Jasper to Radium Hot Springs, Canada, dawned much chillier than it had been the last few days. Mike came back early from his sunrise shoot, lit a fire in our room, and climbed back into bed with me. After that fun start to the day, we took a quick stroll to the Falls and then got on the road for Lake Louise and Banff.
As with many aspects of the trip, we didn’t really know what we were getting into. The glacier and ice fields on the way out of Jasper were dramatic and stunning, and we'd had no idea they were there. Going out on the ice was a real possibility and also walking on the Skywalk. If you do pass through that part of the Park, definitely plan for the hour or two it will take to park in the designated area, take a shuttle bus back to the Skywalk or trek out on the glacier/ice field. We hadn’t planned for that, so regretfully passed on after some photo ops.
Lake Louise, which Mike kept telling me was a major Canadian attraction, turned out to be mobbed. I mean, really mobbed, the most crowded we’d seen on the trip so far, with creeping, hazardous lots filled with Canadians rendered grumpy by attempts to find a (nonexistent) parking spot.
“Let’s have a crazy expensive lunch at the big hotel up there and get valet parking,” I said, pointing to the monolithically-huge Chateau Fairmont Lake Louise. So that’s exactly what we did. I even combed my hair and put on lipstick so I wouldn’t look quite so much like I’d been camping on and off for weeks. We parked in the roomy garage of the huge, classy hotel and ate an amazing lunch outside on the terrace, watching a very high-end wedding right in front of the hotel and the view of the glacier and the brilliant, turquoise-colored lake.
We were dive-bombed during lunch by some very sharp-beaked, aggressive birds ominously called “nutcrackers,” and Mike tried to get a shot of the showy magpies flying around.
I was totally entertained by people-watching the very international crowd. We sat between a Sikh family (guessing by their Indian looks and on the men, even the boys, black head turbans) and an Israeli family with a Chinese family the next table over. The expensive wedding, everyone dressed to the nines, was all Caucasian. Mike got a great photo of a group of Mennonite ladies in a curious, out-of-time gaggle, who watched the entire wedding in apparent fascination.
So, if you go to Lake Louise, (which we thought was pretty but not any more so than a dozen totally empty lakes we passed along the way) be prepared for a nightmare finding parking and a long trek to do whatever it is people do there. Canoeing on the lake looked nice, and walking around it looked nice, but again…why fight the crowds? This is Canada, with so much room and so much beauty you could find a turquoise lake and have it all to yourself.
After that highly interesting and stimulating experience, we were supposed to go to Banff to camp. We got overwhelmed by crowds again in the tourist trap of Banff town itself, and decided to get on the road for Glacier National Park instead of staying there. A storm appeared to be gathering over the area we speculated our campsite to be in, so we took a windy local route out of the area.
Turning off zooming freeway 90 that heads to Calgary, we promptly got lost in some back roads. Lady Google was offline and the map we had was too big and general, and it was coming on 5:00 pm on a small, winding forest road, when suddenly Mike went as alert as a pointer spotting game.
“Johnston’s Campground! I think that’s where we’re supposed to be!” Somehow, by complete and total accident, we were in Banff Park itself, and had stumbled on our reserved spot. We checked in, drove up, parked, were attacked by bugs and there was nothing to do at the campsite (no views, no fishing) and we had no food, so we decided to go up the road to a nearby store and get some supplies and make sure we were on the right road at all toward Glacier…and we ended up continuing on.
I drove scenic 93 through the mountains out of Banff, heading in the general direction of Montana and Glacier National Park, at normal Canada traffic levels (i.e. another car every five or ten minutes.) Mike looked for game from the windows, but even being alert, we almost got into a situation with several other cars when a bighorn sheep doe decided to leap off a cliff and into the road—and lead her sisters, and their two lambs, across the highway.
Mike jumped out of the van as I managed to park without mishap. He ended up helping chase the frightened, confused sheep back onto the safe side of the road as well as taking some shots of them with the Rhino Chaser (maddeningly out of batteries at an inopportune moment.) We weren’t sure exactly what species they were since there weren’t any rams with their big horns for easy identification. When we rolled up in Radium Hot Springs and turned in at the nearest motel offering a vacancy and free wi-fi, we were able to see that these bighorn sheep migrate through this area every summer.
We drove by the official hot springs, and could see that it was mobbed. The water was a bizarre color, even brighter aqua than usual (and that’s saying something.) The word “radium” put me off, and I include this Wikipedia link on the hot springs for the curious. Apparently it's not dangerous.
Not wanting to fight ANY MORE crowds than we’d dealt with at Lake Louise and Banff, we were happy to just nab a room and call it a night.