First up on our social calendar for the day was visiting the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, a site of natural thermal springs around which Banff, Canada’s first national park, was founded. Though depicted as originally being utilized by Native Americans present in the area, the first recorded reference from western settlers was in 1859. Twenty years later two men working with the Canadian Pacific Railway rediscovered it, descending through the narrow skylight entrance to the cave, then building a small cabin nearby and claiming it theirs for commercialization. Other community groups pushed against the men and asked for intervention from the Canadian government, and in 1885 an order from John Macdonald, the Canadian Prime Minster, reserved ten square miles around the Cave as the Banff Hot Springs Reserve; this simultaneously gave birth to the Canadian National Parks system. The admittance to the Cave was free, and Dani and I read the abundant signage and absorbed the gigantic murals depicting the discovery of the thermal spring before venturing through a low tunnel carved into the mountainside to see the spring itself. The smell of sulfur was overwhelming to my nose, and the dark environment made for a tough photography subject, but we lingered for a while watching the sunlight dance on the sparkling turquoise water before heading back out to view the rest of the museum.
We spent the early afternoon indulging in all that the city’s downtown had to offer, beginning with lunch at the Banff Avenue Brewing Company. Settled at a 2nd-floor balcony’s bar-top table overlooking the main avenue of town, we got to work writing a dozen or so post-cards to friends and family. The streets were bustling below us and we made a million comments to each other about the pristine weather and incredible view of the mountains as we ate lunch, sipping some locally brewed hard ciders. Finishing up our last bites and last written words, we paid the bill and decided to explore the shops surrounding us. I found a t-shirt that wasn’t overly touristy, a shot glass for my globally inclusive destination-based collection, and an 8 oz can of ISO/propane fuel for our backpacking camp stove. Dani window shopped nearly every establishment on the street, then grabbed my hand and brought me into the Spirit of Christmas store to find an ornament for this winter’s holiday tree. By the time we were back at the car it was 15h00, with a half-hour drive ahead of us to the town of Canmore where we’d begin our afternoon traveling an off-pavement route I had read about on a fellow overland blog, Desk to Glory.
Photos From The Trail
One of the most prominent things on Dani’s bucket list for our vacation was to complete one of the famed “tea-hut” hikes at Lake Louise. While we hadn’t been able to the morning we photographed sunrise there, I finagled a plan for us to be able to the next morning on our last day in the National Park. We had no definite plans for somewhere to spend the night, but I had done a bit of research on the same iOverlander webpage we used crossing the continent, and found a marked wild-camp site up by Lake Louise right off of Highway 1. The drive would take us another two hours to complete, and by the time we arrived it was already dusk. The site was a large trailhead parking lot with a clearing nestled back in the woods at the far end that overlooked the glaciers behind Lake Louise. Dani got to work cooking us a small dinner on the stove while I set the tent and got our sleeping gear ready, and by the time we climbed into bed it was nearly 22h30. Luckily for us the moon had not yet risen, and through the faint light pollution of the town below we were able to see the Milky Way stretching out overhead. I lingered outside of the tent for a few minutes with my camera and tripod to capture the scene, and was elated to find out just how well it came out when I viewed it on my computer - it is probably my favorite image from our entire trip. Below you’ll see it, our REI Quarterdome 2 tent on a cliff with the small town of Lake Louise, Mt. Victoria and her glacier in the background, and the Milky Way sparkling in the left side of the frame. It was quite the sight to fall asleep to, and I was thrilled with all we’d been able to see and do throughout the day. Our final night in the Rockies was being spent at an otherwise uninhabited campsite with the stars shining brilliantly overhead; it was the icing on the cake of what had been an amazing week and a half in the mammoth mountains of western Canada.