After a successful summer trip with George and Sarah, we decided to take an extended weekend vacation to Banff, Canada and pamper ourselves with a stay at the Fairmont Spa + Resort. Interestingly, Banff is equidistant from Chicago and the Bay Area. George and Sarah were to arrive Thanksgiving night and we were to follow on Friday. As is the state of affairs with air travel these days, both of us were late. George and Sarah had to endure a re-route via Montreal, as their original booked flight had been removed from the schedule and they were not notified, and this was the only option! Betsey and I had to endure a +2 hour delay at SFO as we waited for a cockpit switch to be flown up from Fresno before we could depart. The one bright spot was that the SkyWest personnel were nice and the pilot pushed the flight plan to make up some time.
Up at a decent time on Saturday and with a quick breakfast at the snack bar, we met George and Sarah and it was off to take in the winter wonderland. Our plan was to take the scenic drive along the Bow Valley Parkway to Lake Louise and stop along the way for pictures and a hike, if the weather cooperated. Johnston Canyon was our first stop and we had a great hike through this frozen canyon to both Lower and Upper falls. A limestone formation has been shaped into a steep canyon from over 350 million years of water flow and produced walls as high as 100 feet and in some places less than 20 feet across. There is an elaborate trail system with suspended walkways bolted to the rock to lift you over sensitive and wet sections.
The Bow Valley is quite spectacular as you drive along with towering peaks and the visual evidence of geological uplift in the slanted layers all around. Lake Louise is a picture perfect spot and was hosting a World Ski Cup event, so it was a bit crowded. We wandered around, decided that the Banff Fairmont was much nicer and headed back for a snooze and dinner.
Sulfur Mountain & Sanson's Peak
Sunday was local time. We started with a gondola ride to Mount Sulphur, directly above Banff, that has a view that goes on and on and on. There are 6 mountain ranges converging on the Bow Valley, (from West clockwise) Massive, Sawback, Vermillion, Palliser, Fairholme and Sundance. The Canadian Rockies are composed of sedimentary rock, including shale, sandstone, limestone and quartzite, that originated as deposits in a shallow inland sea. The geologic formations in Banff range in age from Precambrian eon to the Jurassic period. The mountains were formed 80–120 million years ago, as a product of thrust faults. Once at the top, you can hit the observation roof as well as hike to Sanson's Peak, named after a local weatherman and curator of the Banff National Park Museum in the early 1900's, Norman Sanson. He would ascend from the valley floor every two weeks to monitor his weather observation equipment and helped provided valuable research into explaining Chinook Winds. At times the weather would dictate that he stay overnight, and within the hut was a bunk bed, stove, desk and a stock pile of canned goods. The ledger at the peak tells that on some days it would take all of daylight, about 9 hours, to reach the hut. The stone hut still remains and was used as a cosmic ray station until 1978. The views are sweeping and you can let your mind wander and visualize hunkering down up here during an intense storm and what kind of fury Mother Nature could unleash.
After a few hours out in the cold we treated ourselves to the Banff Upper Hot Springs, the only public access natural hot springs in the area. It seems that a dispute over the ownership of these springs helped trigger the development of Banff as Canada's first national park in 1885. After a good soak, we headed back to the hotel and then strolled down Banff Ave to do some obligatory shopping. My eyes grew large upon seeing the numerous candy stores with a wide range of sweets from all over the globe. The stores and streets were absolutely clean and well kept, and we headed back to the hotel for a bit of rest before dinner.
We finished off the trip in style at the Eden restaurant (5 Diamonds) which was offering a 50% savings thru the month of November. It was enthusiastically recommend by the staff at the Fairmont and did not disappoint. Located in the RimRock hotel, the dining room wraps around the building and has a great view to go with great food and some of the best service Betsey and I have ever experienced.
We left for home on Monday as a huge snow storm was raging in Chicago, and just as luck was not on our side on the flight to Calgary, it paid us a return favor with a 3+ hour delay due to our aircraft coming in from Chicago! At least on the return trip for George and Sarah they had luck going their way with an on-time flight.
May our paths & errands meet