Tuesday, 24 June 2008

The Changes of Time

When I last searched for photos to place with my future posts, I came across this one of Highway 93 going through Sinclair Canyon near Radium Hot Springs in British Columbia.

There appears to be nothing wrong with this photo; unless you remember seeing it in the mid-1950s. The gap between the red rock walls was not visible until you were much closer. On the western side of the canyon, the space for the road was wider.

Every summer, until I was in my mid-teens, my family took trips to the Rockies, and that included a visit to Radium Hot Springs. The highway I recall was narrow; to say there was one and a half lanes would be generous. There appeared to be no definite space between the two rock walls except for the road inside and the sound of rushing water below. Vehicles would pass each other slowly. Any one of my brothers liked to lean out the back window to touch the rock as we went past; often knuckles were skinned accompanied with yelps and followed by admonishment by our mother.

Some summers my father had to navigate construction crews at Sinclair Canyon. There were flagmen with walkie-talkies who would indicate whether the vehicles stopped or were allowed to move one direction, then in the other direction when the road had been cleared of rocks from blasting. The federal government had decided to widen the highway within the canyon after learning of reports that cars had gone off the road there.

This wasn't surprising, considering the first guard rails were post beams with planks of wood nailed on; followed by beams with large cable wire attached. A few places had low stone and cement walls at the edge of the highway where, if you were sitting in the passenger side closest to the edge you could look way, way down. For anyone with a fear of heights, well...you didn't look.

Initially, a drive through Sinclair Canyon was going into a narrow, darkened space like a tunnel that curled around the natural formation of the rock where the Radium Creek had worn away the stone. Driving was slow due to the twists and turns, and once out on the other side there was the Radium Hot Springs pool and the town beyond.

For history buffs, Sinclair Canyon is named after James Sinclair who came over Whiteman Pass leading a cavalcade of Red River settlers en route to Walla Walla, Washington in the mid-1840s.

By the early 1900s, local businessmen were lobbying for a road linking Windermere to Banff. Eventually the road was completed by the federal government in exchange for title to a strip of land on either side of the route. In 1920, this land was set aside as Kootenay National Park.

Kootenay is the only national park that represents the Rocky Mountain Trench in the Western Ranges of the Rocky Mountains. The trench, visible from space as a long linear valley stretching from the U.S. border to the B.C./Yukon border, is a major break in the earth's crust.

The elevation ranges from 900m to 3,400m, each range characterized by flora and fauna typical of the western Rocky Mountains. The south-western corner of the park contains the only example of dry Douglas fir/ponderosa pine/wheatgrass vegetation in Canada's national parks. This semi-arid area, where prickly pear cactus also grows, provides important winter range for wildlife, especially Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Other species include: grizzly and black bear, wolf, coyote, cougar, lynx, wolverine, marten, marmot, white-tailed and mule
deer, elk [photo], moose, mountain goat and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. The mountain goat is the park's wildlife symbol.

Photo credit for Sinclair Canyon: Nancy Meier
Photo credit for elk: chris & lara pawluk CC=nc-flickr.


SzélsőFa said...

Hi Barbara,

I just dropped in to say hello and thank you for visiting my blog.
I've read a couple of paragraphs here and there of your blog.

Steve Malley said...

Wow. Lovely!

Barbara Martin said...

SzélsőFa, welcome. Return anytime to browse.

Barbara Martin said...

Steve, the many trips to the Rockies set an imprint on my soul.

Charles Gramlich said...

Driving through a place like that is magical to me. I always feel I might come out the other side in another world.

Barbara Martin said...

Charles, my thoughts exactly and whether or not you could return the same way.

debra said...

Funny how places hold such strong feelings---feelings that last for a long time.

Barbara Martin said...

Debra, almost anywhere I visited in the Rockies hols a special place inside me. There will be future posts about these places, combined with historical bits.

Linda McLaughlin said...

Wow, that looks like quite a drive! My mom used to freak out on mountain roads, and as a result, they make me nervous, too, even though I love the beautiful scenery. Interesting post.


Barbara Martin said...

Linda, the drive up from the highway junction near Lake Louise to Radium Hot Spring is very scenic with gentle curves to the road. There is a steep incline before reaching Sinclair Canyon, and in the 40s and early 50s there was only one lane for traffic. If a vehicle was on its way down, the vehicle at the bottom waited until the other had descended. Brakes weren't trustworthy then. I should dig out the old photos to scan for posts.

BernardL said...

Your blog pictures and detailed descriptions portray the subject areas with stunning clarity.

Sam said...

Lovely post - lovely pictures! It made me want to see the places you were writing about. I've never been 'out west', and it seems like such a beautiful place!
And lol about your brother and his knuckles - sounds like something a boy would do!

Mary Witzl said...

Those pictures are beautiful. I remember traveling through the Rockies with my parents once, when we drove cross-country to Florida. We kids loved all the hairpin turns and sheer drops, but our poor mother did not have a head for heights and had her hand over her eyes almost all the way.

I definitely remember those old guard rails, too!

Barbara Martin said...

Bernard, welcome and thank you for your kind comments.

Sam, there will be further stories and photos about western Canada including recalled bits of my childhood. Even a post about my eldest brother who fell down Cascade Mountain looking for the top of the waterfall (and lived).

Barbara Martin said...

Mary, you just reminded me of a family trip, when I was a wee bit of a thing, to Glacier National Park in Montana where there are great drops from the highway. Rather than writing about it here, I've decided to do a post.