Waterton Lake National Park and our first bear encounter!

Alaska road trip, stop three

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The International Boundary line–Canada, here we come!

This is one of three posts about some of Canada’s spectacular national parks.


After leaving Glacier, we crossed the border into Canada and headed for Waterton Lakes National Park, in Alberta.  The two parks are actually a single entity, called Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, established in 1932 by members of the Rotary International organizations in Alberta and Montana.  Both parks have been designated as Biosphere Reserves, and the Peace Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  (Note: each park has its own administration and entrance fees and you have to go through customs when crossing the border).

Waterton is much smaller than Glacier, and yet a single day there was still inadequate, but we’re on a deadline.  Our visit consisted of driving the scenic Red Rock Parkway and hiking around Red Rock Canyon.

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Red Rock Parkway
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Red Rock Canyon

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We also visited Waterton Village, a very cute little town on Upper Waterton Lake.

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Upper Waterton Lake

We’re discovering that, at least so far, the Canadians do it right when it comes to reducing the temptation for large creatures to explore the campgrounds.  Canadian national parks have a “bare campsite” program reminding people to keep their campsites completely clear of any item that might lure a bear into camp, and this includes anything food-related or any item with a scent (e.g., toiletries).  Basically, they want you to leave your site completely bare of anything when you’re out and about, and fines of up to $25,000 can be slapped on you for violating these rules.

Our campsite; note the brown food storage box in the background. Each site had their own food box
Our campsite; note the brown food storage box in the background. Each site had its own food box

They also have a separate cooking and cleaning area and a secure bear box at each campsite in which to store food.  Granted, everyone, including us, still cooked at our campsite but we cleaned our dishes away from it.

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Signs in the campground warned of bear activity in the area.  When driving Red Rock Parkway, we also saw a sign illustrating a mama bear and two babies (see below), which indicated that a bear family was hanging out in the area.  We saw them that afternoon, a black bear mama and her two medium-sized cubs, on the side of a hill eating berries.  They were good and fat from a summer spent gorging.

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The next morning we got up at 5:00 AM to head to our next destination, Banff National Park.  On the way out of Waterton, we passed the bear warning sign, and as our headlights scanned the shrubbery next to the road we saw a black shape suddenly pop up from the bushes as if startled.  It was one of the cubs!  We turned the car around and watched him for a few minutes while also keeping a wary eye out for mama.  The cub stood on his hind legs and batted at a tree, and then he moved toward the bear sign and promptly began beating and tearing at it as if he wanted to destroy it.  Either that, or he was reminding us that there were bears in the area and we should be aware.  The force with which he was attacking the sign was impressive, and I’m surprised he didn’t tear it apart.  Unfortunately, we were too late getting the camera out, and the only picture we got was of the sign above, but the bear was very nearby.  It was completely exhilarating to watch this young bear’s antics.  We were both on a high all morning from the experience.

Waterton Lakes is just the beginning!  Now we head to two more Canadian gems, Banff and Jasper National Parks, and then Alaska beyond.  More amazing wildlife experiences await, I hope!


Notes:

Other than knowing general destinations, our trip at this point is pretty much unplanned.  We don’t know campgrounds or stopping points for many of the upcoming days, and that’s OK, because it gives me an opportunity to face my very powerful fear of the unknown.  This particular anxiety plagued me when we hiked the Camino last year, so much so that I got a little crazy sometimes, especially at first.  However, I’m getting better at managing this fear by letting go and trusting that, no matter what, we’ll be OK.  There are plenty of campsites along the way, as well as Canadian provincial parks, and if we can’t find a campsite we can stay in a hotel! We’re also well-prepared for emergencies thanks to Dale.  It’s all good.