Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Day in Jasper National Park

May you enjoy this journal entry, that I have chosen to share with you, from the week that Bill and I spent in the Canadian Rockies, June 20-28.
A list of recent animal sightings, posted at the Jasper Visitor's Center, indicated that people had seen wildlife on the Maligne Road (pronounced muh-leen, with a French twist). Our early-morning start should make our chances of seeing animals more likely.
(We thought Jasper was a charming town)

Through beautiful scenery, we passed “watch for bear” signs, “caribou crossing” signs, and “mountain goat area” signs. We saw nothing, not even a chipmunk. We pulled off at Medicine Lake. Medicine Lake is really just a clog in the Maligne River, but, at this point, the river goes underground, creating the lake and making it appear as a separate entity from the river. Over the summer the lake drains into the underground river, and becomes very shallow.
(Medicine Lake in shades of placid blues)

On this day, the water was still high. In the morning light, with mist hanging on the mountains, Medicine Lake was the picture of serenity. Is there something more that makes these scenes feel so meditative, besides the color of the water, the grandeur of rugged snow-capped mountains, and the morning light? Perhaps, it is also the vacation mood, and the newness of the views to those of us who come from a different geological area. Regardless, I loved Medicine Lake, and walked closer to the water, through the wildflowers.

(Maligne Lake is framed by mountains from end-to-end)
Maligne Lake, at the end of Maligne Road, is more developed, with a cafe, boat rental, boat tours of the lake, a gift shop, and a tea house. We chose to hike the 3k Moose Lake Loop, despite the warnings to beware of moose, and how to react in the likely case that we would meet one. For the most part, the trail was wooded, first leading to Moose Lake, a small green  body of water that felt very remote. A few ducks had it to themselves.
(Beyond the blow-down, but not quite to the lake.  Moose territory?)

From there, we wondered if we had come to the end of the trail, even though it still appeared on the map. Blow-down almost obscured the way, as we climbed over logs. Bill wanted to turn back, and I agreed that, if the trail didn't present itself more clearly in a few minutes, we should probably do so. I began to wonder if we would come upon moose in this dense area, and I wasn't so sure I wanted to right then. Suddenly, I saw blue beyond, and knew that we had almost reached the shore of Maligne Lake, the trail's destination.
(Virginia keeps her feet above this ankle-numbing glacial water, but what a setting!)

How nice to have nothing better to do than to sit on the stony edge of the lake and watch the water and mountains, or the occasional boat pass by. We spent a long time here. A few people passed us, but we were basically alone. The trail continued along Maligne Lake to where we had begun. 
(Mama is a little patchy.  It's still spring here.)
("Wait, I thought my mama was right behind me!")

We had a good lunch at the cafe, before driving back on Maligne Road. Part way along, cars stopped by the roadside, a sure sign of animal activity. We got out and joined the small gathered crowd, peering through the trees. We could barely see one black bear lying down and resting, and another yanking greenery off the trees to eat. A few miles farther along, female big-horned sheep and their lambs walked at the roadside, nibbling grass. With patchy fur, partly shed, the females were not pretty, contrasting with their adorable long-legged lambs. Our list of animal sightings was improving!
(the water is wild coming through the canyon)

Our next stop was Maligne Canyon. This was similar to the flume at Athabasca Falls that we had seen the day before, but bigger. We learned that the water had begun carving out the stone while the glacier was still on top of it. Once the glacier retreated, the water level of the river dropped, and the deep rock gorge was exposed.
(Both the high road above the Maligne River and the low road through the canyon offer spectacular views)

We walked the length of the canyon, about 2.5 km one way, going down stairs and through rock passes. On the return, we chose to walk the high ground, on a mountain-bike trail. More level above the canyon, this path was also beautiful, with wildflowers on the hillsides, views down to the river, and up to the mountains.
(It's interesting to see how the 1% lives when visiting the chateaux.)

Showers came on in the evening. Our after-dinner plan was to visit Jasper's Fairmont Chateau, and also to hike a nearby Flower Loop. We drove to the Fairmont, and decided that we liked this one best of the three chateaux--Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper. In log construction, with colorful Adirondack chairs on the green lawn before the lake, the Jasper Fairmont seemed more relaxed and comfortable to us than the others, although staying here would be extremely expensive.

Rain came down harder. We chose to just find the trail head for the Flower Loop, but save walking the trail for the morning. Along the way, we again saw cars parked along the roadside. One man said that they had seen a brown bear, but now he was gone. We continued down a dirt road to the trail head, not far from the end of the canyon trail, where we had been earlier in the day.

Drizzle continued and we turned around going back along the narrow road. And there he was, just like a teddy bear and within feet of the road. We could drive very close, giving us a better view, by far, than other people had had just a short time before. This brown bear was busy, turning over rocks, looking for bugs. It was fun to watch him paw at the rock, make it tumble away, and then bury his snout into the dirt. And when he found all the snacks he could, he walked on.

We returned to the larger road, where a small herd of elk had caused a traffic jam! We certainly made up for the absence of animal viewing earlier in the day. If the weather had been nicer, we would have walked the Flower Loop and missed all this...or, if the weather had been nicer, would the animals have been elsewhere too?