Great Alaska Adventure: Icefields Parkway
As I was riding through the Canadian Rockies today, and especially this afternoon on the Icefield Parkway between Jasper and Banff, I kept looking for a word that would sum up, would capture all that I saw. I ruled out “Cool,” “Amazing,” “Inspiring,” “Stunning,” “Sensational,” “Breathtaking,” “Astonishing,” “Overwhelming,” “Grand,” “Extraordinary,” “Astounding,” “Magnificent,” “Marvelous,” and about 20 others as inadequate to the task and finally settled on “Spectacular.” And I think it works. These Canadian Rockies are, indeed, a spectacle, a grand presentation on a massive scale, something that must be seen because mere words do them injustice. With that caveat about “mere words,” I’ll try to use a few to give you a bland taste of the geographic smorgasbord we feasted on today.
Today’s weather was the best we’ve had in days. No rain, but last night in McBride and in some of the mountains we rode through today, we could see that a light dusting of snow had been added to the tops and sides, whitewashing an already snowy white canvas. At 42 degrees in McBride, this morning was the coldest we’ve seen this trip, but it wasn’t really a problem and by the time we were motoring through the biggest of the mountains, it had warmed to the mid 50s. I think the lack of low cloud cover made today special because none of the mountain tops were hidden as they have been for the past 3-4 days and for much of the time we were in Alaska.
I will post a few more pictures than usual tonight to try to give a sense of what we saw, but my pitiful excuse of a camera doesn’t capture all the shades in nature’s palette and some of the shot’s I’ll use were taken while I was riding by a hand encased in a thick, clumsy-but-warm insulated/heated glove. Forgive my photographic inadequacies.
I had said in last night’s post I expected today’s ride to be among the best of this trip. It was. I’ve ridden in the US Rockies in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. And I’ve ridden in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California and Oregon. But I’m confident that none of the rides was as SPECTACULAR as today’s ride. On both sides of the road, huge mountains, often crested with snow and occasionally dripping with ageless large and small glaciers, towered over two pitifully small motorcycle tourists who, beyond the sporadic “Wow!” or “Holy Crap” were speechless and just enjoyed the view as silently as their scooters allowed.
We stopped several times for pictures and to just take in the spectacle, but we quickly realized that if we stopped at every photo opportunity we wouldn’t get back to Florida until sometime after the snow fell in the Rockies. I’ve said I’m going back to Alaska, and I said I was going on the Cassiar Highway. Today’s ride will also be part of the route I take next time, too.
We also stopped at the Icefields Discovery Centre next to the Athabasca Glacier, which is a tongue of the immense Columbia Icefields. The Centre was packed with tourists. Damn interlopers. We got a good view of the glacier after dining on truly mediocre hot dogs for lunch, but opted not to take the $54 (times 2) bus ride to and onto the glacier itself. It’s possible to walk to the Glacier but it would have taken a couple hours that we didn’t have. I think the glaciers at Kenai Fjords National Park satisfied my glacier lust, at least for this year.
In addition to the mighty mountains, we saw a black bear, a deer, flocks of birds and a herd of brown-hatted park rangers giving tickets to speed-limit defying scofflaws. We were in no danger. We were putting along trying to try to see everything and still stay between the white and yellow lines.
There are a couple of major attractions near Canmore, where we are spending the night, that we passed by today. But we have time to go back and see them tomorrow. Lake Louise has a special meaning for me though I’ve never been there and I’m going to spend several hours absorbing its charms. We will probably stroll around Banff, the Vail/Aspen of Rocky Mountain Canada. Tomorrow is a non-riding day, the last of this trip except when we’re visiting friends and family so we’ll try to make the most of it.
One more time. Everyone say it with me: SPECTACULAR.