19 September 2015
Last full day of vacation, and the plan was to stooge about the town of Banff for a while, then drive the Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise to the southern end of Jasper National Park. There weren’t any trials, tribulations, or other distractions the previous day, and I was hopeful that the run would continue. Breakfast at Denny’s. By the way, I did try the Canadian dish of poutine on a couple of occasions, and liked it. It tastes about the way you’d expect fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy to taste.
After the spectacular drive into Banff, I came across the road to Lake Minniewanka. The Lake:
There’s some information here:
I could see that the weather had deteriorated from yesterday, and in fact the rest of the day would be an exercise in dodging rain. At times, there were full-on rain storms, but you can’t control the weather, and have to make do with what you have. Being from the Northwest, I don’t mind wet and grey, but the challenge was to view vertical landforms against horizontal cloud layers.
Back to Banff, there was the Bow Falls, which is really a big rapid:
There’s a paved trail along the falls, and a kayak rental place below them. I really wanted to see some kayaks shoot the rapids. The rock forms on the left of the picture are very typical of rocks throughout the park. In the same area there’s Banff Springs Hotel:
Also in Banff is the Cave and Basin Historic site, the place where Parks Canada got its start. I went to the site, but decided not to enter. It was going to be a long day, and I wanted to save resources for other things.
Procured coffee at Starbucks (probably the first franchise in space), and headed north to the Icefields.
I mentioned previously that I didn’t see any access control on the day before, and wondered how Parks Canada could charge for access. I discovered on this day that the Park had set up roadblocks to various attractions, like Lake Minniewanka. Following instructions, I’d taped the park pass to the driver’s side passenger window (The actual instructions say ‘tape to drivers side’: some room for interpretation.), and breezed through. It appears that Parks Canada is to some extent relying on the innate responsibility of civilized people to follow the rules, and for Canada that may well work. Not so sure how that would work in the US.
Just north of Banff, and in the area of the spectacular mountains I’d seen the day prior, are the Vermilion Lakes:
The placard details the mountain building process, and there are signposts to tell you what you’re seeing:
North of Lake Louise is the start of Icefields Parkway, and there are, in fact, some ice fields and glaciers.
Next is Bow Lake:
And Bow glacier:
There’s a road to an observation point for Peyto Lake, and at 7000′ is the highest point on the Parkway. When I visited there was about 10 cm of snow on the ground. The observation point is about 300 meters off the parking lot, and you’re feeling the altitude. The trail opens onto an observation deck overlooking the valley and the lake, and isn’t recommended if you suffer from vertigo:
Bow Peak and the lake:
The area on the left is a glacier bed. A look down the valley:
It’s a good 300 meters straight down to the lake, but the view is stunning. There’s a short 400 meter interpretive trail off the observation trail, so I took a walk. At this point you’re pretty much at the tree line, and even on this short trail the trees change dramatically. You can find out one way conifers reproduce:
And see the process in action:
There are several other signs with information on plant and animal life at the treeline. Back at the parking lot, there’s a view of Observation Peak, but I’ll have to take Parks Canada’s word for it:
Most of the drive the temperature was around 11C – 12C, but here it got to 6C. This wouldn’t be the coldest spot on the day, though.
Cruise Canada must be doing land-office business, because I saw their RV’s everywhere:
This probably looks a lot better when you can actually see it.
Not far from Bow Peak is Waterfowl Lake:
The plant on the left had gone to seed, and had white puffs like cotton. I don’t know what kind of plant it is.
The next attraction was Mistaya Canyon. I didn’t know what to expect here, but the canyon is about 500 meters off the road. It’s a pretty good grade downhill, and you know you’re going to be making the same hike uphill.
On the way to the canyon, there’s a sign:
And the canyon proper:
A bridge crosses the canyon, and there are a couple of trails. One goes up the side of the slope to an overlook. The warning signs make it sound like the trail clings to a cliff side, but it’s a normal trail, although steep, and you do want to stick close to the up-slope side of the path. The top of the trail doesn’t really give better views than you’ll get at the bridge.
Back on the road, there was some compensation for the rainy weather:
Saskatchewan Crossing is where Hwy. 11 intersects Hwy. 93, and there’s a store/restaurant/hotel/gas station complex here. There’s an installation in the parking lot with a compass rose and map showing the various attractions in the area. This is also home to the largest crows I’ve seen:
I wouldn’t leave small dogs and children unattended. By the way, there’s essentially no phone service in Banff National Park. Outside of Canmore and Banff, your phone is useless. There isn’t even service at Saskatchewan Crossing. I didn’t mind, because I couldn’t be reached, but on the other hand, if you get in trouble, you can’t reach anyone.
It’s about 30k from this point to the Athabasca and Saskatchewan glaciers, and even though it was getting late in the afternoon, I was going to see those glaciers. About 2/3rds of the way there, the valley comes to an end, and the road makes a large bend to gain elevation and exit the valley. The view from the overlook just before the pass:
The mountain on the right is called Weeping Rock, and there’s Bridal Veil Falls on the left:
This is the third Bridal Veil Falls I’ve seen (the others being in Yosemite and Columbia Gorge), and this one probably ranks between the other two.
Not far from here is the boundary between Banff and Jasper National Parks:
There’s a monument here explaining where all that water is going. Some goes to the Atlantic ocean:
And some goes to the Arctic ocean:
You won’t see that in the lower 48.
Almost within sight of the park sign is Athabasca glacier. Along the access road to the parking lot, there are signs showing the extent of the glacier at various dates. The parking lot is built on the glacier bed, and you can hike up a short, steep trail to see the toe of the glacier. The glacier bed:
Along the way, there is ample evidence of glacial activity, including scoured rock:
The toe of the glacier:
It was cold and windy here. Air comes down the valley and is refrigerated as it moves along the surface of the ice. Wind was a good 70 km/hr,, and the temperature was likely in the low single digits; much lower with the wind chill. I had the hood on my hoodie up and drawn snug. Most folks were wearing parkas and wool hats. Very different conditions than in the parking lot. On the way back a Japanese gentleman asked where the glacier was, and when I showed him, he took a look and turned around. Can’t say I much blame him: he’d seen it. It was cold. I was looking for a souvenir rock, preferably one with glacial scarring. I couldn’t find any that would fit in my baggage, so took an example rock. Hey, it’s been in a glacier.
Back at the parking lot, a rainbow:
Another glacier in the same location:
Saskatchewan glacier is adjacent to Athabasca:
That’s as inviting as Canadian Customs.
Last year I took a picture of the chariot in front of a cargo plane, this year: scenery:
I’d had an idea to take Hwy 11 east to Red Deer, then south to Calgary so I could see more of Canada. When I got to Saskatchewan Crossing and made the turn, there was a sign giving the distance to Red Deer at 263 km. Um, no. That would be three hours, and then another four to Calgary. It was late enough in the day that most of the trip would be made after dark, and as with cats, all scenery looks grey in the dark. As it was, there was about 250 km to cover back to Calgary, but driving through Banff Park is no great hardship. Another glacier along the way:
I got to Canmore around 8, and had to stop for gas (petrol). I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so found a diner and had dinner. Mediocre food and service, but I was too tired to quibble. Back on the Trans-Can to Calgary. A long day,but very enjoyable.