Oh dear, I think we’ve been in the wilderness too long. Hitting Touristville on a Friday afternoon in summer was probably unwise.
We drove from Mt Robson to Jasper on Friday afternoon, intending to stop at the Visitor Information Centre to find out about campgrounds, but there was so much traffic and so many people that we bought fuel and headed south on the Icefields Parkway. We had been given an information booklet when we paid our park entrance fee, and were able to work out where our preferred campgrounds were from the maps in the booklet. At the park entrance there was a board advising which grounds near Jasper were full … and by 3pm that was all but one! The Columbia Icefield ground about halfway between Jasper and Banff sounded appealing – close to the Athabascar Glacier and ‘tent only’, meaning that RVs weren’t allowed because of the narrow access road and small sites.
We got the last ‘walk-in’ tent site, so we had to park the car and carry our stuff for a couple of hundred metres, but it was a secluded area and not too noisy. Wonderful view from the carpark of the icefield and a couple of glaciers just across the road. We walked to the Athabascar Glacier the next morning and as with all the glaciers we have seen, we saw and learnt new things. This one has left very tall lateral moraines as it has receded, and as we walked where the glacier had previously been, I commented that it looked like a lunar landscape. At the far end of the glacial site, vegetation has started to grow – grasses, groundcovers, small shrubs. Trees will eventually grow there too, and change the former icy landscape further.
Driving down the Icefields Parkway, we were amazed at the huge volume of traffic heading north – loads of tour buses, cars, RVs but not many trucks as no through traffic is allowed, ie: if the trucks aren’t delivering within the Jasper/Banff National Park area they have to find an alternate route outside the parks. We drove through the village of Lake Louise and got to the lake at around 10.30am. The carparks were already filling, and there were lots of people around, but by the time we got back to the car 20 minutes later, all the carparks were full. We had 2 people fighting over our car space as we were leaving, traffic waiting to get into the carparks was backed up for a couple of kms and I predicted that there would be several nasty incidents of severe carpark rage by noon. As for Lake Louise itself – well, my mother taught me that if I couldn’t say something nice, I shouldn’t say anything.
We headed west to Yoho National Park to visit Emerald Lake and the Burgess Shale, which is one of the world’s most celebrated fossil fields. The actual field is only accessible via a guided tour and looks difficult to get to, so we just had a look at the lake, which is much prettier than Lake Louise and without the seething hordes of people or the huge ugly lakeside hotel, and read the information boards at the lake’s edge.
Further south to Banff, which we drove around and left fairly quickly (‘cos of all those cars and people – we obviously lack the herding instinct) and planned to spend the night in Calgary until we found out the prices of accommodation. It’s the final weekend of the Calgary Stampede, so it’s a very busy city at the moment. We kept on driving south to Fort MacLeod, a little town on Highway 2 which is historically significant because it was established by the North West Mounted Police (The Mounties) to tame the whiskey traders that came up from the western States.
We’ll be back in the US of A today, in the Lower 48 as they say in Alaska.