By the time morning came and I had a good night’s sleep, I was in a much better mood, and knowing that I still had a camera that worked helped my mood as well. We didn’t have much of a plan for the day except to continue south along the Columbia Icefield Parkway, to see at least part of Banff, maybe visit Lake Louise, and then find a place to camp for the night.
We left the campground quite early, hoping to have plenty of time to amble along and see whatever caught our fancy. In fact, it was so early that I had trouble taking photos with much of the landscape still shadowed by the incredibly high and steep Rocky Mountains all around me. As we climbed to the summit of the parkway, I was excited about seeing another glacier and the famous Columbia Icefield.
Jasper is certainly beautiful, and the Rockies have their own personality, all that limestone makes shapes that are very different from the volcanic and wild metamorphic mountains that we have traveled through in Alaska. We arrived at the glacier early enough to miss the most of the tourists.
I had somehow expected lots of ice along the Icefields Parkway, I have no idea why, but I pictured it all snowy and icy and that we would be driving very close to the icefields and the glaciers. It isn’t that way at all. The glacier itself is just a small piece of its former glory, like so many others, it has receded dramatically in the last half century. We walked around a bit, but weren’t inspired to do much hiking through all the rubble to the tiny bit of dirty blue ice that was visible to us from the trailhead.
Again, there were the markers showing the extent of the ice in years past, and the incredibly fast rate of recent recession. The visitor center at the summit of the parkway is reputed to be beautiful and interesting, but the parking lot was already getting full and we just weren’t up to another battle to see more stories about the Columbia Icefield.
Do I sound jaded? I don’t mean to. It was truly a beautiful drive, but we were so very spoiled by the beauty and especially the isolation in Alaska that it was hard to get into visiting here. I hope we go back sometime, and take the time to enjoy the special beauty of the Canadian Rockies and the beautiful national parks, and especially some of the surrounding areas. Sometime when I am not filled with images of solitude and isolation and roads that stretch for miles without another vehicle in sight.
As we continued south, the traffic started picking up and it was hard to pull over into any of the turnouts for pictures because they were already full of cars and people. There were some incredible lakes along the way, with reflections that were breathtaking, and the photos I got show a bit of blur to the trees because I had to get them while we were moving, out the window. Still, when I look back at these photos, I am amazed at the color and shapes.
The road south to Banff is excellent, with interesting bridges constructed across the highway to allow the animals to cross safely. Literature suggests that these barriers and bridges are actually working, although I couldn’t help wondering what would happen to an animal who happened to find its way inside the big fences along the highway. How would they get back out?
We decided early on that driving east into the actual town of Banff wasn’t something we wanted to do. Camping there is tight and expensive, we had no reservations, and after all this was a Friday night. Instead I just wanted to see Lake Louise, maybe hike around a bit, maybe even go for a kayak. Silly me. Once we arrived in the town of Lake Louise, the crush of traffic and tourism really became fully apparent.
I once heard that Moraine Lake was even more beautiful and a bit more isolated, so we decided to go there first. Parking the big rig in the visitor center parking lot was easy enough and we unhooked and loaded up into the baby car with the dog. It was under 20 miles of narrow winding road to the parking lot for the lake and another 1/2 mile to walk from the long line of cars already parked along the road outside the lot. Hmmm.
In spite of the crowds, though, the short hike around the lake was well worth the effort. Moraine Lake is a lovely turquoise gem set into the rugged mountains. The lodge was lovely, small and inviting, with wonderful cabins overlooking the lake with huge picture windows and fireplaces. It might be fun to be there in the morning and evening after all the people thinned out. Abby loved swimming as well, even though the water was cold from the glacier that feeds the lake.
After our hike, we returned to the car with the plan to take a similar hike at Lake Louise. We drove past the lodge and tried to figure out just how many miles we would have to walk before we got past the parking lot. The traffic was thick, and jammed to a halt trying to get into the filled lot that was farthest from the lake. Maybe I will see Lake Louise on another trip, but this time we looked at each other, hooked a fast u, and drove back to the motor home and out of the town in short order.
In very little time, on that broad smooth fancy highway, we were traveling west on Highway 93 toward Kootenay National Park, another Canadian gem. There were far fewer people on the road, and the vistas were lovely, but it was still too early in the day to think about stopping so we just continued on west toward British Columbia and Radium Hot Springs.
I have always wanted to visit Radium, and many of my friends from the Spokane area loved to go to Fairmont Hot Springs for skiing and winter sports. Radium Hot Springs was a charming little town, but the crowds were again building and the traffic was getting heavy. We stopped for a photo of the odor free pools, filled up with gas and continued south on 93, admiring the beautiful Columbia River Valley from high on the hill and laughing at the bighorn sheep wandering around through town.
Mo was getting a bit tired with all the driving, and we were both in the mood for a steak of some kind, so we thought that a stop in the Invermere Visitor Center would yield some good information. Usually the visitor centers are wonderful places with great volunteers eager to share their joys with us. That was not the case here. The two women were incredibly snotty, acting as though we were unbelievably stupid to think there might be a place to stay on a Friday night, and that we were even more stupid to think we would find a steak in Invermere. Well, excuuuuussseee me!!
I guess this strip through BC is fairly toney, with most of the RV parks converted to lease lots and resorts not particularly suited to travelers just passing through. We found a tiny place on the map called Fort Steele, and I asked one of our non-friendly ladies if there might be something there, and she seemed to think we could park in the Pioneer Town parking lot. Fine. Another 80 miles or so was nothing, right?
There were several provincial parks along the way, but we were just in the mood for boondocking and knew that probably on a hot summer Friday night there wouldn’t be any space for us there anyway so we continued south. Finally at Fort Steele, we were surprised to find the lovely little pioneer town closing up for the evening with very LARGE signs saying No Overnight Parking. Hmmm. To my delight, however, one of the young women closing the place down said,”There is a WalMart in Cranbrook and you can park there.”
Yaay! Off we went down the road, ten more miles, to the sweetest WalMart I have seen in a long time. We certainly weren’t the only ones with the same idea as the parking lot was filled almost bumper to bumper with motorhomes and fifth wheels, some folks even set up with chairs. I told Mo the boondock etiquette suggests we don’t open our slide, but we decided to do it anyway. Our rig is half the size of most even with the one slide extended! We did not set up the bbq or put out the chairs at least.
There was an employee in the parking lot and I asked him where I could find a good steak and he sent us down the road to Mr Mikes where we had a great steak supper with a “cheap” bottle of red house wine that set us back $31.00. Guess we should have asked the price when the waitress told us about the 5 bucks off special on the house red. LOL That dinner cost 100 bucks but it was a deal at any price after our long day, and our night at WalMart was free and just about perfect. I slept like baby.
The rest of the photos of Jasper are linked here
More photos of Moraine Lake are linked here
And some other photos from this day of travel are here