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Moraine Lake Alberta

Western Canada - How did we ever choose to spend a whole month traveling in Western Canada over an exotic and far away destination? 

Hearsay played a major part in that choice, and it proved to be right! We had heard many testimonies from friends praising the beauty of the Rockies and many other sites along the route from Eastern Canada to the West. It was time for us to discover this part of “the most beautiful country in the world” according to many Canadians.

We were not disappointed. Landscapes are grandiose, even breathtaking at times. There are many ways to cross the Rockies, even though there are only 3 possible roads, since only 3 passes permit crossing the mountains. In the south, the Crowsnest Pass is accessible from Lethbridge in Alberta; in the north, the Yellowhead Pass is another option from Jasper; but the main road from Lake Louise through the Kicking Horse Pass and the Rogers Pass is the most popular, and it is the one we chose, since our travel plans included a whole week in Alberta, two weeks in British Columbia and one week on a cruise to Alaska.

Instead of a train ride or renting an RV, which are also very popular travel options, we preferred to fly from Calgary and rent a car for the whole trip. 

Dinosaur, Ice and Tropical Ages… 

Before seeing the classic sites - Banff, Lake Louise, the Peyto and Moraine Lakes - we wanted to visit the Museum of Dinosaurs in Drumheller. In a landscape totally different from the immense surrounding plain, one hundred kilometers to the northeast of Calgary, the Badlands of Drumheller suddenly loom up on the Red Deer River. In the heart of these rocky and desert landscapes, resulting from the erosion that followed the last Ice Age, stands the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology.

The gigantic museum boasts more than 80,000 specimens, including 50 complete dinosaur skeletons. It is also a major international research centre where scientists can be seen busily cleaning bones and preparing different elements for exhibit. The “Royal” designation is the result of the worldwide reputation and the excellence of the scientific and educational approach of the museum.

Some of the most fascinating and instructive initiatives of this museum are the displays in front of each animal exhibit - which date back hundreds of millions years - that show small terrestrial globes locating the province of Alberta on the planet during different geological ages. We can see the province’s outline from when there was only one continent on earth, then throughout the millions of years during the continental drift, and finally during the Tropical and Ice Ages when Alberta was completely or partially under the sea, when the Rockies formed, and when the sea receded after the last Ice Age, 8,000 years ago, leaving dinosaur fossils in the Badlands. This attraction is really a must-see!

The Majectic Rockies 

After this foray to “another” world, we drove back along the classic road to cross the Canadian Rockies that suddenly appeared in front of us, almost without any transition. Two roads, the TransCanada Highway (No. 1) and Route 1A, each unwinding along a different side of the Bow River, provide an entry into Banff National Park, a long iced encased valley, unveiling one breathtaking landscape after another.

We couldn’t stop taking photo after photo of the mountains and turquoise lakes, all looking alike while at the same time providing new, spectacular and striking scenic overlooks.

Before arriving in Banff, we stopped in the little village of Canmore, a very picturesque and lovely place, which had hardly any tourists around. Having a picnic in mind at Cascades Ponds - at the gateway to Banff - we bought some provisions. Alberta and B.C. are full of charming, well-kept and well laid-out rest areas with picnic facilities and beautiful panoramas offered as bonus. It is a very nice and economical way to connect with and appreciate the local scenery while staying away from the fast food that is offered in large rest centers.

Many lakes and not always clear blue water!

After Banff, where we were served rattlesnake, crocodile, ostrich, bison, deer and other unusual treats, we immediately headed to Lake Louise since the smoke of a local wildfire was darkening the scene.

A few kilometers from Lake Louise, another lake, less popular, but nonetheless beautiful, was Lake Moraine. On this clear water lake, it is possible to canoe, kayak in an environment so quiet that it almost calls for meditation.

A little further up north, on the Bow Valley Parkway heading to Jasper, lies another type of lake: a headwater lake. To access Peyto Lake on Bow Summit at an elevation of 2,000 meters, we have to climb for half an hour before reaching the belvedere overlooking the lake. This bright turquoise colored lake is spectacular and totally different from the two previous lakes that had clear blue water. Looking at the southern end of the lake allowed us to understand the phenomenon. The lake is fed by many sources that carry significant amounts of glacial flour, which gives it its remarkable color.

Melting glaciers

In the last portion of our trip in Alberta, we travelled to Jasper on the Icefields Parkway with the intention of seeing two imposing glaciers dripping down Mount Columbia, the highest summit in Alberta: the Columbia and Athabasca glaciers, receding year after year, like the great majority of the glaciers in the world.

We were fortunate enough during this trip and on the cruise to Alaska to see one of the only glaciers in the world that has started to grow again after receding for many kilometers over the past few years. Glacier Hubbard continues to grow and move forward as a result of an increase in snowfall.

The rail era

We reached British Columbia using the central passage through the Rockies, the Kicking Horse Pass, at 1,647 meters altitude and arrived in Field. The attractions are numerous in the area: sites recreate the rail era at the beginning of the 20th century, the gigantic works needed for the railroad to cross the mountains, the dangers associated with avalanches and the work necessary to avoid them...

The wine route

Before entering Okanagan Valley, we stop in Lake Kalamalka Provincial Park for our daily picnic. Forty kilometers north of Kelowna, Lake Kalamalka is classified by National Geographic as one of the 10 most beautiful lakes in the world. In the native peoples’ language, Kalamalka means “lake with many colors”. Looking at the charming colors of the lake, ranging from cyan to indigo, we can see that this name is well deserved. This pearl of a lake, parallel to Lake Okanagan, is a good illustration of what the Okanagan Valley would be without the irrigation that the lakes provide.

A region encased in the heart of the mountain range forming British Columbia, the Okanagan Valley enjoys a microclimate along more than 200 km of each side of Lake Okanagan. Apple orchards, as well as peaches, apricots, cherries, prunes and other fruits grow here.

Tourists are mostly attracted to the wineries spread between Kelowna and Osoyos near the United States border. Many tours are offered for those who opt to be guided from winery to winery and from tasting to tasting.

We begin our own discovery trip with the northernmost winery in the valley, and probably in the Americas: the Graymonk Winery. Located north of the 50th parallel, this winery excels in white wines, such as Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay. It also grows other red wine grape varieties in a more southern part of the valley. Modest in term of visitors compared to other wineries in the valley, this establishment enjoys an excellent reputation with restaurants and hotels that offer its products all over BC and Alberta.

South of Kelowna, Mission Hill is probably the most well known winery and the most visited by tourists who enjoy its spectacular landscape. This winery is on everybody’s lips and is part of every tour. Its layout and the views it offers are spectacular. Small wineries are, however, more friendly.

Our Okanagan Wine Route tour ended in Osoyoos, in the extreme south of the Valley, close to the USA border. This region enjoys a very dry climate where agriculture can survive only with constant irrigation. It doesn’t come as a surprise to meet rattlesnakes here, which is mentioned on the visitors’ warning notice board. We even found the only official desert in Canada, which is also the northernmost one of a series found in the American West between the Canadian border (Osoyoos) and Mexico. The only vegetation that grows here are different types of sage and other thorn shrubs.

Vancouver Island

We arrive in Vancouver on the Nanaïmo Ferry. The daily migration of commuters between Vancouver and their homes on the nearby islands offers quite a show in the harbor. The arrival and departure of each ferry generates activities for taxi-boats, seaplanes, sailboats and private yachts moored in the harbor. Most of the private residences on the islands have their own articulated floating wharf to adapt to the variation in tides. A restaurant on piles, the Dinghy Dock Pub in the Nanaïmo Harbor allows its clients to watch this endless ballet while enjoying a beer with excellent fish & chips.

The enchanting forest

When leaving Nanaïmo to cross Vancouver Island from East to West towards Tofino and the Pacific Ocean, a mandatory stop has to be planned at Cathedral Grove. A forest of giant red cedars (sequoias) and Douglas firs benefit from the coastal humidity and grow naturally with Spanish moss and new growth rotting on the ground. Even though these 800 year old giants can be seen elsewhere, notably in Stanley Park, nothing equals the sight of these trees growing in their original forest!

Ucluelet and Tofino: the beaches

Forty kilometers of beaches stretch between Ucluelet and Tofino on the Pacific Ocean. Most of them are protected inside the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Long Beach sector. Apart from the lovely beaches and the sunsets we can watch from them, Tofino offers many whale watching tours to see gray whales as well as sea otters and sea lions.

While Tofino claims to be the TransCanada terminal on the Pacific coast (Pacific Terminus Trans Canada Highway, Tofino BC.), we will see in Victoria on Mile 0 of this TransCanada Highway facing the Juan de Fuca Detroit, separating Vancouver Island and the State of Washington in the United States.

Charming Victoria

With its enclosed harbor, which the main old city tourist attractions are spread around, the Parliament, the renowned Fairmount Empress Hotel, wharfs and terraces where artists and entertainers perform, Victoria is certainly a charming capital. However, one couldn’t visit Victoria without seeing its famous Butchart Gardens. Located 20 minutes north of the city, these spectacular gardens enjoy a moderate climate all year long. They were recognized as a Canadian National Historic Center in 2004, their centennial year.

Vancouver the courteous

In Vancouver, we saw very interesting attractions, such as Stanley Park, the Aquarium, Lynn Canyon, Granville Island, and more. We will also remember Vancouver as a very clean, pleasant and civilized city.

Our day on the “Hop & Go” bus spent visiting the city with bus drivers who complete the experience with their humour and good moods is most certainly a memory we will cherish. We spent two days using the public transit system, shopping at the Granville Island market and in the neighboring boutiques and shops, and experiencing the “Skytrain.” In short, trying to live the local life. We noted the politeness and courtesy demonstrated towards elderly people and pedestrians in particular.

After 5 days in Vancouver, we boarded the “Radiance of the Seas” for a 7-day cruise to Alaska that constituted an ending of absolute awe for a memorable trip to the West.


Marcel LeSieur

Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Drumheller

Lake Louise

Lake Peyto

Graymonk Winer

Mission Hill winery

 Osoyoos desert

Route 13

Cathedral Grove

Wales, Vancouver

Sand sculptures in Vancouver

Totems in Victoria

Victoria

Butchart Gardens

Wines, Vancouver Island

Vancouver

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


  

 

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