Banff is smack dab in the middle of the Rockies and is a seasoned hiker and dare-devil skier’s paradise. Approaching Banff, every turn afforded a new view of mountain landscape that took our breath away. I’ve often felt sorry for truckers while imagining their lonely life on the road away from their families, but I’m sure drives like this are one of the better perks of the job.
In town, you can do a 360 turn and see mountains in every direction. We wondered if the locals take their view for granted as we stood in awe of our surroundings. Just walking down the street to the post office you can see white-caps off in the distance.
We arrived in the evening and camped at Two Jack Lakes campground. We tried to get in their sister campground, which is right on Two Jack Lake, but it was full. Just down the road, at the campground where we ended up, there was plenty of room. The gate attendant first gave us a campsite in a loop with other campers, including a monolithic RV with its generator rumbling away beside us. Roughing it at a campground set deep in the woods without hook-ups or showers and pit toilets, it just didn’t sit right with us to be next to a noisy RV. We were here for nature and nature we would have! So back to the gate we went, which was about a km away, and asked for a more private, quiet spot. What we got exceeded our expectations. She put us in a loop without any other campers. When we looked around, all we could see was forest. It was perfect. Bears were again an issue, so we were super paranoid and didn’t even wash our food-speckled dishes in our sink but brought them to the food preparation area that the campground provided specifically for that purpose. This may seem silly to you but the gate attendant informed us that there had been a spotting that morning of a bear and in that area you have to worry about not just little black bears but grizzlies as well – those guys will rip your car door off if they think there’s something tasty inside. I’m happy to report that no bears visited us that evening!
There are a gazillion and one things to do in the Banff area, all of them worth seeing and doing. We contemplated staying two days for that reason. But some of us were homesick and some of us were tired, so the best option seemed to be to take a gondola up Sulphur Mountain and get a view of the valley and nearby Rockies (yay! I got my funicular-type ride afterall!). You can also hike up it so we planned to take the gondola up and hike back down.
Riding the gondola was fun and went by far too quickly. I’m not really afraid of heights but I can imagine if you are, that it would be terrifying. But the structure feels quite secure and you’re enclosed, so that probably comforts height-o-phobes (yes that’s the technical term) as well. The view makes it worth it.
Especially once you get to the top. There are two lookout spots. One is at their lodge right after you get off the gondola.
But the better view is a short “hike” up their board-walk towards their Cosmic Ray station. I don’t know about you, but I’d never heard of cosmic rays, nor their stations, and it all sounded very star trekky. So what is a cosmic ray anyway? Here’s what the literature had to say:
Cosmic rays are electrically charged subatomic particles that are produced by sources of energy in the galaxy such as supernovae (oops, I mis-pluralized supernova in my last post), flares from the sun and other similar stars.
As they penetrate the stratosphere, most are absorbed as they collide with the nuclei of atoms of air. By-products of these nuclear reactions (e.g. muons) reach the earth’s surface with about the same intensity as starlight and can penetrate great thicknesses of matter. Some have been measured under tunnels in the Alps. Several have passed through you with no physical effect since you began reading this (what?!! This freaked me out a little).
Cosmic rays can be described as “ionizing radiation” – known to cause changes in biological cells and induce chemical reactions. Although life has evolved in the presence of cosmic rays and presumably acquired a tolerance for their effects, it may be that they are responsible for mutations of organisms in the evolutionary process.
“Presumably acquired a tolerance”? Am I or my future children going to grow a third arm because I thought it would be a great idea to go up Sulphur Mountain and bring my nerdy husband to see the Cosmic Ray Station? Oy.
Speaking of, what the heck do we need Cosmic Ray stations for anyway? Here’s what the literature had to say about that:
The Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station was one of a network of world wide cosmic ray stations built for the International Geophysical Year, 1957-58. Because of the altitude (energy of cosmic rays decreases closer to sea level) and its location relatively close to the magnetic pole, Sulphur Mountain is well situated to observe solar-flare generated cosmic rays.
Cosmic rays pass right through us with no physical effect. They could, however, be responsible for some inexplicable phenomena around us, including phantom computer crashes.
Cosmic rays are used to study problems in a range of sciences from archaeology and geology to astrophysics and cosmology and can even be used to measure snow depth. They are also a unique tool for studying the heliosphere and changes within it, such as solar flares.
So this Cosmic Ray Station is going to solve my phantom computer crashes. Ok, I guess it’s valuable then.
But back to the views. Oh my, the views.
We spent quite a lot of time just looking out and contemplating the future. Being surrounded by nature’s magnificence has a way of making you feel your mortality.
Once we’d marinated enough in the view, we started out on our trek back down the mountain. You probably know me well enough by now to be unsurprised that we didn’t get far before I was snapping pictures of the wildlife.
I just love those chubby cheeks. Try saying chubby-cheeked chipmunks three times fast! Bet you can’t. The chipmunks up there looked a lot like chipmunks back home, except they were much darker and some of them were quite rotund (probably from tourists over-feeding them).
We didn’t actually hike all the way back down. We got a bit of the way down and then realized it was all forested the whole way down and you can’t really see the view. Also, with all the people on the trail it was highly unlikely that I’d get to see a mountain goat (my main motivation for hiking down). So we were super lazy and took the gondola back down after all. Oh yeah, and it was about to rain and Steve’s knee hurt.
Can you tell I’m feeling a little laziness guilt?
Actually it started pouring when we got back down and that made the decision for us of whether to stay two days or not. Instead, we headed off straight from Sulphur Mountain towards a secret destination. I had a Day of Steve planned out, filled with Things that Steves Like. More on that in the next post!