Wednesday, August 26: Jasper
Maligne Canyon / Lake
I think I'm doomed on this trip to not sleeping between about 4:30/5:00 and when the alarm goes off.
The motel included breakfast, which was your standard vat of scrambled eggs, some lukewarm ham, and baked beans. You also had cold cereal, and baked goods. The food was totally mediocre, but at least it was “free”.
The smoke seems to have followed us. It was worse in the morning than the previous day, and it got more and more worse as the day progressed. I have to wonder what it was like in Banff today.
Apparently this is the first time they got smoke all summer, so we're just particularly lucky.
We had been thinking of taking the gondola up the mountain, but with marginal views, we decided to stick with closer subjects. So the initial plan was to hike the Maligne Canyon.
But first, before we left Hinton, we stopped at a Walmart to get Amy some AA batteries for her camera. Just before heading out, I realized that we couldn't open the package, which was that evil kind of plastic thing that is almost impossible to open. So I bought a cheap pair of scissors, so that we could open the battery package.
Then just as we were heading out of town, we stopped so that Amy could get some pictures of an ancient French cemetery, which had wooden crosses rather than tomb stones.
After that Amy drove on to Jasper, while I fell asleep in the passenger seat. I was awakened when Amy jumped on the brakes and pulled to the side of the road. She had seen a mountain goat on some cliffs next to the highway, so we had to dig out our camera gear (and the Bigma lens) and bag some pictures. Of course, other people going by saw that we were stopped and taking pictures, and soon we had a number of cars pulled over.
Although we didn't know it at the time, this was setting the theme for the day: wildlife photos. We were joking that now that we've seen an eagle and mountain goat, we had to be on the lookout for elk, moose, and bears (and marmots!).
We continued on our way, and just before the turn to Maligne Canyon, we saw people pulled over, and so we stopped as well. There were a number of elk dozing on an island in the middle of the river.
After taking the requisite pictures, we continued on to Maligne Canyon. I thought that this was going to be a short hike down a narrow steep-walled canyon, sort of like hiking down a slot canyon, so originally I wasn't going to bring a tripod, but then I strapped it to the side of my camera backpack “just in case”.
That was the right choice as I quickly found that the hike was all about water. The river forms the steep walled canyon, flowing along the bottom, while the trail goes along the top from viewpoint to viewpoint. Near the top there are lots of stairs to go down.
We meandered down the trail, stopping to take lots of photos at various spots. I kept expecting to get to the end, but it kept going. Down near the bottom it flattens out. When we got to Fifth Bridge, I found that the end (Sixth Bridge) was still one or two kilometers further down.
It was by then past one, and Michael in particular was bored and hungry. I was getting hungry myself. We had dropped a fair amount of distance, and Amy wasn't keen on going back up. So we decided that I would give Amy my camera equipment and hike back up, while the two of them continued to Sixth Bridge. I would get the car and drive around to meet them. I did bring my P&S camera, however, which proved to be a good thing.
The trail we went down stayed close to the edge of the canyon, and so it wasn't the fastest way up. On the way down we had noticed a continuation of the bike routes we had taken on the previous day, so there were a number of slightly more direct trails leading to the top.
I started on one such trail which angled away from the water. Almost immediately I ran across a deer that was sort of next to me. I got a couple of pictures. Then it ended up walking in front of me and led the way up the trail. It went with me rather some distance before turning off.
On that trail, I saw no other people. I really hoped that it was heading towards the parking lot and not veering off to someplace totally different. It was higher up the slope than the paths near the water. At one point it traversed a somewhat steep slope. I'm not sure I would want to do that on a bike, because if you slipped or accidentally ran off the trail, it could be rather unpleasant.
In a ways the trail converged with the canyon trail, and then a short distance later another one veered off to the left. This one had more people on it. It started out climbing a bit steeply, and as I wanted to get to the end, I was passing people. To my surprise, ahead of me I saw my deer continuing up the path. The people near me were amazed by the deer and kept trying to take pictures of it, but I was laughing at them to myself, because they just had lots of pictures of a deer's rear end.
The path joined with a paved one, and in short order I was back in the parking lot. I was surprised that it only took me 20 minutes to reach the top, although it would have taken Amy appreciably longer.
As I was driving out of the parking lot, I saw my friend the deer one last time, crossing the parking lot. People were once again trying to take pictures of it, but just then a big RV came by and the deer bolted into the woods.
For some odd reason, I pictured the stream as flowing into the lake, so at the main road I turned left. However, as I was climbing the hillside, and as I vaguely remembered passing road signs earlier for Fifth and Sixth bridge, I turned around and went back downhill. As I remembered, I passed the road for Fifth Bridge and then turned down the one for Sixth.
The parking area there was rather small and crowded, but fortunately I didn't have to park, as I saw Mike and Amy there. They got in, and I drove way. Apparently they had just arrived there a few moments ago, and they were surprised that I was there so soon.
I drove up to the main parking lot (where I had just been, so that we could stop at the “tea house” for some lunch. We found that it used to be a tea house, but now it was just a cafe and gift shop.
We got and ate some lunch. They had displayed there a number of paintings by some famous artist. They didn't look like that much to me, but they were for sale, with a typical price being something like $60,000, and some being more than $100,000. I can't imagine paying those kinds of prices for a painting, much less the ones I saw there.
We looked at some art in the shop next door. It was a bit cheaper but still much more than I would be willing to pay. Then we continued our way to Maligne Lake.
Amy drove which was fine by me, as for some reason after eating lunch, I was very very sleepy. The road runs for about 30km, which took a while to traverse. I ended up nodding off in the passenger seat for most of it.
We stopped at Medicine Lake. There looked to be a semi-recent forest fire there, so there was a burned out landscape with tall branchless blackened tree trunks standing upright like a collection of match sticks.
There was reportedly an eagle nesting on a small island right in front of us. We could clearly see the nest, but we saw no activity. Presumably they had fledged.
Amy noticed that the lake seemed unusually low. From reading the signs there, we found out that the lake fills up every spring, and then it gradually empties all summer, until it eventually dries up. Then the next spring (with the snow melt) it fills up again. When we drove past the far end, we saw that it was mostly mud flats with a few streams meandering through them.
When we got to Lake Maligne, we wandered around a bit. The last boat tour of the day was just leaving, although we weren't interested in it anyway. With the smoke/haze, the views weren't that good.
We wandered around a bit, looking at some historic buildings. I was still very sleepy, and so at one point I just lay down on a bench until Amy finished taking pictures and caught up.
Amy and Mike wanted some ice cream, so we went to the cafe there. I didn't feel like an ice cream, so I got a latte instead. They had just finished their ice creams, and I was halfway through my latte, when we overhead someone telling someone else that there was a moose. So we quickly gathered our things and hurried outside.
We caught up to them and asked where the moose was. They said it was on the far side of the boat house. We hurried along, although I just had my P&S camera.
When we cleared the boat house, we saw a moose standing out in the lake grazing on stuff on the bottom. On shore there was a sizeable crowd gathered and taking pictures.
It looked to me like the moose was going to be there for a while, so I hurried back to the car and got my camera, tripod, and bigma lens. Then I hurried to the moose. I found that the big lens is indeed rather heavy, and it was not comfortable having it hang from my neck. So I had the tripod in one hand, and the camera in the other. (I had left the remains of the latte in the car.)
I got to the crowd, and I took lots of pictures. The moose was pretty much ignoring us, just sticking its head down, and then coming up with a mouth full of plant stuff.
After a while a ranger type person came by and asked us to move back, and to leave an avenue for the moose for when it chose to leave.
I took a few more pictures, and then moosed-out, I retuned my camera, lens, and tripod to the car. I returned, and Amy was still taking pictures occasionally with her P&S, and Michael was still taking pictures with my 300mm lens.
Shortly thereafter, I guess the moose decided he was full, and he walked out of the water and into the woods. It would have been great to get some pictures of him out of the water, but I didn't have my good camera any more. Fortunately I think Amy and Mike got a few pix then.
I don't know if it was the latte or the moose, but I was now wide awake and no longer sleepy.
We started back. When we reached Medicine Lake we stopped, and we took some pictures of the mud flats. Then we continued on. As we neared the tree where the eagles were reportedly nesting, we pulled over to try to get a better look. But just then we saw a crowd of cars/people a short distance ahead, so we drove up. Just as we got there, a black bear cub ran across the road and into the trees. I didn't have a ghost of a chance of getting my camera out, although Amy got one or two quick shots off. So while most of us didn't get any pictures, we did have an official bear sighting.
One thought that both Amy and I had, with the close proximity of all of the people to the bear cub, was “where was the bear mom?”
With the bear gone, we continued our drive only to run into another animial sighting. This time it was an elk grazing (not sleeping this time) on the side of the road.
We drove on to Jasper and had dinner. We ate at a place that had exotic animal meat (e.g. elk, bison). Unfortunately for Amy, almost everything contained celery. She ended up getting a vegetarian lasagna.
Our plan was to visit the Miette hot springs on the way back and check out their pools. Michael was quite vociferous in his opposition to this plan. All during dinner he was constantly telling us that he didn't want to go there, that he hated such things, and that if we went there he would just stay on the side and not go in, etc. etc. Michael loves the hot tub/spa back home, and he said similar things when we visited the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. That time, we could hardly pry him out with a crowbar.
After we left Jasper, we were driving down the road, and we saw a bunch of cars pulled off the side of the road next to a small lake. We figured it was a wildlife sighting, but when we looked over the lake to see what it was, we saw people. They were standing in the lake really far out.
So we pulled over ourselves so that we could gawk at the people wading. Then Michael wanted to try it. So we had him take off his shoes and roll up his pants. He waded quite a way out into the lake, but the water was still only ankle deep or slightly deeper than that.
His favorite thing to do was to go a short distance out, and then run across the “surface” of the water. This whole thing put him in a much better frame of mind, even though it got his pants rather soaked. We didn't have any spare clothes with us, so we had him change into his bathing suit.
Shortly after we continued on our way, Amy said that we were 20 km from the springs. I was surprised, then, when we turned off the road after only about 3 km. It turns out that the place is in the hills about 17 km from the highway.
We saw no one going in, but about a dozen plus cars passed us coming out. We drove down this dark road, up one side of some ridge, then down the other side, and up a valley. The sun had already set, and it was getting rather dark by this time. We got there just before 9, I think, and we hoped that they didn't close at 9. Fortunately, they were open until 11. I was surprised by how many people were still there. I was half expecting us to be the only people at that time on a week day.
It was really cheap to get in. It was less than $10 per person to go in, and about $1 to rent a towel or swim suit. We went in and changed. At that point, I realized a flaw in our plans. Michael was already wearing his swimsuit, so what would he wear when we left? I should have gone out and rented him a swimsuit, but I didn't think of that. So we just figured that we would cross that street when we were leaving.
When we went out to the pools, we found that there were 4 of them. There were two small ones and two big ones. One small one was cold (about 50 degrees), and the other small one was cool. One of the large pools was hot (about 103.5 by their thermometer) and shallow, only about waist deep, and the other large pool was very hot (about 105.5 by their thermometer), and deeper--about neck deep.
Despite Michael's earlier reluctance, he had a great time, and just like with the Blue Lagoon, he didn't want to leave at the end.
From 10 to 11 was quiet time. They made an announcement to that effect, and it was almost like magic. Suddenly it got noticeably quieter and more peaceful.
Amy had to get out first, due to her overheating. Michael would have been happy staying there until closing, but it was getting late, and we still had a long drive ahead of us.
Around 10:30 I pried him out, and we got changed. Michael didn't have any dry pants, so I ended up wringing my swim suit out as much as possible, and he wore that. It was drier than his swim trunks.
It was about 11 when we hit the highway. It was very dark, despite an almost full moon, due to clouds. There was next to no traffic, so it almost seemed like we were zooming through a featureless blackness.
We got in around 11:30, and I immediately started uploading my camera flash. That took about 30 minutes, and as soon as it was done, I hit the sack. It was about midnight.