Mountain Goats of the Icefield Parkway - jwardenphotography

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This was the first article I wrote for Nature Alberta and it appeared in the Fall 2007 issue.

By John Warden

Mountain goats have the oldest eyes in nature. Their eyes are big and brown, like many other animals, but the eyes of an adult mountain goat seem to speak of ageless experience. It is as if from their haunts in the craggy spires of the Rocky Mountains they have seen all things come and go, yet they remain, shaggy white sages.

I like to drive the loop from Sherwood Park, going south to Red Deer and then pick up the David Thompson Highway at Rocky Mountain House. I saw two wolves cross the highway this year, just west of Rocky Mountain House but they were too quick for photos. Along that route, Windy Point and Whirlpool point are favourite stops to photograph and walk amongst ancient pine trees. The highway continues west to Saskatchewan River Crossing and the intersection with the spectacular Icefield Parkway. This backbone ridge of road is the home of mountain goats, and the parkway has two reliable locations for photographing them.

Just a few minutes north of the Icefields Centre on Highway 93, the road climbs up to a gorgeous viewpoint on Tangle Ridge. Below the viewpoint is Sunwapta Canyon, Tangle Falls and on the day I was there, mountain goats. 

There are opportunities for close up ‘portrait’ shots and the spectacular scenery provides a contextual background for mountain goats in their natural habitat. I spent three hours here with a group of about 8 mountain goats including one ‘kid’.

About 60 km further north is the second reliable location, the viewpoint at the Kerkeslin Goat Lick near the signpost for Mount Kerkeslin. I found mountain goats on both sides of the highway leading up to the viewpoint, but the best shots I got were up from the road on the ridge above the Athabasca River. I spent a couple of hours with a mother goat and her baby who were resting in the shade of mid-day in tree-dappled sunlight. Looking into the ancient eyes of a mountain goat and experiencing that serene, accepting ‘connection’, as they look back is a check mark on my life list. The experience was a ‘zen’ thing. The photography was almost an intrusion on the moment.

There are additional opportunities for nature photography all along the parkway, including Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls. There were reports of grizzly bears along the parkway this year and of course there are always elk and bighorn sheep when you leave the parkway at Jasper.  

People come from all over the globe to drive the world-renowned Icefield Parkway, but for us here in Alberta, it’s ‘close to home’. 

Lessons Learned: I leave at 1:30 in the morning from Edmonton in order to be in the mountains along the David Thompson Highway for dawn light. I like to bring a bag lunch and supper with me so I can sit on a rock somewhere and breathe in the mountain air as I eat. If you are traveling the David Thompson Highway, be sure to get gas at every opportunity as the David Thompson Resort and Saskatchewan River Crossing are usually closed off-season and it’s a long way to Jasper.

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