Banff is a liberal, beautiful ski town in a Canadian national forest in the Rocky Mountains. Many tourists, money and a relaxed, good-time attitude seem to be its distinctive features. Sort of like Key West, Florida, but with snow, no conch parade or cruise ships, and slightly less alcohol. My first morning there, I went to the Tourist Information center to buy a park pass (required for anyone staying in the national park of Banff). I got a map, some advice about which road to take, and set out for the Canadian route 1A to get to the 93, a.k.a. the Icefield Parkway.
There is only one problem with driving in the Canadian Rockies: you want to stop the car around every corner. It’s gorgeous. Every single turn shows you a new vista, a new spectacular beauty of such scale and majesty that it makes your heart skip a little. Driving on the Icefield Parkway is really something special.
I stopped a lot. I couldn’t help it. How could a person not? I wasn’t the only one; many of the cars I saw on the road were stopped on the shoulder at some point or another, although there weren’t many cars total. I was lucky that I was in the park so early, because I suspect it gets a lot more crowded with tourists as the summer comes on. At one place I stopped, Bow Lake, I met a couple of Americans (Joel and Charlie) having a picnic lunch in their rental car. They’d come up from Calgary from a business conference, to see the mountains and finish off their trip. They gave me a fortune cookie that told me my financial situation would soon improve (sounds great, doesn’t it?) and we talked about the incredible scenery. They also mentioned that my car looked like a fun one for the drive. It was the first time I’d had the car on snow or ice, and I was only too happy that the snow remained on the shoulders. I don’t know if I have discussed how beautifully the Canadians build and maintain their roads, but their work is commendable. Immediate maintenance after avalanche damage, culverts and proper drainage for all the runoff water (of which there is a lot), frequent plowing and very few potholes. I saw Joel and Charlie a few more times that day, and it was nice to make friends. The road is a little less lonely when you add in some conversation and fellowship.
The road from Banff to the Columbia Icefield (and the Athabasca Glacier) is about 120 miles, but it takes more than two hours because it’s so pretty. I hadn’t been to the glacier since I was a very little girl. I remember, even now, that I had never felt so cold in my life. Of course, then, we were able to walk onto the glacier. Now, the glacier has receded somewhat and you have to take a special bus or tour to stand on it. We were having an unseasonably warm spring and it was a balmy 42 degrees outside (pretty warm for the Canadian Rockies), so I didn’t need any special clothes past my down jacket. I hiked out, tried to keep my socks dry and my cloth shoes out of the snow, and ran into my American friends again. We talked for a while, they headed out and I sat and tried to take the place in. I was alone out there for a while. The solitude of the mountains and the beautiful sun glinting off the snowmelt was gorgeous. I leave you to judge for yourself.