Archive for November, 2008

crowsnest surprise   12 comments

Posted at 12:36 pm in Uncategorized

I’m now looking back on these photos taken nearly a month ago, and thinking that they are almost a lifetime old. That’s how this journey seems to have played out — not just miles rolling by, but also a mind-bending passage of time. I’m not sure why this should be so. Today, I should finish the last of my driving, which has generally varied from around 250 to 400 miles on those days when I moved from one place to another. I’ll be at the site where I will be spending this winter, but more of that later.

Returning to my passage across the Canadian prairies, my plans were dictated by the weather. I had hoped to camp along the way, but weather decided otherwise. Snow had fallen just ahead, and traces lay in the recently harvested wheat fields. When I would step out of the van to take a photo, the raw wind would buffet me, and at one point, blew the van door shut with such force that I had narrowly missed what would probably have proved to be a serious injury to my ankle. The van, which as you may remember, had been giving me trouble in northern Ontario, now dried out and ran well. However, I watched the forecasts for the route ahead and worried about predictions of rain in the Crowsnest Pass section of the Rockies just north of the Canada-U.S. border. I hoped to make it through before the weather turned, as I had been unable to get the van repaired without hanging around a town somewhere for an extra day or two. My restlessness got the upper hand over my usual prudence on such matters. Fortunately, my luck held as I set out from Lethbridge, Alberta on October 17th. I could see dark clouds to the north and south, but the pass looked clear, so I made a run for it.

Just a short distance before the pass, I rounded a bend in the highway and was surprised to find a long row of dark-colored wind turbines stretching out along the top of a high ridge. These were not the usual white turbines on thick columns, but blades mounted on huge lattice frames. The above photo shows just a few out of the long line of turbines. Noticing a turn-out, I pulled up to read an information sign about the Cowley Ridge. It indicated that there are 77 turbines on the ridge. The dark turbines on lattice towers were installed in the mid-nineties, another group of the more familiar white turbines on columns were installed in 2001 (see link to sign for more information). The strength of the wind in that area was phenomenal on that day. I wondered what it must feel like on an average day — or perhaps that was average. If so, it would be a difficult place to get much done, with the wind tearing at everything. I was soon to see how that would be so.

Continuing on up the highway, I noticed that my ABS (anti-lock braking system) warning light was now glowing on the dash in place of the of the flashing engine warning light. What now?! What next?! What a thing to have malfunctioning as I drove through the Rockies. However, I tested the brakes a bit on a couple of dips in the highway and things seemed okay, so I proceeded onwards. Although it takes a lot to get me rattled, the van was starting to get my goat and I got the urge to stop and regroup my nerves. Just then, I noticed a large parking lot where a couple of transport trucks were pulled in for a rest stop. I turned off the highway to join them. As I sat in my van, I watched a maintenance worker wrestle to empty garbage containers in the high winds blasting through the pass. After resting awhile, I noticed some stone structures at one end of the parking lot. Curiosity got the better of me, so Sabrina and I wandered down the path to investigate.

It turned out that this site is probably one of the better kept secrets of Crowsnest Pass — the Leitch Colliery provincial historic site. For anyone interested, here is a link to an excellent website about the history of the colliery. I spent about an hour walking around shooting photos of the ruins of the buildings and other structures. That gave both Sabrina and I a chance to stretch our legs and relax in preparation for the rest of that day’s journey. Leaving the parking area, we continued onwards, through Crowsnest and past the infamous Frank Slide site. Here’s a link to the rather sobering story, Alberta’s Frank Slide: When a mountain fell on a town. I did not take photos, but found a good shot of the remnants of the slide in a Flickr gallery by Mike Wood.

I continued on into the Rockies, stopping for the night at Cranbrook, British Columbia. In the morning, I decided to just start driving toward my destination in Portland, Oregon, and just stop for the day when I got tired. About ten hours later, I found myself driving into Portland in the dark, after having crossed into the U.S. in the morning, cutting across the northwest corner of Idaho, then down the western side of Washington state. I crossed the Columbia Gorge and tore up through there as sunset turned to darkness. I’m not a fast driver, and in fact, I barely drive at all, so blasting along the gorge after dark, in the middle of a pack of transport trucks, is not something I would normally attempt. However, I got in behind a truck that looked like it knew where it was going, and followed it all of the way to Portland. Once in the city, I became incredibly lost and had to make a couple of calls to friends living south of the city to try to figure out how to escape. After being told that I was at the “absolutely worst spot to try to get onto I-5” I did manage to straggle on and blend in with the rest of the rat pack racing southwards. Speaking of which, I should be getting onto another interstate to continue on my way and hopefully end these many days of wandering. So this seems like a good place to stop writing for today.

Written by bev on November 15th, 2008

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subtle shapes and colours   8 comments

Posted at 11:55 am in Uncategorized

It seems that the gap between my posts and travels continues to grow day by day. Opportunities to post have been few and far between, so you’re seeing events that happened about three weeks ago. I do plan to close that gap soon — once I am settled in the place I’ve chosen to winter. In the meantime, I’ll provide a quick sketch of where I’ve been since these photos were taken while crossing Saskatchewan in October.

I continued west into Alberta and British Columbia, then turned south at Cranbrook, B.C., crossing through the northwest corner of Idaho, then into the eastern side of Washington state, then down to the north edge of Oregon to travel west along the Columbia Gorge as far as Portland. From there, I began to move south through Oregon, visiting with friends along the way, then into the California redwoods of Del Norte and Humboldt counties. The weather took a serious turn for the worse while I was in the redwoods, so I moved east through the Trinity Alps region, visiting with friends in the Redding area, then on east and south through California and through the edge of Nevada on the way to Arizona. That’s about where I am now, with just a few hundred miles left to go. As mentioned, I will make an effort to post photos from these travels as there were many interesting things to be seen and those, in turn, inspired certain thoughts and ideas which might be nice to put down in writing.

Now, about these photos. While crossing the prairies, I tried to keep a sharp eye out for wildlife. As Clare mentioned in the comments to my last post, there is a lot to be seen while on the prairies. However, it’s a little more subtle than what we might be used to seeing out east where you either don’t see wildlife at all, or you see it up very close. On the prairies, gatherings of creatures are often seen from a great distance, so you must watch for subtle shapes and colours. The geese in the above photo were just such a case. From a couple of miles or more away, they looked like a tornado-shaped swirl of dark specks. As the distance closed, I could make out bird forms that appeared similar. At closer range, I realized that these were geese, probably mainly Canada and Snow Geese. Click on the above photo to see a much larger version. I’ve left it at full size so that you can see the geese better — so you’ll have to scroll around to see areas of the entire image.

Likewise, the below photo doesn’t look like much of anything, does it? However, if you click on it, you’ll see that there is a herd of Pronghorns grazing in a field which has been harvested. I was on the lookout for Pronghorns as I crossed the prairies and spotted them on a number of occasions — always at some distance from the highway, but easy to recognize by their white bellies and rumps. As some of you might remember, I wrote about Pronghorns on my Burning Silo blog two years ago.

Well, I have to get on the road, so must cut this short. However, I just wanted to let everyone know that I’m doing okay, as is Sabrina. We’re a bit weary from our travels and looking forward to settling down to get to know the natural history of one place this coming winter. I’ve been reading everyone’s comments (they come in on my email via the blackberry that I am carrying on this trip). I’m sorry that I haven’t been posting replies, but that’s been difficult and my days have been taken up with cooking over campfires, hiking, shooting photos, packing up the camping gear and moving on, visiting people, and occasionally checking in and out of motels here and there across the landscape. I think of everyone often and try to drop by to visit your blogs when I catch a moment of time on the net here and there. Take care all. I’ll try to put up another post soon. – Bev

Written by bev on November 13th, 2008