Captivating Icefields Parkway – Canadian Rockies

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Highway 93 is a major north/south highway that begins in Jasper, Canada and ends in Wickenburg, AZ, 1,720 miles away.  The stretch from Mile 0 to Mile 144 is known as the Icefields Parkway, and it links Jasper to Lake Louise in the heart of the Rocky Mountains.  It winds along the Continental Divide, through Jasper National Park and Banff National Park, traversing some of the wildest and most rugged land imaginable – mighty mountains, vast sweeping valleys, raging rivers, glaciers, lakes, waterfalls and simply spectacular scenery.

We had seen pictures and read friends’ blog posts, and now we certainly agree it’s a must see, must drive for any visit to this part of Canada.


The parkway was built during the depression era, and due to the rugged terrain and short warm season, it took 9 years to complete.  Click here for more history about the parkway.

The trip can be made in three hours or less, but why rush it?  The jaw-dropping scenery will slow folks down soon after they cross through the entrance gate at Jasper (you need a Parks Canada pass to drive through), and likely wildlife encounters grab everyone’s attention.


Our official greeter, as he watched over his harem

Bull Elk's harem, what a stud!

Bull Elk’s harem, what a stud!

We explored the parkway on several occasions.  While at Jasper we went as far as the Columbia Icefield – the border between Jasper NP and Banff NP – on one drive.  On another day we drove to Valley of Five Lakes near Jasper and picked up a trail there.  Finally, we drove all the way with Betsy to our next destination at Lake Louise.

Ice fields Parkway

There are several viewpoints, interpretative displays, points of interest and photo opportunities along the route that once again kept my camera in overdrive.  Some pictures were “drive-by shootings”, while others were taken while we were on a trail.





Tangle Falls

Tangle Falls is a roadside waterfall


Columbia Icefield

Columbia Icefield, the largest in the Canadian Rockies, is a surviving remnant of the thick ice mass that once mantled most of western Canada’s mountains.  Nearly three-quarters of the park’s highest peaks are located close to this ice field, and the area is the center of all glacial adventure.

Columbia Icefields

Columbia Icefield straddles Jasper NP and Banff NP.  At the center is Athabasca Glacier

One of the most popular tourist attractions is the trail to the toe of Athabasca Glacier.  It ‘s a short but steep hike that ends close to the edge of the receding glacier.

Toe of the Glacier Hike

The trail to the toe of the glacier runs over limestone uncovered by the ice.  Steve’s got his gloves on, it must be in the 30’s again!

The Athabasca glacier is one of the “toes” of the Columbia Icefield, and is 2.3 sq. miles long and 300–980′ thick.

Athabasca Glacier

At the toe of the Athabasca Glacier

After that trek we crossed the parkway and visited the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center to learn more about the history of the parkway and the gradual recession of Athabasca Glacier.

Icefield Center

The very popular Columbia Icefield Discovery Center

Athabasca Glacier

Steve enjoys his coffee (not from that chain outfit in Seattle, John) where the toe of Athabasca Glacier was in 1843

Ice field Parkway

It took 600 construction workers nine years to complete the parkway

One of the plaques mentioned that because of a warming climate, the Athabasca Glacier has been receding rapidly for the last 125 years.  Losing half its volume in that time, the shrinking glacier has left a moonscape of rocky moraines in its wake.  Below are photos from 1940 and Sept, 2016.

Wilcox Pass

Further along the parkway was Wilcox Trail, where our hearts pounded as we climbed to the top of the ridge for a rewarding view:

Wilcox Trail

Wilcox Trail

Is he smiling because he made it to the top first, or…

Red Chair in Icefield Parkway

…because he spotted another pair of red chairs?  Ain’t that a grand view!

There are six pairs of red chairs scattered around Jasper National Park, but we’d found only two so far.

Glacier Adventure

Zooming into the glacier we saw tourists enjoying Athabasca up close and personal aboard an all-terrain Ice Explorer.

The Drive Back to Jasper

Iceland Parkway

Looking down at the parkway heading south


Female Big Horn

Clueless tourists like this one make me cringe!



Sunwapta, meaning ‘turbulent water’ in Stoney native language, offers a drop of 60′ and is 30′ wide.

Sunwapta Falls

The roaring Sunwapta Falls

Valley of Five Lakes

Off the parkway is the Valley of the Five Lakes, which was close to our campground.  We followed the long loop (6 mi) counterclockwise, passing five extremely clear lakes displaying shades of jade or blue, depending on their depth.

Rain was due the morning we hiked the trail, but thankfully we finished our trek before the skies opened up.  The lakes were amazing, and I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:

Valley of Five Lakes

Lake #1

Valley of Five Lakes

Lake #2

Red Chair at Valley of Five Lakes

Our third pair of red chairs at Lake #3!

Valley of Five Lakes

Lake #4

Valley of Five Lakes

Lake #5


Driving Betsy to Lake Louise

We got a new perspective during this drive on the parkway, as it had snowed the previous night.  It added a beautiful dimension to the already breathtaking scenery.


Steve removed the door screen and touched up Betsy’s windshield for his favorite photographer – he’s so sweet!

Glacier Skywalk

We didn’t take the Glacier Skywalk. It was pricey and the view here wasn’t as good as the one at the Discovery Center


Ice fields

Columbia Icefield after a dusting of snow

Waterfowl Lake

Waterfowl Lake





Approaching Lake Louise, we saw the “million dollar overpass”, built just for bear, elk and other wildlife that may want to cross the Trans-Canada Highway.


Pedestrians not allowed on this overpass


The drive along the Icefields Parkway was sensory overload, and one of the highlights of our Rocky Mountains adventures.  A visit to the Canadian Rockies would be incomplete without experiencing this captivating area.


Next up:  Oh So Famous Lake Louise


Those Wondrous Rocks – Valley of Fire, NV

Comments 16 Standard

2016-03-05-NV-1420868.jpgOur scenic drive into Valley of Fire (click here if you missed it) and the breathtaking trail explorations left us wanting more.  Fortunately we had a week to explore this park, and did we ever rock out!

The park didn’t have extensive trails, but the ones we followed took us past many intriguing rock formations and colors that wowed us again and again.  The story of how the earth moved to cause the folding, thrusting and shoving of ancient seas millions of years ago resulted in what we saw as a geologists’s dream.


Pinnacle Trail

This was our first trek, and it led us to a cluster of sandstone towers.  The high gray mountain ridge here is made up of the oldest exposed rocks in the park, estimated to be 550 millions years old.  The red rocks in front of it are younger, “only” 66 million years old.

Pinnacles Trail

An open desert hike this time

After going around the southern edge of a ridge of dark gray-green rock and doing a bit of scrambling, the pinnacles came into view:

Pinnacle Rocks

On this trail we were fascinated by eroding large and small sedimentary rocks cemented together by minerals:


Steve touches a piece of wood that was cemented among sedimentary rocks

After climbing the pinnacles we were rewarded with beautiful scenery in every direction:

Pinnacles Trail, Valley of Fire

The shrubs near the top of the pinnacles displayed a bluish-green tinge that made Steve take notice:

Pinnacle Trail

A bluish tint on the sage brush

Approaching our campground, we stopped by groups of ancient sand dunes that have hardened over millions of years.  This is part of the cluster seen on my header image:

Valley of Fire State Park

Prospect Trail

Another trail we followed took us behind those huge sandstone formations that make up most of the state park.  We began our hike from the campground and crossed open desert before hiking into the enormous sandstones.  The cacti were beginning to bud, and we could only guess how vibrant this area would be in a few weeks.

The sandstones here are ginormous, weathered by wind and time and forming odd shapes and forms.  These formations were originally sand, mud, silt or lime that became stone over 300 million years ago.

Prospect Trail, Valley of Fire

I looked like a blue ant standing among the sandstones

Prospect Trail

Playing and climbing amongst incredible weathered rocks

Brittle brush

Blooming Brittle Brush against the rocks

Prospect Trail

Is that a pig though the rock window?

Valley of Fire State Park

The trail ended at White Dome Rock, and the oppressive dry heat was getting to us so we headed back.

Prospect Trail

Looking up at a high canyon wall

Natural Arch Trail/Elephant Trail

We had planned to see the natural arch on this trail, but after walking a while in deep sand in the wash we decided to try another trail.

Mesozoic Muds

These red deposits are called mesozoic muds, which will turn purple, pink or lavender when exposed to air

Natural Arch Trail

Deep sand isn’t our favorite kind of hike, let’s try something else!

It’s a good thing we detoured to the Elephant Trail just up the road.  The Big Horn Sheep were out for their breakfast in big numbers:

Desert Big Horn Sheep

A herd having breakfast…

Big horn sheep

…while a family does lookout duty from the top of a rock

Back at the campground, Betsy was parked right in front of a large sandstone rock that Steve wanted to conquer:

Atlatl Campground

Atlatl Campground

Betsy’s hidden behind that big rock

We spent a day exploring in and around our campground, and checked out whimsical formations that were close by:

Sandstone Arch

A Sandstone Arch, an example of what happens when water and wind find weak places in the rock that erode faster than surrounding stone

Beehive Formation cross bedded rock

A beehive – persistent winds over millions of years created this masterpiece

Yawning Indian

A yawning indian – can you see it?

I’ll stop now or you’ll be yawning like that indian.  But the beauty is in the details, as you’ll see in my next post!

Next up:  It’s really in the details







This Valley’s on Fire! – Overton, NV

Comments 19 Standard

The drive along the north shore road from Lake Mead National Recreation Area was a colorful and rocky landscape that lead us to one of Nevada’s hidden gems, Valley of Fire State Park.  I must warn my readers that this post and several succeeding ones will be laden with geologic rocks in various forms, shapes and colors.

Steve was happy that the road was well paved, unlike the many crappy roads in Tucson, AZ.  Since it was so nice, he was able to enjoy the scenery more than usual as we negotiated the curvy and hilly roads snaking through the dramatic landscape.

Las Vegas Bay

Are we there yet?


Looks like we’re getting close…


OK, we’re there!

Valley of Fire S.P. is located just 50 miles northeast of the bright lights of Las Vegas.  It’s named for the red sandstone formations that have been carved by shifting sand dunes that were formed and solidified during the age of dinosaurs.  It’s really an island of red rocks in the desert, and because the sun was hitting it at just the right angle when we arrived it looked like the rocks were ablaze.  Amazing!

Valley of Fire State Park

We arrived early in the morning, as the campground sites are on a first-come first-served basis.  At 40′ plus a car we had a choice of three spots, and fortunately site #24 had just been vacated.  Although many of the electric/water sites were very out of level, we were able to get close in this one (Steve’s review here).

The forecast for the following day called for wind and possibly rain, so once we were hooked up we immediately drove the scenic drive.  I had seen pictures of this park, but we were not prepared for the out-of-this-world landscape here!

White Dome Road, Valley of Fire SP

At the start of the scenic drive the road gradually climbed through these deep red monoliths consisting of Aztec sandstone.

We first pulled over at the Petroglyph Canyon Trail, where evidence of human use of the area was etched on the canyon walls.  Nobody knows the meaning of these symbols, but the art reflects the thoughts of these people 4,000 years ago.  The trail was short, but walking through deep sand along a rocky drainage area made the going a bit difficult.


What the heck are they trying to say?

Not only did the petroglyphs keep us constantly looking up at the canyon walls, but also the many eroded rocks in fascinating forms grabbed our attention..

Petroglyph Canyon trail

A juggling act amongst the rocks

Mouse Tank

At the Mouse’s Tank: a pocket of stagnant water supposedly helped an Indian named Mouse survive while stuck here in the 1890’s

At the summit the road opened up to reveal an amazing display of rocks in many colors, aptly named Rainbow Vista.  We parked and climbed up a huge outcropping to enjoy a 360-degree panorama of 150 million year old colored rocks, canyons, domes, ridges and valleys.  The panel described the view as a wild and virtually untouched wilderness carved from sand deposited during the time when dinosaurs walked the earth.

Rainbow Vista

Its spectacular, its amazing, its surreal!

Rainbow Vista

White Domes Scenic Byway

Looking down the scenic road we drove in on

Next we swung by Fire Canyon Road and viewed the dramatic change from white to red in the sandstone which was caused by small quantities of iron that produced rust-like stains.

Rainbow Vista

The hikers looked like ants as they trekked toward Fire Canyon

Fire canyon

Fire Canyon Road

I name this formation “two hearts beating as one”

Back on the road, we drove slowly so we could ogle the many layers of multicolored rocks. There were pull-outs and parking lots that allowed more close-up exploration, but for now we just drove leisurely as we “oohed” and “aahed” on our way to White Dome Rock.

“Wow!” was all we could say at every turn.  The short White Dome Rock Trail showcased a little bit of everything here, and a walk in the cream-colored sand led us past a slot canyon where we gawked at massive formations with contrasting colors amidst the Mohave Desert landscape.

White Domes Trail

Clusters of rounded, cream-colored sandstone mounds

Slot Canyon, White Domes Trail

White Domes Rock

We saw a sign that listed movies that had been filmed in the area over the years.  We plan to keep our eyes open for them to see how the locations were used.


After a short hike we backtracked and stopped at parking lot #3 to access the famed “Firewave”.  It’s reminiscent of the Coyote Buttes in the Vermillion Cliffs, which are called “The Wave”.  Since we haven’t been able to get a reservation at The Wave so far, we’re content to see a sampling of it here.  This place is incredible and I’m running out of adjectives to describe it!

Firewave, Valley of Fire SP

That rock is called Gibraltar

Firewall, Valley of Fire State Park

Steve striking a pose at the Firewave


The scenic drive and short trails can be done in a day.  For those of you visiting Las Vegas, take a day off from gambling if you have a car and make a day trip out here.  It’s a seriously wild place, with the fascinating details yet to come!

Valley of Fire sunset

This is why the park is named Valley of Fire!

I took so many photos that I couldn’t decide which ones to post, but you really need to come here and see this fascinating place for yourself.

Sunset at Valley of Fire



Next up:  Life is in the detail