In the blue Canadian Rockies
Spring is silent through the trees
And the golden poppies are blooming
‘Round the banks of Lake Louise
– “Blue Canadian Rockies”, as recorded by The Byrds, 1968
In 1968, largely at the behest of new member Gram Parsons, psychedelic folk-rockers The Byrds took a left turn into country-rock territory with their Sweetheart of the Rodeo album. One of the songs they covered for the record was a country & western number called “Blue Canadian Rockies”, written by Texan troubadour Cindy Walker nearly two decades earlier. It’s a cool song, with a beautiful simplicity and a memorable melody.
And until last Thursday, I used to think it was complete bullshit.
I’ve been to Lake Louise many times in my life. I’ve walked those lakeshore trails in spring, summer, fall and winter. Not once did I ever see a golden poppy blooming ‘round its banks.
For a warm-up hike on the first day of my trip, I walked alongside Louise Creek from the campground up to the Lake Louise shoreline. It was a blustery afternoon, with thunderstorm cells blowing through the mountain passes at oblique angles. In those moments that I wasn’t worried about Yogi and Boo-Boo stepping out of the woods to eat me, my attention was mainly focused on the light show and reverberating claps of thunder filling the sky above me.
And then, a few hundred metres from the lakeshore and just around the bend from the parking lot, I found a clutch of yellow poppies growing on the banks of Louise Creek!
So, Miss Walker, I respectfully rescind my criticism. Your beautiful song isn’t predicated on a shameful lie after all.
As first-day hikes go, the Louise Creek trail is a good one. It’s about 4 kilometres each way from the campground to the lakeshore, the trail is well-graded, and there are no roots or stones to sprain your ankles. You can easily extend the trail by turning left at the canoe rental shack and continuing up the 1.5 km track to Fairview Lookout. From the lookout, you are greeted with a view back across the east end of the lake to the chic Chateau Lake Louise.
All together, my warm-up hike was about 11 km long and reasonably flat. The elevation difference between the campground and the lookout is around 350 metres. It’s just enough of a workout to loosen your legs and get the cardio going without feeling like a slog. While the lakeshore is teeming with tourists from around the globe, the Louise Creek and Fairview Lookout trails are quiet. I passed maybe four other hikers on each trail, so solitude can be found within a stone’s throw of the lake.
Upon returning to the tenting campground in this little slice of heaven, you’re reminded that this is bear country. The campground is completely encircled by an electric fence, since the delicious aroma of Pic-a-Nic baskets has been a little too tempting for Yogi and Boo-Boo over the years. People of all nationalities visit the Lake Louise area each year, and it’s likely that many of them have never encountered an electric fence (or a bear, for that matter). Hopefully a few potentially shocking situations have been averted by the helpful signs that are posted at regular intervals along the fence.
I’m not convinced that the bear is drawn to scale on those signs, unless the anthropomorphic icon is Bono. But the lightning bolts do seem to get the point across.