Our adventure to the Canadian Rockies begins in the city of Calgary in the Canadian Province of Alberta. While Rocky is busy providing classroom instruction to Canadian oil staff, Julie arrives and takes in the sites of this modern, yet frontier, city. The city of Calgary is laid out along the Bow River, with its streets oriented north-south and east-west to take advantage of the sun’s path overhead. The city was founded as the portal to Western Canada and served as the commerce and trade center in the region, experiencing significant growth around the turn from the 19th to the 20th century. In order to see and enjoy much of the city quickly, Julie scheduled a private, 2-hour Segway tour that explored the numerous parks, islands and landmarks around the city while learning its rich history. The city still has many reminders of its hosting of the 1988 Winter Olympics sprinkled among its architecturally interesting modern skyscrapers, beautiful gardens and public art. Connecting the downtown is an excellent public transit system and an historic, pedestrian town center along 8th Street. During the winter, people traverse the city through its extensive “Plus-15” – a system of skywalks that connect most major building above ground level. But, during the summer, the sidewalks downtown and along the river fill with an abundance of cafes and restaurants where we enjoyed lunches and dinners.
When Rocky was free for the weekend, we rented a car and began our adventure to the Canadian Rockies. Traveling upstream along the Bow river, our first destination was Lake Louise, located north of the resort town of Banff, famous for its hiking, climbing, water sports, and home to a resort that celebrates its location for its beauty, and for being the birthplace of North American winter skiing and climbing. From there, we visited nearby Lake Moraine, where the view of 10 mountain peaks once graced the back of the Canadian $20 bill. Then it was a short trip to the other side of the Bow valley to the Lake Louise Ski Resort where we took a ski lift up the side of the mountain to enjoy the view of the valley and Lake Louise from afar. After enjoying lunch at the local lodge there, we continued our journey by retracing our route back past the town of Banff to the lakes of Minnewanka and Two Jacks. Although the weather had degraded, we were lucky enough to see a small group of big-horned sheep and still enjoyed the serenity and beauty of the area. Then, we went into the town of Banff via the “Tunnel Road” that meanders along the mountain side above the town. Once in town, we visited the Bow waterfall and marveled at the historical building, such as the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel build nearly 130 years ago, before finally checking into our hotel. That night, we shopped before we ate dinner in the center of town, and enjoyed watching the people in town for its annual marathon race.
The next morning, we decided to drive the 2+ hours north on Hwy 93 to the Columbia Icefields which are located at the southern end of Jasper National Park. Here we toured the Athabasca Visitor’s Center where we began our adventure with a ride onto the surface of the Athabasca Glacier in the all-terrain Ice Explorer. The trip included traversing the glacier’s lateral moraine and traveling out onto the glacier where we explored on foot. The glacier was crisscrossed with rivulets of melt water and ice-cracks that penetrate to unknown depths. We were careful where we ventured, but we explored the ice sheet for about an hour, before re-boarding our Ice Explorer for the return trip. After this adventure, we were bused a short way to the Glacier Skywalk, a cliff-edged, glass-bottomed walkway suspended 918’ over the glacial valley where giant glaciers still rest above and the spectacular glacier-formed Sunwapta Valley stretches below. From here, the view was spectacular in all directions, and the geologic history of the area was clearly exposed. After lunch at the Visitor’s Center, we drove back south towards Banff when we spotted two moose grazing in a roadside meadow near the Vermillion Lakes. This last highlight sent us happily driving back to Calgary where our whirlwind Canadian Rocky Mountain Adventure came to a close.