Sisters bond in Banff

By Lynn Colburn

It’s amazing what can inspire a great adventure. While searching for a Fathead sticker of GoBots for her grandson, Meg Lorton, a Jacksonville Area School District 117 social worker, saw a Fathead sticker that she thought would brighten her office with a window-like view of the beautiful Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. When students asked if she’d ever been there, she would say, “No, but I think I’m going to go.”

The poster planted the seed, but while helping her sister Nancy flip a house as a summer project, Nancy asked Meg, “If you could go anywhere, where would you like to go?”

Meg said, “Are you kidding? I want to go to Banff, but I know that’s not your thing because I want to hike.”

Nancy replied, “Well, I could go. You could hike and I could paint.”

Meg is the youngest of seven girls and they have taken sisters’ trips before, but when she approached the other sisters none could go. Nancy Young is fourth in the line of the sisters and lives in Springfield. Nancy was a social worker by trade, but since retiring has been a Bob Ross Oil Painting Instructor. She learned through classes with Bob Ross himself.

Meg says they have a lot in common. Both have a creative, artistic spirit. Even though she can’t hike, Nancy loves to be outdoors and she values the beauty of nature.

“Why I wanted her to go with me, is Nancy has gone to all these instruction courses to learn how to be a Bob Ross artist, so she is always painting these mountain scenes, but she has never been to the mountains! I wanted to see her enjoy the beautiful majestic mountains in person.”

After lots of planning, they flew to Calgary, Canada. Meg says, “We decided to stay in cabins in Canmore, not far from Banff, right off the interstate. The Rundle Cabins were in the Rundle Mountains and we loved that the cabin was tucked into the mountains.”

“I always tease my sister that she is very sentimental and emotional. I’m not a crier. But when we got up to where we started to see the mountains, I couldn’t even look at her because she was crying tears of joys. Everywhere we went she would stop and say, ‘This is the most beautiful. I can’t believe we are experiencing this!’ It made me experience the awe with her. We even saw the exact view from the poster.”

“Our trip was the first week in August last summer and we planned little day trips,” explained Meg. “That way I could hike, and she could move around easily. Staying in a cabin we could have provisions and not rely on going out all the time. The day we arrived we went to get supplies and saw a beautiful double rainbow. I tried to catch it in photos, but it doesn’t do it justice.”

“I told Nancy, ‘Look Nancy, this is like it was meant to be. It was the promise of our expectations, after all our efforts and planning. Realizing, wow, we made it, and this is our reward.’ It was awesome!”

After their grocery stop, the women went to some of the local places in downtown Canmore, first to eat and then to experience the local culture.”

Meg said the towns in the mountains were like Swiss villages. “They looked like something out of a picture book. And the people were so friendly.”

After a good night sleep, the sisters set off for Banff. But when they missed the exit for Banff, they decided to continue to Lake Louise instead.

“You have to park in the little village and take buses up to Lake Louise,” Meg explained, “because although there is a road up to the lake, there is no parking unless you stay at one of the multiple lodges.”

At Lake Louise, there is the Fairmont Château Lake Louise hotel, built over 100 years ago, and another structure that rents canoes. There are tons of tourists who want to go to hike, climb, repel, canoe, boat or whatever you can imagine. Nancy decided to sit at the front of the lake and take in the views, while Meg did a little hiking around when they arrived. When they went to the lodge they discovered there were three different restaurants to choose from (one was only for guests of the lodge). There were two outside cafés. They asked to sit on the terrace and, although it was an extra wait, it was well worth it!

“It was the most tranquil place to have lunch. We sat listening to the beautiful birds singing all around and looked over scenic views of Lake Louise. Nancy and I would just keep looking at the view and each other and her eyes would just get all watery. It’s like your sitting in heaven. It’s phenomenal. I can’t imagine sitting in any place more pristine. And the food was an incredible Canadian/French meal. I ordered duck. We both enjoyed our meals tremendously. We saw someone else get this dessert with mini donuts filled with chocolate raspberry cream! It was amazing! Afterwards, we just stayed and enjoyed our coffee and soaked it all in. If we hadn’t just ventured up and just asked about the area restaurants, we might have missed this whole experience! My advice is to always ask!”

“I hiked some after lunch,” said Meg, “but we decided to come back again on our last day. The thing we hadn’t realize was the buses stop running at 6 p.m. and we had missed the last bus! Fortunately, there were others in the same boat, so a bunch of us split a taxi to come get us so some of us could get cars and come back up to pick up others.”

Back at the cabin Nancy said, “Meg, I’m not used to going like this. I kind of like to relax and pace myself.” The women decided to go to Banff the next day. Nancy would hang out at the lodge and paint, while Meg hiked and explored.

Their second day began with a brunch of salmon and desserts on the terrace of the Banff Hotel where they could see the river wind through the town of Banff. Meg left for the hiking trails. “I just took a slack pack with water, some food and snacks for the day, and of course, enough to feed the chipmunks, too.” she said with a humorous grin.

“The area around Banff is a hiker’s paradise with pedestrian bridges that cross graceful rivers and well-kept trails. I hiked a long distance to get to a trail with a fabulous waterfall. The funny thing was when I got down to the waterfall, there was a parking lot and a road that went back up to the hotel,” laughed Meg. She realized she could actually share the experience with Nancy. The women drove back to the gorgeous waterfall and they even found their way to the pedestrian bridge, so Nancy could see the magnificent river flow below.

While they had initially driven into the area they had seen signs for hot springs and thought what a happy accident they had seen them. After hiking all day Meg couldn’t wait to get hot springs. She said if they hadn’t had swim suits with them, the springs even had bathing suits to rent. Meg and Nancy ended their day enjoying nature’s own hot tub nestled into the mountains.

On the third day, Nancy decided to stay at the cabin to relax and paint. Meg preset a time to be back from hiking since mountains don’t always allow for great cell phone reception and she wanted to be safe.

Meg followed a trail along the river north of Banff that led up to the mountains and found a heart-shaped rock she brought back as a souvenir along the trail. She hadn’t read about this place, but it was part of the national parks and was a popular place. It was Lake Minnewanka, called Minni-waki which meant “Lake of Spirits” by the indigenous Stoney Nakoda. It is a spectacular glacial lake, three miles from Banff, with rocky shores, stands of Aspen trees and craggy peaks.

“I like to hike to see the waterfalls that come from the glaciers, which in turn feed the rivers which feed the lakes. But I hiked and hiked and hiked and I couldn’t find the waterfall. I turned around because it was starting to get dark and it’s always important to remember how quickly it gets dark in the mountains, and by dark, I mean pitch black.”

“I got back in plenty of time. It was nice to come upon Nancy in the gazebo at the cabin engrossed in painting pictures of the Rumble Mountains. Nancy had a very relaxing day.” The woman went into Banff for the evening. Banff has a main thoroughfare with boutiques and restaurants mixed with château-style hotels and souvenir shops surrounded by 6,500 square kilometers of parkland with wildlife including elk and grizzly bears. They chose The Old Gill House for dinner, where guests cook their own food (steak, buffalo, elk, deer or seafood) on a hot stone the staff bring to the table.

The fourth and final full day of their vacation, they returned to Lake Louise. Meg said it took all day to hike the 9-mile trail. The path up to the glacier was very good and well-marked. She was enchanted by several waterfalls as she was going up, following the river. There was even a glacier cave along the trail where hikers took pictures.

While taking the trail, Meg heard a lady say, “I can’t wait to get up to the tea chalet.” The trail winds up the mountain and Lake Agnes Tea House sits snug in the mountain with bird’s-eye views. Although she saw the tea room, Meg passed it without stopping so she could get to the end of the trail. “There were only about five hikers at the end of the trail. Meg did stop at the tea room on her way down to give herself a little treat for reaching the top. “It was wonderful with all-natural herbs.”

She hustled down to get the bus back by 6 p.m., but Nancy, thinking Meg might not make it in time, was already waiting in the car. They stopped in the Elk Inn, sat on its porch and had a drink and dessert. Then they decided to take a drive, they had seen elk and other wildlife. Despite the warning signs along all the trails, Meg hadn’t seen a bear. During that last drive they were able to see a brown bear in the trees just minding its own business.

The vacation brought many memories of fabulous views of mountains, cascading waterfalls and assorted wildlife for each of them. Meg while the hiking trails and Nancy in the different settings. Meg said, “Nancy always painted beautifully, but after the trip her paintings were completely different than what she did before because she had actually been there and experienced the nature and views in person. She knows what it is to watch the changes in the natural setting. To see the depth and the distinct colors as the sunlight cascades over the mountains. The paintings were really different, and exactly what I hoped for when we began the trip. It’s why I thought Nancy, out of anyone, would appreciate going to the mountains. She now uses those paintings when teaching her students.”

For two sisters, a Fathead sticker of a scene through a window sparked an adventure that brought them closer through a trip to an area each would appreciate in distinctive ways, but together it would bring memories that will live with them the rest of their lives.

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