Friday, 8 September 2006, Whistler Campground, Jasper NP, AB
It seems the further south we come, the warmer it gets. Today I think it may well have reached 30, which is just amazing for us considering the cold we have experienced in the past couple of months!
Yesterday we drove to Grand Prairie and stopped long enough to stock up on some more much needed items at one of our preferred supermarkets and then drove on to Grand Cache where we spent the night. The road to Grand Prairie was not much more interesting than others we'd driven lately. We crossed into Alberta about 40 km from Dawson Creek and the road then continues through farmland all the way to Grand Prairie, including an elk farm right on its outskirts. We get excited seeing them in the wild, but weren't interested enough to stop and look at them being farmed.
From Grand Prairie to Grand Cache the road passes through more almost mountainous terrain. The roads are still edged by forest, but this hides all the activity going on behind them. This activity includes logging, drilling for oil and gas, and even a large coal mine which directly powers a power plant. Needless to say we found this drive a bit on the smelly side!
We stayed overnight in the municipal campground in Grand Cache, where we were warned of bear and various other wildlife which are common in the area. We left this morning without sighting any of these.
Once we got into the Jasper National Park we did actually see some wildlife. The first was a bull elk, which we were later warned could be aggressive at this time of year as it is 'rutting' season! But what we didn't know didn't hurt us - Juergen got some quite good shots of him from less than the recommended '3 bus lengths' away! The next was a herd of Bighorn sheep on the side of the road, cheerfully grazing away and seemingly oblivious to the people watching them.
Unfortunately the scenery, which must be amazing in this part of the Rockies, is almost completely obscured by smoke from 3 major wildfires burning in almost every direction from here. We will spend the night in the Whistler campground here and tomorrow travel further south towards Banff on the Icefields Parkway which passes by glaciers from the Columbia, and other icefields of the Rockies.
Saturday, 9 September 2006, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Banff NP, AB
We left Jasper in sunshine this morning, but not as warm as yesterday. First we drove to Maligne Canyon, which is an incredibly deep gorge - so deep you can't see the bottom from the viewpoint. You also have a clear view of Pyramid Mountain from the lookout - under normal circumstances it must be really something, but the smoke haze was unfortunately still with us. We then drove south again along the Icefields Parkway, which runs along a chain of massive icefields straddling the Continental Divide. We were most disappointed that the mountains were still shrouded in smoke haze - on a clear day you can see glaciers almost the whole way!
Our first stop was Athabasca Falls, where the river pours through a canyon and creates a 23-metre fall. It is quite spectacular and there are plenty of platforms placed strategically to get a good view of the waterfall. We also stopped briefly to photograph another herd of sheep, but the main stop of the day was the Athabasca Glacier at the Columbia Icefields.
It is a bit of a hike from the parking lot up to the glacier, but there were quite a number of people doing it and the car park was full. The path is steep and we took our time, but eventually we arrived at the toe of the glacier. Here you can actually walk onto the glacier, although the surface is very icy (surprise!) and slippery so we didn't venture far. They have a specially marked area that should be safe to walk on without plummeting into an unseen crevice and freezing to death in a matter of minutes - so say the signs along the pathway! It didn't seem to bother a lot of people who just went where they wanted regardless! While we were there a really sudden weather change came in. We could see it coming and started down the path. The wind must have been 70-80 km/h and literally blew us down the hill. It was impossible to hold against it. It also started to rain, but not too strongly. The track is fairly slippery, with lots of loose pebbles, so we tried to go carefully, but it was rather difficult. By the time we reached the truck the rain was coming down more heavily and we climbed inside in relief, and then watched the rest of the people struggling down the hill. The car park was no longer anywhere near full!
We left the glacier and drove on, hoping to leave the rain behind us. Eventually we succeeded and there was an unexpected bonus - the rain had washed a lot of the smoke away. As the rain and clouds started to clear, we began to see the mountains more clearly than we had so far - and they really are every bit as stunning as we had imagined.
A lot of the campgrounds are already closed for the season, but we arrived at the Waterfowl Lakes Campground, just south of Saskatchewan Crossing, at a reasonable time to spend the night. The lakes are a beautiful turquoise colour owing to the water being glacier run-off. We shall be seeing more of these tomorrow, including the most famous Lake Louise.
Continuation on > Page 2 > !