QC2BC12: The Rockies

QC2BC12: The Rockies (2020/08/02)

We pulled out of our Medicine Hat campsite onto the highway, past the malls of the city, and the world’s largest teepee (according to the tourist signs), dipped down into the lovely river valley and continued west. It promises to be a momentous day since will be moving out the prairie landscapes into the foothills and mountains of the Rockies.

I always love this part of the journey not just because of the proximity of the mountains but also as a result of their formation. The idea of the earth pushing against the prairie crust and buckling into huge mountains, carrying with them all the records of what was taking place at the bottom of the sea millions of years ago is a moving and exciting thing to consider and see.

It reminds me of the important fossils finds related to this process–like the Burgess Shale just northwest of here or even the lovely stories coming out of our experience in the New Rural Economy project when we visited Tumbler Ridge (http://nre.concordia.ca).

For that matter, the whole trip has been an experience in major geological changes. Starting with the ancient remnants of the Canadian Shield and its history of forces grinding and shaping huge mountainous regions, traveling across the enormous flatlands of the prairies, the remains of lake beds and river erosion, then traveling through the relatively new formations represented by the Rockies (still taking shape) is one of the most exciting features of this trip.

The land west of Medicine Hat is a continuation of the rolling hills and flat prairie lands that we saw at its eastern side. The mixture of ranching and farming recalls for me the Oklahoma ditty arguing that the ranchers and farmers should be friends. In Alberta I’m not sure if that is still an issue but the many oil pumps suggest that the oil patch people have to be included along with the ranchers and farmers. We will see what it takes to make them all friends–perhaps a more substantial cleanup of the many abandoned wells.

Passing by the turn-off to Hussar we gave a wave to another of the New Rural Economy field sites. It’s a small town just north of Highway #1. It is also close to¬† the Hutterite holdings we visited several years ago (The Rosebud Colony, I believe) and the interesting way in which they integrate family farming, social activities, education, community engagement, and religious principles. Once again, it is unfortunate we don’t have the time to take in a visit and see how things might have changed from the last time we went by.

The Rosebud Colony is one of the more progressive communities that I’ve visited. Not only do they conduct a variety of farming operations, but they have trained themselves in firefighting, purchased a fire truck with full equipment, and attend training sessions in Calgary. They now provide firefighting services throughout the region. They are also actively engaged with other nearby communities, not only with respect to sports, but with shared projects as well. For example, they erected the steel framework for one of the local community arenas.

Just after the turn-off to Drumheller, we could see the tallest buildings of Calgary–over 30 km away. My eyes were focusing farther than that, however, as I strained to glimpse the mountains behind the city. Unfortunately, it was a misty day, so I had to wait almost ’til we reached the bypass around Calgary before I could see the long line of mountains on the horizon.

The road from Calgary to Kenmore is one of the most spectacular roads in the country as far as I’m concerned–especially after driving for days across the prairies. In the space of a half an hour one moves from a vision of the mountain as a silhouette against the horizon to one with the mountains towering over the road. On the way, every turn seems to be new, more interesting, and more exciting. Taking a photo to represent this change is a major challenge because every time we took a photo (and think “Okay we’ve got the best of that transition”), we would go around another corner and see a more spectacular shot.

This may just be musings of a man who has grown up in the mountains, but I expect that most people share this wonder simply because of the significant difference in landscapes from the prairies to the Rockies. I’m not sure that traveling for three days on the prairies is a necessary ingredient for the impact but it certainly has provided a strong indicator for this section of the journey.

Just as the mountains have changed the broad landscape, the vegetation has radically changed within the last half an hour. Once in the foothills we were travelling through pine and spruce forests with deciduous trees no longer dominant. My attention was also drawn to the major rock strata showing in the exposed mountains. It’s no wonder early geologists quickly recognized the way in which these mounds had been pushed up from a horizontal position.

Another interesting feature of the landscape is the change in the colour of the water. The rivers are now grey-blue since they carry the silt from the melting ice above. They remind us that the transformation of the land is still underway.

Our goal for the night was a campsite in Camrose–and an appointment with one of our previous students. David worked mostly with Fran on her sex-work research and is now an Associate Professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary. The enjoyment of the achievements and successes of our students goes a long way to reducing the vague anxiety of our aging.

Exchanging stories and updating our current status with an old friend was a perfect end for one of the most dramatic days of our journey. We settled in for the night anticipating the wonders to come as we made our way across the Rockies and down to the western foothills of Sicamous.