Day 13: Our Mountain Farewell Tour

When we went to bed last night it was Fall, and when we awoke it was Winter.  That was it, that was the line.  Snow was coming down and this time it looked like it meant business.  The forecast didn’t look too promising, either, so we waited until the last minute to check out and start rolling.

View from balcony of condo this morning. Do you see the FULL mountain range that had been there when we went to bed?

View from balcony of the condo this morning. Do you see the FULL mountain range that had been there when we went to bed?

I’d read that Road 742 out of Canmore is beautifully scenic, albeit unpaved, and we wanted to take the drive.  The snow was coming down as we turned onto the bumpy gravel road and did nothing but get thicker and more slippery as we climbed higher.  Our rental car simply did not have the proper footwear to keep going.  As such, the decision was made to turn around and retool our plans.

Real men canyon in the snow

Real men canyon in the snow

We drove back through Canmore and out onto Hwy 1A east.  It was a fortuitous move, as we encountered more bighorn sheep along the road.  Not far beyond the sheep we stopped at Grotto Pond and Canyon to hike the 4.2km out-n-back trail in the snow.  The trail didn’t start off very scenic, what, with going past a noisy magnesium oxide mining plant, and all, but eventually gave way to baby canyon walls before we were in a full on canyon.  By the time we got into the canyon we were walking on a riverbed we think fills with water in the springtime.  And while the snow was still coming down strong, making the route a bit slippery, it was stupendously beautiful and such a quiet, peaceful way to start the day.  We got to a small waterfall where the trail seemed to end and turned around to walk out.

Back at the car we forged on to the scenic Hwy 40 south.  The whole area we’ve been in today is not part of Banff National Park, it’s another mountain section called Kananaskis Country that appears to be a collection of provincial parks.  It was tough to know if there were looming mountains all around due to the low-hanging clouds, but it forced us to keep our admiration a little closer to the ground today.  The snow flocking the trees added to the beautiful ambience.

See? It's gorgeous.

See? It’s gorgeous.

The next stop was to a man-made feature, the Stoney Nakoda Resort & Casino, where we popped in for a brief flutter.  While we technically came out $1.25 ahead, Jim got a soda which put us net -$0.50.  The trip budget was officially blown.

Continuing south on Hwy 40 we stopped in Kananaskis Village (built for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics), intending on hiking out to Troll Falls but the snow was really starting to pick up again.  Being outside, getting damp, cold, and sweaty was losing out to remaining in a toasty warm car and enjoying the scenery at a slightly faster pace.  This level of dedication may have something to do with the fact neither Jim nor I have ever been in the Olympics.

Did I mention Hwy 40 was gorgeous?  Just making sure.  I’ve been running out of adjectives to describe the scenery in this country.

Slow mooooving traffic

Slow mooooving traffic

The road kept climbing in altitude, eventually cresting at Highwood Pass.  The sign at the top said at 2,206m (7,237ft) it is the highest driveable pass in Canada.  The irony was it was significantly less snowy than it had been at lower elevations.  Driving over the other side we noticed a lot of poo in the roadway and wondered if it were from a bear?  A moose?  A cougar?  A yeti?  Shortly, we came upon the source and it turns out there are hundreds of cows that roam loose in the foothills.  And some of them don’t cotton to the rules of the road.

We are so glad we took this drive, as it was a wonderful farewell to the mountains even if we could only see 1/3 of what was going on through the snow and clouds.  Moving onward, we trucked toward Calgary and as we descended further someone turned on the fog machine.  It was so thick you couldn’t see 30m ahead.  This was slightly concerning, not because of dangerous road conditions, no, because our plan was to drive past The Big Rock Erratic just west of the town of Okotoks, but unless this bad boy was located on the shoulder of the road we weren’t going to see anything.  As it turned out, there is a pull-off area and a path right down to it.  It also turned out two other knuckleheads had pulled off to view it, too, a fact the four of us got a laugh over as we all stood there freezing our buns off staring at a big rock in the middle of a field.

We knew there was a big rock laying around somewhere...

We knew there was a big rock laying around here somewhere…

The Big Rock Erratic, by the way, is the World’s Largest Known Glacial Erratic, weighing in at 16,500 tons.  Basically, a glacier came down all the way from Jasper 12-30,000 years ago and spit this rock right here, right in the middle of nowhere, where it will sit forevermore.  And to think, we traveled the same route from Jasper not 5 days ago and here we all are now.  It was destiny.

It was time to stop monkeying around and get to Calgary.  Traffic was a bit thick coming in (it is Friday of a Canadian holiday weekend, after all), but we arrived to the Best Western Plus Suites Downtown just before 6pm.  As we were starving, we dropped our gear and headed to Pizzeria Gaga just a few blocks away for a delicious meal.  We knew we were back in the big city when we didn’t see any elk wandering down the road.  Speaking of which, we only have one full day here and intend to make the most of it… tomorrow.

Bonus Photo: White-Tailed Deer in Snow

Bonus Photo: White-Tailed Deer in Snow

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