Carnett: Wake up to the glory of nature

The scenery was stunning, but he hardly noticed. His mug was stuck in a pulp novel.

"Book Report Boy," as I came to call the 50ish guy traveling with his travel agent wife, didn't seem the least bit interested in the creator's glorious design.

My wife, Hedy, and I were engaged last week in a nine-day tour of the majestic Canadian Rockies. Canada's Rockies are the most beautiful mountain chain I've ever seen, and I've visited a few, including the American Rockies; the French, Swiss and Austrian Alps; Italy's Dolomites; New Zealand's Southern Alps; New York's Adirondacks; and the East Coast's Appalachians.

But the Canadian Rockies are something special. They've been heavily glaciated and meticulously carved. Composed of layered sedimentary rock, they present a striking countenance.

By contrast, America's Rockies are made mostly of granite. They're hefty, rounded and not as imposing because of less glaciation.

Our adventure began by motor coach from Calgary, in Alberta. We landed at Calgary International Airport in a driving rainstorm. As we filed from the plane, I quipped sarcastically to the pilot, "Nice weather." He smiled and replied: "Calgary has two seasons: winter and August."

Like most exaggerations it contains a kernel of truth.

It rained the first two days, and then sunshine prevailed. Because of our northerly latitude, the evening gloaming lasted until after 11 p.m.

On the trip we spotted wildlife in abundance. We had multiple encounters with bighorn sheep, mountain goats, foxes, grizzly bears, black bears (who aren't necessarily black), moose, elk, deer, osprey and bald eagles. Supernatural!

The tour left Calgary and journeyed south through Canada's "cowboy country" to Waterton Lakes National Park in the Rockies on the U.S.-Canadian border (Alberta and Montana). Quiet, sleepy and breathtakingly beautiful, Waterton Lake and its quaint village are an undiscovered Canadian wonder.

We took a boat excursion on Upper Waterton Lake. The lake extends south for eight miles –- three miles into the U.S. Its terminus is at Goat Head, Mont., home to a profusion of wildlife but not a single permanent human resident.

A 50-foot swath is carved into the forest at the 49th parallel, marking the U.S.-Canadian boundary. The gap extends from the shoreline of the lake to the mountaintops on its east and west flanks.

"Most Canadians don't know about Waterton," said our guide, a native Calgarian. "I didn't hear about it until I was 30."

We crossed the border and spent a day in Glacier National Park, Mont. — one of America's least known national parks. We saw St. Mary Lake, spectacular Chief Mountain and the impressive Garden Wall, a steep alpine area on the Continental Divide. Water to the east of the divide flows to the Atlantic, and water to the west to the Pacific.

We journeyed north through the spectacular Kananaskis Valley into Banff National Park, and tarried for an enthralling 48 hours. We rode Banff's gondola to the 7,500-foot summit of Sulfur Mountain, chugged soothing gulps of hot chocolate and watched the snow fall — on June 16!

We visited Lake Minnewanka and Two Jack Lake, and had a float trip down the Bow River.

We beheld turquoise-hued Lake Louise — under sunny skies — and the incredibly translucent turquoise of nearby Peyto Lake. Victoria Glacier feeds both. Dark blue and green rivers and lakes sparkled in the sunshine over the 200 mountain miles between Lake Louise and Jasper, Alberta.

Passing 10,000-foot, snow-covered Mt. Amery, we entered Jasper National Park. A surfeit of dramatically carved mountaintops — and a billion lodgepole pines — glided past our coach's windows in stunning array, hour after hour after hour.

The most frequently uttered word by our group was, "Wow!"

Near Jasper, we spent time at Maligne Lake and watched the icy mountain water pound through the narrow gorge in Maligne Canyon. One morning, a large grizzly and her two cubs sauntered through our cluster of cabins on the Athabasca River. Our pulses raced.

We rode an all-terrain vehicle over the Columbia Ice Field, and walked the frigid 1,000-foot-thick Athabasca Glacier.

Finally, we descended to the prairie for our return to Calgary.

All the while, Book Report Boy read his paperback. His wife was enthusiastic, but he seemed rather bored.

From conversations with them, I understood that they travel quite a bit. He talked a lot about Caribbean travels, so perhaps he prefers sunshine to snow.

Still, he needs to wake up and smell the coffee.

JIM CARNETT, who lives in Costa Mesa, worked for Orange Coast College for 37 years.

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