Thursday, June 28, 2007

Northern Rockies Road Trip: Part III: Picas and Sheep and Bears, Oh My!

We took most of Saturday traveling the Icefields Parkyway (Promenade des Glaciers to those Francophiles or romantics out there). While the trip is less than 200 miles (288 kilometers) and can be "safely traveled in just over 3 hours" according to our guide, it lives up to its reputation as the most beautiful highway in the world. The entire drive is one amazing view after another with each bend in the road showcasing another dramatic mountain-scape, glacier, and/or alpine lake. We stopped at the Icefield Visitor Center at the Columbia Glacier where I learned that the Columbia Glacier feeds the same Columbia River that runs through Washington and out to the Pacific Ocean. I also learned all about mountain critters like picas.* We briefly considered taking one of the snow-bus-thingies onto the glacier and decided instead to take a hike to where we could better see the glaciers. We walked through snow and at one point we were actually getting snowed on.

As we continued our drive south we stopped for big horn sheep crossing the road and later saw bears just off the side of the highway, one in a tree. How do you spot bear? Why, just look for the dozens of cars parked on the shoulder with tourists with huge cameras wandering all over the road.** We considered stopping at Lake Louise, but as it was already about 6 pm when we passed it, we didn't want to be too rushed, so we saved it for the next day.

* Having grown up in Colorado and doing a fair amount of hiking and camping as a boy scout, Jeff was wise in the ways of picas and other mountain fauna. It became a bit of a joke as Jeff compared these Rockies to the ones in Colorado (the peak's only 12000 feet? In Colorado, the peaks are much higher..) and so on. At one point when we were planning the trip, I mentioned staying in Calgary. "Why would we want to spend time there; it will be just like Denver?" "But I've never been to Denver."

** Every single guide book/pamphlet/display we read instructed us not to stop for bear or other animals near the road. They associate people with food and by stopping on the road, it just makes them more likely to come close to the road, which is not good for their mortality rates.


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