The day begins in a ballroom/classroom in the stately Banff Springs Hotel – we learn that it was originally built by the railroad to lure tourists to western Canada (just as the El Tovar Lodge and Ahwahnee Hotel were built in the US to bring tourists to the Grand Canyon and Yosemite). How ignominious to know that this World Historic Site is now owned by a consortium fronted by the Fairmont Hotel chain and largely funded by Arabian oil moguls. You can still see the Beaver logo of the Northern Canadian Railroad engraved in the archway over the fomer main entrance to the Banff Springs Lodge.
After the lecture by our Canadian tour leader, we tour the hotel – the Ballroom, the Conservatory, the Cigar Lounge, the Alhambra Room – if a movie is made based on the game of CLUE, here is the natural setting.
Then a bus to downtown Banff and a tour of the Whyte Museum of the Rockies, with a lively introduction to the exhibits by a senior curator. (I want to live in the Whyte cabin: all natural wood, built-in furniture, and thousands of books.)
After a rain – sprinkled promenade in the town of Banff (think Carmel with an influence of snow) and a lunch at the Chinook Restaurant (Denny’s with a smile and a view), I walked in the Cascade Gardens overlooking the Bow River. Sad to say, the historic cascades have dried up along with the maintenance funding, but the flowers are still brilliant, maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers). The view from these gardens down the main street of Banff to the mountains opposite is post-card pretty (see above.
Next we wander along a shady trail bordering the Bow river with lots of wildflowers, a couple of close encounters with grazing elk, and a view of the Bow Falls. (Tip: If walking this trail going downriver, turn back at the bottom of the the 200-step stair to get the full effect.)
There was another 200-step stair which brought up back to the Banff Springs hotel on its bluff overlooking the river. Now that we had been to the falls, we could hear it rumbling in the background at all times – being a child of civilization, I had assumed the soothing low vibration was traffic noise or air conditioning – a roaring waterfall is much more exciting!
Tomorrow: Bags are due out at 6AM as we prepare to board the Train.