Calgary to Banff – into the Rockies

I’m back home in Whitehorse now, but would like to show you the past few days in southern Alberta and British Columbia, including a particularly wonderful 24 hours in the Rockies.

Last Monday I went into Calgary with my daughter, to drop my grand-daughters off at school. This was the drive home – yuch in every way!

Andrea wasn’t feeling well so I drove to the Aero Space Museum of Calgary, a few miles away at the airport. The airport is being expanded and the primary road access has been changed recently, so my GPS initially led me to a dead-end, but I got it figured out.

Aero Space Museum of Calgary

Walking into the main exhibit hall raised my heartbeat a few notches 🙂 There’s a wide variety of exhibits, including model aircraft ranging from a foot or so long to full-size. The Avro Canada C102 Jetliner model seen here is about 6 feet long. Designed and built in Ontario, it first flew in 1949 and was the world’s first regional jet passenger plane.

Videos bring some exhibits to life – some exhibits are coded so videos can be watched on SmartPhones.

RCAF battle and dress uniforms are on display.

The cockpits of most of the aircraft can be seen – for higher aircraft, from viewing platforms.

There are several more aircraft in a tent hangar – the size of the Avro Lancaster Mk X surprised me. I imagined the massive bomb bay doors opening above my city in 1945! 🙁

Everyone within a few hundred miles has heard of Balzac, Alberta, since the construction of the Cross Iron Mills mall. When I went looking for the actual town, I found that it’s only a classic 1920s gas station, 2 churches and a community hall.

Vintage gas station at Balzac, Alberta

Monday’s big event wasn’t visiting a museum or a tiny hamlet, it was Hallowe’en. My twin grand-daughters got dressed up early and patiently waited for darkness 🙂

Ready for Hallowe'en!

There was a very cold wind blowing, but my daughter and I walked around the neighbourhood with the girls for an hour or so, resulting in a fine stash of treats for them! Andrea and I got to share in the evening’s sugar-rush, too 🙂

Trick or Treating

On Tuesday morning, I started the drive back to Kelowna, taking backroads whenever possible. This is Big Hill Springs Road, between Airdrie and Cochrane, at about 9:30.

Big Hill Springs Road, between Airdrie and Cochrane, Alberta

A sign pointing to Big Hill Springs Park intrigued me enough to make a detour and then to go for a walk into the park to see the waterfalls and tufa features that were the reasons for the park’s creation.

Waterfall at Big Hill Springs Park, Alberta

It was definitely a worthwhile stop. I had the park to myself when I arrived, but met several people on my way down the hill. This is the most impressive section of the main tufa wall – though the wall is noted on the map at the park entrance, it takes some exploring off the hiking trail to find this apparently little-visited spot.

Tufa wall at Big Hill Springs Park, Alberta

The community of Cochrane always stops me – there are a lot of people moving there to take advantage of the beautiful surroundings and easy access to Calgary. These homes are in a development at Cochrane Lakes – the swans certainly love the place!

New homes at Cochrane, Alberta

The Ghost Dam, built in 1929, created a lovely and now very popular lake with about 32 kilometers (20 miles) of shore line.

Ghost Dam, Alberta

This charming little floathouse is on Ghost Lake, in a bay near the dam. The bay is quiet now but looks like it could get very busy in the summer.

Houseboat on Ghost Lake, Alberta

I’d stopped at the Morleyville church before, but the day was so perfect I decided to have a thorough look at the site this time. The church was built in 1875, and was the centre of a thriving community which is all gone now. A series of interpretive signs do a good job of guiding visitors around the church and the old townsite below.

Morleyville Mission, Alberta

After leaving, I drove up into the hills about a mile to get this broad view of the Morleyville site.

Morleyville, Alberta

The road signs approaching the new community of Morley all point travellers to the Highway 1 freeway just south of that community, but I kept going on Highway 1A. Getting this shot on 1A just west of Morley required a U-turn and a short walk.

Along Highway 1A west of Morley, Alberta

Centred around the community of Exshaw are several plants mining the limestone mountains. This photo looks back towards Exshaw.

Along Highway 1A west of Exshaw, Alberta

From a point near Canmore through to Banff I got forced onto the freeway, but only for about 20 minutes.

Highway 1, Canmore, Alberta

My first stop once I left the freeway near Banff was Lake Minnewanka.

Lake Minnewanka - Banff, Alberta

Three mule deer were having lunch at the Lake Minnewanka parking lot.

Mule deer at Lake Minnewanka - Banff, Alberta

Nature rules in much of the Canadian Rockies now, but industry had a huge, heavy footprint a century ago. This was the coal mining town of Bankhead in 1911 – it was located between Lake Minnewanka and the Banff townsite.

Coal mining at Bankhead, Alberta in 1911

From 1949 until 1998, the Banff National Army Cadet Camp was located in this meadow just north of town. In its later years it was considered tro be the premiere training facility in the Royal Canadian Army Cadet system.

Banff National Army Cadet Camp

Cascade Ponds is a particularly attractive picnic site.

Cascade Ponds - Banff

Although I really wanted to check into my hotel early, with perfect conditions, I decided to go up the Sulphur Mountain gondola first. This is my hotel from the gondola.

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel - Banff, Alberta

The amazing view from the upper terminus of the gondola.

Banff from the Sulphur Mountain gondola

The Sulphur Mountain gondola.

Sulphur Mountain gondola

A boardwalk and stairs take visitors all the way from the gondola station, seen in the distance, to the top of Sanson Peak, elevation 2,256 meters (7,402 feet).

Sanson Peak, Banff

Mount Louis, one of the classic climbs in the Rockies, seen from near the summit of Sanson Peak. It’s 2,682 meters (8,799 feet) high.

Mount Louis, Banff

Yes, Nanook came on the climb to Sanson Peak with me 🙂

Nanook on Sanson Peak, Banff

The commercial center of Banff from Sanson Peak.

Aerial view of Banff, Alberta

Some very hardy trees on Sanson Peak.

Sanson Peak, Banff

The Fairmont Banff Springs is (or was) the only hotel on my bucket list, and it didn’t disappoint. This was my room, #623.

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

I first saw the Banff Springs in 1958 on a family road trip to see relatives in Alberta. I remember my father saying something to the effect of “we’ll never see the inside of that hotel” because that’s where rich people stay. It is pricey but it’s also one of the finest, most unique hotels in North America. I was sorry to have missed the hour-long tour of the hotel that’s done daily at 3:00pm.

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

A statue of Sir William Cornelius Van Horne stands in the courtyard between the hotel and the much newer conference center. It was his vision that led to the construction of the hotel in 1888.

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

As it got dark I saw this buck mule deer on the lawn overlooking the Bow River. I was already very sorry that this trip would only allow for one night and a quick look at the hotel…

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel


Calgary to Banff – into the Rockies — 3 Comments

  1. You used to be able to walk all the way up to the source of Big Hill Springs, and drink the water straight from the source. Unfortunately it’s now blocked off, but I guess it still lives on in many people’s memories. I still try to make it out there at least once a year.

  2. I had planned on walking up to the source, as the map at the park entrance says that you can. I was very surprised to see the trail blocked off with wire and tape, though many people just go up into the forest around it and then back onto the old trail. Appears to me to be a property-ownership dispute.

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