Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Rocky Mountain High

So what's a buck-toothed cow say? Moof! Gosh I love that joke. What exactly does that have to do with timeshare travel, you ask? Nothing really, but my location this week in Banff, CA, always makes me think of it. Banff is located in the Canadian Rockies in the province of Alberta, within Banff National Park. It was first Canadian town to incorporate within a national park and is also home to the second highest peak in Canada at 4,800 feet. It is one of Canada's most popular tourist destinations - attracting over three million visitors a year - and after about five minutes here one can easily see why.

The town was first settled in the late 1880s during the construction of the Canadian transcontinental railway. Some railroad workers discovered a series of hot sulfur springs nestled among the mountains, and reported it up the chain. Two years later a federal reserve was established around the site, and two years after that, Rocky Mountain Park became Canada's first national park, and the second in the world after Yellowstone. The president of the railroad at the time was a fellow by the name of George Stephen who hailed from Banffshire, Scotland. He decided to rename the area Banff in honor of his birthplace, and the railroad built a series of luxury hotels around the new train station. It was an instant success, as well-to-do European and American travelers streamed in for the fresh mountain air and rejuvenating hot springs. In 1930 the park's name was officially changed to Banff National Park, and in 1984 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The town itself is small and compact, with most of it easily accessible on foot or via public transit. You'll definitely want to take a a walking tour of Banff and saddle up for one of the many horseback excursions available in the area. A ride on the Banff gondola is also a must. It takes you up over 7,400 feet the peak of Sulfur Mountain, which would be worth the trip for the views and trails alone. But it is also home to the Banff Upper Hot Springs. There are a number of other hot springs in the area, but this one is the sole reason that the town and park exist at all. It is operated by the parks service and offers 100% natural mineral water, modern amenities, a children's area, cafe and snack bar, a spa, and views you just have to see to believe. Now you might wonder how spring water makes its way 7,400 up to the top of a mountain, and it turns out that it had scientists puzzled for a time. Seems that there is a giant crack in the rock called the Sulphur Mountain thrust fault (sounds like a new dance craze in the making). Heated water from the earth's crust travels the whole way up, cooling as it goes, and emerges in the pools at the peak. So unlike springs at lower elevations, Upper Hot Springs temperature fluctuates widely with the seasons, but perhaps not in the way you might think. It's hotter in the winter, and colder in the summer. Sort of like San Francisco. This time of year, it is running about 82-85 degrees.

There's way more to Banff than hot springs and gondola rides. In the winter it is home to all manner of alpine sports, from skiing and snowboarding to sleigh riding and snowshoeing. Warm weather brings with it mountain biking, canoeing, hiking, and some seriously good golfing. Plus there are numerous art galleries, historic sites and museums, and the Banff Summer Arts Festival, which is going on right now. The festival runs for over a month, and features over 1,000 international acts in nearly 200 events. Most events are held at the Banff Centre, but others take place in and around the streets of town. This week alone you could catch a recital by acclaimed opera tenor Adrian Thompson, a chamber music recital by some of Canada's best young emerging musicians, an opera adaptation of The Secret Garden, and an Emmylou Harris concert. I've had a bit of a crush on Emmylou since about 1974, so you know where I will be Thursday night. What, can't a fellow dream?

My timeshare rental at the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort features 2-bedrooms, 2-bathrooms, indoor swimming pool, indoor/outdoor hot-tubs, a full gym, sauna and massage therapy, and tennis and squash courts. It's the only timeshare resort in the park, and is pet-friendly. Unlike a lot of resorts, the laundry facilities are not in-room, and there is no conventional oven; just a microwave and stove-top. So if you normally cook a lot of meals in your unit, you'll have to adjust the menu. Redweek members give it 4-stars and have added some nice reviews.

Well, I am off to visit the Merman of Banff. No it is not an Ethel Merman tribute revue - which would be totally awesome - but rather a petrified example of the male of the mermaid "species". It's located in a back room of the Indian Trading Post - Banff's oldest tourist trap originally opened by Norman "Mr. Banff" Luxton. I know, I know, there's no such thing as mermans. But this little bugger has drawn visits from the likes of Neil Young, William Shatner, Julia Roberts, and even Joltin' Joe DiMaggio. Is it that far-fetched to think Emmylou might drop by to sneak a peak as well?

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