Monday, August 31: Banff
I've just about given up on getting a decent night's sleep here. Nothing I do seems to work. Last night we left the window open a little. I was once again awake sometime between 4 and 5. I opened the window more, but still I couldn't sleep. I reset the alarm from 6:20 to 7:20. Sadly I was just falling asleep around 7 or so.
We had breakfast, and then headed to Banff. It was a cool, windy day, with a 15% chance of showers. Michael wasn't into any more hiking, so we were aiming for a collection of smaller things.
First up was a trip up Sulphur Mountain in the gondolas. In hindsight, this would have been the perfect place to use my down jacket, but we underestimated the cold and wind. I just had on my tee-shirt and fleece shirt. I put on my rain jacket as a wind stopper, and that was all the warm clothing that I had brought with me.
For some reason, I found the ride up more unnerving than usual. Of course, if it had been a chair, I would have been more than nervous.
When we got to the top, we found it much colder and windier than we expected. We walked about a kilometer over a board walk to get to the peak where there was a historic old weather station. The conditions were not conducive for lingering, so Mike and I went on ahead of Amy.
At one platform I saw a little ground squirrel. It looked pretty cold. It was sort of compacted, so it looked sort of like a little furry ball.
Mike and I finished at the top about the time that Amy arrived. We returned to the gondola station, where I got Mike a soda and some chips (I got a “Swiss Mocha” from a machine). Then we waited for Amy. Mike actually wanted lunch, but we preferred waiting until we were down in Banff and had more selection (and probably better prices).
For some reason, I didn't get as nervous on the way down as I did on the way up.
We drove to the center of Banff and eventually picked for lunch a place with a Southwest theme that was next to Tooloulou's. I wasn't very hungry (we had just eaten breakfast a few hours previously), so I just got a soup, which came with some corn bread.
I was fairly tired, and I almost dozed off while we waited for our food. I couldn't help thinking “why can't I do this at 5am???”
After lunch, we drove to Lake Minnewanka. We found that there was not much there, just a boat dock, some picnic areas, and some camping areas. It was still rather cold and windy--not great boating weather.
Amy and I walked down the shore a short distance while Mike went back to sit in the car. After a very short distance, we decided that we had had enough, so we returned to the car. We continued the loop and found the dam that fed water down the hill to a hydro station that we had seen along the highway.
Before returning to Canmore, we drove up the Tunnel Mountain road to where there was a hoodoo lookout. Amy and I walked to the second overlook, which gave some views of the hoodoos, and of the cliff side of Tunnel Mountain. It was getting sunnier, less windy, and warmer. But with Michael waiting in the car, we didn't bother walking to overlooks three and four.
By the time we got to Canmore, it was turning into a nicer day, with some good views in the sun. But we couldn't take advantage of it. Michael and to a lesser extent Amy were hiked out, and we were still rather tired, particularly with the cold and wind of the morning. Still, there were some good views of the mountains in the sun.
When we got up to the room, Amy and I crashed for 15 minutes, and then we started the packing process. We also went to their business center and printed out our boarding passes. Interestingly, if I understand the exchange rate correctly, paying for our bags on the way home should be rather cheaper than when we came out.
Around 5:30 or 6, we were done. The big plan was to go back to the spa (which Michael wanted) and to have Amy do some birding etc. at the Cave and Basin. I was stuck going to the spa with Michael. We couldn't figure out whether we should do these things first and then have a late dinner, or whether we should eat first, and then do the activities.
We decided to grab a quick bite at the A&W across the street. Michael had been wanting to eat there ever since we arrived, and this was our only real chance. Amy remembered A&W as an ice cream place, but it looks more like a burger joint.
After eating, I drove to the Cave and Basin, and left Amy off. On the way, we saw what appeared to be rain and rain clouds up the valley coming towards us. We figured that Amy was going to get wet, and that her going birding must be cursed. But the curse didn't materialize, because the worst that we got was a little light spitting.
After dropping Amy off, I drove with Mike up to the spa. We rented lockers, towels, and suits, and got changed. Just after I locked the locker, I realized that I hadn't taken off my glasses. It would have cost me another dollar to open and close the locker again, so I ended up putting my glasses on a window sill next to the pool area.
It was almost as crowded as on the previous trip. Michael enjoyed it, but I found it a bit tedious. Eventually I pried Michael out, and we got changed back into our normal clothes.
When we drove to pick up Amy, I was secretly hoping that she wouldn't be waiting for us, so that we could go on a “marmot hunt” looking for her. But there she was, right at the end of the parking lot, waiting for us.
When we stopped the car, she had an exciting story to tell us. She had been making owl calls, trying to flush out birds, when a large bull elk came to investigate. It walked past rather close to her, as she “hid” behind a lamp post. Unfortunately she had no pictures, as the batteries in her camera had died (they had unfortunately died about 3 or 4 pictures in, and she didn't have any spares with her).
She was demonstrating her owl call, when suddenly there was an answering call from the woods. “Did you hear that?” Amy exclaimed, “That was the elk!”
I grabbed my camera, and then Amy said, “There he is!” He was crossing the parking lot about halfway down, and I managed to grab a few pictures before he disappeared into the woods on the other side. Just before he left, however, he gave his call. It is hard to describe in words, but it was sort of high whistle, ending in a deep guttural bellow. The whistling portion did not sound like something I would picture an elk making.
Michael was still hungry, so we drove to our favorite garage and started wandering down the main street. Amy was looking for an ice cream place called “Cows”, but she wandered into a waffle/crepe/ice cream place instead. It didn't do much for me, but Amy and Mike got some stuff there. I hung around because I had to pay for it.
While they were eating, I decided to wander down the street and see if something else caught my fancy. I was really hoping for a piece of pie or something, but there were no bakeries or anything similar.
About a half a block down, I ran across Cows. I checked my watch, and they were about to close. So I went in. While I was ordering my ice cream, they locked the doors. After getting it, they let me out, and I wandered back to Amy and Mike. When they finished, we returned to the car, said good bye to Banff, and drove for the last time back to Canmore.