Banff National Park and Lake Minnewanka

Despite the plethora of forest fires plaguing the B.C. interior, my family decided it was a good weekend to dive into the (mostly) green forests of Banff National Park.

Now you’re probably wondering why on Earth I noted forest fires in B.C. when Banff National Park is clearly in Alberta. Simply put: smoke travels. Calgary has had many hazy days as a result of all the fires, and my eyes have itched a fair amount due to airborne particulates. As we left the city, you couldn’t see the Rockies in the distance. It will be like this until the forest fires end.

I started off my morning slapping another coat of paint around the windows. I came inside to prepare for the excursion only to find Miao-Yin had decided to lay waste to my couch with the former contents of her stomach. After vigourously repressing the urge to use her as a furry soccer ball (I banned her to the basement for the next 24 hours instead), I cleaned up the mess, then cleaned myself and gathered my photography equipment, finishing just as my family arrived to pick me up.

Uncle Mike drove with Nana riding shotgun. I sat behind Mike; Mom behind Nana. Aunt Brenda, Maggie, and Jen took up the rear of the minivan. With the A/C on full blast (or so it felt), we took off for the trip into the mountains.

Our first stop (not counting the raid of Robin’s Donuts to get a snack for the ride out) was at the Three Sisters Mountain Village. This is a new development project up the mountain slopes on the south-eastern edge of Canmore. This is a massive project — the Three Sisters bought up 1,800 acres of land, and portioned them out into lots for fairly expensive homes (condos starting at $250,000 and homes starting at around $400,000) to homes starting at 4,500 square feet (I don’t want to know the price). Naturally, the area is pockmarked with golf courses.

The development is mostly to cater to those who want to live the Banff lifestyle, but can’t move into Banff (which has a limitation on development). While Canmore doesn’t lie within the boundaries of Banff National Park, the city council seems to have kept the general ideas in place. Canmore has yet to acquire a real “mall” of any kind.

Sighing off the prices that none of us can (or will ever) afford, we proceeded to Banff. Or more specifically, to the line-up for Banff. Despite the haze brought on by forest fire smoke, a large number of Albertans and tourists alike were gathered at the park entrance to acquire their day passes. So naturally, we ended up in the slowest line.

Mike and Brenda decided to renew their annual pass, and made quick work of the purchase. About a half hour after entering the line, we were pulling off for the Minnewanka Loop. The Minnewanka Loop is a road on the north side of the Trans-Canada Highway, across from Banff Townsite. The road is a several-kilometre loop up to Lake Minnewanka, across the retention dam, and eventually back around to the road you went up in the first place. It’s a nice ride, albeit curvy.

Our first stop was at Lake Minnewanka, where we took a few moments to make use of facilities and take a look around. It’s a gorgeous little area — you can even take power and sailboats up there for a cruise around the lake. It’s a fairly large lake, too, so there’s a lot to see on water that you would have some trouble getting to on land.

Some of the surrounding hills showed sign of forest fire. To keep Banff National Park (and other surrounding areas), conservationists started controlled fires to burn out some of the material most likely to burn. It’s a little unsightly, but helps with the forest life cycle and promotes new, healthy growth.

One thing that’s been discovered in recent years is that, despite the obvious damage, forest fires are a necessary part of life in the forest. New growth can’t start in old growth forests. Although environmentalists cry out at the thought of burning an old forest (can’t say I blame ’em, either), the canopies are often too dense to let light in to spur new trees. When the forests burn, the canopies are destroyed and nutrients (in the form of ash) are returned to the soil. Though it takes a few years, the resulting forest is just as strong and healthy as the previous one.

As an additional note: logging does not appear to have the same benefits as burning.

Anyway, we didn’t stick around too long at Minnewanka, as there was a severe lack of picnic tables. So we decided to head on down to Johnson Lake, in hopes of something there. The road was mostly empty, save for the odd car. Normally, the area would be full of campers. An influx of grizzly bears has put a stop to that for now.

Johnson Lake was slowly beginning to fill up. We arrived early enough, however, to acquire a picnic table in the shade. Considering that it was quite warm outside, this was a definite benefit … the breeze that blew in off the lake also helped.

The portable propane barbecue was set up (open fires are pretty much verboten throughout Western Canada at the moment) and lunch started while Jen and I went for a little wander around the area. The next time I go back, I’ll have to make sure to wear shoes (I was wearing sandals) and return when all the trails are reopened (closed either for safety reasons, specifically bears, or for environmental protection).

The six of us sat under the trees, fending off the odd bee and trying to keep Maggie from barking at everyone or eating out of our hands. Aside from the nigh-indestructable table, the experience was pretty much prototypical picnic.

Following our lunch (the table was open for all of 10 seconds before another family swooped in on it), we headed out for Banff Townsite. Like the picnic area we had just left, Banff (Bamf!) was full of people and cars. (Although we managed to get a parking spot on Banff Ave.) Such was to begin our afternoon of shopping.

There’s only one thing that will truly keep me from shopping: other people. And I’m not referring to too many other people — shopping in crowded malls (especially during Christmas) has always been a fun thing to do. The problem wasn’t mine, so much as it was Nana’s and Mom’s. They’re not exactly the Andretti brothers when it comes to walking down crowded sidewalks. And with the heat, Mom’s mobility wasn’t exactly stellar.

Much to Jen’s dismay, we made it only down one side of the street before calling off the shopping spree. Nana was the only purchaser. We had debated on going to the Banff Springs for a drink on the patio. Then it was the Rose and Crown in Canmore, as there would be far less tourists there. But as we approached Canmore, we decided it was better to have drinks in Calgary.

I fell asleep on the way home. I guess I’d had too much mountain air for one day. (And I had woken early to tackle some house painting.) I snapped out of my slumber at the Calgary city limits.

That night, my family feasted on Thai from the King and I. What amazed me, at first anyway, was that Mom was keen on trying it. But somehow, it hadn’t registered with her that “Thai” was Asian. And Mom’s not a big fan of Asian foods. She did eat some of it, though.

That was my Saturday. I can sum up Sunday in one word: Painting.