This is the farthest we've ever taken this Airstream north ( 51Â°11â€²0.62â€³N). In mid-October at this latitude, our solar panels still generate some power, but not nearly enough to compensate for the furnace. Nights are running in the low 30s and daytime highs are in the 50s, with the sun passing by at a very low angle. This is optimal weather for October but without a power hookup for the Airstream we'd still lose ground rapidly.
I ordered a catalytic heater from Vintage Trailer Supply last week. I don't foresee us having it installed in time to use this winter, but it will be a welcome upgrade later.
Fortunately, this campground (Tunnel Mountain) has 30 amp electric hookups. That's all we need to stay until our water runs out, which based on our Yellowstone experience could easily be more than a week. In this case, however, weather and work will be the limiting factors. The weather is forecast to turn gloomy on Wednesday and I'll need to find better access to the Internet than the expensive "cybercafes" in downtown Banff and Lake Louise. That means we'll be heading southwest through British Columbia, into Washington state by Tuesday.
This time of year the options of "what to do" in Banff are more limited than in Summer. All of the campgrounds are closed except the one we're in. The amphitheater talks are done for the season. Open hours are limited in many places, the "Ice Explorer" (a sort of giant bus than takes tourists over the glacier) stops running on the 15th, some roads and historic sites are closed, etc.
So we decided to stay close to home today and explore the town of Banff. Eleanor was completely charmed by it. It's a small town with a touristy center, but throughout there is interesting architecture, historic homes, walking trails, and a general friendly walkability that makes exploring on foot a pleasure. Everywhere you look, there is a view framed by the towering mountains, which catch the sunlight in all sorts of interesting ways.
Everything in Banff is expensive, which is probably why I noticed a lot of younger tourists eating slices of pizza on the street rather than going inside the cafes and restaurants. I checked a lot of streetside lunch menus: a burrito was $14, a "hamburger special" was $10, egg foo yung was $14, and fondue for one was more expensive than a lobster in Maine ($34).
But you don't come here to save money. You come here because it is just spectacular to see. Along the drive through Kootenay last, we spotted a handsome black bear snuffling around in a meadow, gorging itself ("hyperphagia") in preparation for hibernation. Elk are a common sight right now, too. We saw a pair of huge bull elk walking through a residential neighborhood up the hill. From our windows in the Airstream we can see just incredible mountains and glacially-carved ridges which seem to change with every passing minute.
One of my interests is the former Canadian Pacific Railway hotels, which are found in almost every major Canadian city. (Now they are part of the Fairmont luxury hotel chain.) I like to go see them just because they are such marvelous examples of architecture, and romantic symbols of the railway era. The Banff Springs Hotel is one of the most famous, but there's also the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City, the Queen Elizabeth in Montreal, the Royal York in Toronto, and the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa. We've stayed at all of those. Just about 60 km north of here there's the Chateau Lake Louise, which we will most definitely go see tomorrow.
The mountains in this area are almost indescribably spectacular, yet somehow familiar. Both Eleanor and I puzzled about this for a few minutes in the morning while watching the sun come up and illuminate the high peak, before coming to the same conclusion. This area is the only place we've ever seen in North America that looks like Yosemite National Park. The rugged stone and dramatic elevation changes are reminiscent of the area near Half Dome, except that here the view is 360 degrees around us at all times.
You could easily spend a day just looking at the views. They are endless and constantly changing. Every street in town, every site in the campground, every minute of the day, has a different view â€“ and they are all good.
One of our stops in town was Keller's grocery, where Bles-Wold yogurt is sold. That's the yogurt that Bill from Alberta has been recommending to me (not sold in the US). Sadly, Keller's didn't have any plain yogurt in stock, but I bought a quart of strawberry just so I could try it out. Bles-Wold is very creamy with a buttery flavor and I liked it. It contains no additives, so it passes the purity test. Too bad I can't get it in the USA.
Our other little grocery purchases were several pastys for dinner, and a half-dozen interesting-looking Canadian candy bars just for fun. I snagged a Cadbury Wonderbar and a Coffee Crisp, which are two of my faves from Canada. Airstream Life is printed in Canada and our printer sends us a gift bag of candy every year, which has probably been the cause of this particular fetish.
Being this far north in the fall, and surrounded by mountain ridges, sunset comes early. By 6:30 the light was waning, with a final gorgeous golden display to be seen from the campground. This made us think about our next destination. If it were summer, we'd be tempted to head north even further, eventually to Alaska, but now we have no choice but to point the Airstream west to the temperate Pacific coast. There, freezing and snow will be much less likely, and we can spend months slowly working our way south if we want to.
There is one major barrier between us and the Pacific: the Cascade Mountains. The only low pass through that range that I know of is along I-84. There, the highway follows the Columbia River Gorge. It's a really nice drive (which we did in July 2005) but it is so far south that it would cause us to miss nearly all of Washington state.
Our preferred route is through British Columbia to Vancouver, or failing that, through northern Washington state to Seattle. But both of those routes will bring us over the Cascades, and if there's any snow we will be forced to backtrack hundreds of miles to find an alternate route. So we've worked out several scenarios for getting west, and we'll pick the one that looks the best based on the weather in the next week.