GLACIER NATIONAL PARK & CANADIAN ROCKIES, DAY 8: MALIGNE LAKE, CANYON, AND RIVER IN JASPER NATIONAL PARK

Scenes around the town of Jasper:

Located 27 miles from the town of Jasper, Maligne Lake was our afternoon destination, after having the morning free to explore Jasper on our own.  On the way to the lake, we learned about the devastating pine beetle that has destroyed 30% of the trees in Jasper.  There was also a Class 6 (of a possible 6) fire in 2015 that caused even more destruction of the forest, and we saw plenty of evidence on each side of the road that ends at the lake.  Several park staff and tourists were trapped when the fire started, but were airlifted out by a helicopter.

The fourteen-mile-long lake at an elevation of 5,500 feet is a deep one—318 feet at its deepest point; and, it has that gorgeous water like the other glacier-fed lakes we had visited.  At an average water temperature of 40 degrees, it is quite frigid; however, the air temperatures drop a lot further than that in the winter. The coldest air temperature ever recorded there was -58 degrees Fahrenheit! 

The day was mostly cloudy, so the views during our boat tour of the lake were not as spectacular as we had hoped, especially considering that it is rated the most beautiful boat tour in Canada.  Still, the scenery was amazing!  And, we were able to see all three glaciers as well as Spirit Island, considered one of the most beautiful and photographed locations in all of Canada.

(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Indigenous people of the area date back 18,000 years, and tiny Spirit Island is sacred to the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, who believe mountains are physical representations of their ancestors.  The fact that Spirit Island is surrounded on three sides by the same mountain range is very rare and makes it particularly significant to the Stoney.  They conduct healing ceremonies on the island, and it is considered an honor to be invited to attend, if you are not a Stoney Indian.

Access to the island is extremely limited due to its geography—14 kilometers (nearly 9 miles) from the docks at Home Bay.  It is hard to get to—paddling on your own can take four hours each way, so most tourists book a boat tour that stops at the island. 

It was interesting to see how the water changed to a more emerald color, the further south we traveled, and the closer we got to Spirit Island.  This was due to the presence of rock flour from the glaciers.

Adjacent to Spirit Island was a dock for boat tour guests to disembark at and walk a short trail to see and photograph the island from different viewpoints.

Following our cruise, we hiked around Maligne Canyon, a magnificent 160-feet deep slot limestone canyon that is only six feet wide at its narrowest point.  Maligne River flows out of Medicine Lake, and then drops down the canyon.  It is constantly being eroded by the churning and swirling of the water, and the resulting limestone formations were fascinating—and, photogenic. 

On the way back to town, we finally saw some photogenic elk (WILDLIFE!) beside the highway:

Speaking of photogenic, how do you like this view from the rooftop terrace at Jasper Pizza Place?  I don’t remember ever enjoying a pizza with a view quite like that!  What a beautiful way to end the day.

Next up: Glacier Skywalk and Lower Banff National Park

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK & CANADIAN ROCKIES, DAY 6: AN UNPLANNED SURPRISE VISIT TO MORAINE LAKE, BANFF NATIONAL PARK

This was our longest travel day, a journey taking us from the U.S. back into Canada to visit Banff National Park.  I’m not a fan of long bus rides, but the scenery was stunning.  Entering Canada required stopping at their border patrol station to have our passports processed.  Although Canada had dropped its mandatory Covid testing for everybody entering their country, a random testing policy was implemented, resulting in one of every 8 travelers being required to take a self-administered Covid test and send it via FedEx to the processing center.

Before crossing the border, we stopped for a restroom break at a duty-free store with this banner greeting us at the door:

At the station, three members of our group were selected; however, it was a Saturday.  They had 72 hours to self-administer and FedEx the tests back, so our guide figured he would hold off sending them in until we got to Jasper, on Monday.  Since the backlog for processing tests had reached 4-7 days, (and it had taken almost a week for others in our group to get their results back after entering Calgary at the beginning of the tour), I shook my head as I did the math.  It was August 27th, and our trip was scheduled to conclude on September 1.  The tests weren’t going to be turned in until August 29, and they would take one business day to arrive at their destination.  The guys would be home in the U.S.A. before receiving their test results!  What the…?  If they had tested positive, they would have already spread Covid to a bunch of people!  What’s the point?  We all had a good laugh about that, but what a waste of resources!

Onward we traveled along Canada’s western edge of the Canadian Rockies, entering Banff National Park.  Along the way, we noticed that all of the road signs in the park were in English and French, a federal law. 

The original itinerary stated that we would check into our hotel late in the afternoon, and then go for a walk at Lake Louise; however, our guide, Scott, and driver, David, had another idea in mind.  Since we were going to see Lake Louise the following morning anyway, how about trying our luck at getting into the parking lot at Moraine Lake before continuing on to the hotel?  Scott explained that the car parking lot would already be full, but since we were in a bus, we would possibly have a shot at getting into the bus parking lot.  Besides, Lake Louise, originally named the “Emerald Lake” was green, and seeing Moraine Lake would give us an opportunity to see an azure blue lake.  Were we game?  We voted unanimously in favor.

The day had been gloomy, and when we arrived, we couldn’t even see the ten mountain peaks surrounding the lake, due to the cloud cover.  We made it into the lot, though, so at least we could see some bright blue water.  Good enough for me; blue is my favorite color!

To get the best view of the lake, Scott suggested climbing the 79 feet up the “Rock Pile,” a popular hiking trail leading to one of the most photographed locations in all of Canada.  I bolted up ahead of everybody in the group, so I would have the most time to spend up at the top.  I anticipated the clouds hiding all ten peaks in the distance, but seeing the lake was better than nothing.  Surely, it would be beautiful and photogenic, regardless.

Just as we made it the top, the sun broke through for a spectacular view!  A few of the ten peaks appeared just in time for our arrival, and the brilliant blue water of the glacially fed lake shined.

(For all pictures, click on the image to see full screen view.)

Until I saw the lake with my own eyes, I thought the pictures I had seen of the lake were Photoshop-ped to-the-max.  No way could that water be such a bright shade of blue!  I was wrong; it really is that blue! 

Rock flour is what causes Moraine Lake’s water to be so blue, and Lake Louise to be that pretty shade of emerald green.  Also known as “glacial flour,” it consists of fine-grained, silt-sized particles of rock caused by glacial erosion.  The super-fine consistency becomes suspended in the melted snow and ice, causing the water run-off to appear cloudy.

We were all in awe and snapped a bunch of pictures, along with the other tourists.  This was definitely the highlight place for a photo with Bruce; I always make sure to get one from each trip. 

Log jams are caused by winter avalanches that sweep trees off the slopes onto the lake ice. When the ice melts, the trees drift over the stream outlet.

The nine-mile bus ride to Lake Louise Village, was buzzing with chatter about what we had just seen.  We all agreed the climb up the Rock Pile was well worth it!

Back down at 5,200 feet, we arrived at the village of Lake Louise, Canada’s highest community.  After checking into our room at Lake Louise Inn, I braved the cold air and biting wind for a look around the village and a walk along the river, while Bruce rested.  Beautiful!

The glacier in the upper left mountain is pictured below.
These beautiful stained glass windows were in the attractive visitor center in Lake Louise Village.

Next up:  Lake Louise & Columbia Icefield