Feel animal attraction to Rockies town
Elk, bears, wolves, sheep, deer, chipmunks – Angela Saurine sees it all in Canada
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.