We pick the story up in and around Jasper (given Edmonton was something of a "white-out" - we ended up spending most of the time in the world's biggest shopping centre, the West Edmonton Mall). Here, the Athabasca River had shaken off the icy binds of winter and was flowing freely although if you click on the picture to enlarge it, you can still see how deep the snow is on its banks.
We took a drive out to Medicine Lake. The weather was closing in and with us passing just one or two cars on the entire drive there and back, it was quite eerie. The lake was frozen and very low lying versus it's summer height (the First Nations people used to think the varying heights of Medicine Lake were a spiritual phenomenon and it is only fairly recently that it was discovered exactly where the water drains away to from the base of the lake).We drove on and eventually stopped for lunch where, in exchange for a crumb or two of pretzel, we were richly rewarded by visits from a couple of very inquisitive Gray Jays.Road conditions were not so great and great clumps of ice would build up in the car's wheel arches which we would chip off whenever we could. With Janet's foot in view for scale, you can see how substantial this ice block was that we managed to separate from Lilly.On the way back and before we left Jasper, we made further stops at Medicine Lake for a family snap or two. On the last of these, the weather was beginning to improve with the sun breaking through...
There was plenty of wildlife around, including this slightly cheeky deer who clearly hasn't learned that it is impolite to stick your tongue out...There were more Elk than we had ever seen in the Rockies before and choosing one picture from the hundreds that we took of them is nigh on impossible but this one is fairly charismatic!Just south of Jasper, we took a trip in the Jasper Tramway up the 8,000ft Whistlers Mountain...Patricia Lake is a beautiful spot at any time of year but the frozen lake gives it an especially clean and crisp look against the backdrop of the mountains and the now clearing blue sky...Just up the road from Patricia Lake is Emerald Lake which also looks strikingly different from the summer version of itself that Jan and Eam have previously experienced...Some of the mountain scenery around Jasper is stunning and it changes by the hour as cloud comes and goes and as the sun begins to set...As you head south from Jasper, you join the Icefields Parkway. It is a fabulous drive, all contained within the network of Canadian national parks. The official website is well worth a visit and gives you a flavour of some of the sites you can see in the height of summer - there are things to stop and see all along the 100+ miles that it stretches from Jasper to Lake Louise.
For us, we saw it in a different state of splendour. A stop at the Athabasca Falls is always a treat and late Winter/early Spring gave the scene a whole new look for Jan and Eam, again having only previously seen the area in the height of summer...You weave your way through fantastic mountain scenery...Along the way, you can stop at the Columbia Icefield and go take a, errr, "bus" up onto the glacier. The route they take brings you down (and up) the second steepest "road" (for "road", read "dirt-track") in North America before you arrive at the mouth of the glacier ice pack. Hazel is about 5ft tall...and yes, so are the wheels of the "Ice Explorer".
The scenery when standing on the glacier is of the normal standard... This is the old "bus" they used to use. Apparently it was a real bone-shaker. Here's the relevant website.
In the ordinary run of events, one of the absolute highlights of driving the Icefields Parkway is to stop and take in the breathtaking scenes at Peyto Lake (as per this photo taken in July 2007).
However, with the aforementioned snowfall, the best we could do was get to the nearby car park. Just in case you think we were being a bit "soft" over the issue, this is the depth of snow we would have had to battle through to get to the lake. Eam thought it was mean that Jan, Hazel and Geoff were encouraging him to go stand by the information board so that they could take a pic - it was the conspiratorial looks on their faces that made him decline the offer, especially as they seemed less interested in taking a photo and more in causing enough of a disturbance to dislodge the snow!When we arrived there, Lake Louise was as beautiful as ever and just showing the first signs of thawing but seeing as we covered winter scenes at Lake Louise with our New Year's Eve post, we only include one photo this time...After a night at Chateau Lake Louise, we headed south again to Banff for the last stop on our tour. Vermillion Lakes had thawed... Bow Falls were running fast...We took a trip to the top of the 7,500ft above sea level Sulphur Mountain, on the Banff Gondola. Here's their website.
Atop the mountain, the scenes were as rewarding as you'd imagine they would be...
You get great views of the Banff Springs Hotel...But even up this high, there is much wildlife and this little chipmunk entertained Jan and Eam for several minutes as he scurried around looking for food.Two Jack Lake is one of Eam's favourite spots in the Rockies and the contrast between this early Spring view and the one we took last Summer demonstrates why it is worth trying to get to see the Rockies in all seasons.The Big Horn Sheep can always be found near Two Jack Lake. Their "thing" is to lick the salt off the road and if your car happens to have salt on it, (which, of course, it often does when you have travelled over gritted roads), they'll come and lick it off your car too! Here's the family...Here's the aftermath (ie: the clean patches) of having your car sheep "kissed"!Here's Mum and baby. Ahhh, sweet...Nearby is Lake Minnewanka (we know, we know) which is a nice place to stop and take in the views...Although the jetty and boat launch, frozen into the lake, look quite spooky we think...Here's the Banff Hoodoos and their impressive valley setting...And finally, here is the first, the very first flower we saw this Spring, found on the path down from the Hoodoos!We returned home to Okotoks to find that all the snow we had left behind had melted away, leaving Geoff and Hazel a couple of final days to relax and enjoy themselves before they headed back to the UK.