Alaska 2014

NOTE:  When Sharon adds comments, they will be in {curly brackets}.  Comments added AFTER coming back to San Jose are in [square brackets].

 

Report 18. Day 18. Thu, May 22. Calgary, Alberta to Jasper, Albert . Sheep, Waterfalls, Glaciers, Scenery, No Lyin' and Bears Oh My!

 

The alarm I set goes off at 4:30 am. We get around and as we're getting ready to roll, Sharon hears a White-crowned Sparrow. These beautiful birds (image google "White-crowned Sparrow") have a wonderful whistling song that some people say goes, "Oh, Canada, Canada, Canada." Very distinctive, and it brings back past memories of Canada birding for us.

Our plan today is to get to Banff as early as possible, and continue through the wonderful animal and glacier parkways to Jasper.

We are ready to leave camp, and fire up the Chevy at exactly 5 am. The check-in lady says that the front gate is only closed, but not locked. The first one out in the morning opens the gates, whoever it happens to be, and leaves it open for everybody else. That turns out to be Sharon. I ask if she's the keymaster, and she says no, she's the gatekeeper. Who ya gonna call?

Here's a morning shot over our trailer.

 

We make our way out of the RV Park, past the lumberyard, across the Bow River, and take the highway leading to Canada 1 West, about eight miles distant. We drive a bit in the dark.

Forty minutes later we are getting great sunrise photos to our right and behind us as we head northwest.

I see two animals down below us - two pintos, or Morses as Sharon says, who wants to see moose, not a horse.

We stop at a Native American gas station not yet open, but we're after water and paper towels to clean the bugs off our windshield, since Sharon is shooting lots of stuff in front of us. No water anywhere. Sharon suggests the windex and paper towels in the trailer, and that's what I use.

About 6:30 we get a pair of elk on the right, across the fence north of Banft, eating away. Two males, with nice little racks.

I should explain the fence. We first were on this road in 1991 right after I recovered from my colon-removal surgery, an event that gave me my life back, I can tell you. Anyway, that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the fence.

In 1991, there was no such fence on the Icefields Parkway. The animals were free to cross the freeway anywhere and at any time. Lots of animals killed by collisions with vehicles, and lots of damaged vehicles. Alberta came up with the solution of building a giant fence, basically isolating the freeway from any entry by animals. They found that certain animals were afraid of overpasses, and others were afraid of passages that went under the freeway, so they build a series of both types of crossings, all isolated by fences or high walls. This resulted in a not-as-good of an experience for animal watchers, but knocked the tar out of the dead and injured animal statistics. To which I say Yaaaaaay.

Here are some photos of the next part of our trip.

 

A little before 7am we pull off into a little park, to use the trailer bathroom. We get three elk down by some gravel which appears to be river overflow, dry right now. Later, a fourth elk joins them.

 

While Sharon is in the bathroom, I take a seven-minute mini-nap. Ah. See, there was only one 'h' in 'Ah'. A longer nap gets more 'h's'. So I get partially refreshed.Audxxxxxx a10 600am. Ok, took a 7 minute mininap.

We head out again, and about 7:30, we pull off at a scenic overlook. Sharon spots a pair of mergansers down there - a type of duck. We make them out to be Common Mergansers. Sharon yells that she's got a dipper and I get my binocs and join her, just as a dark bird with rapid wingbeats flies down the river from where she spotted it, lands on a log and promptly does a little dippity doo dance. I exaggerate when I say 'dance' since it was only a single dip.

The little bird is fascinating for me because of the name. Not only does he dip when standing on dry ground or logs or rocks, he feeds swimming underwater! Another practice which one might call dipping. Anyway image-google "American Dipper" if you want to see one. Here's what a "chuffed" Sharon looks like:

 

Sharon also hears the haunting notes of a Varied Thrush.

A bit later, as we're crossing a small bridge, I see what has to be a Mountain Bluebird fly away to our right. The soft blue of this bird is a wonder.

We come upon an animal overcrossing. They are well designed and very attractive.

Still only a little after 8 and I see two or three deer on our right.

We come upon three cars pulled over on ahead of us and on the right. They are definitely on some animal, and it turns out to be a grizzly bear, on the safe side of the protection fence built all along the parkway. There is also a line of those cement barriers, about 30 feet long. I pull us over, and I have two choices: 1) Park very close, but the barrier line forces me to be out into the right-hand lane about 2 feet, or 2) I can go another 30 feet or so and pull completely off. But that may jeopardize our chances of shooting the bear. I pick Number 1, grab my camera, turn on my flashers, and hurry back. I get some video and stills, but they are through the fence. I awkardly climb up on one of the barriers, and balancing there, and raising my camera as high as I can the bear occasionally wanders enough that I might be able to crop the fence out. But mostly it's through the fence designed to save his life. {We see the bear eating yellow flowers, I think Dandelions. I read later that 90% of Grizzly diet is plants. Amazing to see such a big bear eating tiny flowers.}

 

 

About 9 am, and we come to Crowfoot Glacier, originally looking like the ankle and three toes. But some years ago, the bottom toe broke away, leaving only the top two.

A Japanese bus pulls up, and I explain to one young woman I find who speaks English what the glacier was, and is. We're at 8631 on the odometer.

Sharon speaks with some people who have flown from Alaska to Iowa, to pick up two Minnie Winnies, small motorhomes, and already have Alaska plates on them for the trip back to their home.

I have a bit of a nap, and when I wake up, Sharon introduces me to Vicki and David, two Brits from London our age or more. Small, both with white hair, I couldn't tell the difference between them from the back. Anyway, they are enjoying their vacation. Sharon has taken a number of photos of individual birds perched exactly on top of some pine trees.

We continue on, and there is another glacier every ten miles or so. We recognize several views from our past trips here. Here are some of our next shots.

I calculate that we will run out of gas either ten miles before we get to our destination, or have about a gallon left. {Again with the "low gas" anxiety.} But, "What Ho? cried Daniel," as brother George wrote in a bathroom stall when he was a med student at the University of Missouri, there is an unexpected gas station just ahead. We pull in, and I see that the cost is 1.79 Canadian dollars per liter. That's about, let's see, $7 U.S. a gallon. Sweet. So I just get about ten gallons - actually 40 liters. That'll get us to a reasonable station.

The thought of driving through Icefields Parkway and seeing animals overcame my initial plan of going up the plains to Edmunton, then turning left, and going NW to Dawson Creek. We are seeing great animals and sites. I recommend that you get old at the normal rate, and lose your memory, at the normal rate.

We come upon Athabasca Glacier, where the glacier buggies take you from the visitors check-in to the glacier, so you can walk out on the ice.

Heading on, we come upon a half dozen Bighorn Sheep, lying down right next to the road on the right. If they get scared, however, they can quickly head up the steep mountain, only about two feet away from where they lay. We decide to make a U-turn and come back, hoping for photos. We come upon a new structure and - Holy Cow! It's just like that half circle that sticks out over a 4000 foot drop at the Grand Canyon that you can walk out on and see the bottom through a glass platform. There are a number of cars stopped ahead of us on the road. A girl runs out and says we can't park down below because it's full. We tell her we don't want to park down below, that we are looking for a turnaround. She says there's one about a mile or two down the hill, and we continue on.

Next we see a sign warning us to watch out for caribou. Hey, do you promise? Then we see one of those electric signs on trailer wheels announcing caribou on the road ahead. Not our road, it turns out.

Sure enough, at a rest stop, next to a wonderful snow and ice covered (not totally) waterfall we find our turnaround. We take advantage of the situation by Sharon using the rest room, and me running across the road, climbing a little and posing beside the waterfall. We have seen several of the CanaDream rental motorhomes on the road.

Yeah, that's me with the red sweatshirt. {oh, by the way, the sheep were gone by the time we got back to the area we saw them.}

AFTERNOON

The thought of a prepared lunch is great, and we come to a restaurant that offers that. We have the all American, er Canadian cheeseburger with fries. Sharon eats half of hers (correct) and I eat all of mine (incorrect). Sharon wins. I'd have enjoyed it much more if I had eaten only half. I must remember the next time we're at this restaurant. {I loved this twig/vine decoration they had in the dining room.}

We continue on, passing Athabasca Falls turnoff. We remember video taping this great attraction the first time we came here, and we bypass it.

We continue on, and about 6 pm, we pull into our RV park for the evening - Jasper National Park, Whistler site. {We make sure this time to not take the tram to the top of Whistler Mountain where I had a full-body fear reaction when we were hiking and could look down 2000 feet onto our campground. Only following Bob and holding onto one of is belt loops got me around the bend and onto safe ground again.}

I do all the dirty housekeeping jobs - that is, drain the fresh water tank - half full, right onto the ground, where it immediately seeps into the gravel and dirt. Then I fill up the fresh water tank. Sharon says a Dark-eyed Junco (bird) takes a bath in a small pool temporarily made by the dirty fresh water. Then I dump the black and then the grey tanks. I hook up to city water using our hose and a pressure reducer. I put the blue stuff in the toilet.

That's it for the day, Thanks and have a peaceful sleep, yall.{I throw out some peanuts for ravens who are here (probably against the park rules to not attract bears), Oh well. More about this tomorrow.}

Bob and Sharon


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