Canada - Alberta

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From North East BC to Montana USA, via Alberta: Beaverlodge, Jasper NP, Banff Icefields and the South East corner of BC.
Shortly after having left British Columbia and entered Alberta Highway 43, this gigantic sculpture in the town of Beaverlodge seems to inform visitors heading to Jasper and Banff that they are about to step into animal country, as many signs will keep reminding them along the way.
The Yellowhead Highway 16 entering Jasper National Park from the northeast, passes a chain of lakes, with Talbot Lake lying on the left side of the road, right across from Jasper Lake.

The Athabasca River originates in the Columbia Icefield of Jasper National Park, at the toe of a glacier of the same name. It runs for over 1,500 km in a river basin that drains nearly 160,000 km2, joining the Mackenzie River system before discharging into the Arctic Ocean. In this first portion, the Athabasca River provides a pristine habitat for abundant wildlife on its shores and adjacent marshes "where bulrushes grow" - a translation of its Aboriginal name. Contrastingly, it is heavily exploited further down its course near Fort McMurray for its rich petroleum deposits which lie in oil-impregnated sands known as the Athabasca tar sands.

Preserved in Jasper National Park, Medecine Lake may not be as beautiful in the fall as in summer when it is at its full, or as odd-looking as in winter, when it dries down to a mudflat. But this intermediate state points towards its mystery and why the Aboriginals named it so in regards to its seemingly magical powers. For how, since the lake has no visible outlet, can this disappearing phenomenon possibly take place every year? The reason is to be found in another vanishing act on this very spot, that of the Maligne River -- which resurfaces only 16 km downstream by Maligne Canyon. In the spring, the Maligne River melt water firstly pours through sinkholes into a very large cave system lying underneath Medecine Lake, acting as a mere funnel placed on a bottle. Once this limestone tank is full, its excess water forms Medecine Lake until late summer and fall, when the sinkholes will drain the lake faster than it refills.

The original 1911 log cabin which served as "Fitzhugh" fire hall was replaced by this grander station after the town changed its name to Jasper and the arrival of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway brought an influx of tourism which prompted some upgrading. Further modernized since, it nevertheless retains some of the old-fashioned features and charm that grace the streets of Jasper.
The Columbia Icefield spreads for 230 km, straddling Highway 93N between Jasper and Lake Louise. Nicknamed "the Icefield Parkaway", the road sometimes seems to carve its way between the white peaks and offers spectacular views over the largest icefield of the Rocky Mountains.

At 3,150 meters, Mount Nelson is not the highest or the most impressive peak among its peers. But its vertical slopes, not yet covered with snow in early fall, clearly illustrate here the layers of sedimentary rock -- limestone, dolomite, sandstone and shale -- that create this unique striped pattern.

The rugged Endless Chain Ridge runs its unbroken line for nearly 25 km along the NE side of the Icefield Parkway. Located northwest of Poboktan Creek and southwest of the Maligne River headwaters, it is considered by geographers to be the tail of the Maligne Range. It is viewed here looking north.
Sunwapta Peak stands just south of Jonas Creek at an elevation of 3,317 meters. It is the highest mountain visible on Jasper National Park side of the Icefield Parkway. This photo also features less renowned Kitchener Peak located across the road, on Banff National Park side.

The 1,200 km-long Saskatchewan River flows from its headwaters in the Canadian Rockies to Lake Winnipeg, eventually discharging into Hudson's Bay. It was the major transportation route for the beaver fur trade, a resource in great demand at a time when it was compressed to make fashionable felt hats. So much so that two competing fur trade companies, the still active Hudson's Bay Company and the Northwest Company, ran several trading posts along the North Saskatchewan River in the late 18th and most of the 19th century. Here, they collected the furs bound for Fort Edmonton, further downstream.
The Wapta Icefield rests on the Canadian Rockies Continental Divide with Mount Gordon at 3,200 meters its highest peak, located on the British Columbia side of Yoho National Park. On the Banff National Park side, Vulture, Bow and Peyto outlet glaciers extend from the icefield. Due to its severe shrinking, the Wapta Icefield is one of the most closely monitored icefields in the Canadian Rockies. This receding particularly affects Peyto Glacier which has become noticeably shorter and thinner.

Num-Ti-Jah, a Stoney Plain word for pine marten, a small animal similar to a sable, started as a simple log cabin in the late 1800's and expanded in 1937 into a full scale lodge. The most remarkable feature of this rustic, secluded red-roof building though is its open views on Crowfoot Glacier and Bow Glacier, another rapidly retreating glacier whose discharge feeds the cool true-blue expanse of Bow Lake.

Hector Glacier is located across from Waputik Icefield, on the opposite side of the Icefield Parkway. Its massive beds of limestone and quartzite form the steep western limb of the Bow River anticline. Weathering and erosion of these strata have created these cliffs and crevasses which split the glacier into several tongues. Hector Glacier is remembered for the major ice break off it which occurred in 1938. It is named after the geologist and naturalist who led the famous Palliser Expedition that in the late 1850's surveyed possible routes for the Canadian Pacific Railway.

This is what James Hector wrote in his journal in 1858 about this 35 km-long formation stretching from the Bow Valley to the headwaters of the Cascade River: "a wall of vertical beds, of light grey limestone, the serrated edges of which at once suggested the name of Sawback Range for them". These series of inverted Vs which resemble the teeth of a saw are the result of erosion created by cross gullies carving into thin, near vertical layers of sedimentary strata. The Sawback Range marks the western end of the Front Ranges, as geologists define one of the 4 different zones within the Rockies. In the Front Ranges, rock layers composed of a series of thrust faults which underlie panels of rock overlapping like shingles on a roof, have been uplifted, exposing older limestone. Further west lie the Main Ranges, in which the sedimentary layers have remained comparatively less disturbed but significantly uplifted into higher peaks.

This photo illustrates the abrupt change in geology occurring between the Sawback Range and Castle Mountain. For with Castle Mountain begin the Main Ranges in the Bow Valley. The older limestone and underlying rocks were uplifted here over the younger rocks. These have eroded into gentle sloping terraces forming the tree-covered base of the peak... Note how the rock layers at the top seem relatively horizontal, but the cliffs of limestone are in fact separated by a ledge, corresponding to a layer of shale.

These hoodoos stand along the top of Tunnel Mountain within Banff National Park, towering above the Milk River. Carved from the top down by water and wind erosion, these free-standing spires made of silt, gravel and rocks were cemented together by dissolved limestone which gave them their sandy color.

Highway 1A, nicknamed the Bow Valley Parkway, runs parallel to Highway 93 between Lake Louise and the townsite of Banff. This scenic byway runs through dense forests which are habitat to numerous wildlife but also offers spectacular views on crenellated peaks highlighted by a colorful vegetation in the summer and fall.

The small sawmill town of Elko, on the Elk River, is tucked in a narrow valley in the extreme southeast corner of BC. Although it is the last community before the border with the US at Roosville and in spite of the fact that it sits at the junction of two major touristic highways, it has retained a quiet atmosphere, with some of its farmhouses seemingly frozen in time.