Having grown up on the East Coast (or “back East,” as Canadians say), I’m easily impressed when it comes to mountains. Show me a rocky peak, crystal-clear mountain lake or snow-capped anything and I’ll stop and stare. But Jasper, Alberta, is a whole other story. Tucked inside a national park in the Canadian Rockies, the town is circled by a wall of jagged mountain. Caribbean-blue glacial lakes dot the valleys and the silt-grey Athabasca River, highway for generations of fur traders, runs through it all. I explored Jasper recently for the Vancouver Sun.
An Alpine Shangri-La Minus the Crowds
By Remy Scalza for the Vancouver Sun
(For the newspaper version of the article, click here: Alpine Shangri-La)
With 300 black bears and 200 grizzlies calling western Canada’s Jasper National Park home, running into one isn’t as much a possibility as a fait acomplit. But even from the reassuring safety of a car, the first encounter can be a jolt.
The particular black bear beside my passenger window right now is man-sized: six feet long, probably 300 pounds. Cuddly – in a way – except for the long, curving incisor peeking out his open mouth. He raises his head, waves his nose in the air and looks my direction.
For Chuck Cantlie – naturalist, 29-year Jasper resident and no stranger to these encounters – this is a teaching moment. Calmly, he guides me through Bear Safety 101. “A bear can turn on you in a heartbeat and outrun a racehorse,” he says. Outside, our subject is close enough now to admire his muscled linebacker’s neck and hear his paws thrashing through the wiry grass beside the highway. “Rule number one is don’t run.”
The Rocky Mountains – which stretch in a ragged band of serrated peaks from New Mexico up into Western Canada – are a stubbornly wild place. And one of the wildest spots happens to be just across the British Columbia border in central Alberta. In the mountain town of Jasper, geography and history have conspired to preserve what comes close to an alpine Shangri-La: peaks and glacial lakes to rival the best of the Rockies, minus – for now – the crowds. [Read more...]