We've always had a fascination with Canada. A land of s p a c e, of mountains, snow, wildlife, rivers, and, if I'm totally honest, Due South. This year we managed to put enough money aside for a holiday - a once in a lifetime expedition to somewhere we had always wanted to go.
Today was history day. We visited all the museums that we could find in Banff. The Whyte Museum told a history of some of the earliest European settlers and traders in the area and there was also an exhibition about bears. They also took us on a tour of two of the houses were local, well-off families once lived in. The Banff Natural History museum held a collection of stuffed local wildlife. It's odd being in such as place but it is also the only way I would have ever been able to see such things up close.
Finally we visited the Buffalo museum. This was odd. It was a museum about the First Nations, concentrating mostly on the Stoney who called the valleys around Banff home until they were displaced by the new settlers. What was odd was how... dead it felt. Despite the fact that the Stoney still exist, the main feel I got from it was that it was a memorial to ways that are long gone. Even pictures of proud young women wearing traditional dress showed they also wore modern hairstyles and make up along with it, and so much of the museum was in past tense. It left me feeling sad, as if this culture had 'lost' against the invader culture and there was no way back. Anhaga tells me that the Stoney people have recently taken over ownership of the place, and hopes that they will update the museum from a white man's perspective of a dying culture to that of the modern Stoney nation.
With only two full days left we wanted to do some more hiking. After discovering that our chosen route was not an option for general walking1 we decided on the Spray River Loop. Finding circular walks is more difficult than we expected, as the routes here are mainly designed for people hiking long distances and camping.
The Spray River follows the Mount Rundle ridge of mountains out towards Canmore. Canmore itself we had visited by car on the way into the Park. It is a lot cheaper than staying in Banff itself, but it's just not as pretty and picturesque. The petrol was cheaper though, so we took advantage of that.
Anyway, back to the Spray River. There's not a lot to remark upon: we followed the trail along the small river up to a crossing a mile or two along. We had discussed going all the way to Canmore via Whiteman Pass but that would have been silly as we had no way of getting back to Banff. Although there is the Greyhound bus, it looked like we would miss it at the time we expected to get there. The trains only carry freight along the Bow Valley. Walking back would have been either back the way we came or along Highway 1, both of which we decided would tax our walking muscles far beyond what they were used to.
Instead we made the sensible choice and crossed the river at the picnic spot and wandered back on the other bank. At the end of the route we wandered to the Bow Falls, the huge rapids on the edge of town. They really are quite exciting but I certainly wouldn't have wanted to go down them in any sort of boat!
In the afternoon we hired bicycles and explored Sundance Canyon now that the route was open – it had been closed on previous days as a bear had been using the route. With only an hour until the bike shop closed we didn't have a chance to really explore the area, but it was about perfect for a quick cycle route and we didn't bump into the bear!
On the advice of the lovely young lady who made breakfast at the B&B, we went to the recreation area in the evening. She and her friends hang out there, as there are barbeque spots all over it and piles of logs too. We attempted to light a fire but in honesty, we weren't prepared and lighting a fire with only logs and a book of matches just isn't going to go well. Next time we'll take kindling. Instead we played crib until the light dropped and the wind picked up.
It's our final day. So what to do? White water rafting! In order to do this we had to leave the parks – no rafting in the parks – and travel to Canmore. Thankfully they picked us up from Banff. Then another drive out to a hut where they divvied up wet water gear; wetsuit and life jackets and helmets. We changed and then back on the bus for the drive up the boats, a quick health and safety talk from our Kiwi guides and then on to the water!
For someone nervous about rafting, learning that the name of the first rapid is called 'Widow Maker' doesn't exactly instil confidence! But with that out of the way I quickly discovered that really, it's not that bad and I was actually rather enjoying it. Obviously the sailing I used to do stood me in good stead when it came to balancing an inflatable dinghy!
There were two highlights that I remember. The first was when we were surfing a rapid (because we'd already ridden over it and that was boring!) when the boat started tipping – and Mr Vip fell in! He managed to not only valiantly hold on to the boat but didn't even lose his paddle in the process. What a man2. The second was in the later part of the voyage, when we had done the white water aspect and were now in the leisurely paddle back to the hut. Our guide decided that, for fun, he'd teach a couple of us how to steer, or rather, how to direct others to paddle. Apparently, if I'm ever in New Zealand, I've got a job as a trainee guide. Either that, or he was doing a very fine job of subtly angling for a tip.
A final trip to the steak house for a final, incredible rib, and then we packed in the evening so we didn't waste our final morning.
As we had no interest in looking around Calgary airport until we had to, we decided to take a final walk that morning up to the Hoodoos, a natural rock formation that is advertised as one of Banff's natural wonders. We wandered through trees, along the river, and then climbed up the hill to the huge campsite that takes over several acres of land outside of Banff. Past that is the Hoodoos, which are odd looking columns of rock formed by erosion taking place around them. They are protected from the elements by a cap of hard rock, and the ground washes away around them. We weren't especially excited by the Hoodoos themselves, but it was a good walk and a good view across the valley so we weren't complaining.
We walked back to Banff down the road, to say one final goodbye to the place before driving out to Canmore and then on to Calgary. As we left we took one final detour to Lake Minnewanka and read about the story of the dam, of the sunken town, and of the now demolished mining town of Bankhead.
With thanks to anhaga, who bravely read through and gave me his Canadian knowledge to correct some of my more glaring inaccuracies.