When we looked out the window of our hotel this morning in Calgary and saw the traffic jam of cars entering the city, we went back to bed for a while to avoid having to leave Calgary in stop-start peak hour traffic. We only had a short driving day of 128 km, so it didn’t matter if we were a little late. Eventually, we decided to give it a shot, so we loaded up the car and headed off toward Banff. We stopped for breakfast opposite the site of the 1988 Winter Olympics. The ski jumps and arenas are still in use, but not being very good with heights, I couldn’t imagine myself sliding downhill from any of the ski jumps, let alone the highest one – it looked exceptionally tall!
The guide book says that the views along this road as you enter the Rockies are ‘Jaw Dropping’ and it is quite correct. Early in our trip, we could see a long chain of snow covered mountains stretching across the total width of the horizon. As we got closer, the road followed the Bow River ( a naturally navigable route) and the valley views became more and more spectacular.
Just before Banff we came across the town of Canmore, another mining town, that now takes the overflow of the Banff population and recent development. We stopped there for coffee and marvelled at the mountains that form a back drop to the town. The views were now becoming seriously beautiful.
We arrived in Banff in time for a latish lunch. The main street, ‘Banff Avenue’ is wide and very busy. Its shops and commercial area stretches for about a kilometre. There is no parking on the main street. About half way along, on one side, is a small stone Anglican church that probably fitted quite nicely into the street scape when Banff was just a little village. As charming as it is, it now looks as though it has become overwhelmed by all the commercial buildings that surround it. We did a few loops of the downtown neighbourhood looking for a car parking space and eventually found one a couple of blocks back from the main street. Lunch was in a small sandwich shop.
One of the things that we have noticed is that espresso coffee is not very prevalent in Canada. Even many of the first class hotels only serve brewed coffee. We keep looking for a latte or a long black but to no avail. One waitress told us ‘No we don’t have one of those special machines to make that sort of coffee’. When we told her that, at home, we could just about get an expresso coffee at the florists shop, she was aghast with surprise. It seems that only specialty coffee shops sell espresso coffee in Canada.
The convention in Canadian hotels is that checkout is not until late morning, or even noon. Therefore rooms are generally not available for check in until 4.00 pm. We filled in some time by driving 5km out of town to Lake Minnewanka – a hydro dam that still looks as if it naturally fits into the mountainous environment. It is pronounced “Minna Wonka’ and not Mini Wanker as common thought by Australian tourists. Near the dam wall, we saw a ragged flock of big horned sheep that were going through their seasonal moult and looked exceptionally scraggy.
Just at the top end of town are the Bow Falls – where the Bow River drops about 6 metres over an escarpment. We stopped for a photo and then travelled around a side road to a lookout at ‘Hidden Corner’ where we could overlook the river and get a good view of the very impressive Banff Springs Hotel. This hotel is a luxury hotel that was built during the 19th century as one of Canada’s grand railway hotels, and was constructed in Scottish Baronial style. It was first opened to the public on June 1, 1888. It must have taken many train loads of passengers to fill it! We stayed there for a couple of nights on our previous trip.
During our drive today, we again saw many signs warning of wildlife on the road, but in true form, not one animal was to be seen. The most interesting thing that we saw all day was a humble ground squirrel. These little animals live in burrows and stand up on their high legs emitting a high pitched chirping sound whenever they sense danger. We are still hoping for some larger and more impressive form of wildlife somewhere along this trip.