Sweet Jasper

Scenic Sunday

Jasper

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“Must not miss Jasper,” my well-traveled friend advices.  “It is a town you will adore.” Anyone who knows me knows that I love quaint, rugged towns and this little town where peaks crown the horizon in every direction is indeed a town I have regarded as one of my top picks.  The largest and the most northerly of Canada’s Rocky Mountain National Parks and one of the group of 4 national park and 3 provincial parks which together are designated by UNESCO as the “Canada Rocky Mountain Park World Heritage Site”.

Quieter then the 2 previous towns, Jasper feel more like a friendly small town than a tourist town.  It is because nearly one quarter of Jasper’s population is not dependent on tourism.  Canadian National, Canada’s largest railroad, employs hundreds of people who call Jasper home.

If you’re into small quaint towns (filled with abundant wildlife) as I am, this rugged, not-so-little piece of wilderness will become your favorite spot as well once experienced.  In my next few post, you’ll see why.  So consider this an intro to one of my favorite places.

Journey to Ancient Ice

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Connecting the two towns of Lake Louise and Jasper is the extremely scenic Icefield Parkway.  To travel it is to experience a world where snow and ice dominates the land.   Stretching 230 km between the two towns, the parkway offers easy access to one of the most spectacular mountain landscapes.

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The largest of the chain of icefield stretching more than 25 km across the Continental Divide, Columbia Icefield straddles the boundaries of Alberta and British Columbia, as well as Banff and Jasper National Parks. 

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The massive Brewster Ice Explorer is a modern marvel specially designed to clamber up the glacier, which took us out to the slopes of the Columbia Icefield, the Athabasca Glaciers for an up-close glimpse of icy crevasses and ice-fed streams.  

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A driver-guide led the 90- minute journey sharing information about glaciers and icefields.  We get to step out midway onto the glacier and stand on ice of yore.

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Columbia Icefield is a surviving remains of the thick ice mass that once covered most of Western Canada’s mountains lying on an elevated plain.   It is North Amercia’s largest sub-polar ice park.

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Parker Ridge Trail

Scenic Sunday

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Located in Northern Banff and closer to Jasper.  On the way to Columbia Icefield from Lake Louise is Parker Ridge Trail, a popular day hike and one of the best among several popular trail.

The trail leads to a ridge overlooking Saskatchewan Glacier and the Columbia Icefield and can be done in an hour.  A hike I would have loved to do if I had my way.  Here’s what the sign reads:

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More snaps from the road:

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To see more scenic snapshots, click here.

Bridal Veil Falls

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Bridal-Veil-Falls

Not too far away, on the same pull out as that of Crowfoot Mountain and Bow Lake is a sign pointing to Bridal Veil Falls.

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A popular name for waterfalls from Australia to Zimbabwe, I found out.  But this one is just a hop away from where we were and all you need is a telephoto lens to take this shot.

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There is a trail south of the sign leading to different views of the falls.  To learn more, click here.

Of Lifts, Gondolas and Tramways

Scenic Sunday

“You can do it!!  I’ll be right beside you.”  A convinces me as we walk towards the lift that would take us 2,088 meters above sea level.  So there I was on an open chair about 5 meters above ground, my feet resting only on a bar.  Although safely buckled, I was still intimidated and any movement sends me to stiffness.  A tries to calm me, “Here, let me hold your hand” and I let him.

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We were cruising for 14 minutes, which felt more like 30 to me.  But those 30 er 14 minutes were just full of glorious sceneries and as I started snapping away, a sense of calm came over me and I am all right.

Lake-Louise-panoramic

From the top, the spectacular landscape is there to be explored.  We however didn’t have the time to go trekking up the summit of Mt. Whitehorse so we soaked in the beauty of Lake Louise against the grand Victoria Glacier at the deck.

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It was just a speck against the mountains that surrounds it but amazing how even that small, the blueness of the lake just stood out managing to draw your eyes to it.  Imagine it up close.

Lake Louise Mountain Resort and the surrounding village are part of several important wildlife conservation in Banff National Park.  It is supposedly home to some of Canada’s most renowned wildlife including Black Bears, Elk, Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Goats, Wolves and the respected Grizzly Bear.  We weren’t lucky enough to see any.

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Banff golf course from the top.

By now, I have mustered enough courage to go on another mountaintop experience.  The next day, we hopped on the bus and got off at the Banff Gondola.

banff-gondola

No Sweat!

The journey to the summit of Sulphur Mountain in a modern, fully enclosed four passenger gondola cabin took only 8 minutes.  No sweat!  The view becomes more spectacular as we approached the summit at 2,281 meters above sea level with Cascade Mountain providing the backdrop.

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Round trip costs about C$30, pretty steep but the amazing view is worth the spend.  A definite must see when in Banff.  Easily accessible as well, the We Roam bus (I forget what route) will take you all the way to the base.

Banff-panoramic

Cascade Mountain as backdrop and the smaller mountain is Tunnel Mountain.

When we got to Jasper, we obviously couldn’t resist and so therefore found ourselves riding the tramway one afternoon ascending up Whistler Mountain.  The adventure begins at the foot of Whistler Mountain in the safety of an enclosed tram cabin that can fit about 30 passengers at a time.

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The view from the tram.

The Jasper tramway is the longest and highest guided aerial tramway in Canada and I could feel my ears popping as we ascend.  But feeling more like a veteran now, I confidently hopped on the cabin to be hoisted 2 km up to the peak – a beautiful, scenic and enjoyable mid-air ride.

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View from the top.

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At the summit, we stepped out into an alpine tundra with views of six mountain ranges, glacial fed lakes, the Athabasca River and the scenic mountain site of Jasper.  An awe-inspiring view that has become my favorite among the lot.

Wildlife Crossing

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Since the mid 1970s, collisions between vehicles and large mammals on the Trans-Canada Highway (TCH) have been a concern of the parks in Canada.  The construction of wildlife overpasses along the TCH began in the mid 1980s with the twinning of the highway from the east park entrance to the junction with the Bow Valley Parkway.

These bridge structures and various underpasses were installed at strategic locations in the park, providing safe passage to wildlife and hopefully minimizing traffic.

Banff National Park and its environs in Alberta are among the world’s best testing sites for innovation passageway to alleviate the effects of roads on wildlife.  This has helped maintain large mammal populations for the past 25 years and has allowed the gathering of valuable data.

In the mid 1990s, research began to determine the effectiveness.  Early results showed that the underpasses were very effective for elk, deer and coyotes, but that larger carnivores like wolves, cougars, black and grizzly bears were reluctant to use them.  The overpasses were built as a result.  Today, they are finding that many animals are beginning to adapt to the underpasses.

More on wildlife overpasses here and more sepia scenes here.

Animals in the Wild

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Wildlife.  It was the major reason why we chose to go to Banff.  It is home to a wide variety of wildlife.  We were not disapointed.

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On our first day, we saw this deer an hour after we arrived at the park.  We will soon come to realize that it is quite common to see them along the road.  We however wanted to increase our chances to see bears and learn more about the animals of the National Park, and joining a guided tour was our best bet.

And so on the evening of our 3rd day, at a quarter past 6, we were seated comfortably on the bus, excited for what laid ahead.  With enthusiasm, we listened to our guide talk about the habitats of the park and how Banff’s bear population is suffering in the hands of human, with trains being the single largest killer.

Deer

First sighting – a deer again and we have not left town yet.  “They are common along the Bow Valley Parkway although their population is quite low now,” declared our guide.  He appeared to be very knowledgeable but thanks to an Aussie in the group who had an incredibly keen eye.  He spotted most of our sightings that evening.  I was impressed.

“Because of the dwindling population, it is harder to spot bears nowadays.  I will however try to bring you to where I think the bears will be.” assures our guide.  He was either 1) really good 2) really lucky or 3) he was lying about the dwindling population.   😉  Halfway through the tour, we saw people out of their vehicles and on the road trying to get a glimpse or rather a good photo of

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2 black bears (actually), a mom and her cub!  First of all, you do not get out of your vehicle when you spot a wildlife, let alone a bear.  “Believe me, you will not know what hit you when they pound on you” said our guide to the other group who were trying to inch closer to the bears.  Well, pound they didn’t but retreat they did… luckily after A managed some shots (from inside the bus, of course).  Money well spent.  Grizzlies next… perhaps?   😉

One not so lucky occasion was when we spotted a herd of mountain goats.  With several cars behind us on a winding road, we had to sadly drive along.  As we drove around the corner still watching the herd, it was even more painful to see them jumping off to the road.  A rare sight and a perfect shot that was not to be.  We were too far and they were too quick.  A sight to behold nevertheless.

Other animals sighted around Banff – birds and small mammals included.

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Caribou

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Squirrel.

deer-crossingThey do have right of way!

As we got closer to Jasper, the easier it was to spot wildlife along the road like these bighorn sheep relaxing by the roadside.  Not so rare apparently.  So excited, we forgot to stay in our car and was told by some concerned citizens on the danger of being so close to the animals.  Shame on us but they were so inviting, not budging, posing for us.  We eventually trekked back to our car… after we shot away.   😀

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Bighorn Sheep

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Yes…

bighorn-sheeps-3Right on the Hi-Way!

Lazing around Banff

It was a day of splendor and impressiveness and it had to end sometime.  So we checked in and had a quick bite before knocking off.  We were delighted to see Filipinos working there.  They, eager to see hometown folks, provided tips on how to get around town.

Roam-bus

Apparently, we didn’t need a car or kill our soles walking to get around in Banff.  Their Roam public transit bus system is very convenient with routes covering the whole townsite and there are bus stops near just about any places of interest.

The next day was spent downtown.  First stop was the information center, then we walked over to a tour company where we booked an evening wildlife tour, we spent the most part of the  day walking around town, museum hopping and shopping.

Grizzly-House

Food, as usual, was essential to our enjoyment. We were eyeing it the day before and agreed that lunch the next day will be at Grizzly House.

buffalo-burger

It was the Buffalo burger that caught our eye.  We were not disappointed.  It was juicy and had a richer flavor than beef burgers.  Did you know that buffalo meats are healthier being lower in cholesterol yet higher in iron and protein?  That’s right!  A great tasting, guiltless lunch.

The guiltless lunch was necessary for the dessert to come.

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Choco-mint and Amaretto fudge.  Right beside Grizzly House is this candy store called The Sweet Shoppe and we went gaga over those fudges the minute we tried a small piece of sample.  The fudge was really a tad too sweet for my taste but it looks so irresistible and the flavors blended so perfectly with the chocolate, you seem to accept the sweetness, especially if paired with a good cup of black coffee.  Perfection.  This is how to gain instant weight!!  But who cares… I’m on vacation, am I not?   😉

So with that dessert we were ready for some serious walking around town.  And here are some of the town captured through my lens.

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Banff with Sulphur Mountain as its backdrop.

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Taken from the bridge.

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The bridge.

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Yummy Caramel Popcorn from Mountain Chocolates.

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Fudge from the Fudgery.

totem-poleTotem Pole at the Indian Trading Post.

We also checked out some museums along the way.

Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum

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Just a few steps away from Banff Indian Trading Post, this museum returns you to when First Nations people followed the buffalo herds into the Bow Valley, hauling their belongings by travois.

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It tells the story through interpretive exhibitions, artifacts and dioramas.  The museum displays a wealth of Native artifacts and collections from richly ornamented costumes, beautifully decorated teepees, colorful quillwork to historical hunting equipments.

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Luxton-Museum

It is a cultural display that celebrates the richness, diversity, continuity and above all, the resilience of the First Nations people.  Life sized scenes from the life of the plains before the Europeans arrived are depicted in a reconstructed fur-trading post.

Norman Luxton, for whom the museum was named, ran the trading post.  Luxton developed a long-standing relationship with the Stoney Indians and the Luxton Museum’s collections display some of the memorabilia he obtained through the years.

Banff Park Museum National Historic Site

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This 1903 log cabin characteristic of early federal buildings is the oldest Natural History Museum.  It is a fascinating little museum.

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Not only did it have Banff’s mammals, birds and insects preserved in authentic Victorian style display cases – many of which visitors hear about but didn’t get to always see in the wild — it also is like seeing through the eyes of an early 20th century visitor with some of the displays dating back to 1860.  The amount of animals was probably the most interesting part – coming from the Philippines, many of the North American animals are unfamiliar to me so it was interesting to learn and see them up close.

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Up next… the real thing.