DAYS 24 AND 25 – En Route to Jasper and the Canadian Rockies

Saturday August 30 (Muriel)

Leaving Kamloops, we drove north through the valley of the Thompson River and then the North Thompson, past many hay farms, surrounded with mountain slopes in depressing condition.  None appeared to our untrained eye to have old growth forest.  Many had been clear-cut and looked scalped.  Others had been something like 90% logged, looking like the first pass of a military crew-cut.  Others that were covered by what appeared to be secondary forest had huge numbers of brown conifers or dead ones.  This was true on the 90%-logged slopes as well as second-growth areas.  We figured the dead trees were due to pine-bark beetles, but were told by a waiter the next day that it was almost all from a huge forest fire about 5 years ago in British Columbia.

We stopped at a “Fas Gas” station in a small town and used its self-service carwash of the to wash most of yesterday’s thick but uneven coat of tan mud off our car.  We got to play carwash, manning the hose and figuring out how to switch between soapy and clear water.  The car looked considerably bluer after our $3 worth of water time at $1 for 2 minutes.  It was sort of fun to use the carwash equipment and wipe it off with a rag loaned us by Fas Gas, but neither of us plans a future career in car washing.

We stopped for lunch in one of the few tiny towns, Valemount (pronounced Vall-mount).  There were three restaurants, not counting a filthy looking Chinese eatery.  We could not resist trying the “Loose Moose Pub and Bistro.”  Lunch was good, the bar wench-food server was friendly, and we learned how to pronounce the town name.

Fine Dining at Valemount

Up, up, up we drove, through alternating sun and fairly light rain through Mt. Robeson Provincial Park.  By now most of the trees were alive and green.  We enjoyed views of the tallest of the Canadian Rockies and stopped at the nature center.  We learned Mt. Robeson contains the headwaters of the Fraser River, the major river that flows to Puget Sound at Vancouver.  That’s the river that still supports salmon in a major way, since it is not dammed.  We continued to Jasper Canadian National Park.  We paid a hefty fee to be in Canadian National Parks the next four days.  We set our watches an hour ahead; we left British Columbia and entered the Province of Alberta when we entered Jasper CNP.  We were now in the Mountain Time Zone.

Impressed by the views of many peaks, partially shrouded in cloud, some partially covered with snow or glaciers, we reached the town of Jasper.  After checking in at the Sawridge Hotel, we headed for the local information center.  A ranger advised we could depend on daylight until 9:30, so we drove to nearby Pyramid Lake.  There we parked and walked over a short bridge to a very popular, restored island with killer views of water, mountain peaks, and an almost-killer-cold wind.  There were friendly German tourists, red squirrels and only one bird, a female Bufflehead.

Driving out to Pyramid Lake, we noticed a bunch of cars parked along both sides of the road.  Their occupants were out watching and photographing elk that were grazing alongside the highway.  There were around four female and young elk.  Returning to town after visiting the lake, we found an adult male elk with huge antlers had joined the group.  Closer to town we found a second male elk with a less imposing rack.

We had dinner at the hotel, following an opportunity to get our laundry into the washing machine behind the indoor swimming pool.  I interrupted my dinner 45 minutes later, to move the laundry to the dryer.  We were the last diners to leave the restaurant, and headed to our room to sort laundry at an altogether unreasonable hour.

INITIAL IMAGES OF JASPER

Sunday, August 31 (Muriel)

We drove out of town to Bridge 5 along the Maligne River.  This wide, fast flowing river was named “Wicked” by a French frontier priest for being so evil to cross.  We got to cross on an almost stable suspension bridge that removed the evil aspects for us.  We walked along an excellent path for almost a mile and a half to Bridge 6, a solid feeling wood bridge that was designed for vehicles as well as pedestrians.  Most of the area was forested, but the trees were smaller than those in coastal Washington.  After using the excellent non-flush toilets, we retraced our path to our car.  Noting the good condition of roads, paths, toilets, bridges, and all, we started to think the Canadian National Parks give good value for their relatively higher fees.  And the scenery was priceless.

Once back to the car, we realized that after we crossed the bridge we had walked in the opposite direction from the one suggested to us.  Was upriver even more lovely?  I was not ready to find out.  Instead we drove along the river, stopping at some fabulous viewing sites.  At one stop, the parking lot effect happened.  In the surrounding conifers and aspens, we finally saw birds other than crows and ravens.  A couple of flycatchers teased us at length, but we ID’d them as Western Wood Pewees.  There were several small birds that may have been chickadees – or not-, a probable Wilson’s Warbler, and pair of probable Western Tanagers.  The birds were fast flying, impossible to see when landed among fluttering aspen leaves, and we had little feel for the size of the trees they were in.

We hoped to find lunch at Maligne Lake at the end of the road, but there were so many vehicles parked in the 3 lots closest to the facilities, we avoided the throng and headed back to town.  Not many restaurants were still open for lunch at 2:30, but finally found a less lovely pub than the Loose Moose.

After lunch, we headed out the old highway, encountering minimally maintained roadway and no viewpoints.  Where the old highway rejoined the new one were the amazing Athabasca Falls.  The Athabasca River flows north, eventually into the Arctic Ocean.  At these falls, the fairly wide, calm river rages as it drops dramatically through slots and canyons it scoured through the rock.  The water carries highly abrasive glacial flour, resulting in rock formations incised into rounded layers all around the falls.  Below the falls, the river is again wide and fairly placid.

We tidied up back at the hotel and headed several miles out of town for dinner.  Our table gave us a view of a lovely lake, as the light faded.  Then it was back to Jasper, a town that was becoming familiar.  Not only does it have many, many hotels, restaurants, and stores selling tourist and regular items, it has a train station, parks, and residential streets with substantial buildings.  Some of the residential and public buildings appear quite old.  Apparently the town is a ski center in winter.

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