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Photo preview of Air Highways BC Scene and Alberta Scenic Tours

Banff Park's Castles and Caves
by Jerry W. Bird

Banff Mountain Festivals offer an exciting series of tour possibilities in one of the world's most inspiring and breathtaking settings. It's been my favorite weekend or vacation retreat for decades, along with Lake Louise, a few miles north.

Imagine spending the twelve festive days of Christmas and a New Year's gala with family and friends in an Alpine Fairyland Castle. As an encore, we enjoyed a similar experience during the Easter holidays. Truly unforgettable, when it happened to be the Banff Springs Hotel, where the staff went out of their way to entertain us with everything from costumes, carol singing, candle light events and theme dinners, to a hotel-wide easter egg hunt in which everyone from infants to grandparents participated. The famous Banff Springs golf course, with its tee off over the Bow River and many other tricky hazards, held me in captivity for many years.

One of Canada's many European style palaces built by the railroad barons of an earlier era, the Banff Springs stands proud and majestic, framed by a panorama of snow-capped Rocky Mountains. During many memorable stays during my carer in Alberta, l learned much about the hotel's hey day in late night conversations with popular band leader Louis Trono, who was on a first name basis with many of the Hollywood greats who came there in the and 40s. As a return to elegance, the hotel offers a new $12 million health spa, with cascading waterfalls, mineral whirlpools and Turkish baths. The Banff Springs is an epicurean's delight and a golfer's challenge. The first tee-off, from high above the Bow River to its far shore, still gives me goose pimples. I lay awake much of the night before, playing it over and over in my head.


Upper Hot Springs.
For one who learned to ski on Banff 's Mount Norquay using rope tows, I soon graduated to places like Sunshine and Lake Louise. After skiing downhill or cross country, hiking Sundance Canyon, or fishing Lake Minnewanka, Sulphur Mountain's Upper Hot Springs is a Banff ritual -- hot plunge, icy shower, steam bath, blanket-wrap and massage. Loose as a noodle and ready to devour an ox -- is how one usually feels after that routine.

map pageA gondola nearby will whisk you to the summit for a sweeping view of the valley. Sundance Canyon Trail leads to The Cave and Basin National Historic Site, where like honeymooners for generations past, we gazed through a telescope at surrounding peaks. Clad in Rundle-stone, like most Banff buildings, this site contains displays, a theater, and tours into the misty grotto, with its emerald pools, and warm sulfur water dripping down the cavern walls. The priceless native tribal relics at nearby Luxton Museum are well worth seeing.

A Short Drive from Banff: Kootemik-Radium Hot Springs
Imagine if you can -- two million litres of hot, mineral-rich water gushing from the ground each day. That's a lot of Perrier! With healing powers reputed to relieve arthritis and a list of ailments as long as one's arm, a wily Medicine Man could have made a fortune selling it by the bottle. Known as Kootemik to local Indians, whose legend of Nipika traces their origin, the springs were popularized in the 1890s. At Radium's Aquacourt, you can soak year-round in the steamy, odorless mineral water, or swim in two outdoor pools. The Lodge has an 18-hole golf course, campgrounds and shuttle-bus.

Of Marble and Paint Pots
According to experts, Kootenay National Park is an ancient ocean floor. Over 70 million years ago, so they say, it was compressed, folded like a gigantic pretzel, and sculpted into what we call the Rocky Mountains. In 1920, Ottawa bigwigs dedicated the park in a move to preserve the canyon's mineral springs, and protect waterfalls along the highway. Landmarks on the Banff-Windermere Parkway include Sinclair and Marble Canyons, Vermilion Pass and the Fireweed Trail. Heard about The Paint Pots? Would you believe they're ponds of red, yellow and orange, just like a kiddies' coloring set? The pots are fed by oxide-bearing streams, and there's an endless supply. For ages untold, Indians mixed ochre from this site with fish oil or animal fat to decorate rocks, teepees -- and each other. Near Vermilion Pass, the Alberta- BC. boundary marks the summit of the Continental Divide; rivers east of here drain to the Arctic Ocean or to far off Hudson's Bay; waters to the west flow to the Pacific.

We then follow the Icefields Parkway to Jasper National Park and on the way, we stop to enjoy the grandeur of Lake Louise.