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               Day 1 September 15, 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014
Patricia Lake, Jasper, CAN

   Patricia Lake is glass as the sun slowly sets in between mountain ridges. Circles of water spiral out as a loon dives deep below the surface. It glides silently across, black head visible even in evening shadows.
   The lake was just like this in early morning, a mirror reflecting the peaks of the surrounding mountains. The loon was not quiet then, piercing the morning tranquility with a shrill howl. It was almost like a wolf's, the same up and down undulations a few times in a row, except each time the same. A wolf's howl varies in tone, volume and depth. Still, the similarities are surprising.
   Across the lake a cow elk grazes near the shoreline, next to a thicket of tall reeds. As the light fades, it becomes more and more difficult to see her tan body and dark brown head bend to the grass. Now she is at the water's edge, splashing in the water. She jumps from one side to the other, a jerky dance, back and forth, bucking a little.
   A man watching from the boat dock says it's a caribou, but she has no antlers. The loon suddenly rushes across the water, creating a sudden splash, crying out in that unmistakable call. The elk isn't bothered at all. The beach remains quiet and peaceful, only the loon breaking the serenity. Scanning the opposite shore for other wildlife, we see only a man and his two large dogs - a black lab and his furry brown companion - cavorting on the beach across the lake. A bat swirls in the air, catching insects.
   We are settling in to Jasper. The first day, Saturday, was almost all travel except for a trip to Lake Louise where we walked around the lake and inside the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, an experience in itself. Lake Louise, particularly the Chateau, is like a small European city, the diversity of cultures and languages is so obvious. We heard more languages and accents than we could identify. A wedding was being held at the hotel, the reception on a balcony. Below, on the lake walk, we heard French, German, Dutch, maybe Czech, Indian and I can't say what else. It's like a European resort in the Alps.
   Sunday morning began cloudy. On the winding road to Moraine Lake a porcupine grazed beside the road. He was about the size of a raccoon, and his quills were a beautiful brown and black like fur all fluffed out. His cute black face seemed small in comparison to his round body. When we walked back to get a closer look, he waddled down the grassy slope and climbed a pine tree, straddling it with his legs. He looked like a big, fluffy cat. We felt sorry for disturbing him, but glad to finally see a porcupine.
   While Tim patiently waited on a steep slope of scree for the light to come up over Moraine Lake, I hiked around the back side of the hill where a pika crossed the path and stared at me. The scree is filled with chirping pika, apparently tame. This pika, about the size of a hamster and looking like a tiny bunny, was only about two feet away. Signs painted with pictures of a grizzly are posted at several points around Moraine Lake warning of bears. Travel on certain trails is not just forbidden with less than four people, it is actually against the law.
   We made our way to Jasper National Park slowly via the Icefield Parkway, stopping at the Abathasca Glacier, Sumwapta Falls and Abathasca Falls. There was a long walk to the glacier and we could not get as close as we hoped. Part of the area is closed because the terrain is fragile and filled with snow bridges which made us wonder why they let a bus filled with people drive on top of the glacier. The falls were pretty, but crowded. We also stopped at Bow Summit Lookout to gaze down at beautiful blue Peyto Lake. All the tourist sites are crowded and sometimes there is no parking at all and cars are turned away, but so far we have managed nicely.
   It's a long drive to Maligne Lake with the low speed limit, but a very pretty one, winding along the Athabasca River. We pass Medicine Lake, almost dry this time of year. A person - or caribou - could easily walk across. Snowmelt fills the lake in summer and slowly drains as the runoff disappears underground.
   Maligne Lake, the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies, stretches out toward ice capped mountains, gently curving around Spirit Island. We park at the trailhead and begin walking uphill towards Moose Lake. The trail climbs through dense forest and takes us over fallen logs and through thick brush, sunlight filtering through tall conifers. The trail loops around to Maligne Lake, following the shoreline of its glacial blue waters. There is also a paved walk on one side with benches made from tree trunks. At Moose Lake a group of hikers watch two bullmoose in shallow water, diving for grasses. They seem to be having a serious discussion when one walks out of the water and towards the trail. We back up and allow him plenty of space.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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