Dodgeville paddles, rides, and hikes through Banff

That's not Lake Ontario.

As I’m writing this entry, the Weather Network informs me that it’s -13 degrees in Lake Louise. When we were there after our drive down the Icefields Parkway in July, the temperature was closer to 13 on the positive side of the thermometer. Temperature swings like that make me appreciate Toronto’s (and thus Dodgeville’s) more temperate weather.

When we were planning our summer trip, a discount code supplied by one of Risa’s friends allowed us to book a night at the Chateau Lake Louise for about the same cost as a lesser hotel in town. We paid a slight premium for a room with a lake view, and I have to say, it was totally worth it. I mean, look at that view. Imagine arriving to that after a full day in the car, and then waking up to it again the next morning. It was our only night of luxury on the trip. It’s not that the other hotels were ratholes or anything—all of our accommodations were quite satisfactory—but the view and the service at the Chateau Lake Louise convinced me that any future vacations must also include at least one night in a really nice hotel.

The only problem with Lake Louise is that the entire area around the lake is controlled by the hotel, and the activites are priced to match. As Risa said, the hotel has its own little ecosystem there. There are lots of free things to do, but if you want to eat, rent a canoe, or go for a horseback ride, you’re going to pay Fairmont rates whether or not you’re staying at the Chateau. When you count our two meals and a canoe rental, the room itself totaled less than half of our one-night tab. Still, I’m really glad we stayed at the Chateau rather than in town, which is actually several kilometres away from the lake and nothing to write home about.


Reluctantly leaving Lake Louise behind, we drove down to Banff, where we had arranged much more modest lodgings; no Banff Springs Hotel on this trip. Even though Banff feels much more crowded and commercial than Jasper, there are still some nice spots that are surprisingly deserted.

My strongest memories of coming to Alberta as a kid are the view of Sulphur Mountain looking up Banff’s main street and going to McDonald’s in Edmonton. I know that we went to Lake Louise, Jasper, Drumheller, Frank, and about a million other places, but I have little or no memory of them. But as much as Banff (the town) stood out for me last time, I have to say that I was a little underwhelmed this time around. Certainly after coming from Jasper and Lake Louise, Banff was a bit of a letdown. Oh sure, it’s beautiful and all that, but the town is a little too busy for its own good. Streets were crowded, restaurants were impossible to get seats in, stores were packed to the gills, and I always felt like I was in someone’s way. Every restaurant we went to was too busy to serve us, and we spent way more time waiting than eating. I could have forgiven it all had the service been decent, but it wasn’t.  As I said at one meal, the service was shockingly rude even by Toronto standards. Fortunately, we spent most of our time outside of town where it felt a little less hectic.

Anyway, read on for the second-last (and quite belated) gallery from this year’s vacation.

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Dodgeville does the Icefields


After our couple of days in and around Jasper, we headed south down the Icefields Parkway toward Lake Louise. I’ve been on some really nice drives, including the Pacific Coast Highway between San Francisco and Monterey, and the Icefields Parkway is by far the best I’ve done.  Rarely do I actually want to pull over at every single lookout, but they were hard to resist on this trip.

When you’re driving down the Icefields Parkway, you have to make a decision: are you driving to your destination on a rough schedule, or are you taking pictures of all of the interesting things along the way? You have to make this decision whenever and wherever you’re on vacation, but Jasper is so filled with photographic opportunity that the choice must be made over and over again. I sometimes need to remind myself that I’m on vacation and not on a photographic expedition hunting for the perfect exposure of the most awe-inspiring vista. I know that it can be boring (at best; supremely annoying at worst) to travel with someone who’s constantly setting up a tripod, micro-adjusting focus and frame, running around with a light meter, and waiting in one spot for ten minutes for the wind to die down or the light to be just so. This picture is a perfect example of the tension between enjoying a relaxing vacation and satisfying a photographic vision:


There was a very large raven sitting right on the top of that tree at the left. Several of them, in fact. One would fly away and another would take up the perch immediately afterward. So I got into position, tree in the foreground, mountain in the background, broad valley in between, a bright blue sky with fluffy white clouds filling in the blanks. Took a couple of test shots and selected my preferred exposure. But now that I was in place with the viewfinder pressed to my eye, finger on the shutter button, and everything framed perfectly, the ravens were all hanging out elsewhere: in the parking lot, in another tree, on the rocks, in the sky, anywhere but sitting on that damned tree. If I’d been here alone, I would have stood there and waited half an hour for a raven to return to the top of the tree and give me the picture I had already composed in my head. But looking over at Risa getting restless at the car, I knew my time was up. Fifteen minutes at a single lookout was enough. So there’s the picture, and not a raven in sight.

But that’s okay, because in Jasper, there’s always something else around the next corner. And Risa didn’t know it yet, but we were on a mission to trek out onto the Athabasca Glacier. All the whining in the world didn’t get me into one of those icemobiles when I was nine years old, but now that I’m old enough to pay my own way, nothing’s going to stop me. That’s the best part about growing up.


So onto the glacier we went. It was the perfect cap to an amazing drive through the mountains. There’s more about the glacier in the inevitable gallery at the end of this post. Suffice to say that it was impressive in every way.

Don’t tell Risa, but when we were planning our Western trip, I’d seriously considered trying to include some kind of cycling component between Jasper and Banff. If the Icefields Parkway is supposed to be a really nice drive, it should be an even better ride, no? Well, possibly. But passing dozens of riders on supported tours slowly grinding up one hill after another made me glad that I’d silently shelved the thought. Oh, I’m sure that I could have finished the ride, but I doubt that our marriage would have survived the 300 km trek.

On to the gallery and more observations.

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Dodgeville takes the train to Jasper


Leaving Vancouver behind, we took the VIA Rail Canadian to Jasper. I love trains, but even I have to admit that spending more than 18 hours on a train is pushing my limit. At least one family in economy with us was going all the way to Toronto, a four-day journey. My head hurts just thinking about it.

I’d happily take the train across the country, but I could never do it all at once. I’d get a 30-day pass (or, thanks to VIA’s somewhat limited fare structures, two or three 12-day passes) and hop across the country a few hours at a time, spending a day or two here and there to explore. Four days all at once? I can’t imagine.

Still, I highly recommend the train trip from Vancouver. The train crosses much of the B.C. interior at night, and spends most of the following day crisscrossing the Fraser River and North Thompson River valleys and eventually climbing over the Yellowhead Pass into Alberta.  By my count, our train had at least 17 passenger cars (including 6 cars with observations domes), making it by far the longest train I’ve ever been on. The observation car nearest to us was never more than half full when we went up there. My advice: try to get a good night’s sleep at the beginning of the voyage and then grab a good window seat for the rest of the day, whether in the dome car or your regular passenger car. If you can, shell out for a sleeper compartment; it’ll cost twice as much, but you’ll be at least three times happier in the morning.

Jasper, the National Park, is nothing short of awe-inspiring. You could probably spend the entire summer there and not run out of places to go or things to see. Jasper, the town, is tiny and reminds me a lot of southern Ontario tourist towns: the main drag is so focused on serving tourists that I’m always left wondering where local residents shop or eat. I can’t imagine that locals spend $100 for a middling dinner for two at Evil Dave’s or $20 for souvenir underwear.


I love little local museums, and the Jasper-Yellowhead Museum didn’t disappoint. The walkthrough display chronicling Jasper’s history is so chock-full of Banff-envy that it reads like it was penned by a spurned lover. “Banff may be bigger and better, but we’re happy that we’re small and unappreciated! We swear!” While the museum spends a lot of time disparaging the development and popularity of Banff and extolling the quiet virtues of still-wild Jasper, it’s actually bang-on in making the comparison. Wildlife was abundant in Jasper, with appearances by too many elk to count, as well as some deer, a moose, a black bear, and countless ravens that seemed twice as big as their urban cousins in Vancouver.

Just about the only thing I remember about Jasper from when I was there as a kid thirty years ago was the preponderance of trailers and motorhomes. It’s still largely the same, but at least half of them these days are rentals.

Anyway, read on for the obligatory gallery and more observations.

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Dodgeville annexes Vancouver

Kayaking on False Creek

The best thing about taking a vacation is coming back home. Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoy exploring beyond the normal boundaries of the Greater Dodgeville Area, but there’s just something about Toronto that really makes me appreciate coming back to it.

Risa and I were visiting family in Vancouver before scooting over to Jasper and Banff for a few days. It was a varied couple of weeks for transportation: in all, we flew, drove, walked, hiked, biked, and canoed, and rode the train, the bus, the icemobile, the ferry, and horses: something different almost every day.

This was the third time I’ve been to Vancouver in the last five years, and my first trip to Alberta since I was nine years old. I’ll spare you the typical vacation slideshow here, but I thought I’d share some random Dodgeville-style observations from each place we visited, starting with Vancouver. Banff and Jasper will follow in subsequent posts.

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Grouse Grind

Risa and I are on vacation out west. I used the occasion to climb Grouse Mountain, one of the peaks overlooking Vancouver. The interesting thing about Grouse Mountain is that you can take public transit to it: a quick ferry and bus ride  from downtown Vancouver gets you right to the base of the mountain for $3.75. Ah, for TTC and GO service like this to some of Toronto’s far-flung attractions. Grouse Mountain isn’t huge by mountain standards, but it’s still a lot bigger than anything I’ve climbed in Toronto. I’ll have more random thoughts about Vancouver in a later post or two, but for now, here’s a gallery of my climb up the Grouse Grind.