Monday, August 1, 2016

Jasper National Park

July 11 - 19, 2016:

It rained again overnight, I believe it has been cloudy or has rained every day for the past two weeks. No wonder everything is a lush,mossy green and the rivers are all flowing full and fast.  We get a early start at 8:30 as we have about 250 miles to travel.  We drive separately back to the town of Clearwater where I fuel up, get the propane tank filled and then hitch the Jeep up to the RV.  

We continue north on Route 5, it’s beautiful country mostly through a valley between the mountains except for a couple of passes.  Of course, we have intermittent rain virtually all the way.  We stop at the town of Vallmont for a lunch break, A & W Root Beer for me, they are very popular here.  
I never check fuel mileage, but I’m starting to wonder about how much the mileage drops off on the RV when towing and if we are really saving anything by towing.  I hate towing, it’s a real drag on the RV, makes it so much more difficult to fuel up, to make stops, turn around, etc.  The journey is part of the joy for me, almost as much as the “getting there”  and towing sort of ruins it.

We receive great news from our Colorado friends, Judy and Hughes Moir, the forest fire was stopped just short of their house and all is well.

Petro Canada and A & W go well together 

A few miles past Clearwater, we take route 16 east to the entrance of Jasper National Park where buy senior “Discovery Passes” which get you into all Canadian National Parks for free for two years.  It pays for itself after 7 days and we figure we will exceed that on this trip alone.  I am however disappointed that no one has checked our pass yet, after being here for five days, could we have just bought a daily pass ? 

We are getting familiar with the metric system out of necessity, kilometers and centigrade are almost understood.  I just love the $2 coin, but the paper money really feels like play money.  We are also finding that most things cost more in Canada, even with the current favorable currency exchange rate. There are a few exceptions like Salmon, Beef, Pork, Potatoes and Maple Syrup, while Chicken is crazy expensive.  Our Canadian friends always complain that their money doesn’t go as far in the US due to the exchange rate, we aren’t exactly buying that story anymore.  Another thing to be aware of when traveling in Canada is that Canada has extremely stringent DUI laws.  I think the penalty is almost on par with committing murder.  Our Canadians friends will not have one beer, even with a meal, and drive.  Alcoholic beverages are also more expensive in Canada.

We continue on route 16 through Jasper, stopping for a traffic blockage caused by tourists watching Caribou next to the highway.  Tourists simply go “Nuts” when they see Bear, Deer, Moose, Elk, Big Horn Sheep etc, near a road, stop the car, jump out into traffic with cell phone risking life and limb to get a photo.  We then proceeded to the Pocahontas Campground.  Our camp site is in a beautiful forest setting, but very unlevel.  After using all of our leveling boards we are still quite tipsy, but hopefully it will not be a problem for our refrigerator.  They have fire pits in all campsites and each loop has a free wood pile, but you need a $8.50 fire permit each day to have a fire, no fires for us here.  This seems to be the way it is at all campgrounds here and seems a little excessive to us.

A healthy looking Mountain Goat

It rains practically all night and intermittently in the morning, the weather is not cooperating at all.  We can’t see the famous mountains, so we decide to visit downtown Jasper and explore there.  

Jasper historically started as a Hudson's Bay Trading Post called "Jaspers House" in 1814 along the Athabasca River far removed from the current town site.  It picked up the name “Jasper” from Jasper Hawes who was the postmaster.  The "Grand Trunk Railroad" opened a siding in 1911 which eventually developed into the town of Jasper.  Jasper National Park was established in 1907 and the town quickly became a tourist center.  They have managed to keep the town sort of quaint and comfortable, not too pretentious and upscale, if you know what I mean. They could sacrifice some of that quaint for a big gas station /convenience store, as the current ones can't handle the large RV's or the quantity of cars now in town.

The Athabasca Hotel is the grand old Hotel in town

The beautiful stone Jasper Information Center

Excursion train getting ready to pull out of Jasper

Old Steam Train next to the Train Station

Old Railway advertisement

Lots of souvenir shops in Jasper

A "wanna be" Canadian at the Whistle Stop Cafe

We then took a ride to the upscale Jasper Lodge sitting on the shores of beautiful Beauvert Lake.  I was hoping to see a grand old rustic Lodge similar to ones at Yellowstone or Yosemite, but to me, although very nice, it lacks the rustic atmosphere to blend into it’s surroundings.  The original Lodge was a grand old log Lodge, but unfortunately it burnt down snd was replaced with something more of a Frank Lloyd Wright design.

A pool with a view at Jasper Lodge

It is still raining on and off when we take off for the Maligne Canyon trail at the 6th Bridge trailhead.  It is a beautiful trail, one of the most popular in Jasper as it follows the Maligne River along its deep, narrow canyon.  We hike from 6th Bridge to 3rd Bridge and back for about 6 miles total and the rain holds off until the return trip.  We return on Sunday to the massive parking area at the 1st Bridge amidst bus loads of tourists and hike with the short but steep section from 1st Bridge to 3rd Bridge.  We then walk the short trail section above 1st Bridge to the Tea House, which is now so much more than a Tea House.  It has a really nice quality gift shop, (no cheap tee shirts), a good food and drink selection and lots of inside and outside patio seating.

The view from 6th Bridge, the river goes from this to a
narrow high velocity chute as shown below

Deep, narrow section of the Canyon

We then head to downtown Jasper and visit the Jasper Yellowhead Museum which had good area history exhibits, but not much in the way of artifacts. I find the history of the early fur trappers, the Hudson Bay Company and the North West Company very interesting and there is much in the museum on this.   I have been reading a book on David Thompson who was perhaps the most incredible explorer, surveyor, journal writer and map maker in North America.  He died a poor man, unknown to the mainstream, and only in recent years has his greatness been recognized.

This area was explored and settled originally just
to get the Beaver pelts for those fashionable, (in
their day), Beaver Hats

They wouldn't have gotten far without the help
of the indians referred to as the

"First Nations People" in Canada

David Thompson was one tough explorer

As it is Thursday and we have no reservation at a Jasper campground for Friday through Sunday, we decided to go to the Whistlers Campground and inquire about the potential of available campsites on Friday morning.  The attendant at the National Park Visitor center had told us that it might possibly to get in on Friday and if not there was always the Snaring Overflow campground.  The Campground attendant at Whistlers kindly told us that all 781 campsites were reserved from Friday to Sunday, but we could go to the Snaring overflow campground.  We then check the Snaring Overflow campground to take a look and found no one there, the gate was locked closed, and no information signs.  We then check the Snaring main campground which is almost across the road that is all first come / first served campsites and we see several open campsites that we can fit into. We decide to grab one immediately, fill out the payment envelop, leave a couple of chairs in the site, then rush back to the Pocahantus Campground where Twinkles packs at few breakables, drives back to the Snaring Campground, while I finish packing and then drive the RV over.  The campsite at Snaring is actually better, cheaper than the campsite at Pocahantus and closer to the town of Jasper, wish we had just gone there first !  The riddle was solved on Friday afternoon when they opened the Overflow Campground, it seems they only open it when the other campground are completely full. Now we know how it works, but don’t understand why they keep that a secret ? It's a real pain in the ass trying to camp at popular parks during tourist season !!!

The old Railroad Bridge next to Snaring Campground

View from the river near the bridge

Friday morning and it is cloudy and raining again like it has every day we have been here.  We’re looking forward to Saturday when one sunny day is forecast, although that is likely to change.  As it is pretty nasty out, we decide it’s time to visit the new downtown Jasper Library.  Next was a Bakery stop for coffee and a scone at the very busy, popular and good “ The Other Paw Bakery Cafe”.
As usual, the weather clears in early afternoon so we go for a short hike at Pyramid Lake and over the foot bridge to Pyramid Island.

Pyramid Lake view

Saturday amidst clouds and a few sprinkles we head from Jasper south on route 93, The Icefield Parkway, to explore the northern end of the Parkway.  Our first stop was is Athabasca Falls.  These Falls are not that high, but you are able to stand in close proximity to them and the speed, volume, noise and power of the water is awe inspiring.  There is a viewing view at the top of the falls and under the falls.  It is a favorite attraction at Jasper and was very crowded.

Athabasca Falls

Our second stop was the Sunwapta Falls which were similar to the Athabasca Falls with an upper and a lower viewing level.  The lower portion involved a much longer hike that was far less crowded.  Many of the tourists are on a schedule, in a hurry and only stop for a quick photo or a couple of minutes and are then off again.

Sunwapta Falls

Sunday is cloudy with intermittent rain in the morning, again as we set off for Maligne Lake which is one of the top attractions at Jasper.  It is a beautiful ride even when the mountain tops are obscured by the clouds.  We stop at Medicine Lake along the way near a 2015 lightning caused forest fire.  It is a huge lake that fills during the winter with the snow melt and then completely drains during the summer through a hidden underground cave system

A cloudy Medicine Lake

The weather improves as we arrive at Maligne Lake where we hike the very wet, muddy 2 mile Mary Schaffer Loop Trail.  The big attraction at the Lake is the Boat ride, but on a somewhat cloudy day it’s not worthwhile.  There are lot and lots of hiking trails and a large Lodge with a restaurant, gift shop and an outside patio overlooking the Lake.  In the evening the clouds have lifted and I go for a short drive, see a Black Bear and a several Elk close up and a couple of scenic lake views.

View of the old boat house on Maligne Lake

A beautiful Lake for canoeing

Maligne Lake from a boat dock

This Black Bear came out of the lake and across
the road in front of me, it has a radio collar

The Elk seem to like to hang out next to the highway

On July 18th we leave Jasper and drive approximately two hours south on Icefields Parkway to Icefield Center visitors center where we are looking for the main campground.  Of course it started to rain shortly into the ride, but became clear on arrival.  We see a lot of RV’s pulling into something signed as the RV parking lot which we eventually find is both RV parking and campground.  There is much confusion as an RV touring company is using this as a meeting spot for about 45 RV’s on a tour.  Twinkles finds out the whole story when talking to a woman on the tour who happens to be from Tom’s River, NJ.  The campground is actually just a parking lot, no hookups, a cheap overnight with a million dollar view.  After the tour group leaves we are able to move to a better spot.

Tour RV's lined up in the Campground

View from Icefield Center deck

The Columbia Icefield is a huge glacier directly in front of the Icefield Visitors Center with a steep walking trail to the toe of the Glacier.  They also offer a Icefield tour that takes you on a large all terrain type vehicle out onto the Glacier.  It is a major tourist attraction with a constant line for tour tickets at $80 each which includes an glass observation platform walk, but we were satisfied to take the free walk.

Amazing views along the rocky trail

Twinkles steadily walking the plank towards the Glacier

Hikers along the Icefields trail

What appears to be a rock mountain side is actually
is dirt covered glacial ice

Gouges in the rock from the movement of the Glacier

The glacier has receded steadily since in mid 1800's
as evidenced from early photos and these signs

The crowds, the food and concession prices here are insane, we haven’t purchased anything other than a couple of coffees.  The number of rental RV’s is amazing as well, mostly driven by European tourists it seems.  The rental company, Canadream, must be making record profits, they are everywhere.  I believe the Canadian National Parks are having the same problems as the US Parks, overwhelmed by the number of of tourists and not properly funded to handle them.  I would much prefer to come to these parks in the spring or fall seasons, but then you have to deal with cold temperatures and often they are not 1005 open.

CanadDeam RV rentals were everywhere

Afterwards, we take a ride to the Tangle Creek Waterfall and then to a couple of other excellent mountain and glacier viewpoints.

Tangle Falls

On the 18th, it’s cloudy and raining again in the morning, but partially clears in the afternoon, this seems to a daily condition.  We take a drive about 35 miles south on the Icefield Parkway to check the views.  We take a short trail to Mistaya Canyon and Waterfall and Twinkles says "they are all starting to look the same".  We are becoming somewhat jaded about this incredible scenery.

Next stop is Yoho National Park,
Twinkles and Slick

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