“You want to go where?” I asked the husband. “We paid the bill for the upcoming river cruise for May. Now you want to go to someplace in August? Show me the itinerary. I don’t know if I’ll be ready to travel again that soon.” As I read the description in the Roadscholar catalog, I went to Google to search locate Banff. It’s about ninety miles from Calgary according to the map is in the province of Alberta, east of British Columbia on the Pacific Coast.
The description shouts at me like a barker at the Texas State Fair. The price appears reasonable as the fees cover airfare, a transfer to and from the airport, all meals, except two, rooms at the Banff Conference Centre, a local guide for the week and much more. August in the mountains? A local guide? Lectures on the local scenery and history? I’m ready to register!
My husband and I traveled with the Roadscholar organization several years ago to Lafayette, Louisiana and enjoyed it. We learned to dance, visited an accordion factory and listened to Zydeco music. A large, creaky boat slid through the swamps with alligators. Cajun food and sumptuous specialties added to our girth.
Within five minutes I decide that Banff might be cooler and more captivating than Texas in August. Not having to drive in the mountains meant far less stress in my life. Ted and I don’t always agree on speed limits in the mountains.
Banff Conference Center
I knew little about Banff Centre, where we stayed, until after we arrived. In my own words, it’s a non-credit haven for artists who want to improve themselves, away from the drudgery of everyday life for classes and community with other artists. Sculptors, painters, potters, actors, producers, video wizards and even mathematicians from around the world apply for limited openings in their classes. The Centre has ten or twelve buildings, a huge fitness center, restaurants, four small theaters, a large theater, and a film production center with one of those big green screens the “big boys” use in California.
If you only have a few minutes don’t visit their website. You need a minimum of half an hour to grasp the extent of the various programs, events, and variety of activities. We were privy to many of the short films for their upcoming Film Festival. Their audio-visual equipment is top-notch with the latest technology. They offer study and research in an extraordinary number of areas. I would love to attend an author’s program but not in the winter.
The staff at the Conference Centre where we stayed do not work for the RoadScholar organization, but a joint effort. The sleeping rooms are not fancy but comfortable. The water pressure works and the water runs hot and cold. (Texans rarely have cold water in the faucet in summertime). Although the beds are comfortable, we could have slept on rocks from fatigue at night.
The Roadscholar leadership impresses us. People in our group arrive from across the US. with a few from Canada and outside the US. We number 120 to 130 in the big group. Each of the four groups has its own local guide. Our guide was funny, knowledgeable and kept us moving from breakfast through dinner.
Both Ted and I hike from 10,000-15,000 steps a day. The guide instills confidence in our group. “No, it’s not too hilly. No, I’ve never lost anyone or had to carry anyone to the hospital from a fall. Yes, it’s worth the hike to see the waterfall, but you might not want to take the time to walk to the larger one if you walk slowly.” He happened to snap a picture of me at the worst moment of the trip. I conquered the stony upward march to the top to view the stunning turquoise water in the lake below. Little pebbles, large rocks, and steep rock steps with no handrails keep me more alert than an eagle. One woman loses her cell phone but retraces her steps to the gift shop where a kind traveler had given it to the clerk.
Flowers bloom everywhere. My best moment arrived while gazing at the field of flowers climbing the mountainside at Emerald Lake. Lake Louise appears more often in brochures but I preferred Emerald Lake. The hill of flowers, produced by an avalanche, races toward the sky away from the pristine, turquoise water at the bottom of the mountain.
If you visit my FaceBook page for August 21-27 when I was there, you can see flower photos of my favorites that week. I try not to post photos when I’m out of town, as I’m told it may entice burglars to visit my home.
Bears, Geography, and Geology
Each group had an animal name. We were the Bears. I’m not sorry we didn’t run into bears as I’m fearless in front of dogs, but not around wild animals. The Bears enjoyed many lectures before trooping to the bus for excursions. My favorite lecture covered information on bears. A lady who works for the Canadian government gave us a lecture from her thirty years of experience living in the backcountry to study bears’ habits and protect them. Her long, curly hair reminded me of a hippy from the 70’s. She engaged the audience with her stories of vegetation for pregnant bears and the night she spent in her car with bears hovering outside the windows. The archeological history brought the latest insights for the audience. The geographer provided insight on the formation of the lakes, flooding, and related ecological challenges.
Several hilarious moments occurred along our path that week. I loved what happened when everyone on the bus was sleeping on a return to Banff. The guide wanted to show us something as we neared Banff and played roosters crowing. That woke everyone, even my husband, as we roared with laughter. Near the end of our trip, we hiked in a nearby park. Our group and the guide adhered to accurate schedules. That morning a few Bears lagged behind on the stony hillside. The guide, without thinking, yelled, “Bears. Come along now!” Although he shook with laughter, he realized what a mistake we witnessed as he called to us, his group of Bears. Only human Bears appeared on the trail that day.
I may write more about Banff for an upcoming travel anthology I’m thinking of compiling. I want feedback from you about this article to understand what I need to add or delete. I think I could write ten times the amount of information about Banff to share with you. Should I give more details about the food, the history or is this enough? Please send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next time you are puzzled about where to travel, think about Banff, regardless of the season. I’m told it is one of the most magnificent places in the world. And I agree.