In Part 1 I talked about a recent tour to the province of Alberta in Canada with the highlight being the 103rd Calgary Stampede which takes place every year in July. Dubbed “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” it is similar to our state fairs. It also includes a world famous rodeo where the toughest Wild West cowboys and cowgirls show off their skills.
When we arrived in Banff we were early enough to take the Gondola Ride to the peak of Sulphur Mt. When you reach the top you have panoramic views of the village and valley below. We also made a stop at Bow Falls.
Bow Falls is a wide river waterfall situated in the backside of Banff. We strolled along a walkway to see this waterfall which gave us views from above the falls as well as the rapids and cascades further upstream. Whenever we looked downstream from the falls we would see the river twisting its way before tall mountains including the oddly sloped Mt Rundle. If you remember the movie “The River of No Return” with Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum this is where the movie was filmed.
We spent two nights in Banff with an excursion the next day along the Icefields Parkway, North America’s most scenic highway. Each year millions of visitors come to Banff to marvel at the emerald waters of Lake Louise and drive beneath the towering jagged peaks lining the Icefields Parkway.
There are hundreds of breathtaking sights including a series of emerald-green alpine lakes fed by nearby glaciers. Pictures do not do justice to the awesome colors of these lakes.
Our first stop was the Columbia Icefield for a ride out onto the Athabasca Glacier in a specialized Snocoach. The Athabasca Glacier is part of the Columbia Icefields, located at the Continental Divide.
The first time I visited the Icefield since I was living in a Northern state, driving and walking on infinite layers of ice did not seem like it would be that big of a deal to me. However as they began explaining about the definition of a glacier it became very interesting.
To be considered a true glacier the ice has to be at least 25 acres wide and 100 feet deep. And it has to move. In this area we could see areas where the ice was over 400-500 feet thick. When you realize what you are driving on, it makes the experience much more fascinating. Some of the ice we traveled over was created by snow over 400 years old.
Being on the glacier, I felt like we were on the surface of the moon. The crevices and craters revealed beautiful streaks of electric blue. When we got out I filled my water bottle with water from the gurgling stream. It was very crisp and refreshing and they claim very pure.
As we walked around, we had to watch out for the crevices and fissures. You definitely wouldn’t want to fall in. The ice on the glacier is said to be as deep as the Eiffel Tower is high. The first time I stood on the white-blue ancient ice of the Athabasca Glacier fulfilled a lifelong dream I never knew I had.
If you have a bucket list, you definitely want to put this experience on it. A word of warning: I was here about five years previously and it is scary how much the ice has shrunk. This is something you may want to see sooner rather than later.
Our next stop and another highlight was a visit to beautiful Lake Louise and its famous Chateau. The setting is one of the most picturesque in the Rockies with the hotel set against the backdrop of the deep emerald waters of the lake.
Staying here can be extremely costly but visiting and having “high tea” is a wonderful experience.
Chateau Lake Louise is a Fairmont Hotel on the eastern shore of Lake Louise. The original Chateau was built in stages at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century by the Canadian Pacific Railway. It is a “kin” to its predecessor, the Banff Springs Hotel.
Just as Hill and the Great Northern Railway built the hotels and chalets in Glacier National Park to lure Easterners out to visit the park, the Canadian Pacific did the same thing in their Park. If you see pictures of Chateau Lake Louise you will understand how stunning the place is.
Lake Louise was named Lake of the Little Fishes by the First Nations and is a glacial lake. It is located about three miles west of the Hamlet of Lake Louise and the Trans-Canada Highway 1. The lake is named after Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria.
As you look at the lake you can see the surrounding mountains reflected on the emerald green waters of this glacial fed lake. It is truly a sight to behold.
I am not going to talk about Jasper in this article although that is another famous town in the area. This tour I was on did not go there so I will save that for a future article but that town is even more remote and animal sightings are common rather than rare.
We had free time the next morning in Banff before boarding our motor-coach for the one and half hour trip out of the Rockies and back to the Plains where Calgary is located.
We were headed to the Stampede. From the chuck wagon races and bull riding to the music and the midway, the Stampede is an annual Calgary event not to be missed. With over one million visitors per year, you can expect crowds at this ten-day event.
The event is so popular that the city nicknamed itself “Stampede City” and, affectionately, “Cowtown”. There’s a tournament-style rodeo with professional athletes; horse racing with a $1.15 million dollar prize; famous pop, country, and rock musicians; water shows; fireworks and rodeo games for all.
After checking into our hotel we headed to the GMC Rangeland Derby and Grandstand Show. The Derby is the world’s premier chuckwagon racing event complete with 36 drivers, 288 horses and their teams of outriders vying for the over one million dollars in prize money. This is the Stampede’s most renowned event!
The Grandstand show at the end of the evening features the Volte. This stunning program includes a rock opera musical score and gravity defying sights as well as fireworks and performing black stallions.
Organized by thousands of volunteers and supported by civic leaders, the Calgary Stampede has grown into one of the world’s richest rodeos and one of Canada’s largest festivals. It is a significant tourist attraction for the city. The rodeo and chuckwagon racing events are televised across Canada and you can even find American film stars sitting in the bleachers.
The next day we were free all day to explore the rodeo on our own. We saw displays, attractions, and events including the Art and Lifestyle Showcase, nonstop entertainment on the Windsor of the West Stage, and many creative arts and crafts. We also visited the Co-Op Kitchen Theater where some of the world’s top entertainers performed.
Finally our last day in Calgary arrived with the morning free to continue our exploration around the Stampede. That afternoon we concluded our Stampede visit by experiencing the thrill of one of the world’s all-time greatest rodeos. The six major events we saw were Bareback and Bull Riding, Barrel Racing, Saddle Bronc, Steer Wrestling and Tie-Down Roping. These events are the backbone of the Stampede Rodeo.
All too soon our time in the area was over. That evening we boarded our motorcoach for the trip back to Lethridge and the next day we were once again on the Empire Builder headed back to Chicago. But we will always remember the Canadian Rockies and Calgary Stampede…what an awesome adventure!
Editor’s note: To read in depth about the Seattle, WA area, check out Kileen’s book, “Journey Beckons.” You can order it through her website (as well as preview the first few chapters) at www.kileenprather.com or you can order it through Amazon either in book form or the kindle edition.
Happy to say that Kileen has been very busy. Her latest book, “Journey To Port” is now also available through Amazon/kindle, and it’s also in book form through Amazon. Also, on her website (www.kileenprather.com), you can both preview a few chapters as well as order the book.
Ohhhhh my. Kileen is hitting a “home-run” again! Just released: “Journey To The Tropics” in which she explores love the second time around – all set within lush environment of the Bahamas! Enjoy – and visit Amazon to get your copy!