Alaska, the Last Frontier - Summer 2012 travel blog

Columbia Ice Field

fab four

Columbia Ice Field

Columbia Ice Field

ice road

Ice Field Parkway

Ice Field overlook

mountain goat

hiking on the ice

Tangled Falls



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Athabasca Falls

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Sumwapta Falls

While the sky wasn't as blue as it is in the tourist brochures, the weather improved greatly and we headed back south on the Ice Field Parkway to tour the Columbia Ice Field. The Canadian Rockies are long and narrow - about 1,000 miles long and 100 miles wide. The mountains shoot up from the flat plains and make those theories about tectonic plates shoving into each other and pushing up the earth quite believable. We drove along a wall of mountains, dusted with snow which emphasized the crags and fissures that were part of their creation. The Columbia Ice Field is on top of those mountains and at road level, we could only see a few glacier fingers that flowed down from the ice field to a level we could see.

At the Ice Field we boarded specialized vehicles that are only used here and Antarctica. They are buses on huge tractor treads that can work their way up the steep sides of the glacier and along the ice face. The road these vehicles use is graded once or twice a day depending on how quickly the ice melts during the season, which runs from April to October. Melted water flowed down the "gutter" next to the road and glowed with an eerie blue color. Some tourists brought empty water bottles and filled up with this unique liquor. The area we toured gets about thirty feet of snow a year, which covers the fissures and cracks that make walking on a glacier very dangerous.

As we drove back to Jasper we stopped every few miles to photograph another amazing mountain panorama. Waterfalls are also a common feature here as all that ice melts. A black bear was grazing on the vegetation near the road, but kept enough vegetation between himself and our camera to make our photos look like black blobs. There should be other opportunities down the road for us to get better bear pictures. Back at the campground a mother elk and her baby were munching grass between our rigs. We have been warned to keep our distance, but as campers gathered in respectful silence broken by the sound of cameras clicking, the pair totally ignored us and kept eating. A unique campground feature!

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