GRMA Day 27: The Mountain that Moves
I had several specific places I wanted to see during the Great Rocky Mountain Adventure, and today I checked off another one. More on that in a minute.
Skies were clear as I left Radium Hot Springs headed south this morning about 9 a.m. But within 50 miles I noticed a light haze in front of me and detected a faint hint of smoke in the air. The haze grew darker as I continued southward and even when I made a planned turn to the east, I still smelled the smoke. While I never saw any fires and never even saw any heavy smoke, the haze was enough to make picture taking problematic by reducing the contrast. I took some pictures of the mountains, but there were no critters to be seen today so the camera didn’t get much of a workout. Heather, a helpful staffer at the Crowsnest Visitor Center just over the border into Alberta, said she heard there were forest fires in British Columbia and that the smoke we could see was probably a good distance from its source.
Speaking of fires, one of my favorite motorcycle roads and part of tomorrow’s planned itinerary is closed. Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park has been closed as a through road for more than two weeks as fire crews battle the still-growing Reynolds Creek Fire. I was looking forward to that ride again, but it’s not to be. At least not on this trip. I had thought about backtracking from here and going south into Montana from British Columbia, but Heather the helpful expert on this area recommended I spend time going through Waterton National Park in Alberta. Waterton and Glacier National Park border each other at the international boundary and together form what is sometimes called Peace Park. There is no through road in Waterton, but she said there are two interior roads that would fill up several hours of motorcycle time and provide stunning scenery. So, taking her at her word, tomorrow I’m headed for Waterton and then into Montana through Alberta.
I’ve been thinking about getting a truck. This green one I found in Sparwood would probably work fine. I could carry all my gear in the back. And my motorcyle. And Marilyn’s motorcycle. And our cars. And at least one of our houses. This is advertised as the “World’s Biggest Truck” and was once used in nearby mining operations.
I crossed from B.C. to Alberta on the Crowsnest Highway (Highway 3) over Crowsnest Pass and along Crowsnest Lake and Crowsnest Mountain, past which flows the Crowsnest River. Tonight I’m staying in one of the five towns that make up the Municipality of Crowsnest. I added this stop to the GRMA because of a significant historical and geological event that occurred April 29, 1903. A little after 4 a.m. that morning, the limestone north side of Turtle Mountain gave way, sending a river of rocks a half-mile wide crashing down on part of the town of Frank and killing 90 of the 600 people who lived there, most of them coal miners and their families. The rockslide tore across the valley, stopping only when it reached the other side about two minutes later, more than a mile away. The event became known as The Frank Slide. (The wide picture is a 180 degree panorama; the other pictures are still shots.)
The disaster was millions of years in the making (I will spare you the details) involving tectonic plates, continent building, fold and thrust faults, weathering, and finally, a coal mine tunneled in the base of Turtle Mountain which probably helped caused the collapse by weakening the support that the top of the mountain had precariously relied on for millions of years. Even before the slide, Indians in the area refused to camp at the base of the mountain, calling it “The Mountain that Moves.” What little I know about the event and the geology behind it is thanks to an outstanding, state-of-the-art interpretive center operated by the Province of Alberta.
The rail line in the path of the slide was up and running 11 days after being buried under 30-40 feet of rock. (Railroad engineering crews were amazing even then.) The mine was reopened after a few months, though it finally closed down 15 years later. Highway 3 today goes through the middle of the deadly rubble field, with massive piles of stones and boulders still standing where they came to rest 112 years ago. Currently, geologists are monitoring the mountain with more than two dozen sensors planted on it; their prediction is that the mountain will move again–they just don’t know when.
Only 11 years later, a few miles down the road from Frank, the town of Hillcrest Mines witnessed the worst coal mining disaster in Canadian history when a horrific fire and explosion killed 189 miners, about 1/2 of the mine’s workforce. That disaster has been memorialized in song, including by the Men of the Deeps (singing coal miners) that I was privileged to see and hear last year when I rode to Newfoundland. Small world again.
I added a day to this Adventure to make sure I stopped at the Frank Slide. I’m glad I did.
Other pictures I liked today: