt so welcome!
First order of business in Banff was pretty funny and goes to show that I'm living my real life and not on vacation. Yesterday, I managed to lose my ATM card. I'd had my previous card for 15 years and I wasn't able to hang on to my current card for more than a few months! So, off to the CIBC I went to get a new card. This illustrates one of the many reasons I love being with the CIBC; if a town has more than one banking institution there is usually a CIBC (unless you're in Quebec where the same can be said about Caisse Pops). I was therefore not surprised to find a CIBC right across the street from the lot where I parked.
That done, I went to the visitor's centre to raise hell about the park passes and to see if I could add anything to my day's itinerary, which contained just two items.
I wandered down Banff Avenue for a bit and then went to Gopher Avenue to visit the Whyte Museum for the sole purpose of viewing the Group of Seven et. al. exhibition. Yes, we finally get a bit of culture! LOL
Of all the members of the Group of Seven, A.Y. Jackson is my favourite.
There were also some lovely pieces by Japanese-Canadian artist Takao Tanabe, another favourite of mine. I couldn't believe I got to see this piece in person; it's my favourite of his!
There was more to the museum, but it was way too nice a day out to stay inside for long!
Next order of business was something I learned about at the info centre: the Sulphur Mountain Gondola. Even though riding a gondola was in violation of everyone of my instincts, I'd never done it and figured that I could survive the 14 minute round trip.
I didn't enjoy the trip at all, I'm afraid, even though the views were spectacular!
At the top, I continued up to the Cosmic Ray Station.
I have no problem being that high up when I'm on solid ground!
Coming back down on the gondola, I really impressed myself when I actually turned around and took this picture. EEP!
The ride down was a lot harder than the ride up as the first time around there had been people in the gondola with me and they were able to distract me.
Back on solid ground (and having lost fifteen years off my life), it was time to do the second item on my to-do list, something I found I'm not sure how. I got back onto the Transcanada Highway, then exited at the Bow Valley Parkway where I cruised along until I got to Johnston's Canyon. It features an amazing hike through a canyon, mostly on cantilevered walkways (non-scary; they're made of concrete and steel). There is a short hike to the lower falls, a longer one to the higher falls, and very long hike to pools of water known as the 'Inkpots.'
Making an attempt to reach the Inkpots was no small decision on my part. I'd already hiked 3km uphill to get to the higher falls and it was another 3km uphill to get to the Inkpots. Add to that the climb at Sulphur Mountain and the late hour of the day. This was a case where a good decision could only be made with firm knowledge of one's abilities. On flat terrain, I can hike 3km in about 30 minutes. Uphill, make that 45 minutes. Uphill and exhausted? Calculate an hour. So, that put me at the Ink Pots around 4. Add a bit of sight seeing, picture taking, and talking to people on the trail and I wouldn't be back at my car before 5:30. I was dressed for the weather, had enough supplies on me to face a 'worst case scenario', and knew that I was smart enough to turn around if I reached my limit. I set off and decided to reevaluate around 3:30. I'd just about had enough by this point, but, thankfully, some hikers came up from the Inkpots right around then and told me it was a downhill shot from where I was standing. I knew I'd have to climb back up again, but that after that I was looking at mainly downhill to get back to the car. I pushed on.
I'm so glad I did. :-)
Doing the uphill hike up out of there, I had to keep reminding myself that I could not spend the night on the mountain. Someone was bound to question the car at the trail head and come in search of me! That would have been so humiliating! So, I pressed on and made it back to the trail head for bang on 5:30! There was an ice cream stand open now and I decided to treat myself to a double scoop cone! I've only just started to eat ice cream again and I have to say this cone was just fantastic! :-)
Driving back towards Banff, traffic came to a standstill on the parkway because of these three little guys:
Since I had an hour and a half to go before home and I felt that I'd earned a nice dinner out, I treated myself to salmon and chicken in Banff, then ambled back to my car. I had to stop to take this picture:
I call it 'Deer on Banff Avenue.'
Oh, wait. That name is taken!
I got home at 8:30; my longest day out as of yet and the first time I've been out after dark other than to go to the cinema!
One thing I didn't get to do today since I went to the Inkpots was to catch a glimpse of Lake Louise. I'll swing by there on Thursday on my way through the park.
I have two days left here. I had thought to go to Drumheller, but didn't realise that it's almost a five hour round trip drive. So, I'll save Drumheller for the spring. Tomorrow, I'll go into Calgary for supplies for Operation: Batteries and Wednesday I'll putter around at home, do laundry, pack, and plan my trip across the Rockies.
I can consider Banff to be the perfect cap to this first portion of my incredible journey. Now, it's a straight shot to the Osoyoos area (site of the only desert in Canada, not counting the Arctic) where I need to find a place to park my butt as I will be on call for a grape picking job as of Monday!
It seems that even good lives have no shortage of good days.
"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."