"Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the older, a part of experience." -- Francis Bacon
Seeing the Canadian Rocky Mountains in 2016 was a thrill after many days traveling across the plains of North America. Jasper National Park is a half day's journey from Edmonton, Alberta. Surely the settlers and adventurers of the earlier times must have thought, at first, that the purple lumps on the horizon were a mirage or unattainable dream. And they were for some.
However, the passes to the coast (such as Rogers Pass near Revelstoke, British Columbia, and the more northerly Yellowhead Pass) let civilization in during the mid-19th Century. Homesteaders peering at what might only be clouds had to wait weeks more before the high country actually unfolded around them. Travelers then could only gawk from their perches atop creaking, wobbling wagons dragged behind weary horses or oxen.
For myself, the aspen show was just beginning as October 2016 and Canada's western mountains approached. Yellow and orange foliage mingle with and mangle the conifer forests that crowd along the Yellowhead Highway and its gravel, dirt and blacktop tributaries.
Heavy truck and rail traffic is almost constant, winding in serpentine peekaboo fashion amongst the trees and rock cliffs. Before the Canadian National Railway (CN) became Canada's largest railway, a railway to the Pacific, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), was financed by private funds and land grants in the Canadian prairies. The CPR, completed in 1885, was then the longest in the world. The history of these engineering endeavors and the marvels they wrought is complex and ongoing but traffic across Alberta and British Columbia keep the smaller communities connected to coastal life, trends and culture.
The geography turns dramatic. The scenery whizzes past as I make my way from Edmonton to Jasper's garden of rocks.
Mountains are numerous and named, but one needs a glossary of terms and places to identify which rock cathedral is rising from the forest.
The season is still tame by comparison to the coming winter strokes that already had begun to sneak along the dredged corridors of north-south escarpments. The lakes and rivers carve depressions where the land is already depressed. Clear skies were deceptive, given that within days the nighttime temperatures dipped below freezing and frost digested surviving foliage throughout Canada's western provinces.
Hot springs at Miette, 51 miles west of Hinton, just inside Jasper's park boundary, invites tourists to soak awhile and introduces the park's mountain goats.And a spectacular package of nature's gifts still awaits further west, beginning at the Jasper Fairmont Resort -- where both humans and wild elk appear to stake out similar and overlapping claims to territory in order to engage in conjugal activities and/or relaxation.