Friday, September 7, 2012

Lake Louise, Banff & Waterton, Alberta, Canada

Tue, Aug. 28th - Thur, Aug. 30th

After leaving Jasper National Park, we spent Monday night in the free overflow campground parking lot, just a couple miles south of the Lake Louise village.  Tuesday we did the short hike that goes around half of Lake Louise.  The other side of the lake is just a straight up mountain side, no place for a hiking trail.  They had canoe and kayak rentals here. 
This little fellow wanted to pose, so I had to oblige him.  I would have called him a chipmunk, but his picture was on a sign that called him golden-mantled ground squirrel. 
As we were hiking around the lake, we saw this group of trail riders on a trail above us. 
Just another view of the same cliff from our vantage point on the lower trail.  
A view looking back at the historic hotel, Chateau Lake Louise, from the end of the lake trail.  
There were several of these chandeliers in the hotel.  I thought they were kind of unique.  There were mountain climbers from Switzerland here way back in the 1899 (brought in by the railroad to promote the area) and I am guessing this is a Swiss design. 
There are 24 of these overpasses for large animals along this four lane divided highway.  They are all sodded and treed with high fences along the sides and the high fences run along the sides of the highway for many miles. 
We stayed at Tunnel Mountain Campground Tuesday night in the town of Banff in Banff National Park.  This is an interesting quote we saw, as we were checking out the restaurants downtown. It reminded me of something Benjamin Franklin once said, that I can't remember right now.  It seemed like good advice anyway.  
This is a little lake at the bottom of Bow Falls with canoe and kayak rentals. 
This is Bow Falls right at the bottom of a hill with a huge, old historic hotel at the top of the hill. 
We were waiting for the stop light at this very heavy traffic intersection right in downtown Banff, when about thirty riders showed up, stopped traffic and proceeded across. 
John took me to Upper Springs, so I could soak in the hot springs pool, which had about 80 people in it while I was there.  From the pool I could watch the gondolas going from the nearby ski area at Mount Norquay.  
The Cascade Gardens and Canadian Parks Administration Building, built for pennies a day by "relief workers" during the depression, as were many other historic buildings and projects during that time. 
John went to McDonald's to use their WiFi, while I walked down the street to enjoy the gardens.  
There were flag stone paths and burlwood bridges and picnic shelters throughout the many tiers of flower beds.  We saw several burlwood factories as we were traveling.  They make beautifull bowls and such out of this unique wood.  A burl is a tree growth in which the grain has grown in a deformed manner resulting from some form of stress.  It may be caused by an injury, virus or fungus. Most common causes are insect infestations and some types of mold infestations.  Burls yield very peculiar and highly figured wood, prized for it's beauty and rarity which adds to it's expense.
This is a view of the back side of the building looking back toward downtown Banff.   
A closer view of the Bow River Bridge, downtown main drag and Mount Rundle, named after an early missionary. 
Walking back downtown to meet John, a view of Bow River and a park and mountain to my left, as I crossed the Bow River Bridge. 
These next few views are of the the foothills of the Canadian Rockies between Banff and Waterton National Parks. 
The scenery was just gorgeous, as it changed from mountain peaks and glaciers to rolling hills with hay fields and an occasional wheat field. 
I've never seen so many hay bales.  It looked like thousands of them stored on some of the farms or ranches. 
I couldn't believe how good these pictures turned out, just snapping them out my window as we drove by.  Digital cameras are trully amazing! 
We checked into the Waterton Townsite Campground on Wednesday afternoon and went for a drive to do a little exploring.  We drove the Akamina Parkway (about 10 miles) out to Cameron Lake where there are small fishing boats and paddle boats for rent. 
From here we did a short half mile hike to this nearby lake.  Along this parkway road are several trailheads and the site of the first oil well in western Canada, discovered in the 1890s and abandoned in the early 1900s.  They also have the Red Rock Parkway and the Bison Paddock Road (descendents from the original herd of Great Plains bison).  Both were not recommended for big RVs. 
Driving back into town, we stopped to check out the Prince of Wales Hotel built in 1927 by the Great Northern Railway.  It has great views of Upper Waterton Lake.  From this dining area in the lobby they serve "high tea" every afternoon from 1:00 to 5:00 PM for $30.  We were told it is a very impressive, fancy event, but the pastries and tea are really nothing special. 
A couple views of Upper Waterton Lake and the town below from the hotel.  If you've ever thought about going on a bike tour and wondered where they spend the night, this is one of the places. 
There were several Backroads Bike Tours vans and trailers parked right behind me here.  So there must have been a group of bicyclists spending at least one night here, probably several nights. 
From the town below looking back at the hotel on the hill. 
There is a walking trail here on Upper Waterton Lake, along the edge of town all the way to and through our campground.   It's a cute little town, only about six blocks across each way, with little tourist shops and eating places.  
There was a group of five or six mule deer wandering around the campground, including two fawns. 
Babies are always so cute, no matter what species, and especially if they happen to be your very own grandchildren. 
Cameron Falls, also right in the campground.  We went to a park ranger program at the Falls Theater in the campground. 
As we were leaving town on Thursday morning, we had to wait along with several other drivers, for this small group of Big Horn Sheep (females and babies) to decide to get off the road.  
A couple of last views over our shoulder, as we leave Waterton National Park. 
Heading down Chief Mountain Highway, we stop for the border crossing and head back into the good old U.S.A. 
We took the road around the east edge of Glacier National Park to Browning, Montana.  Once again the scenery changes as we leave the Rockies behind and it gets way drier.  I had noticed in Alberta that the mountains in the distance seemed quite hazy and wondered if they always looked that way in the distance. 
But as we got closer to Helena, the mountains got harder and harder to see.  Then I knew there was a forest fire going on somewhere.  Turns out it was in Idaho. 
It was a really good trip and I highly recommend it.  We really could have spent a couple more weeks, especially if we had brought the car with us, so we could have gone to some of the places where we couldn't go with the RV.  We left Helena, Montana June 4th and returned on Aug. 30th.  We traveled 7,487 miles total and bought 999.34 gallons of gas at an average price of $4.60.  We drove 2,637 miles in Alaska and paid an average  of $4.21 per gallon.  We traveled 4,391 miles in Canada and paid an average of $5.05 per gallon.  Groceries and eating out were quite expensive.  A gallon of milk was over $5.00.  The $10 Pizza Hut specials were $15.  The $5 Subway footlongs were about $8.  No wonder we meet so many Canadian Snowbirds down south in the winter.  They save lots of money by spending the winter south, besides avoiding the cold weather.  We will be staying with our kids and grandkids here in Helena until the first week in October.  Then my family in North Dakota for a few days, Brookings for a couple days, Sioux Falls with our other daughter for a week, Iowa with friends for a few days and south toward Florida for the winter.  Probably no more blogs until first part of November.
Over and Out,

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

 Sun, Aug. 26th & Mon, Aug, 27th

Beautiful, glacier-fed Maligne Lake is about a 30 mile drive from our campground (through Maligne Canyon) and the town of Jasper where the park Visitor Center is located.  We camped at Wapiti Campground, just a couple miles from town, with a view of Whistler Mountain and the Jasper Tram that goes up to a restaurant at 7,496 feet.  We could watch the tram from our campground.  The park rangers put on excellent programs in Canada, especially for kids.  Marmot Basin Ski Area is also right near the town of Jasper.  
Malign Lake is one of the premier attractions of the park with an historic lodge, interpretive boat tours, canoe & kayak rentals and lots of hiking trails.   
This cute little guy seemed to enjoy posing for me.  
Jasper National Park is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountains World Heritage Site that includes adjoining Banff, Yoho, Kootenay and Waterton National Parks.  It is the largest of the Mountain Parks, covering 4,200 square miles.  The stretch of Highway 93 between Lake Louise and Jasper, called the Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in North America, through Alberta's Jasper and Banff national parks in the central Canadian Rockies.  This route is recommended for summer only.  There are no services from November to March.   
This one just speaks for itself, I think.
Maligne Canyon had six bridges crossing the falls, as you hike down stairs, and more stairs, to see the torrential rapids far below.  At the first bridge the canyon was still so deep we could only hear the water.  We couldn't actually see water at the bottom. 
In the winter it freezes up and they do tours down in the canyon.  I think this was the first bridge way at the top, and the picture above was taken from the second bridge.   
And this is the third bridge.  We hiked down a ways past the fouth bridge, but the fifth bridge was closed.  After we hiked back up, we drove past the sixth bridge. 
Just another ho-hum view along the way, where we turned back to our campground.   
We stopped to hike the Valley of the Five Lakes Trail. 
The trail seemed kind of long and we didn't seem to be getting to the lakes, but we stuck with it, and boy was it worth it!   
The trail eventually reached five small brilliantly blue-green lakes and went around them.  You can see a little bit of the trail to the right, way up on the hillside. 
What a great vantage point for photos! 
The book said it was a local family favorite trail, and I can totally see why.   
At Athabasca Falls I watched this teenage boy about ten feet from shore standing on a rock posing for pictures.  Every couple years someone dies at Athabasca Falls.  The rocks covered by spray are as slippery as ice, the water is glacial cold, swift and deep.  In minutes hypothermia takes over and you are unable to pull yourself out, even if you could have managed to get out of that torrential current. 
This is just the start of the falls, not very far from where those teenagers were.  It drops just 40 feet, but it is through a short, narrow canyon. 
You can actually see the spray and mist on this picture.  My camera was getting wet as I took this picture. 
I took this from up on the highway looking back down.  
This was kind of cool.  This river changed courses thousands of years ago and left this empty canyon.  They put a stairway in, so you can walk down and see and feel what it is like down in the canyon where the falls used to be.  In winter it freezes over and they take ice climbing tours of the falls area. 
Down at the end of this old canyon, we got a great view of the river after the canyon opened up and the falls slowed down.

Sunwapta Falls on the Athabasca River.  Another deep, deep canyon with the water just roaring through it.  Sunwapta Pass is the highest point on the Icefields Parkway at 6,676 feet and the boundary between Jasper and Banff parks.  The park entrance fee is $19.60 per vehicle or $9.80 person per day and covers entrance to all of the Mountain Parks, so you can go from one to the other on the same pass. 
The Athabasca River links the fresh water ice of the Columbia Icefield to the salt water of the Arctic ocean.  These waters journey through lake Athabasca, Great Slave Lake and Mackensie River to the Arctic Ocean.  The source is the Columba Glacier, one of the six major glaciars of the Columbia Icefield along. There are also about a hundred smaller glaciers. 

There were about thirty cars stopped on both sides of the road taking pictures of this grizzly.  The park ranger was there trying to get people to move along and quit blocking the road and harrassing the bear.  I just snapped this photo from the window as we drove by.  He must have had an injured let, because he was hobbling along as he walked. 
This is cottongrass along the side of the highway, as we approach the glaciers, that are fingers of the giant Columbia Icefield covering 241 square miles.  That's almost enough room to put every person in North American there with a square meter each to stand on.  The average yearly snowfall on the Columbia Icefield is 23 feet. The North and South Poles get less than three feet, but Mt. Rainier in Washington has measured as much as 83 feet in one year. 
This is the Icefield Center overlooking the Athabasca Glacier.  It is a viewing and interpretive center and there were lots of people here. The Mackensie, Columbia and Saskatchewan Rivers originate in the glaciers and snowpack of the Rockies.  Mount Snow Dome forms the summit of the Columbia Icefield and is one of only three hydrological apexes (triple continental divides) in the world.  The melt from Snow Dome flows into the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.  
In 1849 the glacier was right up to where the front of the building is now.  Today it is almost a mile away.  You can hike the mile over to the toe of the glaciar. It is not recommended to walk on the glacier without a guide, because of the danger of crevasses, but people do it anyway. 
We decided to take the bus/snocoach tour.  The bus takes you to an overlook above the trail and the toe of the glaciar.  From there you board a snocoach.  The tour costs $52.00 unless you have a  AAA discount or something. 
The snocoaches take you up to the second plateau from the top of the glaciar.  Ice is thickest at the center of the glacier.  Below the snocoach turnaround, it is deep enough to cover a building 100 stories high.  The ice is filling a deep depression in the bedrock below.  Ice here is about 70 stories deeper than the icefield cap and may be the deepest in the entire icefield area. 
This view shows the road the bus takes us up on with the view of another small glacier to the left.  The oldest and thinnest ice is at the toe.  As the glacier moves it stretches and bends and the ice cracks open.  Crevasses go down into the glacier nine stories or more. The last two deaths at the glacier were near the toe of the glacier.  When someone falls in a deep crevass, hypothermia sets in almost immediately.    
Here we are just starting our tour on the snocoach.  This hill seemed like it was almost straight down. 
Then we went through a big, deep puddle of water.  Our driver said it was to wash off the tires before we proceeded onto the glacier. 
Here we are arriving at our destination, as high as we get to go.  The snocoaches have six-wheel drive and cost over a half million dollars each.  There are 23 in the world.  22 are here and one is at the South Pole. 
There were little channels of ice cold glacier runoff and everyone was filling up their water bottles.  The icy water tasted great.  
The glacier can deposit up to 380 metric tons of silt and clay and 190 tons of sand every summer day as it retreats.    
All of the coaches were handicap accessible.  I think it's so cool that you can come to the top of one of the biggest glaciers in the world, even if you are handicapped.  After about a half hour enjoying the views and chilly temperatures, we headed back down. 
Faraway, on the right side of the picture, you can see where the buses are waiting for us.  
This is the view as we get to the edge and start heading straight down the glacier.  You can see a little stream of water beside us, as the glacier melts away.  Streams can swell to many times their volume from early morning to afternoon on a warm day.  If you hike across a creek in the morning, you may find there is no way to get back over it in the afternoon. 
Now we are on the bus and almost back to the Icefield Center.  Glaciar coverage in the Canadian Rockies has decreased by 25% in the 20th century.  Glacial fronts have retreated to positions last occupied 3,000 years ago.  If warming trends continue, Athabasca  Glacier could be gone in 90 years. Tree ring analysis shows spring and summer temperatures in the last half of the 20th century are higher than anytime in the last 900 years.  After this summer, I bet lots of people believer it!                   
Now we are heading to Banff National Park.                              More tomorrow or the next day.