Travel Trails By Martin B. Deutsch



May 1, 1965 -- Mountain peaks in endless formation pierce the sky and impale the drifting clouds; glaciers and ice fields reach down to the forests on the lower slopes; clear, green-blue lakes, filled with fish, reflect the splendor above; canyons and groves, rivers and streams round out the landscape, and an occasional town blends comfortably with nature's generous setting. The crisp, invigorating air alone is worth a visit.

You don't have to go very far to get here either. We're not talking about the Himalayas, the Andes, or even the Alps. Just those superb Canadian Rockies, which are virtually around the corner for many summer vacation-bound North Americans.

Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, our chief destinations, are easy to reach by car, rail or air. Whether you start out on the East Coast or the West Coast, or somewhere in the middle, the Trans-Canada Highway, which spans the continent, will deposit you swiftly and safely in Glacier National Park in the Province of Alberta. Just keep moving northwest and you'll find Banff and Jasper.

A growing number of tourists don't want to be diverted from the scenery (they'd rather handle a camera than the wheel of a car), so they'll pick up a train in a city like Vancouver or Calgary, and penetrate the Rockies in that way. (That's what we did just a few months ago, and it proved to be a spectacular trip. Details a few paragraphs further on.) Other travel possibilities include flights by Canadian Pacific Airlines or Air Canada into key cities on either side of the Rockies (the mountains run north to south), then take a train, rental car or motorcoach into Banff and Jasper.

You needn't deplete the family savings to make this memorable trip. There are dozens of camp grounds in the Banff and Jasper parks, with kitchen shelters, stoves, electricity for trailers, fireplaces and other equipment. Camping permits run $2 per week or 50 cents a night, cabin trailers are charged $3 per week and 75 cents a night, while trailer parks near Banff, for example, range to $1.50 daily.

There are a wide variety of other accommodations, too, from modestly priced hotels and motels, cottages, cabins, and auto-bungalow camps to de luxe resort hotels and lodges in Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper. AAA approved motels average from $8 to $12 for two, per night. Food prices are reasonable and the fare is hearty and simple. (I did find service at the more modest coffee-shop establishments throughout Alberta uniformly poor, but I had a few other complaints.) There's a $2 admission charge for a car, $3 with a trailer, at Canada's national parks. Effective for a year, a single permit will get you into any and all of the country's fine parks. Incidentally, many of the camp sites are free, while some of the fancier ones have community buildings and grocery stores. And keep in mind that the U.S. dollar gives you a premium of between seven and eight per cent in Canada.

As I've said, for what may well be the most exciting vacation you've ever treated the wife and youngsters to, the cost can be kept to a minimum. On the other hand, you can splurge to your heart's content. But the magnificent scenery and recreational opportunities of the Canadian Rockies are the same for all, whether you're at a 50-cents-a-night camp site, or a $40-a-day luxury resort.

As reported in last month's issue of Argosy, after a few days in Victoria and Vancouver, I boarded a Canadian Pacific streamliner, at seven-forty in the evening, explored the train, found it attractive and immaculate, learned from a porter that there were twenty-two cars, two wish vista domes, and turned in for a fairly good night's sleep. My roomette cost about $24 (Canadian) for the overnight trip, including run-of-the-menu breakfast and lunch. Regular coach is about $12.50, with the two meals. I arose early and had breakfast, because I'd been warned that for every passenger who gets a seat in a vista dome, three don't. An hour after breakfast, after maneuvering and pushing, the way you do in a New York subway, I finally got a vista-dome seat.

The wait was worth it, and I sat there for hours, looking at peaks, valleys, glaciers, rivers and sometime town. My seat companion, an instructor from the University of Oklahoma, told me we were running parallel with the Trans-Canada Highway, and that the drive was equally scenic. Canadian Pacific, incidentally, supplies you with a folder which describes and identifies every landmark and mountain you pass. Handy. I'm not going to dwell on the scenery here—there's just too much of it to pinpoint—but I do want to take my hat off to the engineers who conquered insurmountable natural obstacles to bring these trains across the Rockies. The tracks wind around through, up the sides and over the mountains, a dazzling feat.

In midafternoon, out silver-steel train drew into Banff, where I was met by George LesStrange, of the Alberta Tourist Association, my host and companion for the next five days. On our way into the Banff Spring Hotel, a Canadian Pacific property, George told me that Banff National Park was Canada's oldest and second largest (2,564 square miles), that Jasper to the northwest covered 4,200 square miles, and that while fishing (with license) was allowed in both parks, hunting was not. The parks are game sanctuaries and LesStrange promised we would see a few species roaming free. (For the hunters, there are regions east and south of the park, renowned for big game.) "The animals outside the park have a tendency to come in when the hunting season starts. They know which side their security is situated on," LesStrange said.

The town of Banff looks comfortable, quite modern, with a variety of shops, motels, gas stations and places to eat. We stopped at the Cascade Rock Gardens, which encircle the Administration Building, then checked in at the Banff Springs, a veritable castle in size and appearance, like most Canadian Pacific hotels. This one has 600 rooms, attractive college girls running the elevators, and courteous help. The Banff Springs is apparently "licensed," for we had cocktails, then dinner, which featured an excellent concoction of prawns in creole sauce.

In the morning, we drove to the Sulphur Mountain Gondola Lift, which bills itself as the "Skyway" to Banff's "top view." I wasn't disappointed. Cost is $2 for adults, $1 for children from five to fourteen, free under five. A gondola seats four. You travel steeply up 2,300 feet to the 7,500-foot level. At the top, we encountered brisk forty-degree weather (it was in the sixties eight minutes below, in Banff); a panoramic view, full circle; a talented photographer named Ed Hunter, and hot chocolate in the snack bar, which tasted mighty good. You look down on Banff, which lies in a valley surrounded by majestic peaks of up to 10,000 feet. It's a magnificent scenic spread, which attracts 200,000 visitors a year. The gondola is one of three such lifts in the Banff area.

We descended to visit the Luxton Museum (mounted wild life and Indian handiwork), the Buffalo Paddocks (there's no charge to view the herd) and the Cave and Basin Springs, with a hot pool of natural sulphur water and a fresh-water swimming pool. Open mid-May to early September, admission to the pools is 50 cents, half-price for the kids. The Upper Hot Springs are more elaborate and somewhat more expensive. Next, we went to Mount Norquay, which also has a chairlift, and LesStrange told me, fine skiing in the winter. We had lunch at Timberline, a handsome, relatively new Canadian Pacific motor-hotel.

That afternoon, we drove from Banff to Lake Louise, a distance of about forty miles, along the Trans-Canadian Highway. It was like moving through a sea of mountains. A scenic standout is Eisenhower Mountain, formerly named Castle Mountain.

It's impossible to get to know the names of all the peaks; there seem to be hundreds in any one area, and they look different from almost every position. Before we got to Lake Louise, we took a detour to Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks. Like a small, icy-green gem, the lake is a repository for the waters and glaciers of the mountains which come steeply down to its very shores. The peaks average about 10,000 feet in height. What a spot for a honeymoon!

Lake Louise, about forty miles west of Banff, is the focal point of a picture-book setting, a camera buff's Shangri-La and an artist's delight. A small lake, too cold for swimming but ideal for canoeing, it has mountains on each side which seem to come together at the shoreline, like the V of a plunging neckline. Moving virtually into the lake between the mountains is the Victoria Glacier, whose vast while expanse is often wreathed in clouds. On the far shore facing this famous vista, sits the Chateau Lake Louise, another of Canadian Pacific's resort properties, this one with 400 rooms. The hotel and its grounds look spacious, distinguished, with fine lawns, trails for walking and horseback riding, lawn golf, a heated outdoor pool, and impressive ceremonies, with a bagpiper when the flag is lowered in the evening.

We had dinner in the high-ceiling dining room, seated alongside the picture windows which look out on the lake and glacier. Elegant dinning in a singular setting at a very modest cost. Afterward, we sat and chatted with Don Williams, the manager, who told us that the night before, three of the chefs had gone nearby Lake Margaret to fish, and caught fifty-six speckled trout in one hour. He said the smallest one made a "good meal" for one guest. Later, we drove back to Banff.

In the morning, before setting out for Jasper, we took a look at the Banff Springs' famous eighteen-hole golf course ($5 daily greens fee), as well as the indoor and outdoor swimming pools, both heated. We also spent thirty minutes touring the impressive camp grounds and trailer park at Tunnel Mountain, just outside of Banff. The set-up is scenic, spacious and attractive.

Then, off to Jasper! You must go by way of Lake Louise, but this time instead of the Trans-Canada Highway, we took Route 1A, a more rugged and picturesque road, which passes through Johnston Canyon, a worthwhile alternative. At Lake Louise, we picked up Canada's renowned Ice-Field Highway, which runs 142 miles to Jasper and links the Banff and Jasper parks. This multi-lane, modern speedway is without doubt one of the most scenic roadways in the world, and the drive (at a relaxed sixty miles per hour) is one of the highlights of the trip. Just one word of caution: you can get a little peaked by so many peaks and glaciers, valleys and rivers, lakes and snow fields, and you risk the possibility of becoming groggy from just too much to see. My advice is to take the trip slowly, stop for coffee when a snack shack shows up, drop in on the fabulous Columbia Ice Field, and keep in mind that there are numerous camp sites, many free, as well as a few cottage colonies, along the way. We saved the actual "exploration" for the return trip the next day.

On the way, LesStrange told me about the fish in the area, including six varieties of trout (cutthroat, speckled, bull, rainbow, splake and lake), and Rocky Mountain whitefish. There's a Park Fish Hatchery five miles east of Jasper, which is open to visitors. Fishing license are available from Park Information Centers, sporting-goods stores, park wardens or camp-ground attendants.

We arrived in Jasper in midafternoon, checked into the Athabasca Hotel, an informal, pleasant place, with rates as low as $8.50 for two. We took a short tour of the town and the area which seems more casual, spread out and slightly less developed than Banff. We drove through the grounds of the handsome and rustic Jasper Park Lodge, which operates on the American Plan, and offers guests an eighteen-hole golf course, tennis, a heated swimming pool, a recreation hall and dancing. It is owned and operated by Canadian National Railways, which crosses the Rockies through this section of the Jasper park.

There's also a Sky Tram which carries up to thirty passengers to the summit of Whistlers Mountain (7,431 feet), for a dramatic, sweeping view of the Jasper area. Adults $3; children four to twelve, $1.50. One of the most dominant landmarks in the area, and one which seems visible from every point, is the soaring façade of Mount Edith Cavell, which rises to 11,000 majestic feet.

We dined at the Athabasca Hotel, where we had shrimp cocktail, salmon, dessert and coffee for $2.75. Then we took a run along the Yellowhead Trail—a sort of back road among the mountains—in the shape of spotting deer or mountain sheep. But we weren't lucky.

Before returning to the hotel, I bought my wife a duty-free cashmere stole from Scotland, which they ship to your home by way of Vancouver, or some such thing; and LesStrange showed me the latest local fishing information, which was posted on the door of the supply store. I also learned that night that there's no mixing of men and women in Alberta's bars; a man must sit with his date on the ladies' side of the partition. Quite sensible.

In the morning, we started back toward Banff, and again I marveled at the way the snow patches on the peaks seemed impervious to the sun's rays. If you like mountains, this is it!

On the way to the ice field, we saw an eight-point deer, preening just off the road; and I noticed you get a broader view of the glaciers when driving south. The Columbia fields are said to be 20,000 years old and they cover about 120 square miles, the slowly receding ice and debris of three glaciers, which feed rivers that run to the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans. You can take a forty-five-minute, five-mile tour on the fields via snowmobile, which is open at the top, moves on treads, carries nine people and has a driver-guide, who is usually a college student. They charge $2 for this unusual and extremely interesting jaunt; youngsters from five to fourteen pay $1 and younger children ride free. No matter how warm the day, soup and coffee feel just right after crossing the ice fields. Our last stop before returning to Banff was at Peyto Lookout, for a magnificent view of the Peyto Glacier, Peyto Lake and the falls and ranges to the north.

From Banff, we drove seventy-five miles to Calgary, where there's a gradual transition from the Rockies to gentle, rolling hills. Calgary is spread out, like a typical western community, with the Bow River running through the city. I spent the night at the Palliser, another excellent Canadian Pacific hotel, where I had the best meal of the trip—a full-course steak affair for $5.95. (Prime-rib dinner costs only $3.95.) In the morning, I boarded an Air Canada jet for Toronto and New York.

This column originally appeared in Argosy magazine.

Copyright © 1962-2007 by Martin B. Deutsch. All rights reserved.