First of all I want to say that if it weren't for my job, this trip and post would not have happened. I am lucky to work where I do and I appreciate it very much.
A few weeks ago I flew out to Calgary, Alberta for a conference. I am lucky enough in my work that there is quite a bit of flexibility in when I take my vacation time. Because of this, I took off my set of night shifts in advance of the conference and was able to enjoy 9 days surrounded by nature before I had to return to town for work.
I don't remember if I've said it before or not, but I have a funny way of being lucky and this trip continued the trend. Right at the Toronto Airport (which is actually in Mississauga!), upon boarding the plane, I was told that there was an entire row open and I was free to use it, rather than sit in a full row. Don't mind if I do!
Landing in Calgary, I quickly found myself a rental car and began the trek out to the Rocky Mountains on the western side of Alberta. You can easily see them from the city so it was a fairly short drive.
On arrival in a town called Canmore, I quickly did an internet search for cheap hotel to put me up for the night. No need for fancy, no need for frills, just a roof and a bed. The Econolodge did the job quite nicely. More than nicely actually.
Over the next few days, I revisited old memories of driving down the Trans Canada Highway with my parents when I was just a kid as we explored everything interesting along the way between Toronto and Vancouver. One of my best memories really.
The town of Canmore is well known for hosting the nordic events of the 1988 Olympics. There is plenty of evidence of that today - This is an incredible recreational mecca for outdoor activity. Along with the obvious skiing possibilities, there is a fantastic bike/foot path that runs from Canmore into the town of Banff. Round trip is roughly 50km I believe and at points, will run up to and on the Trans Canada Highway.
If there's one thing I've learned about photography, the "good" light is early in the morning and later in the day. Along with that, there are typically more animals out first thing. Because of that, I made sure to be awake, up and out as early as possible.
I had good feelings about the Bow Valley Parkway - a road which runs from the town of Canmore to the village of Lake Louise. Unfortunately there are travel restrictions from 8:00 p.m. until 8:00 a.m. for the protection of the animals within Banff National Park. That in mind, I headed to an area nearby and took in the sights and sounds of the Bow River before crossing the bridge and it was at this point that I was lucky enough to see a pair of elk and a moose. Only, it wasn't a moose. When I fitted my long lens on my camera, I realized that what I was seeing was in fact a bear a ways down the railroad tracks. I retrieved my teleconverter to double the strength of my lens and cautiously followed the big fella down the tracks. As I learned later, this big male (known as Bear #122) shuffles along the tracks, eating fallen grain which has spilled out of passing trains.
As I followed, I captured lots of shots of his back end. While it was a thrill to see a bear in the wild though, photos of his tail weren't exactly what I had in mind.
With a quick calculation of the distance from me to the bear in mind, along with the distance of me to my trusty rental car in mind, I decided to ready my camera and kick some of the gravel on the tracks. It only took a few before he turned and looked at me for several long seconds. It was quite a moment. After several shots, he lost interest in me though and continued on his way; and so did I. It wasn't until the time of writing this that I learned that #122 has quite a bit of fame to his name. He can be found easily on Google for some of his exploits.
The village of Lake Louise is a scenic drive north and is arguably one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I saw it years before in late summer and I was going to see it again.
It is unfortunate timing that there was still snow and ice around as the crystal blue water of the lake was hidden below a thick layer of ice. The silver lining though is this allows tourists to cross the lake on paths blazed early in the winter. Views of the mountains from the middle of the lake are breathtaking and simply can't be captured in a realistic scale by a camera. Still though I'm quite happy with the shots I was able to get and share here.
Now, along the Bow River is a railroad track which follows the Trans Canada Highway. Trains pass along it quite frequently, and many are exceptionally long.
I've always had a mild fascination with trains, and while I this is the first one I've shot, the day will come where I hunt them down and create a collection in some form or another.
While I was in the mountains, I took plenty of opportunities to explore trails and more touristy spots. Cave and Basin National Historic Site seemed like an interesting name so I drove in.
As I found out, this place is a sulfur spring which runs out of the mountain, to a pool and then further down the mountain into the valley below. As you can guess, the smell of rotten eggs is in the air as sulfur steam rose from the water. Quite a pretty spot though with lush green plants growing in and near the stream all the way down the mountain.The cave though was quite a sight.
While the cave smelled strongly of sulfur, the rewarding view at the end was well worth it. There is no taking a dip allowed here. The water is protected as the area is habitat for some sort of endangered snail.
From here, I visited the lower part of the mountain and met one of the workers. She was kind enough to look at my previous photos and identify the bear above as a grizzly bear for me, and knew him to be Bear #122. Cool!
As the days went on, I decided day-by-day that I would leave Canmore and move up to the town of Jasper. I had been warned by a couple of fellow photographers I talked to that the drive up can be quite nasty. Snow tires are mandatory and care should be taken because the mountain passes can whip up some high winds and drifting snow. Still, I decided I would give it a shot. I'm Canadian after all. I've seen snow once or twice.
The drive up the Icefields Parkway was beautiful. The first several kilometers were a test of my resolve to continue. The clear road turned slushy and then snowy as the sky changed from blue to gray to fog. Wind picked up with the amount of snow coming down and after about 15 or 20 clicks, I had slowed down to match the conditions as my Malibu made its way solidly. Then, as quickly as it started, the fog turned to gray and the gray turned to blue skies as the road cleared.
Not far along the road is the Columbia Icefields. This is a well-known glacier, which has unfortunately been receding for many years. It is a very popular tourist stop along the highway and as I visited, I was fortunate enough to have a clear day and an interesting cloud formation above. While I do enjoy my blue sky days, they don't add anything to a photo so I count myself lucky here.
I think I will mark this as Part I and continue the story in a second entry. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed my shots so far.