Saturday, May 2, 2015

Cross-Country Corvette Stage 2: 296 kms

Date of Travel: May 2, 2015

Departing after our brief walking tour of Jasper, we were soon on AB93, the world-famous Icefields Parkway, which joins Jasper National Park with Banff National Park to the south and is a World Natural Heritage Site.  Stretching 232 kms from Jasper to Banff, this two-lane road, with some passing sections, was completed in 1940 and no commercial traffic is allowed.  It is named for the impressive glaciers to be seen from the road as you travel through the Athabaska Valley.  In July and August there can be up to 100,000 cars travelling the route each month but on this cold day at the beginning of May there was almost nobody else sharing our road.

32 kms into the drive we came to our first stop, enjoying the sights of Athabaska Falls.  A comparatively small waterfall, dropping 23 meters (80 feet), it is remarkable for the force of the water moving over it.  The water has cut away the rock deeply, resulting in canyons and potholes that can be viewed from different platforms.  Clearly people underestimate the forces of nature.  There are two plaques as memorials to young men who, the first in 2002 and the second in 2012, fell to their deaths in the swirling waters. 


Continuing our drive, we enjoyed the solitary road and turned off when we saw a sign for the next waterfall, now 57 kms into our drive.  This was the Sunwapta Falls, 600 m off of the main road.  While smaller than the Athabaska Falls, with a drop of  18 meter (60 feet), it is quite spectacular and earns its name, which in the Stoney language means "turbulent water."  It was still early in the season--from time to time snowflakes landed on us--but there was already a lot of water flowing down, fed by the Athabaska Glacier.  A bridge offered an excellent viewing position.


Another forty minutes of driving, with beautiful mountains ranged on either side of us, brought us to one of the most dramatic sights you can enjoy from a road in North America: the Columbia Icefield.  The largest icefield in the Rockies, covering 325 sq. kms, it was formed as far back as 245,000 years ago and features six glaciers.  The most visible of these is the Athabaska Glacier, which is visible from the road, making it the most-photographed glacier in North America.  And who were we to buck tradition?  Our stop produced my favourite photo of the Corvette so far but the glacier, which has been receding steadily since its greatest coverage in 1844.

We do not linger long as a cold wind was blowing so back into the car and we continued south.  Stopping at the Saskatchewan River Crossing I thought it was advisable to buy some gasoline, our first purchase on the trip.  I should have done it in Jasper as the gas station--the only one on the Parkway--was clearly making the most of its location and charged C$1.42 per litre of premium, making it the most expensive fuel I have bought even as I write this two years later!

Next stop: Lake Louise!  233 kms from Jasper along our road, this famous mountain resort area was a stop on the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1890.  It is dominated entirely by the Chateau Lake Louise hotel, which has 550 rooms; the oldest existing section dates to 1913.  

 The CP brought in Swiss mountaineers to guide the tourists through the mountains around the hotel and a cabin that they occupied is still to be seen near the shores of the lake.  Interestingly, the current Swiss Ambassador to Canada earned his doctorate at the University of British Columbia writing about this specialized form of immigration.

Lake Louise was still quite frozen and there were many visitors milling about.  The lake was named for one of Queen Victoria's daughters who was married to a Governor General of Canada, the Duke of Argyll.  It is a glacial lake,, with a depth of 70 m (230 feet).

Our final 57 km section of road on this day took us to our destination, the world-famous Banff, noted for its hot springs and scenery.  We stayed at the magnificent Rimrock Resort.  As we pulled in, the friendly Australian doorman looked at the car and said: "I would guess you want to park this yourself." Indeed!  Day 2 of Corvette ownership had been a memorable one.

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