Down the Icefields Parkway

road landscapeBefore I write any more, I have to say “WOW”. Today we drove down the most amazing road, the length of the Rockies from Jasper to Banff. It was around 150 miles, and it took us 10 hours, because we had a couple of long stops, but also because we didn’t want to rush past all of the scenery (This is going to be tricky, I’ve just realised that I’m going to write something too superlative-laden, so excuse me if I repeat “amazing” and “beautiful” too many times!).

icefieldsFirst stop was the Columbia Icefields, which is huge, and invisible over the horizon. But the bit you can see is one of the six glaciers that descend from it. There’s a centre beside the road where you can take a SnoCoach to the glacier. Basically, we all piled into a coach which took us up to the side of glacier, where we all transferred into a special bus with HUGE tyres. This drove onto the ice, and to a parking area in the middle of the glacier. It was tacky and touristy and absolutely brilliant. The driver gave an awful pun-laden commentary, but as soon as Charlotte and Emily touched the ice, they came alive as though they’d been hit by lightning.icefields2

They were running around, dipping their toes into slush pools, throwing ice-balls, and basically laughing until they ran out of air. Of course, Mat and Steve were around too, filming from a distance, and then they had to try and get the girls to stand still long enough to find our why they liked it. But Emily wasn’t having any of that – she just took off to play on the ice again whenever she wanted (that’s my girl – no respect for authority!).

icefields3On the way back down Emily fell asleep (lots of running + thin air (3,000m) = whacked child), and when we were waiting for the transfer to the other coach, I sat down with Emily on my lap, taking in the glacier view. What I didn’t see was the scene on the left – Charlotte being interviewed by Mat, our budding Jeremy Paxman, about her thoughts. Charlotte can be quite shy with new people, but after three days with Mat and Steve, and a few meals with them, she’s become completely relaxed around them, and she obviously loves the camera!rockiesdrive

Then we carried on driving down the parkway, which turned into miles and miles of long straight road, with huge mountain views either side. Without anything man-made in the view, we found it difficult to comprehend the scale of it all – in the picture on the left, there’s a car on the road in the distance, but its barely visible because of the scale of the landscape around it.

And then after a picnic lunch, time for another stop, at Peyto Lake.

peyto lake landscape

Anyway, Peyto Lake is labelled “The bluest lake in the Rockies”. (Fred Dinage moment: The minerals in the mountain on the left of the photo, get picked up by the glacier meltwater, and it turns the lake the weirdest blue. It’s because the other colours get absorbed by the water/minerals, and the blue gets reflected back up at us). Anyway, whatever, it’s a beautiful view.rockies weather

As we left the lake the weather closed it, and it began to rain. Even in this kind of weather, the view was beautiful – the blue sky had gone, to be replaced by dark clouds, with tempting glimpses of sunlight in the distance. This picture is the view of the right hand end of Peyto Lake as we were leaving. As you can see, 10 minutes had changed the view completely, but it was still amazing.

And then onwards, towards Banff. As we drove from Lake Louise down to Banff, we suddenly turned a corner and saw another huge smoke plume.

smokey banffWe were downwind of the fire we saw 2 days ago, and although we were perfectly safe, and the highway was open, we were obviously much closer, because we had small pieces of ash and burnt tree landing on the windscreen. I’ve tried to capture it in the photograph, to show the blue sky in the distance, and the brown smoke drifting over the road. It was dramatic, and yet another reminder that we’re here at a bad time for the Rockies. This fire is believed to have been started by lightning – there have been 5 or 6 different lightning strikes this week that have started fires, but most get put out quickly. They have one of the world’s largest helicopters here, flying water bombing missions over the fires, and every now and again dashing up the valley to put out a new, smaller fire, before it can take hold. It’s the number one subject on the news and in the papers, and there’s no sign of rain for most of the park, so the risk is getting higher all the time.