Canadian Rockies - Part Two


When one falls asleep in a pizza-induced food coma at 8pm, one usually wakes up a bit confused at dawn the next morning. In Banff National Park near the end of May, the sun rises at about 5:30am. That's pretty early, even for us earlybirds.

Knowing that there was exactly one restaurant in a 25 mile radius (conveniently located at our hotel) that wouldn't open up until 8am, we decided to walk through Johnston Canyon before breakfast. There are two trails at Johnston Canyon. The upper falls (a 2 hour hike), and the lower falls (a 1 hour hike). We opted to walk the lower falls trail because we had a heck of a lot planned for Day 3 of our Canadian Rockies adventure and would need to hit the road straight after breakfast. Sorry upper falls trail - we'll hit you next time!

Pro Travel Tip: Start those hikes early in the day. Chances are good that you'll be all alone out there, making for superior nature immersion. Also, since no one else is around yet, you'll feel like less of a jackass yelling "ECHO" into the canyon. The dirt trail hugs the side of the canyon and, at times, becomes a man-made pathway anchored into the limestone. On these bridges, you are literally suspended inside the canyon right above the rushing water. For me, this was 30% terrifying and 70% thrilling.

There are huge tree trunks bouncing down the canyon like toothpicks...

...and little passageways through caves bringing you up close and personal with the falls.

All in all, an invigorating way to start the day.

We both wore our hoodies to breakfast at the Johnston Canyon Resort dining facility. Sure, it was nippy outside, but we had other motives. It was time for Operation Jelly Heist. As you may have read in Part One of our Canadian Rockies adventure, we weren't able to procure jelly at the grocery store. So, we hatched a plan to start hoarding jelly packets from unsuspecting restaurants. This was our first opportunity. Our waitress was conversational and lovely - an Aussie on a temporary visa excited to spend her summer working at Banff and traveling around North America. As soon as she turned her back, we stuffed our hoodie pockets with jelly. We were like hamsters not knowing when their next meal would come. Eggs eaten. Jelly stolen. Let's hit the road. Minutes into the drive, we passed by Castle Mountain and pulled over to take in the views of this majestic giant.

A major selling point for visitors coming to Banff and Jasper is that is has insanely beautiful turquoise lakes. They are a kind of otherworldly nature that make you want to sing "O Canada" atop a Royal Canadian Mounted Police horse while drinking a Labatt Blue and scarfing down some poutine. A bunch of lakes in this part of the world are fed by glacier meltwater, which carries something called rock flour in it. Basically, rock flour is a superfine bedrock silt that makes these glacial lakes turn an incredible iridescent blue color. Moraine Lake would be the first of four such lake destinations we would visit today. While it did not disappoint, we were arriving just a few weeks before the lake had fully crested. It was still not completely thawed from winter, but was stunning nonetheless.

The same was true for Lake Louise, where we enjoyed peanut butter, jelly, and potato chip sandwiches.

I could have stayed here forever.

We drove north, following the Bow River on a road called the Icefields Parkway. It's a well-maintained road (not a sheet of ice like I envisioned upon first hearing the name). It's featured on many of those "road trips to take before you die" lists out there on the internet. And it's true - you really should drive this road at some point in your life. We stopped off at Simpson's Num-Tu-Jah Lodge next to Bow Lake. The lodge had a small convenience style store inside and I paid for a couple cups of coffee while Andy took some photos. As you can see, it was still iced over. But what a serene landscape.

Another 10 minutes up the road was Peyto Lake. Peyto Lake was unique in that it requires a short hike to see the lake. All of the other lakes we'd seen today were visible from their parking lots. Andy and I began walking down the snow-covered trail to the lake. I kept sinking knee-deep into the snow and it looked like the whole trail ahead of us was covered in snow and ice. Being an accident-prone gal, I told Andy I had had enough and that I was going back to the car. I figured the lake would be covered in ice anyway. He pressed on and boy did it pay off! (I don't really regret turning back, but man I wish I'd seen this with my own eyes).

With our day winding down, we were happy to know we were only a half hour from our hotel for the night. We followed the road north and came upon a spot that was like being inside a real life Bob Ross painting.

Would you look at those happy little trees? Oh man. What a spot. Lucky for us, it was a short distance from our hotel, The Crossing Resort (again, not a resort, but I digress). We ate dinner at the hotel restaurant, and watched some TV before conking out. Andy got up a little bit before sunrise to take more photos of this area, known as the Saskatchewan River Crossing.

We burgled more jelly at breakfast and headed out on the road to begin Day 4. Soon enough, we crossed into Jasper National Park. We'd read about the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre and thought we'd check it out (if nothing else, they would have clean bathrooms). We bought tickets to the Glacier Adventure, which consists of a ride on an "ice explorer" vehicle that drops you off on top of Athabasca Glacier. Pretty cool I guess. No. WAY COOL! I know this is a promotional video, but it really sums up the experience. We stood on a glacier. Maybe some people think that's no big deal, but it felt like a very big deal walking on that ice. Here's the glacier from afar...

...and here it is up close.

At my request, Andy chivalrously contorted his body into a dangerous position in order to get me a bottle of glacier water. We sipped at it, trying to adjust our palates to the experience. Amid a conversation of what minerals we detected and the overall assertion of how refreshing the water was, the tour guide told us it was probably just snow melt this time of year. Well then. Best damn melted snow I ever had, lady! After a quick stroll through the gift shop, we were on our way north toward Sunwapta Falls. The spring melt was in full force here and the water around Sunwapta Falls was turbulent.

We were clearly in a waterfall wonderland because just north of Sunwapta Falls is Athabasca Falls. This falls has a lot of water going into a pretty narrow gorge. There's a nice system of pathways and bridges at this falls. There are lots of opportunities to see the falls and canyon from different angles. But oh man, the mosquitoes were out looking for blood, and my legs were turning into their buffet.

Driving north toward the town of Jasper, we saw our first bear. It was scratching a butt-itch on a tree by the side of the road. Jasper is where we would lay our heads for the night. The Jasper House Bungalows seemed like a perfect place to do it. We checked into our little cabin and made our way into town. We caught a small bite to eat at a pizza joint called Famoso. Dudes - FAMOSO! Remember that name and if you ever see one, go! I don't care if you just ate Thanksgiving dinner....go! Some of the finest pizza we've ever eaten. We also ducked into Candy Bears' Lair for some treats for later. Cute place! It was nice to have a little downtime in Jasper. We sat on the banks of the Athabasca River and drank some beers outside our little cabin.

Eventually, we caught a late dinner at the Downstream Lounge where I simply could not pass up the bison short rib dish. Damn tasty stuff. The town of Jasper is something special anytime of year, but I would love to come back for their Dark Sky Festival someday. Because of limited light pollution, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada designated Jasper as a Dark Sky Preserve. The stars really do shine brighter there.

On our way home, we passed through a herd of elk. A fitting end to this amazing day. Hey, come back for Part Three of this Canadian Rockies adventure. We'll: ...drive in a big circle around some bison ...down some tasty wieners ...and Andy locks eyes with a predator. NEXT


© 2016 Amberly Steward