Dodgeville does the Icefields


After our couple of days in and around Jasper, we headed south down the Icefields Parkway toward Lake Louise. I’ve been on some really nice drives, including the Pacific Coast Highway between San Francisco and Monterey, and the Icefields Parkway is by far the best I’ve done.  Rarely do I actually want to pull over at every single lookout, but they were hard to resist on this trip.

When you’re driving down the Icefields Parkway, you have to make a decision: are you driving to your destination on a rough schedule, or are you taking pictures of all of the interesting things along the way? You have to make this decision whenever and wherever you’re on vacation, but Jasper is so filled with photographic opportunity that the choice must be made over and over again. I sometimes need to remind myself that I’m on vacation and not on a photographic expedition hunting for the perfect exposure of the most awe-inspiring vista. I know that it can be boring (at best; supremely annoying at worst) to travel with someone who’s constantly setting up a tripod, micro-adjusting focus and frame, running around with a light meter, and waiting in one spot for ten minutes for the wind to die down or the light to be just so. This picture is a perfect example of the tension between enjoying a relaxing vacation and satisfying a photographic vision:


There was a very large raven sitting right on the top of that tree at the left. Several of them, in fact. One would fly away and another would take up the perch immediately afterward. So I got into position, tree in the foreground, mountain in the background, broad valley in between, a bright blue sky with fluffy white clouds filling in the blanks. Took a couple of test shots and selected my preferred exposure. But now that I was in place with the viewfinder pressed to my eye, finger on the shutter button, and everything framed perfectly, the ravens were all hanging out elsewhere: in the parking lot, in another tree, on the rocks, in the sky, anywhere but sitting on that damned tree. If I’d been here alone, I would have stood there and waited half an hour for a raven to return to the top of the tree and give me the picture I had already composed in my head. But looking over at Risa getting restless at the car, I knew my time was up. Fifteen minutes at a single lookout was enough. So there’s the picture, and not a raven in sight.

But that’s okay, because in Jasper, there’s always something else around the next corner. And Risa didn’t know it yet, but we were on a mission to trek out onto the Athabasca Glacier. All the whining in the world didn’t get me into one of those icemobiles when I was nine years old, but now that I’m old enough to pay my own way, nothing’s going to stop me. That’s the best part about growing up.


So onto the glacier we went. It was the perfect cap to an amazing drive through the mountains. There’s more about the glacier in the inevitable gallery at the end of this post. Suffice to say that it was impressive in every way.

Don’t tell Risa, but when we were planning our Western trip, I’d seriously considered trying to include some kind of cycling component between Jasper and Banff. If the Icefields Parkway is supposed to be a really nice drive, it should be an even better ride, no? Well, possibly. But passing dozens of riders on supported tours slowly grinding up one hill after another made me glad that I’d silently shelved the thought. Oh, I’m sure that I could have finished the ride, but I doubt that our marriage would have survived the 300 km trek.

On to the gallery and more observations.

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Dodgeville takes the train to Jasper


Leaving Vancouver behind, we took the VIA Rail Canadian to Jasper. I love trains, but even I have to admit that spending more than 18 hours on a train is pushing my limit. At least one family in economy with us was going all the way to Toronto, a four-day journey. My head hurts just thinking about it.

I’d happily take the train across the country, but I could never do it all at once. I’d get a 30-day pass (or, thanks to VIA’s somewhat limited fare structures, two or three 12-day passes) and hop across the country a few hours at a time, spending a day or two here and there to explore. Four days all at once? I can’t imagine.

Still, I highly recommend the train trip from Vancouver. The train crosses much of the B.C. interior at night, and spends most of the following day crisscrossing the Fraser River and North Thompson River valleys and eventually climbing over the Yellowhead Pass into Alberta.  By my count, our train had at least 17 passenger cars (including 6 cars with observations domes), making it by far the longest train I’ve ever been on. The observation car nearest to us was never more than half full when we went up there. My advice: try to get a good night’s sleep at the beginning of the voyage and then grab a good window seat for the rest of the day, whether in the dome car or your regular passenger car. If you can, shell out for a sleeper compartment; it’ll cost twice as much, but you’ll be at least three times happier in the morning.

Jasper, the National Park, is nothing short of awe-inspiring. You could probably spend the entire summer there and not run out of places to go or things to see. Jasper, the town, is tiny and reminds me a lot of southern Ontario tourist towns: the main drag is so focused on serving tourists that I’m always left wondering where local residents shop or eat. I can’t imagine that locals spend $100 for a middling dinner for two at Evil Dave’s or $20 for souvenir underwear.


I love little local museums, and the Jasper-Yellowhead Museum didn’t disappoint. The walkthrough display chronicling Jasper’s history is so chock-full of Banff-envy that it reads like it was penned by a spurned lover. “Banff may be bigger and better, but we’re happy that we’re small and unappreciated! We swear!” While the museum spends a lot of time disparaging the development and popularity of Banff and extolling the quiet virtues of still-wild Jasper, it’s actually bang-on in making the comparison. Wildlife was abundant in Jasper, with appearances by too many elk to count, as well as some deer, a moose, a black bear, and countless ravens that seemed twice as big as their urban cousins in Vancouver.

Just about the only thing I remember about Jasper from when I was there as a kid thirty years ago was the preponderance of trailers and motorhomes. It’s still largely the same, but at least half of them these days are rentals.

Anyway, read on for the obligatory gallery and more observations.

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