The Elk Farm

I noticed it at an overlook from the sandstone cliffs on the south side of the highway. It looked like a series of corrals, with 3 square ponds, surrounded by a fence. Curious as to what it was, I rode down to Anthracite to check it out. A couple of buildings, lots of fencing, and empty ponds. It wasn't until last week that I found out what it is. I went tromping down there with snowshoes in foot deep snow, and again was mystified by the fencing. It almost looked like some sort of training facility. One small building stood out, so I went around back and explored the inside. On the wall was a sign which read "1999/2000 Banff Elk Farm." An elk farm? And only 20 years ago?

Of course, it's long since been used as an elk farm. A makeshift target range is setup, along with guidelines posted inside the building with instructions for those park employees who needed some practice shooting .22 caliber rifles. But now this has made me wonder why the Elk farm was setup. Were they trying to finish the Elk herd for slaughter? I understand that parks had to control the Elk population in the past, and they had culled up to 200 Elk a year and given the carcasses to the Stoney Nation. Or were they trying to actually raise more Elk? It didn't look like a breeding facility--more like a place where they administered a herd of Elk and tried keeping them healthy. The sign showed dosages administered to elk of different sizes.

I'm sure this elk farm was someone's good idea--trying to solve a perceived problem with the Elk population, or make good use of the culled herd. So, either the problem went away, or this elk farm didn't accomplish the goals set out by whoever was trying to solve the original problem. So many unanswered questions.

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Cascade Creek

It used to be called the Cascade River--until it was dammed in 1942. Then, it used to dry up over the winter and had a little bit of water in the summer. But following the 2013 flood, Parks decided to let a little water through the dam to keep the creek running all year. I was curious where it flowed upstream from Minnewanka road, so parked there there and hiked up the river bed, past an equipment dump arrayed with iron girders, garbage bins, piles of gravel, and old signs. The river bed has all sorts of markings on it, probably having to do with river flows at different times of the year. But at this time, it was mostly frozen over, with the creek running beneath the ice. A kilometer in and I noticed some rusty iron straps which looked like seaweed. Farther up, there was a rusted pipe, a stove, and more iron straps wrapped around tree trunks. This must have been at the south end of Bankhead, so I kept on making my way up the creek until it opened up to the slack heaps.

I climbed them again to get a feel of how big they are, and walked along a ridge to the end where I could see the former river bed. They say 16 times more water flowed before 1941 than it does now. I'm not sure its path when it reached the highway, but it may have headed across the fenlands to the Bow river at that point, instead of heading around the north side of Tunnel mountain. It would be nice to see what it would look like if the Cascade river was restored to its full flow. Of course that can't happen because the current river bed couldn't handle it when it heads under the legacy trail. But it makes me wonder what it would take to restore things back to pre-1941.

A bike ride with the Olympus 35 SP

I just got a new camera and was eager to try it out, so what better way than to get on my bike and ride Hwy 1A. Except that it snowed last night. The going was slow and slippery, even with studded tires, and it made me appreciate the effort that goes into plowing roads, even when there's only an inch of snow on the road. I got to the location where I had noted some decommissioned power lines and got off my bike and headed down the hillside toward the tracks. It was steep and I almost turned back, but found some animal tracks, so followed them down safely. I walked along the tracks until I got to the first decrepit power pole and got out my new camera. It's a rangefinder with a leaf shutter and operates very differently than an SLR. After focusing, and figuring out the exposure, I snapped the photo. It was not a very authoritative "click." It made me wonder whether a photo was taken, and whether the camera worked at all. So I decided to do manual exposures and that gave me a little more confidence that I was actually taking pictures.

Later on, I noticed a train approaching slowly. By the time it was heading by, I realized it was a some sort of maintenance train. It was short, had a small engine, and had a few cars that were cooking up something awful--maybe tar or some other substance to keep the railway ties in good order. It smelled bad and looked worse. By the time I could get my camera out, it had gone by, followed by 3 pickup trucks riding the rails. I generally don't think about rail maintenance, but it needs to happen. The railway is one of those things that used to be civilian friendly as it was the primary means of getting places afar. But these days, it's just a means for hauling cargo, and the public tolerates it. Less understood is how important it is to our current economy. Without it, Alberta wouldn't be able to sell all its grain, oil, potash, and coal.

But it does come with a cost--including whatever toxic substance that maintenance train was spewing out.

A bike ride with the Brownie

My Kodak Brownie camera was feeling neglected, so I took it with me on a bike ride around Tunnel mountain. But before that, I stopped at the Cascade power plant and snapped a couple of pictures, then took a couple of double exposures mirroring the road. The trail was icy and fast, and the ride was fun as always. I got to the place where the powerlines crossed the highway from the power plant and composed and shot the power poles with the surge tower in the distance. The camera itself is unassuming, has a soft "click" when taking photos, and has no exposure controls, relying instead on the latitude of the film to make up for any errors in exposure.

Using the Brownie has its challenges. The 120 film roll has to be modified to fit into 220 format, or rolled onto a 220 roll to fit into the Brownie. Then, the wide film is difficult to roll onto developing reels without kinking. It took around 10 minutes to feed this roll onto the reel. Developing takes twice the amount of developer, and the negatives need to be scanned individually because the variation in the exposures.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, because this is a Brownie camera after all, with a single plastic lens, which has distortion, flare, and only the center of the photo is somewhat sharp. I learned a new commandment after seeing the photos: "Thou shalt not take pictures of vertical lines near the edges with a Brownie." And I remembered an old one: "Thou shalt only view these pictures in Brownie format," which is on photo paper, 3" square, with a 1/4" white border. Anything more and the imperfections of the camera are magnified, and subject to scrutiny. So I'm not sure what I'll do with these photos. I'll print them on paper for sure, 3" square. And they may end up on this site.

Castle Mountain

Today I drove out to Castle mountain. I may not be incorrect in saying it is the most photographed mountain in Banff. It's imposing nature makes one feel small--almost like looking at the stars.

I went tromping through the snow to get a photo of the mountain juxtaposed against the wildlife fence. Unfortunately, I left my snowshoes in the van and sank knee deep trying to get to the perfect spot. A little later and a little wiser, I tromped to another location--with my snowshoes. I forgot how exhausting it is. With the temp at -12C, I was breaking into a sweat. As I was taking pictures of an overpass with Castle Mt in the background, standing at a junction of the highway which is cleared of trees for hundreds of meters, pavement laid down, signs put up, snow piled up from clearing, and fencing strung out for miles to keep wildlife at bay, I realized that at that point in time, I was a part of this. The road brought me there. The fencing helped me not to hit wildlife. Signs helped me know what/what not to do, and piled up snow meant I didn't have to drive in deep snow to get there.

Still, I couldn't figure out whether it was good or bad that I was there...