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The Rocky Mountains

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The Rockies

In Canada, the term "Rockies" designates a chain of high Pacific mountains reaching elevations of 3,000 to 4,000m. These mountains consist of crystalline and metamorphous rock that was thrust upwards by collisions between the Pacific tectonic plate and the North American continental plate, and then carved and eroded by glaciers. The mountain chain runs north-south along the border between Alberta and British Columbia and covers the Yukon territory. This vast region, which stretches more than 22,000km2, is known the world over for its natural beauty and welcomes some six million visitors each year. Exceptional mountain scenery, wild rivers sure to thrill white-water rafting enthusiasts, still lakes whose waters vary from emerald green to turquoise blue, parks abounding in all sorts of wildlife, world-renowned ski centres and quality resort hotels all come together to make for an unforgettable vacation.

Banff National Park

The history of the Canadian Pacific Railway is inextricably linked to that of the national parks of the Rocky Mountains. In November of 1883, three workmen abandoned the railway construction site in the Bow Valley and headed towards Banff in search of gold. When they reached Sulphur Mountain, however, brothers William and Tom McCardell and Frank McCabe discovered sulphur hot springs instead. They took a concession in order to turn a profit with the springs, but were unable to counter the various land rights disputes that followed. The series of events drew the attention of the federal government, which sent out an agent to control the concession. The renown of these hot springs had already spread from railway workers to the vice-president of Canadian Pacific, who came here in 1885 and declared that the springs were certainly worth a million dollars. Realizing the enormous economic potential of Sulphur Mountain hot springs, then known as Cave and Basin, the federal government quickly purchased the rights to the concession from the three workers and consolidated its property rights on the site by creating a nature reserve the same year. Two years later, in 1887, the reserve became the first national park in Canada and was named Rockies Park, and then Banff National Park.

The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies (111 Bear St., 403-762-2291) relates the history of the Canadian Rockies. You'll discover archaeological findings from ancient Kootenay and Stoney Indian settlements, including clothing, tools and jewellery. Museum-goers will also learn about local heros and famous explorers like Bill Peyto, and about the railway and the town of Banff.

Cave and Basin (at the end of Cave Ave., 403-762-1556) is now a national historic site. However, despite extremely costly renovations to the basins in 1984, the pool has been closed for security reasons since 1992.You can still visit the cave into which three Canadian Pacific workers descended in search of the springs, and smell the odour of sulphurous gas, caused by bacteria that oxidize the sulphate in the water before it spurts out of the earth. The original basin is still there, but swimming is no longer permitted. If you watch the water, you'll see the sulphur gas bubbling to the surface, while at the bottom of the basin, you can see depressions caused by this same gas appearing in the sand (this is most obvious in the centre of the basin).

If you want to experience the sensation of Sulphur Mountain's waters (how rapturous it is to soak in them after a long day of hiking!), head up Mountain Avenue, at the foot of the mountain, to the hot spring facilities of

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