Tuesday 27 June 1995
8:34 a.m. PDT
Q. Why was yesterday different from all other days?
We awaken early in our cabin so we can get in to Jasper for a waffle breakfast and to collect the makings of a picnic lunch, which we plan to have further down the road somewhere. We're doubling back on our route today, for the first time.
Also when we get to Jasper, it looks as if we're going to be stuck paying $15 or more Canadian for that Enya tape they've been playing in the restaurant ever since we got here.
12:42 p.m. Mountain Time (1,037.3 miles)
It's not even lunch yet, and in driving down the road a few miles from our cabin we've already seen . . .
a herd of elk . . .
a bear . . .
a herd of mountain goats . . .
and three white-tailed deer.
Anna suggests that perhaps this is a kind of wildlife holiday and they're getting paid time and half today. They do seem to be crowding the roads.
I. The Elk
We saw the elk on the way to breakfast, headed north to Jasper. That's about a five-mile drive. We came around a curve and saw a lot of cars slowing and stopped on the road in front of us, so we decided to do as the Romans do and pulled over ourselves, while Doug reached around in back to get out a toga to put on.
On both sides of the road were little meadows before the trees began. On the other side of the road, between us and some kind of trailer park, was a herd of big dark elk, ungainly large bodies on the wobbly legs of gazelles, moseying along placidly, nibbling daintily on the grass.
Seeing all the cars sitting still in the road, they took advantage of the opportunity to mosey across to the grass strip on the other side, grownups and babies alike. Some of the babies were still suckling from their mothers. We shot about half a roll each.
Got breakfast in Jasper, got the lunch food and the $15 (Canadian) Enya tape. Back to the car, where we decided to start with Joe Cocker until we got out of town. Light weekday traffic in the park, so we were moving along at a pretty good clip.
II. The First Bear
We were about three songs into the Enya tape, Doug driving, when we saw a few cars pulled off our swooping mountain road, some people standing around where there didn't seem to be a regularly scheduled rest stop. We peered into the grass and brush beside the road as we passed by and saw one of those black shapes that's more than a regular shadow. Bear.
We pulled off and parked in front of the other cars, flicked the hazards on and leaped out of the car. Anna scuttled right over to the spot, and Doug followed fast with the cameras. There the bear was, apparently unperturbed by everyone staring at him, munching on tender grass.
Photography not great because the grass around him was so high and he had his head down in it, but we tried. He (Anna: or she. I tried to get Doug to use the pronoun it but he insisted the bear was not an it. I feel uncomfortable with the 'he' references but find it too tedious to go through this whole section to add all the "or she"s. For the record, I'd like it noted that a complaint was made against the exclusive use of the masculine pronoun. Thank you.) shambled off behind a tree for a few minutes, then came out around the other side and wandered over to some bushes.
Pretty cool. A lot better than your usual bicyclists with backpacks by the side of the road.
III. The Goats
While we were standing there a woman who was headed north told Anna that not too far down the road ahead of us she had seen some white goats, so when we'd had our fill of the bear we piled back into the car and drove on. Doug was expecting a few goats, like he'd seen with Franklin (in color), but when we came upon them, we saw first two, then three, then a handful closer to us . . .
. . . then a whole herd scattered along about fifty yards (45.72 meters) of roadside. There was a steep bank by the road, and these scruffy creatures were nosing at the dirt and little tufts of plants in it, rather than in the lush grass around it.
On the older animals, their winter coat was still falling off in great chunks, giving them a mangy look; the kids were sweet and lamblike with their fuzzy white coats.
Stood around for a while so Anna could finish off her roll of film and Doug could work about halfway through his.
Very frustrating that these pale creatures had to stick to the pale dirt of the embankment, since by now Doug is shooting black and white.
Standing in front of a background with better contrast would be considerate.
We drove on, perfectly happy with all the wildlife we'd seen in such a short space of time. (This in addition to the beaver dams and trees yesterday.) But there was another surprise ahead. A few miles further along, we saw some more cars, only a few this time, pulled off to the side of the road. We stopped, and sure enough, there in the forest by the side of the road were three deer, one with a white tail up prominently like a flag behind him. Again we slowed, stopped, took pictures.
Even the dramatic mountain vistas are starting to look rather dull next to what we're seeing now. We had been thinking that the Joe Cocker was a great tape because every time we put it in the landscape got more dramatic. But if this is the effect of the Enya tape, we're going to have to keep using it instead.
V. And More . . .
1:27 Mountain time (1,068.9 miles)
Well, we're not through yet. We've just seen another herd of mountain goats, this time with one or two rams, we both think two (but we never saw them together). There was a rest stop with a nice view, and Anna was just saying maybe we should pull over, then we saw them out in the road, which explained why everybody else had chosen that particular rest stop to pull over too.
[Post-trip note: Aren't we the great naturalists? It turns out that these animals, which Doug has been calling mountain goats, are bighorn sheep, and the males and females all have those big, curly ram horns. The goats are the littler, shaggier guys with straighter, pointy horns. In the interest of preserving the historical authenticity of this document, I will not go back and rewrite our original perceptions. But don't count on us for accurate taxonomy.]
We had seen similar goats before, but these had nicer coats, and almost immediately we spotted a ram, big curly horns, walking up the center of the road following a ewe, trying to get her attention. She was having none of it. She walked on in front of him, pretending not to notice, pretending to nibble on little blades of grass that were conspicuously not growing in the center of the highway. He probably didn't notice; he was only paying attention to her. He nuzzled her hind flank, trying to get her attention; she turned around as if to say "Buzz off"; they walked on in their little love storyline.
(Anna: Here's what I remember: I'll never forget the lovesick look in that ram's eyes. And she wasn't even anything so special, but to him she was everything. He looked up at the sky and his eyes rolled. His flanks were trembling. When it happens it happens.)
We went on down the road; there were a mother and kid obligingly standing on an outcropping of rock in front of some dark trees, so Doug thought he'd squeeze off a few shots of them.
Little did he know. As soon as he started clicking pictures, they started walking toward him. Anna came up behind and stood there as this mother goat with her lovely creamy brown eyes walked right up to us, close enough to reach out and touch. Amazing. Doug made baa-ing sounds. Amazing. It baa-ed back. Anna wondered whether she was going to have to take the rest of the trip by herself.
A very interesting time for Doug to discover that this roll of film was a 24, not a 36. Oh, well. Some things are better experienced live anyway.
This Enya tape is really paying off.
1:50 p.m. (1,073 miles)
We stop and get fresh film for both our cameras at the Athabasca Glacier theme park. It's been quite a morning, and we both need a little time to collect ourselves. How many days in the big city do you get to see this many real animals before lunch, taxi drivers not included?
2:01 p.m. (1,083 miles)
We come over the big vista where we stopped on the way up to take pictures and try to shake off some of those big slow-moving RVs, and we notice it's more overcast today, though still breathtaking. Coming around the bottom of the big grade we see more white-tailed deer leading a group of camera-toting tourists up into the rocks, but we opt not to stop. We're getting very used to all of this right now, and can manage to be a little blase. Right now we're more concerned about what to have for lunch at the Chateau Lake Louise ahead. We're starting to figure out what the deal is with all the animals: They probably just signed a new union contract, so they're all back at work again today. The parks commission must be relieved to have all that settled now, since the tourist season is just opening.
2:20 p.m. Mountain time (1,096.3 miles)
More rams. Five guys this time, all males, eating gravel and smoking cigars away from the females. [Post-trip note: Sorry, I can't let that go unremarked. The pictures clearly show at least one female, right there in front of the camera. At the time I thought all the bighorns were males of the goat species. Sorry again. --Doug] All the usual tourists pulled over. Beautiful view from this spot too, not that anybody would notice. A tour bus pulls up. This wildlife moment has been brought to you by the Eastman Kodak company. It's 4:21 now in New York City.
4:31 p.m. EDT (1,100.2) ("Book of Days")
Another bear. One woman in a Ford Tempo takes this opportunity to dip into a tin of Pringles and munch while the rest of us take photos. A cyclist in orange shorts does the NYC thing of taking a leak in clear view of everyone.
2:45 p.m. Mountain time
We can't take any more of this. We take off the Enya tape.
Farewell to Alberta
5:33 p.m. EDT (1,155 miles)
We pull off to Lake Louise for a bite to eat. This is also the intersection with the Trans-Canada Highway again. There's a mall at the intersection down by the highway. We'll probably stop by there for gas on the way out, maybe also for coffee and to see if they have any Bruce tapes.
7:01 p.m. Mountain time (around 1,250 miles)
Arrive Invermere Best Western. Doug driving. It's a fair piece off the main highway, which by now is No. 95 (we went from 93 in the park to 93 & 1 after Lake Louise to 93 alone again after the Castle Junction (a little south of Castle Rock, if I'm remembering right which rock is Castle Rock, and it's pretty obvious), and out this way to Kootenay Park and Radium Hot Springs instead of back toward Banff and Calgary. Weather is odd, warm enough still but hazy, as if there were a fire up the valley or rain brewing. Neither seems to be the case, though it could rain tomorrow. Either way, colors and shapes here are muted and vague, not bright and crisp and cheerful like we had been seeing until now. This may have something to do with Anna's putting the Henry Mancini tape in again.
We are both pretty tuckered out when we get to the hotel, and so decide to take a break in hotel rooms before seeking dinner. Invermere seems like an odd place, more of a place on the map than it feels like on the ground. There are scattered buildings but no specific description--you wouldn't call this a resort community, nor a farm town, nor an industrial town. It's even a little unclear where the people are. There were signs for several churches as we entered town, plus an industrial park; there seems to be one movie theatre in town, up the street from here. On the way into town we saw signs for airplane tours, $30 for an hour over Invermere. So we've seen a lot of pieces, but it's hard to condense them into a unified image. The sign on the way in here didn't even say town, or village, or city or suburb. It said "Entering Invermere District." It's as if this whole valley has a low density of stuff going on and they decided to call this area an arbitrary focus for activity.
The hot springs are temporarily off the roster of our activities. It's only a short drive back up there (beautiful rocks as we cut through a narrow canyon opening between the mountain hot springs and the valley Invermere is in), but there's a fee, and it's back into the park we have such great memories of, and you apparently enjoy the springwater in a manmade pool not unlike a big hot tub or small backyard swimming pool. The lady at the front desk tells us that up the road a bit, past a place called Fairmont, are natural hot springs you can just go and find, where you sit in the spring itself, with no supervision and no fee. That sounds more our style, plus we could do it in the morning instead of keeping our energy up for it tonight.
There's a lovely-looking little restaurant across the street, with tables under umbrellas on its front lawn. We'll probably eat either there or in the hotel lobby.
Wednesday 28 June 1995
10:24 a.m. Mountain time (same mileage)
We're getting ready to head out to the hot springs this morning. The woman at the restaurant across the street last night, where we ended up eating, said there are three natural pools to use; the woman in the hotel lobby yesterday said five, with the highest being the hottest, progressing to the coolest at the bottom as the river water mixed with the water from the springs. We don't have towels to use after we get out; we'll have to work that out when we get there.
After we finished dinner, it was only 9:30, so there was still lots of daylight left, and we took advantage of the opportunity to wander around town. The woman at the restaurant had filled us in a little on the town; she's out from Calgary for the summer. She said a lot of people from Calgary have summer cottages out here (we're still in Mountain time too, so apparently even if it's technically in B.C., the place is Albertan at heart), that it's a vacation town with water sports on the lake (Invermere), plus some hiking and so on. She also confirmed that the Columbia River starts up here, news to Doug anyway. Learn something new every day, and there's seldom a more pleasant way to come upon information.
So we walked up the street to see what was to be seen (our waitress had confirmed that this was indeed the town's main street). The movie theatre was closed the night we were there; the next film they were due to get was Crimson Tide, which was to begin June 30. A dog barked behind the wooden front door of the theatre (our waitress had said the interior was really cool, and the movies usually were stopped in the middle for an intermission, which Doug hadn't seen since Israel). We wandered around town looking at houses and blue rooves and little restaurants (we found our breakfast spot). Anna ran into someone she knew from Spokane and talked Italian for a while. Here and there, kids were playing in the street. It was getting duskier. We came back to the hotel.
One of the things we discovered from Anna's friend was that the haziness has been from forest fires--up in the Northwest Territories, apparently. The jet stream is bringing the smoke down here. Woke up this morning and it was considerably brighter out, and clearer but still hazy. Went for breakfast at a lovely little diner up the street and around the corner. Now we're about ready to hit the hot springs.
We opt not to bother stopping for the hot springs. Anna's worried about whether we have enough time to go there and still make it home before dark. And as we later find out, the hot springs are considerably below Fairmont, not just a few miles down the road as we had both imagined. (The name of the park is Whiteswan Lake.) The turnoff is just below Columbia Lake, near a town called -----.
We stop at Yahk, right before the national border, to buy T-shirts and get some final Canadian postmarks on postcards.
We cross the border after Yahk. There's no gate at the border, but a stop sign. We stop. Nothing happens. We drive up to the little booth where the customs guy is supposed to be sitting. Nobody's in there. We edge a little further forward, glance into the office behind the guard booth. Suddenly a man with a lean and hungry look sees us and starts waving frantically. Alright, already. We slide back to the booth. He comes storming from the air-conditioned office into the booth. "Did you see the stop sign?" he asks angrily. "Yes, we did," we answer. "We stopped there." Welcome back to the U.S.A. He can't find anything else offensive about us, so we drive on.
5:20 PDT (1539.9 miles)
Anna drops off Doug at Spokane airport.
Sunset in Spokane. Anna's home before dark, and Doug is on his way. The trip is officially over.