Go when it’s storming. That’s it, mostly…
Craggy, snow-topped mountains loomed around us as we headed further north into Canada on BC Highway 5. It had rained overnight in Kamloops, and the storm system covered our route all the way to Jasper. It was never wet enough to skid on well-maintained highways, but we could see fresh snow coming down higher up. Clouds shrouded the mountaintops, keeping their secrets behind mysterious textures. No boring blue skies on this drive.
Mountain view from Yellowknife Highway, British Columbia
Rain, snow and especially clouds are your friend. When everyone else stays inside, you’ll get pictures with intense clouds, glistening rainfall and fresh snow. You’ll avoid crowds. And nobody else will get those shots.
International Road Trip Tips
Eastern British Columbia and Alberta feature glacially-carved rock summits with acres of pines on their flanks. We crossed the Canadian border north of Mt. Vernon, Washington. A couple tips – be sure you have your US auto registration card in the car before you leave. Leaving ours at home fortunately cost us only time at the border. We did have our proof of insurance, so Canadian customs officers let us in. From online research, we knew we’d need recent vaccination records for our two dogs, so we were prepared there.
A favorable US-Canadian dollar exchange rate made prices easier to take. The days of buying foreign-denominated travelers checks before you leave are thankfully far behind us. Just bring your embedded chip debit card and use it to pay. This gives you the best exchange rate. Whichever way it happens to be, checking restaurants and brewpubs on our route before we left helped with food choices.
RV Parky Helps – Usually
The only subpar lodging was at Silver Sage RV campground in Kamloops, mainly compared with other campgrounds we’ve stayed at. We needed to clear potentially-toxic mushrooms from our site before we could take our dogs out. Rough dirt roads connect the campsites, and the wash house is located on a hill, away from most sites. The campground loops around a mobile home park that’s seen better days. The nearest route back to town is over a wooden bridge not rated for the weight of even our small class B+ RV. We discovered this when we tried to get to the restaurant recommended by the campground host. (No, we didn’t end up in the river!) And for the price, we expected a better-kept facility.
Otherwise, the RV Parky app allowed us to choose campground winners for the rest of the trip.
Car Shot Hints
Keep a clean windshield. Some of your best pictures may be made through it. Whenever possible, shoot through an open window instead. In shooting from a moving car, use a high-enough ISO to get shutter speeds faster than 1/1500 second at f/8 or f/11 with full-frame focal lengths between 35mm and 75mm. Shooting straight ahead decreases relative speed of forground details, making them almost sharp if you’re careful. Shots directly out a side window guarantee blurry foregrounds. But always try to stop for best photographs.
Car shot – View from Yellowknife Highway, British Columbia
The mountains start small at the border crossing. Driving Trans-Canada Highway 1 toward Kamloops, we could see distant peaks – still far away. Once we started north on BC Highway 5 from Kamloops, the mountains began to grow. By the time we turned east on the Yellowhead Highway at Mt. Robson Provincial Park, they were huge and close on either side.
Our route took us northeast to Jasper National Park. We paid our per-day fee for 5 days in Canada’s national parks – they aren’t the bargain you get at US national parks, where a fixed fee pays for 7 days. But Jasper was a mountain jewel – one of the prettiest and cleanest parks I’ve ever been in anywhere.
Western mountain range, Jasper National Park
We walked around the town of Jasper – as a seasoned US national Park visitor, I don’t expect towns with private homes in parks – and checked menus before we found Evil Dave’s Grill. Food around any national park has improved greatly over the basics offered 50 years ago. Evil Dave’s didn’t disappoint – the Hell’s Chicken was nicely spiced in Caribean marinade over a bed of rice.
We explored water-carved Maligne Canyon the next day. This thing has more twists and turns than Lombard Street in San Francisco. The six bridges across the cascades and river give landmarks for the trail. And the trail gives great views of the Canyon and peaks the park is known for.
Maligne Canyon cascade, Jasper National Park
Ask the Locals
Back at Evil Dave’s for another unbeatable dinner, our server gave us a tip about wildlife that sent us down Alberta Highway 16 towards Edmonton. Warm evening light bathed mountain landscapes worthy of a Bierstadt painting. A 9 pm sunset gave me plenty of time to shoot. The trick was to use the highway and its occasional traffic as part of the landscape instead of trying to crop them out. We found elk bucks and a grizzly along the road. As I wrote in a previous post, I got too close.
Grizzly teeth-clacking, Jasper National Park
Entering Whistlers Campground afterward, rangers cautioned us again about a pair of grizzlies recently spotted in the area. On the way to our site, I spotted an elk cow grazing calmly in a clearing by the road. She raised her head to look at me as I stalked quietly closer but stopped outside her comfort zone. I got some good pictures with a 400mm lens as she continued eating.
Elk Cow grazing, Whistlers Campground
Heading Down The Icefield Parkway
Our next day began with the Icefield Parkway towards Banff. Our first major attraction was Athabasca Falls. Another crazy curved cascade carved through the rock, and this one has lots of warning signs to prevent you from becoming another statistic. Water in any form is powerful, whether it’s rushing liquid or crushing glacial ice. We kept our dogs leashed close as I photographed from all the angles I could think of.
Athabasca Falls, Jasper National Park
In part II next week, check out pictures of young bighorn sheep, Columbia Icefields and Lake Louise. You’ll see some small critters too.