Continuing on with my story, I need to add a note that I missed earlier.
Along the drive up the Icefields Parkway, there is no big rig traffic allowed. This means the largest vehicles you will see are motorhomes or pickups towing a trailer. When I began my trip up, I made one stop in a scenic spot and was amazed that with the lack of car traffic, it was silent. Absolutely silent. No road noise, no activity in the distance, no birds singing, no water, no wind. Nothing. I don't know if it was a moment of paradise or a lead in to insanity. It was hard for my senses to process. It was one of those moments where you are forced to think about what life might have been like before industrialization.
Moving on (quite literally), I had just returned to my car at the Icefield and got on my way when the few cars on the road ahead of me immediately slowed. Out here, this can mean only one thing. Animal spotted.
In this case, two bighorn sheep were wandering on the road without a care in the world. They held no interest in the cars which slowed and in many cases, stopped to look or take photos.
I don't know why, but I didn't stop. I quickly flipped to a higher shutter speed, slowed and reached out with my camera to shoot these guys out my passenger window. I am very lucky to have managed to get a couple of great shots of them as I slowly moved past.
Over the next several days, I explored many more trails, many of which have a lot of elevation change. These changes can really change the view ahead, but it can be challenging when carrying a bulky camera and a lens or two. The good thing about it though is it forced me to slow down and take in what I was seeing, rather than plowing through to just 'get there' as I often do.
As I tend to move quickly from start to finish, this slowing down and actually taking in what's around me seems to have its rewards. I suppose not everything in life is meant to be done quickly and on to the next thing. This shot above is taken in a gorge where the beginning of the trail is at the highest elevation and continues down to the rocky water bed below a couple of kilometers away. At this time of year, there is very little movement of water and the water has turned to ice. Evidently (and probably now), the water moves at a roar as the spring turns to summer and the rest of the snow melts away.
Other trail locations however are in quiet (yet still somewhat hilly) terrains. Valley of the Five Lakes offers the hiker the ability to meander between five small lakes over a 9 kilometer trail. I have to say though, I deviated off the trail (as I sometimes do) and found this little nook.
It took some effort to push through the brush (complete with thorny vines) but once past, the view was spectacular. I made a mental note in my head to come back first thing in the morning for the glassy water reflection, but I never did. Another time, my friend.
The town of Jasper is quite a busy place. A lot of hard-working people busily working on the railway or spring maintenance in town. This didn't deter the elk from visiting fairly deep into town as they grazed on the dead grass and whatever else. The town became my home base for a few days as I explored ever deeper into the surrounding mountains. Over those days, I saw plenty of wildlife, tons of breathtaking mountains and a lot of snow. I also followed more footprints than I could mention (from the safety of my car) as they meandered along rivers, creeks and streams.
One one of my days, I decided I would explore to the north and east as the mountains gave way to rolling hills with the city of Edmonton, Alberta in the distance.
Along the 2 lane highway was a river on one side and numerous small lakes and ponds on the other. Mountains surround on both sides and once again, the views were stunning. One of the larger challenges of driving solo in a place like this is making frequent decisions of, "do I stop here?"
It sounds easily, but there are so many places that might offer a beautiful shot that it can often mean being in and out of the car a hundred times. These decisions need to happen when there are minimal cars behind as well. For this reason, I would often slow and pull off the road as cars approach from behind. This gave me plenty of buffer for those split-second decisions.
Above is a shot that resulted from one of those decisions. In this case, I did not stop, but did make a mental note of where it was by using mile markers, then on the way back I pulled over. The view here was beautiful and while the ground was still chilly, I had no problem with doing my thing and relaxing in the long grass for a bit and enjoying the sights and sounds.
Now, as you probably know from my trip to Alaska, I am also very interested in the Northern Lights. As I lay in bed one early evening, relaxing after a long day of hiking, I signed up for an email service which would send an alert if the northern lights are expected to happen in Jasper. It wasn't more than a few hours later that I received an alert!
While I was in Alberta, there were not many clear, blue sky days. By that, I mean none. Sure there were pockets of clear sky but that's it. I immediately checked my weather app which announced a cloudy evening and overnight. Still, I decided that it was worth taking a shot.
Having been in town for several days, I knew I needed to find a place with higher elevation, otherwise I would only see mountains with a hint of colour. Earlier in the day, I visited a camera shop in town and an employee mentioned some nice shots could be taken from the base of the Jasper SkyTram. Of course, he was referring to daytime scenery, but I thought it was worth a try. Up, up, up the winding road I went. At about 3000 feet is the base of the tram and this is where I set up my camera. I admit I was a bit nervous though as I frequently set off their motion-activated floodlight on those occasions where I went back to my car to warm up.
The lights didn't disappoint though. For about three hours I watched them dance back and forth across the sky as thin clouds lazily made their way by. I was also mildly entertained by RCMP pulling over car after car on the highway below. Good job folks!
By now, it was time to start thinking about heading back down. I could have stayed here forever, but I had to make sure I didn't get snowed in and cut off from my route back to Calgary for my conference.
I took my time on the drive back down and enjoyed the views in every direction and made several videos for myself for later. Photos are fantastic, but video helps to give more perspective as the scenery flows past.
Once back in Banff, I took another trip down the Bow Valley Parkway in hopes of spotting my grizzly friend. He stayed hidden from me though.
During my drive down, I recognized a trail area called Muleshoe. As I drew nearer, I noticed a cave near the top of Mount Cory. A few Google searches quickly revealed it to be known as "Hole in the Wall". This cave is at about 3000 feet and is a scramble" to reach. Not something I am prepared to do by any means without any gear. This shot is taken from the ground, mabe 1 mile away. I am actually impressed that it turned out as well as it did at 1000mm. My Sigma 150-500mm lens doesn't produce razor sharp images at the best of times, and adding my 2x teleconverter doesn't help either, but in this case, I will take it quite happily.
The final shot I will leave you with was taken on my second last day in town. The wind was down, the clouds cooperated, the sun was in the right place and the light wasn't too harsh.
I had seen plenty of photographs from other photographers who captured stunning images of mountains reflected in ponds and lakes but I hadn't had the greatest luck myself. Snow, ice or wind had sabotaged me so often. Finally though I took one of my many drives past Vermillion Lakes and was rewarded with this shot. Without a doubt it will be on my wall along with several of the others I have shown above.
I have taken thousands of shots since I began but there are those rare occasions where you know that you have found something that will always be a special shot for you, and those moments really need to be appreciated because they don't happen often enough.
I hope you enjoyed the words and the shots. I welcome all comments!