Travel

The Canadian Rockies -- an awesome experience!

 ... Melrose couple put this trip at top of the list

by James Tierney

Whatever you may have heard about the Canadian Rockies is true and then some. You have to actually see it to really appreciate the beauty and splendor of it all. Postcards, pictures, videos, etc. cannot capture the essence of what the Canadian Rockies offer. This trip is right up there with the best we have been on, including Hawaii, Italy and the Panama Canal.  

Just where are the Canadian Rockies? Although they start further north in Yukon territory, we begin to see them about 140 miles north of Calgary, the province of Alberta, in a quaint little town of Jasper and they continue south through  another quaint little town of Banff, cross the borders from the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia into western Montana and eastern Washington, and eventually become the Colorado Rockies.

Mt. Everest and Mt McKinley  may be more well known but no more imposing and majestic than lesser known names like Cascade, Sulphur, Rundell, Tunnel, and Castle mountains. We were anywhere from 2500 to 5500 feet above sea level on the ground while traveling by motor coach from Calgary to Edmonton to Jasper to Banff and back to Calgary, a total of 788 miles. Some mountains were as high as 12,000 feet. Relate that to Mt. Washington's 6200 feet.

We needed to adjust to a few things immediately which varied somewhat from what we are used to. Darkness didn't come before 10:30 PM. Currency was slightly different, with the smallest bill $5 and a $2 and $1 coin, called a loonie and twonie, not from Looney Tunes, but a picture of a loon on the $1 coin. Otherwise, the bills and coins were the same, except the bill denominations were a different color. We relearned some of the metric system which we knew a few years back when we were supposed to change over. Determining the Fahrenheit temperature, we had to multiply the Celsius figure by nine, divide by five and add 32, and multiply meters by three to get feet. Clearly, it makes more sense for us to be on the metric system.

Our trip started in Boston on May 19, 2001. We flew Air Canada to Toronto connecting for Calgary where the tour began. Approaching Calgary we had to circle several times while a sand storm passed through the city. That afternoon we had snow and temperatures in the 30s and three days later we were experiencing temperatures in the 80s. We never knew what to expect weatherwise.

We were met at the Calgary Airport by the Travel Agency personnel, bussed to the Marriott hotel and checked into a nice room, overlooking the city. There were 41 of us, 30  from the Boston area and 11 from other parts of the country -- California, Tennessee, and Connecticut. We arrived early enough to visit the Calgary Tower, Calgary's answer to the Toronto CN Tower and Seattle's Space Needle. While having a nice panoramic picture of the city, snow began to fall with clouds and fog obstructing our view.

We obtained Canadian currency which is advisable to make the most of the U.S. dollar, giving you $1.50 in Canadian currency. You may not get that rate using the U.S. dollar.  Calgary has the world's largest rodeo, the Calgary Stampede, called the "Greatest Show on Earth", although Barnum and Bailey may dispute that. It has a western flavor with 10 gallon hats being worn here and there.

There was an eerie feeling seeing very few people in downtown Calgary on a Saturday afternoon. It was like the twilight zone. Apparently, people go home Friday night and do not return until Monday. No comparison to Downtown Crossing in Boston which is teeming with people on Saturday. Although skyscrapers are fairly new, OLD refurbished two and three floor buildings serve as facades and entrances to the skyscrapers with clear original identification of the old building, e.g., Linehan Block-1886, Thomas Bros. Block-1893


Ice Fields

SUN-MAY 20: We traveled by motor coach from Calgary to Edmonton, the capital of Alberta. The province of Alberta is the approximate size of Texas. Although we didn't stop there, there is an area called the Badlands with dinosaur digs and 35 species of fossils. We had another metric lesson, getting miles by multiplying kilometers by six and dropping the last digit, e.g. 100Kx6=60 miles. We also learned that the main industry of Alberta is oil and gas, and that there is more oil under Alberta than in Saudi Arabia. It would seem that there should be a way to get at it, rather than have to rely on the Middle East for our oil.  

We arrived at the West Edmonton Mall for lunch and had an opportunity to spend some time at the mall, which is supposed to be the largest in the world or, maybe second to the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. The mall features a professional size ice-skating rink, amusement park, the world's largest indoor water park, an 18 hole miniature golf course, over 800 stores, and covers five zip codes. Sections of the mall have themes such as Paris, New Orleans and England


Glacier

We continued on to Jasper National Park and began seeing the Canadian Rockies and wildlife along the road into Jasper. Common words heard on the bus along the way were, spectacular, unbelievable, breathtaking, awesome, amazing. We checked into another excellent hotel for two nights, the Sawridge Hotel, Jasper.

MON-MAY 21: The town of Jasper featured many quaint shops and restaurants. We visited Maligne Lake, one of the prettiest bodies of waters in the Canadian Rockies and we were scheduled for a lake cruise, but the lake was still frozen. We also visited Maligne Canyon, the product of 10,000 years of erosion which had depths of up to 180 feet. Jasper is a switching station for the railroad and we saw freight trains as long as 100 cars. We haven't seen that many cars on a train for 50 or more years. We also enjoyed the unique perspective of the Jasper National Park floating down the Athabasca River white water rafting. We always wanted to do this.

TUES-MAY 22: We left Jasper and headed for Lake Louise, stopping at the Columbia Ice fields along the way. We were continually rising further above sea level as we rode, reaching heights of 5200 feet with sand dunes under the road. We traveled  down the Icefields Parkway, an endless succession of scenic wonders with bursting waterfalls, rushing rivers, glacial peaks, imposing cliffs and snow-capped mountain ranges.

A stop was made at the Athabasca Falls before arriving at the Columbia Ice Fields where we boarded special snowcoaches, with special wheels or tank tracks, to get us to the Athabasca Glacier and the 1000-foot thick ice fields where we got out and walked around. A breathtaking experience. Back on the coach and continuing down the Icefields Parkway, we saw much wildlife, some alongside the road, including moose, elk, deer, mountain goats and sheep. Stops were made at Peyto Lake and the Valley of the 10 peaks. Every stop was a photo op.


Banff

The Trans Canada Highway was on our route which runs from Vancouver to Nova Scotia, a total of 5000 miles. We passed Castle Mountain where the name was changed to Eisenhower and then changed back again because, supposedly, he played golf rather than attend the dedication. We checked into the famous Chateau Lake Louise, a Fairmont Hotel, named for Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, daughter of Queen Victoria. The Victoria Glacier was named after the queen. We also enjoyed elegant fine dining this evening, dressing for the occasion. The hotel is capable of housing 1000 guests.


Lake Louise

WED-MAY 23: This morning we enjoyed the amenities of the hotel and Lake Louise, as well as the outstanding view of Bow Valley, Castle Mountain and the other mountains surrounding us. Rates for this hotel in season run from $788 to $2400. The day was sunny with temperatures reaching 29 degrees Celsius, 84 degrees Fahrenheit (we learned our lesson well), a far cry from snow and temperatures in the 30s back in Calgary the first day. A Lake Louise gondola ride was scheduled but the season didn't start until June 1.

On the way to Banff we crossed the Continental Divide, which runs from the Yukon all the way to Mexico. There is a section called the Continental Triple Divide where the rivers run into three oceans, the Arctic to the north, the Pacific to the west, and the Atlantic to the east.(hard to believe). Passing through Kicking Horse Pass, we saw the pioneer-day engineering feat, the Spiral Tunnel. We checked into the Banff Park Lodge (try saying Banff without changing the N to an M, or using 2 syllables).


Sulphur

THURS-May 24: Banff is in the Bow River Valley and the most popular tourist destination in the Rockies. It is a quaint little town and Banff Avenue is the main street, with -- you guessed it -- lots of shops, restaurants and museums. All the other streets are named after animals. The Whyte Museum has excellent displays and gallery showing the history of Banff and the surrounding area, while the Park Museum has wildlife and other specimens of Banff National Park and the Luxtom Museum features the many native tribes that inhabit(ed) this area.

The Cave and the Basin is where it all started, discovered in 1883, when three railroad workers stumbled upon the hot springs that one day would emerge as Canada's first national park. We took a trolley to the 100+ year old world renowned Banff Springs hotel-castle (another Fairmont), nestled in the mountains with it's 825 rooms, and rates similar to Chateau Lake Louise although when new in 1888, a days stay cost $3.50. We cruised on beautiful Lake Minnewanka, named "Lake of the Water Spirit" because of the legend of the ghost of half man-half animal. Towering peaks rise vertically from the emerald waters edge and on the shore amongst the forested pine and spruce, with Cascade mountain a very prominent feature.


Lake Louise

We saw a bald eagle and it's nest, the second last of the creatures we hoped to see. The only one we didn't see was the black or grizzly bear. Eerie rock formations called hoodoos have their own legends. e.g. giants turned to stone who awake at night and frighten people away by throwing stones at them. Another legend asserts they are teepees inhabited by evil spirits. With all due respect to Everest and McKinley, Mts. Whitehorn, Victoria, Temple, Chephren, Robson (highest peak in the Canadian Rockies), Whistlers, and Pyramid were spectacular.

FRI-May25: After enjoying breakfast and the amenities of the Banff Park Lodge, we set out for a gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain for our last up close and personal view of the Canadian Rockies. We can run out of superlatives describing the awesome beauty but this last view at 11,000 feet was as good as it gets with a panoramic view of the Bow Valley and miles of mountains in the distance.

As we rode back to Calgary, we began to lose the mountain ranges and see the Alberta prairies, as well as many animals along the way. Calgary offers many attractions including the Calgary Tower,which we visited the first day, the Calgary Zoo, the Chinese Cultural Center featuring the terra-cotta soldiers and the bronze chariot, the Glenbow Museum, Eau Claire Market, Devonian Gardens and the Bow River/Prince's Island Walk. We had an opportunity to visit some of these places before we checked back into the Marriott Hotel for the evening. A farewell dinner was held at the hotel giving us a chance to say goodbye to several people who won't be coming back to Boston with us.

SAT-May 26: We flew out of Calgary to Toronto and back to Boston, arriving about 6PM, losing the two hours we gained at the beginning. Going through customs again was a pain. It seems that we should open the borders to Canada and they to us. Going into Canada is like going into Maine and the need for customs seems so unnecessary.

Reading a Canada paper, it talked about the possibility of dollarization, using the US dollar rather than Canadian currency. It further said that it would be best for the Canadian economy, commenting that an off-hand remark by Alan Greenspan has more impact on the economy in Canada than anything his Canadian counterpart has to say. Maybe, someday when they comb through the politics of it all, this will happen and, after that, perhaps the borders will be opened. It may also lead to the metric system for the U.S.

We highly recommend a trip to the Canadian Rockies. As we said before, no matter what we say or show in pictures and videos,  it will never be the same as actually seeing it for yourself. We weren't this enthusiastic about any of our previous trips. NO, we don't work for the Canada Chamber of Commerce.


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