Day 7 of travelling to British Columbia with dogs. My partner Graham, our 2 chihuahuas, Becca and Delgado and I take a 30 day road trip from Toronto to Pacific Rim National Park, on Vancouver Island, BC and back again. We will be camping, staying at pet friendly hotels and participating in whatever activities will allow us to bring our furry family along.
The Plan: Spend 2 nights in Banff National Park and then head up the Icefields Parkway - supposedly one of the top 10 most scenic drives in the WORLD, to Jasper National Park for another 2 nights.
The Reality: That is exactly what we did! We finally got on track, hurray!
Day 7, at last we had a full day of staying in one spot and the weather was beautiful. We puttered around the campsite, feeling smug as those around us packed up and left. Eventually, we got cleaned up and went into Banff to pick up a few things, including a fishing licence for Graham. After that, we both agreed that, although we felt like we should go for a hike or something, what we really wanted after a week solid of driving was just to chill out and enjoy the nice weather. We meandered our way back to the campground, stopping for photos (me) and fishing (Graham) at Lake Minnewanka. I decided that would be a great spot to return to for sunset photos.
Back at the campsite, I relaxed while Graham went fishing in Two Jack Lake. We were visited by another squirrel, this time a red squirrel so bold he was sitting on the edge of the dogs' bowl, eating their food while Delgado snored in a sunbeam about a foot and a half away. I tried to get a photo, but when I moved, he ran up a tree and cussed me out loudly for about 45 minutes. I've met some vocal red squirrels in Ontario, but never one with such a foul mouth as this one!
Graham returned to camp without any fish, so it was pasta with homemade pesto for dinner - yum! Then, we had to zip into Canmore to grab some more fishing line because he got a snarl and lost half of his line. I was irritated at first, but on the way down, we saw several herds of elk and I got some great photos. This was the first exciting wildlife we'd seen on the trip, although we were pretty much bored with elk by the end of our time in the Rockies. When we were in the town of Canmore, we even saw elk just strolling across residential streets! We also saw 5 or 6 rabbits hopping around, but they all looked like domestic rabbits, not wild ones. Sure enough, it turns out that Canmore has a feral rabbit problem and there's even talk of a cull :(
Errand done, we headed back into the park, to my chosen sunset spot on Lake Minnewanka. It was a pretty sunset and I got some decent photos, but nothing as spectacular as I had been hoping for. After awhile in the spot, when the colour was fading and the sky was darkening, I began packing it in. Another couple pulled up and stopped to take a few shots and the woman struck up a conversation with us, saying she was so happy to see another female photographer, that they were usually men. Then, she asked if we had seen the grizzly bear across from the gates of Two Jacks Lakeside Campground - OUR CAMPGROUND, just a few minutes earlier. She showed me amazing photos of an enormous grizzly on the back of her camera. Well, no, we didn't see the grizzly at our campground because I was too busy taking unspectacular photos of the stupid sunset! Doh!
It was not all for naught, though. It came up in our conversation that we were headed to Jasper the next day. It turned out that's where the other couple had just come from - they said their bear count on their trip so far was 16! She also gave us a tip on a road to drive in the evening to see bears and we did see a black bear there, which as of writing this, 2.5 weeks into our trip is still the only bear we've seen in a place where we could actually pull over to take photos. I'm kicking myself for not getting her name or giving her my card. She was so helpful and obviously very knowledgeable and experienced with photographing wildlife in that area. I would love to be able to thank her. Unfortunately, we were being eaten alive by mosquitos and also by our mutual certainty that our campsite was being ransacked by the grizzly bear as we stood there talking, (guilt, because we had forgotten and left dish cloths hanging on the line).
On the way back to the campground, I was feeling a little uneasy. I was desperately hoping to see a grizzly bear from the car, but I didn't care for the idea of seeing one in my campsite! That's when I made the second regrettable choice of the evening. As we came around a corner, Two Jack Lake came into view. Higher up than we had been, the sunset was back...and it was spectacular. I hopped out at an overlook, snapped a few quick shots and jumped back in the car. I just wanted to get back to the camp and make sure everything was ok...I guess I was also half hoping to see the grizzly bear, while simultaneously wishing he would be far away. That sunset I skipped out on after a couple of shots turned out to be the most fantastic of the whole trip (in my opinion - you can judge for yourself).
Of course, when we got back to camp, all was well and no sign of the bear. As we were getting ready to turn in, we did see a large coyote come out of the forest across the road and slink straight towards us. He had a very crouched down, stalking posture that really worried us...did he smell the Becca and Delgado? Did they smell delicious? Thankfully, they were already in the tent for the night and Graham and I both stood at the edge of the campsite and stared at him until he ran off down the road, but it was a bit scary.
This is a great example of why it's so important to keep even the best behaved dogs on leash at all times in the National Parks. I'd hate to think what would happen to a little dog who went charging out to bark at that coyote. It's possible that my years of working in vet clinics and shelters have made me paranoid, but I've seen firsthand SO many heartbreaking, one in a million disasters that no one would ever think could happen. Our little Delgado is so small (and unathletic) that we even worry about birds of prey stealing him.
With all of these thoughts in mind after the unease of the past hour, we settled in for a sleepless night. The cherry on top of the insomnia sundae was the wind, noisily rattling our tarps all night...if in fact it WAS the wind and not the grizzly bear or pack of coyotes that I was so certain of around 1:30 AM. Oh, and I had to pee. I really, REALLY had to pee. Without going in to too much detail, I will tell you that I am not proud of my actions that night and that they led to the purchase of an emergency pee bucket for the tent. I share this because I now see that this is an absolutely essential camping accessory for any highly imaginative woman over 40 who enjoys a beer or two before bed.