Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 9

Along the Icefields Parkway.
Along the Icefields Parkway.

Thirteen days ago, June 20, 2015.

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.

Elk just south of Jasper townsite.
Elk 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:

Athabaska Glacier, 1970.  The parking lot is in the same place in both photos.
Athabaska Glacier, 1970. The parking lot is in the same place in the photo below.
Athabaska Glacier, 2015.
Athabaska Glacier, 2015.  The glacier has retreated about half a mile.

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.

Female bighorn sheep, just south of Bow Pass.
Female bighorn sheep, just south of Bow Pass.

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.

Train going through the lower Spiral Tunnel.
Train going through the lower Spiral Tunnel.  The part of the train below is passing underneath the part of the same train above.

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.

Takakkaw Falls, the highest single drop in Canada.
Takakkaw Falls, the highest single drop in Canada.

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.

My seventh and last bear of the trip, along the Yoho Valley Road.
My seventh and last bear of the trip, along the Yoho Valley Road.  The white is snow.

And more wildflowers, of course.

Forget-me-nots along the Yoho Valley Road.
Forget-me-nots along the Yoho Valley Road.
Wild orchid at Takakkaw Falls.
Wild orchid at Takakkaw Falls.

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.

Natural bridge, along the Emerald Lake Road.
Natural bridge, along the Emerald Lake Road.
Emerald (in name only) Lake.  The Burgess Shale site is up on that mountain somewhere.
Emerald (in name only) Lake. The Burgess Shale site is up on that mountain somewhere.

And another flower along the Trans-Canada Highway which I’d never seen before. Gorgeous red lilies.

Wild lily along the Trans-Canada Highway.
Wild lily along the Trans-Canada Highway.

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.