Visiting Bragg Creek and Elbow Falls, Canada Day in Banff (Bamf!)

Everyone needs a break from time to time, and Critical Mass was more than willing to give us a little time to breathe. So in addition to the statutory holiday on Monday, they decided to give us Friday off as well.

So of course, I had to come into work.

This is the joy of having a large client, to whom I’m currently tied, and I sit in a position of far too much responsibility to shirk. End result, I was here at 8:00am, when visions of sugarplums were still dancing in others heads.

Luckily for me, that only lasted half of the day — I was out of here by about 1:30. That left the rest of my day to wander around, see what was up … and catch a matinee. I haven’t been to a matinee since I got my job — one of the many things I miss about working at Radical. But hey, getting the things you can’t normally have makes them all the better.

Following my matinee, I wandered around Chinook Centre for a while, doing a little bit of window shopping, buying some magazines, and generally wasting time. I wanted to see the 8:15pm showing of AI, which the Famous Players had showing on their IMAX screen. Go big, or go home, I say.

As the time neared to the show, I checked my cell phone, only to discover that I had a voice mail message — Stuart and Therese, who had suggested catching dinner and a movie. Thinking it would be neat if they could make it down to Chinook in time, I called to see where they were.

Pulling into Chinook’s parking lot. [Insert “Twilight Zone” theme here.]

Weird things happen right out of the blue.

Saturday, I slept in. I really needed to sleep in. The week can be quite draining, especially if you’re under the gun. The question was: What to do with the day? There were many things we could do, but with part of the day already gone, going too far out of the city wasn’t really an option. There was, however, Bragg Creek.

Bragg Creek is an itty-bitty little hamlet (it’s not even a village) about 30 minutes west of Calgary. You can miss it, quite easily — although there is a sign for it on the highway (darned if I know why). It takes less than 30 seconds to pass by the “downtown” core, a group of buildings mostly there to attract tourists, though why tourists go to Bragg Creek is a bit of a mystery … those buildings are pretty much all that’s there.

Chris, Tamara (one of our co-workers), and I braved the trip to spend an hour and a half wandering in and out of the stores. Admittedly, the shops there are (kinda) unique, and do have some things that are appealing. To someone, anyway. The cowboy shop was amusing to say the least, especially when the family of Japanese tourists came whipping in. There’s something about hearing a Japanese family squabble interspersed with the country and western playing over the store’s sound system.

The candy store was probably being run by the guy who founded Bragg Creek. He manned the ice cream side of the store, while others (his grandson, perhaps) ran the candy side. We were finding candy that none of us had seen since we were kids … stuff that had been made when we were kids, for all we knew. I settled on peanut brittle and Oreo cookie fudge. Although the brittle’s gone, I’m a little apprehensive to try the fudge…

Chris offered to buy us an ice cream. It’s amazing how fast you can feel like a kid just by having someone buy you an ice cream. It always reminds me of the times when my father suddenly got into an ice cream mood, announced we were going out, and would take the family down to the Baskin & Robbins just west of the harbour. We’d get our favourite flavours, and whip down to the piers on the lake to eat and watch the boats come in and out.

Simple pleasures are by far the best.

Departing Bragg Creek, we headed southeast, a direction Tamara said would ultimately take us back into the city, via a slightly longer, but much more scenic route. When we found ourselves at the junction, we could either go east to Calgary, or west to the Elbow Falls.

Detours are a simple pleasure.

The Elbow Falls are nothing overly spectacular, especially if you’ve ever seen Niagara Falls or something that falls a few hundred metres. This drops about ten metres in total, and the water volume isn’t really all that impressive. But the scenery in which it lies is certainly worth the diversion. It was for the wedding party having video and the pictures snapped overlooking the falls.

The Elbow River supplies 1/3 of Alberta’s population with water (Calgary’s Glenmore Reservoir dams up the river as it enters the city), so it’s an important river to us. In many ways, probably more important than the Bow River, which although larger, supplies no water. The really interesting thing is that (keeping the size of the population using the water) the Elbow River watershed occupies only 0.2% of Alberta’s landmass, and is barely twice the size of Calgary itself.

The trip back to Calgary took us through the rolling hills and plains that make up our part of Alberta. It’s really nice to see something other than asphalt and concrete. But before long the ever-expanding city broke the horizon and we found ourselves nestled back in civilization.

We stopped at Smuggler’s Inn for dinner. This is one of those quasi-landmark restaurants that most towns and cities have managed to dispose of. It’s … uh … well … the decor is … odd. No, “odd” isn’t the word. It’s sort of like a kick-back to the joys of (bad) 70s styling, only much darker. 13 Coins in Seattle was not quite this cheesy. But at least the food at Smuggler’s Inn was better. (In retrospect, I can think of several places I would have preferred to go…)

Conversation was … interesting. It mostly revolved around Chris and I defending ourselves from Tamara. She’s got a quick wit and sometimes a vicious sense of humour, but is always willing to take a fun poke when it’s well-delivered. By the time we left, Chris and I had been classified as “undateable” and “not dating material”, at least by/with Tamara.

Now I know how Pintos felt when they got rear-ended.

I dropped Chris and Tamara off at Chinook so they could see the 8:15 showing of AI. I would have liked to have stayed … but there was nothing playing at the right time. So I went home.

To watch a movie.

I picked up Chris, Tamara, and Tamara’s friend Jensenne (who met Chris and Tamara at the theatre) and we all went downtown. Although originally under the guise of going home (Tamara seems to have this odd habit of going to bed early), we ended up at the Ship and Anchor, one of the less interesting (and nice) bars in town.

The next morning, I rose a little earlier than the previous day. It was Canada Day, and we were going to Banff. Or at least we were going to Banff, until Chris said he was going to stick around for the skate and punk show in Calgary. Yes, there was a punk and skate show here in Calgary. A big one. Quite good too, so I understand, and Chris has been to a few in Toronto.

(Take that all you people who think Calgary is nothing but cowboys! That doesn’t start until this Friday… [shudder])

Therese, Stuart, and I were going to make the most of it — by going to Banff! (Bamf!), Canada’s first national park. Leaving my “movil de la muerte” at their apartment, we headed off in their Jetta for the sort-of-great outdoors. (Hey, we were going to Banff (Bamf) — it’s not exactly the middle of Algonquin Park.)

One of the many great things about Canada Day (aside from being Canadian, that is) — it’s free to go into the National Parks! That also meant, however, that there would likely be a “few” people there ahead of us. Still, we got a spot in the free lot, and proceeded to experience Canada Day in Banff (Bamf).

Our first order of business was Dim Sum. We were going to go to the Silver Dragon, sister restaurant to the Silver Dragon in Calgary. However, much to our extreme dismay, they didn’t serve Dim Sum. In fact, the place was nearly empty. Disappointment reigned for a short while.

Unabashed by the general lack of tasty bite-sized Chinese food, we set out to experience the day, and walked our way to the Banff Springs Hotel. We found our way to the Terrace, where we partook of a very tasty lunch. It was food we would need for the activity of the afternoon: Climbing Sulphur Mountain.

Sulphur Mountain overlooks Banff (Bamf), and is the source of the hot springs that made Banff (Bamf) famous (and indeed, made Banff (Bamf) itself). We had to hike up trails between the hotel and the upper hot springs, where the trail up Sulphur mountain began. Although only 1.7kms, it was still a steep hike. It wasn’t easy for Therese, either — her shoes had inadvertently been forgotten in the car. (A constant source of conversation during our hike.)

Arriving at the foot of the main path, we looked wantonly at the gondola, which would whisk us to the top in about eight minutes. The path we were about to start was about two hours. But nothing was every accomplished by taking the easy route. So with overshirt and bottle of water in hand (and a backpack on Stuart’s back), the three of us (along with a number of other brave/insane souls) started up the mountain.

From the foot of the trail, it’s a 698 metre vertical, 5 km climb. Few parts of it are even remotely flat (when they came, it was a point for cheering), the majority of it is steep. But the hike is certainly worth the effort — the views from the side are amazing. One day, I will go back with a camera and make a proper record of what you can see.

We had to stop a few times, more frequently as we got closer to the top (I convinced myself it was a lack of oxygen, rather than my poorly-maintained body crying out in agony). But 1 hour and 50 minutes later (beating the average by 10 minutes) we arrived at the observation deck. We made an immediate run for the snack bar, where we purchased litre bottles of Powerade to ward of the killer thirst we’d developed.

But the climb wasn’t entirely done. We continued along the top of the mountain, finally arriving at Sanson’s Peak, the top of the Sulphur Mountain. Needless to say, we were quite happy that the rest of the trip was all downhill from there…

We took the gondola back (after waiting in line nearly 45 minutes), and then walked the road all the way back downtown, arriving there around 6:15 in the evening. We were exhausted. Our legs were screaming at us, our feet throbbed (Therese’s little toes had blisters from her sandals), and we were dying for something to help us relax. So we found a patio, ordered some beer, and kicked back.

Not quite simple, perhaps, but nevertheless rewarding.

The drive home was a little quieter than the drive out. We were wiped. We were tired. (I was wired on sugar, but that only kept me awake.) But it was a good tired, one we could feel good about.

I woke a little earlier the next day … but that’s a story for another entry…