The sun was shining when the concierge at the lodge hailed a taxi for us and we headed to the rail station to rent a car for some sightseeing in Jasper National Park. After we signed our paperwork, we left the rental in the railway parking lot and strolled the streets of Jasper before a late breakfast at the Other Paw Bakery Cafe.
We were on Alberta Highway 93 driving toward the park when I saw movement from the corner of my eye. I turned, and to my surprise, I saw a wolf on the shoulder of the road. Not knowing if he would dart into traffic, Dave slowed to almost a crawl. I kept my eyes on him and was rummaging around for my camera, hoping we could stop, but traffic behind us and oncoming vehicles made this impossible, and there was really no place to park on the very narrow shoulder that butted to a hill. All my life I’ve wanted to see a wolf, and just as I aimed my camera, he dodged back into the brush and I didn’t even get a blurred shot of him. Disappointed, and still complaining about the missed photo op, we parked in the lot at Athabasca Falls and made our way down to the river.
A thunderous roar drew us to the turbulent waters, the force so powerful that it had carved a deep gorge through the thick layers of quartz sandstone as the glacier-fed river plummeted to the canyon below. I moved closer. What a strange and interesting breed writers are, for my first thought upon seeing the tumultuous falls, and reading the warning that the rocks and retaining walls were constantly bathed in water vapor that supported a slippery form of algae, I said, “What an ideal place for a murder.” The tourists around me quickly backed away. And so another novel in the Darcy McClain and Bullet Thriller Series was born—this one set in Canada.
From Athabasca Falls, we backtracked to the Jasper SkyTram, at 7,400 feet above sea level, the highest aerial tramway in Canada, as well as the longest.
From the SkyTram, we motored to Medicine Lake. The following texts are from plaques at the lake.
The Mystery of Medicine Lake
In summer, Medicine looks like any other lake in Jasper National Park. But by October, the lake vanishes, replaced until spring by a shallow stream winding sluggishly across mudflats to a few small pools.
The water’s depth varies as much as 20 m through the year. Much of the time, the lake has no visible outlet.
Indians believed the disappearance of the lake was by “bad medicine” or magic, and they feared it.
The Mystery Solved
The bedrock in this part of the Maligne Valley fractured severely during uplift. Rainwater and snowmelt entered the cracks and slowly dissolved a network of underground passages.
The upper Maligne River sinks into these passages through many openings in the valley floor. In summer, meltwater from snow and glaciers swells the river, exceeding what the underground system can carry. The surplus water, dammed by a massive rock slide to the north, floods the basin and forms Medicine Lake.
At the onset of cooler weather in late August, the inflow is less than the drainage into the caves. The lake level drops, exposing the lake bottom until the cycle begins again the following summer.
Man and Medicine Lake
In the 1950s, fluctuating water levels hampered ferry service on the lake. A dam was proposed but never built, and an unsuccessful attempt was made to block the sink points using sand bags, mattresses and bundles of magazines.
Recently, the outflow of the underground system has been traced to a large group of springs in the Athabasca Valley, 17 km down-valley from here. Although this may be the world’s largest underground stream, the entrances are small and debris-choked, and the passages remain frustratingly inaccessible.
“The passages remain frustratingly inaccessible,” I repeated. “Probably a good thing. Why mess with Mother Nature?
Our last stop for the day was Maligne Lake, the longest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies. We hadn’t arranged for a boat tour of the lake; therefore I have no photographs of Spirit Island. We’ll have to save that excursion for a repeat visit. Read more about the boat tour here: https://www.banffjaspercollection.com/attractions/maligne-lake-cruise/
Back at the lodge, we dressed for a casual dinner at Oka Sushi, a small sushi bar on the promenade level of our hotel. The intimate room had seating for eight at the bar and three at a table in one corner. The stools fill up fast, so we had made our reservations well in advance. We ordered a sashimi platter to share, and over hot sake mapped out our plans for the following day. We would be driving from Jasper to Lake Louise.