The last full day based at Banff involved a small car journey to some sights in a neighbouring National Park before we headed down to Waterton Park, our final destination in the Canadian Rockies.
The Canyons of your mind Kootanay National Park - 31 August 2011
The day was miserable so we headed north on Highway 1 and after 35 minutes turned west down highway 93 into Kootenay National Park
Our aim was to stop at Marble Canyon, an interesting feature formed by powerful water forces and consisting of deep thin gorges over which several bridges had been built to allow views of the water. From there we could follow a woodland path that ran alongside the Highway and the river to a sight named "The Paint pots".
The Paint Pots are a number of different coloured pools including many red, ochre pools formed by iron oxide deposits. These deposits were visited by native North Americans who used the red mud as decorative paint. Europeans quickly exploited the area to obtain ochre as a base for paint until it was decided that such industrial activity was not compatible with the aims of the National Park.
It was not the most enthralling of days and the walking was easy. However the sites were interesting and perfectly suited for such a damp day. In addition, this was the day on which we saw the bald eagle and Karen spotted Mr Grizzly running into the woods. What Karen did not mention in her earlier blog, is that a squirrel chased her from her lunch!
Misty Mountain hop Leaving Banff - 1 September 2011
We awoke to an amazing site. Mist and cloud cover had descended to about 30 metres above the level of the Town and making all of the peaks disappear from view. It was as though the whole town had been spirited away during the night like some Canadian Brigadoon.
After a hearty breakfast, we packed the car and headed east, quickly leaving the shrouded town behind us. As we headed towards Canmore on Highway 1 the clouds started to drift away and a more magical sight greeted us. The bottoms of the mountain were still obscured by mist but the tops were clearly visible and bathed in bright sunlight. I thought of the flying island of Laputa as I snatched glimpses of the peaks whilst concentrating on the road ahead.
It was a magical start to the day and I looked forward to the rest of the journey down to Waterton National Park.
Go your own way
After about 45 km, we turned off Highway 1 onto Highway 40. This took us deep into Kananaskis Country. The road would now run southwards and parallel with the Rockies, sometimes dipping back into the peaks but mainly travelling through high foothills, covered with forest. It was beautiful drive, little traffic, well maintained roads and a good view round every corner and over every brow.
What we had not realised during the night was that the rain that had fallen in Banff during the night had fallen as snow on the higher slopes. As we reached a high pass in the region we actually drove above the level at which a light dusting of snow was visible.
The temperature at the highest point dipped to below 4 degrees but jumped about half a degree for every 100 metres we descended. Not far from the high point we were stopped by a small flock of very large young male big horns. Karen wanted a picture so we stopped the car and, much to her surprise, I wound the window down and one very large animal almost got in beside her.
At one point the satnav took us down a gravel road that would have taken us on a shorter route but I would have had shredded tyres and no paintwork. It was clearly designed for off-roaders and farm vehicles so I ignored the insistent woman (satnav, not Karen) and headed back to the main road where I knew we would soon meet an appropriate main road south to our destination. Miss Satnav duly recalculated our route.
We reached the next road (Highway 22) at a small town called Longview. This seemed and appropriate place for lunch.
Our restaurant of choice was Heidi's Food Saloon, a friendly place with a rustic charm. There was no Goat Peter at Heidi's but plenty of Cow Petes and Truck Jims.
Having had a fat boy breakfast, I opted for salad with my deli sandwich. However, my salad came with a little extra protein. Karen laughed as a little fly maggot wriggled across the plate. We later agreed that it was just the type of thing that would crawl out of the tomato that she had just eaten off my plate (I can't stand raw tomatoes) rather than live on the lettuce I had consumed.
Hunger sated but slightly disturbed we set off again.
There is unrest in the forest there is trouble with the trees, for the maples want more sunlight but the oaks ignore their pleas
I am getting a little bored of pine so it was great to see deciduous trees on the prairies. No oaks and probably not many maples but deciduous nevertheless. I can only imagine that this country must look bleak and empty in the winter once the trees have shed their leaves.
By this point in the journey we had left the mountains behind and the scenery became a mix of grassland, copses and stream beds dominated by large rolling hills. Horse ranches that were spread out on a regular basis in the Kananaskis hills were soon far outnumbered by beef ranches as we hit Alberta's food supply region. The odd small herd of cattle feeding beside the side of the road soon became larger herds spread out over open grassland.
The traffic started to build up now, food supply trucks heading south and east to the wheat and livestock centres and logging trucks heading north from the US border. The odd cyclist appeared amongst the Ram, GMC and Ford pick-ups and shared the road with leather clad bikers and the occasional RV.
If you drove this route often I am sure that you would be bored but I loved it as I could always see the Rockies in my peripheral vision or in my mirror if the car headed east. As we approached our destination I could see the peaks of Waterton Park and the US Rockies beyond. Along the tops of the hills heading to our motel in Pincher Creek we passed a multitude of wind turbines standing sentinel over the prairies.
We found our Motel and a after a stroll round town (searching for afternoon tea, supplies and a barbers) settled in for the night.
I had enjoyed the journey and looked forward to the next day when we would enter the Park for our final Rocky Mountain High. That, my friends, is another story.