018 - canada | part one
Updated: Sep 27, 2018
Canada, oh, Canada.
You have taught me so much. It was with you, that I learned to listen closer, see further, smell richer, and feel deeper.
It was with you, that I learned to simply be.
We spent a little over a month in Canada. The first reason being, that we needed to be out of the US for more than thirty days, in order that Mattia could get his visa stamp renewed (it officially counts as an exit this way). And the other reason being, that there is just so much to see. We also had plans to meet up with our friends about half way through, so that gave us a bit of a milestone as far as our whereabouts went.
As mentioned in our Montana blog posts, we made sure to follow all the rules carefully when we crossed the border. The fact that we crossed into Canada at a very remote spot, also made things a lot easier. Because we were coming from Glacier National Park in the US, we crossed at Chief Mountain, the road that connects the national parks of the two countries. Glacier basically extends into Canada under the name of Waterton Lakes National Park.
The Canadian officer at the border was extremely friendly and in extent, not very curious, his only questions being: how long we were staying, whether we had alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and firewood. A month, yes, yes, no and no. We told him the amount of alcohol and cigars we still had, he was satisfied with our answer and in return gave us an entry stamp and waved us on. The only thing was, that we needed an official "exit stamp" from the US that we could refer back to once we wanted to reenter in a month. So, we kindly asked the Canadian officer, who replied just as nicely, to just walk back to the US office on the other side. We could park Henry right next to the Canadian office. Well, we sure shocked the american officers, who (it's fair to mention) had not noticed us crossing over to Canada. They were in disbelief when they thought we had just walked over the border. After explaining our situation and stressing the fact that we actually wanted to go to Canada, they told us to stand in line with the "other cars", until it was our turn. If we wouldn't have been as nervous and intimidated, we probably would have laughed about this more. But, all in all with a little explaining, we ended up getting Mattia his exit stamp that showed the exact date of our departure from the US.
First stop: Waterton Lakes National Park (June 5th - 7th)
Upon our arrival, we decided to purchase the Canadian national parks pass after quickly calculating the amount of time we were spending in the various parks (in Canada you pay an entrance fee by the day, so we still got away cheaper paying the flat 136 CAD). And after the unplugged and disconnected week at Glacier, we were happy to get an electric hookup and were even more ecstatic when we found out we had perfect internet in Canada, no extra charges. Not to mention the fact that in Canadian national parks, there is life besides the wild ones (which we later came to question, but I will get to that). Waterton Village is actually a small community, with shops, restaurants, cafes, etc. So, of course we walked almost every possible street in town in the two and a half days that we spent there, entering various shops, eating at different places: once for breakfast, once for lunch, and once for dinner. We also checked out all the different activities they were offering, none however grasping us fully. The park had suffered from a massive wildfire a few months back, restricting the entire left side from visitors, and with that, pretty much all hiking trails. The boat tours on the lake were way beyond our price range, the bike rentals seemed silly after we had walked almost everything already, and it was just too windy for kayaking. Nonetheless, we enjoyed our first couple of days in Canada, especially after someone knocked on our rear door on our last night at Waterton.
Income Mieke and Tim, from Berlin. She 28, he 30, their kids, 1 and 3 years old, sound asleep in the rear bed of their 29ft RV next door. They had seen us already at the Many Glacier campground and after noticing our website name that we have written on Henry's sides, they figured we might be heading a similar way. They had looked up our blog and of course realized right away that we are Swiss. After a bit of small talk about our road history, future itinerary, etc. we showed them the inside of Henry before they asked us to join them for a drink in their RV. We gladly accepted after not having socialized in a very long time and ended up staying for a total of 13 beers and half a bottle of wine before Mieke pointed out that it was already 1.30 in the morning. We had enjoyed each others company so much and had all been in the need to talk to someone else (other than each other) that we had completely lost track of time. In a good way of course. And the best part was, they were taking the same route as us, all the way to Alaska. Knowing we would likely see them again, we exchanged numbers, and called it a night shortly after 2 am. (www.meyer-adventures.com)
Kootenay National Park (June 7th - 9th)
We chose to visit Kootenay mainly because it was on our way. We initially didn't actually know what one could do here. But as time always tells, we tend to figure it out. As soon as we settled into our camping spot, we heard footsteps approaching. Sepp, in his early sixties, has shipped his Mercedes 4x4 custom Sprinter camper from Europe to Halifax, he is from Hoch Ybrig, Schwyz, in Switzerland. He noticed our tiny CH sign underneath our Florida license plate, and came over for a chat. Well, as we know by now, a chat turns into a night of conversation over a few beers. Sepp has been all over the world: he traveled across the Sahara in his early twenties in his Landrover Defender, walked the Russian border in search for bears, and tramped Australia, among many other travel destinations. His rig is super self-sufficient (solar power, water filtration system, etc. etc.), he has the biggest spice and tea rack I have ever seen, and travels with a good amount of Swiss delicacies, from which we got a treat with some Basler Leckerli. Again, our night continued well beyond midnight. (sepp-on-tour.ch) And because our newly acquired German friends were following our footsteps, we already had a date for the following evening as well.
The next day we passed, by doing our long overdue laundry and by walking the two kilometer (Canada uses the metric system, so that took some adjusting again) path to the "well-known" Radium Hot Springs. But after seeing the half construction, half man-made kiddy pool, we ended up walking back without taking a dip. Instead we laid back before it was time to stroll over to Mieke and Tim's for a huge pot of delicious Bolognese. We were surprised by how much the two little ones could eat, by how off-key the neighbors could sing karaoke well into the night, and by how comfortable it felt to spend another night chatting by the fire with Mieke and Tim until their friends arrived around 1 am. Thanks again, Tim and Mieke for the fantastic meal (our official first Friday Night Dinner) and your great company.
Banff National Park (June 9th - 13th, 14th - 15th)
With a walk along the Marble Canyon on the way, we made our next stop the Tunnel Mountain campground in Banff. It was the weekend after all. The 640 site campground was close to denying us a spot, but after we convinced them of Henry's short length they gave us one of their last open spots. We were officially in the middle of RV and camping season. Banff the city with a population of 7'800, is a very urban place, yet all within the national park. Through the entire park runs, the largest highway of Canada, the Trans-Canada Highway, forcing semi trucks to take this route. The town, even has night clubs, not to mention a school, bus system, hospital, and a main shopping street featuring stores like Patagonia, Starbucks, and even McDonald's. At first, we were blown away. We felt like we were in a city, a very nice city, with mountains as it's backdrop. We caved in to the metropolitan urge and spent a day exploring. We got on multiple different buses, once to reach the cave and basin and passed a massive chateau like hotel/resort on the way.
The following day we ventured further, to the beautiful Lake Minnewanka, where we were caught in a light snow shower and gutsy winds. We continued our drive to the Grassi Lakes trail head and took the more difficult path up. The lakes unreal teal color mesmerizing us completely. We ended the day with a delicious pizza at the Bear Street Tavern back in town and bought a bag of chocolate popcorn for desert.
We spent the next days in the Lake Louise region, fully grasping what it meant to be in these parks during peak season. While the scenery was breathtaking, it was difficult to ignore the hundreds of tourist along side it. The road to Lake Morraine was closed off due to the amount of traffic. So we decided to come back shortly before sunset, to capture it in a more quiet setting. And it was so worth it. Though we did not physically see the sun vanish behind the mountains due to the overcast, we were fully able to enjoy the view without hundreds of voices behind us.
Yoho National Park (June 13th - 14th)
We took the detour to Yoho simply because I wanted to visit the Northern Lights Wolf Sanctuary just outside the park in the town of Golden. The wolf is my favorite animal, and being in its natural environment, made me even more curious. The sanctuary was perfect. While it could have been extremely touristy, it wasn't. You could see almost all their rescued wolves (they were never taken from nature, only from previous captivity or overwhelmed pet owners) from a few feet back, giving them however plenty of space to retreat and roam. And most importantly, they weren't brought out for the tourists, rather they are taken out into the wild on walk-about's where they can wander on their own. We had arrived just in time for a 30 minute talk about what they do and all about their animals as well as the wolf in general. The entire talk was very informative and nothing short of mind-blowing. We learned about their various traits and routines and a ton about why it's so important to keep the wild wolf in this environment.
That's when we fully realized or grasped what these national parks lacked, or rather contradicted. Having a major highway run through the park and creating a comfortable urban space for humans, means the opposite for wildlife. While national parks are here to protect something and to give refuge to wildlife, these parks unfortunately had tourism on their minds. And that part clearly worked. Yet, we barely saw any wildlife, and like they mentioned at the sanctuary, they had already driven away the wolf completely. And the wolf is a keystone species. Without it, the entire ecosystem can change. Something that had already happened in Yellowstone in the mid-1900's. Luckily, they reintroduced the predator into Yellowstone in 1995 after doing their math and realizing what was missing. The question is, when will Banff realize it as well?
On our way back to Yoho, we stumbled across a very odd scene. We noticed an older lady scroutching over on the side of the road, looking into the high grassy area, a younger woman a little further back distressed. The younger woman tried to control the traffic passing. We decided to wait a few minutes, thinking there might be an animal, but wondering what it could be, when the older lady seemed to stand awfully close. By the time a truck passed, the tiniest little Bambi or deer fawn, white sprinkled coat and all, staggered out of the tall grass, confusingly running across the street, it's legs wobbling with every little jump it made. The older lady tried to shield it from running toward the cars, with her hands raised above her chest, enabling the Bambi to acquire her scent. She clearly had the mother in mind, not wanting her to refuse it if she was still around and could find its offspring, my heart shattering at the thought of this tiny naive creature being on it's own.
Jasper National Park (June 15th - 18th)
After another night in Banff, we continued our national park streak to Jasper along the magnificent Icefield Parkway. Our first stop, Peyto Lake was another unbelievable view and it's color nothing we had ever seen before. We took a detour to one of the campgrounds because we read on iOverlander that it had a free dump station, and upon our first turn around the loop, we see none other than our German friends, parked in the spot with the grandest view. They spontaneously invited us for coffee and cookies, which we gladly accepted. After a quick exchange of recent events, two coffees and three cookies later, we continued our mission for the dump station.
We quickly explored the intimidating but unfortunately also receding Athabasca Glacier (5 meters per year, yes, climate change is real) from as close as we could get without paying, made a use of the free WiFi at the overdone visitor center, and passed on the parking lot camping for way too much money. Instead we continued a few miles further and turned into the quiet Jonas campground in the woods.
The next day we continued our drive down the Icefield Parkway, marveling at every glacier we saw and at the beautiful scenery it took us through. Close to the town Jasper, we noticed tons of cars parked on the side of the road, and accordingly, double the amount of people. We passed, and I knew right away there must be a bear. But I was surprised when I saw how close the black bear actually was, or rather how insanely close the people were. One couple was standing about 2 meters from the bear, with their backs turned toward it, taking a selfie. I really despise such ignorant people, especially when in a national park. My point always being, I don't necessarily care for your safety, you should know better, but it's the bears safety that is highly at risk here. When getting exposed to humans like this, animals get accustomed to it. They come into campgrounds, rummage for food, and therefore create conflict. That's when they become a concern and the bears safety is on the line. Anyway, I decided to yell out: "you really shouldn't be this close", before we continued to Wapiti campground just outside of Jasper, the town, population 4'500.
We payed for one night for a site on their parking lot with a hook up, their last available spot for the night, and another for the following night in a more idyllic spot in the woods right by the river, definitely preferring the latter. We strolled through the town of Jasper, again, wondering what came first, the town or the park, and ate a hearty lunch at a local restaurant. We drove down to Medicine lake, retreating as soon as a tour bus arrived, instead walked along the deep and narrow Maligne Canyon, enjoyed the sun while it was out.
Overall, our impressions and feelings toward the five national parks are very mixed. They are, no doubt about it, all extremely beautiful, each giving something different. We have never seen lakes so rich and vivid in color, we always marvel at the endless views, and we crave the feelings that arise when being in these raw environments. But these parks also have a lot to learn, and hopefully in time they will. If my path will take me back here one day however, it definitely will not be during peak season.