Friday, December 21

Breathtaking doesn't begin to cover it.

I find that, living here in the big city, I tend to lose sight of the beauty and the wonder of God's creation. It's nice to have the opportunity to rediscover it, if only for a few days.

First, let's talk about the hotel. The Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (w) was originally built by the Canadian Pacific Railway (w) in the late 1800's, to encourage the tourist trade. It's a huge complex, built in the style of a medieval castle. It's too large for my little camera to capture in its entirety; here are a few pictures to give you an idea:

(The Wikipedia article has better pictures.)

And here are some pictures of the scenery around the hotel:

The first picture was taken from our room; the others were taken from various points around the hotel grounds.

We got up early, and had the breakfast buffet in one of the hotel restaurants. There were poinsettias on every table, and one of our waitresses was named Pierette. Charming. There was also a Christmas tree in the restaurant lobby (one of many around the hotel), and I was interested to notice that the top ornament was not a star, or an angel, but a bird's nest.

On our way to the restaurant, we discovered a model of the hotel:

Gingerbread Hotel?

Actually, it's not made out of gingerbread. The walls are Wheat Chex cereal, and the snowy roof is Frosted Mini-Wheats. The semi-circles over the windows are fruit slice candies, and everything else is some kind of candy. Cute.

We then set out for our first adventure of the day. And let me say right here, that it was COLD!! At night, the temperature got as low as -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit). Of course, the locals said that was no big deal. They even said it was MILD! It's all relative, I guess. We were cold.

Of course, we were prepared for the weather. Before we left, we went out and bought down jackets and snow boots. We already had hats and gloves. So we got ourselves all bundled up, and went out to brave the elements. Terry braved them in her own inimitable way...

Terry the snow bunny

Well, what the heck - she can't see anything anyway, so she might as well keep her face warm, right?

Anyway, the first adventure of the day was a sleigh ride. All together, now - "Dashing through the snow, in a one horse open sleigh..." Well, not quite. In the first place, it was a...

TWO horse open sleigh

The two horses - Rocky and Doc

Terry inspects the sleigh

We arrived early, and spent some time in the office (complete with a wood burning stove) talking to one of the guides about local wildlife. The horses, it turned out, were not Clydesdales, as I originally thought, but Percherons. Whatever they were, they were big - over 1,000 pounds. Each.

Terry's Comments!!! The man inside was quite nice. We discussed grizzlies and other different scary species, and learned that polar bears are the only animals that consider us worth eating! I found that fascinating.

Then some other passengers arrived - a family of five from Alabama, and a woman from Australia...

Yet More Comments from Terry! The family from Alabama, especially dad, were very boisterous. There was a mother and three daughters. During the entire ride, it seemed, Dad kept asking questions every time Grinnell would start to either ask a question, or make a comment.

We each picked up two blankets - one to sit on, and one to wrap up in. (I also picked up an extra, for North to lie on.) We piled in to the sleigh, and met our drivers - Carey, a local, and Dominique, who was visiting from Holland. And away we went - not dashing, or even trotting, but just a slow, steady walk.

Yet again, Terry has to say a few words... probably too many! I thought this would be an enchanting experience, but, alas, I took a nap. The horses plodded around, dad drawled on in his inimitable Southern drawl, and the horses dropped big loads of shit periodically without breaking stride (Grinnell says I should have at least said "manure")

Well, despite the slow pace, and the cold, it was interesting (I thought so, anyway). Carey pointed out landmarks, like:

Buffalo Mountain

Mount Rundle

We also saw a family of coyotes, some ravens and magpies, and lots of animal tracks, some of which Carey identified as elk.

After the ride, we took a cab back to the hotel. I was surprised to see the Australian woman, who had been on the ride with us, walking back. They grow them hardy in Australia, I guess. More about her later.

Back at the hotel, we had lunch in the Rundle lounge. We had a nice table by the window - and the door! Every time someone came in or out, we got a blast of cold air.

Lunch at Rundle Lounge

After lunch, we spent a little while wandering around the hotel, and looking at some of the shops. I bought a 2008 calendar with pictures of the Rockies, and a birthday present for my nephew (I won't say what it was, in case he's reading this). We also browsed around a food store, and bought some maple sugar candy (I should have bought more - that stuff is impossible to find in Los Angeles).

The hotel has a large round driveway, for busses to turn around in, and in the center of the turnaround there's this statue honoring the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (aka The Mounties) (w) :

Not Dudley Do-Right

Then we had sort of a mini-adventure trying to find our way back. The hotel actually consists of several buildings, and they're all interconnected. You can get from one section of the hotel to the other without ever going outside. So we thought, since we were getting cold, that we'd cut through the building. Up stairs, down stairs, through one corridor after another, wondering if we were getting hopelessly lost, until finally we found ourselves back in the main lobby.

That afternoon, we took another tour, to Lake Louise (w) (my Mom's name is Louise, so I figured we had to go there). That's about 56 kilometers (about 35 miles) up the road from Banff. We loaded into the tour bus, met our guide, Kevin, and were on our way.

Guess who again? Kevin was a nice kid, but talked too much and thought he was funny, when he wasn't. That got rather old, but he tried.

Our tour bus, we were informed, was named "Georgia," after Georgia Engelhard, a mountain climber in the 1930's - when woman mountain climbers were a rarity.

Our drive to the lake took us north along the Trans-Canada Highway (w) , a highway that, as its name implies, spans the entire continent from the Pacific to the Atlantic. This stretch of highway follows the Bow River (w) .

Along the way, Kevin regaled us with information about the area. One interesting thing he pointed out to us had to do with the effect of the highway on local wildlife. Occasionally, as we drove along, I would notice overpasses - except that there didn't seem to be any crossroads. It turns out that those overpasses aren't for cars, or even for people - they're for animals. They give wildlife a safe way to get across the highway. There are also tunnels built under the highway for the same purpose.

I was also interested to discover that in Canada, they have different terminology for referring to the inhabitants of North America before Europeans started showing up. Here in the U.S., we call them "Native Americans," but in Canada, they're called "First Nations." I think I like Canada's way better.

Before we got to Lake Louise, we stopped briefly to take a look at...

Castle Mountain

The tour group at Castle Mountain

A store at Castle Mountain

...and then we drove on to the Lake.

Lake Louise is named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. There's also another big Fairmont hotel on the lake shore - this one is the Chateau Lake Louise (w) , another tourist hotel built by the CPR. I didn't get a picture of the hotel, but I did get this picture of...


To get to the lake, we walked through the hotel, and in a hotel corridor, I found this portrait of...

Princess Louise

There was also another hotel model, this one made entirely out of sugar (sorry, no picture).

So we walked out to the lake...

Lake Louise

...which, at this time of year, was entirely frozen over. We walked right out onto it.

Terry on ice

Two of my dreams came true that day (Terry again!). The first was to take a sleigh ride, the other was to walk out onto an icy lake or pond. I loved walking out onto the lake. I reached down and touched the ice. On top of the ice, which was like glass almost, there was a covering of snow. It felt so strange, and yet so invigorating.

Poor North wasn't too happy about it, though. After we had been out on the ice for a while, he got very restless and started prancing around - I think his feet were getting cold.

There was a small ice castle built on the surface of the lake:

Ice castle

Terry the ice princess

Going into the ice castle was amazing. I felt like a great big part of an ice sculpture like they have on cruises! I loved feeling the form of the castle, and realizing that it was made of solid ice. It was a tremendous experience, especially standing and looking out the "window."

After we left the lake, we continued north on Highway 93, otherwise known as the Icefields Parkway (w) . In a few more miles (excuse me - kilometers), we came to Bow Lake. Here we stopped at -

Num-Ti-Jah Lodge

Like I said...

...where we stopped for a cup of hot chocolate.

What? Terry complaining? It wasn't very good. Weak. I decided to have some coffee laced with some other concoction, though I forget what. I sat there while Grinnell weathered the elements and relaxed with my steaming mug in my hands.

As Terry said, after we had warmed up a while, I went out and took some more pictures:


... and more mountains

Bow Lake

Crowfoot Glacier

In that last picture, it's kind of hard to distinguish the glacier from the surrounding snow. In real life, you can spot the glacier because it has a distinct bluish tinge that sets it apart, but that doesn't come through very well in the picture. So here's another picture, showing a rough outline of the glacier itself:

Bow Lake is much bigger than Lake Louise. It looked frozen over, but no one else was walking out on it, so I didn't, either.

One thing that I had been noticing all day was how snow collected on trees:

Snow on trees

By this time, it was getting late in the afternoon. The moon was rising, so I tried to channel Ansel Adams with this picture:

Moonrise over the Rockies

And I took another icicle picture:

More icicles

...from the end of an upstairs corridor inside the lodge.

On returning from the tour, we decided to try a restaurant in town, rather than go back to the hotel. So, taking a recommendation from Kevin the tour guide, we ate at a place called The Elk And Oarsman.

Yes, Terry, ever the cynic, was a bit skeptical of this recommendation, but, being the ever dutiful wife, (Grinnell's interjection: HA!) I succumbed. Grinnell had this idea that he wanted to eat a rack of buffalo ribs or some such nonsense, but all he got was an elk burger, which didn't taste like anything. (Grinnell's interjection: Well, it tasted like a hamburger...) I, on the other hand, got a treat (an expensive treat, but I was on vacation): ice wine. It is a product of Canada, and is served in quaint little glasses. It's very sweet, so many people don't care for it, but I liked it enough to have two glasses. If I ever go back, I'd like to learn how it is made.

Then, after dinner, we decided to save cab fare and walk back to the hotel. That might not have been the brightest decision of our lives. Not that the walk was that far - we've walked farther many a time. But we forgot to take the temperature into account. We were slightly deep froze by the time we got back to the hotel.

So we called room service, had a late night snack of cookies and milk, and went to bed.

Here's a map of where we went this day:

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See pictures from other trips