Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Rockpile

With my truck at a stop and idling at the four way stop in Turner Valley, I sat there debating as to if I would turn left and head over to High River for coffee with my Ham friend's, or turn right and drive the Sheep River Trail west towards Bluerock at the end of the Sheep River trail, and located in the Front Ranges of the Canadian Rockies. The driver in the vehicle behind me was becoming impatient, and was looming larger in my rear view mirror with each passing moment. Finally, I made my decision and drove straight through the intersection, then pulled up to the corner store where I have stopped in the past. With a coffee in hand and snacks to go, I headed west out of town towards the Rockies that looked stunning in the early morning light. I had left home several hours earlier with stars twinkling in the crystal clear skies above, that also included my favorite constellation, Orion The Hunter visible in the early morning sky. I would say that next to the Big Dipper, Orion the Hunter is possibly one of the most recognizable patterns of stars in the night sky. Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka, the three bright stars that form Orion's Belt are easily visible to the naked eye. Hanging down from Orion's belt is his sword that is made up of three fainter stars. The central "star" of the sword is actually not a star at all, but the Great Orion Nebula, one of the regions most studied by astronomers in the whole sky. Nearby is the Horsehead Nebula, which is a swirl of dark dust in front of a bright nebula. When the skies are clear, and you are located well away from the polluted skies of Calgary, you can make out the Great Orion Nebula with nothing but your own eyes. Through a telescope, the Great Orion Nebula is stunning and you will feel shivers running down your spine upon viewing it for the first time (I still do). One of my favorite quotes that resides on the side of my telescope goes like this: "Look now upon the River of Heaven, Sky-Road of the Immortals, White with the star-frost of a billion years..." If you haven't figured it out, this quote describes our Milky-Way-Galaxy that we reside in. Enough with the astronomy lesson, as I realized that another object of interest in the early morning sky was about to rise over the northern horizon. AO51 was due over head at 13;43 zulu and I soon was working my friend John-K8YSE from Cleavland Ohio where rain was coming down, and I did not help matters any with my weather report. John is up to speed on Southern Alberta, as he has visited here a number of times and has hiked some of the trails located in the Rockies around Banff and Lake Louise. Before long, I was in the rolling foothills west of Priddis and watching the eastern horizon as I drove along a backroad in a south-westerly direction. Dialing around the bands on my HF radio, I dialed in on 3753 mhz where the Saskatchewan-Weather-Net was underway. I checked in and gave the guy's in Saskatchwan a report on my weather. Earlier, I had been sure that the thermometer in my truck had gone bonkers, as the area that I was in had snow on the ground and frost lie everywhere along with a thin layer of ice covering the various ponds. All the while, my thermometer was indicating a temperature of +9 Celsius. I finally realized that a full blown Chinook was underway with the wind howling out of the west at a fair clip, accounting for the rapidly rising temperature. As I drove the Sheep River Trail, I came up on the boundary of the Sheep River Game preserve, where I was hoping that I would spot some of the Bighorn Sheep that reside within its boundaries. I knew from past years where some of the big rams hang out during the rut, and was not disappointed to find a big ram not to far off of the road that co-operated while I shot several photos of him. I drove through several snow showers that were being driven before the winds, that had increased in velocity as I worked my way through the canyons in the vicinity of Bluerock at the extreme end of the road. I pulled my truck over just off of the road near the river's edge, as I had noticed that a American-Dipper was working the fast-flowing water. The Dipper is the only songbird in North America that regularly swims. I enjoyed stalking him with my camera and long-lens, although I was not able to get a good photo of him entering or exiting this fast-flowing river due to the extreme winds buffeting my camera and lens. I finally had to give it up, as the wind had increased in velocity to the point, that it was making it miserable as wind gusts threatened to topple me, my camera, and tripod in to the river. The final hint for me to head back, was when a wind gust took the hat off my head and tossed it about as I chased after it. With my gear gathered up, I hiked back up to my truck and with one final look at this rockpile called the Canadian Rockies, I headed back down the trail for home.

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