Touring the Rockies: Part I

Started in the airport, now we're here.

*Cue piano roll.* The Canadian Rockies tour has been in our minds for a very long time now, and was made possible through a Kickstarter campaign launched over a year ago. We had used our funds to scout out locations for 3 weeks in August of 2015, so that we could create the perfect itinerary for photographers (you can read all about that here). After reflecting on those experiences, (and photographs!) we worked with our partner tour company to organize a trip for a small group of travelers for 2016. And now, here we are. The date had finally arrived - BlueHour was on the plane to Canada with students in tow! We spent a glorious 8 days in the mountains and wilderness chasing sunrises, sunsets and wildlife. It was a success! 

After getting our bearings, our rental cars [a van and the ever-soulful bright red Kia Soul] and luggage, we were off to Banff. It's about a two hour ride from the airport - one where the landscape slowly changes from bustling city, to farmland, to mountainous forest. We arrived at the Mountaineer Lodge, conveniently located very close to Lake Louise - a sunrise destination left for the last day in Banff. 

We were all very excited to get out and explore, and get shooting. We must have spent 30 minutes or less at the lodge before getting back in the van to visit Moraine Lake. And Moraine Lake was just, breathtaking. You can look at hundreds of pictures of it beforehand, but you'll still gasp when you see it person for the first time. Many people ask me, from my photographs, or when looking at Paul's, if the scene was altered or edited in a way to make it look so brilliant - and the answer is always the same - No. What you see is what you get - it really is that blue, and it's the bluest water you will ever see. And I've been to Capri in Italy. 

Moraine Lake by Day + Photographer at work

After a couple of hours, and after the sun had set, we drove back to the lodge. A few of us sat down for a late-night dinner at the new favorite: The Outpost Pub, and after stuffing our faces with poutine (a gourmet Canadian delicacy of french fries covered in cheese and gravy) we made our way to retire for the night. At this point, everyone was exhausted. Between waking up at 3:30 or 4 in the morning back home, a full day of plane travel, two hour time difference, waiting around, and driving, we were beat. Everyone went to their beds to get a night's rest for the full day ahead. Except Paul and I, of course. We literally went back out to Moraine Lake, to capture those elusive Milky Way photographs. He told me we were going back out - I thought he was joking at first. We had been up for 24 hours already at that point. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Turns out we were in the middle of a meteor shower and the milky way was visible to the naked eye just overhead. 

Moraine Lake by Night - afterhours

A photographer photographed a photographer photographing a photographer photographing Takakkaw Falls. So meta.

Day 2 was quickly upon us (a little too quickly, I must say). After breakfast we were off to Emerald Lake, with a pit-stop at the Natural Bridge. Emerald Lake looks just like the name suggests: Emerald, dotted with red canoes. A drive up some switchbacks in nearby Yoho National Park (British Columbia) brought us to Takakkaw Falls - meaning "The magnificent one" in Cree. Standing at 991 feet tall, yes, it is magnificent - barreling out of the mountainside. Unfortunately, it's really difficult to capture that kind of scale through images; typically you need a human to show scale, but, they were all so, so tiny you couldn't even see them approaching the falls. This is one to see in person. After the falls were rode up the Banff Gondola to the summit of Sulphur Mountain, which is currently under construction for a new hotel and restaurant - so in the years to come it is my belief some summit dining will be on the books. By the time we got back down to Banff - the town, it was dinner time. We ate our group dinner at Earl's Kitchen - and it was pretty darn good. Some nutrients before our early dawn shoot the next day.

And, Day 3: the last day in Banff before heading northward. We rallied early - 5:30 AM to be at Lake Louise for the sunrise. We weren't the only ones with that idea, either. People lined the rocks of the lake to watch as the sun rose from behind us to shine on Victoria Glacier with bright pinks and oranges. As the sun rose, reflections of the mountains appeared in the milky water. It took about two hours to witness the entire spectrum of 'looks;' it was almost impossible to get a bad shot - unless you didn't stake out your spot early enough or pesky, unaware tourists were entering your frame without warning. I'm glad we chose this spot for sunrise, since it began to rain quickly after and persisted throughout the day (and, it was close to our beds, too).

Lake Louise in the changing sunlight

We headed to Lake Minnewanka and went for a stroll, but given the rain, we skipped the idea of boating or walking around the area too much. We did like the ground squirrels, though. Making use of the weather, we headed to Cascade Gardens to take advantage of the water drops on the flower petals and to practice macro photography. Because that's what we do here folks - we make the best of it. You've got to be flexible. It always rains in the Rockies.

We broke for lunch in Banff to beat the rain - and I don't know what our students went to eat, but we had one our best lunches, in my opinion, at the Banff Park Distillery. Yeah, that's right - we had a glass. And some fondue. A full plate of cured meats, pickles, potatoes, breads and grapes, and sweet melty cheese. 

After some roaming, we all met back up and went for a drive around the Vermillion Lakes. It was pouring rain, cloudy, and didn't look like it would clear. But, Paul insisted we wait. Morale was low. But, sure enough, Paul's internal weather reading was intact - and to everyone's surprise - the weather cleared and a beautiful fog formed over the lakes. It was comical actually; a bride showed up immediately after the rain had passed for a wedding shoot. I guess the New England motto rings true here, too: "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes."

A perfect after-rain scene

We headed back toward Lake Minnewanka, and were treated to a herd of elk - Bucks, does and fawns. Perfect ending, right? It wasn't over yet though. We still had sunset. After some elk watching, we backtracked to Vermillion Lakes to catch the pinkest sky we saw over our whole trip and a full arc of a rainbow over Mount Rundle's peak. Now that's the perfect ending.

Elk in the forest

Rainbow over Mt. Rundle


Check back soon for Touring the Rockies: Part II to read about the second half of our trip in Jasper National Park, and stay tuned for our fine art images, student's works, and our brand new and exciting venture into video and timelapse photography!