Armchair Adventures: Banff, Ice Fields, and a $20 Cup of Chili

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Huge Ice Explorer vehicles parked on Columbia Icefield.

By Evelyn Kelly, PhD 

You must go to Banff! Really? I wasn’t very excited and didn’t want to see another tourist trap. I displayed my ignorance of an area that few people know about: western Canada and the people who made this area magnificent. I was wrong. 

Banff was indeed quaint. We stayed at the historic King Edward Hotel built by George Stephen, pioneer developer of the Canadian Pacific Railway. He named this small village after his hometown of Banff, Scotland.  

It was July 1, the celebration of the 150th birthday of Canada. We enjoyed watching performances by First Nations (Canadian name for Native people), Ukrainian folk dancers, and the Falun Dafa, a group banned in China for their ancient religious beliefs. Best of all, the food was free. 

Leaving Banff, we traveled along the Trans-Canadian Highway, the scenic highway that runs through the Canadian Rockies and is considered one of the most beautiful drives in the world. Along this stretch of highway are stunning views of towering peaks, glaciers, turquoise lakes, and abundant wildlife.  

The scenic drive from Banff to Jasper took three and a half hours and was spectacular although it was cold and drizzly. About halfway, we pulled into the Crossing Restaurant. “This is the only place to eat,” said the guide. “There’s a buffet is in the back, but it is rather expensive.” I settled for a cup of chili. Some people thought the food was terrible, but mine was hot and tasted like chili. Then I looked at the bill: $20!  

Later, as I enjoyed the scenery, I pondered the history of the region and those who could possibly survive in such an inhospitable land. One was Pennsylvania art student Mary Sharples Shaffer, who in 1889 made her way to the Rockies to paint the flora. She fell in love with area and on her journeys back east promoted travel to the Canadian Rockies. 

Our last stop was one night in Jasper before our most memorable adventure, a visit to the Columbia ice fields. A special bus called an Ice Explorer – I called it a “moon buggy” – took us to the fields. It had tires as tall as I am and many gears. The terrain here is rough with narrow passes; some areas were straight up, while others were straight down. Once on the ice fields, I stayed in the vehicle and watched as everyone else slipped, slid, and fell. (They had a good time, though, they said.)  

This trip to the Canadian Rockies was a once-in-a-lifetime experience: from the scenery, to the people, to the ice fields; even the $20 bowl of chili. I’m so glad I visited this magnificent area. 

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