Trip Date — May 28-31, 2005
I’d bet serious money that you’re wondering “What’s Jasper and why would anyone ride 3,250 miles in 6 days to get there?”
Well, if I hadn’t spent a good portion of my life in Canada and if I hadn’t had the good fortune to have travelled through Jasper and Banff in 2001, I’d probably ask the same questions.
Jasper and Banff National Parks are located in Alberta, Canada and have some of the most beautiful scenery in North America. The scenery in the US Rockies is not “better” or “worse” — it’s all beautiful. The scenery in Jasper and Banff is just a different type of beauty.
I took a trip to Banff and Jasper National Parks over the Memorial Day holiday, 2005 . I spent two days getting to the parks, two days in the parks, and took two days to get back to Folsom. The total mileage for those six days was just over 3,250 miles. The weather was almost perfect (except it rained in Oregon which is what Oregon is for), the scenery was beautiful, and I saw some wildlife (but didn’t hit any).
The first leg of my journey was to go from Folsom, CA to Butte, Montana. It’s just over a thousand miles and it took me up the west side of the Sierras, past Reno, into the heartland of Nevada along a remote two lane road Nevada and Utah, and then back on the interstate to get to my destination. I ended up in Butte a little after midnight which meant that I was on the road for about 16 hours (I started just before 8 AM).
My route didn’t follow the Interstate all the way to Butte. The distance from Folsom to Butte via Interstate is about 950 which is awfully close to the 1,000 mile mark needed for the entry level Iron Butt ride (click here to learn more about the Iron Butt Association). Since the superslab route was just over 50 miles shy of the 1,000 mile mark, I detoured a little bit in Sacramento and was able to ride a very special road in Nevada that added the distance that I needed.
Being on the road for 16 hours was not an easy task for me since one of my “trips” in 2004 ended up with me injuring my lower back and tail bone (that really hurts!). My Jasper trip was the first trip of any significant distance and this first part of the trip turned out to be a little too much. Fortunately, I had leftovers from my Vicodin prescription and I was able to use those as painkillers to get to Butte. (Subsequent days were shorter and I had no back/butt pain, fortunately.)
Friday was a much shorter day since it was 500+ miles to Calgary. The interstate north from Butte is beautiful as it descends from the Rockies down to the prairies. There were some great scenery and even twisty sections on the interstate. After entering Canada in southern Alberta, I stopped over in Calgary for Friday night.
Up bright and early on Saturday morning, I rode from Calgary to Banff National Park, a distance of 80 miles. In most parts of the US we can easily cover 80 miles in just over an hour. Getting to Banff from Calgary was a different story, however. The city is growing in leaps and bounds and traffic congestion is a testimony to what happens when you have a lot of cars and not enough lanes. Adding to the heavy traffic flow are the low speed limits. If I recall correctly, the speed limit is 70 or 80 in the city (that’s kilometers per hour not miles per hour!) so that meant that we were ambling along at less than 50 MPH. Once out of the city limits, the pace did not pick up very much. With posted speeds of 100 KPH, traffic was heavy and they obeyed their speed limit signs. Fortunately, I was not in a rush and I was able to enjoy the low, gently rolling terrain as we headed West toward Banff and the Rockies.
Banff seemed like a nicer place on this visit that it was when I stopped there in 2001. Traffic was light and I headed over to the Banff gondola ride that whisks you from a relatively low 5,200' and deposits you at the top of a mountain at 7,500'. At the top of the mountain is the site of a weather observation station that was manned by a gentleman named Norman Sanson who hiked up the mountain over a thousand times starting in 1896. His last hike up was in 1945 when he apparently decided that at age 84 he had better ways to spend his time!
After the gondola ride, I spent a little more time in Banff (much nicer when there’s almost no traffic). I even stopped for lunch at a McDonald’s and just hung out on the main street for a while, watching traffic go by.
Watching is not something that I do all that well so, saying good bye to Banff, I headed north toward Jasper on the Icefields Parkway. The Parkway snakes through a mountain valley between Banff on the south end and to Jasper, Alberta on the north end. Thanks to how the highway is oriented you don’t have to hike into the back country to see the incredible views of the Rockies. It took the rest of the day Saturday to cover the 250 miles to Jasper. There are dozens of beautiful views and I stopped repeatedly to both take in the beautiful views and to relax and enjoy being in the Canadian Rockies.
In the scene above, I could see the face of the mountain looming above me but, because of the forest on the side of the road, I couldn’t get a clear picture. Fortune was with me, however. The Alberta government had been kind enough to cut a road through the trees and clear out an area the size of a football field where they could store supplies for road maintenance. The picture above is a panoramic (like most of the other pictures here) taken from the treeline at the edge of that clearing. This is one of the many overpowering sights I saw during my trip. Imagine being at the edge of a pine forest with not another soul around for miles. Just the sounds and scents of nature.
More views from the highway. This is the norm for scenery along the Icefields Parkway.
More towering rock faces, visible from the road side.
The pix on the left might be Bow Lake (hence the caption). The scene on the right is “just another view”.
The Weeping Wall is located on the east side of the Parkway, with about a dozen springs tumbling down from the plateau to the east. The area had a dry winter so water levels were low.
The panoramic of Corkscrew Hill can’t do justice to the grandeur of the vista. The field of view that I tried to capture was almost 180°.
The three pix above are scenes from the northern part of the Parkway. I almost missed Tangle Creek. It’s not very big and I zoomed right by it, just catching a glimpse of it out of the corner of my right eye. After stopping and doing a U-turn, I snapped the pix in the middle.
Athabasca Falls is pretty but not overpowering. Perhaps that’s the case because I shot the pix from the river level rather than climbing down to shoot up to the falls.
On Saturday evening I stopped in the town of Jasper, at the northern end of the parks (about 250 miles from Banff). Jasper is about 1500 miles north of Sacramento — so far north that that the sun didn’t set until almost 10:30. I found a decent hotel to bunk down for the night and set the alarm for 7 to get a good breakfast and to start my journey south.
Click here for more pictures and info about the rest of the trip to Jasper.