Canada 2015: Jasper

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.



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Canada 2015: Quesnel, BC, to Jasper, AB

Early in the morning, we reboarded the Rocky Mountaineer for the ride from Quesnel to Jasper.

I planned to spend most of the day outside on the downstairs observation deck of our railcar, snapping photos, but it began to rain as we left the rail station and chugged past the lumberyards. Michael, one of our onboard crew and also a professional photographer, told me we still had a lot of climbing to do and the best shots were yet to come. He suggested that I go down to the dining car for breakfast, so I took his advice http://michaelbednar.com

The inclement weather followed us from Quesnel to Prince George as the train charted a course close to the Fraser River. The weather improved as we rolled into the quaint village of McBride, BC, and cleared as we crossed provinces—from British Columbia into Alberta. As we drew near the town of Jasper, we spotted a black bear minding his own business and not the least bit interested in the passing train, although the passengers burst into an uproar of “Bear, bear, bear.” And the cameras came out in a flash. Sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun. I was too slow on the draw and missed my shot, but I would get my chance later in the trip.

We disembarked in Jasper and boarded a bus to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. Those passengers continuing on the train the next day were booked into the main building of the lodge. We planned to stay two nights in Jasper and had reserved a bungalow near the lake. When we checked in with reception, they advised us to stay clear of the roaming elk, as many females had young with them. In fact, we had to dodge three on the way to the room and wait while another moved away from the front door before we could unlock the bungalow. They were a pleasure to see.

We had reservations at the Moose’s Nook Northern Grill in the lodge, but it was closing as we arrived at the host’s desk. She apologized, but we really weren’t up for a big dinner, as we had certainly been well fed on the train. We sat in the Emerald Lounge, ordered a bottle of wine, and snacked on substantial appetizers as we sat near a roaring fire.

Pardon the glass glare on some of the photos taken aboard the train. Unavoidable, unfortunately.


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Canada 2015: Whistler to Quesnel, BC

Sunday morning we grabbed coffee at Starbucks and walked to church, a very long walk, but the hike got our blood pumping on the breezy morning. When the service ended, Theresa and Gordon, a couple from Vancouver Island, asked if we wanted a ride back into town. We accepted their offer and thanked them as they dropped us off in the village.
Famished, we ate lunch at Hot Buns, a cozy café famous for their cinnamon buns, but we ordered crepes—lemon sugar and apple cinnamon.

Go Fest, Whistler’s Great Outdoors Festival, was in full swing, and we spent a good hour touring a car show, snapping photos of vintage vehicles, and another thirty minutes talking to one car owner who had his senior giant schnauzer with him.

We shopped away most of the afternoon, picking up where we had left off the day before, and making some warm purchases—fleece. Afterward, we watched a group of hotshot snowboarders and skiers push the limits before we returned to our hotel for dinner.

We had reservations at the Grill Room. We started with oysters on the half shell; this was followed by Beef Tenderloin Neptune, beef tenderloin topped with Dungeness crab and sauce Charon; and Brome Lake Duck Duo, a pan-roasted duck breast and confit duck leg; and a side order of risotto. We enjoyed dessert in the Fairmont’s Mallard Lounge, sitting before a fire, nibbling a fine selection of sweets from the Chocolate Bar, and sipping a good port.

The next morning we boarded another Rocky Mountaineer train to continue our rail tour of the Canadian Rockies. This leg would take us from Whistler to Quesnel, BC. David had planned the train trip so we could get on the train to capture certain scenic routes and off for longer stays in specific towns, and this plan worked well for us.

For most of this blog series, I will let the photos tell the story—the beauty of the Rockies being soul-stirring and breathtaking to behold. And yes, I will set a Darcy McClain and Bullet thriller in Canada.

What struck me about this section of the train ride, besides the magnificent terrain, was all the logging. Of course, I knew Canada logged, but I was stunned by the extent of the industry. After doing more research, I was surprised to learn that British Columbia is the world’s largest exporter of softwood lumber, but not that the United States is the biggest buyer. In order of wood exports, close behind the US is China, Japan, Europe, South Korea, and India.

As a child and young adult, when we lived or traveled overseas, I always heard my father say, “Don’t be an ugly American” and “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Unfortunately, not everyone adheres to either one, never mind both. As soon as we boarded this leg of the rail tour, we had the pleasure of the ugly Americans across the aisle from us, and they soon linked up with the Aussie couple seated behind us. Loud and obnoxious, the four grew louder and rowdier as they drank more than their share of wine, starting at 11:00 a.m.

Behind the Americans sat a couple from Edinburgh, Scotland, and next to them a couple from Surrey, England. Both couples were a pleasure to be with and Mil, the woman from Edinburgh, was a real delight. The six of us moved to the rear compartment of the upper deck and enjoyed each other’s company for the duration of the trip. “There’s a reason for everything,” said Mil, motioning toward the boisterous foursome. We soon forgot them as Mil launched into her tale of living on the same street as J.K. Rowling before the Harry Potter author became famous. Mil also mentioned another writer who lived nearby and went on to become famous. The name escapes me, but I do recall Mil’s punch line: “We called our street . . . writer’s block.”

We pulled into the rail station in Quesnel, much later than anticipated due to work on the train tracks along the scheduled route and a wait while railcars hauling freight switched tracks. But no one seemed to care, me included, as a group of us stood outside on our railcar to enjoy the sunny day and to shoot photos. We were rewarded with a bear sighting. He appeared more interested in foraging for food than the train.

Our accommodations for the night, the Best Western Plus Tower Inn, wouldn’t rate even a four star, never mind a five, as someone on the train remarked. A true statement, but the room was clean and spacious, and the bed comfortable. We decided on room service but heard the hotel did not offer this amenity, so we headed downstairs to the dining room and asked a passing server to confirm this. She nodded, but quickly said, “Here’s a menu. Order whatever you’d like and we will box the meals to go.” We thanked her and the kitchen staff, who were most obliging.

We ate our French dip sandwiches in our room, washed them down with wine we had purchased the day before in Whistler, and critiqued our second leg of our rail tour on the Rocky Mountaineer—five stars being top-notch. The service and waitstaff easily won five stars—no debate there. The food, four stars, and as many of our train companions stated, “We didn’t expect the meals to be this good.”

We retired early, ready for our next rail adventure—Quesnel to Jasper, where we planned to disembark from the Rocky Mountaineer and spend two days exploring the area.



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