Our goal on day seven was to head northwest into Glacier National Park, but we never quite made it.
Our drive to the first destination, Wapta Falls, took us on increasingly more snowbound roads until we arrived at the trailhead only to find it blanketed with snow too high to walk through. We reluctantly started to turn around. And got stuck.
In a replay of our Iceland adventure, we scooped out the snow with our hands and feet and worked ourselves back onto the abandoned snow road.
We stopped on the road to take pictures of a decommissioned snowblower resting at the edge of the forest and again at the one lane bridge over the Kicking Horse River.
Undaunted we decided to at least drive on the Icefields Parkway again, but we’d soon be daunted anyway. The storm the night before necessitated emergency artillery-generated man-made avalanches. The highway was closed and all cars were forced to wait in line while they blew away snow off the mountains.
Before we got moving again we learned from other drivers that there were at least six avalanche sites to get through on the parkway. We gave up and searched for something more local on the way back to Banff. We were glad we did. Or rather I’m glad Sam did.
Sam navigated us to Yoho National Park to visit Natural Bridge. Most of the year the site is a picturesque waterfall flowing between two natural rock pillars that lean together (i.e. the “natural bridge”). However, when we got there, conditions were so cold we received a special treat. We were able to go down to the creek and walk under the bridge, literally inside the cave where water normally flows.
That water had mostly turned to flows of cascading blue ice, but a hole in the floor where the water still hadn’t froze provided a window into the rapid gush that went on under our feet and in front of our faces. If anyone fell into that hole they’d be pulled under miles of ice, dead before anyone could help them. Our steps inside the cave were very slow and deliberate to avoid this catastrophe. Even the bare rock walls were slippery smooth, carved into a polished houndstooth pattern by several millenia (or more?) of rushing water in the summers. Patches of tough green moss clung to the outer rims of the hollowed out rock walls. Above that the walls slowly turned from rock-gray to crystal white as frost formed and gave way to ice at the ceiling.
We stayed there till nearly nightfall, knowing the uniqueness of our happenstance discovery. Other visitors noted that they had never been able to walk under the waterfall before and would only do so after our convincing.
Our day didn’t end there, though. When the last visitors before dark declared they were off to Emerald Lake next we decided to follow them. This wasn’t completely irrational as I’d noticed on a park sign earlier that the lake was nine kilometers away.
However, we soon discovered our new friends only intended to go back to the Emerald Lake Lodge (the main hotel, not on the lake). We drove on and discovered the real Emerald Lake Lodge situated on an island in Emerald Lake surrounded by pine trees and mountains. Sam said it looked like something out of a Christmas fairytale.