By Habeeb Salloum
For two days we gloried in the fantastic world of Banff National Park, enjoying its many natural and man-made attributes. We explored some of its castellated mountain peaks, dense forests, sweeping green meadows, turquoise lakes, sparkling rivers, and roaring waterfalls as well as its dazzling white snowfields. Now, we were leaving this scenic panorama for the adjoining Jasper National Park — another majestic world of nature with very few equals.
A short time after crossing into this wonder of nature, we reached the Columbia Icefields, formed by six glaciers — the largest accumulation of ice south of the Arctic Circle. Edged by 11 of the 22 highest mountain peaks in the Rockies, covering an area of 126 square miles, and averaging 9,840 feet in height, the six glaciers form a true continental divide — their waters pouring, via the Athabasca and South Saskatchewan Rivers, into three different oceans: north to the Arctic, east to the Atlantic, and west to the Pacific.
We stopped by the Icefields Centre, a huge chalet-like stone building built to serve half a million visitors annually. Its location on a spot where one of the six glaciers (the Athabasca) is clearly visible makes it easy for visitors to walk to the glacier’s edge and gaze at the enormous expanse of crevassed ice.
Like hundreds of thousands of other tourists, we took the Snocoach Tour onto the icy slopes of the huge glacier. After a short bus ride, we transferred to a 56-passenger Snocoach — a vehicle not found any place else on Earth. Especially designed and built by a Calgary-based company for the Columbia Icefields, it took us to the middle of the Athabasca Glacier.
As we moved along, our guide pointed to the edging glaciers. “They’re majestic! Are they not?” He went on, “But if they continue receding at the present rate, in some 650 years they will disappear.”
After returning from our 90-minute Icefields exploration, on the road again on our way to the town of Jasper 64 miles away, we entered a vast world of pine and spruce, emerald lakes and deep canyons, rugged sky-reaching snow-capped mountains, tumbling waterfalls, large wildlife-filled evergreen forests, and the Athabasca River — one of the most historic and beautiful rivers in Canada.
Making our way northward on the Icefields Parkway, considered to be the most scenic route on earth, we stopped numerous times to take pictures of wild animals by the roadside or on the mountainsides.
The scenic vistas kept us company until we reached the town of Jasper, 3,510 feet high and the main urban center and commercial heart of Jasper National Park. An overgrown village of some 4,500 in winter and 10,000 in summer, it nestles in the bosom of the Rockies amidst an unspoiled part of nature. The well-kept buildings, cuddled by towering snow-capped mountains, have made it an idyllic vacation mecca.
Jasper’s first-class tourist facilities make it easy for visitors to be comfortable and at the same time enjoy the many natural attributes of the Park. Restaurants and a varied selection of shops cater to the thousands of tourists who crowd the town, especially in summer. Here, also, whatever the season, travellers can partake in mountain adventures and make contacts with the animals of the wild.
That night, comfortable in our 4-star Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in the town of Jasper, I reminisced about our exploration of Jasper National Park, and especially its Icefields. It had been a fulfilling experience. The sky-reaching glacier-tipped mountains, colorful and icy rivers, thundering waterfalls, endless forests, and above all the prehistoric Icefields made it a once-in-a-lifetime journey.
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