Checkout time at the hostel is 10am so we must wake early if we are to have time for our morning ablutions and packing. We've enjoyed our experience here (both the hostel and the Town of Canmore) but, like Alexander Mackenzie, its time to drive further into the mountains. Banff National Park is our next goal and after a brisk breakfast (with a great mountain view), we are on the move again.
Highway 1W takes you right into Banff National Park where, there is a huge lineup at the Parks Canada booths that sit astride the highway (like tollbooths)
We have been forewarned by Wendy's brother Colin to avoid Banff altogether (because of the tourist congestion) but we ignore his advice and buy a day pass (c'mon, it's Banff, Canada's first National Park for gawd sakes)
Everything is rosy at first…but when we get to Lake Minnewanka, our spider senses begin tingling and a tiny voice in our heads (probably Colin's), says 'I told you so'. The place is packed with tourists, like us, who have also come to see the lake's clean green waters and gape up at the mountains that rise behind it. We stay as long as we dare (including time to enjoy a $6.05 ice cream cone). There is no phone service here and we must find some soon or we will not be able to reserve lodging for this evening
We travel on to the Town of Banff but it is far too congested and we immediately decide to move on. Being in town has solved one problem, Wendy has regained cell service. She is speaking to a National Parks reservation officer and he informs us that there are indeed no camping vacancies at Banff. There are however plenty of remote tent sites in Lake Louise National Park and the road connecting the two parks is one we both wish to experience. It sounds fantastic..we drive on
The Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy. 1A) is legendary for it's beauty and the abundance of wildlife that can be seen along its 48km route. It is indeed beautiful but there is nary a squirrel or bird to be seen. We do pass a gaggle of tourists, who have stopped along both sides of the road to view something in the brush below, but the onslaught of people (some walking, unsafely down the road) and cars (some parked, unsafely along the road), deter us from stopping. If rubberneckers could stop at accident sites without being arrested, it would look like exactly like this and we feel sorry for whatever animal they have in their sights
When we arrive at the Parks Office, in the town of Lake Louise, we are informed that there are no vacancies at all…in any of the National Parks (including Yoho and Revelstoke). The staffer also tells us that the reservation person we spoke to could not possibly know this because they are in Ottawa. Whoa!
We sit on a bench (outside the Parks Office) and call around to private campgrounds. Wendy discovers one, 'Sanders Lake Campground' in Golden, BC. It is in the direction we are heading, it's nestled up in the mountains and someone has just cancelled for tonight. Bingo! We're good to go.
All through Alberta we have been intrigued by, and thoroughly enjoying, a beautiful black and white bird. It looks like a crow but has beautiful white markings and when it flies, it is magnificent. It is a black-billed magpie (a relative of Jays and Crows). They are also boisterous, thoroughly unruly and apparently much despised by Alberta farmers…from kidzone.ws (a geography website) 'There are still more people shooting them with guns than with cameras here in Alberta'. (Cars, Gas and Guns..sounds like beginning of a good country song)
Lake Louise is a beautiful little town, not nearly as big or as crowded as Banff. Right next to where we are sitting is a mountain outfitters that is calling our name. We have plenty of time, now that we have a place to tent, so we decide to go in and window shop. Well let me tell ya folks…some deals are just too good to pass up and we come out of that store with a pair of pants each (40% off mine) and shorts for Wendy (70% off). Even better, right next door to the outfitters is a market where we buy tonight's meal (a potato and greens to go along with the remainders of our Dutch sausages).
The drive to Golden is both wonderful and nerve wracking. Wonderful because of the majesty of the scenery, nerve wracking because of the speeds at which Albertans drive (we had read that Albertans drive twenty km over the speed limit, no matter what the road conditions are…and it proves to be true)
Little fuss is made as we pass across the border into BC, although Wendy swears she hears birds whistling the Hallelujah Chorus on the BC side of that imaginary line.
Golden, at first glance, looks like another little mountain town (like South Park) and the road to Sanders Lake Campground takes us several kilometres up a winding dirt road to the park. The area is heavily wooded and the scenery is beautiful…we are excited to see what Shangri-La awaits us at the top of this road.
Unfortunately it is an overcrowded campground with wall to wall sites. Everyone is packed so closely together that you can count your neighbours nose hairs by firelight. The mosquito hoards seem to have followed us and they buzz merrily as they feast on our tender young flesh (LOL). It isn't all we'd hoped for but dinner and the fire are great, we're healthy and the tires on the Civic are brand new…you just gotta appreciate all the good that you have.
With that in mind, we turn in for the night with that ancient prayer on our lips 'Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray that the damn skeeters don't suck me bloodless before I wake'…or something like that
Moose and Wendle
P.S. A funny billboard seen in Canmore, AB