Where is my place in the World?
Where is my home?
My place is a harvest
of everything listed.
No one place defines me, lest
l ever existed.
It’s been 48 hours since arriving home after one year of steadily moving about the country. However, now that I’m physically situated in one place, it seems my mind continues to wander, yearning for places I’ve been or yet to experience. I fear I’m going through wanderlust withdrawal.
The feeling is eerily reminiscent of adjusting to the constant sway aboard a boat–to where I’ve finally gotten my sea legs–yet after docking, the motion of the ocean has robbed me of my equilibrium. Nothing seems normal to me. I still feel adrift, like a bobbing buoy.
Perhaps it’s some sort of jet lag (without the jet), or some kind of Post-Travel Stress Disorder, where my internal GPS continues to send rerouting instructions with every step taken, redirecting my brain and body back to the Airstream presently parked in Lakewood.
Acclimating to everyday life has been challenging, as I’ve yet to re-establish my new old routine, or shake off unsettling circadian rhythms of disorientation. Already, I’ve forgotten which cabinet holds the coffee mugs, or where to find the bottle opener, or what it was like to sleep on a king-sized mattress. Even after unpacking, I’m likely to open the wrong dresser drawer to find my socks.
Of course, it’s only been two days since landing, so I’m certain the confusion will abate and I will eventually adjust to a different way to fill my day without hesitation. But in the meantime, I will travel to my favorite places through my photographs, and dream about the possibilities.
One special destination–among more than a hundred visited in the past year–that still resonates to my core is reliving the beauty of Banff.
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.
The Icefields Parkway represents the spine of Banff and Jasper National Parks. It runs a crooked line astride the Continental Divide for 140 miles between Lake Louise and the town of Jasper–rising and falling, twisting and turning–as it follows rugged mountain vertebrae, verdant river veins, alpine organs of opalescent waters, and at the heart of it all, the highest concentration of ancient glaciers in the Rocky Mountains.
While it can take 3.5 hours to complete the journey without stopping, most travelers will take their time, stopping along the way to inhale the majestic beauty. Unfortunately, we were in no position to stop and gawk. We were holding our breath, hoping to arrive in time for a prepaid tour of Athabasca Glacier.
It drove me crazy, passing up scene after scene, my shutter finger convulsing around the steering wheel as we pressed on toward our destination. And even if we had all the time in the world, nearly all the turn-offs were on the opposite side of the road, making it a logistical nightmare for the Airstream behind us.
“All I can say,” lamenting to Leah, “it’s a good thing we’re coming back the same way, so we can stop as much as we want to take it all in.”
Leah had no objections.
Having started from Banff Village, we were among the last of 56 ticket-holders to be scanned for the 2:30 tour, only to stand by for another half hour…
…until a bus could drive us to the Ice Explorer depot…
…where we waited another 15 minutes for an available Brewster behemoth of our own. I was excited to take the ride onto the glacier in this buggy, although the boarding sign caused Leah some anxiety.
We learned from Ryan, our twenty-something driver, that the tires are 5 feet in diameter, rated at 15 pounds pressure (half that of an auto tire) so they don’t harm the ice, and cost $3000 a piece.
Once we got rolling, we paused at the crest until Ryan got radio clearance to continue…
…down a 33% grade that pressed us against the front of our seats,
yet delivered exhilarating views of the glacial ridge,
and an ice tour in progress to the tongue of the glacier.
Before disembarking, Ryan delivered strict instructions: “I want to be clear about this. You walk onto the glacier at your own peril. You have 20 minutes on the ice, that’s it! This bus leaves at exactly 3:45 pm, no exceptions! Any questions?… Good! And don’t forget to fill up your water bottles. This is the purest water you’ll ever drink.
With that said, we climbed down the ladder stairs, and joined approximately 300 sightseers already on the ice.
Almost immediately, there was a surge to the rope line 200 ft. ahead, where a Battle Royale ensued for unobstructed “selfies” of the glacial mouth. We stood in awe of the competitive scramble,
which was a huge distraction from the awe of the terrain.
Of course, with the clock running down, we turned our attention to the glacial spring running through the middle of the pedestrian corral.
so Leah could fill her bottle with 200 thousand year-old vintage water.
After returning to the depot with all passengers accounted for, we boarded another bus that continued to Brewster’s Glacier Skywalk,–a glass-plated arch nearly two inches thick, suspended 800 feet above the valley floor–
giving us commanding views of Athabasca Mountain,
the corresponding run-off,
…and a local grazer, precariously gripping the mountainside.
Even now, I’m uncertain how the mountain goat turned itself around.
Not that l’m complaining, but one year ago, Leah and I had an opportunity to visit the Juneau Icefields by helicopter…
and step onto Herbert Glacier where nobody was waiting.
The remoteness gave us a completely different perspective and appreciation of nature that Brewster was unable to deliver.
But at the very least, we left with a bottle of chilled glacial water.
I really missed being in the mountains, and eagerly anticipated the rush of crossing into the Canadian Rockies. After a month of wandering through American and Canadian prairies, Leah and I were more than ready for a change in scenery, but it came with a dose of anxiety.
British Columbia was on fire at several National Park locations, and much of the smoke and ash that was rising into the high air was now drifting toward us, acting as a blue sky spoiler.
A gauzy gray veil had settled over the mountains surrounding Banff, cloaking the distant peaks like a cruel magic vanishing act.
There was little to be done about many of the fires that were burning out of control, so essentially, we were at the mercy of the winds to give us back our views.
We secured reservations months ago for a coveted trailer court site inside the park, but could only manage to snag two overnights, as this was the park’s busiest time of the year. Our biggest concern: salvaging two precious days in a park so vast, with so many highlights to choose from, while wildfires loomed over the horizon.
As luck would have it, we overshot the turnoff to our campground on Tunnel Mountain Drive with no chance of u-turning with a twenty-eight foot Airstream in tow. I drove on until a turn-in appeared a short distance up the road featuring Banff’s only hoodoos– overwhelmed by the grandeur of Mount Rundle and the beauty of Bow Valley.
Once we settled into site 818, we drove to town in search of recommendations from the Visitor’s Center staff, and came away with an avalanche of maps and brochures, along with a strong warning about bear activity in the park. Apparently, August is known for offering the best berries for bears in Banff.
With the haze blowing west and sky beginning to brighten by 5:00 pm, we headed out to Johnson Lake–a favorite for paddlers, and the warmest alpine lake in the park for swimming at 50º F.
But we were content to hike the loop around the lake and gaze at Cascade Mountain in the distance before calling it a day.
On our return ride to the Airstream, we were surprised to find a small herd of bighorns grazing by the side of the road…
…while an elder patrolled the perimeter.
The following day–with fires raging to the southwest of us–we planned a trip to the north country in search of clear skies. A leisurely ride along the Bow Valley Parkway (from the Village of Banff to its terminus at the Village of Lake Louise) gave us plenty to see, with several stops along the way—most of them intentional…
and one of them unexpected.
We eventually arrived at Lake Louise via park shuttle on the advice of a park official who claimed that the parking lot by the lake was bulging with traffic chaos, which turned out to be an understatement. Even the road to Moraine Lake, an off-shoot of our shuttle route was barricaded to all traffic.
The short trail to the Lake revealed a sea of people on the boardwalk jockeying for position with selfie sticks–each one vying for the iconic pose with Mount Victoria in the background. As if in a trance, I stood in awe of the scene, my focus rapidly shifting between the splendor of Victoria Glacier and the vivid turquoise water, and wondering if any photograph could ever capture the beauty I felt honored to witness.
It was only after somebody tapped me to snap their picture that I came to my senses. Of course, they gladly returned the favor.
Leah and I elected to hike the Fairview Trail, a one-mile ascent through a spruce forest offering commanding views of Chateau Lake Louise. There was no vacancy at the hotel that day, despite room rates ranging from $450 to $1100 per night.
Equally shocking was the rate for canoe rentals at the boathouse.
But avid seafarers were undeterred, as reservations were unavailable for the next two days.
At 5:00 pm the barricades to Moraine Lake were lifted, once again making it acceptable to drive the distance to an overflowing parking lot. We passed car after car haphazardly leaning into a drainage ditch along the roadbed in lieu of a formal parking space half a mile ahead. Consequently, we were road-sharing with fearless pedestrians who were determined to make a pilgrimage to the lake, come hell or high traffic.
For many, it was equivalent to a religious experience…
While some bridesmaids found it titillating.
The next day we awoke to a hazy sky. The fires in Kootenay National Park were spreading south of us, causing thousands in BC to evacuate. We were scheduled to pack up and leave by 11:00 am, but on a whim, I challenged the campground attendant to search for cancellations and find me an extra day.
And she did!
While I would have preferred to stay put at #818, the site was promised to another. The best she could do was to place me next door in #816. It meant having to unhook all the utilities, and hitch up the Airstream only to pull it 50 feet, but I wasn’t complaining. I can’t imagine a faster move!
With our bonus day, we cruised the Vermillion Lakes Trail, stopping to admire Mount Rundle, considered the most photographed, painted, and climbed mountain in Banff.
After debating our next objective, we elected to drive a short distance into BC to inspect a waterfall from above at Marble Canyon in Kootenay–as long as it wasn’t on fire! However, as if by providence, an attendant was lifting the parking barricade to Johnson Canyon as we were approaching the turn-in, and we quickly detoured to one of Banff’s signature trails.
We followed a paved trail bordered by arrow-straight pines…
as it transitioned into a cantilevered walkway, steadily climbing along a fast and meandering stream, where it culminated in a bridge across a torrent of cascading water…
…that lead through a narrow low-clearance tunnel.
“I’d make sure to protect my head if I was you,” I advised Leah.
We battled through the claustrophobia and B.O. until the passage opened out to an onslaught of gushing water.
By this time, Leah’s arches were giving out, and we would have called it a day, but we pledged to make good on our original plan, so it was off to Kootenay we went.
Marble Canyon was a slow assent along a canyon of rock, where the water was steadily dropping lower into the gorge beneath our feet, and every step brought us closer to the source of the roar.
The only thing left to do was to hike downhill to the stream, and feel the alpine water rush over my feet, as I watched the clouds race across a clear sky.
We borrowed from Bow Valley Provincial Park, next door to score an extra day in Banff and it paid off–the weather cooperated, the smoke dissipated, and the scenery elevated our mood and our feet.