The year 1976, as I remember, was one of little snow throughout much of the Rocky Mountain region. I was living in the El Rancho apartments behind the Idaho Falls High School. It was an odd year. In fact, the heaviest snowfall we received was on June 13, when it snowed so hard that steam rose off of John Adams Parkway. I have seen this on two occasions since I have lived here. Although, some old-timers claim to have seen snow on July Fourth. I won’t question them.
That December, I decided to take advantage of a $90 round trip Christmas bus package to the Canadian parks. I packed up my trusty woodies, poles and Norwegian Alpha boots and hitched onto the Greyhound. Incidentally, I still get use of those boots — well made by people who have worn them to both poles.
We arrived at Banff, passing the little green wooden railroad station that our driver claimed had filled in for the Russian railroad station in the Ural Mountains in the movie “Dr. Zhivago.” The Rockies, however, are higher than the Urals. At Banff, I had a view of a bull moose standing in the alley beneath my window. I thought: “Wow. We’re really getting into the great north, now.” The Canadian Rockies are more recently out of the last Ice Age, and they stretched away into the distance in their sharp, jagged glacial sculpturing.
In the morning, I was invited to share breakfast with a young Canadian couple. As it was Christmas week, many college students were in town for the Christmas holidays. I was treated well by our northern neighbors. After exploring some of the local terrain for a couple of days, I was back on the bus for Jasper National Park. The local lines were not using the intra-park highway.
So, we made a wide circle trip of 600 miles back into Calgary, north to Edmonton, then back southwest along the Athabasca River into Jasper. The Saskatchewan and Athabasca rivers share their names with glaciers. Great river systems that thread the immense expanses of that largely flat and featureless terrain, eastward to Hudson Bay and north to the Arctic Ocean, respectively. Portions of which were the early canoe routes followed by French-Canadian voyageurs and their native guides in Canada’s early history, singing as they rowed. Mountain sheep were seen along the highway. Still, little snow.
After checking in at Jasper, I had only 10 minutes to get my gear for a bus tour leaving from park headquarters next door to the motel for Maligne Lake deep in the heart of the park, a favorite winter tour destination. Most of the riders had brought their own skis or rented them. Arriving at our destination, the park tour guide asked if anyone in the group had cross-country skiing experience. I volunteered my affiliation (at the time) with the Idaho Falls Nordic Ski Patrol and was asked to ski a little behind to provide additional safety and observation for the group along the trail. The guide hoped we would see some moose that frequented the area.
We saw none that day, but only a lonely little fishing dock half-buried in the depth of winter. Such things reflect more sane times and help cleanse the soul when the state of the nation is in disarray. Pure and unadulterated.