|Alberta has something for everyone
Today we drove from Alberta’s flat-as-a-pool-table plain, to it’s watch-out-for-falling-rocks mountain range. A change like that can be a shock to your system - especially when you do it in a couple of hours!
We’ve been in Canada for six weeks now. We’ve zigzagged north and south, as we moved from east to west. We’ve seen a lot - but none of it prepares you for the Canadian Rockies. This is rock on steroids. Rock pushed up by some incomprehensible force, then tilted on it’s side to make it photogenic. On the plains you can see a grain elevator for miles. Here you can’t see past the mountain in front of you - and that’s usually pretty close.
We shouldn’t be surprised. It’s not like we haven’t been here before. We saw these mountains first in 1988, when we spent 17 days at the Calgary Winter Olympics. Since then we’ve returned twice, driving the Icefields Parkway and skiing at Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise. We even skied Nakiska once. I did the hardest face plant of my life on the course where Pirmin Zurbriggen won the Men’s Downhill Race in ‘88.
But flatland makes us forget the majesty of this place. Where every view is so riveting you can run off the road (or hit a mountain sheep) because you can’t take your eyes off the peaks. Where you want to point your camera at everything around you, and hold the shutter down until your battery goes dead. This is the most beautiful scenery in Canada - and it doesn’t get much better than this in the rest of the world.
Coming from the east the landscape changes gradually. First from flat plain to gentle rolling hills, then from gentle rolling hills to higher rolling hills. But you’re still on the prairie when you first see the mountains. Actually the first thing you see is the cloudbank over the mountains - the cloudbank that lives there and never leaves, dumping rain in the summer and snow in the winter. In a few more miles the mountains take shape, stretched across the horizon as far as you can see.
We came in thirty miles south of Calgary, entering the range on Highway 40 through the Kananaskis Valley. The road follows a river through a succession of provincial parks. Several parks warn of mountain sheep on the road, and they are definitely an obstacle and can be a hazard. They are used to cars and they ignore them, standing in the road while cars thread their way around them. The traffic jam is made worse by people stopping to take pictures of them.
Toward the end we came to Nakiska and we turned in to take a nostalgic look at the ‘88 Olympic Alpine venue. The road was closed, but I walked past the gate and took some pictures of Mount Allen and the ski runs. A rush of good memories came flooding back and it was good to see it again.
Highway 40 ends at Highway 1. Here you can either turn right and go back through Calgary to the prairie, or you can turn left into the most magnificent scenery you’ll ever see. We turned left and grabbed the first campsite we came to. Tomorrow is another day, but for tonight we need time to acclimate. Scenery shock is seldom fatal but it can take time to adjust.