A couple of weeks after our travel to Banff and Jasper, we read about a tragic accident on Hwy 93, a head-on collision killing six passengers. And soon after followed the wildfires in British Columbia, leading to smoke clogging the air and interfering with traveler routines in this area. The part of Alberta and British Columbia that we had discovered just two weeks prior had been pristine, a wonderful tapestry of beautiful-hued lakes and skyscraping mountains, of vigorous color and mystical terrains. It had felt like life’s sorrows and tragedies, its monotony and drudgery, its colorlessness and lassitude had been left at the door to this enchanted land. And yet, two weeks later, the spell was shattered and life intervened, making us grieve for the lives lost. And making us thankful, for having returned home safely from that trip. And for having enjoyed great weather while there, leading to some spectacular visits.
One of the main reasons we wished to visit Banff and Jasper was for their unique natural beauty. Sharp, nearly vertical mountains crowding highways and towns, innumerable lakes that tempt and tease, splendid valleys that bloom and enthrall, icy glaciers that are dangerous and beckoning, rocky cliff faces that beg to be conquered. Oh! how incredibly alluring were these towns!
Even more so were there fauna! We stopped so many times to watch elk, bear, deer, goats, sheep as they went about their day on the meadows or the hillsides! Especially in Jasper, it was a given that we would catch sight of some animal or the other in close proximity.
Did you know that the lakes here are really that blue? I have read stories about how the lakes are drained and then painted blue. But in reality, the color comes from the glacial silt or flour that gets deposited in the lake water. These deposits are light and remain suspended in the water. As the sunlight strikes these particles, they give off the turquoise blue of the lake.
The sheer number of things to do outdoors, be it camping, swimming, hiking, kayaking or bike riding, to name just a few. If you have the time, the money and the inclination, anything is possible here.
The number of dining options, in both towns, not only in terms of ethnicity but also in vegetarian options. From day one, we did not have to look far to find a restaurant with vegetarian choices on its menu. And the number of dessert options was fantastic as well.
After traveling several hundred kilometers a day in New Zealand, we were happy to drive short distances to our destinations. In fact, had we stayed longer, we could have explored less famous parks like Kootenay National park. As it is, we really enjoyed our visit to Yoho which many people skip on their first visit.
The fantastic highways that provide such a woven web of easy accessibility and extraordinary sights. In addition, I was impressed by the overpasses built for the safety of the wildlife that call these areas their home. And the forests of lodgepole pines, gently swaying in the wind, that will forever remind me of the TransCanada Highway.
The amazing story behind the orogeny (mountain formation) of the Rockies is captivating. I could imagine the Pacific and Atlantic plates coming together and colliding, the former sinking under the latter and raising the land to create the jagged mountain formations we see today. The mountains stand tall and unforgiving, their outlines, a sharp contrast against the soft blue sky. And yet, nestled along their slopes and cradled at their base, like an effort to soften their crusty outer selves, they hold swaying trees and verdant meadows, blue lakes and rushing falls.
Equally captivating are the stories of the pioneers who walked this land, not long ago, conquering the harsh climes, making this wilderness their home, communing with nature and harnessing its resources, judiciously and with gratitude.
The people of today, many of whom have left their homes in the bigger cities and quit well-paying jobs, to live here, to learn more about themselves, to push their own limits, to follow in the footsteps of the pioneers, reveling in nature and being one with it. They seem happier for it, making time to work and play, a balance that seems to elude many of us.
As with our other trips to Canada, we met many a youngster from another part of the world, living and working in Canada while exploring the country, meeting new people and chalking up an impressive resume of a life lived well.
Some luxuries like the elegant Fairmont Banff Springs we indulged in. Others like the Banff Springs thermal waters we did not have time to immerse in.
A bathroom on a road trip is considered a luxury. Parks Canada did not disappoint! All along our trips, we saw and used several small pit toilets. A single four walled enclosure housing a small toilet seat over a massive pit dug underneath the floor. Of course, they were only as clean as the people before had left it. But they all had functional doors, toilet paper and hand sanitizer, without exception. Many had vents to the outside, leaving the inside relatively better smelling. We found out later on these were called the VIPs (ventilation improved pit toilets)! Go figure!!
Our mountain climbing guide told us that in Banff, the only people who can own real estate are residents who live there year round, or those who live and contribute to the economy of the town by running full-time businesses. Rich outsiders cannot walk into Banff and buy a vacation home, thus driving up prices, overcrowding the towns, and wreaking havoc upon the inherent nature of the land. Kudos to both Jasper and Banff for protecting their part of the world with common sensical legislation, for working with the nature around them and putting back what they take. It was heartwarming to see signage indicating wildlife crossing and not to feed wildlife, and how to protect oneself and in turn, the wildlife from harm.
Banff was a bit more hemmed in by the surrounding mountains, a bit more suave and a tad bit commercial. Jasper felt more like its rustic cousin, wide open, laid back and a tad bit more charming. But in the end, one has to visit both, to fully experience the warmth of nature’s cocoon.