Of all the places I've ever visited, the Canadian Rockies are my favorite by a long stretch. Anyone who has ever visited Banff or Jasper National Park knows what I'm talking about. And whenever I encounter people who are patrons of the parks and they haven't been there yet, I always tell them it's a must see area. Seriously, the stretch of land between Banff and Jasper along the Columbia Icefield Parkway is mind blowing! You are surrounded by rugged, remote beauty in the form of towering, snowcapped mountains, flowing alpine rivers, glaciers, and abundant wildlife. Maybe it's hyperbole, but I feel like I've seen a bear almost every day on my excursions in the Canadian Rockies, sometimes a little too close for comfort.
When I was in Glacier National Park on the journey to Banff, I remember hiking the Grinnell Glacier trail and encountering a bear with her two cubs. This is a high traffic trail in Glacier with a lot of folks who have spent minimal time in the outdoors and aren't always familiar with best practices to stay safe and also keep wildlife safe. Point in case, on this hike to Grinnell, people were not carrying bear spray which I feel is essential in grizzly areas and then, they were getting thisclose to a mom bear and her cubs to get that perfect photo for their Facebook. I mean, I saw a mom pose with her children 20 feet away from this bear while her partner snapped a photo. Bad idea folks. These animals are territorial and you are in their HOME. So please be respectful of the wildlife so that you and the animals are safe!
So anyway, I get sidetracked walking through the memories of my travels. I started thinking here about bears and bear safety and now I'm reliving the pandemic hiking moments where people just left mountains of toilet paper in the woods. Pack it out! Hopefully, it was a learning experience for many people about how to be better stewards of nature and use Leave No Trace principles.
Okay, back to the Canadian Rockies.
My initial trip to Banff and Jasper was kind of a rights of passage for me as a woman traveler. It was the first time other than Acadia National Park where I had set out on my own in my truck to a distant and remote wilderness setting. I drove from Seattle to Kamloops where I stayed for the night and then onto Jasper National Park. On this trip, I made a few campground reservations. Canadian Parks definitely roll out the red carpet for car campers: hot showers, cell phone charging stations, playgrounds. It is quite the change of pace from American national park campgrounds although this summer I did find showers at the campgrounds in Grand Tetons which was very much welcome.
I had planned on staying for two weeks on my first trip to Canada, but the wildfires ended up cutting my trip short by a few days.
The smoke was so bad that it completely obstructed my views of Lake Louise. I couldn't even see the mountains. Visibility was just a few yards. It was gnarly. I don't know if it's just me or if other people are affected this way but wildfire smoke makes my joints hurt, makes me swell and bloat, I have asthma that is only triggered by smoke, horrible headaches, negative thoughts. This had been definitely a downer over the last few years as there isn't a part of the west that hasn't been affected by wildfires during the warm months. It is increasingly getting worse year after year with minimal addition of resources to combat the issue. Draught continues to be issue as our planet's climate shifts and is negatively affecting the places we love and the wildlife that call these places home.
I tried to make the most of my first trip to Canada despite the fires. I still did amazing things even though I cut my trip short. I went white water rafting, completed several hikes, visited art museums and galleries in the area, visited three parks: Yoho (my favorite), Banff, and Jasper.
And Canada is very boondock friendly. There was one night where I thought I was parked in a good location to sleep for the night. When I find a spot, I don't usually hang out or build a fire or anything. I've usually been so physically active that day that all I want to do is cook and go to sleep. This night was the same, I just crawled into the back of my truck and was reading right before it got dark and saw a ranger pull up behind me. I was thinking "Oh crap, I'm in trouble" and the lady was so super nice and informed me that I was parked in a wildlife corridor and couldn't sleep there for the night. She asked me if I had a map on me and I gave it to her and she showed me where there was a large gravel parking lot just 20 minutes away that was free for people to park and camp overnight on. I was so incredibly grateful for her help in pointing me in the right direction to a place to park for the night. Even traveling down the Icefield Parkway has a place to park for the night. There is a huge lot right in front of the Athabasca Glacier where you can park for the night and sleep in your vehicle for a small fee. And the visitor center has a fantastic restaurant for an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.
The Athabasca Glacier itself is worth the drive. It was the first glacier I had ever encountered and very informational experience. When you walk the trail, it has signs that show you where the glacier was located ten years before, twenty, years before, thirty years before....this interpretive trail paired with my wildfire experience helped reinforce my understanding of global warming. The glacier has receded significantly over the last 100 years.
I had another learning moment when I visited the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff, Canada. I had hiked to Bow Glacier Falls the day before visiting the museum, and when I was walking around looking at artwork, I noticed a painting of the same area I had hiked the day prior. It was of the falls and in the painting, on top of the falls, sat this huge white mass, a glacier. The painting had been completed in the 1920s. I pulled out my phone and looked at the photograph I had taken of the falls from a similar viewpoint and the glacier was completely gone in my photograph as compared to the painting from 100 years ago. I've always been intrigued with art as a tool to document history and it was very interesting to see this visual documentation of the progression of the melting glacier over 100 years. Bittersweet knowing that I had connected with an artist from history through shared experience, but sad to know that our connection was at a loss.
In additional to all the amazing experiences I've had in the area, I did manage to make it back to Canada earlier in the season the year after the fires were in full swing. I woke up super early one morning, I mean early, like 4 AM and drove from the gravel lot near Banff to Moraine Lake to complete a loop hike in that area. You have to get there early as this area fills up completely and they shut the road down by 8AM. I saw a lot of frustrated families get turned away because they hadn't done their research and planned their trip. I got up, drove up to the parking lot, and then got ready for the day, not the other way around.
The Moraine Lake area is insanely beautiful. It's a glacial lake surrounded by the Valley of the Ten Peaks. The blue green water reflects the mountains like a mirror. You can rent canoes from the visitor center there which is where I got the idea for my painting. It was a perfect image of brightly colored canoes sat against the backdrop of towering peaks. If you google "Moraine Lake painting" you'll see several artists' rendition of this same scene. I am not the only one painting this scene, but as an artist, sometimes you are just drawn to beauty regardless of how many times that same scene has been illustrated. I actually enjoy seeing the way other artists interpret the same scene. Art is truly a labor of authenticity and uniqueness of self like a fingerprint. Shared experiences through art connect people from all backgrounds. Art is a language.
I wouldn't say that I have one experience that influenced me to paint this specific scene of Moraine Lake, but more of a combination of experiences in the Canadian Rockies that has instilled in me a love of that area and a need to honor it through my art. I have several more scenes I would like to paint from my adventures there. Stay tuned!