Jasper encounters

By Sarah Reynolds | Jun 03, 2016
Photo by: Sarah E. Reynolds Calypso Orchid, or Venus Slipper, grows in Jasper National Park near Athabasca Falls.

Jasper National Park, Alberta — Our day of rest Thursday did not start out very restfully. After some debate as to whether to take Cushla with us into town while we did laundry, we decided to leave her behind. Then Maureen decided we'd bring her after all.

Before we were even out of the campground, we spotted an elk in the edge of the woods, who posed obligingly for a few photos. Then it was off to Jasper.

Jasper is a little like Camden, in that it is a tourist town with lots of people, fairly narrow streets and tight parking. So we cruised around, looking for a place to park with Cush barking at every pedestrian, bicyclist, motorcyclist and auto she saw, nonstop. Eventually, we lucked into a spot someone else was leaving about a block from the laundromat.

Then we hauled all our dirty laundry out of the truck and schlepped it up the street to wash it. The proprietor of Coin Clean Laundry has found a variety of ways to make money. There are the expected washers and dryers, coin operated and by no means cheap. But then there's a coffee bar, pay wifi and, most unexpected of all, three shower rooms, whose doors unlock when you put the money in. No public bathrooms.

We got our laundry into the washing machines and went back to check on Cushla. Maureen was standing by the driver's side rear door petting the dog and I was sitting in the front passenger seat with the window down when a rather sketchy-looking fellow with what looked like a false front tooth stepped up to the window and started a conversation with me. He'd noticed our Maine license plate and wanted to let me know that when he was growing up in Montreal in the 1960s, he'd gone to Old Orchard Beach and what a nice place it was back then. He had also been to Kennebunk, where, he recalled, one of the Bushes was born.

I was keeping my answers short, hoping this conversation would come to an end soon, when the guy opened his pants to tuck in his shirt! Right there in busy downtown Jasper! Nothing that would cause a delicate soul like me to blush was visible, but still, I had to wonder at such a display. His wardrobe adjusted, he wished us a good trip and turned to enter the snack shop behind him.

We finally finished washing, drying and folding our clothes and took advantage of a break in the rain to carry them back to the truck. Then we went across the street to the deli to buy what turned out to be a couple of very good sandwiches.

Later in the afternoon, Maureen and I did leave Cushla in the camper and drove to Athabasca Falls, a series of large waterfalls and marvelous rock caverns carved over the centuries by the water. The park service has created a walkway around the falls with many beautiful vantage points,and plenty of warnings about staying on the path, lest one be injured or worse. At the height of the falls, water comes gushing in from three directions with enormous force. There are two benches there, one from 2002 and one from a decade later, both dedicated to young men who died climbing around on the rocks inside the fence between visitors and the falls. The park service has a sobering description of how “every couple of years, someone dies at Athabasca Falls.” Mostly, all they recover when they look for people who fall into that churning, pounding water is the bodies, it relates.

Returning to the parking lot at the falls, we ran into a couple from Rhode Island who told us they were also on their way to Alaska and were planning a trip to Maine, near the western border with Canada, later in the year. We wished each other a good trip. Typical – you come thousands of miles and meet someone else from New England.

On our way back to our campground, we saw someone pulled over at the side of the road, which usually means a wildlife sighting. We pulled over and saw a bear in the trees near the roadside. We watched for a while, and when it emerged, I was able to take some photos through the window. When it headed up the embankment in the general direction of our truck, I quickly raised the window. The bear got to the edge of the road, trundled quickly across, and then ambled off on the other side.

After supper, we took another ride and saw elk and some other kind of ungulant with small antlers. We also came upon a bush with silver-white leaves that smelled rather like honeysuckle, though it had no flowers. We are still marveling at the late light here – there was still sun on some of the mountaintops at 9:30 p.m.

Altogether, an astonishing series of encounters. Today, we head up the Alaska-Canada Highway to Dawson Creek. We may or may not have a cell signal at any given time during the next week, until we get to Fairbanks.

Mount Edith Cavell is visible on the right from the Columbia Icefields Parkway on the way to Athabasca Falls. (Photo by: Sarah E. Reynolds)
The Athabasca River above the falls. (Photo by: Sarah E. Reynolds)
One of several gorges carved by the pounding waters of Athabasca Falls. (Photo by: Sarah E. Reynolds)
Athabasca Falls (Photo by: Sarah E. Reynolds)
Close encounters of the bear kind. (Photo by: Sarah E. Reynolds)
The sun still shines on the mountains after 9:30 p.m. in the long northern dusk of summer. (Photo by: Sarah E. Reynolds)
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