I wish I had the words to describe our last ten days in the Canadian Rockies. It was a trip that exceeded my expectations though I have traveled many times through the Rocky Mountains in the United States. Anytime a trip exceeds expectations is good. This one was very good.
Mary Lou and I take a trip every year with my college roommate, Bill, and his wife, Pam. We started the tradition on the year of our collective 60th birthdays. Alaska, the Danube, the Rhine, The St. Lawrence Seaway, the Baltics, Russia, and last year, Ireland. In January, we are all traveling to Antarctica.
All our trips, along with most of the ones Mary Lou and I have done alone, have exceeded expectations. It is always a good sign when you describe your best trip as the last one you took.
We are in the so-called “go-go” days of our retirement. They are followed by the “go-slow” days, where you make less adventurous plans. If we are lucky, Mary Lou and I will one day live in the “no-go” years of our lives. That is fine as we will have a lot of memories to look back on.
The expanse of Canada has only been exceeded by Alaska in our experience. China was enormous, but there were also people everywhere. The Alberta and British Columbia provinces that we visited, along with Glacier National Park in Montana, are all sparsely populated. You must make a real effort to get there, but when you look at the mountains, waterfalls, rivers, and wildlife, you know the effort was worth it.
Most of the hotels we stayed in were built by the railroads before the turn of the 20th century. Some were grand for their time but are more rustic today. Others, like the Chateau Lake Louise and the Banff Springs Hotel, rival any hotel in Paris, Rome, or London, only with better views and fresher air.
The effort made by these early pioneers in opening these wild and unexplored territories boggles the mind. These were men with dreams of making access to some of God’s greatest creations available to the broader public. Today, the roads that connect these gems of the Rockies are marvels themselves, some of the most scenic drives in the world.
In our fast-paced world, it often takes effort to relax and sense the world around you. Walking through a 500-year-old forest along a rushing river will open your mind to so many senses. Smells. Sights. Sounds. They connect with the most basic part of our being.
Climbing on a glacier that is thousands of years old is mindboggling. Drinking the melting water that is as pure as any on earth gives you a taste of just how good water can be. The journey to the Athabasca Glacier requires you to travel in a special motor vehicle that descends and ascends the steepest unpaved road in the world – 32 degrees.
We saw a bear with her cubs, elk with their cubs, two bald eagles guarding their nest and ospreys eyeing their next meal as we floated by on a glacier fed river. Nature seemed to have found an equilibrium, as the wild exists with the human tourists. It is still wild territory, but there was a bit of live and let live.
The mountains, rising 5,000 feet above the river or lakes we visited to heights exceeding 10,000 feet, changed their appearance with the movements we made and the arc of the sun. We witnessed an exquisite painting evolving and changing in front of our eyes. We could not get enough of the rugged world we were visiting, sleeping with our curtains open just to savor the outline of the mountains in the dim light. Each morning we eagerly awaited the brilliance the rising sun brought to these same soaring sculptures of rock.
I took thousands of pictures, but only a handful will ever do justice to the awesome wonder of the Canadian Rockies. The more we looked, the further we could see. Occasionally, it seemed that we could see forever.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org