Twelve days ago, June 16, 2015.
This morning I visited Cave and Basin National Historic Site, on the outskirts of Banff townsite. It contains the hot spring that first brought the area to the country’s attention and thus ended up being Canada’s first national park in 1885. Something they’re very proud of and make a bigger deal of than we do with Yellowstone (or some misguided folk, Yosemite), believe it or not. The first preserve was just a big spring inside a cave, discovered by the Stoney Indians, then rediscovered by some prospectors, who brought it to the attention of the railroads. It was developed into something of a resort, as have most of the other hot springs in these national parks.
They let you go into the cave, via a tunnel that was apparently blasted through the rock (the only entrance originally was in the top of the cave, and the only way in down via rope — the current entrance is a simple stroll). The basin, basically a pool, is still in fairly pristine condition, too, but the facilities built back in the early days for the tourists have all been closed down and paved over.
The main exhibits were about the Canadian national park system, with a big multimedia program which was well worth watching. I do find it amusing that it was hot water that started both the U.S. and Canadian national park systems. I didn’t know that the Canadian national park service (whose members are called wardens, not rangers) predates ours, though. The Canadians have the first national park service in the world. We just used the Army to patrol our parks until we finally got our act together and created a park service.
Next, I made the brief drive out to Lake Minnewanka, which, like Jackson Lake in the Tetons, is not an entirely natural lake, having been dammed at some point in its past. But it was still a pretty drive, and I saw my first bighorn sheep of the trip alongside the road here, which was very cool. It was also a good place for a picnic lunch.
Then I headed back up to Johnston Canyon, where I did find a parking space this time, and I saw more bighorn sheep along the Bow River Parkway on the way there.
Johnston Canyon is, like I said before, another one of those narrow slot canyons, except that the trail for this one goes through the canyon itself, rather than along the rim. The trail is cantilevered out over the river for several stretches, which makes for some good views, and about half a mile in, there’s a waterfall. You can see it from the main trail, but there’s a tunnel, the far end of which is so close to the waterfall itself that you’re standing in the mist.
The whole thing kept making me think of the Mist Trail in Yosemite, only not nearly so strenuous. Not less crowded, alas — people were even pushing strollers up that trail, which sort of boggled my mind. It was a spectacular trail, though.
My last jaunt of the day was back in Banff townsite: the Whyte Museum, where I caught a tour of two of Banff’s earliest houses, both log cabins, one owned by the people who started the museum, and the other owned by some early pioneers here. The museum itself was about the history and culture of the Banff area, and well worth the time I spent there.
It was a full day, and a good one. One more full day in Banff, then off to Jasper on Thursday.