Alberta snapshot: Johnston Canyon (past the Upper Falls).

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Admission to Canada’s national parks has been free all year as the country celebrates its sesquicentennial, but it’s a gift I hadn’t yet enjoyed…until braving the insane long-weekend crowds in Banff’s Johnston Canyon last Saturday.  Parking was at a premium (thank goodness my brother has a car with a supremely compact exterior and a dimension-bending interior) and the steel catwalks to the spectacular falls were crammed with visitors, but as we ventured past the Upper Falls and headed towards the mineral pools known as the Ink Pots, the throngs thinned out and the scenery kept getting better and better…if such a thing is even possible.  It’s pretty easy to see why everyone is so keen on showing up.

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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).

 

Alberta snapshot: Ghost Reservoir.

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Dropping in with a quick entry…I’m still swamped with a pile of projects but it’s good to take a breather. Plans for a couple of hours of ice fishing today were quashed by howling Chinook winds and, in many places, nearly a foot of water rushing over top of the ice. For several weeks prior to this, our temperatures were in the mid-minus twenties (Celsius) and today we were sitting at almost thirty five degrees warmer. This ice boat we found sitting on the lake may wind up in the drink if this keeps up!

Alberta (historical) snapshot: East Coulee trestle bridge.

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Another image from our trip to the Badlands a few weeks ago….  The East Coulee bridge was an essential link required by the CNR and CPR railways to cross the Red Deer River and service both the Monarch and Atlas coal mines, as well as enable coal delivery by train throughout the region. The bridge was built in 1936 but was destroyed by flooding 12 years later and had to be reconstructed.  It was in use until the 1970’s, when the Atlas Mine closed.  The Howe Truss design is truly unique – this is the only wooden railway bridge still standing in Canada that has this boxy design.  Well, barely standing, that is…the deck is completely rotting out and although there is a big push to save this amazing piece of architecture and history, it will be an expensive fix if it is undertaken.  My family has a personal connection to East Coulee:  my Dad spent part of his childhood there, as he and his family lived in the village while my Grandpa worked at the Atlas mine.  In his memoir, my Grandpa wrote about East Coulee:

In November 1952, East Coulee had a population of about two thousand; there was a school for grade one to nine, two grocery stores, one hardware store, a lumber yard, a bakery, two vehicle repair shops, a hotel with beer parlor and also a small church.  A wooden railroad bridge, which also served for vehicle traffic, connected East Coulee with the mines on the right side of the river and the Monarch camp, which was a separate little hamlet with its own school, store, and hotel with beer parlor.

Alberta snapshot: The Badlands.

Instead of trekking out to the mountains, my hubby and I took an afternoon roadtrip to the Badlands a couple of weeks ago.  We didn’t do much hiking on this go, opting instead to take in the jaw-dropping scenery (it never gets old, no matter how many times you’ve been there), cross a ridiculously terrifying suspension footbridge, picnic with garter snakes on the banks of the river, and linger over drinks and grub at the Last Chance Saloon.  An absolutely perfect day!

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Horsethief Canyon, Drumheller 

It seems so appropriate that there was a turkey vulture and a couple of large crows feasting on a gopher carcass on the highway as we drove towards Horsethief Canyon.  It’s not difficult to imagine that, way back when, unsavoury characters hid stolen horses in this place – the canyon seems to stretch on forever.

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The 117 metre (384 foot) long Star Mine Suspension Bridge in Rosedale may be an easy crossing for some, but as many of you may recall, I have an insane phobia of heights. The bridge was originally built in 1931 for mine workers to use to commute to work (the mine was located in the hillside that you can see behind the bridge upright).  Of course, the bridge had a wooden deck at that time, which is far more anxiety-inducing than the metal construction the Alberta government replaced it with in 1958.

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The hamlet of Wayne is in the Guiness Book of World Records because in order to get to it, you have to cross the “most bridges in the shortest distance.”  In the 6 kilometres (3.73 miles) between Rosedale and Wayne, you encounter 11 bridges (most of them one lane only).  We stopped to eat at the empty municipal campground, and while my hubby was photographing a couple of wandering garter snakes (Thamnophis elegans) we found in a nearby hole, I was busy gawking wildly around and coiling the ol’ reflexes so I could drop my pasta salad and spring up onto the nearest bench as soon as those snakes (or any others) decided to make a slithering bid for my feet.

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In the few milliseconds I was not on snake watch, I enjoyed the view of the lazy, muddy Red Deer River.

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The Last Chance Saloon in Wayne is a famous landmark, having appeared in several films and commercials.  The interior is stuffed to the rafters with fascinating antiques and artefacts of historical significance to the area, as well as souvenirs from visitors from all over the world.  The adjacent Rosedeer Hotel, which we didn’t go into, is purportedly haunted – apparently, the third floor has been completely sealed off for decades, with much speculation as to why.