Rocky Mountain High
On a drive through the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, Canada, a road trip turns into a voyage of discovery.
I grew up in the shadow of Canada‘s Rocky Mountains, but didn’t realize how much I missed them after I moved away. The first time I returned, the jolt of seeing these raw outcroppings of rock made me realize why I needed a regular mountain fix.
When a friend suggested a road trip, we brainstormed and planned to head through the mountains, from southern Alberta’s Cowboy Trail, south on the Crowsnest Pass Highway through the Rockies, into northern Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille region.
Heading southwest from Calgary, the Rocky Mountains are far in the distance, and the broad, rolling hills outside the city are part of cattle country. We saw more beef cattle than people in that part of the province, as we drove along the Cowboy Trail.
As we continued driving, the flat land was becoming scarce, the hills got higher, the mountains got closer, and the forest started to take over from the grasslands. My friend’s first stop was to pull over near Frank, Alberta, the site of the Frank Slide in 1903:
Eighty-two million tonnes of limestone crashed down Turtle Mountain, sliding right into the small town, population 600. All that rock covered about two square kilometres in less than two minutes.
Several pathways lead from the interpretative centre to head into the heart of the Frank Slide area. Hiking into the landscape, with its varying heights of limestone boulders, rocks, pebbles and every size in between, I got my first dose of being up close to a mountain.
Seeing plants and trees growing between boulders made me realize the slow changes made by Mother Nature in the past 100 years. There are the pockets of the original landscape of mountain, an alternating combination of trees, bushes and wildflowers, but it’s the boulders from Turtle Mountain that capture visitors’ attention.
As we kept heading southwest on the Crowsnest Highway, we were now in the thick of the Rockies, crossing the border from Alberta into British Columbia, with the highway snaking its way as the slabs of snow-topped rock loomed far above. For me, driving through the mountains was like getting a warm hug from an old friend.
I liked seeing the rock up close and the occasional waterfall, a side effect of the melting snow as the warmth of early summer started to effect the mountain landscape. Small wildflowers were peeking out, adding a dash of purple or yellow against the shades of gray and green.
Arriving at the American border to cross into Idaho, the landscape changed again, with lower mountains on one side and open valleys to our right. Within an hour we were driving across Lake Pend Oreille, and ended our drive in Sandpoint, at our rented cabin on the edge of the lake. The mountains surrounded us again, but at a distance, ringed by the forest.
When we sat on the deck of our rented cabin, we toasted the first day of our road trip, watching the late afternoon light accent the mountains, and planning our next day of getting up close and personal with the mountains again.