Road trips usually end up back home. Even though I’m old enough to know better, I can’t resist a side-trip wild goose chase, but even I remember that you never really know you’ve been on a wild goose chase until you get there, wherever “there” is.
We’ll get to my wild goose chase later. We are both southerners, me from the southeast, Brooks and area, Herself a ranch girl from west of Pincher Creek.
This mid-July trip was to renew our heritage and roots in the remarkable southwest corner of Alberta I call “Contrary Country,” and for me to assess how the area’s rivers and streams I so love have come through the floods.
Then, time-permitting, I might get to that wild goose chase.
Nearing Calgary on the QE2, we followed a “Live Fish Transport” truck capped with kayaks, and I wondered if it had been involved in the rescue of more than 5,000 stranded fish from the Bow and Elbow River floods.
The Bow was still high and off-colour, coming down somewhat, but the debris-strewn mud flats were still steaming.
The Highwood River was still plain scary; the Sheep River less so, but it had closed the Hwy 22 bridge, thus preventing us lunching at the finest all-day breakfast restaurant in Alberta, the Chuckwagon in Turner Valley.
Good places to eat are essential on road trips, so we looked for lunch in Okotoks. Bistro Provence was closed for the week for a family holiday and, favourite of many for years, Divine, is closed, permanently, apparently.
I’ll miss the best lamb burger and fixin’s in Alberta. So, right across the street, we try Aditya and were delighted with their Tandoori specialties, including superb Naan bread.
The Oldman River was a mess near the junction of QE2 with Hwy 3.
Upstream, to the west, near Brockett, the Oldman seemed even worse, particularly the recently-inundated flood plain where Pincher Creek enters the big river.
This is all downstream of the supposedly controlling Three Rivers Dam, so I shuddered to think what the Oldman would look like upstream of the dam and reservoir.
I got up early the first morning on the ranch and went road hunting for deer, armed with the new Canon EOS Rebel T3i camera body attached to my favourite Tamron 28-to-300-mm zoom lens.
At sun-up, I could see my breath, and the deer remained hidden, snug in their beds, until I gave up on them and returned to the ranch for breakfast.
Before I even left the ranch land, I was able to inspect Pincher Creek, among my top half-dozen trout streams in Alberta, and was surprised to find it just slightly high and off-colour.
In my experience, Pincher was obviously fishable, something I’d have to confirm when nephew Kurt and grand-nephew Riley would probably try it after dinner on Saturday.
Down in these foothills, history is everywhere. Before leaving the home quarter, I photographed, lit by the rising sun, the two-storey log house, now perilously close to an eroding creekside cliff, where Herself lived for her first two years.
William Carlos Ives, the “Cowboy Judge,” and a chief justice of the Trial Division of the Supreme Court of Alberta, lived in that house, which was built by his father, George, who came west with the North West Mounted Police in 1881, and homesteaded the quarter section.
How Contrary-Cowboy Country does produce judges! Hon. Warren Winkler, Chief Justice of Ontario, was a high school classmate of Herself, and Chief Justice of Canada, Hon. Beverly McLachlin was a Pincher Creek high school student of my mother in law, the late Corinne Boyden.
Connections: In 1934, Judge Ives decided the hazing case, Powlett and Powlett vs. University of Alberta in favour of C.H. Powlett, the lawyer who lived across the street from us when I was growing up in Brooks; C.H. cowboyed at Cowley before he became a lawyer.
Up on Hwy 507, I come to the turnoff to the White ranch where my dad and friends used to fish the lower Castle River during the war, just across the road from the ranch on which the girl was growing up who I would meet at U of A and marry.
To the north and east, the prop-tops of the wind turbines are just poking through low banks of fog.
To the west, and the mountains, the ever-increasing plagues of wind turbines crawl like lice on the landscape.
Somewhat west on 507, toward historic, scenic Beaver Mines, I cross Mill Creek just before it joins the Castle below the canyon, then, on a whim, turn south, and, back in the hills, find Mountain Mill Church, which I have failed to find several times in the recent past.
Years ago, I fished Mill Creek near the church without much success.
Since 1954, sister in law, Caroline, has been playing the church’s old pump organ off and on for services.
Breakfast calls. … Next, the Crowsnest Pass, and, maybe, that wild goose chase….
Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.