ALONG THE BANFF WINDERMERE ROAD
Only a few short years ago the noble Kootenay Columbia Valley was practically unknown except to its few inhabitants. But no longer will this great silent vale remain unknown and inaccessible, for blasted out of the rock and hewed through the great forests of pines there has been built a highway, a great motor road, which will be opened officially to the tourists next year. This will be known as the Banff Windermere Road. It follows a route from Banff, through the Vermillion and Sinclair passes to the Windermere district of the Columbia Valley, a distance of some eighty miles. On it the traveler will follow the most wonderful succession of peaks, ravines and valleys on the North American continent, rivaling in rugged splendor those seen along the Grand Canyon of the Colorado.
In the late Summer, under the direction of L.O. Armstrong, the well-known Canadian lecturer, and under the auspices of the Canadian Pacific Railway, there started from Banff a party of writers and camera men. This was the first party privileged to traverse the new highway by the pack train method of transit, and probably the last as the road is practically completed.
Marble Canyon was the first side trip of the party, this being some two miles off the main road and so named because of the grey marble rocks that form its sides. Looking into the abysmal depths of this narrow gorge, the presence of the mad torrent below could only be detected by a cloud of spray-mist and the rumbling of the rushing water.
In the vicinity of Marble Creek, a mile or so from the main road, on the mountain side, are the Vermillion paint pots.
These are three holes some seven or eight feet deep, filled with water of three colors, ochre, red (Vermillion) and green, the coloring being due probably to deposits of the soluble oxides of iron and copper. These combinations have formed natural pigments that are equal to the finest commercial paints. It is known that the Kootenays long before the advent of the white man used these colorings to decorate their tepees with weird designs and adorn their bodies with “War Paint” before attacking their enemies. The Indians, too, were the first to commercialize these valuable deposits, and bartered these pigments with southern tribes for corn and even for the shells of Mexico.
The next bit of journey, some 15 miles, was through the Vermillion pass – still along the road. Many writers have essayed the description of mountain roads – long pine avenues with their lights and shadows; on either side snow-capped peaks flung against the sky, these flanked by high foot hills topped with burnt forests, where dead pines twining and intertwining their dead branches form a great drape of grey lace. Above and below are streams – tumbling torrents – water falls – springs that bubble from the rocky sides and send their silver streams to swell the volume of turbulent creek. And lingering over all is the odor of the pines and always the inspiration of Nature’s sublimest creations – the mountains themselves.
At Vermillion crossing for the first time the party left the road, for it is in this vicinity that the last bit is being completed, some seven miles.
Resuming the journey next day, the pack train following the most direct route forded and deforded the tortuous river, then climbed up some hundreds of feet and was once again on the road. Here the traveler realized just what an amazing piece of engineering building this highway was.
The party proceeded through the Vermillion pass into the Kootenay Valley and camp was pitched at Kootenay Crossing, already a well-known and used camping ground that boasts the modern conveniences of a rustic table, poles for tents, nearness to water and all the facilities that make camping pleasant. Here, too, are the first traces of the incoming settler, the smoke of clearing, the little cabin, the transforming of bush into farm land.
The Kootenay Valley is connected to the Columbia via the Sinclair Pass, used for years by the Indians, who after incursions into the rich lands of the Vermillion and Kootenay, where moose, elk and other game still abound, crossed the Divide to visit the hot springs now known as the Radium Hot Springs.
For seven miles the pack train slowly ascended to the summit of the pass, the exact spot being marked by a little emerald lake known as Summit Lake. For the first time maples, already touched by mountain frosts and flaming by the road sides, were noticed. The scenery through this district is more imposing than ever. Chasms are deeper, peaks are higher, vegetation is more varied. Then followed the decent into the wonderful canyon itself enclosed by rugged red walls, known as the Iron Gates, towering hundreds of feet on either side.
And in the heart of the canyon on the side of the mountain is a pool formed by a flow from springs, which pour out of the surrounding rocks at a temperature of 115 degrees. These springs are 2500 feet above the sea level, and have been valued for their medicinal qualities by the few who know them.
There are four Indian Reserves in the Valley – the homes of a remnant of the once powerful and warlike Kootenays and on the rock wall of the canyon are curious ancient Indian markings. These Indians are now peaceful and law-abiding, living by hunting, fishing, farming and stock raising.
From the Hot Springs to Lake Windermere the source of the Columbia River is only a distance of fourteen miles and there the party arrived eight days from the time it started as scheduled.