Monthly Archives: August 2014
Brooks and the wonder of aqueducts
So, July 4th (an American Day of import, I am told, and the day before the wedding which prompted this whole trip) was spent with our friends, Darren and Dallas, in Brooks, Alberta (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brooks,_Alberta, http://www.brooks.ca/). They are optometrists – Kevin went to school with them – with 3 boys (4, 2, and 3 months – I don’t know HOW they do it!) I should say, 3, at first very shy, and then very active and not shy at all, boys.
We slept in a bit, then began a relaxing day of no commitments. After a nice lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant with our friends, Darren took the afternoon off to drive us around Brooks to see the sights. Now, Brooks is an interesting town. My sister-in-law says whenever they (her and Kevin and their parents) drove through Brooks, they were told to close their noses, Brooks being famous (infamous?) for its meat-packing industry. It is also part of a big farming community, not surprising given its location, and yet at the same time actually a bit surprising given its location in one of the driest areas of Alberta.
Anyway, for a variety of job-related reasons, Brooks is home to immigrants from all over the world, including the Philippines and many parts of Africa. So it’s actually quite diverse, although I do wonder how all these folks survive the winters there (this last one was especially brutal and long). The diversity has definitely become a strong part of the Brooks community as a whole, however, as we heard stories of community events, one for example, where everyone got together for a “food fair” where people just brought food from their own countries, made in their own kitchens, to sell. Not something that would probably pass health inspector muster in larger centres, but it did sound like it was a really fun event!
Another interesting aspect of Brooks that I was unaware of until this day, is that there are aqueducts. Yes – aqueducts which have been designated an official Provincial Historic Site, and which are definitely worth a visit if you’re ever in the area. Who knew Brooks had aqueducts? I should note that they are not used now, but they were from about 1912 until the 1970s (1979 according to the website). And they have quite the story behind them.
Here are some websites giving some basic information about these cool aqueducts.
There is, however, a lot more to tell about the aqueducts than one can find at these websites. We heard the following anecdotes from the student guide who manned the station at the aqueducts. I’m glad Parks Canada is still hiring summer students!
Anyway, built around 1912 to move water from the Bow River, the aqueducts (which were 3 kilometers long) were necessary so that people could farm in the area, given that Brooks is pretty much a desert. They were built with Portland cement, but without consideration for the salt content in the soil in the area. So, by the end of the first year, the cement was beginning to degrade from the salt in the soil and the supports needed to be reinforced. After a few years, they also realized that the slope of the aqueducts was not sufficient to keep the water moving through at a rate that would keep it fresh, so as water sat, things began to grow in the water, slowing it down. I can’t imagine the work that would have been involved trying to keep those 3 kilometers of aqueducts clear. Apparently the aqueducts were also great places to fish back in the day. I wish I could have seen a picture of people sitting on the sides of the aqueducts, fishing poles in the water.
After 60+ years of late-found mistakes and overwhelming maintenance, the aqueducts were abandoned in favour of ground-level canals which you can see right next to the old aqueducts.
After our tour of the aqueducts, we took a quick drive around the man-made lake outside of Brooks, Lake Newell (http://www.visitnewell.com/). A surprising, and huge, oasis on a very hot day!
Then back for a relaxing dinner and a short walk around downtown Brooks and the park.
Don’t know what the story is here…
Dallas said she didn’t think there was still a bum living there, but it was interesting that someone thought it was good to point it out:
And here are a couple of hotels in Brooks, across the street from each other, where you might think twice about staying…
The next day would be a short (4 hours) drive to the wedding!
Part 2: Sights along the way to Brooks – and the madness that are Lake Louise and Banff!
After leaving the lovely Heather Mountain Inn, we headed towards Golden (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden,_British_Columbia) and beyond. There are not a lot of stops between Golden and Lake Louise, our first stop on our way to Brooks, Alberta, but the scenery is wonderful.
The highway is, however, very windy (not blowing with wind, but winding around and around and up and down until some may throw up windy) and high up, as well as surrounded by mountains.
There were lots of these kind of strange tunnel things on this stretch…
We decided to stop at Lake Louise (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Louise,_Alberta) well, because it’s Lake Louise.
But, it is also Lake Louise in July – at the beginning of July, between Canada Day and July 4th (an American holiday of some note, I hear tell). It’s an interesting juxtaposition. Lake Louise is beautiful, but not when it’s wall to wall cars struggling to find parking, and people everywhere. And I mean everywhere. Not pretty at all. But we still stopped. Well, it took a while to stop, as we drove through the entire free parking area before giving up and moving ourselves to the hotel underground paid parking area. Once parked, we took a very quick tour of the area around the hotel to see the iconic view. We both had been there before, so it really was kind of funny – going all the way to Lake Louise for a quick in and out. We were there for so short a time that the hotel didn’t even charge us for parking, so all the driving around the free parking was wasted. But it did remind us of the insanity of the touristy nature of Lake Louise.
And speaking of touristy, our next quick stop was Banff (http://www.banff.ca/). Banff has changed a lot since I was first there (three or four lifetimes ago). Kevin goes there every year to work the sound for the annual vocal jazz festival (LINK), but it’s been awhile since I was last there. What a zoo! We drove around a bit and took a few photos of the Banff Springs Hotel (http://www.fairmont.com/banff-springs/),
and then visited Bows Falls (http://www.banff.com/banff-helpers/things-to-do-in-banff/bow-falls/)
After the falls, I decided it was time for ice cream – a hot summer afternoon, of COURSE it was time for ice cream. Do you think we could find an ice cream store in Banff? Only one, but when we walked in, it seemed that everyone else in Banff had also decided it was time for ice cream, so we got back into the car and drove to Canmore (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canmore,_Alberta) for ice cream. Canmore is a cute little town (originally a coal mining town) and is the place Brokeback Mountain was filmed. Apparently. We wandered around a bit as we had our ice cream, just to see the sights (since we could – unlike Lake Louise and Banff, we did not have to fight wall to wall people to see those there sights). I can’t show you any of the sights, because apparently I did not take any pictures in Canmore. I think it was a combination of just wanting to eat my ice cream, and just being tired of taking pictures. So, apologies – maybe next time!
And then, our tourist side trips completed, we headed off for the last leg of the trip through Calgary and to Brooks Alberta. The scenery was changing dramatically. The mountains were behind us, and then so were the foothills as we entered the beginning of the prairie stretch of our journey.
And, while the drive through Calgary (http://www.calgary.ca/SitePages/cocis/default.aspx) is not really very interesting, we did see one thing worthy of a photo along the way. I wonder what the story behind this building is and what happened to W.A. Gough.
And then, suddenly, no more mountains, no more foothills. Just prairie as far as the eye can see.
And finally, our destination for the evening, and the next day: Brooks, Alberta!
Part 1: Glacier National Park and waking up Heather Mountain Lodge
It was unfortunate that we didn’t get to really see Glacier National Park (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glacier_National_Park_%28Canada%29). It reminded me of when Kevin and I pick guests up from the airport out here in Victoria late at night (guests always seem to arrive at night…) and drive them home the scenic route, saying “imagine if you will, the mountains on the other side of the water”. Anyway, Glacier National Park (and we’re talking about the one in Canada, in British Columbia to be exact) extends from just outside of Revelstoke to Golden and contains Rogers Pass (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rogers_Pass_%28British_Columbia%29). We didn’t see Rogers Pass either. It was dark. My understanding is that it’s high.
So, yes. Our trip to Heather Mountain Lodge took place in the slowly darkening sky, but there seemed to be a lot of traffic on the single lane highway (except for passing sections) and a lot of trucks. I was sure glad I wasn’t driving. We were quite worried we had missed our stop since we were waiting for the sign after the park sign (as the woman on the phone told us). However, we knew we were ok when we saw the time change sign – entering Mountain Standard Time (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_Time_Zone) – ah, Wikipedia, where would I be without you (note that I didn’t just look at Wikipedia – it’s just that often times the Wikipedia entries were much more interesting, comprehensive, and nicer to look at than other, more “official” websites). We knew that Heather Mountain Lodge is on Mountain time, so we became even more vigilant, and soon, there was the sign on the left side of the road. After a sharp turn off the highway, we arrived at our final stop for the evening at Heather Mountain Lodge (http://www.heathermountainlodge.com/)
We pulled up in pitch blackness, but soon saw the main lodge building, next to a motel structure. And sure enough, taped to the front door, was an envelope with Kevin’s name on it and the number of our room. Kevin picked up the key, and we unloaded the car (it was pretty dark – I wondered what critters were hanging out in the trees next to the car) and we headed down the “hallway” to our room.
The room was nothing special, but it was large and clean and comfy.
And there was wifi – phew! We cracked open a bottle of wine we had picked up in Revelstoke, and sat back to relax after a long day on the road. Then, sleep.
The next morning we woke up feeling pretty good, but wondering what scenery would await us in daylight.
Knowing checkout was at 11:00, we headed down to the lodge building to see about breakfast (the woman on the phone had mentioned that the lodge had a restaurant, which was also one of the reasons we decided to stay there). It was a pretty cool looking building. It’s not an old building by any means, having been built in 1996, but it had the look of a ski or mountain lodge, and the breakfast was good – and they made lattes! Yay! Check out their website ((http://www.heathermountainlodge.com/) to see some nice pictures of the inside of the lodge with their huge stone fireplace.
Here is the scenery from the restaurant:
With a pond and a little garden in the back
And here is the lodge building:
With the motel section off to the side:
So, after a nice hearty breakfast, we settled out bill and got our stuff back into the car, and headed off. Destination: Brooks, Alberta.
Part 2: Sights along the way: day 1 into the evening
Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford (endless city), Hope, Kamloops, Salmon Arm, Sicamous, Revelstoke, and finally to the Heather Mountain Lodge, just before Golden, where we finally stopped for the night.
Along Highway 1 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Columbia_Highway_1) to our first stop, there is lots of incredible scenery. Mountains, lakes, trees. I knew we would be seeing lots of changing scenery over the next few days, driving from the Island to the Prairies, so I just started shooting pictures from the car. More of them turned out well than I thought, given that we were driving on the highway in a sports car, and I was reticent to roll down the windows while we were driving. So, many of the pictures did turn out a blur of speed, and some, towards the end of the day when I was trying to shoot pictures of where we were going through the front window, were shots of scenes through a screen of bug goo. One of the hazards of driving on the highway in the summer, especially as the day draws to a close.
Of course, the mountains, being made of rock, are subject to rock slides. So, netting is everywhere, keeping the mountain from piling onto the highway.
Lots of places along the way, where we did NOT stop. No stopping on this leg of the journey. Stops on the trip to the wedding were for the most part reserved for gas, the occasional meal, perhaps a desperation coffee, although, as you will see, we did make the obligatory stops in Lake Louise and Banff for a few photo ops. Getting out of Vancouver involved driving through Surrey, Langley (where we did make a quick stop for sunscreen at a London Drugs after realizing we were baking through the sunroof – a sunroof is a wonderful thing, but it IS all about the sun shining down on you through the roof!). Then through Abbotsford – an endless train of city, dotted with farmland and signs hawking fresh fruits. Then, the stretch to Hope (http://hopebc.ca/).
Hope is where the Coquihalla highway and Highway 3 (the Crowsnest) meet to merge with Highway 1. It’s also where they filmed Rambo First Blood. But if you’re going to ask me where the name Hope came from, I can’t tell you. Although some do say that wherever you travel from, the rest of BC is beyond Hope.
After Hope, the next major city is Kamloops (http://www.city.kamloops.bc.ca/index.shtml) , and then the cities get smaller. Salmon Arm (http://www.salmonarm.ca/) , Sicamous (http://www.sicamous.ca/) , and finally Revelstoke.
One of the other hazards of the mountains is going downhill…fast.
By the time we hit Revelstoke, we were hungry and decided that perhaps it was time to stop for the night. Well, at least grab dinner and then decide what to do. The sun was getting close to setting, and single-lane mountain pass highways aren’t a lot of fun to drive on in the dark. So, we cruised around downtown Revelstoke for a bit, and finally settled on, of all things, a sushi restaurant. We were both shaking our heads as we come from a city that has some of the best sushi anywhere, but to our surprise, it was pretty good. And just what we wanted after a long hot driving day.
Well, I guess technically I was just riding since Kevin did all the driving, but it was still long and hot. Anyway, after a nice dinner, we thought about what to do. Being folks that don’t go anywhere without the “I” devices (I tell you, the moments on the road when there was no service were a bit disturbing…) Kevin googled “places to stay between Revelstoke and Golden (the next city, and ONLY city/place to get gas on the route, after Revelstoke). He found the Heather Mountain Lodge (love Google!) So, he gave them a quick phone call from the car, and asked if they had a room. They did. Where were they? About halfway between Revelstoke and Golden (i.e., about 30 minutes away). BUT the front office was closing in 15 minutes (at 10:30). But it was only 9:15? Ah, but the Heather Mountain Lodge is on Mountain Time, whereas Revelstoke is still on Pacific Time. Can we book the room over the phone? Yes – and I will tape the key to the door of the office/lodge. How will we find it? We have a big sign – you can’t miss it! Okey dokey then. Room booked, off we went.
Did I mention she said about halfway between Revelstoke and Golden? Hmmm… More on Heather Mountain Lodge (and the getting to it) in my next post!