Have you ever been to Banff before? Because Christ on a cracker, is it one of the most stunning places I’ve ever visited or what? I’ve logged visits to 44 of the 50 U.S. states, and while there are some amazingly stunning parts of my own country, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a spot quite as spectacular as Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies.
While I had all these grand plans of hiking and canoeing and other things outdoorsy and calorie-burning during my three days in Banff and Lake Louise following the magnificent journey aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, I’m sorry to say that Evan and I pretty much spent an entire afternoon atop Sulphur Mountain just admiring the view.
I mean, wouldn’t you?
This is where we wished we’d stayed, the Fairmont Banff Springs.
Magnificent, right? Instead, we had to settle on dinner there at the chateau, before retreating to our own backpacker-like inn, which was charming in its own way.
On our last morning in Banff, we signed up for a wildlife tour. We had heard grand stories of all of this alleged wildlife that Canada boasts, but had yet to see a trace in the week we’d been bopping around BC and Alberta.
The tourism board rep we brunched with even went as far as to tell us of the “bear jams” when downtown Banff was thrown off course by a hungry visitor and how many mornings the elk in her backyard were so many, she couldn’t even open her door.
We figured this just a ploy by the tourism board to increase numbers—”Canada: Where the Moose Roam Free and the Locals Co-Exist Peacefully with the Bears”—as we had seen one “long-horned sheep” (AKA ram) on our 24 hours aboard the train, and little else besides some osprey and eagles. But we wanted the goods; give us the two-ton beasts. We’ll gladly make friends.
So when we boarded our tour bus, we took an informal poll of our fellow tourists to inquire as to whom had actually had a real wildlife sighting (sheep and birds so don’t count). Twelve of the 14 raised their hands, the two losers with their arms firmly pinned to their sides being Evan and me. Boy, did we feel like the cool kids on the bus. We did spot a horse, oh but he was on reins and pulling a cart.
And a chipmunk, which just about made my day. Evan, on the other hand, was not impressed. “It’s still a rodent!” she exclaimed. True, but a cute one at that.
So we had high hopes as we embarked on our wildlife excursion, as anyone who forked over $55 for a three-hour tour (a three-hour tour) might. Instead, we had a gem of a guide (the sarcasm, it drips from the keyboard) who claimed to work on some big bear project but refused to take us anywhere near where the bears supposedly chill. But we want bears! GIVE US ALL YOUR BEARS, PLEASE.
I even brought a pot of honey and everything (I hear it helps to establish rapport)! And just to further ensure that there was no way a bear would stick around for our arrival, Douche Guide would yell out, “Ho Bear!” to scare them all off as we approached (something to do with a Pavlovian association between that phrase and them getting whacked in the butt with a dart; I don’t blame them, if someone was using my behind as a target, I might be inclined to run the opposite way, too). But hey, we saw plenty of scat (AKA poop if we’re being uncouth), and as our guide pointed out, “that’s wildlife, too, you know.” Touche.
In the end, we saw two ground squirrels, some juniper, and a lot of tracks, indicating that a bear, wolf and some elk had been somewhere in the area sometime in the past months or so. Unfortunately, we didn’t see them, so I guess we’ll just have to return…