Coyote in Banff National Park. Dawn Page / CoastsideSlacking

Loaded for Bear in Banff, We Settle for a Coyote; the Man Who Cried “Moose”

Part 2 of a series:

Who tromps through the Canadian Rockies hoping to see a grizzly with bear repellent in their pockets? Um. We did. Perhaps to the good fortune of all, the Coastside Slackers didn’t meet up with a bear. But we did enjoy a handful of fun critter encounters. And we nearly saw a moose!

Canada isn’t big on scenic overlooks, so after cruising awe-struck from Revelstoke, B.C., into Banff National Park on the Trans-Canada Highway, we decided to dip off the main road onto the Bow Valley Parkway so we could make some stops and take in the view.

Sure enough, we found plenty of turnouts, but most of the photo opportunities were limited to humongous ravens flapping among humongous pine and aspen trees blocking humongous mountains. So much humongousity for such a tiny viewfinder.

A short while later, however, we encountered an SUV stopped dead on the roadway. Flashers blinking. Camera poised. A sure sign of wildlife! Bear? Moose? Porcupine?

Nope. Coyote.

Now, we’ve seen plenty of coyotes in California, but none of them were having this much fun. He was leaping like a house cat on a grassy slope, presumably playing with his food and paying no attention to the gawkers. Twisting her new Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto Zoom Lens into place with a satisfying click, the Geek moved deftly from the car and hefted her camera into position. Success!

Inspired, we pulled off at the next turnout and peered deep into the woods looking for wildlife. MontaraManDan saw movement. “Big Horn sheep!” The Geek moved swiftly and silently from the car and dead-lifted the camera and long lens into position, snapping several shots as they disappeared deep into the forest. Score!! Sort of.

There are big horn sheep asses in there ... and horns ... we promise!
There are bighorn sheep asses in there … and horns … we promise!

M-Man looked back in time to see a medium-sized black bird with striking white markings and a long tail hopping along the roadside. The Geek swiveled. Gooooooal!!!

Magpie, here to soothe our disappointment at not seeing a moose.
Magpie, here to soothe our disappointment at not seeing much of the big horn sheep.

It was all happening so fast. A coyote, a magpie and the ass-end of a herd of Big Horn sheep in just 15 minutes. This was gonna be easy.

And then it wasn’t:

  • Nearly 30 miles of trails hiked over four days yielded mostly chipmunks and an array of ground squirrels. Maybe a marmot. Maybe.
  • We returned to the Bow Valley Parkway. Twice. Cruising slowly past meadows, peering even deeper in the woods, finding nothing but stumps, rocks and shrubs posing as varmints.
  • We took an evening drive down the Bow Valley Trail and discovered a power plant but no critters.
  • We spent some time at the bird blind on the marsh loop boardwalk at Cave and Basin National Historic Site and spotted nothing but a garter snake. Pitiful.

Our last morning in town we snagged some Tim Horton’s coffee, breakfast sandwiches and a couple of dozen maple-flavored Timbits (an awkwardly branded Canadian classic since 1976) and took an early morning cruise along Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive. At first, nothing. But then our luck turned.

We literally had given up and headed for the highway when not one, not four, not eight, but a herd of at least 14 big horn sheep appeared on the road. They were a motley bunch – it was the end of molting season – but they were perky and energetic. Don’t know how to tell mountain goats and big horn sheep apart? Neither did we, so we watched this. (Go ahead. Click the link.) #Earworm

Oh yes. About that moose.

Headed south toward the border with the Geek behind the wheel, M-Man spotted a deer leaping into the woods. His I-Phone picture wasn’t worth much. (Don’t forget, he was competing with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto Zoom Lens.) But he was inspired to keep peering into meadows and marshes as they zipped past the passenger window at 100 kilometers per hour.

And then he saw it:

“MOOSE!” M-man shouted. “MOOSE!”

The Geek offered a doubtful glance but scanned for a turnout.

“Really. A MOOSE!” M-man was emphatic.

Convinced, the Geek began to pull to the shoulder.

“Wait! Never mind. It’s a log. It’s not a moose. But those two branches really looked like antlers. Really.” a chagrined M-Man insisted.

The Geek accelerated back onto the highway. Offering up her best Marge Simpson growl, she headed for the United States.

So, to review: No Moose. No bear. But we still had plenty of bear spray.

The sales dude at the wilderness store warned us that the spray is considered a weapon in Canada. We actually had to register the serial numbers on each can using a special form and keep a copy with us at all times. We also were cautioned that the U.S. border patrol likely would confiscate our canisters.


We declared them at the border. We offered to hand them over. We did everything but point them at the officer. But he was absolutely disinterested in anything that wasn’t a firearm. (Wacky Yanks!).

Oddly, he was much more concerned about what we did for a living before we started this blog. He sure wasn’t buying our “Slacker” routine.

This post is the second in a series on the wonders of the Canadian Rockies pegged to the 150th year of the Canadian Confederation. Happy anniversary!

California gull, here to welcome us to Canada. Or maybe a herring gull, or something else. We prefer California gull because irony.

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