Canada – the Alien Next Door: Day 4 – Via the Icefields Parkway to Banff
The geologic past and my personal past meet on the bus at the Continental divide. (How’s that for an opening summary?)
We leave Jasper early via our luxury bubble-bus.
30 minutes out of Jasper, a cluster of parked cars signals another wildlife sighting – a young grizzly bear with a broken or sprained left rear leg is limping as rapidly as it can along the side of the road behind a small scree of shrubs – best case, it was just nicked by a car and is hobbling in panic, may recover shortly; worst case it is an older injury and this bear will be at a serious survival disadvantage through the winter.
The Continental Divide – a marker by the road (see the streams reverse direction!) I imagine being an early explorer – did they register, in this vertical landscape, that they had begun to trend downhill?
Glaciers – Athabaska Falls – a swirling torrent carving narrow channels and deep bowls through layers of sandstone; the Athabaska glacier creeping out from the Columbia Ice Field, which coats the top like a smoothed coat of white sugar frosting. Mt. Athabaska with its own glaciers, glacial silt and gravel coloring the streams flowing into Hudson Bay, the Arctic, or the Pacific. (the Triple Divide).
We picnic by the Athabaska River with box lunches, surrounded by lofty peaks, fireweed, buffalo berry bushes, friendly ground squirrels. Our companions, the nature guide and the professorial geologist, are cascading fountains of natural and geologic interpretation.
The cheerful ride-along spouse of the tour organizer strikes up a conversation. Turns out he student-taught at the same high school where my mother was Vice Principal, and remembers a number of the faculty members who were family friends and authority figures from my teen years. Déjà vu all over again.
We make a stop at Lake Louise. I flashback to an early trip when my husband and I were camping across Canada and a lot more energetic. I can clearly remember the lovely summer day we spent walking around and rowing on this green lake cradled in the glaciers. The lake has not changed; younger people are still rowing on it; the sky is still blue beyond the stately Lake Louise Lodge.
We ended the day at Banff Springs Lodge. On that same trip many years ago we set up our tent in the national park campground nearby. Feeling grubby and un-washed after a hike, we managed to sneak into the Banff Springs Lodge swimming pool area and take a memorable illicit dip; I tried to reconstruct the memory as we re-entered as paying guests, but it was not easy. In the intervening years the entrance has been re-positioned to accomodate large tour buses, and the spacious outdoor pool with its grassy surround has been caged and over-chloriniated inside a glass dome. The new outdoor pool is half the former size and surrounded by concrete. Also, the fencing and overall security have been improved to prevent riff-raff such as we were from sneaking in as we did.
We learned that in the time since our last visit the hotel has converted from a summer-only tourist hotel to a year-round tourist/ bus tour/spa/ski/corporate- incentive- trip resort; hence closing in the outdoor pool (too expensive to heat year – round) and other changes. Not changed: the many nooks and crannies of the hotel – more small and large lounges, bars, restaurants, and meeting rooms than one could exhaust, plus a second large extension convention center and staff rooms in an adjacent building.
In honor of our previous visit, we went swimming.