Friday, August 30, 2013

Jasper to Glacier

Jasper is arguably Canada's most famous national park. It boasts spectacular scenery with sharp mountain peaks, impressive glaciers, stunning lakes and thundering waterfalls. It was named after the operator of a trading post there, Jasper Hawes, and became a national park in 1930. During our last visit to the USA, in 2000, I also wanted to go to Jasper, but somehow never made it. Now I was standing at the entry gate, looking into the park I had waited 13 years for to see.

Getting there, from Dawson Creek and the '40' road, was a mostly uneventful trip. Just before we arrived at Jasper we met a BMW rider who pointed his thumb behind him and then down, time to put our rain gear on! Only minutes later we were in a massive downpour…

Jasper is impressive, right from the start. Threatening clouds somehow only add to the 'picture' unfolding before us, as we slowly ride through the park. We planned to stay a couple of days and therefore decided to go to a campsite first and setup. At least, that was the plan. Plans never work out, especially when you see mountain goats, elks and spectacular scenery… we simply had to stop and take some photos! Arriving reasonably late at the campground, we found there was still room… try that in the USA! At first they wanted us to take two sites… as we have two tents and 3 motorbikes…! Apparently a 40 ft RV plus trailer is fine as one camping unit, but motorbikes and tents are not? We 'promised' to put only one tent up, to make them happy… :-)

Before us were a couple of days in Jasper, or so we thought. I was really looking forward to it. We had basically been riding since Dawson City and felt we deserved a break. The couple of days became two weeks! Apart from sorting out a brake pad issue with Mike's Yamaha we spend every hour of those two weeks exploring Jasper National Park. There is so much to see and do there! Jasper is also the 'birthplace' if you like of our blog, as we started talking in earnest about it while staying here.
Places like Maligne Lake are unbelievably stunning. The roads are busy, busy with moose, mountain goats, elk, bears… and more mountain goats! Maligne Lake is magic. Not the slightest breeze to cause a ripple on the lake, it's a crystal clear mirror that reflects the rugged mountain peaks around it. No combustion engines allowed on the lake, electric only… magically quiet. Medicine Lake is beautiful too. We spend a whole day in this area.

Mike collects firewood in the evening… on his motorbike! The campground has a supply of firewood and he simply strapped it to his seat :-) He's making hamburgers, and according to Mike, they taste much better when flame grilled.

Jasper is a great place. Not only the National Park Jasper, but also the town Jasper. The bakery at a local supermarket is great too! By far the best bread we've had the whole trip so far. Jasper enjoys a relaxed atmosphere. Although there are a lot of tourists from all over the world, turning it into a bustling town, there is never the feeling of being in an overcrowded tourist town. Jasper can handle it well and without becoming a tourist trap.

Just outside Jasper was a traffic jam. Not the result of too much traffic, but a Bighorn Sheep family that decided to entertain us. They have a weird look in their eyes and more than just a nudge bar on their head! They truly don't seem to be impressed by anything. If they don't like it they simply turn the nudge bar towards it and go for it! Having lunch along a beautiful lake, we saw a hawk attacking a little bird… it misses and the heavily damaged bird drops in the water next to a couple with a canoe! The bird had a lucky day and survived.

We had a look at Maligne Gorge. It's hard to describe it other than a small but very impressive gorge. We saw canoes trying to go through it, making for spectacular photos and had another very enjoyable day. We had by now given up on the idea of staying a few days. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we took it as it came and just stayed until we had seen it properly. The scenery here is just breathtaking. There is no other word for it. Riding and walking through Jasper is like a dream. 

And yet there is so much more to it. It has a great atmosphere. No pressure, just pure enjoyment. Both in the town of Jasper and the park itself. Even the campground, with some 700 sites, is just great. They've managed to give it the small campground in nature feel by dividing it into sections. Great campspot.

We had the unfortunate, for us, last one long weekend in Canada in the middle of our stay. The campground was completely booked out, and yet the rangers managed it by opening a huge overflow area… which filled up as well. But, unlike USA National Parks, they didn't send anybody away!

Visiting Angel Glacier was another beautiful day. The ride up there is already worth it and they didn't call it Angel Glacier for nothing! Another good thing about Jasper is that it's not blocked off with barriers everywhere. You can walk right up to the glacier or the glacier lake… or both! No annoying rangers with pedantic fingers anywhere. Looking at the Athabasca falls, only a day later, I'm wondering about the guy that discovered all this… He must have had some unforgettable moments. 

Speaking of unforgettable. On the way back to the motorcycles we see a family squirrels playing in a tree. The tree they live in. The little ones are chasing each other around the tree, completely unfazed by 3 people around them and cameras clicking away.
For 30 minutes they play hide and seek and wear our cameras out in the process. As the long weekend meant a lot of people on the roads, we decided to stay a couple of days  longer before we leave Jasper and head for the Icefields Parkway. Just out of the campground a Grizzly bear crosses the road. He's not impressed by big American RVs, he's on his way to the river to catch a fish! 
For motorcyclists Jasper is a real walhalla. One beautiful road after another, you're spoiled for choice and it doesn't matter what bike you're on either. In other words we amused ourselves :-)
On the campground we had a lot of campfires and cooked on it (good hamburgers in Jasper!). We talked about all we had seen and what we still had on our list. Jasper is stunning and camping in the park is great!

When we finally left Jasper and went to the Icefields Parkway we were gob-smacked again. It's a 230 km long ride through perhaps the most rugged part of the Canadian Rockies, with 'a couple' of glaciers thrown in too. The biggest and best known is no doubt the Columbia Icefield, but there are about 25 glaciers and many waterfalls that dominate the landscape.
The route is breathtaking, again… Being there on a motorbike… in the middle of this ancient landscape, you can't help but feeling extremely lucky. How good can life be? The bikes were running perfectly, the road is a beauty, the landscape unbelievable… and around the corner there is even more of the same. I found it unbelievable that the few motorcycles we saw that day simply blasted past…
The weather was great for the whole day… almost… only the last 50 km we had rain, but even that stopped before we reached the campground.

We were slightly disappointed with Lake Louise. Too commercial. The lake itself is nice enough but full of holiday makers in little boats and to me nothing but a tourist trap. We had a campsite just before Lake Louise, at Mosquito creek, along a wild flowing river. Beautiful spot. We had a very enjoyable evening with a man from Switzerland who had just returned from Argentina to Alaska… at 68 years of age on a motorcycle! Hats off again! We spend a day at Mosquito creek, doing the laundry and enjoying the turquoise coloured lakes nearby. Moraine Lake is, to me, much better than Lake Louise and well worth a visit. We saw Pikas and chipmunks running around and enjoyed the scenery.

Banff is busy. Maybe even busier than Lake Louise. But somehow it doesn't matter as Banff can cope and is still a very friendly town with a pleasant atmosphere. The route we're taking from there is to the other side of the Rockies. Instead of going to Calgary we cross over to British Columbia again and then head south for Montana as this gave us a better entry into the Glacier National Park. As this takes us through the Canadian Rockies it is a breathtaking ride once again. The Radium Hotsprings was just a square concrete pool which we gave a miss. Once on the other side of the Rockies we follow a beautiful valley south. Many RVers seem to have property here where they can park the RV or trailer. It's an exceptionally hot day, especially since it's right at the end of the season. Just before the historic town of Fort Steele is an RV park. Not a bad place at all, but rather noisy as both the highway and Canada rail are quite active at night… A little bit further is a beautiful state park campground. The Mountain Lions are 'singing' through the night and early morning… beautiful! Fort Steele is a historic town, very well worth a visit and our last day in Canada. The next morning we crossed the border into the USA and after a 30 minute wait and a couple of questions plus a green card to fill in, found ourselves in the land of Uncle Sam. Who knows, he might be watching… We continued to Whitefish and from there to Glacier National Park... the park we were told we could skip as we had seen the Icefields Parkway… how wrong that was!