Ptarmigan Cirque hike.

Well, I still haven’t finished unpacking from our move and I’ve been filling in a ton of hours for all of my vacationing co-workers on top of my regular shifts (which is why the unpacking isn’t progressing)…but some much-longed-for hiking in the mountains is finally happening this summer!  My brother and my hubby and I recently did a short trek to Ptarmigan Cirque, in Kananaskis Country.  My hubby and I had been up there twice before, and I am always awed by the scenery.  This go-around, the water pools were dried up from the heat and the waterfall was a bit on the skinny side; we also missed the peak wildflower bloom, but the place simply cannot ever disappoint.  This is an immensely rewarding short hike for families and anyone who doesn’t want to tackle a difficult trek.  The challenging part is completed first thing: you’re in the Highwood Pass*, so you start out at an elevation of 2,206 metres (7,239 feet) and then climb up – very quickly, pretty much all in the first kilometre – to 2,414 metres (7,923 feet).  It’s a bit hard to breathe up there, plus there’s all that exercise you’re doing…

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…and then you get to see views like this.  Breathtaking, indeed!

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One of my favourite places in the Rockies! The diversity of plant life up there is incredible….

*Which has the distinction of being “the highest paved pass in Canada.” Meaning, there is a really good road up there, a highway that is open to traffic only six months of the year, to protect critical wildlife habitat. The rest of the time, we can snowshoe and ski on sections of it (see here and here).

 

December blog fun.

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December first: the ice cleats are firmly affixed to my boots and I’m ready to take on the next ten months of winter! (I exaggerate, but only slightly).

I have a ton of really great stuff to share today – here goes:

New to me is this fantastic site: Plant Curator, a wholly-engrossing mix of botany and art.  I seriously could spend hours going through the entries.  This link takes you to some floral-themed art from M.C. Escher, but if his work isn’t to your taste, click on the menu headings at the top of the page to see everything the site has to offer.

The New York Public Library has digitized over 700,000 items, including photographs, maps, manuscripts and video – and it’s all free to everyone with Internet access.  Click over to the site to enjoy this treasure.

Another amazing treat: the over 10,000 cylinder recordings that have been digitized and are available for free from the University of California-Santa Barbara Cylinder Audio Archive.  These are priceless recordings from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s and include music, speeches and readings.

These “shadow” drawings by artist Vincent Bal are just plain clever.

A huge shout-out to some amazing bloggers:

Laurie Graves, of Notes from the Hinterland, has just published her YA novel Maya and the Book of Everything – congratulations, Laurie!  Read about the book and how to order it here.

Have you ever felt this way about a book?  Yeah…I thought so.  Read Margot’s post on Death Defying Acts of Living – I know you’ll agree.

Adrian Thysse has posted some incredible footage of honeybee hive activity – while you feast your eyes on his work, remember that he wasn’t wearing any protective gear while filming!

A fantastic find:

Paul Martin Brown’s book Wild Orchids of the Pacific Northwest and Canadian Rockies (2006, University Press of Florida).  Truly, a valuable resource if you want to ID and learn about western wild orchids.  The keys are easy to use and Brown offers all the botanical info you need, plus notes on history and naming, as well as decent photography and excellent botanical illustrations by Stan Folsom.  Not a book everyone is going to have a use for, but if this is a topic you’re interested in, I’d highly recommend it.

And, finally:

I started a project over at Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction that may interest you if you write flash fiction stories.  There is an open call for submissions now until December 25, so send in your work as soon as possible.  (If you’ve never written flash fiction before, give it a try – it’s a great way to have fun with really short prose).   Please pass along news of this call for subs to any writers you know!

Clipart credit.

Alberta (historical) snapshot: Mount McGillivray bunker.

Now, this was a fascinating find!  A short (about 2 km, one way) hike west from the Heart Creek parking lot near Canmore, Alberta leads you to this gigantic cave carved out of the base of Mount McGillivray.  My hubby and I headed out there a few weeks ago to check it out.

There is plenty of speculation about the purpose of this huge excavation, but it seems that a private enterprise called The Rocky Mountain Vault and Archive Company started digging it out in the late 1960’s, presumably so that they could rent space to individuals and corporations to store documents (in the event that the Cold War took a nasty turn, perhaps?). You can read more about their ambitious plans for the site here (it was slated to become operational in 1970) – but there doesn’t seem to be any information about why they never finished the project. At any rate, it’s an amazing place to visit (and fortunately, there weren’t any creepy Hallowe’en masks hanging from the ceiling when we went – my heart wouldn’t have been able to handle the fright).

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Looking towards the entranceway from inside the vault.  

Ha Ling Peak and roseroot.

In early July, my hubby and I hiked up the south face of Ha Ling Peak, a popular trek in Canmore, Alberta (located about 105 km west of Calgary).  You can climb the peak on the north side, but we’re hardly that intrepid!  🙂  As it was, the elevation gain of 700 m was plenty enough for an utter lazy bones like me to tackle, and the multiple stops for water and to catch my breath afforded me the chance to do some wildflower hunting.  Near the summit, growing in the gravelly scree and heavy rocks at almost 2,407 m, we spotted this gem, Sedum rosea (aka Tolmachevia integrifolia):

According to the resource Wildflowers of the Canadian Rockies by George W. Scotter and Halle Flygare (reprint 2000, Alpine Book Peddlers, Canmore), this perennial is commonly called roseroot – not to be confused with Rhodiola rosea, another roseroot of northern climes that is purported to have all sorts of medicinal benefits.  (Of course, it just so happens the two plants are very closely related, and Sedum rosea is/was also known as Rhodiola integrifolia.  Having fun yet?)    Another common name for Sedum rosea is king’s crown – but it isn’t the same plant as the lovely tropical Justica carnea, which has the same moniker.  Ugh!  Plant names!

Although the plants we saw possessed only clusters of bright red flowers, the male flowers can be either yellow or red, while the females are always red.  Both male and female flowers may be present in each cluster.  The plants are small, befitting their alpine setting – the ones we saw were no taller than 10 cm.  The succulent leaves are apparently tasty in salads when young, although given that Scott and Flygare list the plant as “rare,” I wouldn’t want to dine on them.  (I’m not certain if the plant is rare only in this part of the world, as a site I found out of the States designates them “common”).

And, yes, we did make it to the top of Ha Ling Peak – here are a couple of shots of the incredible view:

Peace and quiet in the Winter Garden.

Although it officially opened in 2010, I hadn’t yet been to the Winter Garden in Calgary’s ultra-modern, 38-storey Jamieson Place, right in the heart of downtown.  Appropriately, the snow was lightly falling and the wind was blowing when my husband and I finally made our outing to the Garden last Friday afternoon.  What a treat for a chilly day!  A quick ride up the escalator from street level takes you adjacent to the Plus 15 walkway system, where the 25,000 square foot garden (the largest indoor garden in Canada) is located.  Minimalist in design, the Winter Garden features massive stands of tall black bamboo and snake plants (Sansevieria trifasciata) framing a beautiful dark infinity pool and pods of black leather couches for seating.   Exterior glass walls border the garden on the north and the east, with a skylight above – and even on such a cloudy, grey day, the light quality was impressive.  And glass – in sculptural form – hangs from the ceiling above the pool:  famed artist Dale Chihuly‘s stunning three-piece installation Winter Garden Chandeliers seems to warmly glow from within.

Dale Chihuly’s Winter Garden Chandeliers were made of over 400 pieces of glass and assembled in the garden itself. 

But the standout feature of the Winter Garden is the biowall that anchors the west side.  An incredible 22 feet high and 100 feet wide over two panels, the wall contains 20,000 plants (over 20 different varieties).  The wall is a hydroponic system, with the plants plugged into a soilless grid.  Fertilizer injections and drip irrigation are governed by a computer.

The Winter Garden biowall

The coolest thing about the wall is that it was designed to artfully represent the foothills and majesty of the Canadian Rockies, which lie to the west of Calgary:  each plant variety was deliberately chosen according to foliage, texture and form  to stand in for the land’s striking topography.   While I admit, I couldn’t quite “see” the geographical influence on the piece, especially up close, it is simply amazing to stand there and gape at all those plants in such a perfect and pleasing arrangement.

The Winter Garden is a definite must-see (at any time of year) if you find yourself in downtown Calgary.  There is a cafe on the main floor as well, so you can buy yourself a tea and take it upstairs to enjoy it in the peace and serenity of the garden.  If I worked in the area I would spend every lunch break there!  🙂

And see more of Dale Chihuly’s art.