South of Banff, Alberta, Canada
The light of a full, citron moon held the sky in azure blue long after darkness had fallen. Slipping into a creamy white, it lit our drive through the Canadian Rockies as we made our way to Banff from Kalispell, Montana. There we had toured Glacier National Park and had seen magnificent mountains rising into clouds, leaving emerald canyons and dales below the "Going to the Sun" Road. What a name for a road, but it is perfect for this road which climbs in elevation high enough to give your tummy a bounce. After 2 days in the northwestern corner of Montana we headed to Banff, Alberta, Canada, an alpine hideaway tucked into the side of the Rockies. We were excited as we ventured into the wildness of these mountains, hoping for a bear sighting the next day. As long as I rested against ice packs I could focus on the thrill ahead when daylight would invite us to explore. I began our journey with pulled muscles in my lumbar and sacral areas and the contractions where the hamstrings connect to the torso made my right leg ache as though it were too short for any thought of walking.
Just before the sun set we came upon a herd of big horn sheep crossing the busy road leading into Banff National Park. It was interesting to observe an entire herd crouched on a steep hillside as they watched one large male make his way among the cars in busy evening traffic. One by one they slowly came down the hill and followed his steps, each crossing the street. They had no regard for traffic and moved as though they instinctively knew the cars would stop and people would jump from their vehicles, camera in hand. This was our first exposure to the noble beauty of big horn sheep, and we were overjoyed at our luck on this summer evening.
After our arrival in Banff we had a late night dinner in our room courtesy of 24 hour room service in this grand, old hotel called The Rimrock where the chefs happily prepare what you request in addition to the menu's offerings as long as the ingredients are available. We began our journey into the wild the next day and started with Lake Louise where friends of ours had seen 2 bears ambling lakeside one morning in June. No such luck for us. Far too many people walked along the water's edge. Boaters were paddling in the alpine lake while children squealed and guests of the huge Fairmont Chateau Resort milled about in the distance. Too much human activity to bring bears out for play. The alpine lakes in Montana, Alberta, and here at home in Washington appear deep aqua and turquoise in color because they are fed by snow melt from the glaciers which carry rich glacial sediment. The water seems transparent; rocks along the bottom are as easily seen as if they lay on the water's edge. These lakes are stunning because the vivid colors contrast dramatically with the mountains which rise behind them.
Later we drove north into Jasper National Park to the Columbia Icefields to find the area where 100+ glaciers rise among these mountains, mountains whose faces are as varied as man's. Some look like rocky sculptures with intricate etchings while others, forested in many hues of green, host vegetation. My favorites were perhaps the ones which looked most like sand. Eroding stone showed the wear of the wind from so many years and now resembled sand castles with turrets and domes. The Athabasca Glacier can be seen at close distance if one wants to walk the trail to the area which still contains ice. For safety purposes it is cordoned off by ropes; huge holes can open with little warning. As we entered the parking area we noticed small roadside signs containing dates: 1948, 1992, etc., dates showing where the glacial area had once extended many years before. We were overwhelemed by the physical evidence of global warming. Our nieces' children will have no Icefields to visit here.
At every turn we found mountains of different color, different texture, different beauty, all capturing our attention and giving us a new perspective. Deer and fawns darted in and out of large wooded areas giving us new hope for sightings of moose, elk, and bear. Climbing 8,000 feet in elevation we found ourselves winding in S curves along a narrow paved road which hugged the mountainside and made me a bit dizzy when I looked out and down. Anytime cars were parked along the roadside we learned there was likely some nearby wildlife. We pulled off to find 2 big horn ewes with their 2 young lambs grazing on the side of a very steep mountain.
We continued to see wildlife during out adventures but never found a bear. Three times during our trip we learned we had missed a bear sighting by only a few moments. People near us would have photographs, but the bear had gone back into the brush as we arrived. We saw a young female elk grazing near a river in Jasper just before our last dinner in the Rockies. We had hoped for a moose but happily accepted this special moment in nature.
There was a grapefruit moon suspended over the Rockies, arresting alpine scenery at every turn, crystalline turquoise lakes, glimpses at wildlife we would not ordinarily see, sumptuous food prepared by award winning chefs, and the company of my beloved all to serenade me during my birthday celebration in our Rocky Mountain retreat. Even though the week was scattered with pain this special celebration, wrapped in nurturing love and majestic beauty, was splendid. Many adventures await us in these towering Canadian mountains, and I am sure a bear sighting is among them!
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