Feel an­i­mal at­trac­tion to Rock­ies town

Elk, bears, wolves, sheep, deer, chip­munks – An­gela Sau­rine sees it all in Canada

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - Wildlife Jasper -

IT’S a sur­real feel­ing, sud­denly re­al­is­ing you are in the mid­dle of a post­card.

That’s the only way I can de­scribe the sen­sa­tion I feel sit­ting on a boat sur­rounded by the turquoise wa­ters of Maligne Lake and soar­ing, snow­capped moun­tains as we ap­proach Spirit Is­land.

The view en­gulf­ing us has to be one of Canada’s most iconic im­ages. In the 1950s, a huge pic­ture of the scene was dis­played on the north wall of Grand Cen­tral Sta­tion in New York.

Sud­denly, the East­man Ko­dak film com­pany was in­un­dated with calls from peo­ple ask­ing where it was, and when the train rolled into the lit­tle town of Jasper in the prov­ince of Al­berta that sum­mer, peo­ple came flood­ing off. More than half a cen­tury later, they are still com­ing.

I amthere in the mid­dle of sum­mer and our 90-minute boat cruise is jam­packed full of tourists. As we go fur­ther along the 22km skinny lake, the colour of the wa­ter changes from an emer­ald green to an amaz­ing aqua.

Maligne Lake was named by a French-speak­ing Bel­gian and ac­tu­ally means ‘‘ wicked’’.

On a beau­ti­ful sum­mer day it’s hard to un­der­stand why, but when I hear the low­est recorded tem­per­a­ture here in win­ter is -62C, it be­comes a lit­tle clearer.

As well as its stun­ningly beau­ti­ful scenery, Jasper Na­tional Park – in the Cana­dian Rock­ies – is also known for its abun­dant wildlife.

On the drive through the park on the way to the lake that morn­ing, we had stopped to watch a herd of Wapiti elk graz­ing on the side of the road.

We had also paused to watch two adorable fawn Bam­bis – or mule deer – wan­der­ing along with their mother. Af­ter a few min­utes they prance over a log and out of sight.

At Medicine Lake, so called be­cause the in­dige­nous First Na­tions peo­ple thought it was magic be­cause of its un­usual un­der­wa­ter drainage sys­tem, we see a tiny rock rab­bit and chipmunk with a leaf in its mouth, stash­ing sup­plies for win­ter.

There is also ev­i­dence a bear has been around, in the form of red­dish­coloured fae­ces on the edge of the road. At this time of year, bears are busy eat­ing be­fore win­ter and will spend up to 18 hours a day scoff­ing buf­falo berry bush.

On the drive back we are lucky enough to spot a black bear for­ag­ing in the bushes. Af­ter a few min­utes he starts to run along­side the road just a few me­tres away.

That night, I head out on an­other wildlife tour, this time along the road to the Mi­ette hot springs. Just out­side of town, we pass a moun­tain that has what looks very much like a man’s face carved into it, one of the area’s three prom­i­nent ‘‘ sleep­ing giants’’.

The First Na­tions peo­ple be­lieved stone gods cre­ated the world and then lay down to sleep.

We stop to pho­to­graph five longhorn sheep, in­clud­ing a lamb, on the side of the road. I get out and stand near the car and they wan­der right over to me, with no fear what­so­ever.

The lamb jumps over a guard rail and comes over to eat a bush about a me­tre away, while two adults play­fully butt each other.

Ap­par­ently, they love hang­ing out near hot springs be­cause of the sul­phur.

‘‘ Salt means life,’’ my knowl­edge­able Sun­dog Tours guide, John, ex­plains. ‘‘ It builds the lamb’s bones.’’

Then, as we drive through Fid­dle Val­ley – so called be­cause of the sound the wind makes there – we see a beau­ti­ful grey wolf with a thick fur coat trot­ting down the road.

I feel very lucky, as John, who spends ev­ery day in the park, says he only sees them ev­ery cou­ple of weeks.

On the way back a big black bear strolls across the road right in front of us – my sec­ond bear sight­ing that day.

Back on the main road, we come across an elk stag with an im­pres­sive 18 points on its huge antlers. The antlers, which are made from the same ma­te­rial as fin­ger­nails, are a red­dish colour be­cause the felt is start­ing to shed.

At this time of the year the elk make their way down the val­ley to mate and from the first full moon in Septem­ber un­til the first full moon in Oc­to­ber, you can see stags bat­tling for up to four hours, within min­utes of town.

At more than 10,000sq km, Jasper Na­tional Park is one of the largest pro­tected ar­eas in the world.

The charm­ing for­mer rail­way town of Jasper was founded in 1907 and to buy a house there you have to pro­vide a ser­vice to the park in some way. The town is known as a more laid­back ver­sion of Banff. Lo­cals have a strong sense of the en­vi­ron­ment, cul­ture, fit­ness, na­ture, com­mu­nity and vol­un­teer­ing. It is one of the few places in the world that has man­aged to kick McDon­ald’s out of town af­ter res­i­dents agreed to boy­cott it.

John tells me about an en­tre­pre­neur in the early 1900s named Charles M. Hays who had grand plans to de­velop Jasper and build sev­eral ho­tels.

He went to France to get fur­ni­ture for the prop­er­ties and de­cided to re­turn on a lit­tle ship called the Ti­tanic. When the ‘‘ un­sink­able’’ ship fa­mously sank, He and his dreams per­ished. If not for this twist in fate, Jasper could be far from the re­laxed, un­pre­ten­tious town it is to­day.

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