Monday 10th August
Said a sad but fond goodbye to Jasper this morning and headed south along the 93, Icefields Parkway, a lovely scenic route with mountains on either side. First thing we saw was a very pretty mule deer crossing the road a little way ahead. Followed the Athabasca River, past the falls and on past the Sunwapta Falls. Continued into the Sunwapta Valley and past the Glacier Skywalk which was opened last year and is a glass floored observation platform 918 feet above the valley – not for anyone suffering from vertigo. As we snaked between high mountain peaks towards the Columbia Icefields the landscape changed to moonscape looking terrain with less vegetation.
Stopped off at the Icefields Discovery Centre where there are views across to Athabasca Glacier. From here it is possible to walk on the glacier or book a ride on a Sno-coach. We did recall coming to Columbia Icefield twenty years ago in the winter when we were staying at Lake Louise. The Columbia Icefield covers a vast area and cannot be seen from the road, to view you can hike one of the trails or take a helicopter ride. The Athabasca Glacier has shrunk by half its surface area since 1870. A little way past the Centre we came to Sunwapta Pass at 6,676 feet high which marks the boundary between Jasper and Banff national parks.
We continued on to Bridal Veil Falls and an overlook of the North Saskatchewan River with some dramatic views of the valley. We headed through Big Bend, a winding switch back road into the valley. At Saskatchewan Crossing (a resort open in summer for gas, lodging and RV parking) we turned onto the 11 east and headed for "Rocky Mountain House". The long Abraham Lake follows the road for some miles. We stopped for lunch at the side of the lake and sat out in the sunshine. We have seen some beautiful colored lakes and rivers on this trip but this lake is bright turquoise with sand islands and beaches.
We met a couple during our rest stop from Edmonton and they gave us lots of advice on where to go and what to see. The reason we are coming to Rocky Mountain House is because our neighbors back at the Jasper Campground recommended we visit the area. As we continued along Highway 11 we left the high Rocky Mountains behind us and came into the eastern foothills and flat grassland. Pulled in at the Riverview Campground just outside the town of Rocky Mountain House and along the side of the North Saskatchewan River. Large wooded campground with some open meadows. We have a large grassy site in one of the meadows. There is a walk along the river with boat and canoe launch areas giving access to the water. We took Sandy for a run in the off leash area which is a large stretch of part natural, part manicured grassland with shimmering aspen trees in the woods around the edge. Sandy loved it all, woods, water, long grass, just perfect.
Tuesday 11th August
Had breakfast out in the sunshine.
Sandy went for a walk and then swim in the river. Went into town to the Visitor Centre to get some info and use their wifi - the campground system is not working. While in town we booked Sandy into the vets to get her annual booster inoculation. The weather is so nice we came back to camp to do a few chores and then spend the afternoon in the sun. Sandy had another dip in the river to keep cool. Although the river is shallow here the current is quite strong right up to the shoreline so we keep her on a long leash but she soon learnt how to cope with it and swim across the current back to shore.
Wednesday 12th August
Went into the town to take Sandy to the Animal Clinic for her injection. First we saw a technician who took Sandy’s details and looked at her record card etc. The technician asked her if she would like a cookie, of course no reaction, we said ask her if she wants a biscuit, Sandy immediately shot straight over to her and sat waiting for the biscuit. The vet came in and got down on the floor to make a fuss of Sandy – they don’t ask for the dog to be put on the table. She was interested in the breed as they don’t see working cocker spaniels. The technician prepared the injection while the vet gave her Sandy a full check over and listened to her heart. More fuss and a biscuit was given, during this at some stage the vet gave her the injection but Sandy didn’t even notice and neither did I, it was such a slight of hand – great distraction techniques. Before we left the other vets in the practice came out to see her. Next job was over to Jiffy Lube for an oil change on the Celica.
This evening we went to North Saskatchewan River Park which is just down the road from the campground to see the World Professional Chuckwagon Races. The evening started with Motorcross stunt riding over a very high jump by a couple of talented young riders.
Next the chuckwagon heats began. The event is over five days and there are heats each evening culminating in the final on Sunday. The idea is that two to four wagons with two to four outriders per wagon gather in the centre of the arena, each on the right side of their starting barrel. Action starts at the sound of the klaxon. The outriders must load the stove, tent pegs and fly into the wagon and each wagon must cut a figure of eight around their barrel, followed by the outriders and then onto the track for the race. Well, it’s fast, furious and exciting. The crowd is cheering all the way as the horses run magnificently and the drivers show off their handling skills. The evening was sunny and warm and we had great time.
Thursday 13th August
Today we went to the Rocky Mountain House Historic Site which is about 4 km out of town along the North Saskatchewan River. In 1799 Rocky Mountain House (fort) was built by the North West Company as a fur trading post. Nearby, the Hudson Bay Company built Action House for the same reason, they were fierce rivals in the fur trade business. They both traded with several native tribes. The two companies joined in 1821 and over the years four different forts were built. We started off in the Visitor Centre where there is an interpretive display explainging the history of Rocky Mountain House and the local area. Whilst there a group of six young children - they were there on a day camp – approached me to ask if they could sing the Canadian national anthem to me. I said of course and they proceeded to give a very confident rendition of O Canada – the boys being a little more reticent than the girls as usual. I congratulated them and signed their books to say job well done. Outside there was a trail along the river
and through the forest which led to the four different fort sites. There was lots of information on the way around about the fur trade, structure of the forts and the people that lived in them. There is also an opportunity to stay overnight in a tipi or trapper tent.
The fur trade declined and in 1875 the last fort closed. Today the industry around Rocky Mountain House town is oil, gas, agriculture and tourism.