Canadian Adventure : Part 2 – More of The Rockies and Cheers to Calgary

The Story so far…

Our whirlwind trip through the Canadian Rockies had been exciting so far, after just a day and a half – it seemed much longer as we had crammed a lot into it already, but even better stuff was to come as we headed to Jasper.

Jasper National Park
Jasper National Park

The rest of Tuesday : Athabasca Glacier – a Highlight!

Not long after leaving beautiful Bow Lake behind us, we turned off at a busy parking area for a memorable trip on to the enormous Athabasca Glacier – certainly the highlight of our trip so far. Tickets had been purchased along with the Banff Gondola tickets the previous day, but we still had to wait for an hour or so to get on a bus for this popular excursion, which is enjoyed by up to 3000 people per day during peak season, which is where we found ourselves, so we had a snack in the cafeteria while waiting.

 

Alex and Cassie on the bus
Alex and Cassie on the bus
Don and Gerda on the bus
Don and Gerda on the bus

A “normal” bus took us to the departure point for the glacier tour, where we switched to special balloon-tired vehicles, specially built for the purpose and capable of taking on 18 degree gravelled slopes (doesn’t sound much but quite hairy when you are looking up or down at them from the inside of the vehicle) and slippery glacier “roads” with ease. They are said to cost $1,2 million each!

Athabasca Glacier
Athabasca Glacier
Quite a bus
Quite a bus
Serious stuff!
Serious stuff!
It's climbing an eighteen degree slope on gravel!
It’s climbing an eighteen degree slope on gravel!
Big soft tyres handle the ice with ease
Big soft tyres handle the ice with ease

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The perky driver kept us informed and entertained along the way, even handling the banter from a bunch of Harley-Davison bikers on the bus, who had plenty to say, and soon we were standing on the glacier itself, tasting the icy crystal clear run-off water which was gushing out of the ice and just enjoying the sensation of standing on a veritable mountain of ice which was probably as thick as the Eiffel Tower is high, if not more. All in all, nothing short of spectacular!

On the glacier
On the glacier
The icy run off water tastes good
The icy run off water tastes good
Sarah and Rio with Gerda
Sarah and Rio with Gerda
More run off water
More run off water

I just had a concern that allowing these vehicles and so many people onto the glacier on a daily basis must be contributing to its demise, where it is already receding at the rate of some 10 m per year, nevertheless we were glad we were able to experience such a unique excursion.

Gerda and Don on the glacier
Gerda and Don on the glacier
This is what they used for glacier trips in the old days
This is what they used for glacier trips in the old days

Jasper National Park

Leaving the ice fields behind us, we drove a short distance before stopping to view the tumbling Sunwapta Falls which lie in Jasper National Park.

Sunwapta Falls
Sunwapta Falls

Next stop was the town of Jasper itself and once checked in at the Best Western, we made our way to the town centre and the Raven Bistro which Gerda had read about in some publication – it turned out to be a good choice with comfortable chairs (more important than many realize), great creative food and friendly service. My steak, accompanied by a unique thin, very tasty sauce was superb as were the other dishes including Gerda’s lamb dish which was declared to be sensational by the team.

Great place!
Great place!
A steak to remember
A steak to remember
The lamb dish
The lamb dish

Back at the hotel the kids were put to bed and we enjoyed a glass of wine with Sarah and Alex out in the garden, chatting beyond midnight (Sarah comes into her own at these late hours).

Wednesday 13 August : More falls, lakes and other good stuff

Sarah had arranged a late check out so we had until midday to enjoy the $9.95 breakfast which included my favourite for a change – oatmeal!

Best Western hotel, Jasper
Best Western hotel, Jasper

We spent some time exploring Jasper town around the station and surrounding streets and found it more than pleasant with a real small town feel.

Old steam loco in Jasper - nicely maintained
Old steam loco in Jasper – nicely maintained

 

For those who want more info
For those who want more info
Jasper street scene
Jasper street scene
Gerda in Jasper
Gerda in Jasper

First stop on the road back to Calgary was at the Athabasca Falls where the wide milky water rushes into a narrow gorge creating a mini “smoke that thunders”. Three hawks caught my eye in the top of a high tree – the light was too bright in the background to make them out clearly but the photos I took helped to ID them (probably) as Swainson’s Hawks.

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Athabasca Falls
Athabasca Falls
Athabasca Falls
Athabasca Falls
Athabasca Falls
Athabasca Falls
Athabasca Falls
Athabasca Falls

Further along we stopped briefly at a viewpoint above another scenic lake where some tame Chipmunks (yes real ones) came right up and perched on my sandals for a moment.

Real live Chipmunk
Real live Chipmunk
Roadside lake
Roadside lake
Roadside lake
Roadside lake
Lake at roadside
Lake at roadside
Lake at roadside
Lake at roadside

The Rockies were quite magnificent today – not spoilt by haze and we especially enjoyed the stop at Bow Summit where we took a walk up the road and along forest paths to the lookout with an incredible view down at yet another glacier-fed lake nestled between the slopes far below. Meanwhile Gerda and Sarah were enjoying themselves finding and identifying flowers and berries at the stops.

Bow Summit
Bow Summit

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Bow Summit
Bow Summit
Wild strawberries
Wild strawberries

On the birding front a Clark’s Nutcracker in the parking area broke the short drought of lifers for me.

Pitstop
Pitstop
Our ride to the Rockies
Our ride to the Rockies
Someone else's ride - Buick Eight "Woody" from the 50's
Someone else’s ride – Buick Eight “Woody” from the 50’s

Next, and the last stop for the day, was Lake Louise, a stunningly attractive lake with a background of mountains and glaciers setting it off to perfection. A number of people were on the lake in small boats, while others sat at the water’s edge, like us fascinated by the special beauty of the scene.

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The gardens with the lake in the background
The gardens with the lake in the background
Boats are popular on the lake
Boats are popular on the lake
Lake Louise - Cassie having a paddle
Lake Louise – Cassie having a paddle
Lake Louise - just spectacular!
Lake Louise – just spectacular!

Complementing the scenery was the Chateau Hotel with its unique architecture and lush, colourful gardens fronting it right down to the turquoise water of the lake.

Lake Louise
Lake Louise

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The gardens of the Chateau Hotel at Lake Louise
The gardens of the Chateau Hotel at Lake Louise – Cassie in the foreground
The gardens with the lake in the background
The gardens with the lake in the background
View from the Chateau Hotel
View from the Chateau Hotel
Canada help! I can't remember what this is
Canada help! I can’t remember what this is

Reluctantly tearing ourselves away we travelled the final hour and a half back to Calgary and the new familiarity of the Najm residence

 

Thursday 14 August : Last day in Calgary

A quiet day (well, relatively) to recover, nicely set in motion with a slap-up Canadian breakfast of eggs, crispy bacon, pancakes and sausages. It was abundantly clear Sarah was going all out to prove her constant mantra that “The West is Best” and we were rapidly coming to that same conclusion – however (patience, Sarah) we thought it would only be fair to give the East a chance to “state their case” when we eventually got there, before bestowing the “Best” title on either the West (ie Calgary and the Rockies) or the East (ie Ontario and the other parts of eastern Canada we were to discover).

Not having had the chance to see a bit of Calgary, Alex set out to change that and took us on a quick drive into the country along roads which bisected verdant farmlands, giving us a glimpse of typical cultivated lands in this part of Canada. Swainson’s Hawks were the most common bird around, favouring the round bales of hay to perch on.

Farmland just outside Calgary
Farmland just outside Calgary (can you see the Hawk on the hay bale?)
Pump jack at work near Calgary
Pump jack at work near Calgary

We were hardly back at the house when Sarah took a break from preparing a special dinner (told you she was going all out) to take us on a driving tour of Calgary, covering all four “quadrants” – Calgary comes across as an organised, busy, spacious city with plenty of open space and considerate drivers – a very comfortable place to live I imagine.

Another surprise awaited us at the house as Sarah and Rachel had arranged an early birthday celebration for the two of us (our birthdays are just 13 days apart and were coming up in the next few weeks) with hats and masks, banners, balloons, bubbly and all. Clearly the Denner girls like arranging parties!

Surprise birthday party
Surprise birthday party

The evening was spent enjoying a superb dinner of four courses prepared by Sarah and Alex with wine pairings to savour and remember.

A laminated menu - this lady has class!
A laminated menu – this lady has class!
The starter
The starter
Sarah's delightful dessert
Sarah’s delightful dessert

Thanks Sarah and Alex, not to mention Cassie and Rio, for making our week “in the west” so unforgettable!

 

Friday 15 August : Seattle here we come

Travelling time again! Up early (poor Sarah, not her forté) to get to the airport for our 8.50 am flight to Seattle, which ended up being beyond stressful, only because we weren’t thinking – at check-in they wanted to charge $70 for our extra bag and, prompted by the check-in clerk, we decided to take it as carry on baggage, only realising once we got to security (USA heavy style) that the bag was full of “non-allowables”. With dry throats and pounding hearts (airports do this to us) we tried to work out what to do and eventually I decided to work my way back through security and passport control to the check in which, thanks to sympathetic personnel (maybe it was my wild pleading eyes) I was fortunately able to do, much to our relief. But it left us shattered and cursing the hassles involved in long-distance air travel.

The Air Canada flight was short and just more than an hour after taking off we were in Seattle where, after collecting our baggage, we got ourselves a bagel and a large cup of tea to calm our troubled spirits, before finding a limo to take us to the Silver Cloud Hotel on Broadway. We  had some  time to relax before Lynette and Jakobus van Dyk were due to arrive to  join us for the next few days in Seattle and on the Alaska Cruise …..but more about that soon.

 

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