Tidewater Traveler - October 2007

The Grand Canadian Rockies


George Sellers

    I am often asked about travel patterns and destination choices that people are generally making. “George, you always seem to be busy; where are folks going?”
     A fairly accurate answer to that question is “Everywhere!” There are very few places on the globe where people are not traveling. During the summer of 2007, one of the hottest (figuratively) destinations for travelers from DelMarVa was the mountainous region of Western Canada, also known as the Grand Canadian Rockies.
     Two tourists to explore the Canadian Rockies in 2007 are my client and friend Martha Hudson and her travel companion, Bob. Many readers of this column know Martha to be an accomplished watercolor artist, but she is also a good writer, so I took advantage of a wonderful opportunity and asked Martha to write a short narrative describing her trip. Enjoy...

    In Canada they sing a song in which each verse ends with a chorus of “Trees and Rocks...and Water.” That about sums up what you will see on a tour of the Canadian Rockies, about 90 percent of which is traveled within National Parks. In the 10 percent spent in towns and resorts I would add – “flowers” thriving on seventeen hours of sunshine each summer day, spilling in profusion from every lamp post, window box and garden.
Our tour began in Calgary in the Province of Alberta, where Bob and I met our tour bus and tour director. Beautiful pastoral scenes were quickly behind us as we approached the Rocky Mountains. It’s a pity that the word awesome has been so abused that it has lost its meaning, for it would be useful in describing the Rocky Mountains. There really is not a word that can adequately describe those majestic soaring peaks.
     The town of Banff marks the beginning of Banff National Park. There we spent two nights at the magnificent Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. The original hotel opened in 1888 on the side of Sulphur Mountain overlooking the Bow River. It was built by William Cornelius van Horne, vice president of the newly completed Canadian Pacific Railroad, soon after the discovery of hot mineral springs nearby. The combination of the railroad, the hot springs and the hotel was an irresistible draw.
     Van Horne’s rationale was, “We can’t export the scenery, but we can import the tourists.” How right he was! They came in droves to ‘take the waters’ and stay at the hotel at $3.50 per night including meals. Still they come, but not at that price. The old hotel was soon outgrown and the present one was begun in 1911 in the style of a Scottish castle, housing 22,000 guests per annum.
     A morning raft trip on the Bow River afforded magnificent views of the mountains in every direction, and in the afternoon a gondola lifted us to the top of Sulphur Mountain where an endless vista of mountain, ranges stretched in all directions.
     The trip from Banff to Lake Louise in Yoho National Park included stops at Moraine Lake and Emerald Lake. Then there was Natural Bridge, the first of several incredible waterfalls whose intense power has carved away rocks over the centuries creating deep chasms where torrents of water crash and church their way to the sea. Situated on the Continental Divide, their waters empty into the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans.
Lake Louise, like most of the lakes, is a beautiful turquoise color caused by thousands of years of minerals deposited by the snow melt. The lake is crowned by the Victoria Mountain glacier, inviting us to paddle a canoe and see it in all its glory.
     The trip from Lake Louise to Jasper was traveled entirely on the Ice Field Parkway, where we saw no sign of civilization, only the magnificent mountains soaring into the clouds on both sides of the road.
     We were treated to a walk on the Athabaska Glacier, which is fed by the Columbia Ice field. An ice explorer, a bus equipped with tremendous tires, transported us up the mountain. There we were buffeted by a chilling wind as we picked our way carefully on the ice – a bit surreal on a hot summer day.
     Our next destination was the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. It was 100 degrees! Never in recorded history had that occurred. The Canadians were freaking out! A storm that night cooled us off a bit.
     A day at leisure allowed me time to paint a quick plein air watercolor of Mt. Edith Cavell in the morning, and for Bob and me to paddle that afternoon for yet another view of those magnificent mountains. (What a shame to show it in black and white, but included here is a photo of Martha’s quick watercolor).
    In Jasper we boarded The Canadian of Via Rail, Canada, which crosses Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific. From the dome car we could see Mt. Robson at 12,970 feet, the highest peak in the Rockies. The scenery was total wilderness, only mountains and forest as we followed the Fraser River in the Province of British Columbia.
     Our little compartment on the train housed two chairs, a large window, a sink and a concealed toilet. This was all magically transformed into upper and lower bunks while we sipped champagne in the club car and dined in the dining car, evoking fond memories of my youth when sleeping on the train was common practice.
     Shortly after breakfast we arrived at Vancouver and back to civilization, where we visited Stanley Park and a fabulous street market. The next morning a ferry took us to Victoria and the famous Butchart Gardens where, ironically, of all days, it rained. Umbrellas were provided and, even in the rain, it was fantastically gorgeous.
     Yes, this was a ‘tour’: and yes, we were tourists, which means that for eight days we were herded like sheep, but when you consider the magnitude and the variety of the scenery we enjoyed plus the first-class accommodations and the new friends we made, the logistics of doing it on our own would have been overwhelming. It was a no-brainer, no hassle, no stress. Being so pampered was what made it a total vacation.

    I hope you enjoyed Martha’s travel narrative as much as I did. If you would like to see her painting in color, visit www.SellersTravel.com Judging by the bookings already received, 2008 promises to also be a banner year for travel to the Canadian Rockies. As with most destinations there are many ways to do the trip. Consult your travel planner to help you decide what will be best for you.
     May all of your travels be happy and safe!


George Sellers and his wife Priscilla are Certified Travel Counselors and Accredited Cruise Counselors who own Travel Selections by Priscilla and George, Inc. and the popular travel Web site www.sellerstravel.com