Completing a journey 50 years in the making


Everything needs a closure, a final period, a closure. That goes for movies, books, games, careers, and life itself. It turns out it applies to travel, too.

In August 1972 I began a journey that only ended a few weeks ago. It was a journey that spanned 50 years. fifty years. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true.

A little background story at this point seems appropriate. My parents, who were born at the beginning of the last century, loved to travel. They mostly preferred states that were either bisected by the Rocky Mountains, touched by the Rocky Mountains, bordered by the Rocky Mountains, or had to be traversed to get to the Rocky Mountains. So it may come as no surprise to you that most of the summers of my youth involved two-week road trips and vacations to the Rocky Mountain states of our great American West.

We were budget travelers, so we camped a lot, ate at roadside park tables, cooked on Coleman stoves, and drank from the always-ready thermos. Despite our numerous visits, we could never get enough of our adventures in and around the Rockies as we always came back with great memories.

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The beginning of our 50 year journey

In the summer of 1972 (wasn’t there a movie with that title?) I saw my family double in size and go all out with the annual sabbatical. Two weeks turned into three and before we knew it, the Rocky Mountains theme was extended to Canada, with Banff and Jasper National Parks becoming our ultimate destinations.

It was a 1,931 mile drive from our home in Southeast Texas to Jasper, Alberta. However, our journey was anything but the proverbial shortest distance between two points. Looking back, we probably logged about 2,600 miles one way when Santa Fe, New Mexico; Telluride, Colorado; Moab, UT; Salt Lake City; Sun Valley, Idaho; Stanley, Idaho; and Glacier National Park in Montana became must-see stops along the way.

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The epic journey across country (countries) in our trailer became a series of chapters bound together in a single journal. There were ten of us on this adventure, including myself, my mother, my father and my sister, plus two friends, three grandparents and an aunt. The family’s pets (ie two dogs and two cats) also joined us.

We squeezed into two vehicles — a ’64 two-speed Pontiac Tempest LeMans pulling the trailer and a loaded ’69 Pontiac GTO — and began our grand outing.

BUDDY SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

Given the somewhat limited power and traction of the Pontiac Tempest LeMans, the youngsters (myself included) and one of the trusty canines would get out at dawn to get a head start. Eventually, we would reconnect with the rest of the group at our agreed destination, relying on old-fashioned planning, map-reading skills, common sense, confidence, and faith to light the way.

In our travels we made a point of absorbing and fully experiencing every place we visited. We biked downtown from the Santa Fe campground, visited the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City on a Sunday morning, camped in Yellowstone National Park, bathed in the soothing and therapeutic hot springs in Montana, skated at the outdoor rink in Sun Valley, and admired, among other things, the unique color of the water at Lake Louise.

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While we crammed a lot into this trip, much of it became a blur as we crossed the border.

Aside from our time in Lake Louise, the Canadian portion of our adventure felt like an incomplete overview of the area. It was like running a marathon, but the last half mile was never experienced and the finish line was never crossed. We were so close but lacked time and money resulting in arriving about 150 miles ahead of our final scheduled endpoint of Jasper.

Since that short visit to Canada, I’ve been living in a kind of traveling sister. What was out there that we didn’t get to and would I ever go back to see what we missed? We had been so close to completing the journey that it didn’t feel right to never finish what we had started all those years ago.

BUDDY SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

Related: 2 years… all this. A golden age traveler looks back and now ahead

Trying to complete the odyssey

My family always thought that one day we would go back and take care of the unfinished business. However, decades went by without a return to Canada being placed on our calendar. Despite the beginning and end of life cycles, the emptiness of this unfinished journey remained.

Fast forward to 2020 when my wife and I thought we could finally close this chapter of this great adventure by planning and booking a trip to Banff, Lake Louise and, yes, Jasper. This trip would include us, our daughter, our son-in-law and our two granddaughters. Everything seemed ready for us to complete the journey, but then fate intervened. The coronavirus pandemic arrived, Canada closed its borders and our time on hold was extended not once but twice as 2021 presented much more of the same.

When our six-day trip across the border finally became a reality in 2022, the vacation looked very different from the one I took with my parents 50 years earlier. Instead of a multi-week odyssey to Canada with the dogs in the back seat, we spent four hours and 15 minutes on United Airlines Flight 2205 to travel from George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) in Houston to Calgary International Airport (YYC) in Alberta.

When I arrived I was excited to see what I had missed 50 years ago. Was everything as incredible as I imagined, or has all the anticipation magnified and inflated my vision of the region? After reliving the few places I’d visited before — Banff, Lake Louise, and Moraine Lake — it was time to pull back the wizard’s curtain and find out what awaited us after five decades of wonder.

SOMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Related: 3rd time is the appeal: finally a Canadian dream trip to Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper

Completing my family’s Rockies adventure

The yellow brick road we followed from Banff and Lake Louise to Jasper is Highway 93, a scenic thoroughfare also known as the Icefields Parkway. The drive itself is spectacular and worth the trip. More than twenty named glaciers can be viewed from afar, and each mountain you pass is unique in its own way, with an identity and character that draws your attention.

BUDDY SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

The mountains were rugged, jagged and jagged, cloaked in snow left over from winter and packed with ice that had lain there for years. Millions and millions of conifers densely filled the carved valley floors and climbed the mountainsides as high as the thin air would allow.

Between the towering mountains were glacial and snow fed lakes with stunning colors that amaze and amaze. As you look at them, you can’t help but wonder if the blue-green hue on display was invented right here at this spot.

See also: A True Tale: My Dream Stay at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

BUDDY SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

Man has obviously intervened to make the region accessible and comfortable, but leave no doubt that nature in its near-organic state is the main culprit here. We are only privileged observers and subject to their whims.

While you can get back and forth between destinations in about three hours, this would be a poor choice, especially as a first-time visitor, as this highway is considered one of the most scenic drives in the world.

Keep an eye out for all kinds of creatures as you travel. We’ve seen a black bear walking in the tree line just off the roadside on three separate occasions, as well as an impressive buck lounging in the grass and a bighorn sheep posing for a photo. If you haven’t noticed a passing animal, marvel at cascading waterfalls so close to the road you can almost touch them from your car.

Related: Why You Should Visit the Fairmont Banff Springs — But Maybe Not Stay

However, do not hesitate to leave the main street. Several forks lead to special scenic opportunities that characterize this magnificent corridor. Most are not far from the motorway and can be reached in a few minutes.

BUDDY SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

Choose from stunning Icefields Parkway attractions including Johnston Canyon (just outside the Banff National Park entrance), Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, Waterfowl Lake, Columbia Icefield, Tangle Creek Falls, Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls.

Personally, we found the Johnston Canyon hike to be particularly enjoyable as we loved seeing Crowfoot Glacier coming down and kissing Bow Lake’s forehead.

SOMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Peyto Lake and its intoxicating sky-blue color (even when the sky was gray) had us dizzy with excitement, while Waterfowl Lake provided a truly breathtaking backdrop. We also enjoyed the grace and dignity of Tangle Creek Falls and the raw power and power of Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls.

Related: Hidden Gem: The Canadian Marriott with a Nordic spa that’s overshadowed by Banff

BUDDY SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

When we arrived in Jasper, we found a city that meets the needs of the 21st century while embracing its past. Life here has that 1950s feel, when everything was simple and shockingly simple. It’s uncomplicated and unassuming, with a serene vibe and plenty of beauty to simply appreciate.

BUDDY SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

Must-dos in Jasper include Maligne Canyon, Pyramid Lake, Maligne Lake and Angel Glacier. However, there really isn’t a bad sight in Jasper National Park. The special Dark Sky Preserve impresses with its thousands of stars that seemed so close you could almost reach up and grab one to put in a glass jar like I used to do with lightning bugs as a kid.

bottom line

After all this time, I’m thrilled that I finally had the chance to fill in the blanks and answer all of the unknowns that I’d wondered about for years.

Although due to time pressures and circumstances we may never have the chance to return to this special land of milk and honey, we will always remember the grandeur and glory it has bestowed upon us. Not to mention that the parting gift we received on our drive back to Calgary – the sight of a beautiful female grizzly bear and her cub feeding in a natural clearing near Banff – was so special and unique that we will never forget it .

BUDDY SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

Oh Canada, you were more than worth the 50 year wait.



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