Waughop Lake is part of Fort Steilacoom Park in Lakewood, Washington. It used to be a farm for the mental hospital across the road, where the patients doing farm work was considered therapy back in the old days. Nowadays it’s a city park, with soccer fields and a bark park (as my sister calls off-leash areas) and trails. And an old cemetery managed by a wonderful group called Grave Concerns.
Waughop Lake is not a Native American name, even though it sounds like it ought to be, at least to me. It’s named after a former superintendent of the mental hospital.
Anyway, it was a lovely spring day, and my new camera lets me take much better photos than my old one. So here’s some of what I saw.
So. This is the first photo I took with my new camera (a Nikon Coolpix L340). Say cheese, Theodore!
My old camera is 10 years old, so it was time and past time. I have a lot to learn about this camera, even if it is just a point and shoot. Also, there’s a little red light flashing at the lower left of the preview screen, and the manual doesn’t say what it is or how to get it to shut off. But I’ll get there.
My friend Loralee and I went to Mt. Rainier for a wildflower jaunt on Wednesday. This just goes to prove that I have an unending jones for wildflowers, because I’d just seen tons of them on my trip to the Canadian Rockies.
It was hot in the lowlands, our 14th consecutive day above 80 — we tied a record yesterday with another one — so the 70s predicted for Sunrise at 6300 feet (about 1920 meters) on the east side of the Mountain sounded wonderful. (it’s been remedied by the long overdue return of our onshore flow, the wind off the ocean that we often refer to here as our natural air conditioning — so far, today’s high’s been about 70F (about 21C)).
We stopped to pick up what I always think of as an insta-picnic at Subway on our way up, and got to Sunrise around noon. We had a lovely picnic, then I went for my usual jaunt around back behind Sunrise to Shadow Lake while Loralee strolled closer by.
If I hadn’t known for a fact that it was July 8th, I’d have sworn it was the middle of August. There’s usually at least some snow on the ground near or on the trail this early in the season, the pasqueflowers aren’t quite over, and there’s glacier lilies everywhere.
On this July 8th, there was no snow whatsoever except way up on the Mountain, the phlox that normally blooms in late July was all but finished (I found maybe two clumps that hadn’t gone to seed), the lupines were past their prime, and there were August asters everywhere.
It was still gorgeous, as usual, but still.
Here’s some of what I saw today:
All in all, given the lack of winter and a so-far unreasonably hot spring and summer, not bad.
But, as I said to Loralee on our way down the mountain, “Harebells! In early July!”
And so I turned towards home. But I had one more day in the Rockies, driving back down the Icefields Parkway, then west through yet another national park, so while I might have been headed back technically, there was still more than plenty to see.
For some reason I woke up at the crack of dawn, and was on the road by 7:30 in the morning. I wake up a lot earlier than I normally do when I’m traveling, but this was sort of ridiculous. On the bright side, because I was out so early, I got to see some elk alongside the road just south of Jasper townsite.
I’m sort of jaded about elk — I’ve seen so many of them in Yellowstone, and even had one bull in rut bugle under my hotel room window all night there once — but they’re still beautiful animals. I was less enamored of the tourons who were walking right up to them to take photos, but Darwin knows what to do with them.
I arrived at Athabaska Glacier by late morning, and stopped at the Icefields Centre, which I hadn’t done on the way up, just to see what was there. An unfinished (they were still working on the exhibits) big fancy building, mostly, but I did buy my fourth and last magnet of the trip in the gift shop there. I also took some photos from that new vantage point (up the slope on the other side of the valley from the glacier), and when I got home, discovered that among the slides I brought home in January from my mother’s house, there was one I’d taken (my Instamatic took square slides, so that’s how I know it was mine, not my father’s) of the same glacier from a similar viewpoint back in 1970. So here’s what a graphic example of global warming on a human timeline looks like:
Then it was down, down, down into the Bow Valley, with one brief stop to keep from running over another small group of bighorn sheep, to Lake Louise village, where I bought tea and then headed west on the Trans-Canada Highway toward Kicking Horse Pass, my last crossing of the Continental Divide, and Yoho National Park.
Kicking Horse Pass (so named because an early explorer got kicked in the head by his horse there) was a fascinating place. I’m not that much of a railroad buff, although I’ve ridden Amtrak cross-country several times, but I’d never seen a railroad do what this one does before. The grade is so steep that it was all but impossible for trains to make it over the pass. That is, until an engineer got the bright idea to build tunnels in a figure eight configuration, giving more room for the trains to climb more gradually, with the tracks crossing over themselves as they climbed. If the train is long enough, you can see the engines and first cars passing directly over the later cars below them. I was lucky enough to be there when a long train passed through, and actually got to see this happen. It was hard to get good photos, but here’s one.
After I finished marveling at the turn-of-the-last century engineering feat, I drove a bit further west and turned onto the Yoho Valley Road, which winds (including a couple of “I hope Kestrel doesn’t rear-end himself” switchbacks) up the Yoho Valley to Takakkaw Falls, the highest single-drop waterfall in Canada, at 850 feet. There’s a trail right up close enough to feel the mist, of course. It really reminded me of Yosemite Valley, only without the crowds. It was also a great place to picnic.
And I saw another bear on the way up there. My seventh and last of the trip. I’ve never seen that many bears on one trip before.
And more wildflowers, of course.
The visitor centre at the village of Field, back on the Trans-Canada Highway, was my next stop, with its little exhibit about the Burgess Shale, one of the most famous fossil beds in North America. Unfortunately, the site itself is only accessible by guided tour and a long, steep hike, but at least I got to see some of the fossils.
My last side trip of the day was the road to Emerald Lake and the natural bridge along the way. I was more impressed with the natural bridge (and its lovely waterfall) than I was with Emerald Lake. It was still pretty, though.
And another flower along the Trans-Canada Highway which I’d never seen before. Gorgeous red lilies.
Then it was on to the town of Golden, and my hostel for the night, run by a very friendly Scottish woman who fosters cats for the local humane society. First cat fix I’d had since I left home, and very pleasant. She also recommended a restaurant, the Wolf’s Den, which was part historic log cabin and part sports bar, serving an excellent hamburger, salad, and the best onion ring I’ve had since Burgerville perched on top of the burger. The TV was playing the U.S. Open golf tournament, playing this year at Chambers Bay, just down the road from where I live (and part of the reason I timed my trip as I did), which I found rather amusing.
And that was my last day in the Canadian Rockies. For this trip, anyway. I’d love to go back someday. I had a day and a half drive to get home, and a few more things to see along the way, though.
It was another misty moisty day and cloudy was the weather, as my mother would say (in sharp contrast to what we’ve got here in western Washington as I write this — we just came off the hottest June on record, and it’s supposed to get over 90F today, which is 20 degrees above normal), so I decided to start with something indoors, to give things a chance to improve.
But first I stopped at a Tim Horton’s in Jasper townsite, where they sold me a large hot tea and Timbits (doughnut holes) for breakfast. I’d never been in a Tim Horton’s before (I’ve seen their ads on the Canadian TV station I get on my cable at home), but they do very good tea and doughnut holes.
Jasper townsite has an active historical society, and an excellent museum telling all about its human history. The woman staffing the museum told me about at least one place I wouldn’t have known about otherwise, too, and was very friendly and informative in general. I am a big fan of local historical societies who are lucky enough to have volunteers like her.
It had cleared up a little by the time I left the museum, so I headed out to a pair of lakes, Patricia and Pyramid, which turned out to be a lovely short drive. I don’t know who Patricia Lake is named after, but Pyramid Lake was named after one of the mountains that looms over it, which is sort of pyramid-shaped. If you squint at it from the right angle. More to the point, Pyramid Lake has an island, accessed by bridge, with a pleasant walking trail around it. Even the rain, spitting and spatting, didn’t ruin the pleasure of that walk.
My next goal was Maligne (pronounced Ma-LEEN if you speak English, Ma-LINE if you speak French, according to the lady at the museum) Canyon, the third of those slot canyons I saw on this trip. More deep narrow recesses with water thundering down, more all but unnecessary bridges because it was basically close enough to jump if you were crazy, more wildflowers, more thundering waterfalls. And a sign telling all about how this canyon, at any rate, was created because I was standing on a karst formation. Karst. Here. I always associate karst landscapes with Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave. It seemed very odd to run across it way off up here, for some reason. And the landscape was so green and lush. I’d had it in my brain that the whole of Jasper National Park was going to look like the area around Athabaska Glacier, but it doesn’t. Not at all.
Just after I turned around (the trail and canyon go on for several miles, but I only walked down to the third bridge and the waterfall, about a kilometer, mindful of the steepness of the trail going back uphill), the skies opened up. If I hadn’t been wearing my raincoat, I’d have been drenched. My feet absolutely squelched, though.
While eating my lunch in the car after, I discovered Jasper must have a repeater for the Edmonton CBC radio station, because I got to listen to a gardening show, which was fascinating. Seems to me like it would be an uphill battle to garden so far north (although many of the houses in Jasper have nice gardens), but apparently it’s worth it.
And so on to Maligne Lake. I passed Medicine Lake on the way, which, because of the karst, drains completely by late summer.
Maligne Lake is another of those jewels dropped into the middle of a forest, with mountains all around, and should be part of the seven wonders of the natural world, not Lake Louise, IMHO. If it weren’t for the mosquitoes and the rain continuing to threaten, it would have been almost too perfect. But about the time I got back to my car, I got showered with ice pellets. In late June.
On the way back to Jasper townsite, I saw four bears. One lone male, then a sow with two cubs. Pretty exciting stuff, and by far my best bear photo of the trip.
When I got back, I prowled town for a bit, ate supper (better than the night before, thank goodness), bought some candy called naked bear paws (cashews on caramel), and headed for the hostel. Back down the Icefields Parkway tomorrow, the first step in heading home <sigh>.
Yesterday got away from me. So we’ll start again with day six today.
Off to Lake Louise. The literature says that it was once counted as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. I can’t say it lives up to that sort of hype, but it was rather spectacular. And about as crowded as Johnston Canyon was yesterday, due mostly to tour busses carrying folks speaking at least a dozen different languages (primarily French, but several other European languages and at least that many Asian ones).
It was pouring rain when I left Banff townsite to drive the thirty-odd miles to the lake, but by the time I got halfway there, to leave the Trans-Canada Highway for the upper half of the Bow River Parkway, it was just barely spitting.
It was much cooler, though, and today was the first day I really appreciated the fact that I’d brought my insulated jacket. I was also glad I’d taken as many photos of the mountains as I had over the last two days, because the cloud deck was low enough to drape like a shawl over the shoulders of the mountains, and I wouldn’t have nearly as many unimpeded photos as I do if I hadn’t (I uploaded my photos to my laptop that night, to discover I’d taken about five hundred on the trip so far — thank goodness for digital cameras, is all I can say, and you’re getting the cream of the crop).
So. Lake Louise. One of the most famous lakes in the world, or so I’m given to understand, named after one of Queen Victoria’s daughters, bright turquoise, nestled in a glaciated valley just below the Victoria Glacier, and ringed by mountain peaks. Really beautiful, actually. The hotel at the foot of the lake, also famous, I gather, is almost exactly like the one in Banff. Big and fancy and run by an international hotel chain, so without the kind of character and uniqueness a hotel in a place like this should have.
There’s a nice, paved path around the west side of the lake which I strolled for some distance, hoping for mountain goats on the mountainsides above, but no luck, alas. Perhaps tomorrow on the Icefields Parkway. And, my curiosity satisfied, I head back down to the turnoff for Moraine Lake, which I’ve also heard good things about.
Moraine Lake, is, if anything, more gorgeous than Lake Louise, backed by a whole range of mountains. The outlet of the lake is marked by a huge natural rockpile, with a trail going to the top. By then it had pretty much quit raining altogether, and the clouds were beginning to rise, so I took the short hike up there to goggle at the view, spotting more wildflowers along the way as a bonus.
One of the exhibit signs said this was where the picture on the back of the Canadian twenty dollar bill was taken, but I took one out of my wallet and apparently they’ve changed the design. Still, the view was well worth immortalizing, so I did.
On my way back to Banff townsite, I stopped in the village of Lake Louise (a couple of miles from the lake itself), and went in their visitor center. Unlike the ones for Kootenay National Park (actually in Radium Hot Springs), which only had a tiny exhibit section, and Banff townsite, which was just a bunch of information desks (although, to be honest, with the Whyte Museum and the Cave and Basin site it would have been redundant to do more), the Lake Louise visitor center had a great set of exhibits on the geology of the area.
And so back down the upper section of the Bow River Parkway, where I saw a wild canine! It was either a very large, very healthy coyote, or a lone wolf. Or maybe, from the tail, even a huge fox. From the distance at which I saw it, it was hard to tell (this photo has been cropped and enlarged to a faretheewell).
And then, further down the road, another bear! My second one of the trip.
Add to that the loads of Columbian ground squirrels and least chipmunks (the latter of which were all over the place at Moraine Lake), and the ravens and magpies and Clark’s nutcrackers (the latter of which were all over the place at Lake Louise), and I’ve seen lots of critters so far.
Once back in Banff townsite, I filled Kestrel’s gas tank against the drive to Jasper tomorrow, which I was seriously looking forward to. Especially if the weather improved.
This morning I visited Cave and Basin National Historic Site, on the outskirts of Banff townsite. It contains the hot spring that first brought the area to the country’s attention and thus ended up being Canada’s first national park in 1885. Something they’re very proud of and make a bigger deal of than we do with Yellowstone (or some misguided folk, Yosemite), believe it or not. The first preserve was just a big spring inside a cave, discovered by the Stoney Indians, then rediscovered by some prospectors, who brought it to the attention of the railroads. It was developed into something of a resort, as have most of the other hot springs in these national parks.
They let you go into the cave, via a tunnel that was apparently blasted through the rock (the only entrance originally was in the top of the cave, and the only way in down via rope — the current entrance is a simple stroll). The basin, basically a pool, is still in fairly pristine condition, too, but the facilities built back in the early days for the tourists have all been closed down and paved over.
The main exhibits were about the Canadian national park system, with a big multimedia program which was well worth watching. I do find it amusing that it was hot water that started both the U.S. and Canadian national park systems. I didn’t know that the Canadian national park service (whose members are called wardens, not rangers) predates ours, though. The Canadians have the first national park service in the world. We just used the Army to patrol our parks until we finally got our act together and created a park service.
Next, I made the brief drive out to Lake Minnewanka, which, like Jackson Lake in the Tetons, is not an entirely natural lake, having been dammed at some point in its past. But it was still a pretty drive, and I saw my first bighorn sheep of the trip alongside the road here, which was very cool. It was also a good place for a picnic lunch.
Then I headed back up to Johnston Canyon, where I did find a parking space this time, and I saw more bighorn sheep along the Bow River Parkway on the way there.
Johnston Canyon is, like I said before, another one of those narrow slot canyons, except that the trail for this one goes through the canyon itself, rather than along the rim. The trail is cantilevered out over the river for several stretches, which makes for some good views, and about half a mile in, there’s a waterfall. You can see it from the main trail, but there’s a tunnel, the far end of which is so close to the waterfall itself that you’re standing in the mist.
The whole thing kept making me think of the Mist Trail in Yosemite, only not nearly so strenuous. Not less crowded, alas — people were even pushing strollers up that trail, which sort of boggled my mind. It was a spectacular trail, though.
My last jaunt of the day was back in Banff townsite: the Whyte Museum, where I caught a tour of two of Banff’s earliest houses, both log cabins, one owned by the people who started the museum, and the other owned by some early pioneers here. The museum itself was about the history and culture of the Banff area, and well worth the time I spent there.
It was a full day, and a good one. One more full day in Banff, then off to Jasper on Thursday.
From Radium Hot Springs to Banff, aka, why is there a city in the middle of a national park?
Canadians have a much different idea as to what’s appropriate in a national park than we USAians do. I knew that, in theory, before I made this trip. But there’s something just really odd about having what I think of as a gateway community (and a bloody big one) inside the national park as opposed to just outside its border. Let alone what looks like their equivalent of an Interstate highway right through the park.
But I get ahead of myself. Twelve days ago today I drove back up into Kootenay National Park, and what should I see right after I emerged from the red rock canyon? A bear! My first one of the trip, but not my last. I don’t have a good picture of him, alas — I’d already passed him before I could get stopped, and there was another vehicle behind me in the pullout so I couldn’t back up, so the two photos of him I do have were taken through the back window of my car (no way was I getting out of my car to get a better look — I pride myself on not being a touron, as the Yellowstone folks sometimes refer to people who seem to be aiming to win the Darwin award).
I drove on, chortling about seeing a bear, up the route I’d taken yesterday and beyond, past Marble Canyon and up to the Continental Divide, which is also the border between Kootenay and Banff National Parks. I’m afraid my photo of the sign proclaiming this got sun-glared, but here it is, anyway.
It’s not far from the Divide to the junction with the Trans-Canada Highway (the aformentioned Interstate-alike), a four-lane behemoth of a road that bisects Banff NP. Fortunately, there’s an alternative, the Bow Valley Parkway, which is a winding two-lane that runs from just north of Banff the town to Lake Louise. I joined it about halfway between, just below the imposing and appropriately-named Castle Mountain (although apparently after WWII, it was renamed Eisenhower Mountain, of all things — that didn’t last long).
The Bow Valley Parkway is much more traditionally national parkish. Lots of pullouts with informative signs, trailheads, and so forth, and very peaceful, with one exception. I had thought to stop at Johnston Canyon, which was the second of those narrow, deep slot canyons, this one with a trail that goes along the bottom, but the parking area for the trailhead was so full that I couldn’t find a place to park. So I told myself I’d come back the next day, and kept going south to Banff the town.
Banff the town is beautifully situated, surrounded by some really oddly-shaped mountains (I have to say that I’ve never really seen mountains shaped like the Canadian Rockies anywhere else), and where the Canadian national parks began with a hot spring (more on that tomorrow). It’s also incredibly busy and touristy, but I really didn’t mind. Especially since my hostel, right on the Bow River (pronounced like bow and arrow, not bow or curtsey), was within walking distance of practically everything. The hostel was in a huge old building that used to be a hospital, but it was clean and pleasant and if it felt a bit institutional, that was okay, too.
After lunch in a restaurant (in a mall! in a national park!), I went exploring. Found the Bow River Falls, which were gorgeous.
Visited the Cascade Gardens behind the big stone Banff park admin building, which were another anomaly, albeit an enjoyable one, from my point of view.
Wandered through the public rooms of the Banff Fairmont Chateau Hotel, which was much less iconic looking on the inside than it was on the outside, and drove up to the foot of the gondola, decided that it was not for me (I don’t do manmade heights, and this one made the one at the Tetons that scared me half to death last summer look like a quick lift to the top of the bunny slope), and ended up parked in the shade in their parking lot writing in my journal and enjoying the view.
I’d meant to visit at least two of the museums this afternoon, but it was Sunday and they were closed. So I put them on my agenda for tomorrow.
I like Banff the town. It’s just not my idea of what should belong in a national park, is all.
In which I run into an old friend, sort of. Or have one flow by me, at any rate.
My first order of the day was to go explore Kootenay National Park, one of the two parks of the contiguous four Canadian Rockies parks on the BC side of the Continental Divide. So I went through the entrance gate, and paid for an annual pass (which came out to $50-something American), because it was more economical and convenient than buying eight days’ worth of daily passes, and there was no in between alternative. Not that I’m complaining. An American annual national parks pass costs $80, and I buy one of those every year because it always ends up paying for itself.
The road into the park leads up through a red rock canyon that had apparently been blasted out by navvies with dynamite back in the day, past the hot springs (which have been developed into swimming pools, etc., and aren’t in their natural state like the ones in Yellowstone), and up over a pass into the valley of the Kootenay River.
I used to live beside that Kootenay River when I lived in Montana. It flowed right through Libby, the town I lived in briefly. It was rather astonishing to look at a map that evening and discover that the Kootenay (named after a local Indian tribe) starts in Canada, drops briefly down into the U.S. by Libby, then heads back up to Canada where it eventually flows into the Columbia, which flows back into the U.S. and out into the Pacific Ocean. Rivers are very convoluted in this part of the world. Or maybe it’s just the national boundaries that make it seem that way.
I drove about an hour up into the park, through the valley lined with sheer mountains on either side. I saw a couple of deer, but that was it so far as wildlife was concerned unless you count the many, many chipmunks hanging around wherever I happened to stop the car. I kind of wonder if that’s the case because Kootenay is called the “highway” park, since the reason it exists in the first place is due to the highway, which the federal government built in return for the donation of the land to create the park. It’s a through road that connects southern BC with the Trans-Canada Highway — the speed limit is 90 kph (55 mph), and most drivers seem to treat it as a two-lane freeway rather than the kind of national park road I’m used to. I was passed frequently on the straightaways by people going considerably over 90 kph.
My destination that day was Marble Canyon, which was the first of several long, narrow slot canyons I saw on this trip. It’s not really marble, but dolomite (which I’d always thought was a kind of limestone, but the signs seemed to distinguish between it and limestone, so maybe not), and it’s pretty impressive, a stream at least a hundred feet below thundering and echoing off the vertical, sheer walls close enough together that if I was nuts I could probably leap to the other side.
Wildflowers everywhere, too, which surprised me as I thought I might be a bit too early in the season this far north. I suspect their abundance had something to do with fires that swept through this part of the park a few years ago, opening the forest and allowing plenty of sunlight.
On my way back, I stopped at the only commercial development inside the park, thinking I’d eat lunch at the little restaurant, but it was not quite ready for customers yet, so I picnicked, then drove back on down to Radium Hot Springs, where I stopped to photograph the red rock canyon, then crossed town to reach the north-flowing Columbia River and ponder just how long it would take for the water passing in front of me to end up in the ocean.