Bears, Banff, and a Zucchini Tower (British Columbia – PART 1)

I have just gone from a person who once thought they saw a moose cross the road, at night, far away, in a snow storm to… someone who definitely just saw a moose cross the road, far away, at dusk, in the fall.

Awesome.

We are in British Columbia, just north of Smithers.  Yesterday we drove through Banff and Jasper national parks, winding again through beautiful forests past magestic peaks… blah, blah, blah.  The whole thing was more or less obscured from site by the low hanging pillows of clouds and the sheets of rain attached to them, but alas, read on…

Canmore was a cozy little mountain town just past Banff, with excellent eateries, shops, and galleries.  After walking out of one of the most eco-friendly public restrooms I’ve ever seen – I’m talking, solar panels, efficient hand dryers, no paper towels, double flush toilets, grey-water system… the works! – I spotted canmore’s version of street vermin:  A fuzzy grey and white hare, who greeted Natalie and I at the corner of a sidewalk and parking lot.

We dined for the second time on the trip that night at what appeared to be a surprisingly authentic mexican restaurant.  Tortilla soup for her, ‘zucchini tower’ for me. (suposedly a zucchini lasagna, but actually a delicious pile of zucchini slices, some sort of ranchero sauce, and LOTS of cheese.)

For dessert: Rolaids.

We slept in the car for the first time that night about 25 clicks (rest-of-the-world slang for kilometers) outside of town in a quiet mountain-factory village.  Past a half-a-dozen ‘DANGER! Mountain Sheep Crossing!’ signs we pulled into a nondescript parking lot, atop a hill, overlooking a smuldering cancer on the landscape.  Some sort of radioactive-looking steel sandcastle built on the shore of what otherwise would have been a beautiful river…  Though tucked away, probably knowingly from the tourists and snow bums, it was not uncommon to see these sleepy, mono-industry towns on our travels…

The next day we drove back to canmore for what was either the best cup of coffee and bagel I had ever had, or just perfect timing, as I sat in a comfy chair and sipped hot liquid and filled my once-granola filled belly with hot fresh food after a long, cold drive and a short, cramped, cold night.

So, despite the rain, driving through Banff and Jasper was beautiful, and as we ventured north the air got cleaner, and the rain less frequent.  We drove until 10:30pm and stopped for our second night in the car just outside of Japser.  Briefly we had looked to stay at a hostel and take a narrated mountain tram-ride in the morning, but descided against it, as unfitting with out more utilitariam objectives of driving to Alaska, not spending money on variety, fun, or extra travel…

However, the day after that found us in Stewart, (boardered with Hyder, Alaska), a 120 km side trip to view a creek, which the US government tells its paying viewers often has grizzlies.  (We saw none.  Just tired salmon and seagulls.)  Despite our best conservative efforts, we needed bed-sleep, and the prospect of seeing grizzlies changed our temporary utilitarian ways, and migrant-minded travelers we again became!

On a side note, it was actually the drive to Stewart, which bestowed upon me the awesome priviledge of finally  becoming a moose-viewer…
(Only 24 hours later I will move up yet another level in the game of moose-viewing – but that night I was enthused to all ends.  I thought every stump was a bear and swore I saw something moose-like move behind every tree thereafter.  Only once, on the glacier highway, off of 37, on the road to Stewart, later that night, would it be true. (and by true I mean that Natalie saw it too and confirmed, what might otherwise be a reprise of my boyish critter-excitement)
It was a black bear.
Fuzzy and cute – Natalie and I discussed our (read, ‘my’) dreams of snuggling with bears and making bear friends.  As you can see, I am definitely your typical 24 year old, graduate student…

The hotel in Stewart was quaint.  Wood-grained, quiet, and clean.  At $59 canadian a night, it was a steal, really.  Six hours of sleep wasn’t enough for Natalie but I dragged her from bed to go see the famed bears.  After taking a picture of a salmon taking it’s anthro-ironical last gasps of water as it stoically floated toward its death, I thought it time to relive natalie form her sleep-waking ice-box morning and head down the road toward Salmon Glacier (The largest Glacier accessible by road!)

The drive was going well for the first 100 meters until I realized the nectarine I had been eating was poison… (or perhaps I am just as allegic to the Salmon Glacier as I am to Salmon.)  My esophogas half closed and a mild bought of nausea left Natalie less happy still and me feeling disheartened.  But it passed, and we turned back before reaching the glacier in order to checkout by 11am and get on our way.

We started back toward highway 37, while Natalie caught up on sleep.  Glacier after glacier and black bear after mountain peak.  Probably the most beautiful drive of my life.  The glacier highway was well named, and a pleasure to drive. (Look for our forthcoming video for video proof of this.)

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