Cold Days in Jasper

Jasper, Alberta

The weather has continued to be unseasonably cold here in the Canadian Rockies.  One morning we awoke to a temperature of 24 degrees!  That’s a little too cold to do much hiking so we took a few scenic rides around Jasper.  As we left Whistler Campground lamenting the cold waiting for the Jeep to warm up, we passed the two tourists pictured below.  OK, our complaining became a bit pathetic.

Great day for a bike ride

We first headed up Maligne Canyon Road to check out some mountain views.  But it’s difficult to enjoy “mountain views” under a thick covering of clouds.  Oh well, the snow on the pines provided some beautiful winter scenery (but it’s only the first week of September!).

Maligne Canyon Road

One of the reasons for driving up here was to check out Medicine Lake.  Summer visitors assume that Medicine Lake is a normal mountain lake, but it isn’t.  During the summer, glacier melt waters flood the lake, sometimes overflowing it.  In fall and winter the lake disappears, becoming a mudflat with scattered pools of water connected by a stream.  But there is no visible channel draining the lake – so where then does the water go?

The answer is, “out the bottom”, like a bathtub without a plug.  The Maligne River pours into the lake from the south and drains out through sinkholes in the bottom.  The water then streams through a cave system formed in the limestone rock, surfacing again in the area of Maligne Canyon 10 miles downstream.  This is one of the largest known sinking rivers in the Western Hemisphere and may be the largest inaccessible cave system anywhere in the world!

Medicine Lake

We hoped for many wildlife sightings along this road, but apparently animals don’t like late summer snow falls either and must have been home watching re-runs of Dr. Phil.  But we did spy the sheep pictured below feeding along the road.

On the trip back down the road we passed the sheep again, but this time they were enjoying some quality time blocking traffic.

The next (cold) day we drove south on the Icefield Parkway to see what we could see.  Our first stop was for a visit to Athabasca Falls.


Two cold foreign tourists by the Athabasca River above the falls

Athabasca Falls is not known so much for the height of the falls (75 feet), as it is known for its force due to the large quantity of water falling into the gorge.  Even on a cold morning in the fall, when river levels tend to be at their lowest, copious amounts of water flow over the falls.

The river ‘falls’ over a layer of hard quartzite and through the softer limestone below carving the short gorge and a number of potholes.

Over time the river has carved new channels through the rock and abandoned older channels.  One channel abandoned by the river is used as a walkway for views back up the falls.

Since it was cold and windy we decided to stay inside the Jeep and continue down the Icefields Parkway another 30 miles to visit the Columbia Icefields Discovery Center.

Columbia Icefields Discovery Center

The Icefields Interpretive Center stands across from the Athabasca Glacier.  It is used as a lodge and for ticket sales for sightseeing on the glacier.

Athabasca Glacier

Look real closely at the center of the picture above.  See that black spot on the glacier?  A zoom shot reveals that it is a cluster of the main mode of transportation onto the glacier.

Standard buses transport tourists from the Discovery Center to the glacier edge, where they board specially designed snow coaches for transport over the steep grades, snow and ice part way up the glacier.

Across from the Discovery Center is a road leading to a parking area at the base of the glacier.  From there you can hike up the hill for a close up view.  Along the road and then the hiking path are markers indicating the edge of the glacier in previous years.

The glacier currently recedes at a rate of about 16 ft. per year and has receded almost  a mile in the past 125 years, losing over half of its volume.

Just north of Athabasca Glacier on the Parkway is the Glacier Skywalk.  Similar to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, the Glacier Skywalk juts out over the edge of the cliff about 918 feet above the valley floor.  For $25/person you can spend an hour standing on the clear-bottomed walkway.  We passed on that great deal!

The weather people are predicting warming temperatures this week-end, so we hope to get out for a few hikes up into these beautiful mountains.  But for now we are stranded in a cold forest that is blocking our satellite dish.  Since we shut down our data plan in Canada we also are without any Internet!  Wow, we seem to be back in the 20th century.  So we are spending some quality time at the local Tim Horton’s Cafe and Bakery (free wifi) and checking out the local video rental store.

Posted in Uncategorized | 16 Comments

Its Beginning to Look a Lot Like . . . – Are You Serious?

Jasper, Alberta

Yesterday we drove about 220 miles from Edmonton to Jasper National Park.  The road is mainly flat with the mountains slowly growing in front of you as you head west.

The weather report called for cold weather and rain today so we anticipated a down day.  But we awoke to 35 degree temperatures and when we raised the shade and looked out the front window this is what we saw!

Are you serious ? ? ?  This is September 8th ! ! !

We only get one TV station out here, a local analog feed of a station in Edmonton.  We were surprised at how calmly the weatherman reported the snow, even in the city.  He said this was the earliest they had seen snow since 2004.  2004 ? ? ?

Maybe we’ll just explore in the Jeep today.  The prediction is for rising temperatures as the week progresses so relief is on the way!

Posted in Uncategorized | 37 Comments

Life in the Big (Canadian) City – Calgary and Edmonton

Edmonton, Alberta

Our main reason for traveling to Alberta is to visit Jasper and Banff, two of Canada’s most beautiful and popular national parks.  On the cruise we took last December, we were introduced to a wonderful Canadian couple, Steve and Esther, who recommended we visit these parks in September, after high vacation season.  We have reservations in Jasper beginning next week so, since we had some time on our hands till then, we decided to visit two of Canada’s largest cities, Calgary and Edmonton.

We left Waterton and drove north along the eastern edge of the Rockies.  There were mountains on our left . . .

. . .  and prairie on our right for most of the drive.

First up for us was Calgary, the largest city in Alberta with a population of over a million people.   Calgary is a diverse, rapidly growing area with a housing shortage driving a construction boom.

Downtown, with the Calgary Tower visible between the buildings

The Calgary Tower, seen above, was opened in 1968 as the tallest structure in Calgary and the tallest in Canada outside of Toronto.  At a height of 626 feet today it is dwarfed by many of the tall buildings that have been built around it.

The Bow River runs through the center of Calgary and is surrounded on both sides by walking/biking paths.  As we rode along the river we were surprised to find that the surf was up!

Surfing Calgary style

Calgary hosted the Winter Olympics in 1988, and a park in the center of the city was the scene of the numerous medal ceremonies held during the games.

Olympic Plaza

The University of Calgary is one of Canada’s top research schools and has over 25,000 undergraduates.

As we rode our bikes through one of the numerous parks in the city we passed an interesting competition, dog Frisbee.  The pooch below was pretty adept at catching the Frisbee but if Dave and Sue’s dog, Lewis, was here, we know he would catch the flying disc and follow it up with a “victory lap” as well!

Calgary skyline

The next day we drove to the west side of town to visit Calgary Olympic Park, site of many of the events of the 1988 Olympics.  Below you can see the ski jumps on the left and the bobsled/luge run on the right.

The site is now owned and operated by WinSport, a non-profit organization dedicated to training athletes at all levels in winter sports.  Many of Canada’s winter Olympians train at the site.

The bronze medal is awarded to a young athlete!

Bobsled/Luge run

Snowboard half pipe

The most impressive facility in the park is the Marken MacPhail Center.  In the picture below the training facilities are in the white building on the left, while the multi-colored building holds the main office of Hockey Canada, a winter sports Hall-of-Fame, and other offices.

The training facility has four ice rinks.  One has an international size ice surface with  seating for 3,000.  The other three are NHL size (a bit smaller than the international rink) and limited seating and are used by the public for skating lessons, practices, and pick-up games.

The international size rink

One of three NHL size rinks

The facility also houses something called the Ice House, the world’s only indoor push-start facility for Bobsled, Luge, and Skeleton.

After enjoying a few day in Calgary we continued our trek to the north for a visit to Edmonton, Alberta’s second largest city with a population of over 800,000.  One of the things we definitely wanted to check out here was the West Edmonton Mall.

This mall is the largest in North America and the tenth largest in the world.  It was the world’s largest mall until 2004.   There are over 800 stores and services (including two Starbucks!) and parking for more than 20,000 vehicles.  More than 24,000 people are employed at the property. The mall receives 32.2 million visitors per year and attracts between 90,000 and 200,000 shoppers daily, depending on the day and season.

There are a number of unique displays and activities in the mall (when you live in a cold climate like this you better have something to attract people!).  Below is the Sea Lion pool.  Yes, a Sea Lion pool with shows put on twice a day.

Near the Sea Lion Pool is a life size replica of Columbus’s ship the Santa Maria, built for the 1986 World Exposition and used for fund-raisers.

Another attraction is the World Water Park, the second largest indoor waterpark in the world, built in 1985, with a size of almost five acres.  The park has the world’s largest indoor wave pool and the highest slides in the park are 83 feet high.

The wave pool

Water slides and seating area

What would a huge indoor mall in Canada be without a hockey rink!  The rink below is a bit smaller than an NHL rink.  At one time the Edmonton Oilers practiced on it, drawing huge crowds during the Wayne Gretzky era.  During our visit they were setting up for a concert the next day.

Another day we parked the Jeep in a residential area and rode a bridge over the North Saskatchewan River to the center of the city.

As everyone knows (OK, maybe not everyone!) Edmonton is the capitol of the Province of Alberta.  So we had to take a ride around the capitol building and check out the many fountains in front of the main entrance.

A few blocks away was the main reason for our visit to the center of the city, a large farmers’ market.  The market was filled with vendors selling all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables.  We took an extra backpack with us and filled it with many fresh goodies!

The Edmonton skyline from across the river

As big cities go, we really enjoyed both Calgary and Edmonton.  Both cities were very clean and the people were very friendly.  The only negative we could find, and it’s a big one, is the climate.  Our visit was during the first week of September and we had to run our electric heaters each night!  The predictions for the upcoming week include one night with a low temperature below freezing!

Now its time for us to head west for a visit to Jasper National Park.  More on that later . . .

Posted in Uncategorized | 17 Comments

International Peace Park Hike – Waterton, Alberta

Waterton Park, Alberta

The first thing we did upon arriving in Waterton Park was to visit the park’s information center for hiking maps.  The volunteer there told us about a ranger led hike the next day beginning at 10:00 AM.  The hike would go along the west bank of Waterton Lake for about nine miles, ending at Goat Haunt, a tiny ranger station at the south end of the lake.  Since Goat Haunt is in the U.S. they suggested you bring your passport.  The return trip would be on one of the cruise boats on the lake. The hike would be jointly led by a interpretive guide from Parks Canada and a NPS ranger from the US.  That sounded good to us, so we signed up and headed to the boat dock to buy tickets for the return.  There is no charge for the hike but it is $27 for the boat.

The next day was sunny and warm, a great day for a hike and we arrived at the trailhead a few minutes before 10:00 .

The group gathers to begin the hike

Great views of the mountains and Waterton Lake were frequent along the trail

Since it was along the lake, the trail was generally flat, but it did have some “ups” and then “downs” along the way.

The rangers took turns leading the group, stopping along the way to give some great information about the “flora and fauna” we passed.  Below shows our Canadian guide, David, telling us about the range of travel for bears in the area and how the parks track the bears.  Note the barbed wire wrapped around the tree in front of him.  They now track bears by DNA.  Bears like to rub against trees, so when they rub against the tree with the barbed wire some of their fur is left on the wire, providing the sample needed to identify that bear.

Across the trail from where David gave his talk was a motion-sensing wildlife camera used by the parks to monitor movement of wildlife (and, incidentally, hikers) in the area.

About half way down the lake you come to the Canada-US border, marked by two obelisks that recognize border treaties between the two countries.

An American stands in Canada

A tradition on this hike is to preform a ceremony called “Hands Across the Border” to recognize the friendly relationship between Canada and the U.S.

Hands Across the Border

Looking across the lake at the border you can clearly see a line going up the mountain.  Yes, that is the border.

In 1925, the International Boundary Commission was established as a permanent organization responsible for surveying and mapping the boundary, maintaining boundary monuments (like the obelisks), as well as keeping the boundary clear of brush and vegetation for 20 feet.  This “border vista” extends for 9.8 ft on each side of the line.

At one point the trail led over a fixed bridge crossing a stream with rapids.

At another spot it crossed a wider, slow moving river on a wobbly suspension bridge.  Since only one person was allowed on the bridge at one time it took a while for the thirty people in our group to cross, but nobody fell into the river.

At the end of the hike we rounded a curve in the trail and the Goat Haunt Ranger/Customs hut came into view next to a picnic pavilion.

If you came down the lake on the boat and wanted to do a little hiking, you had to first clear customs, as the boat trip began in Canada and Goat Haunt is in the U.S.  Apparently there must be illegals who take the boat to this point, then hike the 20+ miles through the wilderness to enter the U.S. illegally, so it is definitely worth the expense of posting 2-3 customs agents there every day!

Looking back north from Goat Haunt

We arrived just a few minutes before the last boat departed back into Canada so we were able to board and get comfortable for the return trip without delay.  The U.S. customs guys rode the boat back with us, so if anyone hid in the bushes along the lake they were free to stay in the U.S. (hope they had their bear spray!).

Arriving back at Waterton Park tired and hungry we looked for somewhere to have a healthy, nourishing meal.  Someone on the hike recommended the health food establishment pictured below, so in we went!

Nothing like a foot long hot dog and fries to rejuvenate the soul and body!

Hiking with guides who know the area is always a great activity.  Our guides were very informative and taught us a great deal about the area, especially the variety of plant life along the trail.  We had a great time!


Posted in Uncategorized | 27 Comments

Welcome to Canada – Waterton National Park, Alberta

Waterton Park, Alberta

We left our spot in Johnson’s of St. Mary RV park and headed north to visit Waterton Lakes National Park, the northern Canadian portion of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

The day was clear and cool as we headed over the Chief Mountain Highway toward the US-Canadian border.

Chief Mountain

The road meandered over hills with some nice views of the mountains of Glacier NP to the west.  We did see some ferocious wildlife along the way.

Wildlife along the Chief Mountain Highway

Mean Joe didn’t seem to concerned about a 40′ vehicle passing him (slowly)

Someone left the gate open!

The border crossing only took us about five minutes.  Four of those minutes were spent talking to the guard about life in a motorhome.

We quickly found Waterton Springs RV park and set up for a four night stay.  Then we headed about five miles south into the Waterton Park, a small, upscale vacation community nestled between the mountains along Waterton Lake.  The road into the park is dominated by the Prince of Wales Hotel, a landmark on a hill overlooking the village.

The Prince of Wales Hotel

The village only has about a hundred permanent residents, but during prime tourist season (July and August) it is a bustling community.  There is a very nice RV park in the village,but it is very popular and we couldn’t find an open site.

Decorative flower arrangements are found all over town

Look in any direction in Waterton Park and you are treated to a great mountain view.

The Prince of Wales Hotel dominates the view to the west.

Constructed between 1926 and 1927, the hotel was built by the American Great Northern Railway to lure American tourists north of the border during the prohibition era. The hotel was named after the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), in a transparent attempt to entice him to stay in the hotel on his 1927 Canadian tour, but the Prince stayed at a nearby ranch instead.

Rooms start at $199 and tea time is from 1 PM to 5 PM.

Afternoon entertainment in the lobby

Looking up at a chandelier in the lobby

View from the front of the hotel looking south into the U.S.

Tomorrow we head back into the USA, but on foot as we have reserved a spot on a ranger led hike to the south end of the lake.

More on that later . . .

Posted in Uncategorized | 32 Comments

Hiking the Highline Trail – Glacier NP

St. Mary, MT

On our final day in St. Mary, outside the east entrance to Glacier NP, the sun finally came out!  We had to extend our stay here two days to take advantage of this day so we could do one of the best hikes in the park, the Highline Trail.  For this hike we drove up the Going- to-the-Sun Road to Logan Pass, the highest point on the road.  We parked the Jeep there to begin our hike.  The trail follows along the Continental Divide, also known as the Garden Wall, for almost eight miles to the Granite Park Chalet, then goes steeply down hill for four miles, where it ends at “The Loop” on the Going to the Sun Road.  There we hopped on a park shuttle for a ride back up the mountain to Logan Pass.

Sunshine at last as we entered the park at St. Mary

As soon as you begin the hike the views are awesome.

These two mountain goats were enjoying breakfast near the trailhead

The trail quickly becomes a bit narrow as it runs along a steep cliff.  In most places the ledge, hanging like a shelf on the Garden Wall, is only four to six feet in width, and has drop-offs of a hundred feet or so down to the Going-to-the-Sun Road below.  Fortunately the National Park has installed a hand cable along this stretch of the trail.

Small waterfalls frequently crossed the trail in this section.

From here the trail continues to hug the cliffs and slopes of the Garden Wall.  This is a very popular hike and we met many hikers along the way, some in groups with a guide.  The picture below shows one of these groups but . . .

. . . a full zoom shot is needed to see them.

The first part of the hike was in areas shaded from the sun, so it was a bit cool.  But finally we broke out of the shade to experience our first bit of sunshine on the trail in the last four days!

This is what George sang about (first cut on side two of  The Beatles Abbey Road album)

As we stopped for a brief rest the guy below put on a little show for us.

He found a nice site on a rocky ledge for a little nap, but the site needed a little landscaping.

Once that was complete he settled in to watch the hikers below.

Hey, goats need wifi, too!

Lunch with a view

A marmot enjoys some sunshine

Mama keeps watch . . .

. . . while junior takes a rest

The view west to Lake Macdonald

Finally, as we scanned the horizon, the Granite Park Chalet came into view.

Granite Park Chalet on the right

Zoom of the chalet

Approaching the chalet

The Granite Park Chalet was built in 1914 and 1915 by the Great Northern Railway to provide comfortable backcountry accommodations inside Glacier National Park.  The rustic lodge was the last of the nine chalets built by the railroad, and today is listed as a National Historic Landmark.  The Chalet is essentially a simple hiker’s hostel, with virtually no amenities.  It has 12 guest rooms, each with 2 to 6 bunks. There’s no electricity, but the common-area kitchen does have a propane stove.  Reservations are necessary for an overnight stay.

Granite Park Chalet

Front entrance to the chalet. Oops, how did that picture get in here?  Sorry!

View looking west from the chalet

Looking to the south

After enjoying lunch and a rest outside the chalet, we began the hike down the mountain.

Deer along the trail are not bothered by passing hikers

A field of wild flowers

We finally made it down the trail to The Loop where, fortunately, a shuttle van was waiting, so we were able to quickly return up to the Jeep at Logan Pass.

After a long 12 mile hike, a good meal was just what we needed.  A few days earlier we met with Rick and JoAnne, who are camp hosting in the Apgar Campground.  They suggested we stop at a quirky little place just north of St. Mary called “Two Sisters.”  We thank them for the tip as we had passed the place earlier and it didn’t look too inviting.  But we found it to be a neat, off-beat place to eat and the food was very good!

While waiting for our food we enjoyed looking at all the “stuff” on the walls, particularly a display of all types of bumper stickers next to us.

We were pleasantly surprised to spot a Wake Forest sticker in the middle (we have an alumnus in our immediate family).  Go Deacs ! ! !

The Highline Trail is definitely a “must do” hike if you visit Glacier NP.  It is a long one but since you start the hike at a high altitude, it is fairly level, and the views are fantastic!

That’s it for our stop at Glacier NP.  Next up is a trip to an exotic foreign country!

More on that later . . .



Posted in Uncategorized | 43 Comments

Grinnell Glacier Hike

St. Mary, Montana

After three days of steady rain on the east side of Glacier NP, the weather prediction finally had only a slight chance of rain under cloudy skies.  That’s good enough for us!  We headed back into the Many Glacier section of the park to hike the 6.5 mile trail up to the Grinnell Glacier.

The first part of this hike runs a mile along the west side of Swiftcurrent Lake.  At the far end of the lake there is a great view back at the Many Glacier Hotel.

Looking across Swiftcurrent  Lake at Many Glacier Hotel

About a quarter mile up the trail you pass the next lake in the chain of four lakes along this valley, Lake Josephine.

After passing  the one mile length of Lake Josephine, the trail begins to gain in elevation.  Soon the third lake, Grinnell Lake, comes into view.

The opaque turquoise color of the water in Grinnell Lake indicates that it is glacial water.  The color is from rock flour, rock ground to a fine silt by a glacier.

Sometimes on mountain trails like this you look ahead and wonder just where the trail will be going.  The picture below is an example of this, as there doesn’t appear to be anywhere for the trail to go.  But as we approached the base of the rock face  we could see climbers above us and the trail came into view along a ledge winding up the cliff.

At one turn in the trail two big horn sheep were enjoying lunch just above us, oblivious to our presence.

We found ourselves hiking while enjoying a great view of a long waterfall.  Our destination is at the very top of the picture below.

The trail continued up along the face of the cliff.  Below you can see a group of hikers in the center of the photo (small black dots).

The last quarter mile winds steeply up over loose rocks, the most difficult part of the trail for us (especially after six miles of elevation gain in a steady drizzle).  But the view of Upper Grinnell Lake and the glaciers at the end of the trail made the climb worth the effort.

Upper Grinnell Lake with Salamander Glacier above it

Upper Grinnell Lake with rain dancing on the surface

The panorama below shows the lake and two glaciers, Grinnell Glacier on the left (long and narrow) and Salamandar Glacier (center).  About a hundred years ago both were joined together to form one huge glacier.

Beauty found along the lake (sorry about the rain drop on the lens)

View of Grinnell Lake, Lake Josephine, and Swiftcurrent Lake

Some one of our readers have commented on the lack of flora pictures in our blog, so we have added some for them her (these are for you, Sue).

Fireweed above Grinnell Lake

Indian Paintbrush

This fellow enjoyed a relaxing lunch while watching us pass by

One option to shave a couple of miles off this hike is to take a boat across Swiftcurrent Lake, hike a quarter mile, then take another boat across Lake Josephine.  The drill sergeant who planned and supervised our hike made it clear this was not an option!

The hike up to the glacier was spectacular, despite the rain and clouds.  To top it off, as we drove past the river near Many Glacier Hotel we spotted a bear and her two cubs crossing the rapids.

We first thought it was a grizzly but have decided that it is a cinnamon black bear.  The two cubs had a bit of a time crossing in the strong current.  Just after taking the picture below the second cub was pushed under and down stream a few feet.  But it quickly recovered and scampered up the bank on the other side.

The weather tomorrow is for sunny skies, so we’ll head up the Going to the Sun Road for another exciting walk through nature!

More on that later . . .


Posted in Uncategorized | 34 Comments