Heaven and hot water

Published 1:11 pm Saturday, July 9, 2016

An Aspen window shows the rocky shores of Medicine Lake. -- Submitted | Archie Howell

An Aspen window shows the rocky shores of Medicine Lake. — Submitted | Archie Howell

by James D. Howell

After breakfast in the local restaurant, we set out through town toward the Maligne Lake road. Actually, if we could go in a straight line we’d save about 25 miles of driving; it’s just over a low mountain range. The Maligne Lake road is almost parallel to the Icefields Parkway that we arrived on yesterday.

The town is stirring a little as we pass. We cross over the railroad tracks to get a closer look at downtown; we’ll probably stop for dinner on the way back. Then, it’s back across the tracks and turn north. The road to Maligne Lake is a short way out of town. We find the turn, cross the Athabasca River and follow a straight stretch for about a mile.

The Chamber of Commerce animal division must be active here in Jasper, also. There, on the left, relaxing in the grass, is a Bighorn sheep with a full curl. It looks like he is expecting us and continues to chew his morning grass.

I stop, get out and take care to not approach too closely. The sheep doesn’t twitch a muscle. We watch in amazement and admiration for a few minutes before departing.

From the town, it’s about 30 miles to Maligne Lake. The highway is on a wide valley floor, with vistas on either side, turnouts at more interesting places and restrooms placed strategically along the way. The entire park system has been furnished with comfort stations and rest areas throughout. The park service has made it a people-friendly vacation destination.

The road travels alongside another large lake, Medicine, for a few miles. Medicine seems more seasonal, with a large dry section on the far end. During snowmelt it must be full to the shoreline.

We stop at a rest area and walk a bit of the shore. Golden aspen are spread in clumps along this rocky bank, with wide open views toward the east mountain ridge. It’s hard to take it all in; we have to slow down, sit for a moment and let our eyes roam around.

The large parking lot at the edge of Maligne Lake is mostly empty today. It is very late in the season for tourists. The small commercial complex is quiet, but not yet closed. We walk the shoreline for a ways, admire the large open lake and have lunch in an uncrowded restaurant.

The room has open glass walls toward the lake and skylights. It’s a pleasure to relax with a bit of food and drink and let our eyes wander around the outside. There’s an outside area with tables also, but we elect the greater comfort of the inside today.

This lake has an active boat/canoe rental concession for peak travel periods.

In summer, also, chartered sightseeing boats take visitors to the far end of the lake and spend time among the tree-covered islands that are just beyond our view today.

We backtrack to the Jasper road. Here we turn right for the trip to Miette Hot Springs. We have our swimming suits with us and are anticipating a dip in a naturally heated pool. It’s about 30 miles to the springs — about 15 on the Yellowhead Highway and another 15 down a mountain access road. It’s all new territory for us and it’s all spectacular. We cross and recross the Athabasca River on this section of the Trans Canada Highway. Traffic is heavier here; it’s a large commercial highway.

The access road turnoff is a pleasant return to quiet vistas and little traffic. The twisty road is generally across the higher points of a very wide valley with long smooth ridge tops.

Forest growth is dense on either side and vistas mostly occur at the twists to higher elevation. We arrive in the parking lot, check in to the pool, change clothes and step into the wonderful, warm mineral water. The water actually has to be cooled down a bit from the source to permit human bathing.

Wide ramps and multiple handrails indicate that these therapeutic waters have been used extensively for arthritis and other joint maladies. It is immediately obvious to us that the warm waters feel good on tired bodies and sore muscles. Although we have not been laboring in the fields or ditches, travel is tiring, and the pool really feels good.

We finish our dip in Miette Hot Springs pool, get dressed and head for the car. A small herd of Bighorn sheep has invaded the parking lot.

They graze on the green grass around the edges and pose for pictures. I think they’ve done this before.

We enjoy the special interaction with the sheep, but our cabin is calling and it’s about 35 miles away.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at archiepix@kingwoodcable.com.