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Alberta, Canada

Author: Judy P. (More Trip Reviews by Judy P.)
Date of Trip: June 2001

They have a one dollar coin that they call a "Loonie" because it has a Loon (duck) on one side of it. It's some sort of copper composite. Then there's the "Twonie" (too-nee) coin. It's a $2 coin that's silver around the outside and copper (or something) in the center of the disc. It has a bear on it. I hear that there will be a $5 coin coming in the future.

Other Neat Places of Interest (And first, a couple of warnings for the faint of heart)

Takkakaw Falls
A secret that nobody told me about-- if anyone tells you to go see Takkakaw Falls, beware the road to it! It's a very steep hill, one lane wide, that is a total switchback. You have to drive up the first leg, then there's no room to turn, so you have to BACK up the second leg! Then drive up the last one. It's the hairiest thing I've ever driven on. I hate to think what happens if there's another car coming in the opposite direction! And tour busses do it all the time! It was absolutely gorgeous once we got there and I stopped shaking enough to enjoy it!

Athabasca Glacier
Also, while driving on the Icefields Parkway, the tour on Athabasca Glacier is neat, but beware of that ride too. A giant bus with GIANT snow tires takes you down a VERY steep dirt road to get to the glacier. It scared me to death! Most downhill slopes on the freeways are about a 6% grade, and this one was a dirt road, at a 32% grade! You have to brace yourself against the seat in front of you so you won't fly out of your seat. I just kept telling myself that they do this every day! The bus driver was laughing the whole way. Once up on the glacier, it was spectacular. We got out and got to walk around a bit. But they warn you to be very careful of any crevasses. Apparently, one poor soul fell into one once and rode down the black cave in the almost freezing water flow for I think it was 3 minutes, and was fortunate enough to come out alive at the bottom of the "toe" of the glacier! Can you imagine??? It was also the site where they filmed Superman's home in the original movie starring Christopher Reeves.

As I mentioned before, a lot of places in Alberta don't serve ice with their drinks. It was hot when I went to Athabasca Glacier, and the cafeteria across the street doesn't serve ice. I found that so ironic with the glacier being right across the street!

Emerald Lake is also very picturesque. It's in the opposite direction from Jasper, but it's gorgeous. There's a nice lodge there, very expensive, and not that great when I went there, but it has since been refurbished and from what I've seen on their website, it looks pretty nice now. Perhaps a meal there?

I have heard that Lake O'Hara is gorgeous, but I've never been. The only way to get there is on a bus ride that you have to reserve in advance, and as I recall, was not too cheap. There's supposed to be spectacular scenery and hiking trails.

And there's also a spot called Spiral Tunnels(?) I think it was along the way south from Lake Louise to Emerald Lake? It's a steep mountain where the trains had to pass through, so they carved out a spiral tunnel actually inside of the mountain. As the train goes into it, you can watch it come out at one end, while it's still going in at the other end. It's kind of neat to see. There's a nice viewing deck built onto the side of a mountain from which to watch it all happen. While we were waiting for a train, we watched a black bear that was rummaging around below the deck for entertainment. Unfortunately, much to our chagrin, my boyfriend dropped my purple umbrella down there while we were watching the bear! I felt so bad for littering the pristine landscape, but we weren't about to climb down and retrieve it! So if you see it still there, you can tell everyone who the idiot was! We got there pretty early to wait for a train, not knowing their schedule. We waited and waited. Eventually, two tourbus loads of people came out onto the viewing platform, and the train came. I guess the tours know the schedule! You may want to ask the front desk clerk at your hotel.

Waterton Lakes -- South of Calgary
Waterton Lakes is gorgeous. If you have time, leave a few days early, and drive south from Calgary to Waterton Lakes. I THINK it was about a four hour drive? Along the way we stopped at an Italian restaurant next to a Carl's Jr. and when we came out we noticed a grainery or cylo painted bright orange with a yellow roof. It made for one of my favorite photos. We stayed at the Prince of Wales Hotel, which was very cool. It's old, grand, and kind of expensive. It stands on a bluff overlooking the lakes and just looks so majestic. I'm pretty sure it was 3 stories and had no elevator. They offer drive tours of the area in their neat old limos.

We saw many buffalo on the road just before we got there. As a matter of fact, we couldn't drive for a while because one huge one was standing in the middle of the road. We got some great shots of him!

While we were there, we drove to Cameron Lake which was a pretty drive. We also drove through Red Rock Canyon, which, surprise, is full of red rocks. More pretty scenery. There were lots of mountain goats in the visitor's parking lot, licking the salt from the bottoms of cars. Again, more great photo ops. Then one evening we drove into that canyon at dusk, and happened to see a full grown mountain lion (or cougar), about 20 feet from our car. He stopped and growled and hissed at us for about 5 minutes. It was incredible! Unfortunately, it was the worst photo I took, due to the diminishing light and my hands shaking! In all the excitement, I didn't think to use the flash (before the days of automatic flash!). We kept the car running in case we needed to make a quick getaway, but we just sat there. It finally ran off into the woods. That was one of the biggest thrills of my life! When we left the area, we happened to see a park ranger, and we told her about it and she said that we were very lucky -- very few people ever see them. To this day, I still have my blurry photo of the cougar hanging on my wall of favorites!

On the road from Calgary to Waterton (I think about 2/3 of the way down) is a place called "Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump." Lovely name, eh? It's a large cliff where the Indians used to lead the herds of buffalo off and let them drop to their deaths. Clever, but sick. Anyway, there's a museum there that was kind of interesting, but I don't think I'd bother to go again. If you're into Indian lore, I guess it might be worth a stop. I have to say that standing near the edge of that cliff did conjure up some interesting insight as to the life style they must have led. wow.

General Tips
Before I went to Alberta the first time, I purchased the Fodor's Guide to the Canadian Rockies. I love that book! I decided everything that I wanted to do from reading it. It gives prices, tips, descriptions, drive times, maps, and talks about almost every hotel/motel/lodge and restaurant, and activities. I also went to book stores and looked at big picture books of the Canadian Rockies. It's great to actually see what you want to see!

It also mentioned driving on Highway 1A from Banff to Lake Louise. It's more scenic than Hwy 1. It was beautiful. It runs pretty much parallel to Hwy 1. We felt compelled to get out of the car and just put up our arms and shout. It was like we were the only ones there. We stood next to a rail road track and watched as a Canadian Pacific train flew by. The engineer waved to us and made us feel like little kids. Just a different experience from living in the city as we do.

Every one I came across in Canada was very friendly. Even at the more expensive shee-shee places, like the Post and Chateau Lake Louise. I even tried on some VERY expensive jewelry at Chateau Lake Louise, and they were very nice about it. Even when I cringed at the prices! I have heard others complain about the Canadians, but I thought they were wonderful. Besides, almost everyone working around there is only there for the summer, from all parts of the world. They're all excited to be there, and are so helpful and eager to share their knowledge with you.

All I can say is you're lucky to have digital cameras these days. I didn't on my last trip. Or my first one for that matter. The first time I went there was for 10 days, and I took 26 rolls of film! I can't wait to go back with my digital and just go crazy! Oh -- you guys are gonna have the BEST time!

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