Day 12: Banff – Open and Shut

It was another one of those cloudy mornings, so we loitered around the condo until 10:30am hoping it would clear out a little.  Today’s first stop was to be to the very popular Johnston Canyon, and my research indicated it was definitely a highlight of Banff National Park.  As we pulled off onto the scenic Bow Valley Parkway we encountered a makeshift park pass checkpoint.  The lovely park staff gal gave us the thumbs up, but then also mentioned that Johnston Canyon was closed for renovation.  Confused, we asked if it had just closed and she said no, it’s been closed for over a week and won’t reopen until mid-November.  It was slightly irritating, as when we first got to Banff National Park we’d stopped at a Visitor’s Center for maps and information.  As we were going over things on the map with the Visitor Center man it seems like this would have been something worth mentioning.  The fact one of the most-visited sights was closed.  For another month.  This was the same man who told me they did not have large animals in Banff, another thing we found a bit fishy.

Well, aren't ewe cute?

Well, aren’t ewe cute?

Nevertheless, we circled back to the town of Banff and did the short Vermilion Lakes Scenic Drive, where there was a collection of waterfowl on the far end of the lake, steering clear of people.  We couldn’t blame them.  Moving along, we headed up to the top of Mt. Norquay, where along the way we saw some bighorn sheep practically prancing down the road.  This was just as good as seeing a moose or an elk, as it’s not like we have these roaming around at home.  The rest of the drive took us up to an overlook that had nice views of the town of Banff and surrounding mountains.

Evidence of an eager beaver

Evidence of an eager beaver

Back down Mt. Norquay we went to stroll the short-but-sweet 2.1km Fenland Trail Loop on the edge of Banff townsite.  It was an interpretive trail through a beautiful forest, where we saw a tree that looked like it had been freshly gnawed down by a beaver.  Apparently this area (the fen) floods in springtime, so the beaver must have been getting a jump start on things.  We could also see evidence that bears and elk had been there.  Ummm-hmmm.  Interesting.

We next drove through Banff townsite, a touristy little mountain town, and came out the other side to take the Tunnel Mountain Scenic Drive.  This was also a short drive and included a stop to see some hoodoos.  As we’ve seen quite a few hoodoos in Utah’s desert, this small grouping of hoodoos most definitely seemed very random and out of place amid the forest.  There was also an enormous raven up there (they only come in two sizes:  just hatched and enormous) who was quite the camera ham.

Hoodoo? What are you doing here?

Hoodoo? What are you doing here?

After the raven moved on, so did we by heading for the 24km Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive.  The lake itself is vast with, yes, crystal clear water.  If Jimmy had a Canadian Loonie every time I said, “Just look – look – at how clear that water is!” he would be a very rich man, minus the exchange rate.  From the lake we took the 3km Stewart Canyon walk, which was a beautiful stroll out to a bridge and back, much of it in the forest alongside the lakeshore.  It wasn’t super canyon-y but on the walk there was precious little up-n-down, which is just how we like ‘em.  Before we left the Lake Minnewanka area we used the fancy bathroom, which was unveiled in 2008 and cost $2 million to build.  It’s so eco-friendly that it produces its own power, heat, and hot water and will take 576 years to pay for itself.  What price, being green.

We then completed the Scenic Drive and were rarin’ to go for a hike down by Johnson Lake except… Johnson Lake was closed.  It was a tough day for us and the Johns(t)ons.  So we switched to Plan B, which was that Jim wanted to check out Banff Springs Golf Resort and I grudgingly agreed.  Well.  We had no sooner entered the golf compound and what should we see?

He's visiting Banff on a golf junket

He’s visiting Banff on a golf junket

An elk.  A real live elk.  In Banff.  Suprise!

At first he was laying down, taking a breather right there on the 15th fairway but then in the distance we could hear another elk bugling and he stood up to respond.  Incredible.  Just as we’d never heard an elk bugling before, apparently the man at the Visitor’s Center had never seen an elk in Banff before.  I felt like calling him so it would be a day of firsts for everyone.

Bow Falls are nice, but so is the mountain scenery right next to them

Bow Falls are nice, but so is the mountain scenery right next to them

Jimmy pried me away from the elk so we could check out the rest of the golf course, which is in a spectacular setting with mountains on all sides.  After a quick dip into the clubhouse we double-backed past the elk again and stopped at Bow Falls.  While they were much shorter than a lot of the falls we’ve seen, they are very wide and the water rushing down the river was thunderous (and crystal clear.  Cha-ching for Jimmy).

Leaving Banff townsite, we headed back south to check out downtown Canmore, the little town in which we’ve been staying.  It’s got a great little downtown and was definitely less populated than Banff.  We walked up and down the main streets doing some window shopping, checked out the farmer’s market, then returned to the condo to organize ourselves.  Tomorrow we are leaving the mountains for Calgary, officially starting our eastbound portion of the trip toward home.

Camera ham: this was "pensive face"

Camera ham: this was “pensive face”

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