Sadly, we were nearly out of time. Our visit to Banff and Jasper had taken our breath away, and now becomes the benchmark by which all future destinations will be judged.
Fortunately, our farewell tour followed the Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Banff, and continued down the Banff-Windermere Parkway to Radium Hot Springs–our last Canadian hurrah before reentering the States.
But this road trip promised to be different, because now we would be the tourists we intended to be a week ago–when we rushed to attend our Glacier Adventure, and missed the Icefields Parkway party.
“Why does it seem like we’re always in a hurry?” I asked rhetorically.
But this time we vowed to linger longer, and savor the flavor of the Canadian Rockies.
The skies were overcast at the start of the day, but a favorable forecast seemed promising, with the winds working to defeat the fog.
Upon returning from Maligne Canyon…
we were breezing down the Parkway, when suddenly I felt compelled to pull over.
“Wait a minute!” I declared. “That’s wild! How is that even possible?”
People and pets were crossing the spiritual sea–each one having a “Jesus moment”.
As it turns out, during the summer, Edith Lake fills with inches of crystalline water, making it possible to wade through the sand flat with nary a risk of getting wet… unless you’re young at heart.
There were several unforgettable stops along the way to Banff:
Iconic views of Endless Chain Ridge…
Sunwapta Pass, the dividing point between Jasper and Banff National Parks…
The Athabasca Glacier, clinging to the sides of Mt. Athabasca and Mt. Andromeda…
and Peyto Lake, a band of shimmering turquise reflecting nature’s magic act.
As we neared the Castle Junction, we crossed our fingers that we could cross to Kootenay National Park. Recent wildfires had kept the road closed for days, while firefighters worked around the clock to control the blaze. To miss the turn would add four hours to a seven-hour trip.
To our delight, the Castle Junction roadblock had just been lifted, and travel over the Continental Divide at Vermilion Pass had resumed…at least for the moment. We rolled along a vacant highway that we claimed as our own–as if we had the only key to this part of heaven’s gate. But then the scene turned hellish.
We could smell it before we saw it. The smoke that surrounded us was infiltrating the truck cab, and I struggled to close the vent while I looked for the source along the road. And then we were upon it. As we drove deeper into the vanishing skyline, our thoughts turned to the scorched earth and charred pikes that smoldered across the barren fields.
The hills were ablaze, with billows of acrid smoke surging up the slopes and penetrating the highest peaks.
Aerial firefighters were making frequent passes in a Sisyphean effort to control the damage,
while the distant sound of gunning chainsaws drowned out the occasional birdsong.
But as we pressed on, the light at the broad end of the funnel gave us renewed hope that we had passed through the darkest part of our day,
as we fled the fiery furnace to the boiling cauldron of Radium Hot Springs.