Overlooking Lake Louise is the 552 room Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. A vast, luxurious and welcoming hotel.
Originally just a wooden chalet in 1890, the hotel was gradually developed at the turn of the 20th century by the Canadian Pacific Railway to lure wealthy travellers to head west by train. The famous soon came, and the Rockies were opened up to climbing and trekking.
Our gap year budget obviously doesn’t stretch to rooms starting at 439 Canadian dollars (about £265). But for some unexplained reason our cheap lodge down the road had an obscure arrangement with the Fairmont allowing us to use their swimming pool and spa. We felt like the deserving poor, but it was good to get some swimming time in beautiful surroundings.
Afterwards we sat in the bar and ordered the two cheapest drinks on the menu.
Named after Queen Victoria’s daughter, Lake Louise is a stunning sight within Banff National Park. Mount Victoria (3,469m) with its glacier, provides the backdrop at the lake’s end.
It would be a wonderful place to go hiking in the summer, but right now the lake is frozen and most of the trails closed.
But we were able to walk 3km round the edge. 95% of the visitors don’t get beyond the first half km, so the rest of the route was one of total silence (as only thick snow can provide) and, with the sun now out, superb views.
We trekked as far as a waterfall – frozen in its journey down the rock cliff; some brave souls actually do ice climbing up this. Beyond here there is a danger of avalanches so we turned back.
We drove west on Highway 1, but didn’t get very far.
By the time we reached charming Canmore it was snowing hard. With low mist and hardly any mountains in view, there was little point heading further up the valley to Jasper.
Until the views get clearer, we’ll settle down for some well earned rest-time and do a few “winter” wonderland treks.
It’s the third time on this gap year we’ve walked on snow (the others were Mounts Etna and Cotopaxi) and what a contrast to the hot (38+ degrees) beaches of Costa Rica or the cities of Texas. As our travels approach six months, we are appreciating the importance of diverse and ever-changing experiences.
The palest couple in Chile back in January are now the brownest people in Calgary, Canada.
It’s like we have gone from summer to winter. It’s 6 degrees and the parks are only just emerging from thick snow cover. Maybe we should have planned to arrive here a few weeks later!
At least the sun came out so we enjoyed walking along the Bow River pathways. There is a European feel here. More walking, less cars. But the crash in oil prices, is creating uncertainty in the Dubai-like skyscraper boom.
The highlight of the day was catching up with Shane and Natalia who we got to know five weeks back in the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin. Great couple.
Fort Wort became famous during the great open-range cattle drives of the 19th century, when more than 10 million Texas Longhorn cattle trampled through the city on the Chisholm Trail. With horns up to 2m long, the breed descended from cattle brought over by Christopher Columbus and have a high drought-stress tolerance.
The Stockyards in Fort Worth are where the action is today. Cowboys walk around in boots and almost everyone wears ‘stetsons’. There’s a Cowboy Hall of Fame Museum, original cattle pens where you get to see some of the Texan Longhorns and the rodeo in the evening.
At this we saw some wonderful cowboy skills: calf roping, barrel racing and bronco bull riding which was seriously dangerous for the cowboys. None stayed on for the full 8 seconds and several were seen limping off with what looked like broken limbs. We wondered why they do it, then learnt the top earner gets $2m income pa.
There are two X’s on Elm Street, Dallas. They show where the bullets hit President Kennedy 53 years ago.
What’s less certain is where they were both fired from. The official line is that Lee Harvey Oswald, positioned in the Book Depository at the circled window, was the sole gunman.
Here’s the view from the reverse angle but a floor above. (You can’t take pictures within the excellent and respectful Sixth Floor Museum itself)
The museum discusses the various theories and it’s hard not to be drawn into all the conflicting evidence: inc Kennedy’s head movement, smoke on the Grassy Knoll, the pristine bullet, Oswald’s marriage break-up. We discussed it at length for the rest of the day. One of us feels there were two shooters. One of us doesn’t.
The scientific evidence is today “conclusive” (there was no second gunman) but still the mystery continues.
We spent a day driving the historic “Mother Road” through stretches of Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. Not far – maybe 40 miles – as we explored landmarks along the way and enjoyed long chats with many welcoming folk.
“The Main Street of America” was designed to connect the small towns of middle America with Chicago and Los Angeles. With vast numbers of refugees moving west in the 1930s, it was made famous by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath.
Today, the route gets you off the Interstate turning the clock back.
We’re not car or driving nuts, so it was the people and their buildings we delighted in. For example, in Galena, the Kan-O-Tex gas station has been lovingly restored. Linda told us it was here Pixel got inspiration for their Cars character “Mater”.
In Commerce, Treva and son Charles run the Dairy King in their restored 1927 Marathon station. They love staging weddings here and meeting the thousands of Route 66 Cruisers who stop by each year.
If you plan to do this Be sure to buy upfront the EZ66 guide from Jerry McClanahan. Junction-by-junction it navigates you along the route which today is a string of many different types of roads. We would have got hopelessly lost and missed many of the historic sights without it.
We’ve spent the last two weeks living out of American motels. With the car parked right outside, they offer the perfect stopover.
The big brands (Super 8, Red Roof) provide consistent rooms – very large bed, fridge, coffee maker and microwave, though their cleanliness is often down to local management. In fact, a few nights we slept in our sheet bags rather than get under their sheets!
They cost anywhere between $50 – $130 depending on location. We found it paid to drive around a bit as those sited in the cities are up to double in price.
What to ask. Does the price include taxes? Is there breakfast? Also, if you are a non-smoker, make sure you get a designated room.
Independent motels are unpredictable. They gave us the best and worst experiences. If it’s below $40, then there’s probably a reason.
Unfortunately it often comes down to who your neighbours are. In the middle of one night, we had to listen to a door being battered down a room away from us and a woman screaming. We should have been brave enough to challenge this, but aware of widespread gun ownership, we didn’t.
This is one of our occasional tips for middle aged gap year travellers. To see the others, click below on the link – Travel Tips