Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Riding the Great Continental Divide - Icefield Parkway!

Continental Divide (as researched by google) is defined as a line of elevated terrain which forms a border between two watersheds such that water falling on one side of the line eventually travels to one ocean or body of water, and water on the other side travels to another, generally on the opposite side of the continent.
All that information makes for a good geography lesson,(no Mom, I am not downplaying geography lessons!! I know as a teacher you are very passionate about the subject) but what you experience when you are actually riding this diverse mountain landscape, is something else altogether, that school books couldn't do justice to! The above definition doesn't even begin to describe the feeling. (Mom - you will see...the good stuff is coming!)

North America has 4 continental divides, the Great Divide runs from the Seaward Peninsula in Alaska through Western Canada along the crest of the Rocky Mountains to New Mexico separating the watersheds of the Pacific Ocean from those of the Atlantic or Arctic Oceans.
On our 10-day to Canada, we had the experience of a lifetime,  journeying a portion of the Great Continental Divide between the towns of Banff and Jasper. This section is part of 2 national park systems, and was also declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984 for its outstanding natural beauty and unsurpassed geological value!
You can get on to the world famous Icefields Parkway (Highway 93), from just outside Lake Louise. This stretch of approximately 230 km between Lake Louise and Jasper rewards you with eye-capturing views of majestic peaks, ancient glaciers, crystal clear lakes and broad sweeping valleys. This is one stretch of road where you never want to hit the pedal to the metal. Keep enough time on your itinerary, to admire, absorb and reflect upon these magnificent sites.

There are many "must-sees" on this very scenic and historic drive. You can find a lot of information about the same from the internet, or from any library or information center. I have listed details on what to see in my TOP TEN LIST.Those of you wondering, nothing on the list falls under the infamous- 'tourist trap' category unless you re-think the usage of the word...yes... you have a fairly good chance of getting 'trapped-by-tourists' !! All the sites and stops listed on this drive are hands-down spectacular and worth your time and indulgence.
We were advised that the Ice-field Parkway is home to varied mountain wildlife such as mountain goat, black bear, elk and moose. We have to say, we weren't disappointed, and were lucky to catch a glimpse of wildlife in their natural setting. Often times herds of elk would cross the highway, holding up miles of traffic, and causing crazed tourists to jump out of their buses to capture photos.

Driving on the Great Continental Divide was like escaping to a world, where the mountains rule, and you - a mere spec on their topography.  Their rugged snow-capped world studded with icefields and alpine glaciers, make you realize what the Ice age might have been like. To this day these icefields continue to mould and sculpt the ever-changing landscape that is enough invitation to make this an awe-inspiring journey. 
See Mom - all your teaching hasn't gone to waste, you are now the proud mother of someone who literally rode the backbone of the continent and experienced first hand, what the books talked about. And having done that, I now have a new found respect for geography and how its workings have designed and redefined the landscape of the world! Wish you were here!

TIP: The Icefields Pkwy is often the ideal destination for avid bicyclers. This ever popular scenic route offers lodges and hostels conveniently located at the end of each biking pit-stop. If you are game to push your body and take the plunge, you will be rewarded with a perspective refreshingly unique and vastly different from the average high-speed automobile-driver's.  
Take you time enjoying this scenic stretch, it is a milestone in history, and is not meant to be rushed. Give yourselves a good portion of a day to traverse the great divide...and then tell the world, you did it!!

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