Thursday, February 28, 2008

More Calgary trip photos

I'm always entranced by the tidbits of local colour that other people share on their blogs, and often wish that I had some local colour of my own to share. But then I remember that my local colour is commonplace to me, and probably I just don't appreciate how exotic it is because I'm steeped in it. The kids had the camera out while we were driving to Calgary last weekend and snapped a bunch of pretty ordinary pictures that, now that I think about it, illustrate a little of the uniqueness of our corner of the world.

Shortly after we leave home we take a ferry. We're nowhere near the ocean or any really big lakes, but there's so little traffic here, and the lakes are so darned deep, that a bridge is impractical. So instead the government runs these little ferries. They're considered part of the highway system and as such they're free. They run every hour from about 6 a.m. to almost midnight. The trip takes about 15 minutes. Most people just stay in their vehicles, though in summer sometimes they get out and stand on the deck and socialize. We often see people we know on the ferry. Here you can see typical Kootenay traffic in front of us: a logging truck is pulling forward and a heavy-duty pickup truck is next in line. "Chip trucks" are very common ferry traffic as well, bringing waste wood chips from sawmills north of us to the pulp mill to the south of us.

At this time of year, this scene is fairly inevitable. Traffic is stopped for "delays up to two hours" for avalanche control and snow-clearing. This is time for me to pull out my knitting, and the kids to get out snacks, change seats, dig around in the back of the van for a book, release their seatbelts and maybe stretch their legs. As it turned out we didn't have any delays over 20 minutes on this trip. And at one such line-up, in the dark, a nice guy was going up and down the row of vehicles with a can of spray cleaner and a cloth taking the dried mud-and-slush off everyone's headlights for them. People are pretty friendly.

Here's an alternative to avalanche and snow-clearing delays. This is an avalanche shed, a sort of above-ground tunnel of concrete set into the side of a steep, avalanche-prone slope. The roof of the shed provides a way for frequent avalanches to cross over the highway without obstructing it. There are eight of these on the Rogers Pass.

Here's what we do in each of the eight avalanche sheds. Do families all over the planet hold their breaths when passing through tunnels? This isn't something I did as a kid, but I heard about it somewhere after I became a parent and it became an instant tradition. The second-most-easterly tunnel is the one that sometimes defeats our breath-holding determination. It's very long, and when the weather is bad and big trucks are puttering along at a mere 40 km/hr it takes almost a minute to drive through. The driver has been given permission to start breathing again when she begins to get dizzy.

And signs like this are all over our corner of BC -- "Avalanche area, Zone D'avalanche, no stopping." I used to think "Huh? They're perfectly happy to let you spend three minutes driving through the avalanche zone, but they don't want you to spend the extra 1 minute it would take to snap a picture or wipe your kid's nose?" But now I know that it's not just the extra time they're concerned about -- it's the car-door-slamming. The sound can be the perfect trigger for a slide.

Every time we drive to Calgary we encounter some sort of significant highway accident. Usually it's a transport truck that has plowed into the ditch or missed a curve and dumped its load in the median strip. Twice these have occured within a minute or two of us rounding the curve in question -- thankfully going in the opposite direction both times. One trip there was a major accident and fire that closed the whole highway for several hours at a series of tight steep rocky curves. It's enough to keep the driver of our van on her toes. She'll be happy when winter driving is done for the year. Likely by the end of April the snow will no longer factor in the driving, so that means only one more winter trip across the Rockies this year.

When I was in my early 20's I dreamed and dreamed of seeing the Rocky Mountains, of travelling through them, of experiencing their size and beauty and stark aloofness. I'd never seen a mountain of any size, let alone the young raw peaks of the Rockies. I thought of the Rockies as pretty exotic. My kids have been raised in the mountains. They're spoiled by all the natural splendour they're surrounded by ... but at least they're still impressed enough to take occasional photos.


  1. We don't hold our breath for tunnels. We go "oooooo" all the way through. Bridges get "wheeeee". This was something I did as a kid and passed on to mine. We've some pretty long tunnels around and I don't think I could hold my breath.

  2. It is all beautiful. We have a few ferries in our state to cross Lake Michigan or Superior in the summer - but nothing as frequent along the highway as you have. How fun, although I don't know I would have the patience you sound like you have with several kids delayed for hours along the way for this and that. :) All relative though.

    We held our breath in tunnels as kids. I grew up in Missouri!

  3. We definitely held our breath through tunnels, absolutely! And past graveyards as well.

  4. Not breath holders here but wanted to thank you for sharing the beautiful photos from your area. What breathtaking scenery you are blessed with!

  5. Oh, thanks so much for the local color! I had seen avalanche gates to close the highway between Seward and Anchorage in Alaska, but I had never even heard of avalanche sheds. This was fun to read, and you, know, when I put local color posts on my blog, I often think they are ordinary, too! But yours are not at all ordinary to me, and I enjoy the pictures of the Canadian Rockies, your stories about bears and ice-skating rinks, and your trips to Calgary.

    N. says: "Neat-o!"

  6. Miranda, your blog is full of local colour! Every time you mention drying your washing somewhere that isn't just on the line outside, or the ice rink in your backyard it is fascinatinly bizarre to us from Africa!


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