Banff

Emerald Lake_Yoho

Things I learned in Banff last week:

1. The Canadian Rockies are still beautiful. It had been 14 years since I had visited.

2. You really do need to keep shooting photographs to keep in practice. I made a whole bunch of stupid mistakes the first couple of days.

3. The new Nikon D4 has, for some reason, turned the exposure meter in the viewfinder upside down as opposed to the previous six Nikon cameras I have owned. I have been shooting long enough that I usually dial in exposure compensation without looking in the viewfinder so this caused some problems. After an embarrassingly long time I finally found the sub menu that turned the exposure meter readout back right-side up. THEN the main command dial dialed the exposure the wrong direction so I had to go back in and find a sub menu that let me reverse that as well.

4. I use the function button on the front of the camera for the virtual horizon so I don’t have to purchase ($35) and use one of those hot shoe bubbles that I always manage to break off. The virtual horizon in my brand new, extremely expensive Nikon D4 does not work. Neither does the multi-selector on the back of the camera you use to go back through images (chimp). Okay, it sort of works. Press it three times it might finally back up one image, or two images at one time. Or not. Not stuff that is worth sending the camera in to Nikon repair and never see it again for a month, but irksome in a brand new camera. The important stuff all works.

Aspen Grove

5. One of the reasons I went to Banff was to try to shoot a calendar photo of an elk. I failed. One reason is because elk are getting to be scarce in Banff. They have had to bring elk up from Yellowstone to maintain the breeding capacity. Not sure why. Wolf haters blame wolves, but they have always had wolves in Banff. The wolves did come into town and kill the tame local elk, which they weren’t really supposed to do. Of course they shot them for fear of the big bad wolf. These elk are as far north as elk can survive so it could be that heavier snow fall has simply made it impossible for them to survive winter. They don’t have a National Elk Reserve to migrate to in winter like the Yellowstone elk do.

6. Another reason I didn’t get a calendar photo of an elk is because the backgrounds are awful in Banff. Banff is woodsy, compared to Yellowstone, and there are either bushes and branches right behind the elk or there is a sloping road cut bank right behind the elk. The elk don’t spend much time in meadows in Banff.

Rocky Mountain Elk Bull

7. Bull elk frolic in meadows. I photographed a relatively small bull elk for about an hour one evening as he grazed along. At the end of the hour he inexplicably ran off. “Was it something I said?” I asked. I walked around some trees, expecting he would come out the other side into a large meadow. He did. He walked for a while and then he broke into a run again…and he frolicked. I have seen caribou in Alaska run around all of a sudden in response to a Bot fly up their nose so I can’t discount that as a possible explanation. Looked like play to me, dancing sideways and throwing his antlers around. The bull elk in Banff all seemed relatively good-natured in comparison with the Yellowstone bulls that savage cars and fight endlessly. Even when the largest herd of cows got spread out and was split in half by a competing bull one morning there was no battle. The two bulls just walked uphill side by side as though they were defining an imaginary boundary line and then one went one direction and the other the other direction and that was it. Near Lake Louise, where there are seemingly no cow elk, I saw six bulls feeding together as they do, but not during the autumn rut.

Frolicking Bull Elk

8. It is always a thrill to see a wild wolf. I didn’t get great shots, but I got to photograph them. The wolves are doing a bit better in Banff than they were twenty years ago. They are run over by cars all too frequently. A major highway bisects Banff. It has fences along it and wildlife overpasses and underpasses to minimize the carnage, but one female wolf got hit despite the fence and others got hit when a tree fell on the fence and it took forever to get it fixed. There is no fence along the Bow Valley Parkway and if you do the speed limit (60 km/hr or 45 mph) you will be constantly tailgated by speeders. Constantly. Even in town there is a Welcome to Banff sign followed by a sign warning that there have been way too many bear, wolf, cougar, and deer deaths along this road. They continue to use salt on icy roads instead of magnesium so the bighorn sheep are crucified when they go on the road to lick the salt. They can afford to build fences and wildlife overpasses, but not to use magnesium on icy roads?

Wild Timber Wolf

9. Water from the Bow River, which originates in the Bow Glacier above, you guessed it, Bow Lake in Banff, flows all the way to Lake Huron. Water from the Athabasca River, originating in the Athabasca Glacier in Jasper flows all of the way to the Arctic Ocean and down the Frazier River to the Pacific Ocean. Impressive.

Bow River

10. Canada celebrates Thanksgiving on October 8th. I got a two-fer this year.

Happy Halloween from the Bow Valley Parkway

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