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Songdoc Aug 12th, 2012 05:01 AM

Songdoc’s Canadian Rockies Trip Report -- OMG WOW!!!
The Canadian Rockies had been high on my list for years, and I could hardly believe my good luck when I was invited to present a workshop there in conjunction with the Canmore Folk Festival. But my luck did not hold out …

Thirty-six hours prior to my flight, completely out of the blue, I developed searing urinary tract pain, intense aching, and high fever. By the middle of the night my fever was raging so high that my limbs were convulsing. I have never been sicker in my life and my guess was that I was more likely to be heading to the hospital than the Canadian Rockies.

I’ve been teaching workshops for more than twenty years and had never canceled a class. Canceling would be a nightmare, as students were flying and driving in from all over Canada and had paid for their accommodations. I wasn’t “part” of the workshop—I was “it.” AGGHH!!!

My doctor pumped me full of antibiotics and steroids, and said the good news was that he expected the meds to act very quickly. It was hard to believe I’d be able to teach in two days when my teeth were chattering and I was shaking so badly from the fever I couldn’t write my name. But the show must go on, and DP and I boarded the plane to Calgary. Oh, and I forgot to mention that DP had a nasty stomach bug and felt horrible, as well. He’d barely eaten for several days.

We dragged ourselves through and checked into the Royal Executive Inn at the Calgary airport after midnight Tuesday night. I’d booked it through Priceline for $82/nt. The plan was to meet a friend’s family (who lives in Calgary) and have them show us around the next day. I couldn’t imagine that happening, but my fever was already coming down and the pain had downgraded from excruciating to simply “miserable.”

Wednesday morning, there’d been enormous improvement. I was well enough to enjoy the surprisingly excellent breakfast buffet ($12) at the hotel. It included a made-to-order omelet and waffle bar and eggs benedict. DP ate a piece of toast!

We decided to embark on our tour with the caveat that we weren’t feeling well and wouldn’t be able to do very much. They picked us up at the hotel and drove us to Kananaskis—about an hour from Calgary. En route, we saw a black bear with two cubs on the embankment off a major highway!!! Our friends said they’ve never seen that in all their years of traveling that area. Maybe my luck was changing!

Our friends had packed a gourmet lunch and we sat at a picnic table overlooking a beautiful lake with a spectacular mountain backdrop. DP had zero appetite, but my condition had been upgraded to merely “lousy”—which was a huge improvement. We did a gentle walk around the lake and I gave my brand new Nikon P510 quite a workout. I could hardly believe the views. This was my first glimpse of the beauty of this area—and I was blown away. I couldn’t imagine it getting much better--but it had only just begun. The only negative—the mosquitoes were INTENSE—and I was about to learn that they would be everywhere we went. Putting on “Off” became a necessity.

Dinner was back in downtown Calgary at one of their favorite restaurants: Boxwood. It was a lovely evening and we ate outdoors with pretty views of a park and the Sky Tower. The food was excellent—as was the company. Back at the hotel I checked my temperature and it was only slightly elevated. It was hard to believe, but I was going to survive!

To be continued …

happytourist Aug 12th, 2012 09:26 AM

So glad you were able to recover rapidly. Thanks for the warning about the mosquitoes. We're going to Banff in two weeks so I'll be prepared.

Songdoc Aug 12th, 2012 01:19 PM

I'll soon be posting about Banff. INCREDIBLE!!! But you'll DEFINITELY want the "OFF."

kanunu Aug 12th, 2012 08:24 PM

Songdoc, so great to hear that you recovered enough to function.
I have been to The Rockies many times, and never really thought the mosquitoes were all that bad. But my trips have generally been mid to late August for that reason, i.e. fewer bugs! (Much better odds for fresh snow, though.....).
I did have black flies chew up my ears pretty good one time, while taking pix of a family of ptarmigan, with the cute little chicks. Maybe OFF! wasn't invented back then?
Looking forward to the rest of your report!

Songdoc Aug 13th, 2012 03:11 PM

you were lucky with the mozzies. I've never seen them worse--and I live in Tennessee where they're pretty bad!

Pt. 2
We had reserved a rental car for airport pick up, but when we realized that we could pick up an Avis car at our hotel and avoid the hassle of taking a shuttle to the airport, I checked online for rates. By “googling,” I found a “Canadian coupon code” that offered a fantastic rate—more than $100 lower than the best rate I’d found at any of the discount, independent rental car companies.

Unfortunately, my bad luck wasn’t over. The next day we headed to Canmore and within our first fifteen minutes on the highway we heard a loud thwack on the windshield. There was a big chip in the glass. Grrrr. I’d booked the car using a “World Elite” credit card that provides free coverage—but it will still require dealing with paperwork and reports. But this was only an annoyance—not a crisis. (I have learned the difference!)

We drove about an hour to Canmore and checked in to the Rocky Mountain Ski Lodge, which was booked and paid for by the Folk Festival. It was a basic motel room with kitchenette and great views of mountains. Nothing fancy, but it was fine.

Canmore was a wonderful surprise. I’d never heard of it but it was everything I’d expected Banff to be—lots of hotels, restaurants, shops, galleries, and stunning scenery—but without the wall-to-wall tourists. It was all about work for me, but with it staying light until past 9:30PM, I was able to enjoy some nice strolls and hikes at the end of the day. The Bow River Trail and the Three Sisters Trail were favorites. Beautiful views—especially at sunset—but crazy mosquitoes!!!

There were adorable bunnies everywhere. They seemed unafraid of people and their colors seemed more like pets than wild rabbits. Apparently, they were descended from pets that had been let loose—and proceeded to do what bunnies do. It’s a problem because it draws large predators into town—but as a tourist (and a real mush when it comes to cute, furry bunnies) I loved it.

FYI, my meals in Canmore were all served banquet style at the Georgetown Inn—as part of the workshop. The food was excellent—and the hotel seemed very nice. I wished I’d been staying there.

My 2-1/2 days of teaching went well, despite my still feeling the effects of the illness and all the drugs that I was still taking. I would have enjoyed a day or two to explore Canmore, but when I finished teaching it was time to pack up and head for Jasper. I’d read that the drive could be accomplished in four hours—but my new camera added five-and-a-half more hours to the journey ;-).

While driving the Bow Valley Pkwy from Banff to Lake Louise traffic came to a complete stop as tourists scrambled from their cars to photograph the grizzly grazing on the bank above the highway. People stopped right on the highway—not even bothering to pull off to the shoulder. We all followed the grizzly, frantically snapping away. At one point it got a bit closer and I thought, “This is crazy!” But it didn’t stop me from trying to get the perfect shot ;-).

As we approached Lake Louise traffic was at a crawl—and this time, it had nothing to do with wildlife. We hadn’t realized that is was a long, holiday weekend (Heritage Day), and probably the busiest tourist time of the season. We wound up parking about ¾ mile from the lake and walking. When we arrived at the lake we thought, “What have we done? This is going to be horrible.” People were lined up 4 – 6 deep, jostling for a photo of the lake. It was like being at Disneyland on the 4th of July--and I do NOT mean that in a good way (although I do like Disneyland).

But as we wandered farther and farther from the hotel the throngs thinned and we were able to appreciate the beauty of the lake. Wow. Exquisite! It was much hotter than we expected. We’d packed thermal underwear, but we needed shorts! We were hot and exhausted but we strolled along the lake, oohing and aahing at the remarkable color and the grandeur of the glacier above.

Before hitting the highway we stopped for much-needed coffee in the hotel. There were too many stops to mention them all but I was blown away by the beauty and impossibly blue/green of Bow Lake. The next stop was Bow Summit with its views of Peyto Lake. Help!!! I’m running out of superlatives. It was a short, but steep hike up to Bow Summit and the wildflowers were profuse and just begging to be photographed. (I obliged.)

I gasped out loud when I caught my first view of Peyto Lake. The color was like nothing I’d ever seen—a milky, opaque aquamarine set against a backdrop of breathtaking, majestic, snow-capped mountains. It was the most beautiful view I’ve ever seen—and when I revisited it on the way back, it still took my breath away. I thought, “No one will ever believe I haven’t doctored the color in my photos!”

Continuing on, the next amazing stop was Mistaya Lake; then Bridal Veil Falls; followed by views of the Athabasca Glacier. I’d heard that the drive up the Icefield Hwy was world-class—and it did not disappoint. Along the way we spotted lots of mountain goats and sheep.

We’d booked a “Riverfront” cabin at Becker’s Chalets in Jasper for three nights—and the views from reception were “WOW.” Our cabin was set back farther from the river than those shown in the online photos, but it still had a nice view. It was easy enough to drag a chair down and sit right at the edge of the rushing river and enjoy the sound and sights up close—as long as I was thoroughly doused in “Off” (but that was the same story everywhere). Periodically, rafters and kayakers went by, screaming and bouncing over the rapids.

The cabin was nice, but the free Wi-Fi wasn’t worth the money ;-). Otherwise, no complaints—and it was a nice bonus to learn that Marilyn Monroe had stayed there during the filming of “River of No Return.” They’d also filmed at Bow Falls in Banff, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

It was a five-minute drive into the town, and on our first trip in, we encountered four elk! Later that evening, an elk wandered by our cabin and settled under a tree where it posed for photos for several hours, much to the delight of the photographers.

To be continued …

LindainOhio Aug 13th, 2012 04:21 PM

I am so glad you were able to make a speedy recovery. I would have been in panic mode.

We love the Canadian Rockies so I am so glad you are reporting back. I knew you would be in awe.

The Icefields Parkway has to be the most beautiful drive I have ever taken. The only time we drove it in a little over 4 hours was the time we drove it in the fog. Even then we stopped at the waterfalls. We couldn't even see the mountains. Talk about a disappointment. Thankfully we had clear weather on our drive up to Jasper. We always plan on driving up and back to Jasper on the Parkway, just in case we ever have another bad weather day.

Our last 2 visits have been the first week of September and we have always commented on the lack of mosquitoes. Have they had a lot of rain this year?

Check out mjneenan's photo trip report to the Big Island on the US board. When you click the link, it takes you to his albums. I think you would enjoy his Canadian Rockies photos. They are fabulous---and if we hadn't been there, you would think that the color of the lakes had been enhanced.

Songdoc Aug 14th, 2012 07:05 PM

I truly did love it. How disappointing to have the Icefields Hwy fogged in!!!
Don't know why the mosquitoes were so intense. I was told this had been an exceptionally hot and dry year--so don't know what to blame it on. I'd have liked to own a concession selling "Off." Everyone was spraying. Maybe it's just that time of year???

I enjoyed looking at mjneenan's beautiful photos and will post a link to my own pix after I post this last segment. And you're right ... I'd never believe the lakes could be so brilliantly colored!

************************************************** ******

Mt. Edith Cavell was a highlight among highlights. We chose the shorter of the walks (about an hour), and the views of the “Angel” glacier were stunning. Below it was a sea-green lake dotted with floating chunks of glacial ice. At one point, we heard a rumbling that grew louder and louder—like the most intense thunder. We looked up as an avalanche—a massive waterfall of snow came cascading down from the glacier. It went on for several minutes and was spectacular. I felt so fortunate to have seen—and photographed—that.

We’d bought wonderful, custom-made sandwiches and freshly baked cookies (for DP) at the Patricia Street Deli, and some fruit and veggies at a market, and enjoyed a wonderful picnic lunch in that spectacular setting. Heading back to the main road we saw an unmarked turn-out that seemed to lead to another lake in the distance. It was absolutely stunning, and I took some of my favorite photos there. A local said that was Lake of Tears.

Athabasca Falls was our next stop, and we thoroughly enjoyed the intensity of the falls—and the grandeur that surrounded the area.

At dinnertime, we wandered up Jasper’s Patricia Street in search of a restaurant that called to us. Greek music and outdoor seating at “Something Else” won. I’d been in the mood for Greek food and this was exceptional. In fact, we liked it so much that we returned the following night!

The weather had been perfect most of the time, but the next day was cloudy and looked like it might rain at any moment. We still headed to Maligne Lake which was high on my list. When we reached Maligne Canyon, the road ahead was closed due to a mudslide. The road remained closed most of the week, so no lake for me ☹. But the canyon was beautiful, with its gushing river below and mountains above. It was another Patricia Street Deli picnic day in another amazing setting, and the rain clouds were allowing some sun to peek through. We walked along the river to the 6th bridge, which was as far as you could go, as once again the trails were washed out. It was a wonderful day.

On our way back toward Banff we stopped for a hike at Valley of the Five Lakes, quite close to Jasper. The trail was demanding and the payoff when we reached the first lake seemed minimal. After the stunning scenery we’d seen, and the astoundingly blue glacial lakes, this didn’t measure up, and we decided not to keep climbing. But on the way back to the parking lot, we took a turn to a different trail and were rewarded with yet another take-your-breath-away turquoise/green lake with the clearest water I’ve ever seen (and I’d seen a lot of very clear water by this point in the trip).

Heading toward Banff, there were a couple of times when traffic came to a complete stop as photographers clambered for shots of black bears. Along the way, we pulled off for photo stops and short walks at Pyramid Lake and Patricia Lake that showed its surrounding mountains as if it were a mirror.

In Banff we stayed at Brewster’s Rocky Mountain Lodge for two nights. It was the nicest of our lodgings on this trip, with a rustic, old-west feel, an in-room Jacuzzi, and a massive, 4-poster, pine bed. The free Continental breakfast was minimal, but adequate: cold cereal, toast, bagels, and fruit.

It was dinnertime when we arrived and we were both drawn to Wild Bill’s for BBQ. We were seated on an upstairs patio and had a perfect view of a spectacular double rainbow. The food was fine—but the views were better. There was a live band playing old country music and we enjoyed watching a group of Aussies on a bus tour have a big ol’ time boot scootin’. After dinner we wandered a bit around town and enjoyed the views.

We drove to Lake Louise the next day to hike at Moraine Lake—thanks to Fodorites’ recommendations. It was probably our favorite day of a fantastic trip. The views from the “rockpile” trail were as spectacular as promised. We liked this lake even better than Lake Louise—and that’s saying a lot.

Signs were posted stating that it was mandatory to hike in groups of four or more—because of the bears. Penalties were $5,000 (and being eaten!). We paired up with a really fun couple and had a fantastic time walking to Lake Consolation, where we picnicked. We LOVED the views. So peaceful—and so beautiful. By this point we’d seen such amazing vistas that it had to be truly spectacular to impress us—and it was!

Back in Banff we had dinner at Coyote’s, which had been highly recommended. It was excellent—the best meal of the trip. Then we ended our day with quite an adventure. We walked along the river to the Fenland Trail. The river was quite narrow at this point so we were quite close when a deer bolted through the brush on the other side of the river. It startled us—but not as much as when we realized that it was being chased by a wolf! The deer jumped into the river to escape. The wolf stayed on the banks. I ended a perfect day with photos of a sunset that made the mountains glow.

The next day we walked through the lovely Cascade Gardens, then on to the Bow River Trail and the Bow River Falls lookout. I was amazed at how scenic and beautiful it is basically right in the city. We continued on the Fairmont Hotel. The building and setting are spectacular, but I was a bit disappointed by the inside of the hotel. Still, it was a wonderful day and we really enjoyed our walk back along the river.

This was our final night and I still wanted to cram a few more sights in, so we drove the short distance to Cascade Pond—10 -15 from Banff. We walked a very nice, short trail that circles the lake. We enjoyed it, but wouldn’t rate it a “must-see”; there’s too much competition! We continued on to Lake Minnewonka—about another ten minute drive.

Really loved exploring the banks, staking out a spot on the rocks, and photographing the mountains. This was a favorite spot and I got some great photos. We spotted an eagle flying overhead, but weren’t able to get a photo.

The beauty we saw on this trip was overwhelming, and as the Rockies became shadows in my rearview mirror I was surprised by how sad I was to leave them behind. We spent the night at the Royal Executive Inn near the Calgary airport and our 4 AM wake-up call came much too soon.

A heartfelt “thank you” to all of those who gave such generous, terrific advice. The only bad thing about this trip is that it will be very hard to top!

Songdoc Aug 14th, 2012 07:10 PM

link to my photos:

(click on "view album" then "view slideshow")

I hope you'll enjoy!

kanunu Aug 14th, 2012 07:26 PM

GREAT trip report - so many super memories for me were refreshed. Thanks!
The color of so many of the lakes is amazing, and while there is some variation in each, from time to time, over a number of years the individual lake colors seem to be remarkably consistent.
Can't wait to see your photos!

Maudie Aug 15th, 2012 06:19 AM

Hi Songdoc, have been waiting for this report. Fabulous, great reading and those photo's!!! WOW, every photo was stunning and the colour is out of this world. Looks like you had great weather even if it meant dealing with those dreaded mozzies.

Really appreciate you sharing this with us. Glad your illness didn't stop you, well done for going ahead with your plans.

I will be printing this out to take with us next year. Thank you again.

Songdoc Aug 15th, 2012 08:10 AM

Thanks so much for the kind comments about the report--and the photos (taken with my brand new camera!). We had one cloudy day--and a couple of short, cloudy/rainy periods. Otherwise, gorgeous weather. On a couple of days, it was warmer than I would have liked for hiking, but compared to the 100+ degrees and humidity I'd left behind, I'm not complaining :-).

The color of those lakes seems impossible! I loved it there soooo much!

Maudie--I know you'll have an amazing trip!

LindainOhio Aug 15th, 2012 11:25 AM

Great photos. Glad you had a great visit. It ranks right up there with Kauai in my book.

Maudie Aug 15th, 2012 04:08 PM


louistraveler5 Aug 17th, 2012 08:11 AM

Songdoc, I loved your report and pictures! Like everyone else, I just can't get over the color of the water! DH & I had a taste of the water color in the Pacific Northwest when we took our trip to Seattle in Sept 2010. We noticed the blue color of the waterfalls in Mt Rainier National Park.

I do hope to get to the Canadian Rockies someday if I can pull myself away from Kauai ;). Next year DH & I are planning to go to London & surrounding areas of England with my dad. We are thinking next September.

Our countdowns continue until we are both in Kauai again! You will be there from Oct 2 until...? My bday is Oct 4 and I will be in Colorado!

wtm003 Aug 17th, 2012 01:23 PM

Loved your photos! Thanks for taking the time and sharing this. The Canadian Rockies are definitely on my list. Your report is pushing me to maybe do this next summer. The only thing scaring me are the mosquitoes.

Songdoc Aug 17th, 2012 03:34 PM

<The only thing scaring me are the mosquitoes.>
I wouldn't let that stop me -- unless you're allergic to "Off."

Thanks for the kind words. Yes, the color of those glacial lakes is just remarkable. Actually there was one at the Valley of the Five Lakes that was even clearer--and literally the color of emeralds -- but my photos weren't good, so I didn't include them.

London & England will be fantastic. I took my Dad there for his 80th and it was wonderful. I cherish those memories--especially now that he's gone.

I've especially enjoyed day trips to Bath, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court, and Oxford. I'll be returning in February. That's not the best time, but I'll be combining it with work in Ireland, so I have no choice about the dates.

I'll leave for Kauai after a work commitment on the evening of Oct. 2nd but won't arrive until the 3rd. I'll be overnighting at a airport hotel in San Jose and will arrive in Lihue at 11:25AM -- instead of landing at 8:30PM and getting to the condo after 10PM -- which is a grueling 3 AM to my body. I'll see how I like doing it that way.

Birthday in Colorado sounds good, too!

Now, back to the Canadian Rockies ... sort of.

Last night I watched "River of No Return" (1953) starring Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum. Monroe said she thought it was her worst film--and I have to agree. But ... it was filmed in so many locations that I recognized in Banff and Jasper. I recognized Bow River Falls and I'm 99% certain that several scenes were filmed at Becker's Chalets (where I stayed!). So, it was fun to look at the scenery and I did my best to ignore the acting ;-).

On this morning's news I saw a report on the shrinking glaciers in Montana. They expect them to be gone in 10 - 20 years! I noticed that the water in those lakes was also brilliant shades of blue. I hope to see that before they're gone--and before I'm gone, too ;-).

Songdoc Aug 17th, 2012 05:24 PM

Oops ... forgot to include that I'll sadly leave Kauai Oct. 31st. Talk about culture shock--I'll arrive in San Francisco for Halloween!!! (I'll be working in SF and L.A. before returning to Nashville.)

krp329 Aug 24th, 2012 10:00 PM

Glad to hear you enjoyed your visit to the Rockies, and too bad that the mudslides on the Maligne Road prevented you from getting to Maligne Lake. On the Friday that week, the road opened again - but in the wee hours of that same day, the Cavell Road closed, due to an ice fall. The Ghost Glacier came off the mountain and landed in Cavell Pond below (you have photos, you were standing right there), causing a mini-tsunami and flooding out the road, some of the parking lot and overturning an outhouse. It's very very lucky that it happened in the wee hours, or many many people would have been killed. There are photos on the official Jasper National Park facebook page of the devastation. The road and the area are now closed, while they assess if there is also danger of icefall from the Angel Glacier.

It appears you may have photographed possibly one of the last gasps of the Ghost Glacier (not sure what day you were there ... it came down on Aug. 10th), in your photo #29 - the glacier is sitting up above the avalanche.

By the way, the mosquitoes are getting much better (as they always do at this time of year). The Canadian Rockies had record amounts of snowfall last winter, and here in Jasper at least, triple the usual amount of rain in June. So it's been a horrible, horrible year for them... the worst I have ever experienced in over thirty years of living in the Rockies.

Songdoc Aug 25th, 2012 04:54 AM

That's INCREDIBLE about Ghost Glacier. Thanks SO much for the info. We were there Tuesday, Aug. 8th. It really hammers home the awesome power of nature! I recognized almost everything in those photos!

I can't even imagine how horrible it would have been if this had happened during daylight hours!

Glad to hear the mosquitoes are getting better. I think you've sent them to Nashville ;-).

letusgo Sep 7th, 2012 06:45 PM

I am completely baffled about the mosquitoes. We camped and hiked all over Banff and Jasper National Parks during 2 separate July trips (1994 and 2007) and never had a single mosquito bite and didn't use any mosquito repellent.
Any ideas?

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