After a few days in Edmonton and as my boyfriend got four days off work, we decided to make a trip South into cattle country and the Rockies. The planning was extremely hectic and after having stopped at several Canadian Tire stores to find a two-bed tent, I was surprised when we actually drove out of Edmonton.
Leaving Edmonton we took hwy 2 in the direction of Calgary, enjoying how the scenery changed from flat prairie to hills and laughing about how no mountains were visible in Mountain View Country (though I expect it to be because of the weather).
On the way we stopped at Gasoline Alley south of Red Deer to get gas and an iced cap. Gasoline Alley is a lane which runs parallel to the highway for a long stretch midway between Edmonton and Calgary. It is made up of gas stations, branches of all known fast food stores as well as more local eateries and off course the mandatory truck and rv dealerships. It is far from an attractive place and is not made for the critical eye of the tourist but for the comfort of the truck drivers and others who drive Highway 2 between the two main Alberta cities. Yet even for a tourist unknown to life on the road Gasoline Alley is a fascinating stop to make.
Before hwy 2 reached Calgary we drove West towards the Rocky Mountains. After a long stretch of non-mountain view throughout Mountain View Country, I finally got a glimpse of the majestic Rockies. We reached Bow Valley Campgrounds just outside Canmore as the clock neared 11 PM and had to put up our newly acquired tent in the darkness of the pine tree forest. Fortunately I have gathered some wisdom on setting up camp from a few festivals over the years. The camp unit was great and only a few meters from the beautiful Bow River with scenic mountains showing on the opposite riverside.
Once again I pushed my boyfriend out of bed in the early hours of the morning, impatient to start the day. We began the day by spraying ourselves with a toxic mosquito repellent before heading towards the river side, enjoying a short walk. But though the river was beautiful, I had a long list of destinations which I hoped to get crossed out throughout the day. Unable to contain myself I manoeuvred my boyfriend towards the car and while laughing he drove us in the direction of Canmore and a morning coffee.
Canmore is not a particularly charming place in my eyes. Like so many other places that I have seen in Alberta the town has disappeared in a forest of one-family houses and fake looking apartment buildings. The building boom which is based on the premises that all families should have their own obnoxiously big house has destroyed much of the charm that Canmore would otherwise have had. Most of the buildings were bad imitations of traditional Alp houses, though I don’t believe the builders have ever been to the Alps. As a stretch of road it greatly resembled Gasoline Alley except from the mountains surrounding the town, and I began to worry that this attitude of building oversized doll houses everywhere might even have reached the national park.
After coffee and gazing in the brochures laying on the counter of the coffee shop, we decided to take the long trip to Lake Louise. Here we would first take a trip in the Lake Louise gondola and then move towards the lake itself. Afterwards our plan was to check out the more remote Lake Moraine before heading back.
Lake Louise Gondola
The Lake Louise Gondola and connected wildlife interpretive centre proved out to be a really great choice. Heading up the gondola we were told by the staff that a Grizzly bear and her two cubs had been spotted at tower 12, but as we reached the tower nothing was to be seen except pine trees.
On the top we enjoyed the spectacular view of the Rockies as they hoovered over Lake Louise. This view in itself makes the trip and price worth it. Taking in the feel of the mountains I began to truly appreciate their name.
Close by the view point there is an interpretive centre for wildlife and particularly the grizzly bear. Here, a friendly guy from South Africa told us about the damages that could be made to a bear should it be exposed too much to human habitation. As we were about to end, his walkie talkie started chatting excitedly as several staff members notified each other to the movements of the tower 12 grizzly bear and her two cubs. They were apparently heading in the direction of the interpretive centre. All those present at the centre eagerly walked out to the front porch and were treated a rare sights. Far away but close enough to be viewed through binoculars, the mother grizzly and her cubs were exploring the pine forest. After a little while of bear-gazing, we returned to the gondola to descent. At the same time mother grizzly had returned to the towers and as we descented we had a great view of her and her cubs as we moved in the gondola far above her head. Though I had never imagined that the sight of a bear would thrill me this much, I must admit that I was terribly excited and for the rest of the trip down, my heart pounded and we chatted eagerly of our good fortune.
Leaving the gondola and an arriving tour bus of Koreans we headed towards the tourist hub of Lake Louise. Arriving we were met by a huge asphalted parking area and large RVs and campers. Several others were looking for a parking space and I wondered how long we might have to drive around in circles before finding a spot. However, with a small car it proved substantially easier than it would have been with a dog-truck. As we had parked we made our way down to a very turquoise lake. Lake Louise has been touched by human “re-naturalisation” and for the comfort of the tourists the one side had been made a strolling area where people could enjoy the sun and take pictures of the steep and beautiful mountains of the opposite side. Lake Louise is a pleasant spot and really amazing, however the large Fairmont Hotel ad the human build promenade makes it seem too commercial for a mountain lake. It reminded me a bit of Lake Bled in Slovenia which because of its extreme beauty also has seen a flux of tourists and hotels at its shores.
Leaving beautiful Lake Louise, I hoped to find Lake Moraine less trafficked and without asphalt parking lots and a big monstrous hotel claiming the area. And I was pleasantly surprised. Lake Moraine is to Lake Louise what Lake Bohinj is to Lake Bled. An unspoiled and wild sister lake. Though you also find lots of people at Lake Moraine and though there are luxury lodges for renting near the lake none of it seems to obscure your sight of the lake itself. The lodges are hidden away and build in colours of the nature around them.
Should we not have encountered mother grizzly at the gondola, Lake Moraine would have been the absolute high point of our Banff trip. The drive to the lake is in itself a beautiful drive, but when arriving at the lake and taking the walk from one end to the other through a lush and green wilderness you are constantly shocked at the natural wonder that this place is. I trust that my boyfriend, patient as he is, became a bit tired of me pulling up my camera every other second. Not since Caucasus have I taken so many pictures in such a short amount of time. (Since I have been quite incapable of choosing which ones to post here, there are quite a few from Lake Moraine at the end).
After enjoying the spectacular views of Lake Moraine we drove off to walk a bit around the tourist filled central hub of the park, Banff town. However, tired as we were from all the excitement of the day we had only little energy for the overpriced main street of Banff and its bars and restaurants. So, after a quick bite we returned to our pretty little camp site at Bow River.