From Golden, we drove east through Yoho National Park, and crossed over to Alberta where we lost an hour – we’re now in Mountain time. As soon as you enter Jasper National Park, you hit a toll booth.
The ranger asked us how many days we’d be spending and charged us $19.80 per day. I made a mistake and told her we’d be spending two nights in Banff and Jasper instead of three but that worked well for us, since the pass expires at 4pm on our last day. The next morning we’re leaving the parks.
It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve visited Jasper, its as if I’d never seen it before. I think part of it is the older I get, the more I appreciate things I see. It’s as if I can see things in a way I never did before.
I remember in my 30’s, it was like I woke up one day and thought “Where did all these beautiful flowers come from?” Later on, I started noticing other things, both about people and places, and it feels like I just get more in tune with what’s happening around me.
We oohed and aahed around every bend, each mountain, lake, or glacier taking the place of the last as the most beautiful we’d ever seen. With the recent rains that passed through days before, the rivers had turned a grey, turquoise. It’s an unusual water colour, but an interesting and striking one.
We planned to stay at the Columbia Icefield campgrounds but missed the sign and ended up getting stuck in construction traffic. We waited about 15 minutes to get through, then drove past the Glacier Skywalk. This attraction, much like others built in places such as the Grand Canyon is built into the cliff with steel, glass and wood. It’s a semicircle of glass floor that juts out over the Sunwapta Valley, surrounded by the mountains and glaciers, 280 m (918 ft) up, it looks like you’re standing on thin air.
I’m very afraid of heights. Even in games, I feel a distinct unease around places where I can fall a very long distance. I’m afraid, but I don’t let it limit my experiences. I usually find once I force myself past my fear and take control of it, I greatly enjoy myself.
I would have loved to do this … but it was packed with hundreds of people, all pushing at each other. I swore after the horrible experience we had in the summer of 2012, with a wall to wall throng of people in the Sistine Chapel, that I’d never subject myself to that again. If it’s this busy in September, I can only imagine what it’s like in July and August.
We turned around at the first pull-out and took just a moment to snap some pictures, then raced back up, so we could cross over again. There were a number of cars ahead of us, and they all got through, but just as we were getting up there, the flag person saw us and turned over her SLOW sight to STOP. “NOOOOOO!” we both cried out in unison, totally frustrated. If we hadn’t paused for those few photos, we’d have made it back across.
I rolled my window down to ask if we’d be there long enough to turn off the engine. “You’ll be here about 30 minutes!” she said with a little smug smile. We couldn’t believe our luck. We had just waited to come through so we could turn around, and now we had to wait again. I got out of the truck to take some photos and chat to her.
She told me everything about her life. Her husband is the flagger on the other side, the one who’d waved to us as we went across the first time. They work seasonally on the road crews, stopping for the snowy winter months.
They stay down below (she pointed way down over the cliff where I could see a camp of RVs and heavy duty equipment) in an older RV they just bought. Before, they used to stay in a tent, but they got tired of their run-ins with bears.
She has 3 horses, Babe, Bailey, and Blossom, all boarded with someone in Calgary, who messed up and put a stallion in with her mares and now they are all pregnant by their father/brother.
She’s planning to take the $500 breeding fee she paid to someone else she was planning to breed one of her horses to, off the boarding fees when she goes home for the winter and takes them to their new property.
Last year when she went home, she found a wall of clay had slammed into the house and taken it off it’s foundation. I said that must have cost a fortune to fix and wondered if it was covered by insurance. She said she didn’t know and didn’t care – it’s her mother-in-law’s house and she’ll NEVER (her emphasis, not mine) be going back there again.
Behind our truck there was a group of real-cowboy dressed people, two men and two women. The men both wore black cowboy hats, red western shirts, jeans held up by belts with big silver belt buckles, and cowboy boots. One of the men, the grey haired one, had a long beard he’d braided on both sides.
Their licence plate said “Wyoming” and I figured they looked the part. One of the women, the older one, came up to ask how long we’d be held up. She was dressed pretty much exactly the same as the men, minus the hat – and the beard. She had long grey hair, laying loose down her back.
“That’s quite the necklace you have there.” I said, “Is that a horseshoe on the end?”
She picked up the heavy end to give me a closer look, “No, it’s a necklace.” She dropped the necklace back into place and brought up both hands to show every finger covered with huge ornate silver and turquoise rings. Together, they looked like a set of brass knuckles – or well silver and turquoise knuckles. “I am a bit obsessed with New Mexico jewelry.” she admitted. “I have about a hundred pounds of it at home.”
“So this would be what you call your travelling set, I guess?” I joked.
“Yes, that’s exactly what it is.” She responded, completely straight-faced.
I learned she and her husband, the grey-haired, braided beard guy, are from a small town south of Dallas, Texas. He has a team of chuck wagon horses he takes to rodeos. She doesn’t have anything to do with horses, but she does like the rodeos.
The flag woman, Mrs. Calgary, I’ll call her, interrupted to tell Mrs. Texas that she has horses and started telling her all about them, throwing around terms meant to impress, which neither of us understood. “My husband’s the horse person, not I.” said Mrs. Texas, and pulled the conversation back to her, holding up her big silver belt buckle showing they belonged to some rodeo group I can’t remember the name of now.
Mrs. Calgary, not to be outdone, said she was going to Texas, when the roadwork closes down for the winter, in November, and will be going to the such-n-such rodeo. “Oh we never do the small rodeos” said Mrs. Texas, “we stick to the big ‘uns!” Trump point for Texas!
They struggled back and forth to take control of the conversation, both of them only interested in telling their own stories, neither of them at all interested in each other or me. They didn’t ask me one single question about myself.
The dump truck made it’s second deposit of rocks on the pile in front of us, and we were told we could now go. We made our way back and found our campground this time.
We quickly unhooked the trailer and then zoomed up to see the Athabasca Glacier. There is a bus you can take up in behind but there were so many people and we had no desire to be stuck in there, so we opted to hike up to the glacier instead. It’s not that far, really. You drive down to the lower parking lot, and then hike up the hill from there.
The Athabasca Glacier is one of the six official “toes” of the Columbia Icefields. Due to its close proximity to the Icefields Parkway, and rather easy accessibility, it is the most visited glacier in North America. The Columbia Icefields lie astride the Continental Divide. From here, the water flows to the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Arctic Ocean.
Near the start of the trail, we were amused to see notices discouraging the building of Inukshuks and encouraging us to kick any over that we find in the park. Inuksuk, pronounced in-ook-shook, are stone monuments erected in the image of humans. One of their purposes for the Inuit, was to communicate direction in the harsh and desolate Arctic.
Artisan Alvin Kanak of Rankin Inlet, Northwest Territories (now in the territory of Nunavut), created an inuksuk as a gift to the city of Vancouver for Expo 86. It is the basis of the logo of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. The Vancouver 2010 logo and the construction of inuksut around the world have led to increasing recognition of them.
Unfortunately, they have gained popularity and people create them everywhere now. Its use has been controversial among the Inuit, and the First Nations within British Columbia. It’s come to a point where the cultural misappropriation of this symbol has become a form of graffiti or littering of other important areas. That is why they want us to kick them down. You got it! We’re kicking!
There was a woman with a small child ahead of us and we caught up to them as they sat down half way up the hill. Two men, one who looked very young, but was obviously the father of the boy (I say ‘obviously’ now, after having a debate with Harold on whether he was the son or husband of the woman, and I came to see it his way) and an older man, maybe in his 60’s (who I first thought was the husband, but now agree, was probably the father-in-law), walked down to meet them. Grandpa took off with the young boy, as the Mother lost her temper.
“I’m a *bleeping* grown adult and I’ll *bleeping* decide if I want to *bleeping* hike up this *bleeping* hill!” She screeched at him, not giving any bit of care that we were right there. He mumbled something low, that we couldn’t hear, and she exploded again.
“He *bleeping* wants to go up there with his *bleeping* father! So go *bleeping* up there and leave me the *bleep* alone!” She just kept going and he kept mumbling and I felt both amused, and embarrassed for them. When we got to the top of the hill, I looked back and saw she was now storming back down the hill, and he was on his way up to join his father and son. I felt sorry for him.
The glacier is amazingly huge and impressive. I’d say it’s just as big and impressive as the other times I’ve seen it in my life, but that would be untrue. All the way back, we noticed signs that gave the year and showed where the glacier had been.
“That’s the year I brought Cairo up here. She won’t remember it.”
“Oh and there’s the year I graduated. Somewhere between here and that last one, I was here.”
“There’s the year I was first here as a kid.”
“That’s the year my Mother was born.”
“And that’s the year my mother was born!” Harold chimed in.
“There’s my Grandma’s birth year.” We were almost back at the highway.
“And that’s the year my Grandfather was born!” Harold responded as we hit the highway.
That glacier has receded all the way across the valley, and up the hill, more than 1.5km (0.93 mi) in 125 years, and lost over half of its volume. It currently recedes at a rate of about 5 metres (16 ft) per year. I wonder how many years it has left in it?
Overnight spot: Wilcox Creek
Includes: firepit, picnic table, great views
Extras: $8.80 daily fire permit, includes wood.
Park Fees – $9.80/person/day or $19.60/family/day
Comments: Great views from most sites of the surrounding mountains. Very cold, reports of water freezing in RVs the week before. Very close to Athabasca Glacier. Only suitable for RVs under 25′. Larger RVs may be able to stay in Glacier parking lot overnight.
Cell & Wifi: Bell Mobility-Nothing Fido-Nothing