On the eve of our planned trip last week to our favorite August destination, Canada’s Waterton National park, the horrific California forest fires, peripheral in our thoughts, came to our full attention.
A representative of the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel, built in 1927 in Waterton Park on the Montana-Canada border, phoned us less than 24 hours before our departure. She said the hotel, where we had reservations, was under an evacuation alert because of an uncontrolled forest fire raging about four miles away. If an evacuation is actually ordered, someone would phone us.
Officials speculated that the inferno named “the Boundary Fire,” started by a lightning storm.
Our flight, which I had miraculously obtained for $51 per person using the lowest amount subtracted from our mileage, was scheduled to leave for Calgary very early the following morning.
Bashing the computer keys, we learned that smoke from the raging fire that had burned three square miles in one day, covered the ink-blue Alpine Waterton lake, while the fire was moving toward the hotel from the Montana side. The park was closed to visitors except for the majestic hotel and the adjacent small town.
What to do? The “much-looked-forward-to trip” had been to mark our 25th wedding anniversary.
In the ashes of the Waterton Park visitor center, destroyed in a 2017 forest fire shortly after our annual visit, the charred bones of a fox were discovered. A 2017 forest fire had moved so rapidly, that even a fleet fox could not run fast enough to escape.
With saddened hearts, we decided not to go. Hiking the trails while dodging the occasional bear, the ferries around the crystalline lake, the formal afternoon teas in the elegant — but rustic hotel lobby, and the starry nights, would have to wait another year.
My experience raised new considerations in trip planning: forest fires, which have caused closures this year of Yosemite, and fires, but no closures in Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Crater Lake and Sequoia.
The 2017 fire, burned 38 percent (48,000 acres) of the 195 square mile park in the Southwest corner of Alberta Province, Canada, destroying the visitor center on the road about three city blocks from our intended hotel on the promontory.
In 2017, 148 courageous firefighters, aided by 11 helicopters and brave pilots, managed to save the Prince of Wales Hotel and the adjacent township by constructing defensive sprinkler rings around the hotel and village, arduously pumping water from Waterton Lake to drench the buildings.
For the 2018 fire, Mother Nature graciously stepped in with rain and then snow and cold, dousing the Boundary Fire after four days — the four days we would have been there.
Perhaps Mother Nature too, could not bear the loss of the magnificent old hotel and the charming tiny village.