After being on a ship for a week and feeling seasick for most of it – I was glad that a coach was going to be my home for the next week. We set off through the state of Washington, and were soon in Canada, our first stop being Hope, a beautiful little town surrounded by high mountains. There were Canadian maple trees, Douglas fir trees and the loveliest river, it was a pretty powder blue, with bleached shingle along its edges; I sat by the river, in the sun, and it was heaven.
As we drove further, I could see snow on the Cascade mountain ranges ahead; the scenery was getting more and more dramatic, the mountains higher and higher. Apparently, snow-falls here can be as deep as sixty feet, and up to twelve inches of snow can fall in an hour. Shortly after leaving Hope, it became foggy, and was rainy and cold - we had been told about Canada's changing weather - but this was unbelievable. The pine forest became denser and I noticed massive areas of dead trees, not killed by fire — but by a beetle that only eats pine trees.
We passed Kamloops, a large Indian town in the middle of prairie country, the grass looked scorched, with intermittent trees and rocks dotted about. In the summer the temperature can get up to forty-five degrees here, and drop well below freezing in the winter. Our stop for the evening was a ski resort, Nancy Green's Cahility Lodge - Nancy was a former Olympic ski champion, who came out to greet us.
The sun was still out, and I couldn't wait to stretch my legs and do some exploring, walking through the town and into the nearby countryside, before returning to the hotel. The trees were just turning yellow and bright orange, and I could see the chairlifts that would soon be taking skiers to the snowy mountain tops. After having something to eat at the hotel, I went to bed, as we were having a 6am start tomorrow. When I woke, the view from my bedroom window was stunning, there was a frosty mist just on the lower half of the mountain, as it was minus 3 degrees; and the sun was shining on the colourful trees higher up.
Today we were travelling all the way to Banff. We passed Kamloops again, and followed the Thompson river, which was lined with impressive homesteads like those in the TV programme Dallas! The river was so wide, so calm and peaceful, winding through the grasslands, with osprey and eagles hovering above; but it wasn't long before the grasslands gave way to pine forests again. We past a series of lakes, and seemed to be following the Canadian Pacific Railway line, some of the trains on it are over a mile long, with well over a hundred carriages. This area is where Sockeye salmon swim to, to lay their eggs before dying. They travel up to five hundred miles from the ocean and once they enter freshwater, they stop eating until they lay their eggs, (within half a mile of the place they were born) and then they die. Brown bears eat the dead, floating carcasses of the salmon - they don't eat fresh fish, only meat and fish that has been dead several days and is decaying. We passed the town of Salmon Arm — famous for its namesake, where the forest was even more dense, the sun was shining and more eagles were flying about. We drove through Canoe, known for logging and saw its mills and factories; they don't move the timber by river now as too many people were being injured. There were luxurious house boats at Sycamouse (meaning narrowing of the waters), where the feel was even more autumnal.
We stopped for a coffee at the Last Spike Café and the lady serving us had had a black bear and its 3 cubs in her garden last week — eating her carrots! Better keep a look out! We followed Eagle River, and Crazy Creek with its waterfall, and went through snow sheds that were tunnels designed to make avalanches go over the top of them, so not to block the roads. Now we were in the National forest, the dense trees were so many shades of yellow and green, and the white boulders in the rivers, gleamed in the sunshine.
Lunch stop at Rogers Pass had dramatic views all around, of enormous mountains with fresh snow on their tops, the sun was out and it was pleasantly warm to sit outside. With each new corner we past, there was a new mountain, and it wasn't long before we had our first view of the Canadian Rockies in all their glory. We followed the beautiful Colombia River, and kept seeing the Rocky Mountaineer Train, taking a very similar route to us through the mountains.
Now we were now in the state of Alberta, in the middle of the Rocky mountain range; previously all the rivers had run towards the Pacific coast, but from now on they would all run the opposite way, to the Atlantic or the Arctic Ocean. We arrived at Banff (which is about a mile above sea level) at 6pm and luckily it was still light. The sight of Banff was as amazing as I had always imagined, it was surrounded by mountains reaching well over 8000 feet, way up into the clouds — with a covering of snow glistening on every one of them.
I didn't even wait for my suitcase to arrive at my room, I was off exploring. Although it was still sunny, it was so very different to an hour ago when we had stopped, it was only 5 degrees now. I walked the mile into Banff town centre, and varied off to find the train station, hoping to see the Rocky Mountaineer, which had arrived into town about the same time as us; but unfortunately, I missed it, as it had continued on towards Jasper.
The sun went behind a cloud, and it never came back out; the mountains took it away and darkness soon fell. The moon was huge, and as bright as I have ever seen it, and as much as I looked, there wasn’t any wildlife wandering about the streets. Back at the hotel, it was time for a nice cup of tea and a good rest. We had been told we could have a lie in the next day, as the tour wasn't stating until 9am, and we were stopping local to Banff.
When we left the next morning, we were warned that the weather was very changeable and as the clouds were very dark, it didn't look promising. Our first stop was a view of Mount Rundell, at Two Jacks Lake, where we saw the dam that provided Banff with its hydro electricity supply. As we approached the clear blue Lake Minnewaka, we saw our first wildlife, a long-horned goat in the trees by the side of the road.
We were told that just over a hundred years ago, a couple of lads working on the railway, were out in the forest, when they came across some hot springs in this area. The Railway company and the Government cashed in on their find, and the famous Banff Springs Hotel and Banff National park was formed. Banff was originally called Siding 29, but was renamed after the town in Scotland, when the Canadian Pacific Railway built Banff Springs Hotel in 1890, to encourage its rail passengers to stop off at Banff and admire the scenery.
The sun came out at our next stop, a look-out high up, overlooking Sleeping Buffalo Mountain, strange to be called that as there are no buffalo in Canada, only bison! Looking down over Bow River was breath-taking, how could water be that colour? This had got to be the prettiest river in the world, the water was such a lovely shade of turquoise and its banks were pure white, surrounded by multiple shades of green and yellow trees. An Elk walked across the river whilst we were watching – perfect timing.
I walked as far as I could along the path, to get more views, and a stripy chipmunk ran in front of me, that was my close-up of the day with real wild life! By the time we reached Bow Falls it was raining; they were quite wide falls, and the water was thundering but they weren’t very impressive, and we didn’t stop there very long.
Next we arrived at the Gondola Station at the foot of Sulphur Mountain and had a wonderful eight-minute ride to the top, with its viewing platform and restaurant. As you can imagine the views from the top have got to be some of the most outstanding in the world, the mountains, the town of Banff below, the beautiful Bow River, the colours - the colours will remain with me forever!
It was wonderful, but freezing cold and snowing. I could only stay outside for so long admiring the surroundings and taking photographs, before needing a warm drink to thaw out! After returning to the hotel for a quick change, I was off to the Heli pad for the ride of a lifetime!
The weather had been so changeable in the morning, no-one thought we would be flying this afternoon (three quarters of all flights had been cancelled this season), but the sun came out and it was all systems go! There were five of us in the helicopter, all very excited; but we had only been in the air for two minutes when the pilot announced that the weather was so bad further up, he would have to cancel the remaining flights for the day, and our ride would be rather bumpy! Oh, my goodness!
The views up there were out of this world, it really was like being on top of the world, it was rather surreal. We appeared so close to some of the mountain tops, that it felt as if you could touch them, and there was snow everywhere, it was a picture. We could see for miles and miles - in between the blizzards! I just took as many photographs as I could, but I felt quite ill; I have been on several helicopter rides, but never in a storm like this and I was very glad to get back down to earth.
Back in Banff, I was happy to have a gentle walk along the river, I did a little shopping, and headed back to the hotel to bed - it had been an exhausting day. Next morning, I boarded the coach ready for another day of wildlife spotting and amazing views! It was a cold, cloudy miserable morning, the temperature was below zero, and nothing looked very impressive in these weather conditions!
Our first proper stop was Lake Louise (named after Queen Victoria's daughter) and its Five Star Hotel. It is one of the most photographed places in the world, and when you get there you can see why. To be there, felt as if you were on the set of a movie, the scenery looks as if it has been painted. The colours are so vivid, they don’t appear to be real. All the pictures I had ever seen of this place, did not prepare me for seeing it!
We only had an hour here though, and I walked as far around the lake as was possible, listening out for rustling in the trees, in case a bear was close by! The colour of the water was the brightest shade of jade (made by the sediment of the glacier - called rock flour), the mountains surrounding were dark green with fresh white snow to their tops, and the flowers around the water’s edge!
It was amazing, I just couldn't stop taking photographs, I got in all sorts of strange positions, under trees, clinging onto branches, there was always another shot to be had. I could go on and on about this place, and it is one of those places you cannot say enough about, it has got to be the most beautiful setting for a hotel ever! We were very lucky, although it was cloudy, the rain had stopped and the sun kept popping out just long enough to capture another picture.
We left Lake Louise and headed off to Bow Lake with its little red cabin, where one of the original first settlers lived; and then towards Bow Summit. I felt rather ill and put it down to the altitude, we were almost two miles above sea level, the air was very thin, and we were advised to drink lots of water and not to rush about!
When we arrived at Bow Summit it was snowing, and we had to make our way down a very slippery, ice covered path to the viewing platform; there we could see Peyto's Lake (another picture-postcard shot) which appears to be the shape of a wolfs head. The colour of the water defies description, it was blue, green, jade, turquoise, all mixed together and brightened up, it was spectacular!
And the fact that it had snowed on us, made it so much more special. As we passed the Saskatchewan River Crossing, we saw the only wildlife of the day, a herd of long horned sheep!
We climbed higher into the mountains, eventually arriving at the Colombian Icefields; the sun was shining and the Glaciers were huge, though unfortunately we didn't have time to go on the special buses that take you right onto the ice fields. But still, it was a spectacular sight to see, so bright, so white and very glary – you definitely needed your sunglasses on here!
Next, we were heading towards Jasper National Park; we stopped at Athabasca River and Falls, which were the most impressive waterfalls. The top of the falls started as a beautiful wide, pale blue river, with water gushing over its white boulders, heading towards three steep drops or pot holes.
The noise was thundering as the water crashed down each of the steps, towards the most beautiful calm pool at the end; like a jade green mirror, silhouetted with pines trees growing out of its rocky sides.
I walked above the water over a wooden bridge, in the glorious sunshine and a temperature of 13 degrees, that felt so warm. It was hard to believe the amount of snow there had been only an hour down the road, this really was the most changeable place ever! When we finally arrived at Jasper the sun was still shining. My hotel was close to the Railway station, so I headed off hoping to see the arrival of the Rocky Mountaineer, and I saw it arrive at last. There wasn’t a platform at this station, so steps had to be bought for the passengers to get off, this made the train look even larger than I expected.
Then I had a walk around the quaint, little town. I had been told that wildlife roamed around this town, eating plants in people's gardens and having the right of way on the roads; and on the way back to the hotel, I saw a female Elk munching away at the grass. It was too dark to take a photograph, but I had seen wildlife up close at last! After a good night’s sleep, I got up early and went out looking for more Elks, but the closest I came was fresh Elk droppings!
We left Jasper, heading for Patricia Lake (overlooking Pyramid Mountain) and it was so cold and windy, there were waves on the lake. I went over to the island in the middle of the lake and saw some squirrels, but it was so cold I didn't stay outside for very long. After a cold, damp start the weather brightened up, we were still in the mountains and apparently, we were in black bear country now.
We stopped at Maligne Gorge, which wasn't that dramatic; but the river leading to it was very picturesque. We had plenty of time here, so I walked by the river, with its boulders and gushing icy cold waters. It was very tempting to go for a walk in the forest, but when you saw trees where bears had recently made new scratches marking their domain - it was too scary!
Off again, on the main highway heading for Edmonton and we saw lots of sheep, goats and a few coyotes by the roadside – nothing more exciting. As we left the Rockies, the bushes were now red and orange. The land in front of us began flattening out, although the yellow and green trees were still with us; we passed Pocahontas Lake and looked out for Hiawatha!
As we reached Edmonton, we were back in civilisation, the roads were full blocks of shops and takeaways, and we saw too many cars - no more wildlife! It was almost dark when we reached our hotel, the last stop. The following day, after spending a few hours at the huge West Edmonton shopping mall, it was time to head for the airport and go home. It had been a wonderful trip, with the most fantastic, amazing, incredible sights – and I had loved every minute of it.
I hope you have enjoyed my adventure.
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