Taking a chance – Jasper and Highway 15 Canada

He who regards the wind will not sow, he who regards the clouds will not reap”, or, as one of my golfing mates says, “no risk, no reward”.

It’s cold and wet outside.  It’s also our last morning in Jasper (or more correctly, Jasper East, which just happens to be nearly sixty kilometres from where we thought we were staying in Jasper township – but that’s another story).  After our run of hot days, this grey arctic offering is a bit depressing.  To make things worse, the wind has changed and the air is thick with smoke from the wildfires burning on the other side of the mountains.

We have two choices – stay by fire in our very comfortable log cabins, or drive out to that canyon and lake that we saw advertised on the wildlife tour brochure.   Obviously, we take choice two.  So, into our trusty minivan and off we go in the direction of (real) Jasper.  We start to regret the decision when the smoke/rain gets so thick that we can barely see the road ahead, then the ladies come up with one of their brilliant ideas.  “Hey, if we go into Jasper, you can grab a coffee and we’ll have a quick look at the tourist shops until it clears a bit.”

…. Three hours later.  We’re sitting in the car – in a carpark near a lake – with the engine running – watching the rain drizzle down on the windscreen.  The smoke and rain did in fact clear while we were in Jasper, and we managed a very successful dash to Maligne Canyon.  We really enjoyed watching the rushing, gushing water churn through the deep gorge, and even made it to the bottom of the steep hiking trail before the rain started again – ah, you have to go up after you go down?  Anyways, like I said, we’re now sitting in the car at Maligne Lake watching the rain and trying to convince ourselves the car’s temperature reading is wrong.

Nah, it can’t be two degrees outside.  If it was, the rain would be – ooooh – look at the pretty snowflakes falling!  Yep, middle of summer, and it’s snowing.  Still, we’re not really deterred, and by the end of the day, we’ve managed to make the best of the changeable weather and tick off some of our “must-see” wildlife list.  Squirrel – tick, elk – tick, deer – tick, bear – tick (yep, we were pretty excited when we came across what is locally called a “bear jam” on the road back.  There he was, a black bear just going about his business, eating berries down amongst the bushes.

…. Fast forward about fourteen hours.  It’s time to leave.  It’s also time to make another decision.  The fire reports say that the route we plan to take to Sun Peaks is open, but some other roads in the area are closed because of the fires.  Do we stick to our plan, or do we avoid the area all together and detour back through Banff?  Our consensus is we’ve seen Banff, and we’re prepared to take the chance that we’ll get half-way and need to turn back if the road closes unexpectedly.  So, off we go.

I’ll digress here to mention that the route from Jasper to Sun Peaks along Highway 16 and Highway 5 is really beautiful.  Even with the limited visibility from the smoke, we enjoy winding through mountain passes and rolling past amazing lakes and streams.  At one point, we pass a white-water rafting group.  We wave, but they’re so busy clinging to their flimsy inflatable craft that they don’t see us before they’re swept from view.  Then – it happens.  We pass one of those road signs.  You know the ones.  They promise “an hour-long river adventure”.  They have great big pictures of bears.  The ladies gasp.  “Oh.  Look at that!  They take you to see bears!  In a boat!”  I try to remind them that they saw a bear yesterday (well, sort of saw one).  I try to point out that the picture was probably taken in Alaska at the peak of the salmon run.  I try to point out it’s likely to be really expensive.  “Yeah, but they take you to see bears!”  What to do?  Wayne’s dozing in the back, so no help there.  I guess I’ll just have to risk it.  “Ok.  We’ll drive in.  But if it looks dodgy, we’re driving straight back out again.”

… It’s now around 6pm.  We’ve just arrived at Sun Peaks for the night.  We’ve had a great day.  The smoke made things a bit challenging, but we did see that coyote on Highway 16.  Oh, and we also had the most amazing bear watching trip at the River Safari at Blue River.  We ended up seeing four bears, up close and in the wild, at a place we had never heard of, and would have passed by if we hadn’t taken a chance and gone for a look.


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