Sean Nichols (mrputter) wrote,
Sean Nichols

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We saw the Northern Lights make the sky explode / It was then I realized we had another day to drive

On Thursday, June 3rd, the Alberta provincial government, after eight years of lobbying by AWA and other environmental groups, finally declared grizzly bears to be a threatened species. Champagne!

It's a bittersweet kind of victory, to be sure. Unfortunate that this was necessary; that there are so few grizzlies left that they need to be declared a threatened species. But be that as it may, it is the situation. And that being the case, it has at least, and at long last, been officially recognized as such.

Concurrent with Thursday's announcement, I was up in Edmonton (that being the provincial capital) with others from AWA. There was Stuff To DoTM on Thursday, and then since we were already up there, on Friday morning as well.

We drove up on Thursday. I packed a mess of stuff into a backpack, left the cats with several days' worth of food and water, and strapped my bike onto the back of the car. Once free on Friday, I spent a leisurely weekend riding back down to Calgary.

I spent most of Friday bumming around Edmonton, finally leaving that evening. Saturday and Sunday I was fighting a headwind all the way south, and 50 lbs on my back made a pretty good sail, so progress was slow, and I didn't make it back home until almost midnight on Sunday night. But still, a fun three days.

As with a couple of weekends earlier, I took my camera with me. On my return, I discovered that I had taken almost 2200 photos. Eep. Needless to say, I've whittled that down a bit. But still: I don't make it to Edmonton often, and it's fun to photograph.

Friday: Edmonton to Kavanagh ( 85km)

  • 53°32'02"N 113°30'21"W

  • I've long found Edmonton to be a far more picturesque city than Calgary. There are a number of reasons, but it benefits significantly from the providence of its scenic river valley.

  • Between the bridges.

  • I discovered that the best way, by far, out of the river valley is to climb up the Mill Creek Ravine, along what used to be the tracks of the Edmonton, Yukon & Pacific Railway line. Its name notwithstanding, it served as a municipal railway joining the then-towns of Edmonton and Strathcona (now both Edmonton inner city neighbourhoods), and in 1902 was the first railway to cross the North Saskatchewan River. Due to the low grade needed by the railroad, I made it all the way out of the valley without having to come out of top gear.

  • Edmonton has some strange and interesting (and often both) public art. I only caught a bit here and there. Maybe sometime I will go back and make an "Edmonton public art" post. I've often thought of doing the same for Calgary.

  • Some of it is rather angular and—dare I say—even a little brutalist in aesthetic.

  • And some of it just came straight out of Brazil

  • Giving props to my Ukrainian heritage: the Ukrainian Centennial Pioneer Monument. One of these days, I will have to go and visit the northern Saskatchewan farm where my Grandmother grew up.

  • The histories of Edmonton and Calgary can fit into a narrative of successive episodes wherein Something Needs to Be Done, there being more than one way to do it. It then often happens that an experiment is set up (whether officially or otherwise) pitting the two cities' differing approaches against one another.

    Consider the case of their LRT systems: A good half-century after the demise of the Edmonton, Yukon & Pacific Railway line, both cities, quickly growing, realized the need for a modern municipal railway, and both opted for an LRT system. Calgary prioritized "do it now" over "do it right," going for the fast and cheap option wherever possible. The Calgary LRT quickly spread its tentacles wide over the city and ridership rose meteorically; the C-Train had (until very recently) the second-highest ridership of that of any North American city. Downtown, it was run along surface streets (the cheap option), which has proven not to be scalable. The system is now quite literally running at theoretical capacity during rush hour; trains are as crowded as they can be made, and the system physically cannot handle any more trains on the track, because of the downtown surface section. The city is exploring different options in the frantic search for a solution.

    Conversely, Edmonton prioritized "do it right" over "do it now," opting for the more expensive option whenever it was considered more farsighted. It spent much money putting the downtown section underground, but at the cost of curtailing expansion of the rest of the network. Despite opening three years earlier (1978 vs. 1981), and in a city that for much of the intervening time has been the significantly larger of the two, ridership has only been a small fraction of Calgary's. It has only been with recent (in the last five years) expansions that ridership is finally growing to levels found elsewhere. But those expansions are slated to continue, with a couple new lines in the next few years, so ridership growth will likely continue as well. And in the meantime, the system has already been built Right: it can handle more cars per train, there is no pesky downtown surface section, and none of Calgary's capacity issues are foreseeable.

    • Also, I find the station architecture to be nicer.

    • Actually, pretty much everything is nicer.

    • Even if the trains do look a little funny.

    • I especially dig the burnished metal look of the downtown stations (although some may find it a bit dated.)

  • Okay, enough transit drooling. What's a trip to Edmonton without a stop at the West Edmonton Mall?

    • True to its reputation, the thing really is pretty darn huge.

    • Entrance #58. Yeah.

    • Aside from its sheer size, however, the WEM does fairly little to distinguish itself. Shopping-wise, all it really contains is the union of the sets of shops in whatever other malls may exist scattered across any arbitrary Canadian city. And the architecture best serves as a warning marker to those tempted to feel nostalgia for the early 80s.

    • Wandering through the WEM, I was struck by how much the place resembled nothing quite so much as a prototypical version of contemporary malls sprouting throughout Dubai (where those of ostentation are about the only boundaries anyone seems willing to push). Take this section of the former, denoted Europa Boulevard. Absent knowledge to the contrary, I would be quite willing to believe it was a photo taken the Mercato, a Dubai mall 20 years its junior, where the same concept has been broadened to encompass the entire shopping centre.

    • At least in Dubai malls, the plastic palm trees have the virtue of depicting something indigenous to the area.

    • On the other hand, though, the WEM makes significantly better use of the included skating rink.

  • I also did some touristy things. Government buildings, in general, are often nice. The Alberta legislature building, specifically, is aesthetically pleasing. The weather decided to be a good sport, too.

  • While the sitting government gets the perk of locating offices inside a handsome old stone edifice, members of opposition parties (all 15/83 MLAs' worth of them) are banished to the Legislative Annex, this monstrosity that just screams "cheap '50s construction." At least they still get to look out on some nice scenery. During the summer.

  • Laurie Blakeman's constituency office is literally right across the street from her legislative office. One almost has to wonder what the point is.

  • The legislative assembly isn't the city's only nice old building.

  • Edmonton's city center has existed in something approximating its current form for much longer than the couple of decades that are the case for Calgary. Consequently trees have had longer to grow, and so on. I think this makes it a lot prettier. Much less starkly utilitarian.

  • Jasper Ave. is the main drag through town

  • The offices of Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, or "AB.SRD" (say it out loud) for short. Boo! Hiss!

  • I've long had a weakness for churches in urban settings.

  • Some interesting detail on this building's façade.

  • I shall have to remember this place for my next visit.

  • Edmonton likes its glass pyramids. The first is city hall; the latter two, the conservatory.

  • Not quite a pyramid: the main convention centre spills over the hillside down into the river valley.

  • Honesty among thieves urban planners.

  • Eventually though, the sky turned darker by degrees, and I had to leave the city behind.

  • In favour of the open road.

  • Where there was wildlife that regarded me quizzically.

  • And then it grew dark, and somewhere a few km south of nowhere, I set up camp for the night.

Saturday: Kavanagh to Innisfail ( 150km)

  • Even in the 1AM darkness, I apparently managed to find a pretty decent camping spot. Just west of the highway, off Twp. Rd. 484

  • But right turns are totally civilized.

  • Pretty skies on a gorgeous Alberta morning.

  • In the cute little town of Millet, I found this place appropriately named the Millet Skillet. I had a skillet for breakfast. And some ice cream.

  • A block away was the Old Bank. The Old Bank turned out not to have an Old ATM. At least it wasn't an Olde Banke.

  • The Wetaskiwin city council (or whomever) has mounted a birdhouse on, so far as I could tell, every single light standard in the entire city.

  • Small towns are often good for interesting downtown murals.

  • More gorgeous skies. Not sure I'll ever get tired of those.

  • Back in the Four Oh Three.

  • Gnarly, dude!

  • I had the fourth ice cream of the day in Lacombe.

  • ...but what if I need to check my email more often than once a week?

  • Not quite West Edmonton: this is the entire extent of the Lacombe Mall.

  • At least it has a somewhat interesting town centre.

  • It was getting pretty late by the time I made it to Dead Rear. I wanted to take pictures of a number of interesting things that I knew to be there, but the sun was already setting and I didn't have time.

  • Like the "ghosts" program; a set of statues of the city's early pioneer founders scattered throughout the downtown area.

  • I think someone's a little vague on the distinction between "Indian" and "Indian"...

  • Down with the government! Now buy some jewellery!

  • And then it grew dark. There were a few interesting sights in Innisfail, near which I camped for the night, but I didn't take pictures, intending to return and do so the following morning. But I ended up not returning via the town. Ah well.

Sunday: Innisfail to Calgary ( 125km)

  • On Saturday night, I set up camp (as it turned out) not two paces away from the Fifth Meridian. Then I woke up to a near-cloudless sky. Pretty though it may have been, this did not bode well for my already alarmingly-reddening arms. Why didn't I take a long-sleeved shirt (other than my dress shirt for work)? Because I'm an idiot, that's why. (10 days later, my arms have yet to even remotely recover.)

  • In fairly short order, I received mountainous confirmation that I was indeed in southern Alberta. (Well, southwestern. Whatever.)

  • Researching this afterward, I was floored to discover that the telephone system was not (re-) privatized until as late as 1990. In Alberta!

  • This is pretty much as iconic a photo as one can possibly take.

  • (Insert about five zillion pictures of big sky country, which I love, but which would probably bore everyone else to apophthegmatic tears.)

  • The Fas Gas in Carstairs sells this lemon-iced-tea flavoured slurpee that is totally the best invention ever invented ever.

  • Then coming over a rise a few miles south of Crossfield, I spotted something on the horizon!

    • No, not that. Look a little closer.

      • Closer...

        • There!

  • And then I was home.

  • And it started to rain. And I marvelled at my impeccable timing. And fed the cats. And went to bed.
Tags: awa, biking, edmonton, holidays, pictures, travel, wildlife, work
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