Power down and look up during the Jasper Dark Sky Festival

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure
the darkness because it shows me the stars.” Og Mandino

photo credit Jeff Bartlett

photo credit Jeff Bartlett/Tourism Jasper

Jasper held it’s fifth annual Dark Sky Festival from October 16 – 25 this year and our whole family drove out to experience the various activities in and around town. While there are stargazing events through the duration of the festival, the family activities happened on the last Friday and Saturday with something for everyone at all times of the day and night.

With the tag line Power Down, Look Up, the Jasper Dark Sky Festival encourages everyone in the family to put down your devices and experience the world around you.

Medicine Lake, Jasper National Park. Photo copyright Sheri Landry.

Medicine Lake, Jasper National Park. Photo copyright Sheri Landry.

As the festival’s name suggests, the focus is on science and astronomy, but underneath the surface, it is so much more than that.

Gorgeous blue streams and falls line the hike at Maligne Canyon. Normally these areas slow to a trickle at this time of year but due to additional snow in the mountains and a warmer fall, the water stayed for a little longer. Photo copyright Sheri Landry.

Gorgeous blue streams and falls line the hike at Maligne Canyon. Normally these areas slow to a trickle at this time of year but due to additional snow in the mountains and a warmer fall, the water stayed for a little longer. Photo copyright Sheri Landry.

Prior to hitting the festival, we had a day of exploring. My family made the short drive out to Athabasca Falls then did some shopping in Jasper while I took in an informative guided hike through Maligne Canyon with Walks & Talks Jasper.

Paula (in front) with Walks & Talks Jasper keeps her hike groups small so that she can quickly customize her tours to suit everyone and provide a more personally engaging experience. Photo copyright Sheri Landry.

Paula (in front) with Walks & Talks Jasper keeps her hike groups small so that she can quickly customize her tours to suit everyone and provide a more personally engaging experience. Photo copyright Sheri Landry.

If you want to experience more than just a walk while looking at the trees, I recommend Paula and her tour company as she pointed out numerous spots and sights that I would have missed.

Two bull elk during rutting season in Jasper during the Dark Sky Festival. Photo copyright Sheri Landry.

Two bull elk during rutting season in Jasper during the Dark Sky Festival. Photo copyright Sheri Landry.

Tourist tip: Everyone fears the bears but it is the elk that is considered the most dangerous. The Dark Sky Festival takes place at the end of the rutting season which is when the bull (male) elk challenge each other for the attention of the females. Tourists who see elk are quick to get close and take pictures and not many look around to locate the females before snapping photos. This can be deadly as anything getting in between a bull and a female during rutting season is seen as a challenger to the bull elk, and they will attack. Big thanks to Paula with Walks & Talks Jasper for pointing that out and watching our backs, literally, while we snapped photos.
A lone bull elk stands just outside of Jasper. Photo copyright Sheri Landry.

A lone bull elk stands just outside of Jasper. Photo copyright Sheri Landry.

Headlining the evening on Friday in a keynote address, Col. Chris Hadfield spoke about what it was like to go into space. He spoke about what happened before and during the take off, through the mission and then he described the descent back to earth to a spellbound audience. Often humorous and always inspiring, this was a great session to listen to.

Col. Chris Hadfield ended his inspirational session with some audience questions. And there's always time for music. Photo copyright Sheri Landry

Col. Chris Hadfield ended his inspirational session with some audience questions. And there’s always time for music. Photo copyright Sheri Landry

After the keynote address, festival goers were welcome out to Lake Annette to stargaze. Although the evening was cloudy, there was a lot of educational and interesting events happening along the shore. Shuttle service from the keynote to Lake Annette and back was free and they ran every 15 minutes.

Paths along the ground led to various displays from TELUS World of Science, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Dark Sky Photographers, Parks Canada and other special guests.

I appreciated the accessibility of the hosts and presenters during the Jasper Dark Sky Festival.  While we were at Lake Annette, I joined in around the fire where two women from the aboriginal community were sharing songs and stories and I ran into one of the women the following day at a separate event where I was able to ask her some questions about what she had shared the night before.

Be prepared: The Lake Annette experience is dark. There are no lights except for some small LED lights to light some paths. You may want to bring along small headlamps or a flashlight, but only use them when necessary as everyone out there is there to look at the stars, not your flashlight. Dress warm and in layers and there is an outdoor (but clean) washroom on site.
Volunteers were on hand at all of the science activity tables. Learning to make a straw rocket (kids can take them home when done). Photo copyright Sheri Landry.

Volunteers were on hand at all of the science activity tables. Learning to make a straw rocket (kids can take them home when done). Photo copyright Sheri Landry.

On Saturday, our children experienced a full day and night of discovery and they didn’t want the day to end. The TELUS World of Science hosted a free day of crafts and experiments at Centennial Field, just a few blocks walk from the main street and tourist area.

All of the science activity tables had hands-on activities so kids could get right in the action and learn by experience. Our girls enjoyed making a tipi night light cover. Photo copyright Sheri Landry.

All of the science activity tables had hands-on activities so kids could get right in the action and learn by experience. Our girls enjoyed making a tipi night light cover. Photo copyright Sheri Landry.

At one station, kids could make a simple rocket that launched from a straw. At another, kids could craft larger rockets out of 2L bottles. Once those rockets were made, it was time to take them outside to test them with an assisted pressurized launch. The rockets were hooked up, the countdown was called out and when they were ready for take off, the kids pulled their pin, sending their creation into space.

For those curious about the stars and beyond, free presentations were held with experts speaking on topics from aliens to black holes. The seating was open and you could join and leave as you liked.

After telling her never to look directly at the sun, this one jumps at the chance for a little daytime solar viewing in Jasper. Photo copyright Sheri Landry

After telling her never to look directly at the sun, this one jumps at the chance for a little daytime solar viewing in Jasper. Photo copyright Sheri Landry.

Later in the afternoon members of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada set up telescopes for anyone who wanted to sneak a peak at the sun or a glimpse at a couple of the planets that happened to be in orbit during the day. Festival attendees could walk from telescope to telescope to look at different views and ask questions to learn more about the world above us.

Grant Imahara, Kari Byron and Tory Belleci, former co-hosts of the Discovery Channel's Mythbusters spoke on Saturday evening and shared stories of their time on the show and what was happening with them now. Photo copyright Sheri Landry.

Grant Imahara, Kari Byron and Tory Belleci, former co-hosts of the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters spoke on Saturday evening and shared stories of their time on the show and what was happening with them now. Photo copyright Sheri Landry.

The star gazing continued into the evening when the sun set and a clear sky displayed more stars than you will ever see in the city. The telescopes were moved to the Visitor Information Centre lawn for an evening of stargazing. The field was dark, but our young daughters loved it.

A memorable moment for me was looking at the moon up close through a high-powered telescope. After I took a peek, my four year old climbed a small step stool (provided by the telescope operators) to gaze out into space. I will never forget the look of wonder on her face the moment she laid eyes on the moon. Her face relaxed, she pulled back an inch and paused as if she was processing what she was looking at. A second later she tightened her grip on the stool and went back for another look.

It was that beautiful.

Then came the awkwardness when I had to explain that there were other people in line who wanted to look too. After a moment, she got off the stool to let the next person look and promptly walked to the back to stand in line for another look.

We found the festival educational on many levels and our kids loved the activities and the experiences they wouldn’t get back home. I enjoyed the hands-on activities that our whole family had the chance to participate in, and most for free.

For more information on the Jasper Dark Sky Festival, check them out at http://jasperdarksky.travel/ and consider making the trip out to go beyond!

Thank you for letting us join you for the festival Jasper, we will be back.

Sheri Landry
Sheri publishes, and writes at This Bird’s Day where she shares all of the thoughts in her head without the voices. Sticking mainly with content for Canadians, Sheri shares family stories, product information and anything that fits into her (and her family’s) daily activities.
Found in Fall, Travel
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