Wednesday, November 7, 2012



Seldom does a drive between two hotels, approximately 150-miles apart from one another, become a highlight of one’s journey.  However, the drive between the Jasper Park Lodge and Chateau Lake Louise did just that.  

Our spectacular Canadian Rockies journey followed some of the same mountain paths that were forged by explorers, traders, prospectors, and the First Nations people, who crossed this challenging terrain on foot, horseback, and rafts. 

On this historic route, that took us through some of the most rugged and awe-inspiring landscapes in North America, we passed lush valleys and towering peaks; photographed glistening lakes, cascading waterfalls, and regional wildlife; and walked on icy glaciers descending from the largest icefield in the Canadian Rockies.

Departing the Jasper Park Lodge at 8 AM, we set out for the drive along the spectacular Icefields Parkway that links Jasper and Lake Louise. Often called the most scenic highway in the world, this 143-mile parkway got its name from the numerous glaciers that flank its western side.  
Driving straight through, it would take approximately two-and-a-half-hour hours to travel the parkway.  However, with the scenic rest stops and turnouts for photographs, you can easily spend a whole day making the drive.  And we did… marveling at the following along the way:
Athabasca Falls are located approximately 20-miles from Jasper.  This raging torrent of water crashes through a gorge that has been carved by the Athabasca River over thousands of years.  It offers a breathtaking view of jagged cliffs and brilliant rainbow –hued sprays of water.


Sunwapta Falls is a breathtaking series of stepping waterfalls.  “Sunwapta” means “turbulent river’ in the language of the Stoney Nation.  This is an apt description of the unpredictable waters that plummet over the cliffs into a deep canyon before joining the Athabasca River further downstream.
The Columbia Icefield, one of the largest accumulations of snow and ice south of the Arctic Circle, is a gigantic ice mass that feeds eight glaciers.  It covers an area five times bigger than Manhattan.  The water that melts from these glaciers then flow into rivers and streams that ultimately feed the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.


Athabasca Glacier, the most accessible of the glaciers that descend from the Columbia Icefield, is reached by boarding a six-wheel drive Snocoach that takes you to the middle of the glacier.  Descending from the Snocoach, we walked on water, 1000-feet deep, but frozen solid.  Dwarfed by the massive glacier, and chilled by a wind that whipped across the ice, visitors stood in awe of the seemingly endless river of ice that surrounded them.  Within the Icefield Interpretive Centre, located down the road from the glacier, a mini-museum explained the history and geology of glaciers.

The wildlife in the Canadian Rockies distinguishes this area from all others.  Elk, moose, bears, cougars, caribou, and bighorn sheep are among the many roaming creatures that travelers might catch a glimpse of on the Icefield Parkway.  A bighorn sheep was grazing at the side of the road and tried to board our motorcoach as we stopped to photograph him.  Overpasses and tunnels have been built to allow animals to safely cross the highway.

Peyto Lake
As our motorcoach drove south, we stopped to admire the brilliant waters of Peyto Lake, one of the most brilliantly colored lakes in the Rockies.  The extraordinary turquoise hue of this lake is due to fine particles of silt that comes from the run-off of melting glaciers.  This silt, called rock flour, remains suspended in the water and reflects the light.  Thus the water appears to be brightly colored.  Since the tint of the water varies with the amount of rock flour, the color of a lake can change during the season.  It depends on the melt rate of the source glacier.

Crowfoot Glacier, one of the more than 100 glaciers that can be seen from the Icefields Parkway, got its name because it was once resembled the three claws of a crow’s foot. Although one of the claws has receded, the name remains.  

As we drew closer to the tiny village of Lake Louise, I wondered what Mother Nature could come up with that would equal or surpass what we had just witnessed.  And then, voila!  There it was…Lake Louise.  

Picture-perfect Lake Louise is the ultimate escape from the hustle and bustle of reality.  It is a romantic, relaxing village that has attracted royalty, Hollywood stars, and heads of states for over a century.  (Population: 600 in winter; 1200 in summer.)

In 1882, surveyor Tom Wilson became the first white man to discover what the native Stoney Indians called "The Lake of Little Fishes". The name was later changed to Lake Louise in honor of Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, daughter of Queen Victoria.  Directly in back of Lake Louise is Victoria Glacier on Mt. Victoria.  Both were named for Louise’s mother, Queen Victoria.

Lake Louise
When I first came face to face with the mirrored surface of Lake Louise, it was easy to understand the emotional words that Tom Wilson wrote in his diary.  “As God is my judge,” wrote Wilson in the summer of 1882, “I never in all my explorations saw such a matchless sight.”  And, matchless sight it was!

I could not get enough of the striking turquoise Lake Louise.  At dawn and at dusk; at sunrise and at sunset; in foggy rain or in clear moonlight; from the Chateau Lake Louise or from across the valley.  I simply could not take my eyes off the awesome beauty of Lake Louise.  Little wonder that it is the most photographed lake in all of North America and one of the most photographed places in the whole world. 

Nor could I get enough of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.  This diamond in the wilderness is truly an idyllic mountain paradise.  Stirring the souls of all who have visited since 1890, the Chateau Lake Louise creates an unforgettable experience.  Amid the majesty, comfort, and service of the Chateau, you can experience the Canadian Rockies at their best.

Before departing Calgary for home, there was time for a quick spin around Banff and a fleeting glimpse of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.  Surrounded by spellbinding scenery, this “Castle in the Rockies” has been a world-renowned symbol of elegance and comfort for over a century.
A stay at the Fairmont’s magical mountain resorts is a return to a bygone era when the rich and famous were enticed by grand hotels that beckoned them to the furthest reaches of civilization.  It is a glance back in time, when ribbons of steel traversed formidable terrain and brought travelers to places that were unobtainable to all but the rich and famous.  

In today’s space-age world, Rocky Mountaineer Railtours brings travelers to those same places that are now obtainable to all.

JANET STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer and a Travel Consultant with THE TRAVEL AUTHORITY in Mariemont, Ohio.

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