Alberta Raises the Bar

You guys know how I sometimes get ”beautiful scenery fatigue.” If you walk through several amazing deserts (or sections of the same one), eventually you start thinking about your favorite, and all the rest blend into a desert blur. Worse, the next deserts you walk through seem a little ho-hum. Same with beach-front campgrounds, boondocking in the mountains, COE campgrounds on gorgeous lakes, etc. They decreasingly impress.

For me, every type of place to explore includes a certain location that raises the bar of beauty, that makes the rest fall short in my eyes. Alberta, Canada seems to be that place on this leg of our journey: I frankly can’t imagine enjoying any other part of Canada more. And, yet, we’ve just started.

The IceFields are technically part of Jasper National Park and blew my mind, and now we’re in a campground much closer to the town of Jasper that feels like ”national park.” Crowds of people and wild animals galore.

The Elk’s Campground

We’re in Wapiti campground, which has its pros and cons (they all do, right?). The cons are that a short while back, the park had to cut down all the pine trees in the campground because of an infestation of Pine Bark Beetle (I used to hear them eating away at the pines in our front yard as a kid when I was falling asleep with my bedroom windows open. They eat loudly.)

The upside is that, with fewer trees in the campground, elk have moved in, and you can watch them from your campsite (or move away quickly if they’re in your campsite; the cows are still prickly after calving, according to the park ranger who checked us in.)

We have this campsite because it was tricky getting any on the morning reservations opened for our time window, but we managed to get two, side by side (one for my incoming friends!) pretty near the Athabasca River and with plenty of room among the stumps. There are giant mosquitos here though, so the tent is handy rain and shine (I took the above shot from inside the tent.)

Wapiti Trail

Technically, this trail runs from behind the campground, alongside the Athabasca River, and then turns to go along the road back to the campground. I don’t care for the road part, but I have loved walking out and back alongside the river.

The Athabasca is wide and strong, flowing toward the town of Jasper. Lots of mountain views, plus if you stand in the right spot at the right time, you can watch all the rafting groups pass you.

I think the rafting guides must group people in boats according to how wet they want to get, because while some rafts go bow-first right into rough water while everyone screams and then high-fives with their paddles, others beside them float on by calmly.

Maligne Canyon

Like any national park, if you want to hike before the crowds hit the trail, you’ve got to get to the trailhead no later than 8:00 am and get out of there by 10:00 (unless you know about the unpublished trails, which we don’t).

Tracy went hiking the first morning we arrived and ended up on some peak I would have been woozy about, but the next morning we both hit a loop trail along the Maligne River Canyon that knocked our socks off.

Along the Maligne River

This river runs so swiftly and has for so long a time that it’s eroded the rock around it into a deep crevasse; sometimes you can only hear the water below you and can’t see it.

Several types of lichen grow in each crevasse, plus trees on ledges that perhaps once were at ground-level.

The water flows so strongly that where it hits a bend in its bed and churns around, it looks like the wash cycle in a top-loading washing machine gone all haywire.

Small waterfalls feed the river, some that spread like a display in a fancy office building courtyard. In other places, springs feed the river, and sections of water flow underground and show up in the main bed unexpectedly.

Glimpses of snow-capped mountains are the icing on the cake.

You know water’s flowing through this crevasse only because of the mist rising among the rocks. Check out that rock wedged part-way down that’s growing three trees.

Through the Forest

When we got halfway around the loop, we almost turned back so we could see all of that again.

Instead we continued back on the loop trail through the woods, which wasn’t a mistake. By this time other people were on the trail, and one group warned us of two grizzlies ahead, so we got the bear spray ready and walked along loudly. I wanted to see grizzlies, but I don’t think there is such a thing as a safe distance for seeing them in the dense woods. So, maybe I’d glad we missed them.

When we weren’t scanning the forest for ”prickly” elk or grizzlies, we looked out over the valley. The bar has risen.

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