At the end of the flying convention, another pilot's wife remarked that her time in Red Deer had been pleasant, "but now our vacation begins." For us, the end of the convention marked the beginning of our Rocky Mountain road trip. We planned to drive the Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise to Jasper. There didn't seem to be a practical way to fly there, so we left the airplane at Red Deer and started motoring.
Midway between Cochrane and Canmore is Morleyville, site of the oldest church in southern Alberta. The oldest church in all of Alberta is the Anglican Church at Ft. Chipewyan, an isolated Cree settlement over 500 miles north on the shore of Lake Athabasca.
The United Church was built in 1875 by John McDougall and his father George, missionaries to the Stoney Indians. They were assisted by John's brother, David McDougall, and schoolteacher Andrew Sibbald. The four men built this church near the Bow River using only hand tools. Two years later, Sibbald had a saw mill operating, and the original log walls were covered with vertical siding. New siding and the bell tower were added about 1900.
The McDougalls had first met the Stoneys on an expedition in 1865, when they lived together for a while and the Indians became interested in Christianity. The church was the center of a small settlement that was home to about 500 Stoney Indians, including an orphanage, school, and trading post.
When George McDougall died on a buffalo hunt in 1877, his wife Elizabeth remained at Morleyville, continuing her mission until she died in 1904. John McDougall also took up the mission, translating many hymns and part of the New Testament into the Cree language. Services here were conducted in English and Cree, and the sign out front identifies the church in both languages.
When a new church opened closer to the Indian Agency in 1921, this one fell out of use, deteriorating until a group of United Church members began a restoration thirty years later. Since 1952, services have been held here each spring and fall, as well as special services for weddings and other special ceremonies.
Nothing remains of the Morleyville settlement but the church and this caretaker's cabin, donated by Chief Crowchild of the Tsuu T'ina (Sarcee) people. Originally an Indian Agent's cabin on the reservation, it was moved and reassembled here in 1957. It was meant to be a home for a prominent Stoney elder, Walking Buffalo; but he preferred his teepee, which he erected beside the cabin. Now it serves as an interpretive center and a gathering spot for visitors attending church functions.
One of the better guide books for this area is a very unconventional guide book. If you're interested in why things are and how they came to be, read Chris Yorath's How Old is That Mountain? It's a geological history of Banff and Yoho National Parks, with excellent detailed descriptions of the natural history that shaped the region. The things we learned from this book made our stay in the area much more enjoyable than if we had simply driven through.
The Canadian Pacific Railway connected Canada's Atlantic and Pacific coasts when Edson Chamberlain drove the last spike in 1885. Seventy years later, the Trans-Canada Highway made the same connection for motorists, over roughly the same route. The original route between Banff and Lake Louise was overwhelmed by the traffic on it, so a new road was built near the old one. The old road is now called the Bow River Parkway.
We were advised to use the Bow River Parkway because of its lighter traffic, better scenery, and more relaxing pace. At one turnout, we're reminded of the pristine panoramas that are available to rail travellers.
Just step across the tracks, and you might as well be in the middle of nowhere. This picture was taken less than 50 feet from the previous one. We'll see more of the Bow River before this trip is done.
Some trees, such as the lodgepole pine, need extreme heat to release their seeds so the next generation can get started. In the U.S., the National Park Service allows forest fires to start and burn out naturally. In Canada, the fires are set and their boundaries are controlled. In either case, the land is renewed, but it looks kind of scarred for a few years.
Johnston Creek is a tributary of the Bow River. When the Bow Valley glacier melted, a landslide off Mt. Ishbel sent loose gravel and rock slumping into the valley, diverting the course of Johnston Creek. Over the past 8000 years, the creek has followed fractures in the bedrock, carving a deep canyon just upstream from this quiet section.
62 feet below the trail, Johnston Creek continues to gouge its limestone lining. The water is slightly acidic, but the main agent is fine sand ("rock flour") that it picks up by erosion as the glacier melts. Looking across the canyon, it's hard to imagine that the water once flowed up there.
Erosion exposes the roots of trees that are still hardy. One tree is twisted strongly, with no clue as to the reason. There's some distortion from the lens here because of the viewpoint, but most of the distortion is really in the tree.
Johnston Canyon is a popular stop because it's very accessible. So there are occasional traffic jams while all the tourists take their own "I was here" shots. We'll see what's on the other side of that bridge in a moment.
These are the Lower Falls. It took a couple of days before we got used to the blue-green color of the water here. It's caused by very fine particles of rock that are carried along with the glacier melt that is the source of all these streams and rivers.
Castle Mountain is not far from Johnston Creek. One of Canada's less proud
moments happened here during World War I. Immigrants from countries at
war with Canada were required to register as "enemy aliens," even though
some had already become Canadian citizens. Offenses such as unemployment
were rewarded with internment in a chain of camps, including one at
Castle Mountain. Here, the internees were put to work, primarily building
the Bow River Parkway. Conditions were too harsh here in
winter, so this site was for summer work only. Internees were transferred to
another camp near the Banff townsite for the cold months.
The Castle Mountain site was dismantled and abandoned in 1917. Parks Canada doesn't want souvenir hunters picking over the grounds, so there are no directions to the place. There isn't much left but barbed wire, anyway.
If you want a closer look at Castle Mountain, there's a large photo here.
In the early 1990s, an eleven-foot wooden cross was erected in concrete next to the Bow River Parkway to remind visitors about the internment. The cross was soon torn down, prompting intense lobbying by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (most of the prisoners were of Ukrainian descent). This statue was commissioned by the Ukrainian Civil Liberties Association, and was erected near the site in 1995.
We stopped briefly at Lake Louise, but we'll come back to that. Our destination for this day was Field, B.C., just across the Continental Divide. This statue is in front of the information center for Yoho National Park.
Many trails to Rocky Mountain beauty spots were opened up long before there was access by road. Saddlehorses and Packtrains are rarely seen in the high country ... today, having given way to hikers with backpacks.
Although it's now the administrative center for Yoho National Park, Field is first and foremost a railroad town. Here we see Field, between the Kicking Horse River and Mt. Stephen. What you see is what you get. Five streets up, three streets across. If you stand by the yellow building at the right edge of town, the second photo is your view. That's Mt. Field in the background.
Two houses in town stand out. One is the Park Superintendent's house,
built about 1930. By the 1920s, the National Parks Branch recognized that
superintendents' residences were important landmarks in the communities.
This unique building was intended to reinforce the superintendent's authority
in a park dominated by mining and railway interests. It also served to
introduce the building style envisioned for national parks.
Mt. Stephen is behind the house in the first photo; Mt. Dennis, in the second.
This house, placed here in the 1910s, stands out because of its unusual construction. It's a recycled boxcar. Field began as a tent settlement in 1883, as railway construction pushed west from Kicking Horse Pass. Within a few years, permanent buildings appeared. Since building supplies were limited, some resourceful residents transformed old railway boxcars into houses. These compact dwellings were serviceable, although drafty. This is the only remaining example in Field.
On a short walk in Field – there are no long walks in Field – we stopped between the tracks and the river to admire the wildflowers with Mt. Burgess in the background. Later, when we saw this mountain from the other side at Emerald Lake, we learned more about its unique place in natural history.
This is another view from the same spot, looking up the Kicking Horse River
as it passes the base of Mt. Field. We're only beginning to appreciate
the beauty of the Rocky Mountains here.
If your screen is big enough, enjoy this wider version of the same scene.
Building a railroad across the Continental Divide in the 19th century posed
some unusual and difficult problems. Near Field, the engineers found the
terrain so challenging that it was easier to climb it with tunnels built
inside Cathedral and Ogden Mountains. The model shows how this was done
in Mt. Ogden. The train makes a
270° turn inside
the mountain, climbing (or descending) as best it can. Most trains are
long enough that it's possible to see the engines emerge from the mountain
several feet above or below the rest of the train.
The best view is at the model. If you look very hard at the real mountain, you can see the upper tunnel. At this viewpoint, the lower tunnel is behind a very large tree.
We didn't see any action in the spiral tunnels, so we had to be content with
watching a train go through a short, straight tunnel nearby. There are
little waterfalls everywhere. If you look hard enough, you'll see one behind
the engines. The stream is led under the tracks and through two pipes in the
At 10,495 feet above sea level, Mt. Stephen is prominent in almost any view around Field. Here we see its carbonate strata from the road up to Takakkaw Falls. The road is very steep, with switchbacks that longer vehicles must climb in reverse gear.
High on the backbone of North America, the Waputik Icefield supplies the Daly Glacier. In warm weather as the glacier retreats, its meltwater spills over Takakkaw Falls into the Yoho River, forming one of North America's highest waterfalls. Takakkaw Falls was long thought to be the highest in Canada, but a new survey in 1985 moved it to second place (after Della Falls, on Vancouver Island). It is now generally accepted that the falls drop 1246 feet. This happens in three major drops, each nearly vertical. You can't get anywhere near this place and come away dry. At least, not in the summertime.
Field gets a lot of snow. Although it's only 3 miles away, Emerald Lake gets twice as much snow as Field. Good thing we were there in July!
One evening, we got back to Field to find that a thunderstorm had knocked out the town's power. Apparently this is not a rare occurrence in Field. Many buildings were running on generators, but not our hotel. We wanted to see Emerald Lake anyway, so this was the perfect time – you'll see from the lights on the bridge that they make their own power at Cilantro's. We had an excellent meal there, and you can't beat the setting.
This is Emerald Lake, looking over Yoho Pass with Wapta Mountain to the
right. Cilantro's is at the extreme right of the picture. The Takakkaw Falls
are on the other side of Yoho Pass.
If you'd like a much closer look, it's here.
In the wide view of Emerald Lake, look directly above the white cabins at the right side of the picture. These cabins are in front of Mt. Burgess. Behind this mountain, across the Burgess Pass, you can see part of Mt. Field's west face. In 1909 Charles Walcott, head of the Smithsonian Institution, found some unusual fossils here among the rock debris by the Burgess Highline Trail. The next summer, Walcott found the main source of the fossils in a rock layer high above the trail. Over the next five summers, he collected more than 65,000 specimens. The Burgess Shale remains the world's most important Cambrian fossil site, and continues to play a pivotal role in our understanding of the emergence of early animal life.
Percy Raymond led a small party from Harvard University in 1930. They worked Walcott's quarry and opened a second quarry twenty meters above it. Then the site lay dormant for four decades.
In 1966, the Burgess Shale quarries were reopened by the Geological Survey of
Canada. Their investigation suggested that the fossils were buried in front
of a prehistoric underwater cliff, the Cathedral Escarpment. Further study
revealed that many Burgess Shale animals did not fit neatly into existing
animal groups, as Walcott had thought fifty years earlier. Some appeared to
be biological oddballs belonging to extinct groups, suggesting a radical new
view of animal evolution.
In 1975, Desmond Collins of the Royal Ontario Museum found many rare fossils in the loose rock here. He returned in 1981, finding a dozen new fossil sites. Fossils from these sites have shown that some of the Burgess Shale eccentrics are related to modern animals.
There's a souvenir shop at Emerald Lake, but it wasn't open when we were there. It doesn't look like they sell fossils. However, there is a small fossil display at the park's information center in Field.
The Kicking Horse River is slightly acidic. Its bed is mainly limestone. The river also carries fine particles of sand and gravel that were dislodged by the glacier melt that forms the rivers here. Over a few thousand years, these two processes have carved some interesting formations into the rock, including the Natural Bridge just downstream from Field.
At one time, the Natural Bridge was a waterfall. As water found its way through cracks in the rock it gradually enlarged them, cutting a new channel. Today, except at extreme high water, the river flows beneath the top of the former waterfall, leaving it suspended as a bridge. Over time the passage will deepen, and eventually the bridge will collapse, creating a gorge.
There are many jewels in the Rockies, but Lake Louise is one of the finest. With his Stoney Indian guide Edwin Hunter, Tom Wilson discovered this small beauty in 1882 and named it Emerald Lake because of its color. It was soon renamed for Queen Victoria's fourth daughter, Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, who was the wife of Canada's Governor General Sir John Campbell. The Province of Alberta was also named for the Princess, not for Victoria's Prince Consort.
It was afternoon when we first saw Lake Louise. By then the sun had gone behind Mt. Victoria (the one behind the glacier), leaving the scene backlit. We planned to return the next morning, when the light should be better for photography.
The lake is a very popular tourist spot, in no small part because of Château Lake Louise, a luxury hotel built by the Canadian Pacific Railway for the express purpose of attracting tourists. The view you just saw was taken from the promenade in front of this hotel. You can imagine (or pay for) the view from the top floors.
We chose the well-groomed, popular trail that follows the lakeshore about two miles to the lake's headwaters. Lake Louise is fed by meltwater from the Victoria Glacier, and empties into a short creek that joins the Bow River.
We also saw a number of animals both large and small, some here and some at other parks in the region. Among the small ones are two that we met on an earlier trip, in Oregon's Crater Lake National Park. They are Clark's Nutcracker and the ground squirrel. Here as at Crater Lake, they compete for the handouts that we're asked not to give them.
Glaciers don't just melt; they also move around a bit. While they do this, they grind up some of the rock under them. This "rock flour" gives the subalpine lakes and rivers their color, which varies from place to place depending on what kind of rocks were involved. The rock flour gives Lake Louise its brilliant emerald color, but it looks more like milk in this quiet pool.
Moraine is an accumulation of sand, silt, and gravel that has been left behind by a moving glacier. There is plenty of moraine to be seen here, but the lake was actually formed by a landslide that may have come from the Tower of Babel.
Moraine Lake is in the Valley of Ten Peaks. All ten peaks are higher than
Everywhere you look here and on
the access road, there's higher ground in all directions. This is near the
spot known as the "Twenty-Dollar View," so called because it was used on
Canada's $20 bill in the 1970s. The peaks are, from center-frame to the
on to Jasper NP