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Mike and Adele Explore the Rockies - 2003

Part 3: Bow Valley Parkway

So, we decided to go out and take the back way to Lake Louise.  The back way consists of a road called "Bow Valley Parkway."  I highly recommend it.  You see great vistas, lots of wildlife, and you can stop and see Johnston Falls.

I'll warn you - from here on out, the pictures don't do this trip justice.  Everything is actually much larger and much more impressive than it looks from these pictures.

Some geological information:  Millions of years ago, these mountains were actually the seabed of an ancient ocean.  When the tectonic plates came together, these mountains crashed into each other and were raised to very high altitudes - much higher than the Himalayas even.  In fact, 60 million years ago, these mountains were the highest on earth.  However, as they are made from limestone, sandstone, shale, and the rest of the soft rock of a ocean seabed, they are eroding much faster than most other mountains.  In 60 million years, they will be gone.

SawbackMountains with Cave
The Sawback Mountains.  In the center is a cave, which is huge.

Cave known as "Hole in the Wall"
A close-up of the cave, which is known as "The Hole in the Wall."  You can't get to it. 

Yes, the huge cliffs look like they would be awesome for climbing or repelling.  But there is one major problem: the soft rocks that these mountains are made of don't hold anchors very well.  Therefore, not a whole lot of mountain climbing is going on in the Canadian Rockies...

Sawback Mountains
More of the Sawback Mountains.

Sawback Mountains
The Sawback Mountains are actually the youngest mountains in the range.

As we went further up the road, we came across Castle Mountain, which is much older and slightly different in geological composition.

Castle Mountain
Castle Mountain.  The big butte on the front looks like a turret.

Castle Mountain
Castle Mountain from the side.

Castle Mountain in the Clouds
Castle Mountain in the clouds.

At the base of Castle Mountain is an interesting memorial.  It said "Internment Camp."  It turns out that Alberta is home to many Ukrainian immigrants.  In 1914, while World War I was raging in Europe, the Canadian government rounded up all immigrants from the countries at war with them and placed them in these work camps as "enemy aliens."  They had harsh living conditions (it is the Canadian wilderness, after all), and they labored building the Banff Cave and Basin Springs.  It was a very dark moment in Canadian history.

Ukrainian Internment Camp Monument
Memorial to the Ukrainian Internment Camp of World War I.

A little further up is the Johnston Falls.  Definitely stop and take the hike.

Johnston Creek
The Johnston Creek.

Minor Waterfall
Another view of one of the "minor" waterfalls.

Johnston Creek
More of the creek.  The silt gives the water it's weird blue-green-gray color.

Johnston Falls
Cool falls, but these still aren't the impressive ones.

Johnston Falls
The Lower Falls.  These falls are huge!

Johnston Falls
The Upper Falls.  Well worth the long hike!

Upper Falls
The Upper Falls from above.

Limestone slime
Some limestone eroding across from the Upper Falls leaving a cool cave structure.

Now the nature lesson.  Most of the trees in the area are huge pines.  But this isn't always how it was.  Most of the trees in the valley have usually been aspens.  Aspens are unique in that each tree is called a "clone" - they are all spawned off of the same root structure, some of which are thousands of years old.  So, the aspens and pines have coexisted for years until they declared Banff a national park.  Now, steps are taken to prevent forest fires.  Forest fires help keep the number of pines down, though.  The few remaining aspen are victims of the elk, who scrape their antlers against the trees, which opens them up to disease.  So, now the government is trying to deliberately start fires to keep the forests thinned out as well as taking efforts to bring back the aspen.

Aspen clones
Aspen clones.

Elk scratchings on trees
Marks from the elk scraping their antlers against trees.

All along the way, we saw lots of animals:

raven
A huge raven, who was afraid of no one!

Big Elk
An elk!

Squirrel
Squirrel - (these ones lacked the big bushy tails)

Wolf
A wolf - the rarest of animals in Banff!

Continue on to Part 4: Lake Louise and Lake Moraine