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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Day 42 and 43: Waterton Lakes National Park

People say that nothing can prepare you for your first sighting of the Rockies. People also say that no matter how many times you've been driving down that road and suddenly, out of nowhere, see that majestic mountain range appear before you, you'll still feel the same awe of that first time.

As we left battered Cardston and drove scenic highway 5 towards Waterton Park, we thought we were prepared for that momentous first glimpse. We weren't. And though neither of us have come upon the Rockies enough times to attest to that second suggestion, it is hard to imagine that you could ever grow complacent about the sight of them.

It goes without saying that we oooohed and ahhhhhed all the way into the National Park campground that sits at the centre of Waterton townsite.

Another thing people say is that, without a reservation at the height of high season, you'll never get a spot in that highly popular campground. Not only did we get a spot. The rig of our (very next to us) next door neighbour proved to be the shelter of choice of an extremely laid back white-tailed deer.

If the camping conditions were, er, somewhat packed in, the location itself was stunning. And that is the interesting thing about camping in the Rockies: what is going on in that peaky world way up above you is so riveting that you never really notice what is happening directly in front of you...making the fact that what's two feet from your picnic table is a family of six eating dinner at their picnic table quite irrelevant.

Oh, for the beautifully spacious and private lakeside campsites of Northern Ontario. But oh!...those mountains!... that alpine scenery!

Basically, you park up your rig in the campground-cum-grassy parking lot and head out to explore the hinterland.

Bikes were our mode of transport on our first day out. We skirted the townsite by sticking to the idyllic path that runs alongside Waterton lakefront, and cycled over to Linnet Lake...How could we miss out on that one?!

Compared to the incredible grandeur of middle and lower Waterton Lakes that border it, Linnet Lake is a bit of a pip-squeak. So what else is new? On the other hand (and if you look carefully at the dot in the middle of our photo of the lake, you'll see it!) it was also where we spotted our first (and to date, only) grizzly bear: watching open-mouthed from the heritage trail as that bear swam across the lake towards us; assessing as it did whether the whole lake itself was even wide enough to accommodate those ten bus lengths that you are told to always keep between yourself and an approaching bear.

In the end we high-tailed it out of there and, after going for a swim in the icy cold waters of Waterton Lake, took our bear tale to the bar of the stately Prince of Wales hotel that sits high above it.

The Prince of Wales is the hotel that is known for its $1 million view. It is also known for its superb afternoon teas. Arriving when both view and tea were being served up in trumps, we opted for Plan C: watching Olympic coverage over beers on the hotel's big screen TV. In the background, two clarinetists entertained the tea crowd...Heather and Sue, when you quit your day jobs a second vocation awaits you in Waterton!

It was heaven catching some of Day 3 of the Olympics - serious competition between the big screen in the bar and the big sunset unfolding in the picture postcard setting outside. We managed to run between both, enjoying the atmospheric music provided by Jacob on his cello in the latter - a performance that we caught for a second time the following day as he played on Cameron Lake. Apparently, Jacob had set himself the challenge of playing his cello on each trailhead he and his family took on.

Next day we were taking on those trailheads too. In addition to the Cameron Lake trail with its snowy endpoint, we completed the Red Canyon Loop - a feast for the eyes - and a couple of trails that culminated in impressive waterfalls. It made us feel oh so virtuous...Which translated into another couple of hours of Olympics over beers at the Wales that evening.

The next morning, after a good chat with RV neighbours Esther and John who farm near Lethbridge, we packed up shop and headed north. As we pulled out of Waterton we were still ooooohing and ahhhhhhhing about those Rockies!