What’s a visit to Banff Park without going to Banff?

August 27 Thursday

Picture of Rocky Mtn Bighorn Sheep

Picture of Rocky Mtn Bighorn Sheep

Last night’s low temperature was 4C (39F). This morning was crisp and clear, a great day for a drive. Our drive today was along Bow River Parkway, the original Park road route and very scenic, to Banff village. Along the way we had numerous opportunities for exhibits and overlooks. Once we were within five feet of a small group of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. The sheep were grazing on the shoulder beside the road, ignoring us completely. As they should!

We stopped and read a small exhibit about the WW1 Internment Camp in Castle, where a large number of predominantly Ukrainian-origin men were housed. This was not a terribly hospitable place for them, and was a terrible injustice. Not that America did any better two decades later with Japanese Americans and other groups.

picture of Banff Prk Museum

picture of Banff Prk Museum

picture of interior woodwork

picture of interior woodwork

Our first stop in Banff was the Banff Park Museum. The museum was conceived in 1895 and temporarily housed in an adapted house while the permanent location was built. The Banff Park Museum has been housed in its current home for 106 years, and is very compact but not crowded inside. The building’s interior is Douglas fir throughout, and the carved and hand-molded trimwork is absolutely lovely.

We walked from the museum to the main street and stopped for a cup of coffee and the biggest cranberry oatmeal cookie you ever saw. It was less a cookie and more like a flattened muffin. This served as lunch and provided us a great place to sit and read today’s news. Fortunately someone had left today’s Calgary paper, all sections. We slowly finished our coffee and “muffin” and shopped a little.

Picture of Pavilion at Cave and Basin

Picture of Pavilion at Cave and Basin

Our three hour parking place was expiring. We hopped into the truck and drove to the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, just two kilometers from downtown (nothing is far from here). The parking lots for the Cave and Basin are tremendous, and we didn’t count more than a dozen cars or pickup trucks parked. It is difficult to imagine over a thousand people thronging the exhibits and walkways, and we’re glad we picked a light day for our touring.

Our favorite part may have been the 30 minute video shown in the nice theater, a replica of the 1887 bathhouse. The movie depicted the 1883 discovery of Banff’s hot springs by the McCardell Brothers and Frank McCabe. It explains the rapid popularization of the springs, conflicting land claims, and the eventual dominion by Canada. The result is the beginning of the world’s largest national park system. The video was nicely done, entertaining and interesting.

picture of the original basin

picture of the original basin

No less interesting are the exhibits and self-guided tour around the springs up the hill from the bath house and tea house. We saw the cave opening, as depicted in the video, and could just imagine the three young men building their small log cabin nearby. And we saw the original bathing basin as well as the long pool, added in 1902. Throughout the entire visit the smell of the sulphur-scented spring water was pervasive. It reminded Jim of our visit to the geysers in Yellowstone — very same smell, without the eruptions. The springs at Cave and Basin only gurgle and flow downhill.

picture of Banff Springs Hotel

picture of Banff Springs Hotel

We drove to the National Historic Site of the Banff Springs Hotel. This is an unimaginably tremendous building, larger than any we saw last year in Glacier National Park in Montana or in Waterton, Alberta. We were sort of expecting another of the really pretty and rustic 1890’s railway hotels. Not here! The Banff Springs Hotel seems more on the order of the Grove Park Inn, perhaps even with a little more polish. Unfortunately it appears some of the original charm is gone from Banff Springs Hotel with the year 2000 additions to the front and sides. We had difficulty imagining just how it looked then, and this may suit the current owner and managing company just fine. They do not seem to be selling nostalgia as much as “resort hotel”.

picture of people in pool

picture of people in pool

Now it’s our time for a nice hot soak at the Banff Upper Hot Springs. We have carried our swim suits and towels in the truck, hoping we would be able to take advantage of this. We enjoyed a relaxing half-hour in the 39C (102F) water. While we thought the water could have been warmer by a few degrees the 39C is both safer for many of the bathers and still plenty to warm and relax us. The bath house, locker roooms, and soaking pool are well-organized and operated and it was very pleasant.

We showered, dressed, thoroughly warmed, and drove back down the hill to again. It was more difficult to find a place to park the truck. We finally found free three-hour curbside parking beside Safeway food store. By now it is after six o’clock p.m. and we didn’t really have lunch. A short walk to the center of town and we found an okay diner/pub upstairs over the coffee shop we’d patronized earlier today.

We enjoyed a nice dinner of ribs and fish and chips downtown at The Elk and Oarsman Pub and Grill, then decided to split up and tackle two important jobs. Debbie took the most important job — she picked up the groceries at Safeway. Jim walked to Starbucks with the laptop and one of the portable ham radios. He answered a few emails and updated our blog. When Debbie called him from the truck, Jim wrapped up the laptop stuff and met her as she drove up outside Starbucks.

It was a fantastic, if long, day. We arrived back home just before ten o’clock p.m. Our campground’s signs say “Full”. We wonder if, like us, everyone arrives Thursday evening for the weekend? Most people we’ve met or noticed haven’t stayed more than a couple of days, though. Every site we drove by was full except the one beside us. Not a problem for us — the last people were in late and left before we awoke.

We unpacked the truck and put clothes and groceries away. While Debbie repackaged some of the food to fit into our fridge and pantry, Jim cropped and edited pictures and updated our journal. Probably because of the Starbucks coffee, at 0145 the next morning, Jim was still going strong. Oh well, we’re behind on journalling and this stuff needed doing anyway.

Jim and Debbie
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One response to “What’s a visit to Banff Park without going to Banff?

  1. Some beautiful pictures and narrative. I hope to see it some day!

    Great posts!!

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