B.C.'s Emerald Lake is gawkingly gorgeous

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EMERALD LAKE, B.C. — There is absolutely one thing you will do first if you ever visit Emerald Lake — gawk.

Not just for a quick glimpse and an "ahhhh," or a few peaceful moments as your lungs suck in the fresh mountain air. No, the gawking will go on from the moment you arrive until the time you leave. You might even stagger as you gawk — it’s that pretty.

With surreal green and blue hues, and surrounded by mountains in Yoho National Park, Emerald Lake is spectacular. The lake’s pastel colours come from a baby powder-like substance suspended in the water — sometimes called rock flour. This collects in the crystal-clear glacial waters as they run down the Rocky Mountains and into the lake. Depending on the light and time of year, sometimes it even looks electric green.

A trip along the 5.2-km hiking trail — which is partially accessible to wheelchairs and strollers — allows the gawking process to continue all the way around the lake on woodsy groomed pathways that wind through giant trees scarred by history.

The hiking trail is also an access point to the Burgess Pass trail, which leads high above to one of the world’s geological wonders — the Burgess Shale fossil beds. There, visitors will find incredibly detailed fossils of prehistoric marine life 500 million years old. Buried by mud slides, the fossils are so well preserved that scientists were flabbergasted when they discovered the creature’s digestive tracts were distinctly visible.

"They are crazy-looking creatures that look like something right out of Star Wars," says Katie King, a Parks Canada interpreter and mountain guide.

In fact, Star Wars creators may have gotten some of their ideas from these creatures, she says. "There are things with five eyeballs and weird sea creatures that walk on stilts."

As King shares stories and points out tiny rare fragile orchids along the trail, it’s clear she — like all of the Burgess guides — is excited about nature.

The trained guides will also take visitors on a variety of full-day hikes, but these are uphill and not for the average couch potato.

Hiking is not the only way to experience the lake, however. You can rent a canoe for a couple of hours and dip a paddle into the turquoise waters.

Now, park that canoe in the middle of the lake and just drift and gawk some more at the mountains that surround you.

Be careful, you just might die of joy.

City boy fulfils mountain dream

Why did the pig cross the road?

To find out you will have to travel to the mountain village of Field, where city-boy-turned chef Sean Cunningham, owner of Truffle Pigs Bistro, followed his dream.

"This is paradise," Cunningham says, waving his arms at the mountains as he stands in the middle of the road with Fraggle, his happy, slobbering giant St. Bernard puppy. Surrounded by blue-hued white-capped mountains just off the Trans Canada Highway in Yoho National Park, man and dog are oblivious to oncoming traffic. That is because everyone in this quirky little vacation village of 134 knows and looks out for them. (The school has seven happy students.)

"We believe in slow here," Cunningham says.

An anthropology major from Toronto, Cunningham had grown sick of the busy noisy city life and decided to follow his dream. He ditched everything, painted the fantasy name of his dream bistro on his van, and headed west with his brand-new bride, Jen Coffman.

"We headed west, and Jen and I have never looked back," Cunningham says.

After living out of the van for awhile, Cunningham got a job at the general store in Field, where the boss allowed him to grow herbs in the backyard and sell deli foods such as homemade pickled olives. When the property that is now home to Truffle Pigs Bistro became available, he and Coffman took a risk. Renovations began just six weeks before the start of tourist season.

"It was Pigdom by fire," he quips, grinning broadly, recalling how they worked night and day to finish the bistro and the 13 cozy post-and-beam lodge rooms upstairs.

"It was our big dream," Cunningham says, adding he now works 16 hours a day and loves it.

Why the name?

"When you think of a truffle pig you think of a chubby little pig who loves to root around for good things to eat and he doesn’t mind getting dirty to do it — that’s what we do here."

Why would an anthropologist want to be a chef?

"I get inspired by food. It’s a spiritual thing for me," says Cunningham, who is surprisingly fit for a guy so crazy about eating. "I can taste food in my head before I even cook it. For me, food is a spiritual thing. It’s an honour to cook for my guests."

Along with his beaming smile, there are hints of humour everywhere at Truffle Pigs Bistro. Whimsical winged ceramic pigs float from the ceiling rafters. The chef and staff refer to themselves as "the Pigdom," and their joyful banter can be heard as they cook up a storm in the kitchen.

The menu has its own humorous touches — dishes such as "Flat Quack" (which we didn’t order in case it was road kill, it wasn’t) and "If Pigs Could Swim" (rainbow trout wrapped with smoked-bacon and stuffed with basil-pesto goat cheese). For an appetizer, try the Truffle Pig signature Thai seafood cake — a crispy delicious spring roll the chef calls "the crack-cocaine of appetizers."

The food is not cheap, but it’s good, and it’s fun. On certain nights of the week there is live entertainment at "The Pig," often by musicians passing through on their travels. During our meal, we were entertained by the soft, smoky folksy sound of Sarah Burton.

Before you leave, check the board for a long list of possible answers on exactly why that pig crossed the road. There are mock answers by Richard Nixon, Buddha, Ernest Hemingway, Darwin, Mr. T ("if you see me coming, you’d cross the road too"), and of course, the pig ("to make room for the cow").



— Even taking the easy lake hike in the fresh mountain air is enough to work up an appetite. Two area resorts offer good restaurants but no televisions or cell phone service — nothing but good food, rustic beauty and peace. Emerald Lake Lodge is a mountain-style inn with cozy rooms and decks with stunning views of the lake. Its Cilantro dining room has a vaulted timber roof and great window views. Cathedral Mountain Lodge, on the edge of the Kicking Horse River, has log cabins with wood-burning fireplaces (and kindling ready to be lit). At either place, try a tender buffalo rib-eye or delicious bison burger with meat from a private game farm. Grilled salmon and Arctic Char are also specialities.

— For information on Truffle Pigs Bistro Lounge accommodations and menus, visit trufflepigs.com or email oink@trufflepigs.com.


For travel information on the area, visit hellobc.com.