We decided to keep the girls on US Pacific Time rather than switching them to Mountain Time. This meant we were getting up a bit on the late side but getting to enjoy later evenings. Despite the “late” starts in the morning we were luckily able to find parking and take our planned hikes. For our first full day in the park we decided to explore Johnson Canyon and Cave & Basin.
Our first hike was Johnson Canyon hike where there were a slew of waterfalls throughout the climb. The trail was really well built along a boardwalk that, in many parts, hung over the raging river below. As you can imagine it was a popular hike so the boardwalk trail was a little tricky at points to pass one another with various walking speeds. All hikers were friendly though so it worked out just fine.
Close to the lower falls there was a cave where you could go in and see what it was like to be standing right next to the massive falls. We waited in quite a long line to get our chance to experience it, but that was to be expected with so many people. I tell you what, it was a very cold, wet and neat experience. As soon as we emerged on the waterfall side of the cave we were soaked with the spray of the very powerful waterfall. It was already a pretty chilly day at mid 40’s so standing still in the line for so long and then getting pummeled by water was quite cold. It took a lot of uphill climbing to feel our extremities again. The girls were really very good natured about the whole thing.
Cave & Basin
Cave and Basin was another great stop. Scientists think that native people to the land had known about the hot springs within the cave for millennia, gathering to bathe in the sacred waters. From the 1800’s onwards non-native explores took notice of the hot springs and in 1885 it became Canada’s first National Park. In 1936 the hot springs were renovated into 3 swimming pools but in 1971, however, bathers were banned from the springs due to high bacterial counts.
In today’s world, the park has preserved the outline of where one of the bathing pools used to be so visitors can visualize what it looked like as a bathhouse. To see one of the two hot springs you enter a man made entrance to a cave and can see the original hole in the “ceiling” where native people would lower themselves through using deer hide ropes. The hot springs was a stunning sight nestled into the cave as it was with crystal blue hot water. The cave formations framing it was such a magnificent sight. It was, however, extremely stinky! Sulfur pools we have visited outside have been stinky but bearable due to periodic fresh air gusts. In the cave, the smell was very potent and amplified with the heat of the steam. I can’t say we were too sad to leave that cave.
Outside there was another hot spring that was not as popular as the cave spring but much more pleasant for our nose. The pool was a mix of deep blues, crystal blues and pale teals. There was a little calf-height wall around it which was frightening. It was just the right height to make visitors comfortable with getting an up close look at the spring but also just the right height to trip over and fall in! A couple times other visitors walked behind me or the girls were peaking over the edge to get a closer look and I thought for sure one of us was going to do a belly flop. It would have been lovely for a second I’m sure but I’m also sure that we would be profusely reprimanded and asked to leave the park.
We were trying to get an up close look at the springs because there are little creatures called Banff Springs Snails that live on the surface of the springs. The high sulphates and low oxogen content in the water and the hydrogen sulphide in the air makes it a harsh environment for most creatures to live. This crafty little snail spends its time residing on the edges of the hot springs or on rocks and grazes on floating mats of bacteria and algae. They were hard to spot because they looked like dirty rocks and are about the size of a popcorn kernel. They are the most at risk wildlife species in Banff.
Once back at camp, we ate cheesy potatoes we cooked in our solar oven, though cheating and using solar-electricity from Azul due to all the bears. Leaving food outside cooking all day with bears all around didn’t seem like a smart plan! While we explored, the potatoes cooked in the van.
We had promised the girls a fire and since it was a chilly night it was a good night to do so. They had been making mud pies and various other very fancy mud dishes that they wanted to bake over the fire. Part of our campsite fee was a fire permit, and along with that permit came unlimited wood from a giant wood pile.
It’s so nice they are old enough that I don’t have to watch them like a total hawk anymore around fire. We got to snuggle by the fire and read our Harry Potter book together. Justin even joins us for story time now. Family hygge!