I have waited for close to a year with writing about Yoho National Park in Canada and I find it hard to explain my reluctance as it was one of the most beautiful, striking, interesting and special places we have seen in Canada. Or maybe that is what explains the reluctance, as I feel that the brief encounters we had with its beauty cannot possibly do the place any justice.
Yoho is the smallest of the Rockies' national parks, and is located between Lake Louise and Golden, centering on the village of Field.
We hire a car in Lake Louise - it's only a little bit more expensive and will give us a chance to stop and detour on the way. Soon, a little red Dodge is all ours and after a steak dinner we are off towards the Great Divide, Yoho national park, British Columbia border and Golden. The day is drawing towards its close and the overcast, pale sky that dominated over our day in Lake Louise is replaced by a softer, warmer glow of the late afternoon.
The road – which, incidentally, is part of the main Trans-Canada car route – climbs up to the Kicking Horse pass, elevation 1627m, 10km from Lake Louise. There are suitable photo stops and a viewpoint that allows us to admire not only the landscape but ingenuity of the railway engineering. One gets reminded all the time of the railways' role in the development of the Canadian west and it's a pity that a passenger service on this historic route is no more, replaced by tourist trains that charge arm and leg for an excursion. The original rail route – still very much used by the cargo trains – was opened in 1884 and included stretches with an incredibly steep grades of 4.5% on the BC side of the pass. These were somewhat improved - to 2.2% - by the 1909 construction of Spiral Tunnels, which allow the trains to climb more slowly, inside the mountain.
The Pass marks the Great Continental Divide, as well as the province border and thus we are now entering, for the first time, British Columbia, the westernmost province of Canada and one in which we will spend the rest of our time here (barring a brief return to Alberta for the Icefields Parkway and Jasper).
It's beautiful and wilder than it was in the Banff region. The road is wide and well made, and the driving comfortable, but the mountains that surround us are close and high, and all the traffic and construction seem utterly insignificant. As the sun comes down, I take my eyes of the road and glance sideways, and there, quietly sniffing, is a... black bear! Our first - and only, unless you count one supposedly spotted later on the same week by the Older Child – bear, simply standing there, giving us a brief look before returning to its rummaging. I can't stop as a large lorry behind would go into our back, but I cry out and everybody looks in great excitement at the great, dark shape clearly visible at the roadside.
There will be no more bears, but later the same day, we see some mountain goats on the hillside and a mountain sheep with huge, round horns, standing in the middle of the central reservation.
We arrive in Golden elated, to a mild bafflement of our host, who, being a hiker, has seen his quota of black and grizzly bears. But for us, it's the first one, and up there with the finback whale we spotted in Quebec.