We slept in a bit more today and headed out at 11:00 in rain. We were going up the Bow Valley Parkway, which parallels the Trans-Canada Highway to Lake Louise northwest of Banff. Instead of trying to go on the fast-paced highway, given the amount of precipitation, we decided to take the Parkway for a smoother, more wildlife-filled ride.
By 11:15 we'd seen an elk eating and walking over large downed branches on the side of a steep hill. We still could not see the tops of the mountains due to the cloud cover and rain, but we were nonetheless still awed by what scenery we could see.
At 11:40 we could see more elk lying down in an open field. All of the trailheads were closed due to the number of bears seen in the area, but even if they were open we still would have opted out of walking on them due to the rain. We kept being fooled by various stumps and rocks in fields, as we kept thinking that they were elk, deer, or moose.
A little after noon we pulled off the road to look at a few signs which told the story of World War I-era Canadian citizens who didn't sign up for duty and were rounded up and put in internment camps during the war. (However, most of those that were rounded up were homeless.) They targeted those of the same nationalities as they were fighting, assuming that those that didn't want to fight were actually enemies.
It was 2 degrees Celsius and snow began to mix in with the rain. The snow increased and the temperature dropped to 0 - freezing - as we shifted to third gear going down hills. By 12:30 rain had taken over again as the temperature had risen to 2 again. We saw a large black wolf trotting in the woods with some lunch flopping around in his mouth.
Then, a little after 12:30, we saw a large female grizzly bear along the side of the road, looking up at the stopped vehicles and finally walking away into the woods. She was a big one.
We reached the end of the Bow Valley Parkway by 12:45 and headed up to the famous Lake Louise area. It was one degree and snowing very hard, coming down thick with large flakes. It dropped to 0 again as we crossed the Continental Divide and soon we found ourselves parked and getting out to see Lake Louise.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
The temperature stayed at freezing for the entire time, and the snow that had fallen had melted just enough to make the walk down to Lake Louise slippery and dangerous. The snow was still coming down on top of us, piling on our hoods and backs and soaking through our shoes.
Then we looked out onto majestic Lake Louise and saw a bunch of fog. It was beautiful in its own right but I was too cold to appreciate it very well. We took out the camera underneath my mom's opened coat and got a few good shots. (She really took one for the team.)
We trudged back up the slippery slope and got back into the slightly warmer car. It was still freezing and the snow had compacted itself into ice along the bottom of the windshield. Bits of this ice would be flung off as the windshield wipers went on.
Our next stop was going to be Moraine Lake, but we were stopped by a Mountie with possibly the thickest Canadian accent one can have. (It still wasn't all that thick.) He told us that the snow was too thick up there and it'd take an hour to clear it with the snowplow. Considering that we're in a land used to getting through lots of snow the fact that they decided to close it off said it all. With no other places to stop we decided to go back to Banff via the Parkway in an attempt to see more critters.
We saw more critters - specifically a grizzly cub. He decided to walk along the road for a while until looking right at us as he cut across. After exploring the other side of the road, he presumably didn't know what all the fuss was about and, glad he was not a chicken, he ambled back to the other side of the road and scampered off into the woods.
We saw more mule deer as the temperature rose to 1, but it soon began to snow fully again when the temperature dropped to freezing again. The snow was the predominant precipitation, interspersed with rain when the temperature rose.
More mule deer ate along the side of the road, then soon we saw more elk munching away. As we pulled into Banff we saw more deer along the railroad tracks.
It was almost 3:00 and our breakfast wasn't holding us any longer. We found some free parking and ate a late lunch at Coyote's - which serves southwest-style food, the last thing one would expect in the Canadian Rockies. The meals were good but hardly filling, as I left the establishment with the same hunger headache I had entered with. We headed back to the hotel and lounged around for a bit before heading out for dinner at a famous Banff restaurant called Bumpers.
It was delicious. My dad and I both got some of the most tender prime rib on the face of the planet, complete with loaded baked potatoes and some puny token veggies. Our waitress was from Brisbane, Australia, and we entertained her by playing up on our southernness and drawled on about mint juleps when we saw that they had stuck a sprig of mint in the tea glasses.
(My dad and I ended up getting very, very punchy and decided to badly re-enact Romeo and Juliet with napkins folded around utensils. Also, I was offered a cocktail by the Aussie waitress, who was under the impression that I was twenty.)
Tomorrow: Jasper, Alberta, via the Bow Valley Parkway once again. We'll then walk onto a glacier.
(While I expect our hotel will have Internet, we're out in the middle of nowhere, so there may not be an entry for a few days.)