The second half of our three week Canadian leg with my parents saw us depart from Jasper heading South. What awaited us was one incredible glassier-filled road, the biggest rodeo in the world, and the amazing semi-desert of the Canadian Valleys region.
Surely one the most stunning national park regions in North America, Jasper, Banff, and the surround national parks stretch northwards, following the Rockies along the state divide between Canada’s British Columbia and Alberta states.
The scenic 93 road cuts right down the middle of these parks, following the Rockies, connecting Jasper to Banff. This amazing road has been dubbed the Ice Field Parkway, and for good reason.
The Ice Field Parkway provides views and access to one of the most stunning Ice Field regions in the world, and our route, from Jasper to Banff and beyond to Calgary, took us right through it. The ice often piled hundreds of feet high on tops of mountains.
A hike up to the toe of a glassier was a huge highlight, as was a difficult mosquito-filled trek up to a viewpoint that provided a vista to equal any we had seen in Patagonia or anywhere on our trip so far.
The drive down from the rockies to the town of Golden, and our accommodation for the night of a beautiful huge cabin, was almost as equally stunning as the Ice Field Parkway. Almost an hour of descending through pine filled valleys punctuated with waterfalls and tight bends and populated with Bighorn Sheep we arrived, only to have to drive back up the following day. Our 19 year old car protested a the long hills but delivered us all to our next stop of Canmore.
Canmore, situated right on the Eastern edge of Banff national park proved to be a great stopover town. After tirelessly moving from place to place and cramming our days full of hikes and fresh water swimming we decided to take a day or two to relax and do not a lot. “Relaxing’ in our books includes eating and sleeping too much, and we hit the jackpot at the superb Georgetown Inn with their massive breakfasts and huge rooms with jacuzzi baths.
We hit the road again, and after a relatively short drive which saw the scenery dramatically change in a matter of miles from mountain to prairie, arrived in Calgary.
Several weeks before, when planning the Canadian leg of our journey with my parents, my Mum had suggested we go the the Calgary Stampede. Not knowing too much about the stampede, the only thing we had head about it was from my Brother-in-law, who had told us he had had three of the best days of his life when he had attended some years earlier.
Arriving to the Stampede park in rain so heavy it may have been the beginning of a biblical flood. We resisted the temptation to build an ark and instead, waiting for the rain to ease, went to explore. We soon discovered the Stampede is an event of mammoth proportions and there is a lot of fun to be had and food to be eaten. We had booked tickets to the evening show that night which included Chuck Waggon Racing.
Chuck Waggon Racing is awesome! It is somewhere between those scenes in old Western films where the bandits chase the waggon with the gold inside, and chariot racing of Roman times. Unfortunately there was no betting allowed, so Lyndsay and I decided to make it more interesting by betting between ourselves with the money we had. Regardless of the fact that the money came from a joint pot, I’m pleased to say that I came out with significantly heavier pockets than poor Lyndsay.
After the Chuck Waggon racing the evening show started. It was quite extraordinary. Hundreds of show participants put on an amazing spectacle with singing, fireworks and a number of stunt teams performing a variety of death defying and impressive acts. The evening went from “ooooh”, to “wow”, to “ahhh”, with only a little nausea caused by the sickly sweet performances of the Young Canadians. Imagine the Disney Kids Academy on speed and you’re somewhere close.
The next day we returned to the Stampede park for the Rodeo how to spot a fake rolex submariner with impressive horsemanship displays and half brave half crazy bull riders pitting themselves against car-sized bulls. My mum, Samantha, took a liking to a horse rider called Mary, who, at 67 years old, competed and won a speed riding event. So much so she went and got a picture with her Texan heroine.
We departed Calgary and the Stampede full of both beer and appreciation for the skill of the Rodeo contestants. Our next destination a long drive West and South towards the lakes and valleys that divide Calgary and Vancouver.
Back on the highway, we drove to the town of Revelstoke and then South along a tiny deserted road with many Osprey nests perched atop of telegraph poles, the Ospreys vigilantly poking their heads out of the top of the nests to look as we passed. After 50 miles or so the road just ended in the middle of nowhere by the waters edge. Here, we would get on an incredibly peaceful ferry that took us the couple of miles across Arrow Lake where the road restarted the other side.
A few miles down the road, we found the tiny town of Nakusp where we decided to stay for two nights in the beautiful surroundings on the Arrow Lake. The Arrow Lake itself is an amazing 230 km long and rocky headlands and steep cliffs rise out of the freezing waters. I have never been one to let good judgement get in the way of a bad idea, so when my Mum dared me to swim in the lake during a walk around the town I stripped off for a skinny dip. All I can say is that my package did not thank me as I got in. 10 seconds later I was back out. You could hardly call it a swim, but nevertheless taking a dip in those incredible surroundings was pretty memorable.
After Nakusp we headed for the Okanagan valley and for the picturesque Peachland. We stopped on the way for refreshing lake swim where my Mum and I mistook weed in the water for an underwater attacker. Peachland is a town right in the middle of the Canadian wine country. Neither Lyndsay or I had any idea Canada even had a wine country, and we were pleasantly surprised when the quality of the wine was really good. We were informed by a local that, amazingly, it is not uncommon for temperatures to reach 35oc in the summer in the Okanagan, and the vast majority of days are cloudless and sunny. It reminded us very much of the wine producing hills of California.
Peachland signalled the final night with my parents before we had to sadly say goodbye to them. So, at 9pm sitting in a hot tub overlooking the semi-desert hills at a local B&B, we reminisced about the last three weeks together and talked about Lyndsay and my plans for our return. The past few weeks travelling with my parents had taken the focus away from the fact that our trip was drawing to an end, and now was starting to dawn on us clicking here that in just three weeks we would have to say goodbye to this incredible trip and to this life of wanderlust we had become so accustomed.