Rocky Mountain Road Trip, Part Two: The Kootenays

After an early to bed, comes an early to rise as we pack up the car for the perfect complement to any trip to Banff: Revelstoke, British Columbia. There are so many scenic stops along the way, and at each one we meet people who recommend another. Our first stop is Kicking Horse Pass to catch a glimpse of a train barrelling along the 1643 metres high spiral tunnels that connect Yoho and Banff through the Continental Divide. As we continue driving, he notices a sign for Natural Bridge. “What’s that?” He asks. “I don’t know. Let’s check it out.” We turn off to a side road, hop out and hike toward a natural land bridge carved by the powerful force of the river below it.

Thunderous milky waters lather the rocks. We can see the mechanics of nature at work from the cleaving of massive boulders into narrow slats, to the petrification of sediment along the shore. As we pass from the Rockies to the Kootenays the topography changes. There are lush old growth forests and harrowing turns with awesome vistas, oh, and here’s a fun fact: signs at the Golden city limits reading “Last Chance for Gas” aren’t kidding. If not for the road winding down the mountain, enabling me to coast in neutral for much of the last hour, we’d probably still be there at the time of this writing. Arriving in Revelstoke with 7km of gas left in the tank, I gratefully fill up.

Natural Bridge, Sneha-Chandrashekar, unsplash
At our next stop are twin attractions outside town: SkyTrek Adventure Park and the Enchanted Forest. Massive Western Red Cedar trees, some almost 1000 years old, stand before us like an army of Gods. Aerial trekking between them is a fantasy come true. It’s like tree top trekking meets American Ninja Warrior. Clipping on to a continuous belay, my son knows exactly what to do and within seconds he is high up on the ropes course testing his balance and agility.

Unclipping from one challenge into the next he races up a tree like Tarzan. Perhaps it’s the fresh air, or the energy of the old growth trees, but with each breath I too feel invigorated. “Look Daddy!” He calls, as he bounds toward the Adventure Tower. I chase him to the Kid’s Jungle Gym and race through a giant spider net, along foot bridges and down a zipline to catch him. It’s no use. I’m not five anymore. For all the thrills and skills that we’re exercising in this dreamscape, we can’t help noticing all the life-size fairy tale characters through the trees.

SkyTrek Adventure Park
SkyTrek Adventure Park
As we step into the magical world of the Enchanted Forest all our nursery rhymes and fairy tale heroes come to life. We enter the homes of Little Red Riding Hood, The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, among others, and reread each one as though we are characters in them.

We sit inside a towering tree house fifty feet up in the forest canopy and imagine that the over 350 life-size figurines around every corner are brought to life after the park closes. Oh, what dreams might come.

The main draw to Revelstoke is the all-season destination of Revelstoke Mountain Resort. Before we head back to Banff the following morning, I give in to my son’s pleas to ride the Pipe Mountain Coaster. We board the gondola up to the top of the mountain where we wait in line to strap into a teensy sled and careen down a 1.4km twisting and turning pipe at up to 42 kilometres per hour. I feel sick. I absolutely do not want to do this, and am praying he changes his mind. Nope. As the instructions are explained to us, I listen more intently than I ever have before.

Revelstoke Mountain Resort
Revelstoke Mountain Resort
Holding onto the lever for my life, we’re released and begin picking up meteoric speed. I jerk the lever back to slow us down, and can feel the amusement of those watching from above. I don’t care. I’m comfortable now. Suddenly, my son jerks the lever forward and hurls us uncontrollably down the mountain. My screams could be heard in Vancouver! At the bottom, my panting is drowned out by his giggles. “Can we do it again, Daddy? Please?” He begs. Actually, I have to admit, that was incredible. Within minutes we are back up top, strapping in again. No need for instructions now. We’ve got this. We’re bombing down the mountain, winding through the trees with maximum excitement. What a rush! It’s time to leave, but, “Do you think we should go one more time?” I ask him. “Yes!” He replies. And away we go!

We return in time for a late afternoon paddle in Lake Louise. The captivating beauty of the Tiffany blue water is enhanced by the majesty of the mountains that surround us. “Take a good look son. I want you to remember this, because tomorrow we’re heading home.” He stares at the glacier in silence, and then looks back at me in tears. “Why are you crying?” I ask. “Because it’s so beautiful.” He wipes his eyes. The swish of swirling eddies from my paddle are relaxing. I teach him how to do a J-stroke so he can paddle us back, and I watch him and smile the way my Dad used to watch me paddle a canoe.

Fairview Bar & Restaurant, Chateau Lake Louise
Inside the venerable Chateau Lake Louise we dine at the Fairview Bar & Restaurant overlooking the lake. The warm hospitality is so welcoming. In short order house made sour dough arrives and we devour every delicious bite. The menu of Rocky Mountain cuisine includes an artfully plated luscious elk carpaccio with micro greens. The bison is so tender and has such a beefy, umami taste. Paired with an egg yolk-topped risotto, this dish has a rich confluence of textures. Lamb, seared crisp and tender, cuts like butter and is elevated with a decorative assemblage of charred squash, garlic cloves and citric berry jam. The kitchen aims to impress, and we are happily in their hands.

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For dessert we spoon a smooth and creamy ambrosial trio of Alberta honey ice cream with a decadent melange of cookie crumb, honey comb and juniper. We’re too comfortable in these cushy seats, and don’t want to leave, but tomorrow is another day. As the mountains disappear from my rear-view mirror, we have one more excursion before returning to the airport. Veering off to Mountain View County we enter the gates of Painted Warriors Ranch, a 100% First Nations owned facility for traditional-based learning. Tracey Klettl, descendant of Cree and Mohawk, is a riding instructor and National Champion archer. Riding along a trail, we learn about the area from an aboriginal perspective, and then begin a combined archery lesson and medicine walk.

With crossbow and compound bow in hand we aim for 3-D targets in the woods to learn the traditional ways of hunting bears, wolves and even fish. At the same time, we’re introduced to the nutraceutical properties of berries and leaves along the way. If we steep pine into tea it will balance gastrointestinal disorders—an appropriate segue to “Itchy Bum Berry”, which we’re told to avoid. Buffalo Berry is a natural blood thinner to spread on arrow tips when hunting. Yarrow leaves can be used for tea or band aids, but can also indicate the status of one’s health.

Painted Warriors Ranch
Painted Warriors Ranch
We rub the leaves in our hands. “If you smell sage, you’re either going to show symptoms of a cold soon, or you’re just getting over one now.” Klettl tells us. “If you smell mint then your body is in balance.” True enough. While my son smells mint, I, having just recuperated from being sick, smell sage. For lunch, we build a fire to roast sausages. For an accelerant we scrape a mass of tree sap onto the edge of a stick which, when lit, becomes a torch for us to ignite the kindling.

There is so much we can learn from ingredients we would have otherwise ignored. More important than the information, is the stimulation of our appreciation and our imagination. That’s what I hope for my son to glean from this experience—and he is captivated. Sometimes when I look at a globe, and where I’d like to travel abroad with the ones I love, I can just as easily click my heels twice and say, “There’s no place like home.” Alberta offers such a wealth of opportunity to explore and discover, to commune with nature while socially distancing, and for a guy like me to bond with his son on the trip of a lifetime. For my son’s first trip, I wanted to show him the world, and we found it right here at home.

(Continue to Part 1: Calgary to Banff.)

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