I've just recently returned from what was not only my third visit to Jasper National Park, but my third year in a row attending the Jasper Dark Sky Festival. The past two years both held very special moments, so this year had a lot to live up to. You may be wondering, was it really worth going back a third time? Is there anything left to see or experience after spending that much time in the park already? Can you enjoy a dark sky festival even if a few clouds show up?
The answer to all of the questions is undoubtedly, yes.
Being able to see the festival expand and grow each of the last few years as been really exciting for me. My time there has meant so much to me personally that I really love seeing more and more people attend. Each year, I've made new friends and met up with friends from the previous festivals as well. I love knowing that each person will leave with the same excitement I've had to share their experience with as many people as they can. Chances are if we have met in person, I've rambled on about how much I love the park and why you should be planning a visit.
Time after time the Tourism Jasper team has lined up an incredible set of events that has somehow topped their previous efforts. The festival events normally start around 11am and continue throughout the day and wrap up sometime between 7:30 and 11pm. With a number of different options during the day, I plan my moves early on so I'm sure not to miss anything and to get some exploring in as well!
The weather was perfect during the day, but the clouds made the first few nights of stargazing a bit rough. The beautiful thing about the festival was how little that stopped anyone from enjoying it. People gathered throughout the town for various daytime events. The events lined up consisted of anything from daytime solar viewing, intriguing talks about black-holes, or setting off rockets from Centennial Field.
The two main events of the festival were presentations from Col. Chris Hadfield and three former Mythbusters hosts (Grant Imahara, Kari Byron and Tory Belleci). I could probably write a few pages about how awesome and inspiring these events were, but I really want to focus on some of other elements of the festival. I'll just say that both nights were absolutely packed and for good reason. So, when you see the lineup for next year, don't hesitate when the tickets are released or you might miss out!
One of my favorite returning events is the stargazing at Lake Annette. For the past two years, the skies have been completely clear and made for a perfect night of stargazing. We weren't so fortunate this year, but there were so many other exciting things set up that people still poured in to the field by the bus full. The field was packed with different presentations, dark sky inspired artwork, and even an unexpected visit from a Dutch choir!
As I walked around, using just my red headlamp, I tried to visit all the Lake Annette event had to offer. It was when I got a bit closer to the lake that I heard a voice that I instantly remembered. It was the voice of Bruce McCurdy from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. When I heard his voice he was in the middle of explaining some facts about our Moon to some other festival goers. During the day, I probably couldn't pick Bruce out from a crowd if my life depended on it. Instead, it was the kindness and enthusiasm in his voice when sharing this information that made me instantly remember our conversation last year. It's people like Bruce, the other members of the RASC, the Tourism Jasper team, and everyone else eager to share their knowledge and love of the stars, that continue to make Lake Annette one of my favorite events. Even if there is barely a star visible in the sky.
On the last night of the festival, the skies were finally looking clear! I met up with friend, Jeff Barlett and new friend Cassie Kos, and as soon as the Mythbusting event ended we were off to shoot the stars. We were able to hit Athabasca Falls (top image above) and Sunwapta Falls (bottom left) and shoot them under some great Moonlight to reveal the entire scene under the stars.
I think we all wanted to spend the entire night out shooting, but each of us had early 5+ hour drives the next morning.
Overall, I think it's safe to say this was my favorite festival to date. The fact that I only had one night out shooting really just makes me want to head back even sooner. I think that also speaks to how well the festival was put together, too. And after three trips to the park, I still have a long list of places I want to go see and capture under the stars. Here's to hoping I'll be able to check off a few more places soon!
Thank you to the entire Tourism Jasper team for a wonderful time and congratulations on another successful festival! I hope to see everyone there next year!