Archives: A jumping-off point

Few locations in Central Alberta are photographed as frequently as the East Coulee bridge.

It serviced trains and vehicles crossing the Red Deer River and provided access and service to two mines. Both mines were left to rot when the coal-mining industry dried up but the Atlas has been turned into an historical site.

The bridge is made with impressive, strong wooden beams, although they’re rotting away and I fear the bridge’s days are numbered.

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From the archives: High River before the floods

Way way back in 2010, I was still playing slopitch.

I had, however, started to nurture my newer hobbies: photography and exploring. They were becoming more important to me than sitting at the Okotoks ball diamonds and drinking beer in between tournament games.
Maremma sheepdogAnd it’s when I started to develop a love for the smaller communities that surround the city of Calgary.

So, my heart sank upon hearing the entire town of High River had to be evacuated two weeks ago, thanks to the flood waters. Residents have been allowed to trickle back this week, some only to view the damage done to their homes.

The images I saw online and on my TV screen made me want to remember High River as it was — and as it will be again.

June 2010
One of the many murals that mark High River’s downtown:
Building mural

Museum of the Highwood, which is on the Canadian Register of Historic Places:
High River train station

Train bridge at the north end of town:

Grass growing near a train bridge

August 2010
Sheep River at Hogg Park:

Museum of the Highwood, after the fire of July 2010
burned out roof of old train station

Foot bridge at George Lane Memorial Park:
foot bridge over a creek

St. Benedict Anglican Church:
Anglican church

See the full photo album on the Facebook page for Our Great Escape.


One long day

My legs are shaking like a leaf.


Now that the 2.5-hour drive on a donut tire and through a blinding snowstorm is over.

A day spent ghost-towning — mostly fruitlessly — lasted three hours longer than it should have. When I jumped back onto the Trans-Canada Highway, exiting the former town known as Alderson, I heard a pop and felt my truck start to vibrate badly.

I turned down the stereo and heard the telltale ‘flub-flub-flub-flub-flub.’

Any number of expletives were whispered to the sky as I bashed the back of my head off the headrest.

And a recent conversation I had struck me.

“What do you mean you don’t have AMA? The way you drive around the country, there’s no way you shouldn’t have it.”

“Nothing ever happens to me.”

Famous last words. Or maybe I forgot to knock on wood.

Whatever happened, the luck of the Irish escaped me on St. Patrick’s Day.

I called my friend Belinda, wondering if she had any suggestions.

As brilliant as she is, she said call Alberta Motor Association, tell them your situation and ask them if they’ll sell you a membership over the phone.

Here’s the number.

Oh, and don’t forget to act pathetic.

Me? Pathetic? Act?

Pshaw. I was born to be on stage. I can cry on command.

Turns out, I didn’t even have to. This happens all the time, said Siobhan, my calm, cool and collected customer service specialist from AMA. She said she’d take my details, send the truck out and then pass me over to membership to sign me up for a year.

Easy peasy. Michelle from membership was equally as awesome.

And so I sat on the side of the road, 37 kilometres east of Brooks, waiting for my AMA guy to show up. He was there 45 minutes later and, inside of an hour, I was on my way home.

In the meantime, two fellas stopped to offer their assistance. I thanked them kindly and sent them on their way.

It’s just another day in the School of Hard Knocks.

But it is the kind of day that makes me appreciate my friends — the smart ones, the ones who worry about me, the ones who text me and make me smile through the rougher patches in life.

And the ones, like My American, who will talk to me while I sit on the side of the road.

(Um, I shouldn’t need to mention that he’s actually all of the above, too.)

It also makes me appreciate technology, because 15 years ago I might still be on the side of the highway. That was, of course, before I got my first cell phone.

None of this will stop me from ghost-towning in the future. Jumping in the truck with Shep and my cameras is the best way to spend a Saturday.

It sure as heck won’t make me any less fearless when I jump in the truck to head for a Spokane weekend next month.

After all, I have my smartphone to keep me in touch with everybody — from text to Twitter to Facebook and phone call.

And now I have AMA, too.

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More than a feeling

Yes, I drive around the country poking my head into and taking pictures of abandoned houses.

They have fascinated me since I was a kid. And I’ll never forget my first one. An old house stood next to Columbus Field where we had track and field training. It was probably my brother Kevin who hid behind a door, jumped out and yelled BAH, scaring the living crap out of me.

Then there was the old farmhouse on the Antigonish Landing. We’d jog out to Brown’s Mountain and explore the old dilapidated home. One of our coaches, Dave, pretended he was going to fall through the floor … and then he almost did.

Now I find myself in the Old West, where men mined the land for coal and tilled the field for crops.

The coal mines have been stripped dry and many of those crop fields now lie fallow, long since left behind by their residents.

Leaving me with a gold mine for my camera and my curiosity.

I wander the properties, turning the keys left in the ignition of old cars and trucks, wondering what I’d do if the engine ever turned over.

Poking my head into the houses, wondering why that table was left behind.

Touching the ovens tossed into the field, wondering why they couldn’t bake anymore pies.

I struggle to imagine what possessed a person or family to leave behind their homes. Did they simply drop everything and leave for a life of greater convenience in the big city? Were they forced out by foreclosures and the banks never found anyone to buy the property? Did they run away in the middle of the night, in fear of something?

It was cold on Sunday when we hit the road for the Badlands.

And when we spied an abandoned home from Highway 575 near Drumheller, I felt a weird chill. It was the kind of house that gave me shivers, not the least bit welcoming or warm.

I gingerly made my way around the property, always keeping an eye on the house. Its windows, the glass long since shattered away, and the door formed a large dark face of a gaping mouth and eyes.

It  was watching me with every step I took. Every press of the shutter release. Every breath.

I made my way around to the back of the house where Jack had found some rusty cans on the ground. He was bent over, trying to find the right angle, the right light.

I looked at the door. Though my guts were telling me to stay outside, I took a step into the house.

I felt a sudden chill.

The kind of chill that goes right into your bones. But there was no wind. Just a sudden drop in temperature.

I turned and went back outside.

Jack was standing by now, a confused look on his face. He said “that’s weird, my camera just adjusted to f95 on its own.”

Um … hey, Jack, there is no such thing as f95.

“I know.”

OK, waddaya say we get out of here?

We left.

I caught the house in the corner of my eye as we headed back to the highway. It gave me another chill.

I picked up my phone and launched my Dolphin browser. It seems to be extremely rare but other Nikon D300s owners have seen f95 in their EXIF data. Jack reset the camera and all was fine.

Was it merely a coincidence?

Was there a wind I didn’t notice?

Did the tiny little computer in Jack’s camera decide to shake things up on its own?

Or was it all more than a feeling?

Do you believe in ghosts?

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On deadline

Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow.

It’s the mantra of procrastinators around the world.

Wait … let’s get one thing straight. When it comes to work and writing, I don’t miss a deadline. I stare that stone-cold bitch in the eyes and I turn her into a whimpering pile of tears.

But for the last couple of years, I’ve been saying to myself , ‘self, you gotta get back to Lomond and shoot that beautiful yellow farmhouse again.’

I spied the abandoned farmstead from the 531 on a February trip through Vulcan County in 2010. The faded yellow paint was still bright enough to stand out on the prairie hill but the dark holes of smashed-out windows gave away its abandoned state.

I didn’t get a great shot of the house, instead silhouetting it against the brilliant winter sun.

I explored the inside of the house, finding little artifacts left behind.

I promised to return during the summer, hoping for easier access than the knee-high snow Shep and I trudged through.

I didn’t go.

I thought of the yellow farmhouse often, mentally penciling in a visit every time I added a better piece of equipment to my photographic arsenal.

I didn’t go.

Life gets in the way. Other abandoned areas beckon. Trips back and forth to Spokane took up my travel time.

And then I learned I was too late.

My shooting friend Dan drove through the area last weekend on his way to Retlaw. I advised him to watch for the farmhouse the next time he drove through.

It sparked in me a need to hit the road. I started planning my trip last night, starting with the ‘cute little church’ Dan said he found in Gladys and running through Milo, Lomond and Blackie.

My heart fell when I landed on a post on Ghost Towns Canada.


The farmhouse was gone … a smouldering pile of ashes.

OK, don’t give up, I thought. The foundation may still be there, giving the property yet another level of eerie abandonment.

I passed by Lomond and I mentally kept my fingers crossed, hoping something would be there.

Something was.

A new house.

Aye. The old barn still stands.

And the old GMC truck still sits rusting in the hay field.

If it’s possible for ‘new’ and ‘progress’ to tarnish, though, it happened today.

There’s a little less mystique about the property, with the spot where the old farmhouse stood fully bulldozed and covered in fresh gravel.

There’s a little less intrigue as the ghosts of the past seemed to have been whisked away by the future.

And there’s a lesson to be had.

Ghost towns and abandoned buildings have a deadline.

They just don’t tell us what it is.


It’s a big world

I haven’t been posting enough pictures.

I shot this at Edworthy Park on Saturday with my new Tamron 10-20. I’m lovin’ this wide-angle lens and how the results make me feel so tiny in this great big world.

Click the pic to see the original size.



Buzzing about

~ Shot at Johnson Lake, September 4, 2011



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Wayne 104At Wayne, Alberta

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The mountain that moves

An eerie silence lies over the tiny town of Frank, Alta., like the shadow of a mountain peak.

I typically drive right through Frank.

As fast as I can.

Past the grey boulders that surround the No. 3 highway from Pincher Creek to Crowsnest Pass.

Past the liquor store that has closed, likely due to lack of business.

Past the gaping hole in the side of Turtle Mountain.

Past the rocky graves of 76 people who lie under the boulders that once composed the main peak of Turtle Mountain.

On April 29, 1903, the side of the mountain gave away and tons of limestone cascaded onto the outer edge of Frank, a town of 600 bustling with mining activity.

Most of the town escaped the slide that day, the path of rocks striking the outer corner of Frank. The avalanche was deflected by a projecting rock ledge above the coal mine, where 100 men were working that night. The river was blocked and had to be dynamited clear before teh twon was flooded.

Two kilometres of railway were covered by rock and rebuilt. A road was built around the boulders so the town could be accessed.

And the town moved north a titch, after a Royal Commission Report in 1911 warned of another slide, this one from the North Peak.

The town moved again in the 1930s, when the South Peak started to threaten.

The First Nations people of that area avoided Turtle Mountain, calling it the Mountain That Walks. The natives may have climbed the mountain and observed large summit cracks and witnessed rock falls.

They never camped beneath the eastern face of Turtle Mountains, precisely where the slide occurred.

It’s a ghostly walk down the trail of rocks at the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre. A path of small gravel has been laid into the great boulders which fell off the mountain more than century ago.

It winds down the hill and it’s a short, easy hike, but one that constantly reminds of the destruction that took place.

I wonder if the people who slept while the mountain fell knew what hit them.

I wonder if the folks who happened to not be in their beds that night thanked their lucky stars every day for the rest of their lives.

I wonder why a highway lies in the shadow of a mountain that plans to finish coming down.

I wonder why some people refused to move out of the third location of Frank, all the while knowing the South Peak could come down any day.  The runout area for the South Peak fall contains residences, recreational facilities, commercial buildings, historic sites, agricultural land, utility corridors, Highway 3 and the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The Turtle Mountain Monitoring Project endeavours to reduce the risk, though, promoting public safety, scientific research, public education and bolstering the local economy.

It uses LIDAR (light detection and ranging) to track ground features of Turtle Mountain and it has determined Turtle Mountain produced to ancient slides before the 1903 Frank Slide.

Nonetheless, it isn’t entirely the cool twilight air and brisk wind that chill my bones as I traipse through the interpretive walk, reading the signs from which I gleaned the above information.

It maybe isn’t even the knowledge of the horrific death 76 people suffered that day so many years ago.

Maybe it’s knowing the rest of the mountain will give away, too.

Because it isn’t a matter of ‘if,’ it’s ‘when.’

And who might be driving by when it goes.